St. Peter Lutheran Church
March 25, 2015
“Ye Tears, Forth Flow”
We should weep tears when we hear the story of the death of Jesus. I know that we are Lutherans and you’re always hearing me say that it’s not about the way you feel about what Jesus has done for you, it’s about what He’s done. Just as what is important in the Sacrament of the Altar is not how you feel when you receive it, but about the reality of what it is—Christ’s body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. I know that I am always saying these things. But isn’t it true that we should weep over Jesus?
If He were just some historical figure who died a long time ago then it would be perfectly understandable if we didn’t feel anything at hearing about His suffering. But He is not just some long dead historical figure. He is our Savior. He is not dead but living. He is alive and He is the One who died out of love for us. Why then should my heart be so cold and hard when I hear about His suffering?
After all, we make so much of our own suffering. When we are going through pain and hard times we can hardly think about anything or anyone besides our own problems—am I right? Sometimes we burden other people with our pain, or we take out our frustration and fear on those closest to us. We want other people to care about our suffering. So why do we have so few tears at our Lord’s suffering? He, unlike us, didn’t deserve any of it.
The worst kind of pain is when you suffer unjustly. Why don’t I have any tears at the terrible injustice Jesus suffered? We have been hearing about it at these Lenten services. First Jesus was betrayed by one of His own disciples. Then the others abandoned Him. The high priest and the leaders of the nation unjustly accused and condemned him, bringing false witnesses against Him. Then Pilate out of cowardice gave Him over to be killed by His enemies and didn’t save Him, even though he knew that Jesus had done nothing wrong. And instead of being put on a throne, thanked and worshipped, as He deserved, Jesus was crucified between two criminals, as though He was a criminal, even though He had never so much as spoken an evil word. If we suffer unjustly we are incensed about it! Yet the greatest injustice ever perpetrated is put before our ears, and our eyes barely get moist. See Jesus naked, pierced, hanging on a cross, being laughed at and slandered by everyone—the priests, the people, the soldiers, even the other crucified men! See how everything is taken from Him, even His clothes, and He has to beg for a drink on the cross. And even then people crowd around hoping to see Him do another miracle. Can’t we take a break from worrying about ourselves even this one time of the year and shed tears over the injustice Jesus suffered?
And if the injustice of Jesus’ death doesn’t move us to tears, what about the horrible agony inflicted on our gentle and innocent Lord Jesus? Just imagine the pain you would feel, the agony, if you stepped on a ten-penny nail and it went through your foot! But Jesus had His hands and feet hammered through with nails that were as close to railroad spikes as they are to our nails. Before this He had been whipped, flogged by a crowd of soldiers, beaten and punched and spit on. A garland of thorns was driven down onto His head. His bones were pulled out of their sockets as He was stretched out on the cross. Shouldn’t the brutality of His death move us to tears? And besides the physical agony there was the great spiritual agony of being forsaken by God. Jesus had been deprived all of His life of the earthly comforts we enjoy—good food and plenty of it; clothes, cars, entertainment. Jesus barely had enough to eat and had nowhere to lay His head. He was born in a stable. The one delight of His life was union and fellowship with His heavenly Father, and now that is taken away from Him. He is forsaken in God’s anger because He is getting the reward for our sins. He is tasting the bitter fruit of our self-seeking and our glorifying of ourselves. How hard is my heart that I can stand before you and preach this and not break down in tears! How hard your hearts must be too, to hear of Jesus’ agony for you and not weep!
And what should make us cry even more than all this is that when the nails are driven into His hands and His limbs are wrenched out of joint and He is lifted up on the cross, He prays, “Father, forgive them.” Jesus isn’t faking. He truly loves those who are killing Him in their hard-heartedness. They aren’t weeping over Him. They smile as they do their bloody business. But Jesus doesn’t hate them, nor does He hate the disciples who fled, nor us, with our selfish hearts. He is concerned not about His pain and the injustice that He is suffering, but about the eternal pain and torment those who are killing Him will have to endure if He doesn’t save them. We so often have our minds on our own pain. Jesus forgets His pain. He is thinking about the agony souls will endure in hell if He does not suffer for them.
Jesus is thinking about others. That’s why He tells the women as He is being led out to His execution, “Don’t weep for me, but for yourselves and your children.” He is talking about the terrible hard-heartedness of human beings. If they are willing to beat and slaughter the Son of God, who never did any evil to anyone, what do you think they will do to those who believe in Him? If they are able to watch Jesus weep and suffer and not shed a tear even though through all of it He still loves them and prays for them, what will they do to each other?
But it’s not just “they.” Our hearts are hard and closed to pity too. How often have we closed our hearts toward Jesus, putting His crucified form out of our minds so that we could go ahead and do our will instead of His? And how often have we closed our hearts against other people who dare to interfere with our self-seeking plans? It’s not even just that we harden our hearts. They are hard by nature. We often simply are unable to consider others. And it was for our selfishness, our hard-heartedness too, that Jesus died and was forsaken by God.
But notice as Jesus is being led out to die, He is not thinking about Himself at all. “Do not weep for Me,” He says. He is thinking about us, pitying us, even as He is about to be crucified—the women who cried for Him, the soldiers who crucified Him, and we who with our hard hearts can so seldom be bothered with anyone else’s pain, even the pain of the innocent Son of God who loves us. He is thinking about us.
That is why Jesus went to the cross. Because He was thinking about us and our hard hearts and the eternal misfortune that was ahead of us.
It’s not our tears for Jesus that save us. We are not saved by our hard hearts becoming softer. We are saved by the softness of His heart toward us. We are saved by His grace, because He eagerly desires our salvation. His grace took the form of His battered body on the cross, crying out, being forsaken by God.
It was His desire to endure our hardheartedness and to suffer God’s anger that comes because of our hardheartedness.
That’s why He prays as He is crucified, “Father, forgive them.” He means it. He wants us to be forgiven more than He wants His own pleasure. He is willing to offer Himself to suffer and die for us.
And to the criminal who does nothing other than admit that he was getting what he deserved, and then turns to ask Jesus for mercy, Jesus says “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Jesus hungers and thirsts for our salvation. That’s why He died. He pleads with us to turn and be forgiven for our hard hearts. He does everything to assure us that all is forgiven before God.
Maybe your heart is soft enough to weep today at Jesus’ suffering. Or maybe you don’t cry much, even when you probably should.
Jesus has saved you by His agony either way. Even though your heart is still selfish and hard, Jesus has saved You. He has accomplished your salvation without you. He has become sin for you on the cross and received the wrath that belonged to you.
So come with your hard heart. Ask Jesus to work in it so that you notice your neighbor’s suffering and desire his well-being instead of just your own.
Ask Jesus to work in you stronger faith and love for Him.
But don’t doubt that your sins are forgiven today, while your heart is still evil and your eyes are still dry. Today is the day paradise was opened to the crucified thief. While they were still crucifying Him was when Jesus prayed for their forgiveness.
And while we are still sinners, Christ died for us.
It is to you that He says: “This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
It is for your consolation that He cries out, “It is finished.”
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
March 24, 2015
“Boasting in Christ”
Dearly beloved in Christ:
Nancy and Rich,
Bruce and Diane,
Brian, Stephen, Lisa, and Carolyn,
Leona’s family and friends,
Members of St. Peter Lutheran Church:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
God’s Word for our comfort this morning is taken from the 5th chapter of Romans, especially these words: “Christ died for the ungodly.”
Oh may Thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold!
Oh, blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine!
These are words from our final hymn for this morning, which was one of Leona’s favorites. And they are so appropriate for this morning, because in the midst of our tears and our fears this morning we are -celebrating, boasting in a victory.
It is Leona’s victory, but it is one that she shares with everyone here who believes in her Lord Jesus Christ. For it is His victory, the victory that He won over sin and death and the grave, and which He shares with all who believe in Him, living and departed. And it is necessary that we remember this and make our boast in Christ’s victory, even as we grieve over our loss for a time of one of Christ’s faithful, bold and true soldiers.
We have not lost her. We have only lost her visible presence for a time, fighting alongside of us, just as surely as we have not lost our Lord Jesus. He is surely present with us to the end of the age, even though we can’t see Him. And Leona is with Him today. The hymn goes on:
And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
The golden evening brightens in the west
Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest.
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.
This morning with God’s help I want to sing you that “distant triumph song”, so that the hearts of you who believe in Leona’s Lord Jesus Christ may be bold and strong and fight the good fight of faith until you also share in the sweet calm of paradise the blest. And if there are those this morning who do not believe or are in doubt, I want to sing these words of Jesus Christ’s triumph song to you especially, so that you may share in the rest that Leona now enjoys.
But Leona had rest when she was on earth too. Didn’t she? Not that she didn’t work. She worked constantly in her home to serve others. We know that. And it wasn’t that she didn’t have pain and trouble. She had her share, as everyone does in this vale of tears. But Leona always gave the impression of someone who came from a place of peace and rest. She was gentle, calm, gracious. Where did this peace come from? It came from an unfeigned, strong trust in her Lord Jesus Christ. The first verse of our reading from Romans 5 tells us about this peace. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Leona’s personal peace rested on a peace that was outside of her, the peace that Jesus made for her and the whole world with God.
Peace with God is not something natural, something people are born with. In fact just the opposite is true. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son…” says the tenth verse. Verse 9 speaks of the wrath or anger of God which Christians are saved from. By nature we are not basically good with nothing standing between us and our God. By nature we are enemies of God and subject to His anger. We don’t naturally trust God—we naturally run away from Him and look to false gods to help us instead, gods of our own invention. The true God does not require that we basically be decent people and then He will be pleased with us. He demands that we be righteous, which means that we fulfill His holy ten commandments not only outwardly, with our actions and words, but also inwardly, with our thoughts and emotions.
That means that it isn’t enough that we partly trust God, but that we love and trust in Him with all our hearts. It’s not enough that we go to church occasionally or even often, but God requires that we hold His word sacred and gladly hear and learn it. God doesn’t require simply that we don’t commit murder, but that we love our neighbor as ourselves, that we are free from anger. He doesn’t simply require that we don’t commit adultery, but that we don’t even look at another person with lust. He doesn’t simply command that we not tell lies about our neighbor, but that we speak well of him and defend his reputation. God’s anger and wrath is coming on the world not only because people do sinful deeds and speak sinful words, but because they think sinful thoughts and feel sinful feelings. And His wrath means eternal punishment, eternal torment in hell. That is what is coming for everyone who is not righteous in the sight of God.
According to this standard, the standard of God’s law, no one is righteous. No one has peace with God according to the law of God. According to God’s law no one can be assured of eternal life, but only wrath and judgment. And this was true of Leona, too, as good and gentle as she was. She would have been the first to tell you that she was a sinner before God, as good as her life was before people.
Yet despite being a sinner, she had peace with God. She was “justified by faith…through [her] Lord Jesus Christ.” That means that though she was a sinner God counted her to be righteous on account of her faith in His Son Jesus. Why did He do that? Paul tells us in verse 6: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Let those words linger in your ears and on your heart. Those are the words of the distant triumph song sung by all the saints who rest from their labors. “Christ died for the ungodly.” It doesn’t say that Jesus Christ died for the worthy, for those who had tried hard to keep God’s commandments. It says He died for the ungodly, for those who had not kept God’s commandments at all. It says He died for us while we were still weak, while we were still powerless to do anything pleasing in God’s sight. While there was nothing good whatsoever in us, Christ died for us.
He died and took the punishment and penalty for all our sins of thought, word, and deed. He died, the righteous for the unrighteous, that our sins might be covered and we might be reconciled to God. He died for our sins and turned away God’s wrath against us. He made peace with God for us by shedding His blood on our behalf. By His death He blotted out the judgment that was against us and made us to be accounted not guilty of any of our sins. Instead, by His sinless death for us, we are declared righteous before God.
All this happens without any works on our part, only and solely by Jesus’ work for us. That is why it says, “Christ died for the ungodly,” and “while we were still sinners for us.” And this is our victory song when the fight is fierce and the warfare long, when we are tempted by the devil, when our sins accuse us, when our loved ones die, when people persecute us. “For very rarely for a righteous man will someone die, though perhaps for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God shows His own love to us in this—while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Our victory song that strengthens us to continue and not give up is that the holy son of God died for us while we were still ungodly, and our sins are forgiven for His sake. Jesus has blotted out our sins, turned God’s face toward us in favor, and won eternal life for us. And if He did this for us when there was nothing good in us at all, when we were still sinners and ungodly, how much more now will He help us and see us through to eternal life now that He has caused us to believe this?
Believing that Jesus has done this, we are “justified.” It means that God counts the righteousness of His Son to us. We stand before God as if we were Jesus, as if we had never sinned. All that Jesus is and has done is counted to us.
This is what Leona believed. Because she believed it, she had peace with God. If you believe it you too have peace with God. It is not a peace anchored in our feelings and circumstances, because our feelings shift like the waves of the sea, and our fortunes change like the tides. It is a peace that has been accomplished by Jesus, as surely as He shed His blood and died. He atoned for our sins, turned away God’s anger, and turned His face toward us. It is an unchanging peace; it is the rock on which lasting peace in our hearts is grounded.
And we should make our boast about this. Paul says this several times in the reading from Romans chapter 5. We have something to boast about in this world where we are given over to suffering, weakness, and death. The world thinks Christians are crazy and pitiful. We suffer often more than other people, and yet all our hope is in something neither they nor we can see with our eyes. All the world sees in us is a gathering of weak, all-too-human people telling one another that we will have glory and eternal life when this world is over. But Paul says that we Christians in the face of all this “boast.” In our version of the bible the word used is “rejoice” but the literal word in the original language is “boast.” “We boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” That means we boast and brag not of ourselves, but of our God who has reconciled us to Him through the death of His Son. And it says, “We boast of the hope of the glory of God.” That means we dare to boast that we will surely see God’s glory and stand before Him as righteous and have eternal life. How can sinful people who are dying like everyone else make such a boast? Because our salvation does not depend on ourselves and what we have done, but on Christ and what He has done. It has been accomplished by Jesus, who died for us while we were yet ungodly and sinners and justified us.
And Paul says we boast in one other thing. “We boast in our sufferings.” Today we are suffering. We say goodbye to a mother and grandmother, a kind friend and mentor, a Christian example and witness, and a faithful soldier of Christ and His church which is in the midst of a war with the devil and his hosts. Why would we brag in the midst of our sufferings? Paul says because we know that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”
We boast in God who has justified us with the blood of His Son. And we can also boast when our Father in heaven lets us experience suffering, because our Father doesn’t let us suffer to no purpose. Suffering produces endurance, perseverance. Through suffering we learn to hold on to Christ and what He has done for us no matter what. And perseverance produces character. As we persevere in trusting in Christ we develop a holy character, like Leona had, which trusts the Lord in hardship and doesn’t give up. Finally character produces hope—not hope that everything will turn out as we would like it in this world, but hope for that heavenly inheritance Christ purchased for us with His blood. Hope for eternal life and seeing the glory of God. Hope of the day when we are at rest, our battles are finished, and every tear is wiped from our eyes by the hand of God. And this hope does not put us to shame. It’s not a vain hope, like so many of the hopes of the world. The hopes of the world apart from Christ are destined to perish in the wrath of God that is coming on the world. But our hope is a living hope. It does not perish, spoil, or fade. It is stored up in heaven for us where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Jesus is our hope. We boast that He died for us because He died to justify the ungodly. We boast that because He died for us and rose again He will raise these bodies from the dead to live with Him forever when the world with its false hopes perishes. We make our boast that even in our sufferings He is preparing us for that day.
That is our hope and our boast for Leona, that through the blood of Jesus she now rests and is at peace with God forever. The peace which began for her in this life through faith in Christ she now enjoys more perfectly.
And on this day of mixed sadness and joy when we commend her to the Lord and say goodbye, we also make our boast in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not all Leonas. We do not all have her strength of faith, her wealth of love, her gentleness, her sanctification. But we have Jesus who died for the ungodly, the same Jesus she had, the same Jesus who has made peace with God for us and who justifies us. And so we boast in Him that we will share everlasting life with Leona through His blood.
But lo there breaks a yet more glorious day
The saints triumphant rise in bright array
The king of glory passes on His way.
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host.
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
The peace of God which passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria
St. Peter Lutheran Church
March 22, 2015
In the novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, a young man murders a pawnbroker. He has convinced himself that exceptional people are not bound by the laws of ordinary morality. He kills the woman with an ax and manages to escape without being found out. But he finds himself out. He is pursued by a judge he never expected—his conscience. The awareness of his crime alienates him from his family and friends. Everywhere he goes he either suspects that people suspect him, or he despises them for not knowing what kind of a person he really is.
That’s what a bad conscience does to a person. It makes them live their lives on the run from their sins and from judgment, but everywhere they go they are reminded of their guilt.
You may be surprised to know that we are living in a time when many people have bad consciences. It may come as a surprise because so many people act as if they had no awareness of sin. But don’t be fooled. We live in a time where we are told that everyone is an exceptional person and no one is bound by the rules of ordinary morality. But behind our society’s bold philosophy, which is the same as the main character’s in Crime and Punishment, is the same uneasy conscience that knows that some day there will be a reckoning.
But bad consciences are not limited to the non-believing world. You might think that Christians would be more likely than unbelievers to have a peaceful conscience. After all, we believe in “the forgiveness of sins.” But in reality just the opposite seems to be the case. Christians, you see, not only have God’s law written in their consciences, like everyone else. In addition they have God’s law preached to them from the pages of Scripture. We are much more clear on what exactly God requires of us than the world that only has the handwriting of the law on their consciences.
As a result Christians often struggle with a defiled conscience that haunts them. You probably are not haunted everywhere you go by a murder that you committed. Yet you are often pursued by the awareness that you have not been what God has commanded you to be. It may be that certain specific transgressions haunt you from the past. It may be that you chronically fall into a certain sin. Or it may not be. It’s not only sinful actions that defile us in God’s sight. We are defiled by sinful thoughts, impulses, and emotions. Anger defiles us and makes us unclean and unable to enter God’s presence. Covetous desires defile us. Lust defiles us. Lack of inclination to hear God’s Word and pray defiles us long before we have taken the sinful actions of neglecting His Word.
All these sinful impulses defile us, and the wages of all sin is death. Yet we can’t get away from them.
In fact, when we have a guilty, defiled conscience, all that we do is stained by it. When your conscience is defiled, you produce defiled works—dead works, the epistle reading calls them. You may be acting outwardly according to the law of God, but really your works are like a corpse is to a living human being. They are stiff, rotten, and unclean. That’s because they proceed from an unclean conscience that is trying to justify itself, make up for its own sins. This is what Jesus told the Pharisees. He said they were like whitewashed tombs because they looked pretty on the outside but inside were full of death. Outwardly they strove to obey God’s law but inwardly they were full of pride, selfishness, self-love. That’s what our works are like when they proceed from a defiled conscience. Such works can’t be pleasing to God. We can’t serve God with a defiled conscience.
In the Old Testament, the priests offered sacrifices for the people when they had sinned in order that they might have a clean conscience again. But the problem was that such sacrifices were only temporary remedies. The blood of a bull or a goat, it’s death, could not really take away sin. Day after day, year after year, animals had to die, their blood had to be shed. But sins were never removed once and for all.
And the law that the Jews had, which expressed the holy will of God, was holy and good and separated the Israelites from all the other nations on earth, because they knew the will of God. But it only increased the problem of a bad conscience. The law is spiritual. It not only judges external behaviors but also the inward movements of the heart. It not only condemns murder but the anger in the heart that leads to it. It not only condemns failing to keep the Sabbath day holy but also the inward contempt for God’s Word that leads to it.
Many times we Christians turn back to the law in an effort to deal with our sin and bad conscience. WE say, “I’m going to repent and try that much harder to put my besetting sin away.” But these efforts usually only increase our bad conscience. We should fight against our sins and drown them as soon as they come to birth within our hearts. But those efforts can never give us a peaceful, clean conscience before God. We can’t give ourselves a clear conscience by any works. Efforts to do so only multiply transgressions and bring forth stillborn, stinking, dead works.
The epistle for today tells us about the true cleansing for defiled consciences. It is not accomplished or effected by us or by any merely earthly priest. It is accomplished by Jesus Christ, who is the high priest and mediator of a new and better covenant than that of the law.
In the Old Testament the tabernacle of God was divided into three sections. Outside the tabernacle was the outer court, where the altar stood. This was the closest laypeople got to the presence of God. They came near to God at the place of sacrifice, where before their eyes and all their senses was the death and burning of an animal for their transgressions.
Just inside the tabernacle was the holy place. In there was the altar of incense. Each day a priest would enter the holy place to burn incense before the Lord, signifying the prayers of the people who had been made acceptable to God by sacrifice. The priests would draw near to God here and then go out and bless the people in the Lord’s name.
Divided from the holy place by a curtain was the Most Holy Place, the holy of holies. This was something like the throne room of God on earth. No one came into the Most Holy Place except for the chief priest, and that only once a year, with blood to sprinkle to make atonement for the sins of the people. But it had to be repeated every year. There was never a time when the people could say, “Our sin is gone. It is at an end and we are at peace with God.”
Our high priest, Jesus, did not enter into this Most Holy Place. Our reading from Hebrews says He went through the more perfect tent—the tabernacle not of this creation, not made with hands. He went into the eternal dwelling place of the Most Holy God. And He went, not carrying the blood of a goat or a calf that had died to make atonement for the uncleannesses of the people. He went into the eternal presence of God once with His own blood, the blood of the eternal God made flesh in the womb of the virgin. He offered His own blood once to make atonement for the sins of the whole world. And by that one offering, says the Epistle to the Hebrews, He “secured an eternal redemption.” That means by one offering of His blood He caused all sin from the beginning of creation into eternity to be blotted out and cancelled. There is no repetition of this sacrifice, no daily or yearly offering, because by His one offering Jesus removed all our sins forever with His blood. We can now say our sin is at an end. It is removed forever.
He mediates a new covenant between us and God. Under the old covenant offerings had to be made repeatedly to cleans the consciences of the people of Israel. Every time they sinned there would need to be a sin offering. Every year the chief priest would need to sprinkle the blood of atonement on the mercy seat for the whole nation. But Jesus doesn’t offer repeated sacrifices over and over. By the eternal Spirit of God He offered up His body and blood without blemish, without stain of sin, to the Father in His agony on the cross. By that one offering He has merited for us an eternal inheritance wherein we stand before God as His priests, servants, and sons forever. His death seals this inheritance to us.
Thus the blood of Jesus cleanses our consciences from dead works because we know that He has redeemed us eternally from sin by His one sacrifice. None of our sins are counted to us who believe in Jesus. Not even the sins of thought and emotion and attitude that constantly rise up within us. Not the sins from our past that haunt us. Not the sins we struggle with. We have been cleansed from their defilement by the death of the eternal Son, who offered Himself up for us. He establishes this new covenant or testament, in His blood, and brings it about that God regards our sins as covered, paid for, blotted out. Therefore we have no need to try to justify ourselves. We have already been justified by the blood of the eternal Son of God.
But Jesus not only atones for our sins; He also cleanses our consciences from defilement by applying His blood to us. He reconciled God to us by offering His blood for us. But He also cleanses our consciences by washing us, anointing us with His blood.
In the Old Testament if you touched a dead body or stepped on a grave you were unclean. Contact with death brought defilement, because death is the fruit of the uncleanness of sin. If someone was made unclean by a dead body or a grave, he was not allowed to come near God in the temple.
But God provided a means of cleansing from defilement. A red heifer would be slaughtered and burned to ashes, and they would mix the ashes of the heifer with water and sprinkle this on the person who was defiled on the 3rd and 7th day, and then he would be clean again.
The letter to the Hebrews says, “if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer” made someone clean who was defiled through contact with death, how much more will the blood of Jesus cleanse our consciences from dead works! In other words, if the ashes of a cow made someone clean who had touched death, much more will the blood of Jesus cleanse our conscience from sin when it is applied to us.
And how does Jesus’ blood touch us and cleanse our consciences? When it is preached that it was shed for you. That happens in preaching the good news. It is also applied to you when Jesus gives you His blood with the wine. He says, “Take, drink, this holy blood was shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Take, eat, this holy body was given for you.” There He cleanses you from defilement; all the uncleanness of your heart is cleansed. And He has sprinkled His blood on you once and for all when He baptized you. There the cleansing properties of His blood sanctified and cleansed you. You were scrubbed clean of all your defilement because you died with Him and were raised.
So cleansed, we are able to serve God. In the flesh with our bad conscience we cannot produce pleasing works to God. But now we have been set free from sin through the blood of Jesus. We have been released from God’s wrath by the offering of His blood. We have been eternally redeemed from our sin. And we have been cleansed from sin’s defiling of our conscience by the blood of Jesus which is applied to us in the word, baptism, and the Holy Supper. With consciences cleansed by His blood we can serve God in freedom, offering Him thanks for our redemption with our lips.
We serve Him by being served by Him. He served us by offering Himself to the whips, the nails, the cross, and the spear and the wrath of God. He serves us by applying the blood He shed to our wounded consciences. We serve Him by receiving His cleansing and going forth in freedom to love our neighbor as He has loved us. Be served by Jesus. Be cleansed by Him. Then do likewise for one another, and begin to rejoice in the eternal inheritance Jesus died for you to receive.
Soli Deo Gloria
I usually want to go to church. But sometimes I don’t.
I like the psalms, but I can’t pray some of them with a straight face. Psalm 122 is a prime example. David is a little too cheerful for me as he exclaims,
“I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’”
That certainly doesn’t roll off my tongue when I roll out of bed on Sunday morning. Maybe my wife and I stayed out a little too late on Saturday night. There’s still yard work and grocery shopping and laundry and a hundred other things that need to be done before Monday comes around. There’s a voters’ meeting after church that I’d like to avoid at all costs. I’m likely to get corned by Mr. Meddler or Mrs. Gossipalot and have to find a way politely to excuse myself from their logorrhea. Or maybe I’m just bone tired. I want to chill…
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Wednesday after Laetare
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Catechism: “Who receives this sacrament worthily?”
March 18, 2015
“When they had bound Jesus, they led Him from Caiaphas to the hall of judgment and gave Him over to Pontius Pilate, the governor. It was early. They themselves did not go into the judgment hall, so that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.”
See how the Jews took such care to be clean when they ate the holy meal of the passover? This was because the Law commanded that all the Jews not have any yeast in their homes during the time of the Passover, which is also called the feast of unleavened bread. So they didn’t want to go into the dwelling of a Gentile, for fear that there might be some yeast there which would make them unclean. It seems, too, that Jews avoided contact with Gentiles in general, maybe because they thought that the Gentiles’ contact with idols and other unlawful practices would make them unclean. The Jews were very concerned about being pure, because if they were ritually unclean, the Law said they were not allowed to go near to God in the temple or around other holy people or near holy things like the Passover meal.
Now if the Jews had a reason to be concerned about being pure when the Passover lamb they ate was only symbolic of Christ, how much more should we be concerned about being clean before receiving the sacrament of the altar? That is, we should be prepared to receive the Sacrament worthily. Because we are not just approaching symbols when we approach the Lord’s Supper. We are coming to receive the very body and blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This is the holiest of all holy things. We are coming near to receive the body of Jesus, about whom God said, “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased!” How terrible it would be to draw near and receive the body and blood of the Son in whom God is well-pleased only to defile and misuse it! St. Paul warns us against this in 1st Corinthians chapter 11: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” That means blaspheming against the body and blood of the Lord, desecrating it. He goes on, “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” What is Paul saying? When we come to the sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood unworthily, not recognizing it as the body and blood of Christ, we receive judgment from God instead of blessing. Paul says that many of the Corinthians had gotten sick or weak because they were eating and drinking without recognizing that it was Jesus’ body and blood. Some had even died.
This is part of the reason why our church practices “closed communion,” which means that those who have not been instructed and confessed the faith together with us are not allowed to receive Christ’s body and blood together with us. The first reason for this is because it would be wrong and harmful for us to give people the body and blood who may not be ready to receive it worthily. Those who eat Christ’s body unworthily, not recognizing the body of Jesus, receive judgment from God. They could become sick or die. And we would be helping them to profane the body and blood of Jesus if we knowingly gave them the holy gifts.
So it’s necessary that we know how to receive the Lord’s body and blood reverently and worthily. This is no child’s play. A hymn says: Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand; ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in His hand, Christ our God to earth descending, Comes our homage to demand.
So how do we receive Christ’s body and blood worthily? How do we approach the holy gifts in cleanness? The Catechism says: “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training.” Some people might think that to prepare for the Sacrament of the Altar we should fast or do other things to get ourselves into a devout and reverent frame of mind, where we recognize our sins and are sorry for them and intend to live a new life. Luther doesn’t say such efforts are worthless. Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. It’s good to discipline our flesh to make it pay attention to the holy things we are about to receive. In the Roman Catholic church you are supposed to not eat or drink anything for an hour before receiving holy communion. In the Greek orthodox church you are also supposed to refrain from eating or drinking or chewing gum also for a period of time after receiving holy communion. Are these worthless practices? No, they can be, certainly, fine outward training in that they restrain our flesh and force it to pay attention to the gifts Christ is giving. In the same way we used to have the practice of “dressing up” to go to church in order to show reverence for God’s Word and Sacraments. We kneel to receive the body and blood of Christ. That also is fine outward training. In the old days (but not that long ago) you had to announce your intention to go to holy communion to the pastor on the weekend before. Such practices were intended to make us stop and reflect on what we are doing when we go to communion. In the same way it is a good practice to pray before receiving the Lord’s Supper and ask for a heart that will receive the body of Christ worthily. It’s good to examine yourself and make confession of your sins to God and ask for His help to live a holy life, and receive absolution before going to Holy Communion. Prayer and absolution are not bodily preparation, exactly, but like bodily preparation such as fasting they are also not what makes you worthy to receive Jesus’ body and blood.
Preparing to receive the Lord’s Supper and to be in a devout frame of mind when receiving it is a good thing. But these efforts are not the thing that makes us truly worthy to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ. The Catechism goes on: “but that person is truly worthy and well-prepared who has faith in these words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words, ‘For you,’ require all hearts to believe.” What makes us worthy and clean to receive the body and blood of Christ? Believing His words with which He instituted the Sacrament: “This is my body given for you, this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
Why is that what makes us clean and prepared to receive the Sacrament? Because we cannot make ourselves clean to enter the presence of God and His holiness. No matter how sorry we are for our sins, no matter how many tears we shed, no matter how long we fast, how much money we give to the church or to the poor, no matter how seriously we intend and commit to changing our lives, we can’t make ourselves clean and worthy to come near to Christ and receive His salvation. What makes us worthy is that Jesus wants to give His life for us, freely. We get to come because He has decided to give His body and blood for our salvation. He invites us to come receive these most holy things.
What makes you clean and worthy to receive Jesus’ body and blood? Only believing that He gave them into death for you. That means you believe that when Jesus was on trial before Pilate, and the chief priests and elders were bringing charge after charge against Him, Jesus was silent and gave no reply because He wanted to be put to death for you, for your sins in particular. When Jesus allowed Himself to be handed over by Pilate and the whole cohort of soldiers surrounded Him to lash Him with whips, Jesus suffered that agony to make atonement for your sins. When He was clothed with a scarlet robe over His bloody back and crowned with a crown of thorns, and the soldiers knelt before Him to mock His claim to be a king, Jesus wanted to endure that for you so that you would not endure eternal mockery for trying to be like God. When Jesus was led humiliated before the crowd, you believe that He endured it for you so that you would not be led before all creation in shame on judgment day. When the crowds chanted for Jesus to be crucified and for Barabbas to be released, it was for you, so that you might not be cast away into eternal torment on the day of judgment.
This is what believing in the words “for you” means. It means that when the innocent son of God was hit in the face and spit on, when He bled from His flogging and His blood stained the ground, when He was condemned and put to shame as an evildoer, it was for you, out of love, that He was doing it. Your many and great sins which make you unclean in His sight, for those sins the only Son of God made payment with the suffering and death of His body and the shedding of His blood. All that is contained in those little words, “for you.”
Now if we reflect on this we see that this is very difficult for us to believe. Why would God give so much to save me from the very sins by which I have offended Him? Why would Jesus allow Himself to be rejected and beaten and mocked, not only by men but by God, for Peter who denied Him out of shame and fear at His approaching death? Why would Jesus shed His blood to atone for the sin of the crowds who were chanting for it, for His brutal death, for His body to be broken on the cross?
It’s Jesus own words that give us the confidence to believe this. They not only invite and encourage but also command us to believe that Jesus has done all this to deliver us from our sins and God’s punishment. He says, “This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” It is Jesus’ body and blood. It is His life to do with as He wills and as the Father wills. And His will and the Father’s will is to give His body and blood to ransom you from your sin.
So even though our own sinfulness would make us want to hide and not draw near to the Lord’s table, His words invite, encourage, console, and summon us to receive His body and blood precisely because we are such sinners that have such need. He invites and summons us in the assurance that He has made us worthy by His Words that say, “This is given and shed for you.” As our hymn today said:
Christ says: “Come all you that labor,
And receive my grace and favor;
Those who fell no pain or ill
Need no physician’s help or skill.
“For what purpose was My dying
If not for your justifying?
And what use this precious food
If you yourself were pure and good?”
It is just because we are not pure and good, because we are so in need of forgiveness and help, that Jesus summons us to receive this powerful, cleansing medicine. He wants us to come and receive the help of His bitter suffering and death. He wanted to give Himself for us and He wants us to come and receive His crucified body and shed blood that we might be healed. That is what His Words say, and believing these words, we are worthy to receive these most holy gifts, because we are the poor miserable ones to whom He says “This is for you.”
Amen. Soli Deo Gloria
O Jesus! Now Your blood begins to pour
From Your face with the sweat of Adam’s curse.
Judas has received the silver purse
And your disciples have begun to snore.
Your feet, washed with the weeping of a whore,
Your throat, which soon will gasp in bitter thirst,
Contort and choke; Your capillaries burst
And sobs wrack Your body to its core.
All this because my sins swarm upon You
And sting You with the thorn-pricks of despair,
And all the evil I routinely do
Is but the billionth part of what You bear.
Yet You accept and say, “Thy will be done,”
And let my guilt lie wholly on God’s Son.
Wednesday after Oculi
St. Peter Lutheran Church
Catechism: “How can eating and drinking do such great things?”
March 11, 2015
The Passion History for today recounts Jesus’ trial before the high priest. Jesus’ trial is not a fair one. The priests and elders have already decided what they want the outcome of the trial to be. They want Jesus condemned to death. So they bring in false witnesses to testify against Him. But they don’t realize that in their efforts to kill Jesus they are bringing about the fulfillment of the very word and teaching that so offended them.
Jesus preached the forgiveness of sins. He proclaimed forgiveness of sins to the sinners the leaders of the Jews had written off—the lowest of the low, the tax collectors and prostitutes. By handing Jesus over to death the leaders were causing Jesus’ word to come true. By His death and the shedding of His blood on the cross Jesus would bring about forgiveness and justification for the lowest of the low, the chief of sinners. Even for Peter who denied Him and Judas who betrayed Him. By His death Jesus would earn forgiveness for the whole human race. The forgiveness He preached would be sealed by His blood.
Forgiveness of sins was the substance of Jesus’ preaching. He didn’t come to earth to proclaim a new set of laws, rules, or regulations for people to fulfill. He came to proclaim that God was freely forgiving sins. It was not an incidental part of His preaching but the very heart and center of it.
Forgiveness of sins is at the heart of Jesus’ preaching and it is the reason why we can’t allow the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper to be lost or denied. Jesus instituted His supper so that we might have the forgiveness of sins. When people deny that the Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ true body and blood, they take away a means through which Jesus grants the forgiveness of sins to poor, miserable sinners.
That’s what is at stake in today’s question from the catechism: “How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?” The question is a perfectly rational one from a certain perspective. We have said that when a person eats and drinks the bread and wine of the Sacrament with faith in the words of Jesus, that person receives forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. But skeptics ask, “How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things? How can an earthly, bodily function like eating and drinking give the spiritual and eternal blessing of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life?” Deniers of the Sacrament criticize us, saying that we are claiming that we earn forgiveness and eternal life by an earthly work—eating and drinking.
But of course, as the catechism answers, we don’t say that. “Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘forgiveness of sins.’”
In other words it is not the physical eating and drinking that does the forgiveness of sins. It is the words of Jesus Chris that attach the forgiveness of sins to the bread and wine of the Sacrament. For His words declare the bread to be not merely bread, but His body, given for us, and the wine to be His blood, shed for us for the forgiveness of sins. It’s not the bodily eating and drinking that works the forgiveness of sins. The bodily eating and drinking done in faith in Jesus’ words receives what Jesus promises in the Sacrament. It’s Jesus words that make the bread and wine His body and blood and attach to them the forgiveness of sins. Our faith, worked by the Holy Spirit, simply receives Jesus’ promise. We eat and drink with our mouths what is given, but our souls at the same time receive and eat the words of Jesus that say, “This is for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Our mouths eat the body and blood of Jesus and at the same time our souls receive life from His words: “This body and blood is for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
Jesus won forgiveness for us by His death on the cross. That’s where forgiveness of sins was accomplished. But Jesus’ cross is not where we go to receive the forgiveness of sins. We can’t go back and touch the cross where Jesus died. Even if we could that wouldn’t give us the forgiveness of sins. What gives us the forgiveness of sins is the proclamation that Jesus died for us and our sins are forgiven. We receive the forgiveness of sins when we believe that Word of God.
That word of God is exactly the Word that He proclaims to us in the Sacrament of the Altar. He says, “This is my body, which is given for you; this is my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” By His word He takes what was given and shed for us on the cross and puts it into the bread and wine and distributes it to us.
If you could go back to the cross where Jesus died and thrust Your hand into His pierced side or let His warm blood drip on you, this would not give you the forgiveness of sins. But when Jesus proclaims His death for the forgiveness of your sins, that does give the forgiveness of sins. And when Jesus puts His very body and blood into your mouth, saying, “Take, eat; take, drink”—that gives the forgiveness of sins. We have the Lord’s own words declaring it in the institution of the Supper.
So when someone asks you, “How can bread and wine save you?” or “How can you believe you’re saved just because you ate and drank some bread and wine,” you answer: it’s not eating and drinking that saves me, but Jesus’ word. His words declare that this bread and cup are not ordinary bread and wine, but His body and blood. His words declare that they were given and shed for me for the forgiveness of my sins. So I know I am saved not because of my work of eating and drinking, but because of His Word that tells me this is His body and blood for my forgiveness.
The Sacrament gives us great joy and confidence that our sins are forgiven. For we receive in it not mere reminders of Christ’s body and blood given and shed long ago, but the very body and blood of Jesus, together with His Word promising that when we eat and drink them we receive the forgiveness of sins.
For Your consoling supper, Lord,
Be praised throughout all ages!
Preserve it, for in ev’ry place
The world against it rages.
Grant that this sacrament may be
A blessed comfort unto me
When living and when dying. (LSB 622 st. 8)
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria