St. Peter Lutheran Church
Catechism: “What is the Sacrament of the Altar? Where is this written?”
February 25, 2015
The Passion of our Lord begins around the time of the Passover. This was the feast that God had instituted at the time He delivered His people Israel from slavery in Egypt. It was the final plague on the Egyptians—God would sweep through the land of Egypt and kill every firstborn male throughout the land, both of man and animal. After this devastating judgment, Pharaoh would let the people of Israel go.
But the firstborn of the Israelites would be spared. In their houses they were to take a year old lamb without defect, slaughter it, and smear its blood on the doorposts of their houses. Then they were to roast the lamb and eat it all—head, legs, and inner parts, with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. Whatever was leftover of the lamb had to be burned by the morning. And when the Lord saw the blood on the doorposts of the house, He would pass over and not slay anyone inside, because of the blood of the lamb.
And God commanded that the Israelites eat this lamb every year at the same time to remember what God had done for them, how He slew the firstborn of all the Egyptians, but the sons of the Israelites He spared because of the lamb whose blood marked their doors.
This was the time of year that was approaching when Jesus entered Jerusalem before His Passion. He had told His disciples that His death was approaching. Now Judas makes a deal with the chief priests to betray Jesus. Jesus knows what is going to happen to Him, and at this time He commands Peter and John to go prepare for them to eat the Passover.
That meant they had to go purchase the lamb and take it to the temple to be slaughtered, and then roast it over the fire to make it ready for the evening meal. So they did. And as Jesus sat down to eat the Passover with His disciples, He told them, “I have longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I tell you that I shall not eat of it until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” This means—the Passover meal is coming to its end. What it foreshadowed all these years the Jews have been eating it is coming. The shadow is going away and the reality is coming. The Passover lamb whose blood was shed and smeared on the door so that the angel of death would pass by, the Passover lamb that was completely consumed by the Israelites, and what was left was burned in the fire—this lamb was only a symbol and picture of the true lamb of God, Jesus. He would shed His blood not to save us from physical slavery to Pharaoh but to redeem the whole world from spiritual slavery to sin and the devil. His blood would be smeared on the posts of the cross, on which He stretched out His arms to embrace the world in His death. He would give His flesh to be eaten by faith so that His people might live.
This was already a solemn night. On it they remembered how they were saved by the judgment of God that struck all around them but passed over them. It was made even more solemn by Jesus’ repeated warnings that He would be handed over and killed on this visit to Jerusalem. On this already somber night, Jesus instituted a new sacrament in place of the old yearly remembrance of the Passover. He instituted His last will and testament.
And what is His last will and testament? It’s vitally important that we know the right answer to this question. Surely Jesus didn’t die and leave us something that is of no consequence.
But that’s just how many people look at it—as if Jesus’ last will and testament was of little consequence. Whether or not a church teaches correctly about Jesus’ testament is considered unimportant compared to other things, like how inspiring the pastor is, how much we like the music, whether they have a good youth group, whether the people seem to be “on fire for the Lord.”
But it matters immensely. It was of such importance to the Lord Jesus that He instituted the sacrament of the altar as His final will before He died.
And it matters to you what Jesus’ testament is and that you know why you believe it to be what it is. Because there are many churches and Christians who change Jesus’ testament into something else than He instituted. What Jesus instituted on the night of His betrayal cannot be an unnecessary thing for your salvation. Rather it is of the highest importance.
Also understanding what the Sacrament of the Altar is and seeing the firm Scriptural ground we have for our belief about it will strengthen your faith and increase your hunger for this priceless gift.
So we consider today
What the Lord’s Supper is.
Who instituted it.
And how it is received.
The most concise answer to the question of what the Sacrament of the Altar is is given to us in Luther’s answer from the small catechism: What is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.
There you have it in plain language: the Sacrament of the Altar is the true body and blood of Jesus under the bread and wine.
And how do we know this? We have Jesus own words on the matter in the three Gospels and the Epistle mentioned earlier, where Jesus says plainly, “This is My Body,” “This is My Blood of the New Testament.”
We should consider who it is who instituted this Sacrament.
It wasn’t a mere human being, a prophet or some other great man who instituted the Sacrament of the Altar. It was Jesus, who is true God and Man. That means that it is by divine authority that we celebrate the Sacrament of the Altar. And since it was God who instituted it, it is necessary that we stick to His ideas about what the Lord’s Supper is and what He wants done with it. And we have no other way to know what the Lord’s purpose for His Supper is than to listen and stick with the Words by which He instituted the Sacrament.
Secondly, because the man who instituted the Sacrament of the Altar is God, we can rest assured that He knows what words He wants to use and how to speak clearly. The divine Son of God in infinite wisdom chose the words by which He instituted the Sacrament of the Altar, and the words He chose were “This is my Body, This is my Blood.”
Third, it was on the night of His betrayal that Jesus spoke these words. It was a solemn night—a night of great religious significance already, a night on which the cloud of death was hanging over the heads of Jesus and His disciples. And Jesus spoke these words as His last will and testament. If ever there was a time to speak clearly and without figures of speech, this was it, because Jesus wanted His disciples to know clearly what He was giving them and what He wanted them to do with it before He died.
So it is not a mere man who instituted the Lord’s Supper, but God Himself. That speaks to its importance and necessity. The Lord Jesus did not institute music, youth groups, or religious zeal on the night of His impending death. He instituted His Supper. When people look at these other things as more important than the Sacrament of the Altar they ignore and treat lightly the last will and testament of the Son of God.
So what is it that the Lord says is given in the Sacrament of the Altar? First of all, bread and wine. He took bread, it says in the text. He took the cup, it says, which was a cup of wine. And so in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper we are not free to substitute other elements for bread and wine. It’s not our supper that we may change as seems good to us. It’s the supper of the Lord Christ which He instituted on the night when He was about to die.
And just as we can’t change the elements which Jesus prescribed to be used in His supper, we are also not free to deny or change the heavenly gift which He says He bestows in the Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus does not say, “Take, eat, this is a picture of my body.” He says, “This is my body.” He doesn’t say, “This is a representation of my blood, which is shed for you.” He says “This IS my blood, which is shed for you.”
Imagine a cardboard representation of the sun that you might have in a set on a stage or in a play. The cardboard picture might remind you of the sun, but in reality it is as different from the sun as cardboard is from a star in the heavens. A picture of the sun doesn’t make anything grow. It doesn’t give any heat. It’s a dead thing. But the sun makes crops grow, separates day from night, makes your skin get tanned or burned. It is a living and real thing.
