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God’s Mercy Reflected in His Children. Trinity 4, 2015

4th Sunday after Trinity (Presentation of the Augsburg Confession)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 6:36-42

June 28, 2015

“God’s Mercy Reflected in His Children”

Iesu Iuva

God is merciful. Thank God.

He is just and righteous. He is a holy God. He is a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him. (Exodus 20:5-6)

But He is also merciful. The words of our Lord Jesus from today’s Gospel reading tell us, Be merciful, as your Father is merciful.

 

One dictionary defines mercy as “Compassion or forbearance shown to one (such as an adversary or offender) having no claim to kindness.”

That’s what God is and does. He shows compassion toward His enemies, even though they have no claim to kindness. He forbears; He holds back His wrath and judgment so that people may repent and turn to Him. He gives life and provides food and clothing, everything necessary for life, even to those who defy Him to His face. He has mercy on them.

God is merciful. But our society is not asking for mercy. It is taunting God by calling homosexual unions “marriage.” It flaunts this rejection of God as a great advance in morality. The White House makes itself the rainbow house, dying itself in the colors of the homosexual flag. How could our country proclaim more clearly that it does not believe in the God who speaks in Scripture? It has made an idol which it claims is the God of our fathers.

Our society has built a golden idol. I’m not sure what its name is, but one of its faces is same-sex marriage. And just like the golden image Nebuchadnezzar built in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s day, you will be expected to bow down when you hear the harp, bagpipe, flute and every kind of music. Though voices talk a lot about tolerance, there is no tolerance for those who don’t want to bow down to this image. Do you remember the bakers who didn’t want to make a cake for a gay “wedding?” Out of business. Don’t expect mercy from the world. Our society shows no mercy to millions of its infants in the womb who are slaughtered legally every year. If it has no mercy on helpless babies in the name of “freedom”, why would it have mercy on Christians who stand up and say, “This is wrong”?

There’s a reason why we can’t expect mercy from the world. God is merciful, but his enemy, the devil, is merciless. He is like a roaring lion going about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter). And Jesus told the people in his day who did not believe in Him that they were children of the devil. “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God…Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:42-44) And what Jesus taught was repeated by the apostles. Human beings are by nature children of the devil and under the power of the evil one.

Since human beings are under the power of the devil, who is merciless, by nature they don’t understand mercy. They don’t want to receive it and they won’t give it. They are completely depraved and dead to God. And this includes us by nature as well.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Romans 1:28-32

Yet even though this is the natural state of human beings, God has mercy. He does not reckon up our sins, but instead freely deals with the world in His grace. He continues to provide us with life and everything necessary to support it. He sustains body and soul and provides food and clothing even to those who are estranged from Him and don’t want to know Him.

But this is only the beginning of His mercy. Above all this He shows us His greatest mercy by inviting us, who have sinned against Him, to nevertheless call Him “Father” and be adopted as His children. Instead of condemning us to hell in righteous anger at our sins, He provided for our deliverance from sin. He gave His only-begotten Son to join us in flesh and blood and be our ransom and Redeemer from sin. He set apart His only-begotten Son to have our sins placed on His head and to die under God’s judgment in our place. God gave His only Son to take our place under the curse and punishment that was due us. By His agony on the cross Jesus took away our sin and made it so that all who believe in Him are adopted as children of God. That was mercy. That was God’s indescribably mercy. It reconciled us to God, made us sinless and without reproach in His sight, made us God’s blessed children and heirs. Such is the mercy of God.

In today’s Gospel our Lord Jesus tells us what kind of life must follow in those who have received God’s mercy. We must also be merciful like our Father, “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1) We must be merciful because it is only fitting that those who owe everything to God’s mercy should be merciful. We must also be merciful because that mercy shows that we have been reborn as children of our merciful Father in heaven, that we are no longer children of the unmerciful devil. We must be merciful because our Father wants the world to see His mercy pictured in the lives of His children.

Christians are no longer children of the devil. Christians have been born again as children of God by the Word of God. That word came to us in Baptism and regenerated us, and it comes to us in the preaching of God’s Word, converting those who have fallen and sustaining those who believe. It is the word of God’s mercy in Christ. Through it we receive God’s mercy, that He receives us for the sake of Jesus’ death on the cross and does not count our sins to us.

And Jesus commands that those who have received mercy from God to show mercy. This is fitting for us as children of the merciful Father in heaven. The world does not know mercy. We proclaim God’s mercy. And here Jesus commands us not merely to proclaim it, but also to preach it with our lives. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you…In a world that is without mercy, Christians are to refrain from judging and condemning our neighbors, to forgive them, and to freely give to them.

When enemies judge you and try to destroy your life, you are not supposed to repay them in kind. Even though they judge and condemn you, you refrain from judging and condemning them. You pray for them and seek their well-being in this life and the life to come.

It’s important to clarify that when Jesus says, “Judge not” He is not saying that we should not recognize sin as sin or be afraid to call sin sin. We have to recognize sin as sin, otherwise we approve it and do harm to our neighbor, affirming him in it when we should be seeking his salvation.

But although we are required to judge false doctrine and reprove sin, we are supposed to do so not out of malice and retribution but in love for our neighbor. You are not supposed to delight in the sin and shame of your neighbor but to love him and seek his good. So if your brother in the church sins, Jesus tells you to take him aside and rebuke him, but in such a way that you save his reputation. Unless his sin is publicly known, you take him aside and reprove him in secret. “Judge not” does not mean that God forbids you to notice your neighbor’s sin. It means that God forbids you to wish your neighbor anything but his everlasting blessing, even when he sins. So you are allowed to notice your neighbor’s sins and even to call him on them, but only in the interests of seeing your neighbor blessed and saved for eternity.

This is the mercy we are to show to our enemies. When they judge and condemn us, we don’t condemn and hate them in return, but pray and work for their salvation.

When we consider that this is the standard to which God holds His children, we are liable to be struck with fear. How often we are possessed by judgmental thoughts and impulses to condemn! Even more, we carry those thoughts and impulses out in bitter words, in gossip, in curses. How often when we do carry out our callings to judge and reprove we are not motivated by love toward our brothers but by a vengeful spirit. We can see that our hearts are filled with unmercifulness that is not like the character of our Father in heaven. Because He does not count up people’s sins. He freely gives daily bread, life, and every good thing even to those who hate Him.

And He would not stop at that. He wants to give everything that is His to His enemies, even His only-begotten Son. It is God’s will that no sinner should perish or be judged or condemned. Jesus said, “Whoever hears my Word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5:24)

If that is God’s will, that is the extent of His mercy, how can we be children of the merciful Father when there is still so much of a judging, condemning spirit in us?

The answer is that the remnants of our sinful nature that still live in us, as powerful as they may be, are not counted to the repentant Christian. Only Christ’s righteousness and the good works He does in us are counted to us. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Christians struggle with their desire for vengeance, with their mercilessness. They struggle against their Old Adam daily because it was killed with Christ in Baptism. We struggle against our old wicked nature because it was crucified with Christ, and we belong to another—to Him who was raised from the dead. And the sin that remains in us while we daily repent and believe in Christ is not counted to us. It is forgiven, covered.

That does not mean that you should take it easy in your fight with your merciless sinful nature. It must be resisted and be put to death moment by moment, day by day. Those who don’t fight against the judgmental old Adam in them are not children of God, who is merciful. But when these words of Christ terrify you, don’t despair. You are not judged because you believe in Jesus Christ. You are not condemned because you are in Him. His Spirit lives in you and fights against your sinful nature that wants to judge and condemn, be unforgiving, etc. Those who are led by the Spirit of God are Sons of God. You are not under law, but under grace. The Holy Spirit bears witness that your sins are forgiven through Christ and He leads you in the footsteps of your merciful Father in heaven.

So these words of Jesus provide us with consolation and assurance that our faith in Him is right and living. “Forgive and you will be forgiven, give and it will be given to you…for with the measure you use, it will be measured to you again.” That doesn’t mean that you must forgive and give perfectly, otherwise you will have no reward. It means this: You believe that God is your Father through Christ and freely forgives you. So when you see yourself striving to forgive and give and not judge, etc., you can say, “See, this is proof that I have true faith in Christ, because the Spirit within me is warring against my old unmerciful nature. If I was a child of the devil there would be no struggle. I would judge, condemn, hate, and revenge myself without compunction.”

God is merciful. Thank God. Because of His mercy our sins are forgiven. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

By His body and blood today, by which He shows and assures us of His mercy, may He give us merciful hearts that reflect His mercy to our lost world.

And may His Word, which endures forever, go forth in power to convict the world of sin and to comfort sinners with His mercy in Christ.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

Love for Lost Sinners. Trinity 3, 2015

3rd Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 15:1-10

June 21, 2015

“Love For the Lost Sheep”

Iesu Iuva

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him. Luke 15:1

 

This is a marvelous sentence. The tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to hear Jesus. It wasn’t just your everyday, run-of-the-mill sinners who were coming to listen to Jesus. It was the blatant sinners, people who were marked and avoided as being godless, excommunicated sinners. They were coming to listen to Jesus preach, and Jesus was receiving them, not driving them off.

For some of us today this may be a difficult thing to relate with. These were people living in public, open, unrepentant sin. Maybe you are not. Of course, we all know plenty of other people who are openly unrepentant. For instance, those who despise God’s Word by seldom or never coming to hear it preached. Those who openly live in sexual sin—premarital sex, adultery, homosexuality, pornography. Those who slander and backbite and continue to do so even though they are rebuked. The list goes on. Paul gives us a longer list in Galatians chapter 5. “Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21). When a person falls into such sins and does not repent, it means that they have fallen from the grace of God. They are on their way to hell.

Now most of us here today, or at least many of us, are not living in such sins. So it may be hard for us to relate to the joy this passage holds for sinners and tax collectors, for those who have fallen into grievous sin. For those who have fallen this passage holds out news of hope and unspeakable joy. It tells us that God is not idly or happily watching sinners perish. He is eagerly seeking the fallen, desiring their salvation. And when He finds them and brings them home, He rejoices over them along with all the angels in heaven.

That’s truly good news if you are a tax collector or a sinner, if you are sorry and afraid of your sins and long for salvation. God is seeking you out to give you forgiveness and restore you. But what if your sins are not so great and you are not so heavily burdened by them? What if you have not fallen into public, unrepentant sin?

First of all, you should give thanks to God for preserving you from great shame and vice, because without His grace you too would surely have fallen. But secondly this Scripture also shows how severely even those who have lived an upright life before the world have sinned. It draws a picture of what kind of love God has for the ungodly, and what kind of love He requires in the Law that we have.

You have heard the summary of the ten commandments before. The summary of the first table is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul and all your strength.” And the second table is summarized with “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? Jesus says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That’s simple. It’s the golden rule we teach to children. If your neighbor is hungry or thirsty, you feed him and give him something to drink, because that’s what you would have him do to you. If your neighbor is being slandered, you defend his reputation. If he has property, you help him to keep it and improve it, you don’t try to get it away from him. That’s love in external, bodily things, and that’s what God requires of us in the ten commandments.

But it is a much greater thing to love your neighbor in spiritual things. That means when you see your neighbor on the road to hell, you don’t shrug it off and say, “That’s his problem.” You deal with your neighbor as if his sin was your sin. What would you want your neighbor to do for you if you were caught in a sin and bound for hell? Would you want him never to say anything about it and mind his own business? Or would you want him to take you aside and preach the law of God to you so that you turn from your evil way and seek God’s grace? For myself, I would want my neighbor not to talk about me, nor cast me off as a lost cause, but to take me aside and warn me frankly to repent of my sin.   I would want him to love me enough to seek my eternal welfare.

And that’s how much God commands and requires that we love our neighbor. He requires that we love him enough to seek his eternal well-being as if it were our own. That doesn’t just mean telling him that Jesus loves him and hoping he gets it. It means warning him with the law when he is unrepentant. But God doesn’t just require talk from us to our neighbor. Our hearts are to be full of love toward our neighbors, so that we can’t rest while they are perishing. That’s the way that God loves the lost, and it was this love that made the sinners and tax collectors come to Jesus. They heard stern rebukes and warnings from Jesus. Jesus preached, “Repent.” But they didn’t run away from Jesus as a harsh judge. It was clear that everything Jesus did and said proceeded from deep, passionate love for lost sinners. He was searching for them, longing for them, seeking them out the way a widow looks for her lost coin or a shepherd searches for his lost sheep.

In the past few weeks you’ve heard me try to speak clearly and call sin sin with regard to some of the things our society is trying to whitewash and legitimize. But in the scheme of things it’s relatively easy to stand behind this pulpit and say trying to change your sex is sinful, or having relations with someone of the same sex is sinful. But all of that is a dead work if there isn’t also love for sinners behind it. The Pharisees and scribes were able to call sin sin too. But they fell short of the righteousness of God because they didn’t also have heartfelt love for lost sinners that seeks them out and makes their sin its own. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels but have not love, I am a clanging gong or a crashing cymbal.”

And that’s just how we are in our sinful flesh—a lot of noise with no substance. A tongue ready to declare the law with a heart devoid of love for those who are condemned by the law. Our love for sinners is lacking. More often than not we don’t rebuke our sinning neighbors. We claim that we refrain out of love, when really it’s that we’re more afraid of our loved ones, friends, or acquaintances getting angry with us. We so quickly grow tired of calling people to repentance, especially when we feel their hostility. And when we do rebuke, we often do so not out of heartfelt love for the lost but out of our own anger or disgust. And people can sense this. They sense that we lack the love that seeks the good of our sinning neighbor as if it were our own good. And the tax collectors and sinners do not draw near to us, because they rightly sense that we are not going to rejoice over their being found.

By this standard, God’s standard, we all stand in great need of repentance. By human standards such a lack of love is no big deal. But in the sight of God it is an inexcusable hard-heartedness.

The tax collectors and sinners were burdened by the weight of their sins and the judgment of God. That’s why they found joy when they drew near to Jesus and heard that their sins were forgiven. If we cannot feel the burden of our sin of lovelessness, we should at least believe God that such a lack of concern for the eternal welfare of our neighbor is a great sin in His sight. We may not feel the full weight of our sins, but we should believe God and draw near with the tax collectors and sinners to listen to Jesus.

Then Jesus’ parable comes as good news to us, too. It comes as joyful news whether we are public sinners or those whose lack of love condemns us before God. Jesus tells us that God is in no way passive as He sees sinners on the way to destruction. God is actively seeking us while we are lost, before we start looking for Him. He is looking for us while we are lost because we are of great value to Him, the way a lost sheep is valuable to its shepherd, the way a lost coin is valuable to a poor widow. Whenever we become aware of the heaviness of our sins, we begin to tremble before God. The law and our conscience tell us that He must be furiously angry with us. Indeed, according to the law He cannot be anything less than angry with us as sinners. But Jesus tells us here that God is not hunting us like an avenger when we are lost in our sins. He is looking for us, eager to bring us back home on His shoulders, and to call His friends, the angels and the saints, together, that they might rejoice with Him over us. He hunts for us the way a widow hunts for a lost coin and the way a shepherd hunts for a lost sheep.

He was hunting for you long before you were hunting for Him. Before the foundation of the world, Scripture tells us, He planned for your redemption. He foresaw our fall into sin and He planned to give His Son to redeem us. Jesus came and sought out lost sinners by taking up human nature, so that there is nothing about us that is foreign to God. He has taken up everything that we are. And though He committed no sin, He made Himself one with us in our guilt before God. He picked us up like a lost sheep and put us on His shoulders. We were lost in our sins and could not find our way back to God, innocence, and life. He found us. He met us and found us at the cross of Calvary, where He bore all the wrath of the righteous God at our sins.

He eagerly sought out the lost sinner, you, all the way to the death of the cross. Now He seeks us out in the preaching of His Word. With the preaching of His law He finds us lost in our sins. He sweeps the house and uncovers us in the dust when He preaches the ten commandments to us. Then He proclaims the good news of the forgiveness of our sins through His cross. He puts us on His shoulders and carries us. He exalts us and lifts us up to sit on His shoulders. His righteousness is our righteousness. His holiness is our holiness. Now wolf can get to us when we lie on the shoulders of our shepherd Jesus. To destroy His lamb the devil, death, hell, and sin must first destroy Jesus. And that is impossible because He is risen from the dead, the conqueror of sin, death, and the devil. He puts us on His shoulders when He baptizes us, preaches the Gospel to us, absolves us, and feeds us His body and blood.

What is mine is yours, He tells us in the Gospel. In His love, which is a consuming fire, He has made everything that is His serve us. His life is our life, His righteousness our righteousness.

This is how we have to learn to console our consciences when our sins afflict us and death confronts us. At such times God’s law thunders in our ears that we have transgressed and earned His wrath. The threats of the law terrify us and we feel we are going to perish in God’s anger. That’s all our reason and our flesh know—God’s law and the righteousness it proclaims, that the one who does it is righteous. That’s the reason the scribes and Pharisees sneer and grumble at Jesus. “The law says sinners are cursed and cast out from God’s presence. How can Jesus receive them?” They don’t know the righteousness of God that the Gospel proclaims, and our flesh doesn’t understand it either. “hOw can God, who hates sin, love and eagerly desire sinners?” This is the mystery of the Gospel and it is what Jesus came to teach. Jesus didn’t come to preach a new law or set of laws. Moses had given the law already. Jesus came to preach the good news that God is seeking the lost sinners and that when they are found he rejoices over them.

How are lost sinners found? When they are brought to repentance. That is, when they hate their sins but believe that God has forgiven them through Jesus. This is the picture we need to put before our eyes when our sins accuse us and we are afraid of God’s wrath. We need then to hold on to this Gospel that tells us that God is eagerly seeking the lost sinners and rejoices over their salvation as if He had found a great treasure.

When we aren’t troubled about our sins and we are living our life on earth, it is a good thing for us to have the law before our eyes. Then we can have Jesus before us as an example. He didn’t seek His own welfare and wealth but ours. He saw us helpless in our sin and gave Himself to bear it and to preach to us that we might not remain lost but might be brought to God. The love that made Him do this should be our example when we are dealing with our neighbor. We should be willing to suffer everything and give up everything if only our neighbor might be saved. Jesus’ example should move us to pray to God to give us more fervent love for our neighbor, so that we are willing to rebuke him and bear with him and love him until his soul is saved. Jesus’ example should stand before us, together with the ten commandments, as a sermon that puts to death our self-love and our self-seeking so that we seek our neighbor’s welfare in body and soul. The example and love of Jesus is what propels us to take risks in seeking our neighbor’s salvation.

But whenever we are frightened of our sins and God’s wrath, whenever our failure to love accuses us, then we must have Jesus before us not as our example but as our redeemer. For He has sought us out and put us on His shoulders. He bore the cross and our sins, and He placed us into His body crucified and risen in our Baptism. We cling to Him and hang around His neck. He is ours and we are His. Our sin is His sin. His righteousness and life is our righteousness and life.

This is what gives us confidence to witness, to proclaim Christ, to seek our neighbor’s salvation. If we were being judged by God’s law no one would ever dare to open their mouth in Christ’s name. After all, who knows? You might say something wrong. You might not rightly divide law from Gospel. You might sin and make the Gospel look bad. You might offend someone so that they never want to hear the word of God again.

But we are not being judged by God’s law. We are righteous by faith alone in Jesus. Our righteousness is complete and certain because it is the righteousness of Jesus. So when we seek our neighbor’s salvation, we do it not to justify ourselves or contribute something toward our salvation. That is already accomplishes. We do it out of love—out of love for Jesus who has redeemed us, and out of love for our neighbor whom we begin to love in Christ and whom our Lord Jesus has already loved when He was crucified.

May God fix before our eyes the love of Christ toward us and fill us with love toward our neighbor. As we partake of Christ’s passionate love toward us in His body and blood, may He also fill us with ardent love toward lost sinners, whether they are in our church, our families, or our neighborhoods.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

Place Yourself Beside the Publicans. Luther

Luther-Predigt-LC-WBThe Gospel is spoken to those only who acknowledge their sins, and their sins they acknowledge when they repent of them. But this Gospel is of no use to the Pharisees, for they do not acknowledge their sins. To those, however, who do acknowledge them, and are about to despair, the Gospel must be brought…

Therefore, when you feel your sins gnawing at you, and feel your heart trembling and agitated, place yourself beside the publicans where they are standing. These are the very ones who shall receive the Gospel. Do so joyously, and say: “Oh God! It is thy word that says there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine righteous persons, who need no repentance, and that all the righteous and angels are to interpose and cover up sins. Now, Oh, God! I have come to this that I feel my sins. I am already judged. I need but the one Shepherd who seeketh me; and I will therefore freely venture on thy Gospel.”

It is thus that you come to God. You are already the sheep placed upon his shoulders. You have found the Shepherd. You are the piece of silver in the hand. You are the one over whom is joy in heaven in the presence of all the angels. We are not to worry, if we do not experience or feel this at once. Sin will daily decrease, and its sting will drive you to seek God. You must struggle against this feeling by faith, and say: “Oh God! I know thou hast said this, and I lean upon thy Word. I am the sheep and the piece of silver; thou the shepherd and the woman.”

You might say: Yes, this I will gladly do; but I cannot atone for my sins. I can render no satisfaction for them. Consider then the publicans and sinners. What good have they done? None. They came to God, heard his Word and believed it. Do the same.

Luther, Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity, Lenker, vol.2, p.65-66.Luther-Predigt-LC-WB

How Christians Should Love and Serve Sinners. Luther

luther cranach3You have often heard that it is our duty, for love’s sake, to serve our neighbor in all things. If he is poor, we are to serve him with our goods; if he is in disgrace, we are to cover him with the mantle of our honor; if he is a sinner, we are to adorn him with our righteousness and piety. That is what Christ did for us. Phil. 2. He who was so exceedingly rich did, for our sake, empty himself and become poor. He served us with his goods, that we in our poverty might become rich. He was made to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Now, the outward works of love are very great, as when we place our goods in the service of another. But the greatest is this, that I surrender my own righteousness and make it serve for the sins of my neighbor…This means that I must love the sinner and be his friend, must be hostile to his vices and earnestly rebuke them, yet that I must love him with all my heart so as to cover his sins with my righteousness…

In short, such and enemy of my neighbor am I to be that I cannot let him suffer. So dearly must I love him that I shall even run after him, and shall become like the shepherd that seeks the lost sheep, like the woman that seeks the lost piece of silver…

A truly Christian work is it that we descend and get mixed up in the mire of the sinner as deeply as he sticks there himself, taking his sin upon ourselves and floundering out of it with him, not acting otherwise than as if his sin were our own. We should rebuke and deal with him in earnest; yet we are not to despise but sincerely to love him. If you are proud toward the sinner and despise him, you are utterly damned…

Moses acted thus when the Israelites worshipped the molten calf. He mingled freely with the people in their sins. Yet he punished them severely, and caused three thousand men to be slain from gate to gate. Ex. 32. After that he went up and bowed down before God, and prayed that he would forgive the people their sin, or blot him out of the Book of Life. Behold, here we have a man who knew that God loved him and had written his name in the book of the blessed; and yet he says: “Lord, I would rather that thou shouldest damn me and save the people.”

Paul, too, acted thus. At times he rebuked the Jews severely, calling them dogs and other names. Yet he knelt down and said: “I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren’s sake.” Rom. 9:3. It is as if he had said: “I would willingly be anathema, if only the mass of the people might be helped…”

Such should be your bearing toward sinners; inwardly the heart in service, outwardly the tongue in earnest.

Martin Luther, “Third Sunday after Trinity” in Lenker Vol. 2, pp. 57-66.

Categories: Love, Luther Tags: , ,

Good News For Sinners. Funeral Sermon

In Memoriam + Raymond Swank

Tezak Funeral Home

Luke 15:1-10

June 16, 2015

“Good News for Sinners”

Iesu Iuva

Janice,

Chris, Kathy, Phillip, Kimberly, Raymond, and Edith,

Raymond’s family and friends,

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

The Gospel reading we just heard contains extremely joyful news if you are a sinner. It tells us that Jesus goes looking for sinners the way a shepherd goes looking for his lost sheep, the way a widow goes looking for money that she’s lost. Jesus seeks out sinners, and when He finds them He carries them back home, and God and all the angles rejoice. That’s why Jesus wasn’t ashamed to be seen eating and drinking and commiserating with people who had been rejected by the Scribes and Pharisees, who were important religious people in those days. They grumbled about Jesus: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” They mean that Jesus didn’t shun and reject sinners. He let them come to Him.

This is good news for sinners. It means that if you are one Jesus will not cast you out but receive you. And to be received by Jesus means to receive eternal life and be saved from the punishment of sin, which is eternal damnation.

Unfortunately in our day and age sinners seem to have become extinct. We no longer can find them. People in our time think that all people are basically good. They may make bad decisions, but basically they’re good. So we don’t worry too much about hell or being judged by God, because God knows [we’re told] that everyone is basically doing the best they can.

But that isn’t what the Bible says. It says that all human beings are sinners. It says that even if a person lives a respectable life in the world, even a religious life, he is a sinner before God, because he doesn’t love God with all his heart or his neighbor as himself. People are born this way, with a heart inclined to disobey God’s commandments, in fact, with hearts that are unable to keep God’s commandments. That makes us sinners. And the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6). God told the first man and woman on earth that if they disobeyed His commandment they would surely die. And so human beings have lived and died since the first man and woman sinned. They lived breaking God’s commandments, trying to avoid facing the fact that after they died they would be judged by God not only for their actions, but also for evil words and thoughts and desires. Human beings by nature are truly in a hopeless situation. They are condemned to eternal death and torment in hell for their sins.

But in the Gospel for today we have good news for sinners. The Gospel tells us that all the really obvious, blatant sinners were coming near to Jesus, who is God in human flesh. And Jesus was not driving them away, even though they had broken God’s commandments. He was receiving them, eating with them, dwelling with them, even though they had sinned and were still sinners. Jesus was so friendly and kind with these obvious sinners that the people who were considered upstanding religious leaders were disgusted. They grumbled, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” And they were right. Jesus didn’t cast away the sinners but received them as righteous people.

He not only received the sinners when they came, but He was seeking them out before they drew near to Him. That’s why Jesus was in the world, to seek out and save lost sinners who were condemned to hell. A bible passage says, “This is a trustworthy saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1). In the Old Testament reading today we heard a prophecy of what Jesus’ work on earth would be: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…” (Is. 61:1) That’s why Jesus came into the world—to bring good news and comfort to those who are brokenhearted because of sin and suffering and death. To free them from the prison of sin, death, and hell.

Today you are brokenhearted. You may be relieved that Raymond’s struggles on earth are over, but you still are brokenhearted because you have had to lose one you love. Jesus came into the world to comfort people who are broken by sin and death. He came to set them free from that prison. He came to seek out and save sinners. How does He do that? By preaching the forgiveness of sins.

The reason we die and face judgment from God is because we are sinners. But God, in His mercy, did not want us to live and die in the prison of sin. So He came into the world as one of us, a human being. He lived perfectly according to the law of God, without sin. Then He suffered and died, bearing our sins before God, so that sin and its punishment might be taken away from us.

That is how Jesus bore the lost sheep on His shoulders. He took all the guilt of lost sinners on Himself and bore the punishment, the wrath of God, on the cross. And now He calls out into the world with the voice of the Gospel and goes searching for the lost sheep, the ones who have wandered from God and eternal life. He says, “Come to Me.”

And what do you have to do to come to Jesus? Nothing. That is to say, you have to be a sinner. If you are a sinner, if you acknowledge yourself to be one, then Jesus’ voice is calling you with the good news that your sins are forgiven. There is nothing you have to do or can do to earn the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Jesus has already earned it for you. You simply receive it from Him as a gift. He testifies that the forgiveness of sins belongs to you in the Gospel. He says, “Your sins are forgiven because I died for you. It is all done.” In Baptism, He pledges that the forgiveness of sins is yours. And in Church He gives His body and blood under the bread and wine to assure us that our sins are forgiven and we have eternal life.

So being a Christian and being righteous before God is not a work or a series of good deeds that we have to perform. God does it. He convicts us of our sins by preaching to us His law and the judgment to come. Then He consoles and comforts sinners, He gathers them to Himself, by preaching the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ death for us. And He continues to do this. That’s why Christians go to church. It isn’t supposed to be because you earn points with God by going to church. But in the services of God’s house Jesus preaches good news to the poor. In the services of God’s house He gathers sinners to Himself and proclaims to them the forgiveness of their sins. It is that preaching of Jesus that sustains our faith that we are righteous before God in the ongoing struggle we have with sin as long as we are alive. Without Jesus’ word we are left alone in our sins like a lost sheep or a lost coin that cannot find its way back.

Today as you say goodbye to the man who was your husband, father, grandfather, friend, you are not alone. Jesus is with you. He is not with you with false promises and hopes like the world gives—the false hope that there are no sinners and God will give everyone eternal life as long as they are a somewhat decent person. Jesus is with you with the hope and promise that God gives. His promise is that God is seeking His lost sheep and that He and the angels rejoice in heaven whenever one sinner repents. His promise is that He carries lost sinners on His shoulders like a shepherd who finds his lost sheep. He gives the true hope and promise to all who are troubled by sin and death that He has died and made atonement for all your sins and rescued you from the power of hell.

Though this is a day of grief, may God grant that there be rejoicing in heaven today over sinners who repent and believe the good news of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. On this day when we mourn over the power of death, may the stronger power of eternal life manifest itself as lost sheep find rest on the shoulders of Jesus Christ. May God comfort you in your grief with the good news that He has sought you out and rescued you in the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

The Party No One Wanted To Come To. 2nd Sunday after Trinity, 2015

2nd Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 14:15-24

June 14, 2015

The Party No One Wanted To Come To.

Iesu Iuva

Have you ever given a party or a dinner and no one wanted to come? Everyone made excuses? “Oh, I have to go to the doctor that day”? The excuses may even be real, but that doesn’t take away the humiliation of having no one want to come to your party. You may never have had this experience, but you can imagine how it would feel. A kid who had no one come to his birthday party would probably cry. An adult would probably feel angry at his so-called friends.

In Jesus’ parable today it is God who is throwing a party that no one wants to come to. This comes as a shock to the religious men with whom Jesus is eating a dinner. They were sure that they were going to be invited to God’s banquet, and they thought that when the invitation came they would be eager to drop everything and come to it. But Jesus tells them that they have already been invited but have refused to come.

Jesus is not really telling a new story but an old one. Long ago God gave a promise to the ancestors of the Jews that there would be a baby born from their stock who would take away the sins of the world. But most of the Jews did not believe this promise. And when God brought the people out of Egypt to be His holy nation, they continually rebelled against God and refused His offer. They didn’t believe He was going to provide for them. The second they were lacking something they complained and wanted to go back to slavery. When Moses was gone on the mountain talking to God, they built an idol and turned to it instead of to the Lord. Then when they arrived at the border of the promised land, they rebelled and did not believe that God would bring them in. Finally God said, “Fine. You will wander in the desert forty years until you die, and then I will bring your children into the land.” This is what God eventually does when people despise His promise and invitation. He eventually will let people have their own way and give His good gifts to others.

Jesus is saying that this is what will happen to the Jews. They—at least the Pharisees—are claiming that they eagerly desire to come to God’s banquet of eternal life and blessedness. But Jesus is saying, “It is already here, and you are refusing it.” The Pharisees had not listened to the preaching of John the Baptist, who called out for the people of Israel to repent and be baptized because the kingdom of God was at hand. And even more the Pharisees had not listened to the preaching of Jesus, who called them to come to the banquet of God, to receive the forgiveness of sins. Jesus called them to come because the kingdom of God was present where He was. He was the King. In Him God and man are united in one person. In Him there is fellowship and communion between God and man. And He shares the fellowship and communion with all who believe in Him.

But most of the people to whom Jesus preached did not want to come to the banquet of God, which means that they did not want to come to Jesus and believe that in Him God was reconciled to sinners. They didn’t want to come because to come to Jesus meant losing earthly things, or at least putting them second. In Jesus’ parable the people who are invited to the banquet say, “I’m sorry, I can’t come because I have just bought a field.” “I have bought oxen to plow my field.” They have business and financial concerns that keep them from coming to the feast. Or, “I have just gotten married, so I can’t come.” Jesus isn’t saying it’s a sin to get married or run a business and make money, but He is saying that a person can’t put those things first and also seek God’s kingdom. Because to come to Christ, who is God’s feast where we are fed with eternal life, we must be willing to lose “life, goods, fame, child, and wife,” as we sing in “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”   When God called Abraham to go into a foreign country so God could make him a great nation, Abraham could have said, “But all my family is here. It will be dangerous to go to a land where I don’t know anybody.” Abraham trusted that the God who promised to make him into a great nation would also protect him in the land into which God called him to go.

Most of the Jewish people did not believe in Christ when God invited them to come to Him and receive eternal life. What was the reason? Jesus says because they were concerned with their earthly life first—with family and business. He doesn’t say they were out living immoral lives, and that’s why they wouldn’t come to the feast. They were occupied with things that God gives. Family and work are gifts from God. However, God doesn’t want us to be so occupied with those things that they come before His greatest gift, which is the Gospel of His Son. That is the feast to which the Jews were invited and to which we are invited, and to which God invites the whole world in the preaching of Christ.

And it is a rich feast God spreads before us in the Gospel. He doesn’t offer us temporary treasures and pleasures in the Gospel. He offers and invites us to partake of rich food and drink that sustains our lives forever. He freely invites us in the Gospel to come and be forgiven all our sins through the suffering, agony, and death of His beloved Son. He says in the Gospel that everything Jesus is and has is for you. His righteousness is yours, by which He fulfilled the entire law. His innocent suffering and death is yours, by which He made full atonement for all your sins. His resurrection from the dead is yours, by which He justified us and rose with sin dead and buried to appear before God as our advocate forever. St. Paul says in Colossians, “In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge…In Him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, and you have been filled in Him.” Through faith in Jesus alone you are forgiven all your sins and you have communion with the true God, even though by nature you are dead in your trespasses and sins. Why would anyone pass up such a rich banquet?

But that is the point of this parable. Most people did pass up this banquet in Jesus’ day, and most people still do in ours. Why? Because they hear the message of the forgiveness of sins but reject it. They believe that they are going to find what they’re looking for in earthly things—goods, fame, child, and wife. They don’t seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

So what does the master of the banquet do? He gets angry. Then he sends out his servant to invite and call other people to his banquet, people that a respectable house owner would never invite—the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. This is what God did when eventually, after the ascension of Jesus, He sent the apostles to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. But you can also see that even in Jesus’ ministry it was the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind who came to Him. Not just those who were literally sick and poor, but also the spiritually poor—tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners. These began to come to God’s banquet and believe the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.

So today God is calling those who are far off to come to His feast. We are becoming used to hearing dreary news of people not coming to Church, no longer interested in the Gospel. But it is not that way everywhere. In Africa and Asia, places where people lived in paganism and idolatry for countless generations, there is a rich harvest going on for the Gospel. The Lutheran church is growing in those lands.

Just like in Jesus’ parable, we can rest assured that God is going to fill His banquet hall. He is gathering an eternal Church which will be filled with all the elect from every tribe, nation, language, and people. God is not going to let His feast go to waste just because some people refuse it. He is too generous for that. He is going to fill His feast. And what we see from the parable is that many who seem most likely to be at God’s feast won’t be there. He fills it up with people you wouldn’t expect to find at the feast, with the poor, sick, blind, and lame, not with the wise and great of the world, but with the sufferers and the spiritually poor.

But the Lord now invites you to come to His banquet. He has prepared everything. Everything is ready. He gave His Son to bear your sins, and everything that could keep you away He has removed. And He says, “Come to my feast. Everything is ready. Come and have your sins forgiven.” And since He has provided such rich food at such a cost, can He not be trusted to take care of everything else. Just like at a fancy party you would leave your keys with the valet and your coat at the checkroom, leave your concerns about your family and business with the Lord and make sure you come first to His feast. He will take good care of them. He has already prepared everything for you in the death of His Son.

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

Soli Deo Gloria

Christian Confidence. Funeral Sermon

In Memoriam + Norman Fritz

St. Peter Lutheran Church

2 Corinthians 5:1-10

June 11, 2015

“The Confidence of a Christian”

Iesu Iuva

Glen, Bernie,

Norman’s relatives 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 from the epistle reading, the 5th chapter of Paul’s second Letter to the Corinthians: Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

 

In this reading Paul writes of the confidence or courage of a Christian. Now we know something about what courage and confidence are in the things of this world. It is a fine quality to have. It took courage and confidence to do a lot of the things that Norman did in his life. It obviously takes courage to serve your country at war as Norman did. It takes courage and confidence to drive race cars. I don’t think you’ll ever see me doing that! And it takes courage and confidence to run a business, let alone two successful businesses. There are many other qualities you need to run a successful business, but one certainly is confidence and courage—to take risks, to make decisions in the best interests of your company and its employees. And to manage and lead any group of people takes courage and confidence. Norman had these qualities, along with the industriousness and work ethic that seems to be a quality of just about everyone in the Fritz family. Norman didn’t sit on his hands. He was working, even in retirement.

Courage and confidence is a fine gift of God in earthly things. It enables a person to move forward when things aren’t easy and the future is uncertain. But in the reading from Second Corinthians Paul talks about a Christian’s courage and confidence. It is a much rarer gift than earthly confidence. It enables a person to live and work confidently in the face of death and the judgment of God. This is a boldness that very few people have. Some people are brave in earthly things, but very few are brave in the face of death and God’s judgment. When you ask people what they think is going to happen to them when they die, many people will say, “I will go to a better place.” But when they are threatened with death or even some lesser trouble, they are filled with anxiety. Others who are more conscious of the fact that God will judge them when they die say, “I hope I will go to heaven.” But rare is the person who believes that God will judge the living and the dead according to His holy law, but who also says with confidence, “I will be with the Lord when I die!”

Yet God wants to give us this Christian courage and confidence. It is no small thing, this courage, that enabled Paul to write: “We know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling…” (2 Cor. 5:1-2) Imagine that—being so sure that we will live forever that we long to put off this life and this body and put on immortality! Such confidence and courage seems crazy to the world. But imagine the courage we would have if we could be so certain that we will rise from the dead and have eternal life!

Paul says that Christians do have this courage and confidence. We don’t all have it in the same amount. But being Christians we believe that our sins are forgiven through Jesus Christ and that, just as HE has risen from the dead, so also will we. But very often our faith in this is weak and our courage is not as great as it would be if our faith were firmer.

Of course there are those who have no right to be courageous and confident in the face of death and God’s judgment. Indeed, most people on earth have no right to this confidence. Paul says, “So whether we are at home or away [from the body], we make it our aim to please Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Cor. 5:9-10)

 

Anyone who hears those words and has no fear about being judged for the deeds he has done in the body should question whether he has Christian confidence or the false courage of the flesh. A Christian knows that if he were judged by God for the deeds he has done in the body by himself, apart from Christ, he could not please God. For God’s law requires not only that we be decent people but that we be perfect in thought, word, and deed. So the only way it can come out well for us at the judgment seat of Christ is if our evil thoughts and deeds are entirely removed from us. Those who are confident that they have lived a good enough life to stand before the judgment seat of Christ have a false courage and confidence. So do those who have no concern about serving God or hearing His Word. They have a courage and confidence that enables them to go on living in their sins without worrying about death and God’s judgment. But it is not Christian courage. It is courage that comes from spiritual blindness; a false courage, like when teenagers take risks not so much because they are brave but because they are foolish and unaware of the dangers that are around them.

Christian courage does not belong to those who are unconcerned about their sins. But it is for sinners who know that they have fallen short of God’s law. It is for sinners who perhaps all their lives have struggled against their sin and unbelief. It is for those sinners who know that they cannot stand before the judgment seat of Christ with their own works, but who believe, with however weak a faith, that Jesus Christ died on the cross to remove their sins from them and clothe them with righteousness. To you who know yourselves to be poor, miserable sinners, God wills for you to have the confidence, the good courage, that to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord.

Where do we get this courage? How does God give it? He gives it through His Word. God does not promise to give us a spiritual experience that takes away all doubt. He makes us courage and confident in the face of death and judgment through His Word—through the reading of the Scriptures and through faithful preaching. In the Word He promises and certifies that through the suffering Jesus endured on the cross our evil deeds were taken away and the righteousness of Christ was put on us. And if we are righteous, that means God will raise us up from the dead just as He raised Jesus.

“So we are always of good courage,” says Paul. We are always courageous and know that “while we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:6-7) Our sight tells us that death is the end. It tells us that death is the final destruction of our life. Even more, our eyes and our reason tell us that we are sinners against God even while we believe in Jesus. They say, “You have no reason to expect that you have ‘a heavenly dwelling, a building from God…eternal in the heavens.’ By your sins you displease God. How can you expect that when you put off this tent, this earthly body, you will be with the Lord?” That’s what sight and human reason says. But we walk by faith, not by sight. We trust God’s Word instead of what we see. And God’s Word says that we are pleasing to God through Jesus, because He removed our evil deeds with His death and clothed us with His righteousness. In Baptism we were plunged into His death and resurrection. Our evil works were removed and we were clothed in Christ’s glorious righteousness. So we are of good courage and trust that for us to die, to be separated from our earthly bodies, is not to be swallowed up by death and destruction, but to be at home with the Lord.

This is the courage and confidence God gives in His Word. He gives us courage that when we are “away from the body we are at home with the Lord.” When a Christian dies, his soul goes to the Lord in paradise. Then suffering and sin and fear will be over. We will be comforted by Jesus. We will no longer have weakness and pain and futility. We will no longer eat our bread in the sweat of our face, for the curse of sin will be removed from us. We will be with all the saints in glory who died in faith in Christ, including our Christian loved ones. We will see them, but even more we will see Jesus in His glory, and that sight will remove all sadness and sorrow. Right now we wish we could see our righteousness and our heavenly inheritance, but we can’t. We walk by faith, not by sight. But after death Christians will walk by sight, not by faith.

God gives us courage through the Gospel not only that we will be with the Lord in our souls after death, but that at the resurrection of the dead we will put on our “heavenly dwellings,” our resurrected bodies. They will not be like these tents we dwell in now. They will not be subject to weakness, sickness, pain, suffering, and death. They will be immortal bodies that never age or grow weak. And they will share in the glory of God. Because they will be raised in the image of Jesus, who is the image of God, even as we now bear the image of Adam who sinned and died. We have courage from the Word of God that our bodies will be like His glorious body and will share in the glory of God. He pledges us this when He gives us His body and blood crucified and shed for our salvation under the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. We will “not be unclothed, but further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

The Word of God also gives us courage that God has prepared us or worked in us for eternal life. Often Christians are uncertain about their salvation, unfortunately. They see the power of death and doubt that God is really going to deliver them from it. Or they see their sins and doubt that they are really pleasing to God. But Paul says, “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” (2 Cor. 5:5) We know that God has prepared us for eternal life because the Gospel tells us that He has given His Son to die with our sins and punishment. And in Baptism and the preaching of the Gospel God has worked in us so that we receive the life won by His Son. He gives us the Holy Spirit in Baptism and through His Word as a down payment, a guarantee of the eternal life that is to be ours after we die, when Jesus raises us from the dead.

Finally, the courage we receive from God’s Word is the courage that our works are pleasing to God. Sometimes people have the idea that only so-called ”spiritual” works are pleasing to God. Only if you’re reading the Bible, witnessing, serving the Lord as a missionary are your works pleasing to God. But so-called “secular” works like running a business or driving a race car are supposed to not be particularly pleasing to God. Other times, as we get older and death comes nearer we wonder about the value of the thing we have done in our lives. But God’s Word gives us courage and confidence that our work in life has been valuable because it has pleased God. In our sinful flesh nothing we do is pleasing to God, not even so-called spiritual works. A pastor who is unconverted and does not believe in Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit doesn’t please God in any of his works, even if he preaches God’s Word and even if he suffers for it. But a Christian’s works are well-pleasing to God, whether he is cleaning latrines or working at McDonald’s, whether he is on vacation or at work, at church or at home. The Christian’s works please God because a Christian is pleasing to God through faith in Jesus alone. And when the Christian goes to work, no matter how little that work may be in his own eyes or the eyes of others, the work pleases God because he is doing what God called him to do. When we appear before the judgment seat of Christ, Christians will have no evil deeds but lots of good deeds. Why? Because all a Christian’s evil deeds are washed away by the blood of Jesus, which he receives through faith. And the works that we do by faith in Christ according to God’s command and will are really Christ’s works in us. If I run a business and serve my customers and take care of my employees, through faith in Jesus Christ, it is a pleasing work in God’s sight. God doesn’t judge work by the greatness of it in the eyes of the world or even our own eyes, but by whether it is done according to His will and in faith in Him. Because God is always busy at work doing things that few people appreciate. He is hard at work not building monuments to Himself but sustaining the lives of His creatures, cleaning up after them, caring for them. So He is pleased not when we build great monuments but when we believe in His great work of saving us through the cross of Jesus, and when we faithfully carry out our callings in the world according to His word.

That is our courage and confidence as Christians. We have courage and confidence that to die is to be with the Lord Jesus. We have courage from His Word that He will raise us up in bodies that are eternal and share in His glory. We have courage from His Word that God has worked in us to prepare us to participate in eternal life. And He gives us courage that our work on earth is well-pleasing to Him and not in vain, because they are His Son’s works in us.

With such courage and confidence we give thanks to God for the life of Norman. We thank God that his parents loved him and brought him to Christ as a little baby that Jesus might bless him with salvation in the waters of baptism. We give thanks that Jesus was nailed to the cross to take away all his evil deeds and the sin in which he was born, and that Norman continued hearing the Gospel which gives us courage and confidence in the face of death and God’s judgment. We give thanks for the good that he was permitted to receive and give, and above all we give thanks for the hope of everlasting life which God freely promised Norman, and which He freely promises us who are by nature dead in trespasses and sins. Through that word and promise God gives you good courage to say, “When I am away from the body I will be at home with the Lord.” And through His Word and holy Sacraments He wants to increase this courage in you so that you may be confident and bold in the face of death and judgment.

May God our Father remove from us all false confidence, so that we recognize our helplessness in sin and trust in Jesus alone. And may He strengthen our confidence that Jesus has accomplished our salvation, so that we may “always be of good courage” and eagerly long for the day when we put off this earthly tent and put on immortality!

Amen.

The Peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria

Witness and Persecution. Exaudi 2015.

The Seventh Sunday of Easter—Exaudi

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 15:26-16:4

May 17, 2015 (Confirmation Sunday)

“Witness and Persecution”

Iesu Iuva

Jesus said, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness about me, because you have been with me from the beginning. I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” John 15:26-16:4

 

In this text our Lord tells us about the Church’s mission and its necessary results. The mission is simple to understand. The Church, the believers in Christ, bear witness to Jesus along with the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus tells us about the necessary result of this witness. The world will not love the Church for bearing witness to Christ. Instead the world will persecute the Church with excommunication and death. This is the road our confirmands are pledging to walk today—the road of witness to Jesus and the road of persecution. It is the road they began on when they were baptized, the way of death with Jesus Christ that they might be raised with Jesus Christ. It is the same road that every member of the Christian Church has pledged to walk. It’s good that we remember this. We were not promised victory in this world by our Lord, but persecution and death, and then the victory of the resurrection from the dead.

But this is not said so that we can pity ourselves about our sorry lot in this world. If we Christians were living life only for this world, then, as Paul says, “We are of all men most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15)   But it is not for this life only that we have hoped in Christ. It is for the life that is to come, the life that is truly life, when we will see God face to face, that we have hoped in Christ.

No, what is truly pitiable is to be without God in the world. This is how most of the people in the world live. They hope, vainly, that God is not displeased with them because they have tried to live a good life. They hope, vainly, that God is not displeased with them because they imagine that God is reasonable in a human sense and doesn’t expect more of us than we are able to do. They imagine that because they have tried to live a somewhat decent life in the eyes of other people that things will hopefully turn out all right with them in eternity after they die. God’s judgment on sin they do not know, or they reject it. They don’t believe that no one is righteous in the sight of God, that we have all earned His anger by our transgression of His commands. They flee from His righteous judgment and so they go through their lives with vague ideas about God but never knowing Him. They don’t realize that aside from all the other commandments they transgress the very first one—“You shall have no other gods.” They create a god in their own image—a reasonable God, so-called, who doesn’t want any more from us than that we be reasonably good people. They don’t realize that their fundamental sin is that they have avoided and run away from the true God, the God who commands that we be not merely “nice” but righteous. And because they run from this God who speaks to us in the Law and in our conscience, they are never certain of themselves before God. When trouble or death comes, their false religion falls apart. They are no longer sure that God is pleased with them. They have no helper in the day of their trouble. And what is worse is that when this wretched life is over they have nothing but God’s fearful judgment where He holds them to account for every idle word they’ve spoken, every evil thought and desire.

Truly, it is pitiable to be without God in the world. But that’s the way people are by nature. Whether they are religious in a human sense or not, people are by nature without God. They don’t know the true and living God, and they are lost.

But God does not want human beings to be without Him in the world. That’s why our Lord says in our text, “When the Helper comes…He will bear witness about Me. And you will also bear witness.” Jesus sends the Holy Spirit on His Church so that together they may bear witness to Jesus, which means that the Church and the Spirit bear witness together to the world that the true and living God is reconciled to sinners, is for them.

The Holy Spirit bears witness to Jesus that in Him and Him alone God makes Himself known. He makes Himself known as the Holy and righteous God who demands that we be not merely reasonably good, as humans measure things, but that we be righteous in thought and feeling, in word and deed. He is the same God we see in the Old Testament who gave the Ten Commandments, who spoke to the patriarchs and said, “Walk before me and be blameless.” (Gen. 17) But this righteous God has drawn near to us in Jesus, the Son of Mary. He has not come near to condemn and destroy us for our sins, but to redeem us, to justify us. He has come to live a righteous, obedient, and perfect life as one of us under God’s law. And He came and offered that righteous and perfect life as a sacrifice to cover our sins so that we would be regarded as righteous before God through faith in Him alone. This is the witness the Holy Spirit bears about God. The true and righteous God is the Father who willingly gave His only Son to be the sacrifice that redeems us from sin, death, and hell. Though we are sinful and can’t make ourselves clean in the sight of God, the true God has made us clean in His sight by the suffering and death of His Son.

This is the witness the Holy Spirit bears about Jesus Christ and God the Father. He has been bearing this witness in the world since He was poured out on the apostles at Pentecost. And since then the Church has also been bearing witness to Jesus. She bears witness by preaching His death and resurrection in the whole world. Preachers have proclaimed Christ’s death for our sins and His resurrection from pulpits. Missionaries have gone with this message into pagan lands to turn people from the worship of false gods. Christian parents have brought their children to be baptized and then taught them the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. Christians have carried out their callings in the world, serving their neighbors in love and looking for opportunities to proclaim salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus. In all these ways and more the Holy Spirit bears witness and the Church bears witness to Jesus.

And because the Holy Spirit has faithfully borne witness to Jesus through the centuries, we are gathered here today in His holy congregation, the Church. We have in this church a little refuge, a little outpost of salvation, where the Holy Spirit bears witness to Jesus and the forgiveness of our sins. It’s not through merely human power that a group of German immigrants got together and founded this church; it’s certainly not through human power that twenty or so years later this congregation embraced the true doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church [in the Book of Concord]. It’s not through human power that this congregation and school have been here through a century and a half, through economic depressions and world wars and cultural revolutions. This congregation is here by the power of the Holy Spirit, who bears witness to the death of Jesus in our midst.

It is the witness of the Holy Spirit that has brought these three sons of the congregation today to confess their faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and to receive the Holy Body and Blood of the Lord for the first time. It was the Holy Spirit who moved their parents to bring these children to Jesus in Holy Baptism while they were still infants, that He might bless them and give them the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit who was at work in them when they were taught the word of God by their parents, in Sunday School, and in catechesis. Now by the same Holy Spirit they are going to bear witness that the doctrine they have been taught from the Small Catechism is the truth. They are going to bear witness that the one true God is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who has redeemed them from sin and damnation by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They will bear this witness with their lips in our midst and carry this confession with them out into the world.

The witness of the Holy Spirit and the witness of believers in Christ is one witness, and this witness brings salvation. But Jesus speaks a solemn word to those who bear witness to Him, which all of us who are baptized and confirmed need to give serious attention. He says: “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” What can our confirmands expect to receive for their faithful witness to Christ? Persecution, says Jesus. Even the most extreme forms of persecution—excommunication and death. The world does not know the Father and the Son. Even many who are supposed to be the Church of Christ do not know the Father and the Son. They trust in their own righteousness and invent a god who is satisfied with human works. This is what Martin Luther experienced. He came bearing witness to Jesus Christ alone with the Holy Spirit, and the Pope and his followers excommunicated Luther and put him under a death sentence. Why? Because Luther bore witness that salvation was a free gift through Christ alone; that the Father is pleased with us not through our works but through faith in Jesus only. For this Luther was put out of the Roman Catholic Church, which claimed to be Christ’s true Church even while it denied Christ’s Gospel.

This is what those who bear witness to Christ today can also expect. Today the threat of persecution seems to come not so much from the false church as from the secular world. More and more in our society we hear voices calling for Christians to be banned from polite society because the Church refuses to acknowledge homosexuality, transgenderism, and other sins as acceptable before God. Already Christian charity organizations have been banned from receiving state funds to place foster children unless they are willing to place them with homosexual households. Attacks on the truth of Christianity are standard fare in college, and skepticism from teachers toward the Bible is becoming more common even in high school and middle school. We may not be faced with death for bearing witness to Christ, but increasingly in the years to come our confirmands are going to live in a society that is at best skeptical of Christianity when it is not hostile.

But we are better off with the Holy Spirit’s witness and the opposition of the world than we would be if we had ease and comfort in this world but no Holy Spirit. Why? Because with the Holy Spirit’s witness we have God. We don’t just have vague ideas about God that collapse in the day of trouble or death. Through the Holy Spirit’s witness we have the true God. We know the Father and the Son. They Holy Spirit bears witness to us that we are righteous in God’s sight through faith in Jesus alone. He testifies to us in the Gospel that Jesus died for our sins and nailed the handwriting of the law that was against us to the cross, putting it out of the way so that it no longer condemns us (Colossians 2). He bears witness to us in our baptism that we have been buried with Christ and raised from the dead with Him and are a new creation. He testifies that we are redeemed from sin, death, and hell by giving us the body of Jesus that was crucified to eat and His blood shed for us to drink. They Holy Spirit testifies that we have God for certain, that the all-holy God is pleased with us. This is an assurance that the world doesn’t have, even if it heaps up all the pleasures of this world. Whoever doesn’t believe the Spirit’s witness to Jesus does not have God and can never be certain how it stands with them and God.

We, however, have the Holy Spirit’s testimony that God is pleased with us because of the innocent suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so when persecution and hardship comes to us with the Gospel, we can be glad, because we know that in the midst of our suffering still God is pleased with us. That consolation is greater than all the crosses the world can give us.

So this is the Holy Spirit’s witness to you today, and by this witness He wants to make your heart certain that God is pleased with you and that you have God, your rock and fortress. You are not without God in this world. It isn’t up in the air. You have God, because He has given His son to die for your sins. This testimony has the strength to make us faithful even in the face of death, because it is God’s own testimony. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. And to make you more sure that this salvation is for you, the Holy Spirit says, “Come. Receive the body and blood of the Savior which has made you pleasing to God.”

Amen.

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

Soli Deo Gloria

Why We Rejoice at Jesus’ Ascension. The Ascension of our Lord, 2015.

The Ascension of our Lord

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 24:44-51

May 14, 2015

“Why We Rejoice at Jesus’ Ascension”

Iesu iuva

One of the hymns we sang today is an old one, written by an old English pastor in the 8th century.

A hymn of glory let us sing!

New hymns throughout the world shall ring!

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Christ by a road before untrod

Ascends unto the throne of God!

Alleluia! Alleluia! Etc.

 

Now stop and think for a minute. Isn’t it strange that we praise God for the Ascension of our Lord Jesus? It certainly appears that way if we think according to the flesh. Why would we praise God that we no longer have Jesus visibly present with us? Wouldn’t it be better if we could see Jesus, hear His voice, touch Him? Wouldn’t it be better if He preached to us?

That’s what the disciples thought before Jesus died. When He told them He was going away, they were filled with sorrow.

I’m not sure if you can judge people’s appreciation of the Ascension of Christ by how many people go to church on the day of the Ascension. There are other reasons why people don’t come, probably mostly because they’ve never done it before. But maybe part of the reason is that to our flesh it doesn’t seem like something to celebrate. Most people think of Jesus’ ascension as His going away, and if they see it that way it’s easy to see why they might not want to celebrate it.

But you might notice: What did the apostles do when Jesus ascended into heaven? In the account from Acts they just stare into the sky with their mouths hanging open until an angel comes and tells them that Jesus will come back in the way they saw Him go. But in Luke’s Gospel it says, “They worshipped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.” The apostles were sad when they heard Jesus was going away before He died. But when He actually did go away into heaven after His resurrection, they rejoiced. They were not sorrowful, but full of joy.

So God willing, after hearing this sermon you also will rejoice with the apostles at the Ascension of Jesus. Because Jesus did not ascend into heaven to rob us of joy. He did it for the same reason He did all of His works—for us, for our salvation and comfort. Everything Jesus did, He did for us men and our salvation. And His ascension should bring us great joy, because it is the goal of our faith. We believe in Jesus not merely so that we may die with Him, or even rise from the dead with Him, but so that we may ascend into heaven and reign with Him.

First of all, the ascension of Jesus is a cause of joy to us because it means that our Lord Jesus is victorious. He is not being carried just anywhere. He isn’t going to outer space or to a waiting room. He is being exalted to God’s right hand. That means that Jesus, who is both a man like us and God’s eternal Son, is now lifted up to the highest place to rule over the universe and all creation. According to His divine nature, Jesus always had this glory and honor, but in His humanity He laid aside this glory for a little while. That’s why in His life on earth He was slandered, dishonored, spit on, made to suffer, made to die in agony on the cross. But now He is lifted up to sit on the throne of God and reign over all creation, over every living thing, whether humans or angels, rulers or devils. The same man who was crucified is exalted to the throne of God. And we should rejoice over this as Christians, because Jesus is ours. He is our Savior and our King, and He is mightier and more glorious than any king has ever been. He not only reigns over a portion of the earth; He reigns as king over everything—earth, sky, water, air, fire, over all the animals, over all people with all their wisdom and power, even over the angels and demons. All are subject to Him, and even though they might oppose Him, He reigns over them. Nothing can take our Lord off His throne.

Second, we should rejoice in Jesus’ ascension because He has defeated our enemies. He has knocked down everything that barred the way to heaven. He has opened heaven for us.

Sin,

Death,

Hell,

The devil’s reign.

Third, we rejoice in Jesus’ ascension because He has pioneered the way to heaven for us. He has blazed the trail to heaven. Not as though we try to walk the way He did in order to earn eternal life. But we follow the trail that He blazed for us, living in His death and resurrection through our Baptism into Him, trusting that His suffering has merited that we be counted not guilty before the Father.

Fourth, we rejoice in Jesus’ ascension because He did not go away from us but instead fills all things.

God is present everywhere in all power and knowledge. Because our Lord Jesus is exalted to the throne of God, He is present everywhere as both God and man. He is with us not in weakness but in glory and power.

That’s part of why the disciples rejoiced. The disciples knew that even though they couldn’t see Him, He was with them because He was at God’s right hand and God is present everywhere.

And He was with them not as judge and critic but as the one who had saved them. And since He was at God’s right hand He was reigning over the universe for their good. Nothing could slip through His fingers and harm them, nor can anything slip through His fingers and harm us.

Fifth, we should rejoice because He is present to do His work in the midst of the Church.

In preaching and witnessing it is not merely us talking about an absent Jesus, but Jesus is present in the preaching. He is speaking and announcing the forgiveness of sins through His death and resurrection. He is bestowing the forgiveness of sins from the right hand of God.

In Baptism it is not merely water and not merely our ceremony, but Jesus is present in the water through the Word giving salvation.

In the Lord’s Supper it is not merely bread and wine, not merely our activity of remembering a distant Jesus. But He Himself is present, giving His body with the bread and His blood with the wine.

That’s why Jesus keeps telling His disciples that they will be His witnesses to the ends of the earth, that “repentance and forgiveness of sins” must be preached to all nations.

Jesus is exalted to be Lord over the whole earth. He reigns over the whole earth. And He does this not simply by controlling the affairs of the earth. He extends His grace to the ends of the earth by proclaiming and distributing the forgiveness of sins to the ends of the earth. He does that by preaching His victory over sin, death, and hell, and whoever believes it has it.

But Jesus makes us reign with Him by putting His words in our mouths.

This is the reason we do not need to be afraid when Jesus’ Church seems to be a little, weak, easily scattered flock.

Jesus is exalted to the Father’s right hand. He is victorious over all enemies, even over sin and death. And He is with us, in our midst. Not only is He reigning on high, but He makes us co-rulers with Him as we proclaim His kingdom to the ends of the earth.

So we rejoice in our Lord’s ascension. He has not left us. His exaltation is for us. He is with us, and He will bring us to be where He is—at the right hand of God, not only in our spirits but one day in our bodies.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

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The Word of God Absolutely Pure and Unadulterated

Let us, therefore, bless all the faithful champions who have fought for every point of Christian doctrine, unconcerned about the favor of men and disregarding their threatenings. Their ignominy, though it often was great, has not been borne in vain. Men cursed them, but they continued bearing their testimony until death, and now they wear the crown of glory and enjoy the blissful communion of Christ and of all the angels and the elect. Their labor and their fierce battling has not been in vain; for even now…the Church is reaping what they sowed.

Let us, then, my friends, likewise hold fast the treasure of the pure doctrine. Do not consider it strange if on that account you must bear reproach the same as they did. Consider that the word of Sirach, chap. 4, 33: “Even unto death fight for justice, and God will overthrow thy enemies for thee,” will come true in our case too. Let this be your slogan: Fight unto death in behalf of the truth, and the Lord will fight for you!—

We now take up a thesis for study which tells us that, since the two doctrines of Scripture, Law and Gospel, are so different from each other, we must keep them distinct also in our preaching.

Thesis II.

Only he is an orthodox teacher who not only presents all the articles of faith in accordance with Scripture, but also rightly distinguishes from each other the Law and the Gospel.

 

This thesis divides into two parts. The first part states a requisite of an orthodox teacher, viz., that he must present all the articles of faith in accordance with Scripture. This, in our day, is regarded as an unheard-of demand. Even in circles of so-called believers, people act as if they were shocked when they hear some one say: “I have found the truth; I am certain concerning every doctrine of revelation.” Such a claim is considered a piece of arrogance…

Scripture requires that we have the Word of God absolutely pure and unadulterated and that we be able to say when coming down from the pulpit: “I could take an oath upon it that I have rightly preached the Word of God. Even to an angel coming down from heaven I could say: My preaching has been correct.” That explains the paradox [sic] remark of Luther that a preacher must not pray the Lord’s Prayer when coming down from the pulpit, but that he should do so before the sermon. For an orthodox preacher need not pray after delivering his sermon: “Forgive me my trespasses,” since he can say: “I have proclaimed the pure truth.” In our day, men have become merged in skepticism to such an extent that they regard any one who sets up the aforementioned claim as a semilunatic.

The Word of God tells us in a passage where the Lord is introduced as speaking, Jer. 23, 28: He that hath My Word, let him speak My Word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? Saith the Lord. Our sermons, then, are to contain only wheat and no chaff.

The Apostle Paul warns the Galatians, chap. 5, 9: A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. He means to say: A single false teaching vitiates the entire doctrine.

The warning with which John concludes the last book of the Bible is sounded as far back as in the days of Moses, who says, Deut. 4, 2: Ye shall not add unto the Word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish aught from it.

 

It is, then, a diabolical teaching to say: “you will never achieve the ability to give a Scriptural presentation of the articles of faith.” Especially when students hear a statement like this, it is as if some hellish poison were injected into their hearts; for after that they will no longer show any zeal to get to the bottom of the truth, to have clear conceptions of the truth.

C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, pp. 29-31.

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