St. Peter Lutheran Church
November 26, 2015
“Humbled and Thankful”
The people of Israel had been slaves in Egypt who were cruelly abused by their masters. They had groaned in their bondage for centuries, and no one came to help them. You would think that such an experience would have been enough to teach them humility, that no further humbling would have been necessary for them. But being humble or humiliated in the eyes of men is not the same thing as humility before God. Even in the most wretched of people there is by nature an arrogance, a surging pride toward or against God. It manifests itself in unbelief, when we disregard and disbelieve and dispute God’s Word. It is a spiritual pride that holds to its own thoughts and feelings and disputes with God’s Word. It says, “How can this be?” to God’s clear Word and promise instead of saying with the mother of God, “Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
In the reading from Deuteronomy God is about to bring the people of Israel into the promised land of Canaan after forty years of wandering in the desert. As they are about to cross into the land that God has promised them, He tells them: “You shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.” (Deut. 8:2) Even though they had been slaves, the Israelites were not humble. They had seen the plagues the Lord sent on the Egyptians; they had seen Him part the Red Sea for them and drown the hosts of Pharaoh. They had seen God descend in fire on Mount Sinai and heard His voice speak the Ten Commandments from the mountain. But these wonders were not enough to make them humble before God. When they first came to the border of the land of Canaan, and they heard that the inhabitants of the land were strong, they rebelled against the Lord and would not go in. They did not believe that God would give them the land. They said, “’Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?’ And they said to one another,’ Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.’” (Numbers 14:3-4)
That doesn’t sound to our ears like pride; it sounds like despair. But the Israelites were being proud because they regarded their thoughts as higher than God’s Word and their weakness as greater than God’s power. They didn’t recognize that it was the Lord’s hand that had brought them out of Egypt and didn’t believe that His hand would drive out the nations before them. All they could see was the strength of the nations in the land of Canaan and their own weakness. That was pride, because they did not regard the Lord and His Word as more powerful than the might of men.
So God humbled them. He made the Israelites wander in the desert until the people of that generation died. Their children would go in and receive the land. And all the while they wandered around the desert they were dependent on God. He had to lead them by a pillar of cloud and fire—they had no idea where they were going. He had to feed them with manna—bread from heaven. He had to give them water in that dry and weary land. “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut. 8:3) As they wandered in the wilderness where there was no food, they were supposed to learn that it was not really food that sustained them, but the Lord’s Word. His Word sent the bread from heaven to them faithfully. Each morning they awoke and found bread to eat in a place where there was no bread. For forty years this great multitude of people was sustained in a desert which was unable to sustain them because the Word of the Lord said that it should be so. They were being disciplined for their unbelief and rebellion, but disciplined as children, not destroyed in God’s wrath. God was teaching them not to depend on their senses and reason and experience but on His Word.
Now as they are about to go into the land of promise God tells them to remember their wandering in the wilderness and what He taught them there. “The Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing…” (Deut. 8:7-9) They are to remember their time in the wilderness because when they come into this good land it will be easy for them to forget what really sustains them and gives them life. It will be easy for them to think that it is the good land that gives them life instead of the Word of the Lord. Then instead of “bless[ing] the Lord for the good land he has given” (Deut. 8:10), they will be unthankful or give the Lord’s praise to idols.
What does all this have to do with us on this day of national thanksgiving in the United States of America in the year of our Lord 2015? The United States is not Israel, and America is not the land of Canaan. No, the Church is Israel, the believers in Christ from every tribe and nation scattered across the world. And our promised land is not in this world, but the new heavens and earth that Jesus will bring about when He comes again.
No, now is the time of our wandering in the wilderness. We live as faithful citizens of this country. We pay our taxes; we pray and work for the well-being and prosperity of our nation. But we are pilgrims here. We are looking for another country to come in which Christ reigns and all enemies—sin, suffering, death and the devil—are banished.
While we are wandering, the Lord humbles us, but sustains us. He gives us life by His Word. He sustains us with the bread from heaven—Jesus Christ, crucified for our sins and raised from the dead the third day. He gives us this life-giving bread in the preaching of His Word and in the Holy Sacrament of His Body and Blood. He gives us spiritual food in this desert and sustains us. And as He does this He is humbling us, teaching us not to regard what we can see and sense but His Word. His Word proclaims to us that Christ’s righteousness is ours, although we cannot see or sense it. It proclaims to us that the Kingdom of heaven is ours, not by our doing but by the obedience and suffering of Jesus in our place. When our numbers are small and weak, when we wonder how we will survive the next day or week in the wilderness—much less enter into the promised land—God is disciplining us, teaching us to depend on His Word to provide for us. We are learning to trust His Word that declares the kingdom of heaven is ours, that death and sin will not harm us. As we learn to trust that Word we come to recognize that everything that sustains our lives comes from that Word as well—food and drink, clothing and shoes, house and home, family, and everything we have.
Otherwise, by nature, we think the way the unbelieving world does. We sort of vaguely recognize that God exists and that He made everything, but we don’t really recognize the gifts we receive as coming from God. This makes real thanksgiving to God impossible. That was what eventually happened to the Israelites in the land of promise. They ate and were full and then forgot God, thinking that their own hand or righteousness had gotten them all the blessings they had. They forgot how they had nothing in the wilderness but the Word of the Lord faithfully provided them with bread from heaven in a place where it should have been impossible for them to live.
The Lord has us in the wilderness to humble us, to discipline us, to teach us to hold to His Word as our life. And yet in this wilderness He has still given us so much. We go home to plates of food and to families that love us, to homes that are warm and comfortable, in a country where despite all our sins we are still blessed with peace and order.
We have those things and we should give God thanks as the one who has given them out of great mercy. We should pray that He keeps giving those gifts to us and our country. But we should not depend on them as our life nor set our hearts on them as our highest joy.
God is able to give us life even in the absence of those things—peace and freedom, family and friends, food and drink. “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut. 8:3) He gives us life by proclaiming Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil for us, by plunging us into His death and resurrection in Baptism. Believe that Word and claim the Kingdom of Heaven as your own, despite what you see and feel and sense. Then you will see that all the good things you receive on earth are not accidents or flukes—they are the Lord providing for you as a father.
Let us give thanks to the Lord for those good things we have received and are still receiving on earth. Let us also give thanks for His discipline that teaches us to believe His Word instead of our own thoughts. And let us thank the Lord our God for the good land He has promised us—the new heavens and the new earth, bought for us by Jesus’ suffering and death and sealed to us with His blood.
Soli Deo Gloria
Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 27)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 25:1-13
November 22, 2015
“Watch for the Bridegroom”
The point of the Gospel reading for the last Sunday of the Church year is not a mystery. Our Lord Himself explains it. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13). We don’t know the day or the hour of the return of Christ. So we can’t take a vacation from being Christians and put off repentance until our deathbed. We don’t know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return. We must always be ready and watching for Him.
But what does it mean to watch for Jesus? How do we do it? After all, the Lord expects us to work and take care of our families, and those responsibilities take up nearly all our energy. Are we supposed to abandon those responsibilities and spend all our time gazing into the heavens, or gazing into our own souls, making sure that we are watching and in a fit spiritual condition when Jesus returns?
The parable of the ten virgins illustrates what Jesus means when He says “Watch.” He gives an example of what watching for Him looks like in the five wise virgins, and a counterexample of what it means to not watch in the five foolish virgins.
In the days when Jesus told this parable weddings were conducted differently than they are now. The bridegroom would come from another town to the house of his bride where they would have a wedding celebration that lasted several days. The bridesmaids, instead of standing in a line at the altar of the church, would go out into the street to greet the bridegroom and welcome him into the house of his bride. Because the bridegroom was coming from a distance it was impossible to know exactly when he would be coming. So they had to watch for him with lamps burning to guide him to the house of the bride.
Jesus is the bridegroom. When the Church watches for Him, she isn’t waiting for her disciplinarian, judge, or executioner. The Church watches for her beloved Savior, the One who loved [her] and gave Himself for [her.] (Galatians 2:20) We wait for the one who loved us and gave Himself up for us and who Paul says is the model for husbands in loving their own wives: Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27). Jesus is the bridegroom who loves His Church. He has such passion for her that He died for her and cleansed all her sins with His blood. He hung on the cross in shame, bearing our sins, so that He might rejoice with us forever at the heavenly wedding.
So to watch for Jesus is not to sit up keeping watch for an angry master who is waiting to find fault with you when he comes home. It is to watch for our bridegroom who comes to take us as His bride. It is to believe the good news that He has redeemed us from our sins with His blood and that He is coming to take us out of this valley of sorrows into everlasting blessedness with Him.
This is what the Church is doing on earth. Yes, we are praying for the world and making disciples of all nations. We are here to serve our neighbors and to carry out what God has called us to do in our callings as father, mother, husband, wife, preacher, hearer of the word, worker, citizen, and so on. But those are temporary occupations. We do them, but all the while we are watching. We are not watching for the day when our efforts change this world into a paradise and bring about the victory of our Lord’s kingdom on earth. We are watching for Jesus to return and take us to Himself, which will be paradise.
But in the visible Church of Christ there are not only those who believe in Christ and are waiting for Him; there are also those gathered with them who appear to be waiting for Christ but in actuality are totally unprepared for Him. They have lamps, but they don’t have any oil with which to light them. They lack the Holy Spirit who gives saving faith in Jesus, even though they associate with believers and even participate in the means of grace by which the Holy Spirit and faith are given. These are the foolish virgins.
There are many people in the visible fellowship of the Church who are hypocrites. By this I don’t mean that they sin or are weak in faith. I mean that they pretend or claim to be believers in Jesus but they are not. They may know about Him and outwardly appear to do the things that believers do, such as listen to the Word, receive the Sacrament, and live a moral life on the outside. But they do not believe in Jesus as their heavenly bridegroom. They don’t trust in the fact that He received all our sin and gave us all His righteousness. Perhaps they live in unrepentant, secret sin that they have no intention of giving up. Perhaps they trust that they are really decent people who go to church at least sometimes and that the Lord will accept this as righteousness. Or perhaps they just don’t think about Christ returning to judge the living and the dead at all.
So what happens? In Jesus’ parable, the Bridegroom is delayed, and all the virgins fall asleep. Even the wise virgins fall asleep. Christians are not saved because of their faithfulness in watching for Jesus to return. Even believers in Christ lose their patience. We become negligent in prayer. Our eager desire for Christ to return grows cold as the world grows darker and He seems so long delayed.
But when the cry comes at midnight, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet Him!” the wise virgins have oil for their lamps. They have the Holy Spirit. They have faith in Jesus, the Bridegroom. They believe that He gave Himself up for them in His Passion and has made them spotless and holy. They are ready to meet the Bridegroom when He arrives.
But when that day comes, and Jesus returns, the hypocrites will suddenly realize that they have been fools and are in no way prepared to meet Jesus. Then they will be desperate to find oil for their lamps—to find the Holy Spirit and faith in Jesus—but it will be too late. The faith that other people in the Church have will not be able to save you. You must be able to say for yourself “The blood of Jesus cleanses me from all my sin.” But the day when Jesus returns will be too late to acquire that faith. Jesus says to the foolish virgins when they knock on the door saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us”: “I do not know you.” On the last day there will be many who have heard Christ’s word and been among Christians who will want to be included in the wedding feast, but because they did not repent and believe the Gospel when it was preached to them in this life, they will be excluded.
This is what Jesus taught earlier in the Gospel of Matthew: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)
Elsewhere Jesus says, “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)
“Watch, therefore” means: be found in true faith in Christ. He is the bridegroom who has paid with His blood for you to stand before Him faultless on the last day. Listen diligently to His Word where He proclaims this to you; receive His body and blood, be absolved of your sins. There He gives you the Holy Spirit, the oil for your lamp. Believe what He proclaims to you in these gifts, and watch for the joyful day of your bridegroom.
Soli Deo Gloria
Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 26)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 25:31-46
November 15, 2015
“He Will Come To Judge the Living and the Dead”
Largely adapted from Tilemann Heshusius
The Gospel reading for today deals with the last judgment, the article of faith that we confess in the Apostles’ Creed when we say From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. This article of the faith is full of comfort for Christians, even though it sounds terrifying. It will be terrifying for those who have not believed in Christ, to be sure.
But for Christians there is no greater comfort than to know that Jesus will return and judge the living and the dead. We do not believe in Jesus so that we can have a better life in this world. If we do, we will be disappointed and disillusioned. “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied,” Saint Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15 (:19). Why is that? Because this world is not a pleasure garden. It is a valley of sorrows for everyone, because God put a curse on the earth after human beings fell. But for Christians it is even more difficult. Believing in Christ and walking by faith in Him arouses the bitter hostility of the world and its ruler, the devil. “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you,” our Lord told His disciples on the night He was betrayed (John 15:19). We are not looking for a kingdom in this world. We are waiting for Jesus to return and destroy this world and bring us into a new heavens and a new earth. “Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and let us thus offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29)
The Bible does not leave it up in the air whether Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. It is certain, as certain as death. That means there will be a reckoning for our lives. In this life God does reward and punish people, but not for everything. Sometimes, even often, unbelieving people prosper in this life, while those who believe in Christ and keep God’s commandments suffer and there seems to be no justice. But God’s Word makes it clear that there will be a reckoning. On the last day Christ will come in judgment “and render to each one according to his works” (Romans 2:6). St. Paul says, “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 Corinthians 5:10).
How will the Last Judgment happen? Jesus told the high priest before He was crucified, “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). And when Jesus ascended into heaven, two angels told the stunned apostles, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). That is, He will come in the sky in great power and glory. “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him. Even so. Amen.” (Revelation 1:7)
And when Jesus appears in His glory there will be “the voice of an archangel” and “the sound of the trumpet of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:16). Then all the dead will rise from their graves, and the angels will gather all the people together before Christ. And our Lord will separate the people like a shepherd separating sheep from goats. He will separate those who are His from those who belong to the devil. There will be no middle ground. Everyone will be in one group or the other—those at Jesus’ right hand and those at His left. And then He will pronounce judgment on the two groups of people. It will not be a long jury trial. It will be swift.
Now the question before us is—how will Christ judge? What will be the basis of His judgment? The Gospel seems to make works—specifically works of mercy—the ground on which Christ judges. For when He gives eternal life to the saints, He says, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink,” but to those who are damned He says, “I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink.” So it seems that Christ will judge by the law and by works. And there are many other verses that say that at judgment day God will give to every person according to his works.
But this is a misunderstanding. If Jesus were going to judge us by the law of God, we would have to keep the entire law, not just do works of mercy like feeding the hungry and visiting the sick and the prisoner. But Scripture makes it clear that no one fulfills the law of God; everyone comes short of the righteousness He requires in the law. Even the greatest saints of the Bible confessed that they broke God’s Law and would have to be condemned by it if God didn’t show them mercy. David says in the Psalms “Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you” (Psalm 143:2). “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that You may be feared.” (Psalm 143:3)
God has another kind of righteousness by which the ungodly are justified and by which sinners may stand before Him with joy on judgment day. This is the righteousness that God promises in the Gospel. In the Gospel God promises that He will forgive the sins of those who believe in His Son, that He will count His obedience to them, and give them eternal life as a gift of grace.
This gracious promise of the Gospel is the only thing we have to comfort ourselves with on the last day. Our comfort, our hope, our assurance for the day of judgment is that the One who comes to judge the living and the dead is the same One who died for our sins on the cross, who was judged for our sins already, and who endured the wrath of God for us. He also desires to give the Kingdom that He won to poor sinners without any merit of their own, and say to us, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34).” We must and can be certain of this judgment, because it is a free gift that Jesus promises in the Gospel through His obedience and suffering in our place.
He promises again and again that through nothing else than believing that He has accomplished everything for us we are counted righteous by God. In John chapter 5, our Lord promises “Truly, truly, I say to you, 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 to life.”
But didn’t we say earlier that everyone, believers and unbelievers, all have to appear before the judgment seat of Christ? How can Jesus say that those who believe in Him “do not come into judgment”?
Yes, we will appear before the judgment seat of Christ. But we will appear with great joy because He has justified us. And we will not be judged or condemned, but instead with Christ we will pass judgment on the world and the devil.
We will stand on Christ’s right hand and will hear words of pure joy: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” The strict judgment of the law will fall on unbelievers and hypocrites, not on Christians.
You should take this great comfort of the Gospel to heart. Hide it away and treasure it, so that you may be comforted by it when the devil attacks you and when you are dying. You should not fear judgment day on account of your sins if you believe in Christ. You shouldn’t think, “How will I be able to stand on the Last Day? How will I give an answer to God, since I have so often sinned against Him, and since I don’t have any good works? How will Christ call me blessed and say, “Come here to me” when I have done nothing good?” When such thoughts attack you, consider whether you believe that Christ died for all your sins and paid for them on the cross. If you believe in Christ, that He has done away with all your sins, then the one who comes to judge on the last day is not merely your judge but your advocate, the one who speaks in your defense. He is the one who gives and counts to you all His obedience. Who can be afraid of a judge like that?
So a believing Christian should not pay attention to the fact that he is a poor sinner. He should be certain that he will stand with the sheep on Christ’s right hand, and hear the joyful voice of the Son of God, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.” Believing this, we can await the glorious appearing of Christ with joy, and pray every day that He would come soon.
This is the comfort that belongs to those who believe in Christ and receive His Word of grace. But the unbelieving and the godless will hear another sentence and judgment: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41)
Do you hear the sentence that will be spoken on all hypocrites and unbelievers, on those who live as though there will be no judgment day, on those who do not listen to God’s Word? When a criminal is condemned to death, the sentence goes through his heart and his bones, and he trembles. But this judgment is far more serious, because it will be no mere man, but God Himself who speaks this judgment.
Here a person will not be put to shame before a few of his peers, but before all of heaven and all of the world. The pain will not only be for a short while as the body is put to death, but body and soul together will suffer in the fire of hell, and this torment will last for all eternity. All unbelieving hypocrites, mockers and despisers of God’s Word, and people who live as if this life is the only one should take this to heart. He who is the judge of the living and the dead warns you faithfully. If anyone has up until now been godless and not considered the last judgment, if he turns and repents, and comforts himself with the holy gospel, the terrifying judgment will pass over him. But if a person despises grace, does not receive Christ the Savior, but continues in sin without repentance, then all the sins that they have done through their whole life—all cursing, mocking, despising God’s Word, drunkenness, greediness, sexual impurity, all evil thoughts and desires of their hearts, and all useless talk—will be revealed before the whole world and punished with eternal pain and the fire of hell.
But someone might reasonably ask—if Christ judges His believers according to the Gospel, why does He say so many words here about the works of mercy? The answer is that the Scripture teaches two things—first, that God will forgive the sins of believers for the sake of His Son, because Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. But secondly, Scripture teaches that God will also richly reward all the obedience and good works of Christians in eternal glory.
Not that good works earn salvation, or that good works are necessary for salvation. Jesus doesn’t say that, and whoever teaches it perverts the whole Gospel. Because the Gospel is that Jesus’ obedience has completely won for us eternal life.
The comfort must remain certain, that everyone who believes in Christ does not come into judgment, even if they find no good works in themselves. In the Gospel before us, the believers on the last day themselves confess that they don’t know about the good works that Jesus praises in them. By this Christ teaches us that the saints do not depend on their good works at all on the day of judgment, only on the grace of the judge and the gracious promise of the gospel.
But Christ also witnesses here that He will richly reward all the good works of His believers with eternal joy and blessedness. No work is so little, as long as it comes from faith in Christ, that it will not be rewarded. In Matthew 10 Jesus says, “Whoever gives one of these little ones a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Matt. 10:42)
The whole Scriptures say the same thing. God said to Abraham, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” (Gen. 15:1) Colossians 3 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.” (Col. 3:23-24). We should constantly have these divine promises before our eyes, so that we are willing and prepared to serve God and our neighbor.
And here Jesus says most comfortingly that when we have fed and given drink to poor people, visited the sick and the imprisoned, He will confess on judgment day that we gave Him, God’s Son, food and drink. That will be an inexpressible joy and glory before all the world, when the Son of God, Jesus Christ, confesses in the presence of the Father and the Holy Spirit, before the saints and angels and the whole world, that we fed Him and gave Him to drink.
How great is the grace and mercy of our Lord! He not only counts His righteousness to us, so that we inherit the kingdom of God by faith in Him alone. He also promises to remember the good works we do in faith and to reward them. May this grace of Christ be so fixed in our hearts by faith that we eagerly wait for the day of His return to judge the living and the dead.
The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thursday after All Saints’—Evening Prayer
St. Peter Lutheran Church
1 Kings 4:29-34
November 5, 2015
“The Wisdom of Solomon and the Wisdom of Christ”
And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore; so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all other men, wiser than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol, and his fame was in all the surrounding nations. He also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005. He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish. And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom. 1 Kings 4:29-34
The LORD had appeared to Solomon in a dream at the beginning of his reign and said, “Ask what I shall give you.” (1 Kings 3:5) And Solomon said, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” (1 Kings 3:9) “And God said to him, ‘Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days.” (1 Kings 3:11-13)
And now in chapter 4 we see God making good on His promise. We hear about the abundance of Solomon’s table and the breadth of his dominion, how he had dominion over “all the kings west of the Euphrates. And he had peace on all sides around him.” (1 Kings 4:24) The people of Israel lived in safety and had an abundance during Solomon’s reign because God had given him riches and honor, things for which he had not asked.
In addition the Lord gave Solomon wisdom. He had asked for understanding “to discern between good and evil” so that he might faithfully govern the people of Israel. But the Lord gave him more than he had asked. He made Solomon wiser than all other men and made his wisdom surpass all the wisdom of the East and of Egypt, regions known for having great insight and wisdom. He gave Solomon knowledge of literature and music, so that he composed 1,005 songs and three thousand proverbs. He taught Solomon science, so that he was able to speak learnedly about plants ranging from the mighty Lebanese cedar to the lowly hyssop plant and about all kinds of animals—beasts, birds, reptiles, and fish. And people from all nations of the earth, including their kings, travelled to Israel and to Jerusalem to learn from Solomon.
The wisdom of Solomon, David’s son, is a picture of the perfect, Divine wisdom of the One who sits on the throne of David forever, Jesus Christ. When He was born, wise men from the East came to bow down to Him who was born the King of the Jews. “In [Him] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” St. Paul says of Christ (Colossians 2:3). And in the ages since He appeared in the world, the nations have come to His kingdom to hear His great wisdom. It was out of the nations where the Christian Church dwelt that modern science arose with all the benefits it has brought to the world. Wherever the Christian Church has flourished, so has literature and the arts, philosophy and music, science and medicine. That is only fitting, because Christ is the eternal Word through which the creation came into being and through which it continues to be sustained. “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17).
But our heavenly Solomon Jesus has a better and deeper wisdom than the earthly wisdom His Church’s members have imparted to the world. It is “a secret and hidden wisdom of God which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this” (1 Corinthians 2:7-8) wisdom of God, because it is a wisdom that is only imparted by the Holy Spirit. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
It is the wisdom of the cross. All of the wisdom of the world does not bring people to the knowledge of God. Philosophy and science, literature and the arts can teach people many things. But they cannot teach the knowledge of God and give eternal life. The knowledge of God comes through the foolishness of preaching “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). The wisdom of our heavenly Solomon declares that God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Mary’s Son and to place on Him the sins of the world. When He was cast away and rejected by God, dying as a curse on the cross, our sins were atoned for and God was reconciled to His fallen creatures.
Since human beings first fell into sin and under God’s curse, they have been running from God. They think they are actually trying to draw near to God, but in reality they are running away from the true God who says “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). But in Christ’s Kingdom, the Church, the wisdom of God is revealed. God comes to us in our flesh and blood and receives the penalty for our sins. This is how the just and holy God is able to receive sinners to Himself without sacrificing His justice. He Himself is condemned so that He might justify the ungodly.
This is the wisdom by which Jesus reigns over His kingdom and keeps it in peace and safety. The enemies of the Church—the devil and his angels—storm against Christ and His people with temptation, persecution, hardship and suffering. But they are unable to disturb the peace of Christ’s kingdom, because He reigns through the wisdom of the cross. He proclaims peace to us through His being cast away on the cross. And although the world and the devil do not accept Christ’s wisdom, a great number from every tribe and nation and language and people have come from the ends of the earth to hear Him. We see even now people from every nation to the end of the earth coming to the Church to be baptized and taught Christ’s wisdom. We wait to see the day when all the saints, together with the angels, will fall down before His throne saying ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7:12)
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria
In Memoriam + Harlow Eungard
Blackburn-Giegrich Funeral Home
St. John 5:24-30
November 2, 2015
“The Word of Jesus”
Dear Sandra, Gwen, Jason,
All of Harlow’s relatives and friends:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
God’s Word for our comfort this morning is from St. John’s Gospel, chapter 5: “Truly, truly, I say to you, 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 to life.” (v. 24)
I watched the video you put together with pictures of your dad and grandpa throughout his life. It made me think of the many joys God gives us in our lives on earth—the joy of growing up, the joy of getting married, of seeing your children born, of seeing your grandchildren growing up. The sad thing is that so often many of us are caught up in the troubles we experience in this life and we forget to be thankful for the joys God gives us, particularly the blessings of family. But today, despite our grief, is a day to give thanks for the joys God gave your father and grandpa, and that God gave to you through him. Today, besides our mourning, we have to give thanks to God for the gift of Harlow and his life, and the gift of one another.
We can give thanks to God especially because it is not His will that death should have the victory and reign over us in grief and despair. Rather God has given what is dearest and most precious to Him to us so that we might have life. He has given His only-begotten Son to become one of us and join the human family. God the Son is a human being, our brother. He joins us in the valley of the shadow of death, where we live, and He calls out to us with these words of authority: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (John 5:25)
That is a kind of power that is difficult for us to comprehend—the power to give life to the dead with your voice and your words. But Jesus’ words are not the words of an ordinary, sinful human being. They are the words of Almighty God who has come in human flesh and blood. He created the world and gave life to us in the beginning by His Word, by speaking. And now He has come as one of us to speak the word that raises the dead.
You probably remember from Sunday School the story of the fall of mankind. The first man disobeyed God’s Word and took fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because he wanted to be like God. As a result he and all his offspring became subject to death and the curse. From one man death spread to all human beings. The joys God gives us in this life with our families are punctuated by sorrow because of death. We lose those we love to it and every day we grow closer to our own end.
And after this life comes the judgment by God. And no human being can stand that judgment on his own, no matter how good he may seem or how well he may have lived in the judgment of other people. God’s righteous law requires that we be righteous not only in our actions but in our thoughts and emotions. Every sinful impulse, thought, and word that has ever come from us makes us guilty before God, subject not only to death in this world but to eternal death.
But now Jesus comes to us and speaks the words that give life. He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
Jesus speaks the word that makes us free from our sins, free from God’s judgment. He speaks the words that give eternal life as a free gift. He can do this not only because He is God, but because as true God and man He came to the earth to bear our sin and death. He bore the sins of the world on the cross and was judged guilty by God. He bore the punishment for our sins when He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” As a result everyone who believes in Him is set free from the guilt of sin and eternal death.
Because Jesus has redeemed and bought back the whole human race by His death on the cross, at His Word death will let go of the whole human race. It is certain. He says, “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:29) The grave will let all people go at the word of Jesus, even those who don’t believe. All people will be raised from the dead, either to be judged or to be given everlasting life and joy.
The only question is, “Which resurrection will I have?” Most people trust that they have lived fairly decent lives and hope that God will judge them to be righteous. But according to the Bible that is a vain hope. It teaches, “There is no one righteous, no, not one. All have turned aside—there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3)
There is a righteousness that stands before God and makes us good in His sight. It is the righteousness that is by faith in Jesus. Jesus has accomplished all that God requires. He has paid all our debt of sin with His blood on the cross. In His Word He freely gives this righteousness so that we are able to stand before Him with joy on judgment day.
That word of Jesus that gives eternal life has come to your father and grandfather Harlow, and it has come to you also. It first came to Harlow on the fourth of July in 1937 when it said through the pastor, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And Harlow continued to hear this life-giving word of Jesus through most of his life. That word has the power to give eternal life and free from judgment all who continue in faith in it until the end.
It is this same powerful word of Jesus that comes to us today to console us in our grief and enable us to give thanks. It enables us to give thanks because it proclaims eternal life and the forgiveness of sins as a free gift. It is the same word that will one day raise the dead and give glory, immortality, and eternal joy to all who receive it in faith.
Stay close to this Word. Hear it preached. Read it. It gives comfort in our grief, promising us that death and judgment are not our end, because God’s Son has tasted death and judgment for us. Draw near to Jesus who comes to you in His Word when it is proclaimed. The same word that will raise the dead on the last day will also raise you up spiritually and give you comfort in your grief and assurance that your Lord, who conquered death, is working out your salvation.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria
All Saints’ Day
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 5:1-12
November 1, 2015
“Saints in our Weakness”
Today is All Saints’ Day. What is a saint? A saint is a holy person. “Holy” means “set apart for God.”
On the altar, veiled by a cloth, is bread and wine. Later it will be consecrated, hallowed and made holy by God’s Word to be the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The consecrated bread and wine are holy things. We treat them with reverence, not like common bread and wine. In the same way saints are holy people. They are not normal, common, unclean people. They are God’s people, set apart for Him, filled with a treasure that is not of this world—the Holy Spirit of God.
And where do you find these holy people, these saints? You find them where the thing God uses to consecrate and make holy is. You find the saints where God’s Word is, because it is God’s Word that sanctifies, cleanses, and makes the saints holy.
That means you find the saints of God not in a monastery somewhere, or out in a cave fasting. You find them in this congregation and others like it, where God’s pure Word is proclaimed and taught.
Yes, you yourself are a saint, you who are baptized and believe that Jesus died for the forgiveness of your sins. That is the way the Bible addresses and describes Christians, people who only believe in Jesus. The first reading from Revelation says the saints are those who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14) In the epistle John does not tell us to doubt and question whether we belong to God. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are.” (1 John 3:1) And whenever Paul starts his letters he addresses the churches he writes to as congregations of saints. “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints,” Romans 1:7. “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” 1 Corinthians 1:2. “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 1:1.
Why are we saints? Not because of our works, but because of the works of Jesus. All our sin was given to Him, and He wore it as His covering on the cross and bore God’s wrath against us. Scripture doesn’t say merely that Jesus bore our sin, but that He became sin for us. “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21) Just as surely as God made Jesus to be sin, so surely are we righteous for Jesus’ sake. And if we are righteous, then we are also saints.
This is why so much of our effort at witnessing is misguided. We look at our unbelieving neighbors as if they had something to give us, by making our numbers larger or by adding to our offerings. No! We are God’s saints through Christ. We long for the salvation of our neighbors for their sake, not for ours. We don’t need the help of the world; we already have everything, because we are God’s saints.
This is where worldly wisdom barges in with scornful laughter. “You are God’s saints? You don’t need anything the world has to give? Are you crazy? Look how few of you there are! See how you are barely paying your bills, and you are only doing that with the gifts people left you when they died! And look at your sins—your own private sins that no one knows about as well as the obvious sins that afflict the congregation—disunity, disregard for God’s Word, pride, factions and jealousy. You are supposed to be saints, and you have everything? Then why does God let you be weak and suffer and be dragged through the mud?”
Surely you know that voice as well as I do. Sometimes it comes out and speaks openly. Other times it is present as nagging doubt. Whether we are speaking of the congregation or ourselves as individuals, we don’t often feel like saints who have everything. The reason is because we are weak, we suffer, we see our ongoing sinfulness. This shouldn’t happen to saints, says our reason. They should be like the saints we see pictured in Revelation, who are dressed in white robes, carry the palm branches of victory, and sing hosannas. God should lead the saints from victory to victory, from glory to glory. If we are really saints, there must be something wrong with our sainthood.
But if we paid attention to our Lord’s words in the Gospel reading today, we would see that the reasoning of our flesh is incorrect. In the beatitudes, the “blesse are’s” that Jesus speaks at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes the saints on earth in terms that contradict our reason. He calls blessed not the spiritually rich but the spiritually poor, not the happy but the mourning, not the church that is loved by the world but the one that is persecuted by the world and cast out as evil.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” says Jesus. The saints are not rich in
spirit. They don’t come to God with their own righteousness, with something to boast about. We come
before God with the awareness of our ongoing sinfulness and spiritual poverty. But in our ongoing
struggle against our sinful flesh we have the kingdom of heaven. That’s because our righteousness, our
spiritual riches, are outside of us. Jesus is our “wisdom form God, righteousness, sanctification, and
redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:30) We have no righteousness in ourselves that could save us. We
possess the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus. We believe that all Jesus is and has done is for
But we believe that in the midst of sin’s raging and storming within us. That is why Jesus says, “Blessed
are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” We mourn because we are constantly afflicted by our own sinfulness and unbelief. In addition we live in a world of death and suffering. We long for the day when we will be in Paradise and the Lord Himself will “wipe every tear from our eyes.” (Rev. 7)
And so throughout the beatitudes Jesus describes the saints not as living what might be called a “victorious life”, but as living with weakness and suffering. We are blessed in the midst of that weakness. In fact Jesus says we should rejoice in our weakness. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12) It’s one thing to bear with weakness and suffering, and something else to rejoice in it. But Jesus says to rejoice in weakness and suffering. It is not a sign that you are not a saint; it is the normal experience of saints.
There should be no surprise in this if we thought according to faith in Christ and not according to the flesh. Because what happened to the Holy and Righteous One, Jesus? He exemplified these beatitudes. He was poor in spirit because He bore the sins of the world. Look at Him going down to the Jordan to be baptized with sinners. Look at Him in agony in Gethsemane and crying out, “My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” from the cross. He was meek and lowly in heart, so meek that He would not cast away the most unworthy sinner but invites them to come to Him so that He may stoop down and wash their feet. He was pure in heart, as no sinners are except through faith in Him. He, the Son of God, was the peacemaker, because He made peace with God for us by His suffering and the shedding of His blood. And He was persecuted for righteousness. Because as He fulfilled the Law for us and gave righteousness to the sinful and lost, the leaders of the Jews reviled Him and spoke all manner of evil against Him until finally they had Him put to death as a criminal, as a blasphemer.
So you are a saint, baptized into Christ. And it is not a shock when you are weak, you suffer, and you continue to struggle against sin. You are born again into Christ in your baptism. You were remade into His image where you used to have the image of Adam. Adam was proud and tried to snatch the glory of God for Himself. But you have put on the image of Christ, who was “a man of sorrows and familiar with grief” (Is. 53). Your proud Adam died with Him and dies daily, so that you might be raised up with Christ in the glorious image of His resurrection.
No! says your sinful flesh. No, I do not want to live by faith. I want to see the glory that is supposed to be mine as a Son of God. I want to experience it. I want to see signs that Christ is really among us, not just receive His promise that He is when He gives me His body and blood.
Repent. Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is yours now in your poverty of spirit. He calls you a saint. He gives you everything. “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God’s children now.” (1 John 3:1-2) Do you want something greater than what your Lord experienced on earth? “A servant is not greater than his master” (John 15:20). But even under the cross and weakness you are a saint through faith in Him. You have the kingdom of heaven.
That is what we Christians rejoice in. In the midst of our suffering, sin, and weakness, we already have God’s kingdom. God is pleased with us. Jesus gives us His very body and blood which was crucified and poured out for us on the cross to assure us that the kingdom of heaven is now ours, that our sins are forgiven. “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:2) We rejoice not only that we have God’s favor now. We rejoice in the sure promises of our Lord of what is to come for us. We will be comforted when the Lord wipes away every tear from our eyes. We will be satisfied with righteousness. We will receive mercy on the day of judgment. We will see God. We will be called His Sons before all creation when He judges the living and the dead.
Soli Deo Gloria