In just the same way churches and preachers who tell us that the Lord’s Supper is only a symbol of the body and blood of Christ substitute a lifeless imitation for what is real and life giving. Because Jesus’ body and blood really and truly give life and the forgiveness of sins.
In Exodus chapter 24 Moses reads the words of the Lord to the people of Israel, who say, “All the words the Lord has spoken we will do.” Then Moses took the blood of sacrifices and threw half of it against the altar and threw the other half on the people, saying, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with these words.” In doing that it showed that both God and the people were bound together by blood in the Old Covenant.
Jesus used the same language in instituting the Sacrament of the Altar: “This is my blood of the covenant,” or of the New Testament. He did this for a reason. Just as the blood of the old covenant had bound God and the people together under the covenant of the law, so the blood of Jesus which is applied to us in the Sacrament of the Altar assures us that we are bound with God in the New Testament; we are sealed into the new testament of the forgiveness of sins. Because Jesus took His blood into the heavenly sanctuary to atone for our sins before God. And in the Lord’s Supper He gives us that same blood to drink to assure us that we are included in this atonement.
And in the Passover, the blood of the lamb was smeared on the doorposts and the lamb was eaten inside, and the angel of death passed over the house. So we have Jesus’ body and blood applied to us personally in the Lord’s Supper to certify that the judgment of God will pass over us.
How is this Sacrament to be received? Jesus makes this clear in His words of institution also. He says, “Take eat, take drink.” He doesn’t tell us to spiritually eat His body and drink His blood, which we do by faith always. He tells us to eat the bread that is His body with our mouths and to drink the cup of His blood. Nor does He tell us to sacrifice His body again and again, or carry it around in procession, or lock it up in a box and worship it, as they do in the Roman Catholic church. It is really and truly His body and blood, and it is to be eaten and drunk in faith for the forgiveness of sins.
Now there are many Christians who argue this and say that the Lord’s Supper is symbolic, a mere remembrance of Jesus’ death on the cross for us. They think this because it doesn’t fit with human reason to say that Jesus is giving us His body and blood with the bread and wine. They also say this because they don’t understand that Christian faith clings to God’s Word and not to the inner experiences of the heart. We need the Sacrament of the Altar as well as Baptism and the preached Word because our faith cannot live on itself. It lives by the Word of God that comes to us from outside; it holds to the word of God that says we are forgiven and not the inner experience of feeling forgiven.
If you tell a person of this doctrine that you know that you are saved because you receive Jesus’ body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, they will worry that you are not really saved because your faith rests on Jesus’ word instead of an experience you had of being converted or a prayer in which you asked Jesus to be your Savior.
They will say, “Jesus didn’t really mean that communion is His body and blood. He was using figurative language.” The only reason they say this is because they are following fallen human reason instead of the Word of the Lord.
First of all, Jesus had no need to institute another symbolic meal. They were already celebrating a symbolic meal at the Passover. The lamb they ate was symbolic of Jesus whose death gives life to the world. Jesus didn’t need to institute another symbolic meal. He was giving the reality, not a picture.
Secondly, these words of Jesus are the words of His last will and testament. He is instituting a testament the way that Moses did when He threw the blood on the people. No one makes a testament or a covenant using symbolic language. When you are making a will you write very clearly what you want given to whom. When you are writing a contract you don’t use metaphors. You write and speak clearly so there is no misunderstanding. Jesus was not telling a parable when He instituted the Lord’s Supper.
Finally, when Paul repeats the words of institution to the church at Corinth, he adds the warning that whoever eats the bread of the Lord’s Supper without discerning the body of Christ is guilty of profaning the body of the Lord and eats and drinks judgment on himself. In fact, he writes, this is the reason why some of you are sick and weak, and others have died. Paul doesn’t say the Corinthians are guilty of misusing a symbol of Christ’s body and blood. They have misused the body and blood itself because they have not recognized it for what it is. In the Old Testament people get sick or die in the presence of the Lord when they approach the Ark of the Covenant without authorization or when they mishandle the things that are the Lord’s. The fact that the Corinthians got sick or died because of misuse of the Lord’s Supper indicates that this was something holy–not mere bread but the very body of Christ.
This gives us great comfort. It is not a reminder of the body and blood of Jesus that were given and shed for us that we receive when we approach this altar rail. We receive the very body and holy blood of Jesus Himself. That gives us great, firm, and glorious assurance that our sins are truly forgiven before God and that we have eternal life, no matter what we may be suffering in this world. May God increase our faith in the words of this Sacrament, so that we highly esteem this gift and take from it great assurance that our sins are forgiven.
Soli Deo Gloria
Invocabit, The First Sunday in Lent
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 4:1-11
February 22, 2015
“The Way out of the Devil’s Power”
In the book The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien a group of adventurers is on a journey to recover an ancient hoard of treasure. But the treasure is guarded by a great dragon named Smaug. The dragon knows every last piece of treasure belonging to him. And he sleeps in it. Anyone wanting to take any of the treasure must get past him. But he is wise and clever as an old serpent. He can breathe fire and his scales are practically impenetrable by any weapons. If anyone wants to take Smaug’s treasure he must first confront him.
That’s the way it is with this world and the devil. The devil has taken ownership of the earth and the people in it and he lets nothing slip from his power. If a person is going to be set free from the devil’s control the devil first has to be confronted. But we have no power to confront Satan. The old evil foe/ Now means deadly woe/ Deep guile and great might/ Are his dread arms in fight/ On earth is not his equal.
But our Gospel reading records the confrontation of a man with the devil who had the power to defeat him. That man, of course, is Jesus Christ, the true Son of God and son of Mary. He is led by the Holy Spirit out into the desert so that He may engage in this contest with Satan to release us from his power.
What we should see from this is that there is no escaping the kingdom of the devil without experiencing his attacks, without experiencing suffering, without facing death.
Jesus had just been baptized in the Jordan river. There He was showing that He was one with us. He was coming to free us from Satan’ power. He was making Himself one with us and bearing the guilt of our sin. When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended on Him, and the Father said from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” When Jesus gave Himself in obedience to the Father to bear our sin and undertake our rescue, there was a miraculous opening of heaven, a clear indication that God was with Jesus in His mission.
But right away afterward, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. He fasted for forty days and nights and afterwards was hungry. We may well suppose that He was at the gates of death in His hunger. And at that time of great weakness He was attacked by Satan.
If that is what happened to the author of our salvation, why do we assume that the way of salvation will be something different for us? Something different than a walk in the desert hounded by the attacks of the tempter?
No, the way out of Satan’s kingdom leads through the attacks of Satan, through a wilderness, even through death. It means trusting God’s Word not only when there is food on the table and a smile on your face, but also trusting God when you are at the gates of death.
Consider the devil’s threefold temptation of Jesus. First he tempted Jesus to command the stones of the desert to become bread. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “why are you starving out here in the desert? Make the rocks become food.” It hardly seems like an unreasonable temptation to us. After all, doesn’t God want us to eat? But Jesus refused to use His power to put an end to His suffering. He waited on God to provide Him with sustenance.
And the second temptation. The devil tempted Jesus to throw Himself off the top of the temple. “After all, if You are the Son of God, the angels will catch You and won’t allow You to stub Your toe against a rock.” It was a temptation to try to make God prove that He was with Jesus by a miracle. How often we long for God to prove that He is with us by doing some kind of miracle! But Jesus refused Satan’s temptation and clung to God’s Word that said He was with Him.
Finally the devil offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth if He would bow down and worship Satan. We long for this too. How much easier it would be for Christians if the world was Christian and supported us instead of being indifferent to us or persecuting us! But Jesus responded with the Word of God: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.”
We think that if God is with us, He will prove it by external things. That’s the way the world thinks, and the flesh of Christians thinks it too. Instead, the example of our Savior shows us that following Jesus in the way out of the kingdom of hell leads through spiritual and physical suffering. If we follow Jesus’ story all the way to the end, we see the way out of Satan’s kingdom also leads to death.
But human nature can’t accept this. Our reason thinks we have God when He puts food on the table and doesn’t let us suffer. We think we have God when we always know when the next check is coming. In the church we are tempted to believe that God is with us when there are a lot of people attending church and enough offerings coming in that we don’t have to worry about how we will pay our bills. Or we are tempted to believe that if God works great miracles, that will prove that He is with us, whether those miracles are of healing or something similar, or in the form of great emotional revivals of religious feeling.
Our flesh is confused. It is idolatrous. We think we have God when we are gaining the world and the things of the world, not when we are losing them.
That’s why no one is able or willing to walk the way out of Satan’s kingdom or confront Satan alone. By nature we don’t even know who God is and where to find Him. We think we are finding Him when we feel Him near or He provides for us, but the feeling of God’s presence and His earthly gifts are not God. We may lose those things and still have God if we have His Word.
Thanks be to God Jesus walked the way out of Satan’s kingdom. He went the way of trusting wholly in God’s Word. He did not let the devil turn Him aside or try to satisfy His soul with bread or miracles or power. He clung to God’s Word that declared Him God’s well-pleasing Son. He clung to God’s commandments and obeyed them rather than the devil’s temptations to twist Scripture or guide Himself by reason instead of God’s Word.
This road that Jesus walked led surely and certainly to death. That was the way God had marked out for Him—the way of obedience unto death in payment for our sins. Jesus did not take any shortcuts. Though He was God’s Son, He did not refuse hunger, poverty, humiliation, and pain. He did not even refuse death and God’s wrath.
In walking that road to its end Jesus brought us out of captivity to Satan. He obeyed the Father perfectly in our stead and offered His life as a ransom for us. Now Satan may tempt us to find proof that God is with us in gaining the world, but we know that God is with us because He has given His Son for us. When we were baptized into Him, He gave us the whole of Christ’s life—His obedience, His resistance to temptation, His death in payment for our sins, and His resurrection. Now Satan may tempt us to despair about the many times we have fallen under his temptations, but Jesus gives us His body and blood that redeems us from all our falls. We wear His perfect obedience, His perfect resistance to Satan.
It is a great consolation to us that we have this high priest, Jesus Christ. We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with us in our temptations. He was tempted in every way, just as we are. He suffered when He was tempted. Yet He also overcame all the assaults of the wicked foe and gave His life as a ransom for us that sets us free from all Satan’s accusations.
As we walk through the wilderness of this world, we are beset by many temptations. Christians often feel like it’s “one thing after another.” And we seem to be losing rather than winning—losing the world, losing our lives.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, take heart and do not despair. The mighty Lord is with you with His victory. He has already overcome Satan. His victory is certain. And He gives it to us. Our dying and suffering is not proof that we are not sons of God, but proofs that we are. When we lose, we win. Jesus is giving us Himself along with the cross and temptation, and in Him we are more than conquerors of the world, death, and the devil.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
2 Peter 1:2-11
February 18, 2015
“You have Escaped from the Corruption that is in the World”
The world is corrupt because of sinful desire, Peter tells us in the Epistle for Ash Wednesday. It’s corrupted the way a car is corrupted by rust. You have to stop rust or it spreads. But there comes a point where you can’t really stop it anymore. The whole car is corroded. It will still get you around, maybe. But the day is inevitably going to come when the whole thing is going to fall apart. The world is corrupted like that. It’s ruined. It’s riddled with disease. It’s already dead and it’s on its way to final destruction. And what is the cause of the corruption?
Sinful desire, Peter says. Sinful desire was let loose upon the earth when the devil tempted Eve to desire the fruit God had forbidden. Then like a chain reaction, the explosion travelled, the contagion spread. Adam sinfully desired his fallen wife more than God. Then they were expelled from the garden and the tree of life and the presence of God to live out their lives under the curse of death.
And the world today is thoroughly filled with this corruption caused by sinful desire. People want, desire what hasn’t been given to them. Their thoughts, words, and actions reach out to take what isn’t theirs. Children sinfully desire the honor and authority God has given to their parents and teachers. People desire to bring vengeance in word and deed on others who have sinned against them. They desire to look at or lie down with men and women God hasn’t given to them in marriage. They sinfully desire the time and wealth and possessions of others. All of this desire works death and the wrath of God. And the world is full of it.
But you, Christian, have escaped from this corruption. Peter says that you have been cleansed of your old sins. You have escaped the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. How have you escaped? Through the very great and precious promises of God.
He has promised that your sins are forgiven on account of the shed blood of the true God and man, Jesus Christ. He has promised in your baptism that you have escaped from the world and its corruption, having been crucified and buried with Christ and raised with Him from the dead. He has promised that Christ has been made sin for you who knew no sin, so that in Him you might become the righteousness of God. He has promised that you have all the fullness of God in Christ. He has promised that you are in Christ through Baptism. And since you are in him, you are a new creation.
But to our fleshly eyes it doesn’t appear true that we have escaped the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. We still live in the world. Every time we turn on the television or start playing with our phones the corruption that is in the world through sinful desire comes pouring out. So how have we escaped?
And even if we were alone with just quiet in a bare room with no media, we’d find that the corruption in the world through evil desire comes pouring out of our hearts. It is in us too. That’s why we’re so quick to get angry and seek revenge, so quick to criticize, to resent authority. We live in the corruption and it lives in us. So how have we escaped?
The answer is, again, through the very great and precious promises of God. Because in His promises God declares that our sins are not counted to us. They have been given to His only Son and removed from us. Through faith in these precious promises we escape from our sins. They are no longer counted as ours; only Christ’s righteousness is counted as ours. And where the root of sin has been cut in this way the branches and fruits begin to shrivel up and die too.
So what should you do with this incredible gift that has been given to you in Christ, the promise of the forgiveness of sins? Use it! Use it not as an excuse for sinning but to become what you are in Christ, as Peter describes: “He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
See, beloved, we have already escaped. We have escaped through the blood of Jesus which has been shed for us; we have been washed in that blood and made clean when it was poured on us in the Baptismal water. It has been sprinkled on us in the preaching of the Word and the Absolution. It has been given us as our spiritual drink to cleanse us within in the Holy Supper. We have already escaped.
Now through the promises we are to press on and daily partake of God’s nature. That is why we were redeemed by Jesus. So that we would be Christians, that is, little Christs. We would not be just students of Jesus, the way followers of Karl Marx or Hitler bought into their philosophies. We were redeemed so that we would share the very image of Christ, so that we would be human beings in Him the way we were human beings in Adam. We are to become little Christs. And in eternity we will be that way. We will be like Jesus. We will be ourselves, but in the image of Jesus.
God has promised us that what we will be, we already are in His sight by faith. So by faith in His promises we take hold of Jesus’ nature and make it our own nature, so that His characteristics begin to show in our earthly bodies.
That means that we should be zealous and joyful over the promises of God that declare our sins forgiven apart from our works, apart from our own holiness of life. But we should also be zealous to imitate Christ, to live like Him and become like Him now in this earthly life.
A very sad fact is that we have often lived in such a way as to deny that we are little Christs, that we are in Him and He in us. We have not been zealous to put on Christ and show His virtues in our lives. Peter says that when a person is not growing in the image of Christ he is “so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his past sins.”
Often we worry about our life together as a church. We see fewer people come to church and we wonder about our congregation’s future. But behind this is a different worry. We’re really worrying about whether we are bearing fruit in Christ, or whether we are being lazy and unproductive—whether we are like the seed that fell among thorns in Jesus’ parable from a few weeks ago that never bore fruit because it was choked by the pleasures and cares of this life.
This word of God from Peter does not tell us to measure our Christianity, our fruitfulness, by how many people come to our church. It tells us that if we strive to participate in the nature of God through His great and precious promises, it will keep us from being unproductive or unfruitful in our knowledge of Christ.
No, if you are growing in the image of Christ, you will be making your calling and election sure, and Peter says you will never fall.
So how do you grow in the image of Christ? You first of all listen to the Gospel and receive the Sacrament of the Altar and holy Absolution. These will strengthen your faith in Christ that you have been set free from sin’s guilt and power through Jesus’ suffering and death.
Then you, as Peter says, ‘Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”
These are the characteristics of Jesus. Peter is saying, “Not only have faith that Jesus died for you, but make every effort to grow up into the image of Christ.”
That means that in addition to your faith, you strive to add moral excellence to your character.
And in addition to moral excellence, you strive to grow in knowledge—that is, knowledge of God and His Word.
And in addition to knowledge of God and His Word, you strive for self control—to be driven not by your impulses, emotions, and desires, but by Christ’s will.
In addition to self-control you strive for steadfastness—the ability to persevere in doing God’s Will despite suffering.
In addition to steadfastness, strive for godliness. That means that in everything you do, you do it not according to your own will and desires but out of fear and love of God.
In addition to godliness, strive for brotherly affection, that is, love and kindness particularly for other Christians for no other reason than that they are Christians.
And finally love. Strive for love, the kind of love God has. Love that sacrifices self only for the good of the person loved. Love that seeks nothing in return.
You may already be a moral person, a dependable person, a self-controlled person, at least compared to others. Peter doesn’t tell us to aim at being more moral than others, more self-controlled than others. He tells us to aim at perfection, to be like Jesus. That is what we have been promised that we are in God’s sight. That is what every Christian will be in heaven. That is the standard we are to aim at, because it is what we are becoming. It is what we will be when the Lord is finished with His work in us.
If we aim to be like Jesus—to be virtuous like Jesus, to be self-controlled and steadfast like Jesus, to love like Jesus—we will find that we do not at all measure up to what we should be. There will be no place for pride and complacency among us. There will be great need and desire for the forgiveness God gives in Absolution and the Sacrament of the Altar.
To be like Jesus is actually what God requires of us in the law and what we have been called to be in Baptism. It’s not just an impossible ideal, a nice thing to aim at. It’s what God requires for righteousness.
We will spend Lent fruitfully with this standard before our eyes. God calls us to be conformed to the image of Christ. Anything less is sin. Even if we have great virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, so as to move mountains, to be like Jesus we would also need to forget about all that and love our sinful neighbors more passionately than ourselves, putting all our righteousness to work for them.
That’s what God requires of us. That’s why today is a day of repentance. We have fallen short of God’s law and fallen short of the image of Christ. We put ashes on our head not as a pretty religious gesture but because we are so far from meeting God’s requirements that we should be burned to ashes in His wrath.
But we have been set free from God’s wrath. We have escaped from corruption and death. That is what we meditate on this Lenten season too. We have been lifted out of the ash heap and seated with Christ in His glory at God’s right hand. This is because Jesus, the virtuous, all-knowing, self-controlled, steadfast, godly one who loved His brothers and even His enemies—He gave Himself to be burned to ashes by God’s wrath for us. He took our guilt before God and was punished for it. Now, due to His love alone, we are forgiven our trespasses and given the right to share in the divine nature by the Holy Spirit who lives in us. We have been given the right to become little Christs, little sons of God.
Now as we meditate on Christ’s passion this Lent, we are seeing the assurance of God that we will not be damned or lost. We are also seeing a picture of what our lives will look like as we are being transformed into the glorious image of Christ. We will be dying to the corrupt old self—painfully dying, so that Christ’s image can be put on. But we need not despair or be frightened at this. The proof that we will wear Christ’s glorious image is not found in our success at dying to the old and putting on the new. It’s found in His success. Jesus successfully was plunged into the depths of God’s wrath for us and He was successfully raised from the dead. Because He has completed this work we have God’s great and precious promises to assure us that He has already made us in the image of Christ, and He will also complete this work of transforming us, so that we participate in the divine nature forever.
Soli Deo Gloria
Quinquagesima + St. Peter Lutheran Church + St. Luke 18:31-43+February 15, 2015+
”See, We are Going Up to Jerusalem”
Jesus says, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem.”
And the twelve disciples look with their mind’s eye to Jerusalem. What do they see there? Paradise just around the corner. Jerusalem is the place where David reigned and where they expected Jesus, the Son of David, to reign. The Scriptures of the prophets foretold that a descendant of David would sit on his throne and reign over a more glorious kingdom than David had. His kingdom would bring peace to the whole earth. Jerusalem has had its bad days under Roman rule, but that is all about to end. The disciples, too, have had their time of testing. They have been following Jesus with no place to lay their head, without money or food, harassed and harried by Jesus’ opponents who have rejected Him as a fraud and a blasphemer. But soon this is coming to an end. It’s inevitable, after all. Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah. It’s impossible for Him not to come out on top.
Jesus knows this is how they think and that it is also the way we think. Suffering can only be a speed bump on the inevitable progression of Jesus to glory, and we with Him. But that is not quite right, and Jesus wants to correct this blindness. Because if we think Jesus is going to set up an earthly kingdom like David had we are liable to fall away in disgust with Jesus when we realize the reality of the situation, like Judas did.
“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.”
No, what is totally unthinkable and impossible to the disciples and to us is what is actually going to happen in Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the city where God dwells, is going to be the city in which God dies. Jesus is the Son of God, the Holy One, well-pleasing to the Father. And He tells the disciples Himself that He is going to be put to shame in Jerusalem. He is going to be mocked and abused. People will spit on Him. He is going to be handed over to the Gentiles. God is going to allow His Son to be put under the power of people who do not know God and despise Him. He will be torn by whips like a criminal and finally put to death, not lifted up on a glorious throne to rule over the Jews and Gentiles and all the ends of the earth. He will be placed in a grave. And then, but only then, will He rise.
All this was unthinkable to the disciples. It meant the shattering of their dreams. It was the destruction of what they had hoped to receive from following Jesus.
So they just shut down. They understood nothing of what Jesus said, even though what He said was quite plain. Because what kind of kingdom is it if you are put to shame and executed as a criminal, even if you rise from the dead? They couldn’t understand it, and they didn’t hold on to His Word despite not understanding it, as they should have done. They let His words fall to the ground.
Even though all the prophets had witnessed that the Christ would suffer, even though this was the teaching of the whole Scriptures, even though they had been learning in Jesus’ school for years, the disciples at this point still did not understand the central teaching of the Scriptures and the Lord Jesus Himself.
So it should not be too surprising that we have heard the same teaching of Jesus many times and are still slow to understand and believe it.
Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah. But He has a different kind of kingdom from David, a kind of kingdom that makes no sense to us. It does not consist of earthly riches, success, and splendor, although these may be there sometimes in His kingdom. Jesus does, after all, do a miracle in this Gospel reading and heal a blind man.
But His kingdom is not about fixing earthly problems and solving all earthly suffering. Jesus doesn’t come to prop up what is falling down. He doesn’t come to clear up the vision of those who can partly see. He doesn’t come to bring back David’s kingdom from its ruin and restore it to its former glory.
He comes to do a new thing. He comes to create out of nothing, to resurrect the dead, to give sight to the blind.
He comes to restore what is dead and lost beyond recovery. He doesn’t come to prevent us from falling, but to show us that we have already fallen beyond our own recovery and then to raise us up new.
Before they would see His kingdom, the disciples had to see the death of their dreams. All hope of an earthly kingdom and earthly glory died when Jesus was spit upon, mocked, flogged, and put to an agonizing, humiliating death on the cross.
Then Jesus rose from the tomb in which they buried Him to a new life completely outside of our experience in the flesh.
What seemed totally impossible—that the beloved Son of God should be shamed and destroyed—happened so that something equally unthinkable could happen to you.
Not your improvement, but your re-creation. The Son of God was put to shame, humbled to the point of death on a cross, that you might be raised up a well-pleasing Son of God free from all shame and condemnation.
You are not given an earthly kingdom or temporary earthly joys and successes by Jesus. He may give you those, but that is not what He promises you in the Gospel. What He gives you in the Word of His cross and baptism is that you are alive with Him as a Son of God even while in this world you see and experience life and death as a son of Adam.
Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom where He gives mercy to the blind and the dead, to those who are blind and dead in their trespasses and sins. The blind man in Jericho got it right. Jesus was not a king like David or Henry VIII. Then the appropriate thing for the blind beggar to do would have been to shut up and get out of the way. But instead when he was told to shut up he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
He was right. The Son of David’s kingdom is to give mercy to the blind and the dead and the irretrievably sinful. He did not come like an earthly king to dominate His subjects but to serve them. He came so that the blind might see and the seeing might become blind, so that the dead might live and the living might become dead, so that sinners might become righteous and the righteous become sinners.
So don’t be surprised if in believing in Christ your dreams die. It happened to the twelve. Don’ t be surprised when you pray to Jesus for healing and it doesn’t seem to come, for help and your life never seems to get any easier. Jesus didn’t come to save you from pain and death and weakness and humiliation but to raise you up from it into His life as a son of God.
Don’t be surprised when Jesus seems to put you to death. He puts you to death so He can raise you from the dead.
In the meanwhile, while you are being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, you have life. You have it through Him alone. His death and shame is yours. His resurrection is yours also. Baptized into Him, you are a participant in His death, but His victorious resurrection and ascension into heaven is yours also. His eternal life is yours. It is hidden from your eyes, but it is yours by faith.
And His righteousness and honor is yours too. As we seek to be justified in Christ, to paraphrase St. Paul in Galatians, it often becomes apparent to us that we are sinners. In fact we see ourselves to be plunged in sins, plagued with them, soaked through with them. That is in fact what we are. It’s the reason why Jesus’ own disciples disbelieved His clear words about His suffering. We also have such a nature in which there is nothing good. And as Christians we often see and feel it and wonder how we can be Christians at all.
Don’t be afraid when you seem to be immersed, plunged in sin and unbelief. Remember that this king, this Son of David, has come to earth for this purpose, to have mercy on those who are dead and blind in sins. That is why He was going up to Jerusalem—to do something far more glorious than we would have thought up for Jesus to do. He came to Jerusalem to be crowned with shame and suffering and death for us. He came to be sin for us and be humiliated for us. The Lord of glory wore this shame and death for you so that your sin might be cancelled in His suffering and His righteousness might be yours through faith alone.
When the Lord Jesus gives you over to death it is because He wants to resurrect you. When He lets you experience how sunk in sin you are it is so that you might find your righteousness not in yourself, but in Him who died and rose again, and in so doing destroyed your sin forever.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 8:4-15
February 8, 2015
“The Word of God Alone”
Beloved in Christ: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Gospel for this Sunday discusses a great mystery. It tells us about the power and fruitfulness of the divine Word. It also tells us that this powerful, divine Word in many cases bears no fruit in those who hear it, and explains why that is. It is a solemn warning to us to be careful about the way we hear God’s Word; at the same time it comforts us by showing us the divine power of the Word that is preached to us and is at work among us.
First of all, notice the fact that in Jesus’ parable the Word of God does all the work. Hearers of the Word are not compared to living beings but to soil, which is as passive a substance as we can imagine. What does ground, soil, earth do? It receives what is put into it. Nothing more. Everything depends upon the seed that is sown in it.
“The seed is the Word of God,” Jesus says. Where the seed is not sown, there is no fruit. Where God’s Word is not proclaimed, there is no salvation. But where the Word of God is proclaimed, life begins to sprout, trying to produce fruit.
So then everything depends first of all on the pure Word of God being preached. Where this happens, spiritual life will begin to grow. Wherever there is no preaching of God’s pure word, there will be only barren ground producing no fruit. This is why in the Lord’s prayer we pray first that God’s name would be hallowed. That means that His word would be preached in its truth and purity, because where that does not happen the seed is not being sown, and no life will result.
Secondly, see the divine power of the Word. It is not a mere human word which may or may not accomplish anything. It is a heavenly and divine Word that brings salvation and eternal life with it. Paul says in the first chapter of Romans, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Rom. 1:16) The Word of God, preached in its truth and purity, is God’s power to save. It is a mighty, omnipotent Word that is preached in our midst. It has the power to snatch sinners from Satan’s kingdom, to turn their hearts to God, to make them blessed forever, to make them bear fruit that will abide forever.
Wherever the Word of God is preached in its truth and purity we can be sure that something amazing is happening there. God is establishing His kingdom there. He is gathering a people of His own there who are holy, who inherit eternal life, who do works that are pleasing to God and will endure into eternity.
God’s Word does not come back to Him empty, as Isaiah says in the Old Testament reading. It gathers a people for Himself, saves them, justifies them through faith in Jesus. That is happening here and wherever God’s Word is preached purely. It’s not happening by human strength or persuasion. It happens by God’s almighty power that is at work in the Word.
But we don’t see this happening. We don’t see with our eyes the power and glory of God’s Word, nor do we see a little community of saints being gathered. What we see is a lot of people who hear the Word and it never seems to make any impression on them. Others hear the Word for awhile and then they fall away and we never see them again. Among those who keep hearing the Word it’s often hard to see the fruit through all the weeds of weakness and sin that grow in the visible community of the church.
But even though we don’t see it, it’s happening. Jesus is gathering His harvest of souls through His Word. That will happen; it’s certain. What Jesus teaches us to pray in the 2nd petition of the Lord’s prayer is that His Kingdom will not simply come—that happens by itself, without our prayer. We pray that it would come to us also, that God would give us His Holy Spirit so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.
We need to pray this petition because there are many who hear the Word of God in vain. Jesus says the reason why His Word seems to have no effect in so many cases is not because the Word lacks power but because most hearers of the Word don’t keep it. They hear it. They even believe it for a time. But they resist the working of the Word.
So Jesus shows us in this parable the requirements for a faithful hearing of the Word of God.
First of all we have to give God’s Word careful, serious, and attentive hearing. “And as He sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it.” The path would be hard-packed soil. Any seed falling on it would simply lie on the surface of the hard ground, not able to sink in and germinate. On top of this Jesus says that the seed sown on the path was trampled underfoot and then eaten by the birds of the air. This symbolizes those who hear the Word of God but harden their hearts against it so that it cannot take root.
All of us by nature are born with hearts hardened and dead toward God. When someone listens to the Gospel whose heart is not broken up by repentance, the good news of Christ doesn’t take root in them. Maybe they come to church and simply have no intention of listening to God’s Word. Maybe their hearts are already set on some other false belief which they will not let go and so they resist the Gospel when they hear it. Others come to church not seriously listening to the sermon as God’s Word, but as sweet religious talk that makes us feel better. Whatever the case, the devil does not simply let the Word of God remain there on their hard hearts, lest it eventually take root and begin to grow anyway. Satan comes and snatches the Word away so that it does not remain in the heart at all. Oftentimes when people come to church not seriously ready to listen to the Word as the Word of the living God, this is what happens. The Word never enters the heart and it is snatched away by Satan before it produces any fruit. Therefore Jesus shows us that we are required to listen to God’s Word as it is—the Word of the living God—and not ignore and despise it as if it were simply a human word, the way students ignore teachers at school. And this applies not only to adults, but also to young people and children. It is the third commandment—Remember the Sabbath day, by keeping it holy. We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
Secondly, Jesus shows that fruitful hearing of the Word requires perseverance. The seed that fell on the rock “are those who, when they hear the Word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for awhile, and in time of testing fall away.” God is not satisfied with a hearing of the Gospel that only believes as long as there is outward peace and happiness that goes along with it. Jesus says, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22
The Gospel is called “The word of the cross.” It proclaims a Savior who was persecuted all the way to being nailed to a cross, and the Word brings the cross with it to us. God requires that those who hear His Word faithfully and fruitfully remain with it even when life is hard and full of suffering—even more, when there is outright opposition and hostility to Christians for the sake of the Word. But our nature is weak and we want to run away from the Word whenever it does not bring us earthly happiness, but instead comes with suffering.
Finally, for fruitful hearing of the Word God requires that His Word come before the worries and pleasures of this earthly life. Often times we come to church and can barely pay attention to the Word because our hearts are occupied by other things—whether our worries or with things we would rather be doing. But even if we pay attention in church, if we then go off and spend the next six days thinking only about paying bills, or getting a new television, or playing video games, or our girlfriend or boyfriend, the Word is choked. The Word wants to bear fruit. It wants to make us into the image of Christ, so that we grow in the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Word of God wants to grow up in us so that we produce the fruit of our lips—praise of God and the confession of Jesus Christ before the world. But the Word’s growth is stunted and choked by the thorns of our self-interest.
All of this should frighten us and make us realize the difficulty of salvation—in fact, the impossibility of salvation apart from God’s grace. The Word of God grows up into salvation when it is not blocked by bad soil. But we are constantly struggling with these characteristics of the three kinds of bad soil. Often our hearts are not ready to listen carefully to God’s Word. Or we are afraid and ready to desert the Gospel as soon as it looks like we will have to suffer for it. Or our hearts are so filled with the pleasures and worries of this lie that the Word of God cannot find any space in us to grow.
So what do we do?
First, examine yourself about your hearing of God’s Word. This is painful to do because we have to come face to face with the way we have neglected and despised God’s Word. Ask yourself—do I gladly hear and learn God’s Word? Do I hunger for it? Or am I often bored by it and neglect opportunities to hear and learn it? Do I teach it to my children? Has my hearing of the Word resulted in my growth in the faith and the fruits of the Spirit, or am I the same as I was last year, or five years ago?
Second, turn in repentance to the means of grace and prayer. Take your sin in failing to hear the Word fruitfully to God in confession and receive absolution. Ask for hunger for His Word in prayer. Read the Scripture. Learn the catechism by heart and teach it to your children.
Let the awareness of your failure to honor and listen to God’s Word, your unwillingness to bear the cross for it, and your preoccupation with the cares of this life drive you to the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood seeking healing and new life.
But most importantly, listen to the Word. Listen to it today and put all your trust and confidence in the contents of that Word. Listen to who and what it proclaims.
It proclaims Jesus who came to earth for you and who always heard and listened to and obeyed the voice of His Father. He clung to the Father’s Word and persevered with it even when it brought Him to the agony of Gethsemane and the bitter suffering and death of the cross. He put aside all the desires of our flesh—all its worries and cravings—and instead gave Himself to hear and serve the Word of the Lord.
And because He heard and served God’s Word He willingly gave Himself as the sacrifice for our disobedience to God, for our taking His Word lightly, for our failures to remain with it.
For you He did these things, so that your failure to hear and hold sacred God’s Word might not be counted against you. He put to death your flesh in His body on the tree so that you might be counted good and fruitful soil.
He alone is our righteousness before God, and He is given to you today in the Word.
This Word of God alone is a powerful word. It saves those who believe it and makes them righteous before God. It works in them so that they bear fruit to God. It turns the hearts of those who hated God toward Him so that they love Him and find comfort in calling Him Father. It does this because it shows us and gives us Jesus, who turned God’s heart toward us by His death. He has made satisfaction for our failures to hear God’s Word.
This Word of God alone is everything we need for salvation. It declares that Christ alone has done it all, has reconciled us to God and presented us perfect before Him. Those who cling to this Word alone will bear much fruit through Jesus and be saved through Jesus. You are good soil because you cling to Jesus alone.
Soli Deo Gloria
Septuagesima + St. Peter Lutheran Church + St. Matthew 20:1-16 + February 1, 2015 + “Equal to Christ”
Christians should serve God. Their whole lives should be lived not in service to their own desires, but for the will of God. Scripture teaches this constantly.
For the grace of God has appeared, writes St. Paul in Titus chapter 2, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)
Jesus gave Himself for us to make us His own people who are zealous, eager, passionate about doing good works. Christians have been born again so that they may live a new life of service to God in good works.
What are the good works that we should be zealous about doing? Often people think that means doing church work, and it certainly includes that. Witnessing, telling our neighbors about Jesus and what He has done for us—that is a good work. Faithfully giving, sacrificially giving to support the preaching of God’s word, both in offerings of money and of time and energy in working for the church. These are good works. So is faithfully and diligently hearing and learning God’s Word both at home and at the church.
But good works include everything we do in obedience to the 10 commandments out of faith in Christ. When we honor our father and mother, obeying them when we are young and caring for them when they are old, that is a good work. When we get married, stay faithful to our spouse, raise our children, pray with them, teach them God’s Word, those are good works. When I go to work and do my job for the benefit of my employer and seek to work in such a way that I honor God, that is a good work. In every place that God puts you, you are called as a Christian to be zealous to do good for your neighbor and honor God by your words and actions.
It’s also a good work when as a Christian you suffer and bear it patiently, trusting God and putting yourself into His hands. We need to pay attention to this because as we grow older we are called on more and more by God to suffer, whether from physical pain and affliction, from grief at the death of loved ones and dear friends, as well as spiritual temptations that often accompany physical pain, when as we suffer we doubt God’s presence or His love and grace toward us. It is a good work in God’s sight when you endure suffering, when you pray to Him for relief but say, “Thy will be done,” when you trust that the One who gave His only Son for you will make even your suffering result in blessing for eternity.
It is also a good work in God’s sight when we endure loss for the sake of Christ. Christians are told by their Lord that they will lose things they love for His name’s sake.
Jesus said, I have not come to bring peace on earth but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:34-38)
If we hold faithfully to Christ and His word, we can count on losing the favor of friends or relatives or the community at large, who will call us harsh or loveless or fanatical. When we suffer the loss of our good name or the loss of friendships and relationships for the sake of faithfulness to Christ and His word, that is also a good work in God’s sight.
Jesus’ 12 disciples had to lose those things and more because they followed Christ. They left behind their possessions, families, and businesses. They were despised and hated by the Pharisees and chief priests and others because they belonged to Christ.
Christians can count on losing things for the sake of Jesus’ name. All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted St. Paul says bluntly (2 Timothy 3:12). If it doesn’t happen right away at the beginning of one’s life as a Christian it will happen eventually.
Today when a young person wants to turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ, it often costs them something. They are liable to lose their boyfriend or girlfriend, because most young people take sex outside of marriage for granted. They are liable to lose friends and the esteem of their peers because actually following Christ is not something that is respected in these days—Christianity is considered intolerant and backward. This didn’t used to be the case, and we should recognize this when we see young people falling away from the church. Christianity comes with a cost that it didn’t used to in our society.
But even among older Christians there is still a cost if you hold faithfully to God’s Word. Most of us have friends or relatives that belong to churches that teach false doctrine. Some belong to churches like the Catholic church that openly deny that we are saved by faith in Jesus alone apart from works; others belong to churches that deny that baptism gives the forgiveness of sins to infants and that the Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ true body and blood. Still others go to churches where the authority of the Scripture is denied and sin is no longer called sin. We usually comfort ourselves that at least our friends or loved ones go to church, and we tell ourselves that all the churches are basically teaching the same thing, but it isn’t the case. If you take the risk of discussing these things with your friends and loved ones who go to such churches, even if you do it in the most loving and sensitive way, as you should, you too will experience how faithfulness to Christ’s word does not win you the praise and love of the world. Following Christ in this way may cause you to lose friends. It may disturb the peace in your home and family.
When we do good works as Christians, particularly when we endure suffering because of faithfulness to Christ, we are tempted to think our labor and suffering for Christ is so great and we look resentfully at weaker Christians who are less active in good works or who suffer less. That’s why Jesus tells the parable in the Gospel reading. His twelve disciples had followed Jesus from the beginning. They had left everything else behind. They were with Him during hard times when there was no food, when He was reviled and hated by His enemies, when the crowds pressed in on them with so many needs that there was no time to rest. The disciples had suffered a lot and done many good works because of their faith in Christ. And this parable was a warning to them. “The last will be first and the first last. Don’t think that your good works have earned you something from God beyond the weaker Christians, beyond the little ones who believe in Me.”
But this parable is also a comfort to those who think that they have done few good works and many sins. Jesus shows that God doesn’t give the way human reason thinks He is supposed to do. He gives by grace, that is, without taking into account our worthiness or unworthiness, our good works or our sins.
The workers hired at the beginning of the day complained to the vineyard owner that he had made the men who worked only an hour “equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” They were right. He paid the workers who only worked an hour the same as those who had put in a twelve-hour shift.
In the same way, God gives the same grace and favor to a person who repents and believes in Christ on his deathbed, like the thief on the cross, as He gives to someone who’s spent his life serving Christ. He gives the same grace and favor to you and me who believe in Jesus as He gives to a Christian martyr in Pakistan who loses his house, business, family, or even his life for Christ.
It may not seem fair to us, but consider that if God dealt with us fair and square according to our works, it would mean that everyone who transgressed the law, whether a lot or a little, would receive eternal condemnation and punishment. That would be fair. The first commandment says, “You shall have no other gods,” and this means that “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” If you love God above all things you will serve God gladly, not for hope of a reward but for His own sake, not asking what you can get out of it. That is what we are obligated to do. That is what we owe God. But you can see that none of us pays that debt, not even those who die for their confession of Christ. If we loved God above all things, all the other commandments would come by themselves. We would gladly pray without ceasing. We would gladly hear and learn God’s Word and regard it as sacred. We would obey and honor authorities, not grumbling. We would not hate or be angry with our neighbor, much less say or do things to hurt him.
There is only one person who loved God above all things and spent his life in perfect obedience to Him. That person is Jesus. He not only kept all of God’s law all of the time and earned nothing but God’s favor and honor by His good works. He labored longer than any human being, from conception to death in perfect obedience to God. And He suffered more than any Christian does. He suffered hatred and antagonism from the world and never took a short-cut to avoid pain. He never toned down His preaching and witness to please men. He suffered temptation and attacks from Satan to turn from obedience to God and make His road easier, but He never gave in. He suffered the anger of God against the sins of His brothers—us—and He bore the blazing heat of God’s anger against all our pride and unfaithfulness.
And God, instead of giving us what we have earned by our works, makes us equal to Christ. He counts Jesus’ obedience and suffering to us. He counted our sin to Jesus.
As a result He does not give you the wages of your sin, which is eternal death. He gives you the wages of Jesus, who bore your sin, atoned for it with His blood, and rose from the dead with sin put out of the way forever. He makes you equal with Jesus, as if you had always done what pleased God. He gives you as your wages eternal life, eternal honor, His good pleasure and favor.
So this comes as both a warning and a comfort.
If you are a Christian who has done many good works and knows it, be careful that you don’t fall into grumbling against God when you compare yourself to other Christians who don’t seem to do as much and don’t seem to suffer as much as you. Give thanks to God that He has worked in you to do what pleases Him, but quickly turn your eyes back to Jesus Christ. God has made you equal to Him who knew no sin. He has made Jesus equal to you who were conceived in sin. God made Jesus equal to you, and so He sweat blood in Gethsemane and thirsted on the cross, and all this He did not deserve, but bore it gladly so that you might be equal to Him in righteousness, life, and glory. Let your heart meditate on Christ’s suffering for you and your suffering will seem light. Let your heart meditate on the good works Christ has done for you and your own good works will fade from your eyes when you marvel at the incredible goodness of Jesus toward you.
This parable is also a comfort to anyone who is concerned about his lack of good works, or the greatness of his sins, or his lateness in coming to serve Christ. See the incredible goodness of God! He wants it known that He will reward those who labor only for an hour the same as those who have worked all day! He will receive the sinner who repents late in his life with the same grace He shows to Christians who labored faithfully in service to Christ their whole lives long.
And what if you are a Christian who has been hearing God’s word for some time but feel like you have never been a faithful laborer in God’s vineyard? Your good works seem to be few or non-existent, while meanwhile your sins and hypocrisies seem to be many? Take heart! Even if it were true that you have not been serving the Lord—and this is not certain, because the devil often tempts us to think that we have not truly been Christians at all—even if it were true, the Lord promises to reward those who come late in the day the same as those who have worked the full day. That is, He promises to give the same grace to the one who repents today as he will give to those who have served Him their whole lives.
He promises that He makes you equal not only to the greatest saints in the church, but He makes you equal to His Son.
He counts Jesus’ perfect obedience to you. He washes you clean in His blood shed for sinners. He clothes you with Jesus’ righteousness. He makes you a full-fledged saint, sharing in the grace and glory that belongs to the apostles, prophets, and martyrs. He makes you a participant in the glory of the Son of God.
It’s not our works and sufferings that give us this equal standing with the great saints in the church. It is Jesus’ works and sufferings that earn us this exalted place of being sons of God. And those works and sufferings of Jesus are for you. God pledges them to you in His word, in your baptism, and in the Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria