In Memoriam + Thomas W.
Queen of Heaven Cemetery, Hillside, Illinois
St. Mark 10:13-16
September 17, 2015
Beloved in Christ: Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
Ryan and Tracy: You would never have allowed anything to keep you from bringing Thomas to Jesus.
So you brought him to Jesus in your prayers, even in sighs by the Holy Spirit. And the Church also added its prayers.
That was really bringing Thomas to Jesus. Prayer is not just a wish or a hope. It is certain that when we pray according to the will of God He grants us what we ask. He says, “Truly, truly, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you.” You prayed and the Church prayed with you that Jesus would give the kingdom of heaven to Thomas. We know that that prayer is according to the will of Jesus, because He said, “To such belongs the kingdom of God.” Let them come to me.
So Thomas was brought to Jesus and Jesus gave him the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here on earth and there in eternity.
Thomas was made a believer in Christ. Like John the Baptist, who leaped in the womb at the voice of Jesus’ mother. Proximity to Christ brings joy.
You brought Thomas to Jesus and Jesus gave him the kingdom of God. It says in the text from Mark that Jesus picked up the children in his arms and then placed his hands on them and blessed them. It means that Jesus embraced the little children in his arms. He hugged them to Himself.
That is a comforting thought. John the disciples rested on Jesus’ bosom. Jesus hugs your son to Himself.
When we bring our children to Jesus, Jesus blesses them. But we don’t know how He will bless them.
Some He brings to everlasting blessedness through a long life during which they suffer many tribulations. Think of your own life—how many pains you’ve endured, how many temptations have come your way, how many sins you’ve added to your debt of original sin, with which your conscience is burdened.
Thomas has been spared all that. You brought him to Jesus and Jesus brought him to everlasting blessedness by a shorter road.
He has been spared the suffering of this life and given joy that is really joy, life that is really life. Where there is no sin. Where he is being embraced by Christ.
The thing you want most for your kids is that they go to heaven. Thomas has that now. You can be consoled by the joys that are his. You did your job as parents. You brought your child to Jesus.
But what about the grief and the fear that may come as you go forward in your calling as parents?
Just as surely as we lay this little casket to rest in the earth, you will see your son full grown in the image of Jesus at the resurrection. He will be like Jesus. He will be all grown up—not in the image of the man of dust, but in the image of the man of heaven.
And then we will be all grown up too, into the image of Christ’s glory.
Right now we are being conformed to Jesus’ image on the cross, but when it is over we will share the image of His glory together with Thomas.
We will wear the image of Jesus because we will see Him as He is.
Soli Deo Gloria
17th Sunday after Trinity
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 14:1-11
September 27, 2015
Jesus taught that all the righteousness of the religious men of His time was filthy rags in God’s sight. He taught that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:20) The Pharisees didn’t like hearing that, and they tried to find something wrong with Jesus’ teaching or conduct so they could discredit Him. That’s why in the Gospel reading a ruler of the Pharisees has invited Jesus over to his house for a Sabbath meal. He hasn’t invited Jesus out of real hospitality. He has brought Jesus over to watch Him, to see if they can catch Him doing something wrong so they can discredit Him. Chances are good that the Pharisees have planted this man with dropsy at the dinner knowing that Jesus will heal him, and then they can say, “See, Jesus healed on the Sabbath-day! He did work on the Sabbath! He can’t be from God.”
The Jews had a law from God they were supposed to obey. And the Law God gave didn’t just have moral requirements like, “Do not murder” or “Do not steal.” It also contained ceremonial requirements. Jews were forbidden by God to eat certain kinds of meat, like pork. They were required to observe certain festivals, like the Passover. And one of the chief ceremonial requirements of the Law of Moses was that the Jews were to observe the Sabbath day. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath and made it holy.” (Ex. 20:8-11) “Sabbath” means “rest” or “stop” in Hebrew. The Jews were to keep the Sabbath day holy by observing “solemn rest” and “a holy convocation.” (Lev. 23:3) That meant it was not only a day for not working, but a day for hearing God’s Word. By observing the Sabbath, they remembered how their God created the heavens and earth in six days and rested on the seventh. They also remembered that God had brought them out of slavery and unceasing toil in Egypt and had promised to give them rest from their enemies.
God made observing the Sabbath very important for the Jews. To underscore its importance, He said, “Above all you shall keep My Sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.” (Ex. 31:13-14) So you can see that if Jesus was breaking the Sabbath by healing people on it, it would not be a minor offense. He would be worthy of death and certainly not the promised Messiah.
The problem, though, was not that Jesus didn’t have regard for the Sabbath, but that the Pharisees didn’t understand the Law.” “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” Jesus said in another place (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath was given so that people might rest, but especially that they might hear God’s Word and receive spiritual rest through the Word. The Sabbath was not given as a rule to keep which by obeying a person might earn God’s favor. It was not given in order to prevent people from helping their neighbors when they are in trouble. So Jesus points out that even the Pharisees will go pull their son or their ox out of a well if they have fallen in it on the Sabbath day. Jesus sees the man suffering from dropsy, which is a swelling of the limbs caused by water collecting in body tissue. He is suffering, so Jesus helps him out of his suffering. In doing this Jesus is not breaking the Sabbath but keeping it.
The Sabbath was a day of rest. But God’s purpose in it was not simply to make the Israelites rest bodily for one day a week. It was also meant to give them time to hear the Word of the Lord, which gives true spiritual rest. It was a teaching device designed to remind them not only that God rested on the Sabbath day after His work of creating, but also that God planned to give the people of Israel rest. He would do that when the promised Christ came. The Messiah would give rest from the curse of the fall into sin, when God spoke His curse on the earth after Adam sinned. He said, “By the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19) But God also promised a Messiah who would save people from the painful labor and death that came as a result of sin. When Noah’s father Lamech named Noah, he thought that Noah would be the Messiah. So he said, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” (Gen. 5:29) Noah was not the Messiah, but Lamech’s prophecy holds true for Jesus Christ. He is the One who brings us relief from our work and gives us rest, spiritual rest.
Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29) Jesus doesn’t promise to give us an earthly rest from labor. We still have to work to receive our daily bread. He promises “rest for your souls.” We by nature are in painful slavery to sin and death. The Law of God does not give us rest from sin and God’s condemnation. In fact, the Law only increases sin and condemnation. It shows us what is righteous and pleasing to God, but we are unable to perform it. We know what is right through the Law but we can’t do it. We are left condemned by the Law, which only proclaims to us God’s anger against those who do not do His will.
But Jesus gives us rest for our souls. He gives us the true Sabbath-rest. He took upon Himself all of the Law, whether its ceremonial commands or its moral demands, and He fulfilled all of the Law of God by His righteous, innocent life. Then He endured the painful curse the Law pronounces on those who disobey it. He suffered agony on the cross—not only the painful wounds of the nails and the bitter thirst—but the agony of being separated from God. That is what you and I deserve because of sin. And when sin rises up in our consciences and the law accuses us, we also experience and feel the pangs of hell, of being separated from God. Then our conscience tries to find rest in our works. We say, “I will try harder to obey God and overcome sin.” But there is no rest for the soul in works. There is always something we have left undone, and our souls cannot rest; they still experience separation from God.
But in the Gospel of Jesus we receive true rest for our souls. “Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you,” says the Psalm (116:7). We receive rest because in the Gospel God declares that the Law is fulfilled for us, our sins are atoned for, and righteousness is bestowed on us as a gift through the painful work of Jesus on the cross. After He finished His labor for our salvation, for our re-creation, on the cross, crying out, “It is finished,” the Lord Jesus rested. He laid in the tomb on the Sabbath and was raised on Sunday. And we enter into the Lord’s rest from His labor. “We were therefore buried with Him through Baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) In our Baptism into Christ we were placed into the grave with Jesus. We were given rest from our labor to fulfill the Law and be freed from sin, death, and a bad conscience.
“For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Rom. 10:4) He has fulfilled the Law for us. He is our true Sabbath-rest.
That is why we are no longer bound to rest on the seventh day of the week. Paul says in Colossians chapter 2: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Col. 2:16-17) No one can pass judgment on you if you eat meat on Fridays, or eat pork, or work on Saturday. Why? Because Jesus has fulfilled the entire law and made us righteous before God. “And you, who were dead in your trespasses…God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2)
So we keep the Sabbath day by receiving rest from Jesus. It doesn’t mean that we refrain from work on a certain day but that we gladly hear and learn God’s Word. As we learned in our catechism: What is the third commandment? Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and God’s Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
We receive rest from Jesus when He preaches His Holy Word to us that declares the forgiveness of our sins. We receive rest from Jesus as He gives us His body that was crucified and His blood that was shed for us. We make time to rest from our other occupations so that we are free to hear His Word and receive rest for our souls. It is Jesus’ Word and Sacrament that gives us rest so that when we lay dying, about to die and stand before God’s throne, we can depart in peace and joy, resting from our labors. We can die saying, “I am a sinner, but Jesus has fulfilled the Law for me and given me rest.”
Seek where you may
To find a way
That leads to your salvation;
My heart is stilled
On Christ I build,
He is the one foundation.
His Word is sure,
His works endure
All evil foes,
Through Him I more than conquer. (LSB 557 st. 1)
Soli Deo Gloria
In Memoriam + Helen Wheeler
St. Peter Lutheran Church
September 24, 2015
“Washed their Robes in the Blood of the Lamb”
Helen’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 comforts us with His Word this morning, in particular with these words from the Epistle: They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Revelation 7:14
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…” Revelation 7:9
John begins telling us about the saints in heaven who have finished their race and fought their fight by describing a great crowd, a giant multitude too great to be numbered. Sometimes people complain that they feel lost in the crowd, that they don’t stand out as individuals. How wonderful it will be to be lost in that crowd! That is where Helen is today, lost in the crowd of the numberless multitude of saints gathered before the throne of God and the Lamb, Jesus Christ.
In reality, no one in that crowd is lost. They are saved, each one of them. And each one is known to God. Each one has every tear wiped away from their eyes by the hand of God.
The fact that it is a great crowd, a great multitude, must have come as a comfort to the first hearers of the words of this book. The first Christians who heard the book of Revelation were not members of big, thriving churches like we used to have several decades ago. They were members of little congregations of believers who met secretly and who were liable to be persecuted for believing in Jesus Christ. We also seem to be coming to days when the churches are becoming small and the believers feel like a few castaways in a boat on a vast ocean. But in this glimpse of heaven from Revelation there is a vast crowd that no one can number. It is a virtual flood of people gathered before the Father and the Son. God reminds us that though our brothers in Christ may seem to be few on earth, in reality we are surrounded by a great multitude of fellow believers, as many as the stars in the night sky or as the sand on the sea shore, as God promised Abraham.
And this great crowd gathered before God is clothed in white robes and carrying palm branches in their hands. White robes signify innocence, righteousness, and glory. Palm branches signify victory and salvation. This great crowd to which Helen belongs is righteous and innocent before God. Because they are righteous they also share in the glory of God and are able to stand before His presence. They are victorious and have salvation as they wave their palm branches before the Lamb of God, who once rode a donkey in to Jerusalem on a road of palm branches to shouts of “Hosanna! Salvation! Victory!”
This crowd is victorious. Victorious over what? Over death. Over hell and the devil. They have conquered and won the victory. They have been judged righteous by God.
But notice that the crowd does not glory in their victory as though it were their own doing. They dry, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” They have not saved themselves or won the victory for themselves. They attribute their salvation to God and to the Lamb, to the Father and the Son. This is their part in the heavenly liturgy, the Divine Service that goes on for eternity. They give praise to God and to the Lamb, on whom their whole salvation depends. And in response all the holy angels who are gathered around the throne of God prostrate themselves and fall on their faces before the Father and the Son, “saying Amen! The blessing, and the glory, and the wisdom, and the thanksgiving, and the honor, and the power, and the strength, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
This is a glimpse of heaven given to us by the Holy Spirit through John. To the unbelieving world it probably sounds like no heaven at all. But to Christians it is full of comfort. Nothing could be more joyful to a Christian than to hear that one day soon he will stand before the face of the Father and the Son, that he will be righteous before God, therefore not condemned. Nothing could be more joyful than having escaped hell—except the joy of seeing God Himself. Because Christians love God. They love God because He first loved them. They love God because God gave His Son to win victory and salvation for us, by processing through streets lined with palms to the garden of Gethsemane, the high priest’s court, the torture chambers of Pontius Pilate, to crucifixion and death on Calvary. There Jesus accomplished our victory and salvation. There He atoned for our sins with His agony and death. And because they believe that God has loved them in such a way, Christians love God and long to be with Him face to face. The hymn we sang on the way into Church expressed it well:
Lord, Thee I love with all my heart
I pray Thee, ne’er from me depart
With tender mercy cheer me.
Earth has no pleasure I would share
Yea, heav’n itself were void and bare
If Thou, Lord, wert not near me. (LSB p. 708 st. 1)
The joy of heaven is that we will be with the Lord who loved us and gave Himself for us. That is the joy that Helen has. She sees her God and she stands righteous before Him.
But in case we think that entrance into this great company of saints is beyond our reach, one of the elders turns to John and says, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” Then in answer to his own question he says, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
In other words, these saints have not floated into heaven on a breeze. They came out of great tribulation. In that tribulation—in which you and I live now—they were tested. They were tempted by various sins; above all, tempted to give up faith in Christ. When you are part of a little congregation subject to persecution, when the pleasures of the world entice you, when death looms over you, it’s not so easy then to believe that God is with you for Christ’s sake and that you will win the victory. These saints came out of that tribulation. And in that tribulation they were not without sin. They stumbled and sometimes gave way to temptation. Throughout the great tribulation the saints struggled against unbelief and the evil that lives in their flesh. That’s why the text doesn’t say that they came into the presence of God with garments that were already white. It says, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
We are born with stained robes, with original sin. Then throughout our lives we add to that stain with sins of thought, word, and deed. We can never get our robes clean so that we are fit to stand before a righteous and holy God.
But there is a soap that takes away the stain of sin from our robes. It is the blood of the Lamb, the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Our tears and regrets over our sins are not enough to take them away out of God’s sight. But God laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all, says the prophet Isaiah (ch. 53). “For our sake [God the Father] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21) God made His Son to be sin and punished our sins in Him, so that they might be taken out of His sight. That’s why our text says the saints are righteous and innocent—not because they lived without sin, or because they committed less sin than other people. They were innocent because they washed their sin-stained garments in the blood of the Lamb, the Lamb God provided to take away our sins.
The blood of Jesus was first applied to Helen a long time ago, in September of 1924, in this place. Her parents brought her as an infant to Christ, and Christ through His minister poured out on her head the life-giving water of Holy Baptism. The water joined with the Holy Word of God gave her the forgiveness of sins, victory over death and the devil. It washed her robes and made them white in the blood of Jesus; she as a little baby became a believer that Christ died for her.
And throughout her life she heard God’s holy Word. It threatened death and judgment because of her sin. But then it held up Jesus, the Lamb of God, who was crucified to take away all her sin. As often as she heard that word and believed it, her robes were washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb.
And not only this, but Jesus the Lamb of God fed her His body and blood which took away the sins of the world. “Take, eat, this is my body, given for you,” He told her. “Take and drink, this is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
That is why we can say with confidence that Helen is in heaven before the throne of God, and why we can say with confidence that all of us who do nothing but believe that Christ took away our sins with His blood will join her in heaven. If it depended on our good works, we could not say for certain. But it does not depend on works. It depends only on faith in Jesus who suffered for us. Helen trusted her Lord Jesus’ blood shed for her. She “washed her robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Therefore we can speak about the good works Helen did, because we speak about them not as her righteousness before God, but as the fruits of her justification. Jesus died for her, forgave her sins, and gave her faith in Him through His Word. AS a result she worked faithfully at her job for decades. She also worked diligently at the Church, teaching hundreds, perhaps thousands, of kids about Jesus and what He had done for them. She served for years at the Ladies’ Evening Guild and then later in the Ladies’ Aid. She was a loving aunt, sister, and wife. She was always hungry for God’s Word, reading the Scripture, listening to it preached, and discussing it with others, including people she lived with at Our Lady of Angels. And because she listened to God’s Word, she was able to speak its comfort and encouragement to others. I know this because I was one of the people she encouraged. She was often an encouragement to me as I visited her at OLA, both by her words and her receptiveness to the Word of God.
Now a Christian’s works do not make him righteous before God. The blood of Jesus alone does that. And yet the good works that God does through us endure for eternity. Jesus says in John chapter 15, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (v. 16). And in Revelation chapter 14 it is written: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (v. 13)
What a wonderful comfort. Everyone who only believes in Jesus has his robes made white in the blood of the Lamb and can stand before God. But he will also produce a harvest of good works that will abide forever. The good work that Helen did in teaching children God’s word will endure forever. Some of those children will be in heaven and that will be in part because of what God did through her. But Helen’s sinful works will not follow her. They are no longer hers. They are Christ’s, and He took them out of the way when He died.
“Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Now over Helen and over the great multitude in white robes the Lord has stretched out His presence like a tent, to shield them from everything harmful. There is no hungering and thirsting there for the Lord’s presence as there was on earth during the great tribulation, because the Lord satisfies them with Himself. There is no longer the heat of the sun, because the saints now rest from their labors. They serve the Lord day and night in His temple, but that is not hard labor by the sweat of one’s face but rather joy. For Jesus shepherds the saints to fountains of living water, of the Holy Spirit. He quenches their thirst. “In your presence there is fullness of joy,” says the Psalm, “at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Ps. 16:11) Jesus shepherds the saints and quenches all their thirst, and the Father wipes every tear from their eyes. That means that the saints in heaven are not burdened by any sorrows. They rest. And they are part of a great, joyful multitude that no one can number, all of whom are freed from sin, death, and the devil, and have the victory and salvation that cannot be taken away from them.
Helen has come to that great multitude. Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” But we are still in the great tribulation. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh harass us, try to lead us into sin and make us despair of ever reaching that great company of saints. But we will attain that glory if we persevere in faith in Christ. Then it will be said of us as well, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
May God grant us consolation about our dear sister Helen and give us confidence that we will also take our place in that great company of saints through the blood of Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria
15th Sunday after Trinity (Church Picnic)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 6:24-34
September 13, 2015
“The Opposite of Anxiety”
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties upon Him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 4:6-7)
Jesus our Lord offers freedom from anxiety. In offering us the Gospel He offers us the opposite of anxiety. Peace. Peace with God. Peace which surpasses all understanding. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:1-2) “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
This world is not at peace. Even though our country is not at war, the fires of conflict burn in scattered places around the world, always ready to become a huge conflagration. And even though our country is not at war, it is also not at peace. Peace eludes the world even when it is wealthy and prosperous. “There is no peace for the wicked,” says the prophet (Isaiah 48:22) There is constant anxiety and the frantic activity of those who are trying to escape anxiety. What are people anxious about?
They’re anxious that they won’t have enough to retire. Anxious about their health. Worried about their kids, whether they will end up on drugs or pregnant. Anxious and worried about whether their life has any meaning. Anxious about whether they are popular or attractive enough. There’s no end to the list of anxieties the world has. We aren’t worried anymore about the things Jesus mentions in the Gospel reading—about what we will eat and drink, about whether or not we’ll have clothes. And yet even though our anxiety about these basic needs is taken away by modern farming and industry, anxiety has not gone away. If anything, it has increased.
And unfortunately in the Church we are usually anxious right along with the world. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,” the Lord said to a friend of His, and He might well say it to us (Luke 11:41). We are often worried about the same things the world is. Do I have enough? Will I get what I want? And when we get what we want we worry about keeping it. But we have additional anxieties in the Church. We worry about having enough to keep the building open and the pastor paid. We worry about people not coming to the Church and fear or despair that our congregation and synod do not have a future in this world.
But in the midst of all this Jesus offers the opposite of anxiety to our worried hearts and tired bodies. He offers peace and rest. “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.”
Anxiety, Jesus teaches us, comes because of this—we are trying to serve two lords, two masters. “You cannot serve God and mammon,” says our Lord. “Mammon” refers not just to money but to that which you have that exceeds your needs. It’s not a sin to have more than you need. But Jesus says you can’t serve both God and money or possessions. It’s impossible. A person who has two lords and masters inevitably loves and trusts one more than the other. So it is with us. We’re either going to love and trust in possessions and money and despise God, or we will love and trust in God and despise money and possessions.
You get some indication of how much your heart is attached to money and possessions when you are forced to live at a level that is lower than what you’re accustomed to. Is it easy for you to live within your means? And when you suddenly have less income and you have to cut your spending, si that easy for you? Is it difficult for you to give to the Church to support the preaching of God’s Word? Is it easy or difficult for you to give ten percent of your income to the preaching of the Word? These are all indicators of how attached our hearts are to mammon.
The reality is that this trust in mammon is deeply ingrained in our sinful hearts, whereas trust in God does not come naturally to us. The reason we have anxiety is that we place our hopes for happiness and security in wealth and possessions, and these things are always uncertain. Someone or something is always threatening to interfere with our plans to make the world comfortable for ourselves. As long as our hearts trust in possessions, honor, loved ones, and wealth to make us happy we will always be anxious and afraid of losing them. And our sinful flesh can’t believe that we will be happy or be able to live without seeking those things first.
But Jesus offers us relief from the anxiety that comes from serving mammon. “The Gentiles seek after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all,” He says. It makes sense that Gentiles or unbelievers should run around saying, “What will we eat? What will we wear? What will we drive? What will we watch? How will we send text messages and get on the internet?” The Gentiles and unbelievers run around anxiously seeking these things because they do not have the heavenly Father who knows exactly what they need. Although our heavenly Father gives them their daily bread and lets His sun shine on them, they reject Him as their Father, and so they believe that they have to provide for themselves. They believe that they are going to find happiness and contentment in possessions and relationships and money. But we should not be fooled into seeking our lives in those things.
Rather, Jesus says, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (v.33) That is the medicine for anxiety. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” God’s kingdom and righteousness—how do we seek it? You already know the answer to this question. By striving to keep God’s commandments? We do seek to repent of our sins, to be heartily sorry for them and turn away from them and to do God’s will alone in the future. But that is not the righteousness of God and it does not give you entrance into the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God and His righteousness is offered to us in our Baptism and is received by faith alone. When the sinners heard John the Baptist’s preaching and repented, John baptized them and directed their eyes to Jesus, who would come and give the Holy Spirit and righteousness. When Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, He is calling us to faith in Himself. He is reminding us of what we are and have apart from Him. Apart from Jesus we are damned with all our possessions and relationships. They cannot bear the weight of our soul’s trust. But in Jesus who was crucified in weakness and shame, who was naked and thirsty and comfortless, in Him we have the righteousness that avails before God. We put Jesus crucified and risen on as our splendor and glorious dress in our Baptism. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness—that is the cure for our anxiety. It means we repent and believe in Christ crucified. It means we crucify the old self that believes the lie that our worldly possessions will give us life, that we let our old self be crucified. We look to Jesus the Lord hanging naked, spit upon, wounded, and comfortless on the cross and we say, “Here Lord in you I have everything and I am whole, for your death is my righteousness and my entrance into the kingdom of God.”
And that is true, because Jesus our Lord is the righteous One. No stain, no particle of sin was found in Him. He deserved to live in Paradise not only because He is God but because of His righteous, sinless life. He deserved to live in comfort and plenty and ease, like we desire for ourselves. But instead He received bad things—suffering, shame, dishonor, death, God’s holy wrath against sin. He received those bad things because we have bowed down to the false gods of earthly wealth and comforts. In receiving God’s judgment He removed it from us. We are not condemned for our unrighteousness because Jesus received all of God’s wrath for us.
Peace and freedom from anxiety is not found in mammon, in earthly wealth and possessions. It is found in god. When we see God’s face perfectly in heaven, we will never have any anxiety or sadness or pain again. When we see God, all anxiety will disappear. But no one can see God’s face and not die unless he is righteous. That was why even Moses was not allowed to see God’s face, but only His back. We are counted righteous before God now through faith in Jesus Christ. “To the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” (Romans 4:5) Through faith in Jesus we are justified and have peace with God (Romans 5:1). But we are not perfected. We are not completed. We will be perfected when this old nature is completely put away and the new nature, in the image of Christ, is completely put on. Then there will be nothing left of sin in us, but we will be completely transfigured, completely new, in the image of Christ, as we once had the image of Adam. When that happens, when that work is finished, we will have perfect peace and perfect life. What we have now by faith will be the totality of who we are.
That’s heaven. Heaven is when we rest with Christ and no longer have our sinful flesh hanging around our necks. Better yet, heaven is when we will be raised from the dead with glorious bodies that are like Christ’s. We are used to thinking of heaven as beginning after you die and not before. But actually we have the firstfruits of heaven in this life. We have forgiveness of sins now, and we have the Holy Spirit in us, God in us, bringing forth the fruits of heavenly life in us, as we heard in last week’s epistle—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5) Heavenly life begins now, by faith in Christ. And when our Lord says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” He is also saying, “Seek to grow in the new life, the life given by the Holy Spirit.” That is where joy and peace and freedom from anxiety are found. We have peace with God through faith in Christ. It is a perfect peace, because the atonement made by Jesus is perfect. There is nothing left of God’s wrath for those who believe in Jesus. He is well-pleased with us because of what Christ has done.
And yet we do not experience of feel perfect peace with God, even though we have it by faith. We do not experience or feel always that we feast on the bread of life and wear the glorious splendor of Jesus’ righteousness. We often experience anxiety and fear. But as we become stronger in faith in Christ through His Word our grip on the “peace that passes all understanding” becomes stronger. WE take hold more firmly on the rock that does not move. We cling to the Gospel and believe that God through the death of Jesus is not our enemy but our Father, who knows what we need. We grow in the knowledge of God’s perfect peace, trusting that even when we suffer and bear the cross, as Christ said we would, we are being cared for by our Father in heaven who knows exactly what will profit us for our soul’s salvation.
So Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Seek first not to make sure that you have money, possessions, comforts, and relationships on earth. Seek first Christ. Believe in the Gospel and seek to grow in faith and righteousness through hearing His Word and receiving the Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Then the earthly things will be given to you as well. Not, certainly, everything your sinful flesh desires, but everything God knows you need. And along with what you need He will give you increasing contentment in the treasures He offers in the Gospel—forgiveness of sins, union with Christ, sonship and an inheritance with God, eternal life.
In the Gospel Christ gives us the opposite of anxiety. He gives us Himself crucified and with Himself the righteousness of God and the kingdom of heaven. When He gives Himself to us in this way, He doesn’t give us assurance that we will have everything we want on earth. But He gives us God as our Father who will ensure that we are cared for as His children through time and in eternity. If we aren’t rich and full of pleasure on this earth—indeed if we carry the cross and look just as bruised and broken as our Lord in His crucifixion—we will be rich in eternity, clothed with the splendor of God’s glory. And all this is given to us not as a result of our own works but solely through the anguish and suffering of the Son of God.
Let us pray now that God blesses us through His Word today and causes us to grow in faith in Jesus and the peace that passes understanding.
Lord, grant your grace that Your word may take root in us, strengthen our faith in Christ, and sanctify us, that we may not run around anxiously like the Gentiles, but be satisfied in You, our heavenly Father, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria
14th Sunday after Trinity
St. Peter Lutheran Church
September 6, 2015
“Freedom in the Midst of the Conflict with the Flesh”
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:16-24
In the Epistle reading Paul describes the deadly conflict that goes on in the life of every Christian. It is the conflict between the Holy Spirit and the sinful flesh that remains in Christians. This is not like the conflict you experience when you try to decide whether or not you are going to eat another cookie or have another piece of cake. This is a life-and-death conflict. In another place Paul describes the conflict like this: For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13) If you live according to the flesh you will die eternally—you will suffer eternal torment in hell. But if by the Holy Spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live eternally.
So this conflict between the Holy Spirit and the sinful flesh, our sinful flesh, has eternal consequences. It is a conflict that only Christians have and experience. It is given to us when we are baptized, because when we are baptized we receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit desires what the flesh hates. The Holy Spirit wants us to believe in Jesus and be assured that our sins are forgiven for His sake. The Holy Spirit also desires that our sinful flesh be put to death with all its desires, and that a new man, Christ in us, come forth producing all kinds of good fruit. On the other hand, our flesh still lives within us. It has been nailed to the cross with Christ in our Baptism. It has been subdued by the Holy Spirit. But it resists and strives to be free and alive again. It produces all kinds of sinful desires in our hearts and tries to get us to act on them. For this reason Paul says, “These are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (v. 17) The new man within us does not want to sin. He hates and flees even from sinful desires and thoughts, because he knows that sin is death. But the new man within us is kept from doing what it wants by the sinful flesh. Even when we restrain ourselves from evil actions and words, evil thoughts and desires are present with us. We may not strike or curse the person who hits us, but anger burns within us. So we Christians are in a conflict within ourselves. When we want to do good, to do God’s will, evil is right there with us. Our sinful nature presses us with sinful thoughts and desires and wants us to carry them out. But to carry out the desires of the flesh is death and hell.
We are not going to be free of this awful conflict as long as we are alive, unless we give in to the flesh and grieve the Holy Spirit so that He departs from us. Then there won’t be a conflict because we will belong entirely to the flesh and the devil. But if the Holy Spirit is in you, you will always be engaged in a bitter war with your sinful flesh. It will always be trying to lead you into sin. So Paul says, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh.” (v. 16) Paul does not say we will be free from sinful desires and thoughts, but he does say: “Walk in the Spirit, and you will not carry them out.” Walk in the Spirit and you may be tempted to commit fornication—that is, sex outside of marriage—but you will not carry out the desires of your flesh. Walk in the Spirit and you may be tempted to jealousy or divisions in the Church, but you will not carry them out.
What does that mean, “Walk in the Spirit”? It means to walk by faith in Christ. It means to live believing in the promise of the forgiveness of sins that He won for us by His blood and crucifixion. It means that we consider ourselves as God promises He considers us in the Gospel—He promises that He considers us righteous and without sin. Paul says in Romans chapter 6: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11) We walk by the Spirit by believing that we are righteous for Jesus’ sake. And if we are righteous, that means we are also dead to sin. So we consider ourselves dead to sin and when sinful desires and thoughts present themselves to us we put them on the body of Jesus, where they died. Or we drown them in our baptismal water, where we died and were buried with Jesus. But we do not let sinful desires and impulses live. We do not give ourselves over to them as though we were still the slaves of sin and had to do whatever sin wants. We “present our members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” as we once “presented [them] as slaves to impurity and lawlessness…” (Romans 6:19) And when we stumble and in weakness fall into sin, we don’t give up and hand ourselves over to the flesh. We turn in faith to Christ. We return to Baptism, where we were promised forgiveness and where we pledged to fight against the flesh, the world, and the devil unto death.
This conflict with the flesh is not pleasant. It creates great sorrow, fear, and grief for us when we experience how much wickedness is still in us. When we suffer, we experience how much the flesh is still with us, how little we really trust God, how little we love Him, how little love we have for our neighbor. This is painful. But there is wonderful, comforting, blessed news for those who are engaged in this daily death struggle with the flesh. It says, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (v. 18)
What does that mean? It means that if the Holy Spirit is in you fighting against your sinful nature so that it does not gratify its desires, groaning within you that the Father would give you relief from your unbelief and desires contrary to the Law, you are not under the Law’s condemnation. If we were without the grace of God, the Law would condemn us to hell not only for our sinful actions, but our sinful thoughts and words. Everyone who does not believe in Christ as his Savior is under the Law, even though they may not feel its heavy burden. Everyone who does not believe in Christ and have the Holy Spirit in them crucifying the sinful nature is under the Law. The Law condemns everyone who is under it and who does not keep its righteous requirements to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves.
But those who are led by the Spirit are not under the Law. They are not under its condemnation. They are not imprisoned by its curse. This is wonderful news to all who groan in the conflict with their sinful nature.
Earlier in the letter to the Galatians Paul wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) But a Christian who is engaged in the conflict with the flesh doesn’t feel free. He feels chained and imprisoned by his sinful nature. He sees the flesh working in him, waging war against the Holy Spirit “and making [him] captive to the law of sin that dwells in [his] members.” (Romans 7:23) He cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) A Christian engaged in the conflict with the flesh doesn’t feel free. But he is free. He is “not under the law” (v. 18) There is no condemnation for him, because he is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). The Law does not speak condemnation on those who are led by the Holy Spirit because it has already spoken its condemnation on Jesus, who gave Himself for us. If you are led by the Holy Spirit, you are free from condemnation. You are a son and an heir of God. Even though you are suffering in the conflict with your flesh, you are a free son of God who is not under the Law’s condemnation. You are an heir of eternal life in the midst of your conflict with the flesh.
So how do you know if you are led by the Holy Spirit? Paul tells us first how we may recognize if we are not being led by the Holy Spirit. We are not being led by the Holy Spirit when we do the works of the flesh. “Now the works of the flesh are evident,” says Paul (v. 19). They are obvious to anyone who has the Spirit of God.
First of all, sexual sins, which includes all manner of sexual intercourse not between a man and his wife in marriage. Secondly, idolatry and sorcery or witchcraft. This refers to false worship, superstition, and occult practices, including trying to communicate with the dead, tell fortunes, and other things like this. Third, Paul lists a group of sins that flow from hatred or lack of love toward our neighbor: “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions.” Finally, “drunkenness and orgies,” which refers to drunken partying.
After listing these sins, Paul adds the solemn warning, “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (v. 21) People who do such things are not led by the Spirit of God, but by the flesh. A Christian doesn’t allow the flesh to rule him. He considers himself dead to sin through Jesus Christ and repents and flees from evil desires. This is why those who live in sin without repentance are not allowed to partake of the Lord’s body and blood, whether the sin is sexual immorality, drunkenness, or fostering divisions in the Church. No one who falls into sins like the ones Paul lists, unless he repents and desires to do them no more, is being led by the Spirit of God. And those who are not led by God’s Spirit are not His children and heirs.
But those who are being led by God’s Spirit daily battle against the flesh and put it to death. And in them God works by His Holy Spirit to produce fruit that leads to life, not death. The Holy Spirit produces love in the hearts of Christians. First He proclaims to us the message of God’s love that gave His only-begotten Son to die for our sins. Those who believe this message begin to love like a flame produces heat. They begin to love God, who first loved us and gave His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. And they begin to love their neighbor, who Jesus died for. All the fruits of the Holy Spirit grow out of the seed He sows in our hearts, which is the good news of the death of Jesus in our place to free us from death and the curse of the Law. Joy comes from knowing that we are God’s heirs and children through Jesus’ death. We have peace in our hearts through faith that Jesus made peace with God for us through His blood, and we begin to seek to live in godly peace with our neighbors. Patience for one another is formed in us as we rely on God’s patience toward us in daily forgiving our sins. Faithfulness grows in us because we experience God’s faithfulness to us, not forsaking us but daily forgiving and leading us. As the Lord deals gently with us in the Gospel, not condemning us but justifying us through His Son’s meek death, the Holy Spirit works within us to create a gentle spirit toward those who sin against us. And finally the Holy Spirit bears the fruit of self-control in us because He testifies to us that we have greater treasures awaiting us at God’s right hand. We don’t need to experience every pleasure the world has to offer; we have greater pleasures in Christ—now through the forgiveness of sins, and in eternity when we put off the flesh entirely and put on our glorious bodies that share the glory of the Son of God.
Knowing that you are walking by the Spirit is not as simple as counting up the fruits of the Spirit in our lives. As Christians look at their lives, they often see that they are lacking in the fruits of the Spirit. The Spirit’s fruits are not as evident as we would wish. That is part of our daily conflict with the flesh. We see its evil impulses daily. The fruits of the Spirit are not always as easy to see in ourselves. So what do we do? The same thing we do daily in our struggle with the flesh. We cling to the promise God made us in our Baptism—that we died with Christ and were justified. We rise up by faith, forgetting what has gone before and striving toward those things that are ahead. We take hold of the eternal life Christ won for us in His death and resurrection from the dead. We claim righteousness before God and eternal life as ours, because God has said they are ours in Baptism and the Gospel. And we rejoice in the midst of this painful conflict with our sinful flesh. We rejoice because the final victory is guaranteed. Our flesh has been crucified with Christ in Baptism. And while we live engaged in this struggle to put our flesh to death, we are free. We are not able to do what we want and live without sinful thoughts and desires. But we are not under the Law. It no longer condemns us. We are led by the Spirit. “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14) By the Spirit we cry, “Abba, Father!” And because we are sons of God, we are also heirs—heirs of the eternal glory, life, and freedom from sin that will be ours in the new heavens and earth.
Soli Deo Gloria
13th Sunday after Trinity
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 10:23-37
August 30, 2015
“Do this and you will live”
A lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” he asked. Jesus directed him to the Law of God. “What is written in the Law?” And the lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And to this Jesus said, “You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.”
“Do this, and you will live.” Jesus doesn’t say, “Do this”—keep God’s Law—“and you will inherit eternal life when you die.” He says, “Do this and you will live,” that is, you will live now. To love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself is to live now, to have life now. To not love your neighbor and God is to have death even while you are alive. “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” (Romans 10:5) If you keep God’s laws, if you love Him with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself, you have life. That’s what Adam did when he was created, before he fell into sin. He bore the image of God, and God is love (1 John 4).
If you love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself, you have life right now. “Do this, and you will live.” But even the lawyer seems to be aware that he doesn’t measure up to God’s law. The text says that he wanted to justify himself, and that’s why he asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” As though if he could limit who was his neighbor he might have a chance of fulfilling the commandment. So Jesus explains what it is to love your neighbor. To love your neighbor, to be righteous in God’s sight, is not a matter of being a religious figure, like a priest, a Levite, or a lawyer. It’s not a matter of being a pastor or an officer in a Christian congregation. The priest and the Levite pass by on the other side of the road from the man who fell among the robbers and was left half-dead. They were somebody among the religious community. But that didn’t make them righteous in God’s sight, give them life. They were dead, “for they had not love” for their neighbor. “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:2) Or as John says, “Whoever does not love abides in death.” (1 John 3:14)
To be righteous in God’s sight is to fulfill the law, and “love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:10) To love is not a matter of being a priest, Levite, pastor, congregational officer. Love comes from God. Whoever is born of God and knows God loves his neighbor, not with an earthly love that expects something in return, but with the love of God. This kind of love doesn’t ask, “Who is my neighbor?” Wherever it sees need, it pours itself out and spends itself for the good of the needy person. That is how God’s love works. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:45-48)
The Samaritan in Jesus’ story does not consider whether the man lying on the side of the road is friend or foe. He doesn’t ask what he stands to lose or gain. He simply sees him lying in the ditch, naked and half-dead, and, says Jesus, “He had compassion.” That the man was a Jew and therefore his enemy didn’t enter into his mind. Like the father who sends rain on the just and the unjust, his compassion was unconditional and unsparing. And getting back to the lawyer’s original question, Jesus says, “Now which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell among thieves?…Go and do likewise.”
“Go and do likewise.” The man who does the commandments shall live by them.” The commandments of God hold out the promise of life to those who keep them, but to those who don’t keep them they bring death. That’s why when God gave the Law on Mount Sinai, He came with glory, but it was a glory that terrified the people nearly to death—fire, billowing smoke, the blast of a trumpet. “If there was a law that could have given life, righteousness would be by the law. But Scripture imprisoned everything under sin.” (Galatians 3:21-22). The Law of God describes how we would act if we still had the image of God Adam was created with. We would love God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves.
But we have lost the image of God. We are like the man who was set upon by robbers, who was left half-dead, naked, lying wounded in the ditch. We are like that but actually much worse. For in Adam we are not half-dead. In Adam we are born completely “dead in trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1) We have not been beaten up so that the image of God in us is disfigured. It is lost. We do not have some weak ability left in us by which we can begin to love God and our neighbor. In Adam we are devoid and barren of love. We have no ability to love God and our neighbor. We are in death, for whoever does not love his brother remains in death.
The good news is that God saw us lying dead on the side of the road in Adam. He saw how His image was completely defaced in us, how there was no good left in us, not even a drop of love. And like the Samaritan He had compassion on us who had become His enemy. He came to our side, bound up our wounds, putting on oil and wine, placed us on His own animal, and brought us to the inn, where He took care of us.
He did this by coming to our side in the manger where He was born flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. He took up human nature and in the unity of His person He restored the image of God to human flesh. He bound up the mortal wounds of sin by becoming sin for us on the cross and bearing the judgment of God.
He was handed over to death for our sin and in His resurrection He raised us up from the dead with Him. He infused into our mortal bodies new spiritual life so that we are being renewed in the image of the Creator and begin to love—that is, to fulfill the Law. He worked in us faith in Him, and by that faith we live. The man who does the commandments of the Law of God shall live by them. No one besides Christ can live by means of keeping the law of God. But by faith in Jesus we live. We are credited with having fulfilled all God’s commands. “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent,” Jesus said (John 17:3). By faith we know Jesus and through faith in Jesus we know the Father. “He is the image of the invisible God,” says Colossians 1:15. In Him we see the Father.
And what do we learn about the Father from Jesus? We see that He loves us. People think they know that God loves them even though they don’t believe in Christ. In reality they can’t know any such thing. Apart from Christ all we know of God is that He is righteous and that He lets us die. Apart from Christ we are faced with a God who at the end of the day lets us die. But in Christ we see the true God who loves the just and the unjust. He draws near to us who are dead, so that He becomes our brother in flesh and blood and death. He dies our death and raises us from the dead. And He nurtures us whom He has raised. He pours oil into the aching wounds of sin, the balm of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, who proclaims to us the wounds and death of Jesus in which our sins are covered and forgiven. He pours wine into them also, a disinfectant, so that the wounds of the sinful flesh we still bear do not fester and cause us to relapse into death. He gives us our crosses—He gives us pain in our work and calling, so that we remain humble and continue to desire and seek His grace. And He cares for us. He stays with us through His Word and Sacrament and nourishes His life within us.
This is why even though we don’t “do this”—that is, love God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves—we nevertheless “live” before God. We live because Christ has “done this.” He has loved His neighbor. He loved us when we were dead in our transgressions and sins. And by His love for us He atoned for our transgressions and restored us to life. And so that we are refreshed and strengthened by what He has done, He commands us to “do this in remembrance of Me”—to take the bread and the cup and eat and drink them, receiving His body and blood under the bread and wine which were given and shed to give us life.
And what happens as we receive His Word and Sacrament? We are being restored to the image of Christ, who is the image of God. We are being nursed back to health. We are daily taking off the old self—our flesh which daily grows more corrupt—and putting on the new self—Christ, into whom we were buried through Baptism and raised from the dead. We are putting off what is old until we finally put it off forever in death. And we are putting on the new man until finally we come to the fullness of our inheritance and put on immortality and incorruption.
But eternal life begins now. If we loved perfectly, if we fulfilled the law, we would have life now. We would not have to wait to inherit it. It would already be ours. We do not love perfectly. But as Christians and believers in Jesus we begin to love. We begin to love God and our neighbor. We begin to fulfill he law because Jesus has raised us up from the dead with Him. We begin to fulfill the Law because we believe that Christ has already fulfilled it for us. He has restored us to God by His love and compassion. He bore the stripes that heal us in His passion; He was crushed for our iniquities. For the sake of Jesus, we are regarded as having fulfilled the whole law of God. So we have life now.
And we get to “go and do likewise.” Not like the lawyer who was trying to justify himself. But as those who are already justified by the obedience of Jesus.
Go and do likewise, Jesus says to us. I have loved you and justified you. Walk in my love. Be compassionate not only toward your friends and those you think deserve it, but toward those who hate and mistreat you, those who are incapable of doing anything besides returning your love with a slap in the face. It’s true that in ourselves we have no power to love such people. In our flesh we have no power to really love anyone. But “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5) We are being transformed into the image of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18) as we behold the love of Christ who was crucified for us. “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16)
“By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything.” (1 John 3:19-20)
Amen. Soli Deo Gloria