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Made Clean. 14th Sunday after Trinity, 2017.

September 20, 2017 Leave a comment

cleansing 10 lepers.jpgFourteenth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 17:11-19 (Gal. 5:16-24)

September 17, 2017

“Made Clean”

Jesus

If someone asks you, “What is the Lutheran Church?  What makes it different from other churches?”—and you had to give a quick answer—the answer would be this: the doctrine of justification.  We say that a sinner is declared righteous by God for Jesus’ sake, solely through faith in Him, without any works.

 

But the Bible has other ways of describing what God has done for us in sending His Son into the flesh.  One is what we see Jesus doing in the Gospel reading today—He purifies the ten lepers, or makes them clean.

 

Jesus is headed down to Jerusalem.  As He goes through a town, a group of men with leprosy stand at a distance from Him and shout, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!  They are a long way off from Jesus because God’s Law commanded that they be.  It condemned people with leprosy as unclean or impure.

 

God is not only righteous and just; He is also pure and clean.  So He commanded that the impure were not allowed among the people with whom He dwelt.  The unclean were not allowed into His house.  Lepers had to live outside the camp with their clothes torn, in mourning.  Whenever an Israelite came by who didn’t have leprosy, they had to shout “Unclean, unclean!” to warn them.

 

Uncleanness and impurity separated lepers from God and His holy community.  They stood far away from Jesus, yet from far off they cried to Him: Have mercy on us! 

 

They must have heard about Jesus—how He had healed many others who were paralyzed, who had fevers, who were blind, how He cast out demons.  They believed that Jesus, who had overcome the devil’s power over other people, could and would take away their impurity.

 

And Jesus didn’t disappoint them in their trust.  He heard their cry and told them, Go, show yourselves to the priests. 

 

The Law commanded that if a leper was healed, he had to go to the priests at the temple and be examined by them.  If the priests found that the leper had been cleansed, they would perform two rites: one to purify him, and the other to reinstate him as a member of the holy people.

 

So when Jesus says, Go, show yourselves to the priests, He is telling them to believe that He has granted what they called out for even though they don’t see it.  Even though you don’t see it yet, I have granted your prayer.  I have mercy on you.  You are cleansed.  Go to the priests and let them acknowledge it.

 

And as they went, says the Holy Spirit through St. Luke, they were cleansed.

 

Jesus purifies us from the leprosy of sin and brings us before God’s face.

 

Leprosy has mostly been rooted out of the modern world.  But our sense of impurity hasn’t gone away.  Look at how people carry around little bottles of hand sanitizer to kill any germs they may get from contact with other people!  Look at how obsessed our society is with bodily perfection and health, and how increasingly we eliminate babies with physical defects, aborting them so that they never see the sun!  We don’t do these things from religious impulses.  But the fact that we are so preoccupied with them shows how people continue to recognize intuitively the need for purity and wholeness, at least in regard to the body.

 

That feeling that we need to be pure, to be clean, is correct.  Uncleanness, sickness, deformity is a manifestation of the corruption and death at work in our bodies.  And the reason why corruption and death are at work in our bodies is because of the impurity of our souls, even our whole natures.  Original sin, in which we are conceived, passed down to us from Adam and Eve, makes us impure and unclean before God even before we think or do anything sinful.  And just like skin diseases break out in boils, scabs, or running sores, so original sin breaks out in impure thoughts, words, and actions against God.

 

We were all born with this leprosy.  It is not something we have any power to cure.  It corrupts everything we think, everything we do.  And it separates us from God.  We cannot come into His presence when we are unclean with sin; we can’t be numbered among His holy people.  Behold, (A)the Lord‘s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,  or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;2 (B)but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. (Is. 59:1-2)It isn’t just our evil words and evil deeds that separate us from God, but the evil nature with which we are conceived, so that all that by nature provokes the wrath of God.

 

Yet we sit here this morning not defiled, but clean.  Not alienated from God, but reconciled to Him, and brought near to Him.

 

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, (BC)doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled (BD)in his body of flesh by his death, (BE)in order to present you holy and blameless and (BF)above reproach before him (Col. 1:21-22), says St. Paul in Colossians 1.  We were brought near to God and cleansed of our sins when Jesus was cast out as the one who bore the impurity of our deeds and thoughts and even of our nature.  As He bore that impurity on the cross and the sun was darkened, He cried out that God had forsaken Him.

 

That was the purification of our uncleanness.  It says in Hebrews 10: 1But when Christ[b] had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he (Q)sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time (R)until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering (S)he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.  By a single sacrifice He perfected sinners; by that one sacrifice He purified us of sin.

 

Jesus was going down to Jerusalem to do this very thing when the lepers cried out to Him.  When our parents brought us to the church as little ones, seemingly innocent yet already impure and alienated from God in our minds, through the pastor Jesus received us and cleansed us in the washing with water through the Word (Eph. 5).  He baptized us, putting us to death with Him and raising us up with Him.  We died to the old life of Adam.  We rose in Christ to a new life as children of God, free from condemnation and sin.  Our sins were covered.  We were brought into the communion of saints, the holy people of God.  We were purified from the uncleanness of sin, and God came to dwell, not in a tent near us, but in our bodies.

 

It is true that we still feel the old nature working in us, making our conscience dirty again, making us think evil thoughts and provoking us to do evil deeds.  But the thrashing around of the old Adam is not counted to us, as long as we are led by the Spirit, as long as daily we resist and crucify the flesh and return to our Baptism to die in repentance and rise through faith in Jesus alone.

 

So as often as we feel the old nature and its impurity, Jesus comes to us through the pastor in holy absolution.  We confess our sins, and Jesus testifies that our sins are forgiven—which means that they are loosed from us, they are not counted to us, and we are not cast out as unclean, but we are pure and clean and brought to our Father in heaven.

 

This is what the letter to the Hebrews is talking about when it says: 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts (AA)sprinkled clean (AB)from an evil conscience and our bodies (AC)washed with pure water.  (Heb. 10:22)  Jesus sent the lepers to the temple.  They did not yet see that they were clean, but they went in faith.  We draw near to God in faith that Jesus has made us clean, trusting His cross, where He provided purification for sins, trusting His promise in Baptism, where He applies that purification to us.   We see that impurity is still at work within us.  It seems, sometimes, overwhelming.  But we don’t believe in it.  We consider Jesus’ promise greater than what we see with our eyes, and His work more powerful than the works of our flesh.

 

Jesus purifies us from the leprosy of sin, and brings us to stand with confidence before the face of God.

 

But in the reading, something awful happened.  Jesus cleansed ten lepers.  Nine of them were Jews, who were descendants of Abraham and heirs of God’s promises.  One was a Samaritan—a foreigner.  Yet out of the ten men for whom Jesus did this amazing miracle of cleansing and restoration, only the Samaritan came back to thank Him!

 

Was it because the others thought they should thank God in the temple and not at the feet of Jesus?  Was it because the priests at the temple convinced them Jesus was a false prophet?  We aren’t told.  We only hear Jesus faulting them for not thanking God at His feet.

 

How awful it is to face the reality that the same thing happens among us!  Jesus has cleansed many people of something worse than leprosy in this place.  When He baptized them, He washed away the uncleanness of original sin that separates people from God forever.

 

Yet most do not come back to give thanks here where Jesus is present in flesh and blood.  So many baptized babies we never see again after their parents bring them to be baptized.  They bring them to Jesus to be baptized, but not to hear His Word or receive His body and blood.

 

But some are brought back long enough to be confirmed and admitted to the sacrament of the altar.  Then, after their confirmation day, a few months or years later, they too are gone.

 

And others keep coming.  Yet though they thank Jesus with their lips, it is just lip service.  They do not cast themselves facedown at the feet of Jesus, thanking Him for making them clean.  They come as those performing a religious duty, not with the joy of those who have been made clean and pure by Jesus’ blood, but as those who think they have kept themselves pure.

 

How do we know that we are not one of the nine who were cleansed and then fell back into spiritual death?

 

Because we trust in this only: that Jesus has purified us from the leprosy of sin and brought us into the presence of God.  When we see the thanklessness and unbelief in our hearts, we turn our eyes and our ears to His promise.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness…If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous and He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 1:9, 2:1-2).  Jesus made purification for our sins on the cross.  It is done.  He bestowed that purification on us in Baptism.  That too is done.  That is what we cling to in faith.  And as we continue to put to death our impure flesh, we come to Jesus for help.  We draw near to God through Him, who alone can help us.

 

And He helps us.  He spreads before us the blessed feast of thanksgiving, the Sacrament of His body and blood.

 

When the leprosy of your old nature seems to have broken out again, and you fear that you have relapsed into death and alienation from God, come to the table the Lord spreads.  Pay attention only to His words: “for you, for the forgiveness of sins.”  He is telling you that it is done.  You are purified.

 

As you eat and drink, believing these words, you also lay your body and soul at His feet, that your life from then on may be for the praise of His glory.  Then you go out from here, believing you are pure in God’s sight, and eager to glorify Him for this great mercy.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

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Absolution Hymn–Missing Stanzas

 

absolution according to jack chick

Don’t put words in God’s mouth that He doesn’t say!  That’s a bad move. God actually says the exact opposite of the “god” in this comic.  Men can and do forgive sins when God has authorized them to do so, even if it bothers the Pharisees: Cf. John 20: 22-23; Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18: 18, 20; Matthew 9:1-8

People at my congregation know this hymn, although in a different translation, but there are some stanzas that sadly aren’t in our hymnal.

On this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, one of my chief prayers is that God would cause people to recognize the gift He preserved in the Lutheran Church of the practice of private confession and absolution.  This is a gift that exists in no other church as it does in the Lutheran Church (except where they have learned it from us), and is one of the key examples of how the church of the Reformation differs in spirit from those of other protestant churches as well as from the church of Rome.  You get a glimpse of these different spirits in action when you read the sentiment expressed in the Jack Chick tract above and then compare it with the stanzas of the hymn below.  This is clearly not a minor issue.  The tract shows how fundamentalists (and American evangelicals typically) think: to trust in absolution leads to damnation.  Contrast this with the scriptural faith of the reformation that breathes in the stanzas below:

1.Yea, as I live, Jehovah saith,

I would not have the sinner’s death,

But that he turn from error’s ways,

Repent, and live through endless days.

 

2.  To us therefore Christ gave command:

“Go forth and preach in every land;

Bestow on all My pard’ning grace

Who will repent and mend their ways.

 

3. “All those whose sins ye thus remit

I truly pardon and acquit,

And those whose sins ye do retain

Condemned and guilty shall remain.

 

4.  What ye shall bind, that bound shall be;

What ye shall loose, that shall be free;

Unto My Church the keys are giv’n

To ope and close the gates of heav’n.”

 

5.  They who believe when ye proclaim

The joyful tidings in My name

That I for them My blood have shed,

Are free from guilt and Judgment dread.

 

7.  However great our sin may be,

The Absolution sets us free,

Appointed by God’s own dear Son

To bring the pardon He has won.

 

9.  This is the pow’r of Holy Keys,

It binds and doth again release;

The Church retains them at her side,

Our mother and Christ’s holy Bride.

 

–Nicholas Herman, 1560.  Trans. M. Loy, 1880.

To Jordan Came our Lord the Christ. Martin Luther, Trans. R. Massie.

martin luther old with bookThis translation is far better than the one in The Lutheran Service Book.  The last stanza is goosebump-inducing.

To Jordan came our Lord the Christ,

To do God’s pleasure willing,

And there was by Saint John baptized,

All righteousness fulfilling;

There did He consecrate a bath

To wash away transgression,

And quench the bitterness of death

By His own blood and Passion;

He would a new life give us.

 

So hear ye all, and well perceive

What God doth call Baptism,

And what a Christian should believe

Who error shuns and schism:

That we should water use, the Lord

Declareth it His pleasure;

Not simple water, but the Word

And Spirit without measure;–

He is the true Baptizer.

 

In tender manhood God the Son

In Jordan’s water standeth;

The Holy Ghost from heaven’s throne

In dovelike form descendeth;

That thus the truth be not denied,

Nor should our faith e’er waver,

That the Three Persons all preside,

At Baptism’s holy laver,

And dwell with the believer.

 

The eye of sense alone is dim,

And nothing sees but water;

Faith sees Christ Jesus, and in Him

The Lamb ordained for slaughter;

It sees the cleansing fountain, red

With the dear blood of Jesus,

Which from the sins, inherited

From fallen Adam, frees us,

And from our own misdoings.

 

M. Luther, 1541.  Trans. R. Massie, 1854.

Be Shrewd: Invest in Your Neighbor. Trinity 9, 2017. St. Luke 16:1-9

unjust stewardThe Ninth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 16:1-9

August 13, 2017

“Be Shrewd; Invest in your Neighbor”

 

Iesu iuva

 

It’s strange that Jesus would turn and tell this story to His disciples that has to do with the proper way to handle money.  They left their property behind to follow Jesus.  Are these men who love money? Or does he have in mind the tax collectors and sinners who were coming to hear Him that we read about in the previous chapter of Luke’s gospel?

 

We don’t know.  What we do know is, whether He is talking to poor or rich disciples, He has this advice, this command for them: Be shrewd with the money you have.  Be wise, be shrewd, with your money, says Jesus.  Be shrewd with money—invest in your neighbor.

 

The seventh commandment is You shall not steal.  And the Catechism asks: What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.

 

In the seventh commandment God puts Himself in between our property and the person who wants to steal it.  He makes it clear that our property is given to us by Him.  Some people are rich and others are poor, and this is arranged by God, who distributes wealth and possessions according to His will.  No one has the right to take what He has given to me unless I freely give it, whether by force or threats, or by snatching it when I am not watching it, or by deceiving me or tricking me.

 

And when someone does steal from me, they don’t merely violate me.  They violate God.  They are not only under the obligation of paying me back what they stole.  A thief of any sort has to pay back God the honor and worship and obedience he owed God and which he denied God by breaking His commandment.  And that is a far higher price.  God is worthy of eternal honor, worship, and obedience, and offenses against His commandments require a punishment equal to the greatness of His honor.  Thieves of any sort are subject to pay God back for the offense they commit against His glory.  And even after they have been imprisoned in the deepest darkness for a thousand years they will have not have come any closer to repaying Him.

 

But stealing takes many forms.  There are those who simply take by force what belongs to someone else; there are those who wait until the owner’s guard is down and make off with his property.  And then there are those whose stealing is concealed.  Sometimes people regard it as not even stealing at all, but shrewd business.  They steal by refusing to work or being slack in it, by overcharging or underpaying, by selling bad merchandise.  And a person who longs for what God gave someone else is also stealing.  Whatever we may call them, in God’s eyes all such people are thieves, unfaithful stewards.

 

But this isn’t the end of God’s definition of stealing.  We heard some of what He forbids us to do in the seventh commandment: stealing, robbing, defrauding, coveting.  But He also commands us to actively do some things.  We should fear and love God so that we help our neighbor improve and protect his possessions and income or property and business.

 

God not only commands that we not take from our neighbor, but that we give.  God commands us to help him improve his possessions and income. To return what we borrow; to help him do better financially instead of letting him take care of himself.  To help him get his property back when it is stolen or when he is cheated.  To pay our debts.  To return property we borrow.  To make amends for what we have stolen.  To sell at fair prices, to pay good wages, to work hard so that our boss or company makes money.  And to work hard and manage our money so that we have enough to give to the work of the church and to those who are really in need.  We are not supposed to give to those who won’t work or who waste their possessions, and help them sin.  But when our neighbor is in need because of true oppression or because disaster happens, we steal when we have the means to help and don’t, when we won’t sacrifice to help him.

 

The seventh commandment, like all the others, boils down to one word—love.  God commands us to love our neighbor with our money and possessions.  We should not cheat or steal from him, but help him keep his property and prosper; and we should work hard so that others don’t have to provide for us, and so that we can have something to give.

 

We are not the owners of our possessions, as I said before.  God gives us our money and property, as well as our lives and talents and skills that enable us to make money.  No one has the right to steal from us because God has given them to us.  But He is really the master, the owner.  This is all His—this whole world, every person in it, and all its wealth.  And He is going to require an account from each one of us as to how we managed what He put under our authority.

 

When?  Jesus says, When you fail.  That means, “When you die.”  He is speaking to His disciples.  Yet He makes it clear that they, and all of us who have been baptized and call Him Lord, are the unjust steward.  We have mismanaged what is God’s.  We are like the unjust steward who has been told that he can be steward no longer, that he needs to go look at the books and come back and give an account of his stewardship to his lord.

 

When I was around ten or so, my mother had me with her at Osco.  I wanted her to buy me a plastic machine gun, to which she said, “No.”  Then Satan entered into me, or at least the wicked old Adam rose up within me and put fingers in his ears to the Holy Spirit.  And I stuck the plastic gun under my shirt.  And somehow I got home in my mother’s car and into the house without a guilty conscience or her finding out.  The next day, I took the gun and went outside to play.  My mother saw me coming down the stairs, and said, “What are you doing with that?”  And I dared to say, “Don’t you remember?  You bought it for me.”

 

Maybe that is a funny story in a certain way.  But that was a little judgment day.  I had to give an account of my “stewardship”.  And my mother was like God in this respect—she did not accept my lies or my excuses.  She drove me to Osco and made me give an account to the manager of the store.  Words can’t describe my terror.  He was around eight feet tall and had a mustache, and I remember how wet my face was; my eyes and nose running like a faucet.  I couldn’t think of anything I could say other than, “I stole this.”  And the manager didn’t smile, that I remember.  He didn’t try to make me feel better.  I remember him talking about the police.

 

Soon we will go before God to give an account of our stewardship, and there will be far more shame and fear to stand before God’s glory and give an account of not one obvious theft but a lifetime.  And before God we will have to account not only for the times when we have actually physically taken what did not belong to us, but all the money we didn’t make because we were lazy, all the money we threw away because we were wasteful, all the people we defrauded because we were seeking our own interest, all the property we damaged, all the people we didn’t help.

 

That is why now is the time to consider, like the unjust steward did, what we are going to do when we are put out of our stewardship.

 

A pastor in modern-day Lyons, France, named Irenaeus, wrote in about 170 A. D., “The business of the Christian is nothing else than to be ever preparing for death.”

 

Many modern Christians would not agree.  So much of modern preaching is geared to having a good life in this world, or toward knowing how to live in this world; and many even preach “prosperity,” how to obey God so that he will make you wealthy in this world.

 

But what Irenaeus wrote fits far better with what Jesus said in His story for His disciples: I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.  (Luke 16:9)

 

Jesus is saying, Be shrewd, like the unjust steward.  He used the time before he had to give an account for his wastefulness to make himself friends who would give him food and lodging after he had been fired.

 

Of course, if God is your enemy, it doesn’t matter who your friends are.  If you have to give an accounting to God for the way you have managed the wealth he put under your stewardship, and the books don’t add up, there are no friends who are going to be able to help you.

 

The Lord’s parting advice in this parable—Make for yourselves friends by means of unrighteous mammon—is not advice given to people who have an unsettled account with God.  He says it to those whose books are already clean.

 

So Jesus’ parable is first and foremost a call to us to reckon up our books as people who are soon going to have to give an account.  We should look closely at the record of our stewardship before the day of our accounting comes.  Like Irenaeus wrote, we should daily be engaged in the business of preparing for death.  And this means looking each day at the record of our stewardship.  How have we used what God has entrusted to us?  And this includes—how are we using the money and property He has given us?  Not, how are we using it according to our own standards, according to human standards; how are we using it in light of God’s commandment?

 

If we are serious about doing this, we will quickly discover that according to God’s law we will have no answer, no excuse, to bring to God.  Even the most conscientious of us are guilty of waste, of longing for what belongs to others, of being short of the love God requires of us toward our neighbor.  Our drawer comes up short, and we have no means to make the total come out right.

 

So what accounting of our stewardship will we bring to God when we are removed from the stewardship of our bodies and our possessions in this world?  We have no answer and no excuses.  But we have one who answers for us.  But if anyone does sin, says St. John in his first epistle, we have an advocate with the Father—one who speaks to the Father on our behalf—Jesus Christ, the righteous.  He is the propitiation—the atoning sacrifice—for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.  (1 John 2:1-2) We have confidence for the day of judgment that we will present to God a record of perfect faithfulness in our stewardship.  That record is not our life of obedience to the 7th commandment, our life of love.  It is the life of Jesus Christ, and His blood, which has settled our account with God.  His life of faithful stewardship, His life of love, His righteousness and justice is the ledger we present to God—a life of perfect faithfulness; and His blood is the payment that covers our thefts and offenses against our neighbor and God.

 

Like when my mother caught me going outside to play with the toy I had stolen and I told her, “Don’t you remember?  You bought it for me.”  That was insolence on my part.  But on judgment day—and even now—we are not insolent when we tell God, “Don’t you remember?  You paid for my wastefulness and my thefts.”  It is the truth.  He swears this to us when He has us kneel at this altar to eat the bread and drink the wine.  “This is My Body, which is given for you; drink from it, all of you.  This cup is the new testament in My Blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  This is Jesus saying, “I have bought you a clean account before God.  I have paid for all that you have wasted and stolen.”  We would do wrong if we refused to believe what He pledges to us so clearly.

 

That is part of the way we prepare for death.  We look at our books.  There are two books for Christians.  One is the record of our conscience, the record of our deeds in light of God’s law.  The second is the record of Jesus’ life and death as our redemption.  We prepare for death by examining both of these books.

 

The other part is that we strive to live as the good stewards that God says we are in Christ, to use our wealth in love toward our neighbors.  This comes not from our own strength of will and discipline, but through continually looking to the love of Jesus, who out of love toward us paid our debts with His own body and blood.  When Jesus talks in other passages about the day of judgment, we find that He never talks about looking into a person’s heart to see if they believe in Him.  In the passages that talk about the final judgment Jesus always describes judging people according to their works.  There is a reason for this. Faith in Jesus makes itself known not only by what we say but by what we do.  Faith in Jesus breaks out of the heart and shows itself in works of love toward our neighbor.  It can’t be otherwise. Jesus, who was a good steward, lived His entire life in love toward us.  He served us with His every breath; He shed His blood in love for us.  He gave His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10).  A person who is justified by faith in Jesus also makes himself known by love—not merely by feelings and talk but by works that display the love of Christ that dwells in his heart.  A person who is justified by faith in Jesus puts himself and all he has to work in loving his neighbor—including his wealth.

 

That is what Jesus is saying when He says, Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon.  He is saying: Take pains to live a life of love toward your neighbor.  Exercise yourself in keeping the seventh commandment, now that you are justified, not only by not stealing, but by helping your neighbor improve and protect his property and income.

 

As you dedicate yourself to growing into the image of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, you gain two priceless treasures.  One is that you gain a good conscience; your conscience testifies that your faith in Christ is not just talk or self-deception, but that you are being led by the Holy Spirit(Rom. 8:12-16).

 

The second is that other people who are not Christians will see Your good deeds and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16).  Outside of the Church, people are not as impressed by what we preach and what we say, but by what we do.  Even if people are prejudiced against Christians, their consciences will testify against them when it is clear that we are not motivated by self-love and self-interest, but that we desire their success in this life and the next.  It’s hard to hate a church—even if they tell you things you don’t want to hear—if they are always showing that they love you and want you to prosper.

 

This, Jesus says, is being shrewd with your money.  It is investing in eternity.  When we do this, when this is what we strive for, it will not earn our way into heaven, but it will commend the Gospel that we confess and preach to those around us.

 

And on judgment day, when we have to give an account, Jesus tells us that something incredibly wonderful will happen.

 

On judgment day He says He will say to Christians who have lived this way: Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you  gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, Lord, when did [we do these things for you]?  And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”  (Matthew 25:34-37, 40)

 

That will be a wonderful last judgment.  Jesus won’t say anything about our mismanagement of His Father’s gifts.  He won’t say anything about our stealing or selfishness.  The only thing that will come before the court of heaven will be the love we showed our neighbor in feeding, clothing, welcoming, and visiting him.  And then He will say, “You thought you were showing love to your neighbor; in fact you were feeding Me, clothing Me, giving Me a drink, You were welcoming Me, visiting Me.”

 

He will not mention any of our selfishness or stealing because these really and truly—even now, for those who believe in Him—do not exist any longer.  They were paid for when our Lord made them His own and suffered for them on the cross.  But on judgment day, it will be made clear that those sins are not ours.  They will not even be mentioned.  The record we read in the ledger of our conscience, and the judgments that others may make about our lives, will not be the judgment of that highest court.

 

Instead, all that will be said by Jesus about our lives is that we were righteous.  He will declare our righteous deeds.  He will say, before the angels, the devil, before the whole creation: You fed Me, You gave Me a drink, You clothed Me, You tended My wounds, You welcomed Me.

 

Be shrewd!  Be wise with your money!  Don’t invest it in things that will perish with this world!  Care for your neighbor with it.  Provide what you need so that others don’t have to support you.  Provide for your family and dependents.  Work hard so that you have extra to give—to the church, to missions, to those truly in need.  Because you know that nothing on earth will be equal to the joy of hearing Jesus say on that day, when you are brought into the heavenly court, “You did it to Me.”

 

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

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

You Have The Holy Spirit! Pentecost 2017. Acts 2:1-21

Dorffmaister_Istvan-Pentecost.1725-1797Pentecost

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Acts 2:1-21

June 4, 2017

“You Have the Holy Spirit!”

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

  1. Introduction: You have the Holy Spirit!

 

A few years back I went to hear a speaker named John Kleinig, a professor from the Lutheran Church in Australia. Some of you have heard of him because he wrote a book on Christian spirituality called Grace upon Grace that I have recommended many times.

In that book, Dr. Kleinig emphasizes the gift of the Holy Spirit in teaching us to pray, etc.; how prayer, meditation are received from God rather than obligations we have to fulfill

I went up and talked to him during a break and told him about the difficulty I had in some part of living the Christian life. Maybe difficulty with being faithful in prayer.  Maybe it was difficulty in knowing how to effectively do the work that needed to be done as pastor at St. Peter.  I don’t remember. What I remember was his response: “That’s why you have been given the Holy Spirit!” he said.

It silenced me.  At first, it seemed like he was dismissing me with too easy an answer.  Of course I have been given the Holy Spirit, I thought.  But that hasn’t solved my problem.

But as I thought about it more, I realized how foolish it was to think so little of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  After all, the Holy Spirit is God.  He lives in me.  He has all wisdom and knows how to solve every problem.  He is the Lord and giver of life; He is able to create, and raise the dead.  Surely He has the power to make me holy and overcome sin.

Our Savior’s name is Jesus Christ.  The second part of His name, ”Christ”is a title that means “anointed one.”  The catechism published by our Synod says that Jesus is called “Christ”, anointed one, because he has been anointed with the Holy Spirit without limit to be our Prophet, Priest, and King. If I have received the same anointing of the Holy Spirit as Jesus did, how can I worry that I don’t have what I need to live like Jesus and participate in His work?

This Pentecost, in the 2017th year of our Lord Jesus, in the 500th year of the Reformation, I know that you at St. Peter have the same kinds of worries I spoke to Dr. Kleinig about. Today, by the power of God the Holy Spirit, I would like to remind you of the same thing Dr. Kleinig reminded me.  Don’t be afraid.  You have been given the Holy Spirit.

  1. History of Pentecost: How Peter Received Power to Speak

The reading from Acts tells us how the Holy Spirit was first given to the disciples of Jesus.  It tells us that when the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in a house.  Pentecost was one of the 3 holy days that God commanded the Jews in the Law.  It was fifty days after Passover, when Jesus had been crucified and buried.  In the Old Testament it is referred to as the Feast of Weeks or the Day of Firstfruits, because the Israelites were commanded by God to bring the firstfruits of the wheat harvest to the temple on that day.  It was also the day when they remembered how God had given the Law to Israel on Mount Sinai.  After the first Passover and God delivering the Israelites from the Egyptians through the Red Sea, Israel was led by God through the desert to Mount Sinai.  That journey took about 50 days, a little over a month and a half.

On that Pentecost after Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension into heaven forty days later, a sound came from heaven like a mighty, rushing wind and filled the house where the disciples were.  Divided tongues that looked like fire rested on each one of the disciples of Jesus, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other languages, each one speaking the language the Holy Spirit gave them to speak.

The record from Acts tells us that there were people in Jerusalem from all over the world who had come up for Passover.  They had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover at the temple, and they had stayed for Pentecost. A crowd of people heard the sound and came to see what it was.  And when they arrived, they heard the disciples of Jesus declaring the marvelous works of God.  They were amazed because the disciples were by and large uneducated men from Galilee, the north of what had been Israel, and yet every person who gathered heard the disciples speaking in the language in which he had been born and raised.  So they asked, What does this mean?  There were also people there who sneered and said that the disciples were drunk with new, sweet wine, the wine that had just been made at the recent grape harvest.

Then the text says, Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words (2:14). 

There is something for us there.  See how Peter speaks: Let this be known to you; give ear to my words.  Peter speaks like he has authority over this crowd! Where does Peter get this bold speech?  Did Peter speak that way fifty days ago, when some serving girls asked him if he was one of Jesus’ disciples?  No.  He was afraid.  He swore an oath that he did not know Jesus.  Now he speaks to the crowd like a man who has authority, and is confident that he should be heard.

And notice: Peter was standing with the eleven.  Before he denied that he knew Jesus.  He didn’t stand with the disciples of Jesus.  When he thought his life was in danger, he denied being one of Jesus’ disciples.  He didn’t stand with the other disciples.

But now St. Peter stands with them, and speaks for them.  He tells the crowd that no one is drunk, but that this is what was prophesied long ago by the prophet Joel.  God promised that in the last days He would pour out from His Spirit on all flesh.  In the days of old, only the prophets were given the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit enabled them to proclaim God’s Word: to prophesy.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit gave visions and dreams to the prophets.  But in the last days, God foretold that He would pour out His Spirit on all His servants: male, female, young, middle aged, old.

That is what is happening now, Peter tells them.  And he goes on to tell them why: because Jesus had been crucified for our sins, raised from the dead, and seated at God’s right hand to reign.  You crucified Him, Peter said.  But everyone who believes in Him, calls on Him, will be saved and will receive the Holy Spirit.

  1. The Holy Spirit Gives Knowledge of Christ

What we see learn from this is this: the Holy Spirit makes us new people.  He gives the knowledge of God through Jesus Christ. And He makes us, who are naturally weak and selfish, like Peter was, different beings: bold, faithful, courageous.  He gives us the power to speak and proclaim Jesus to others.

You’ve all been in a room that was stuffy, damp, or moldy, and someone said, Let’s let some air in here!  They opened windows, and fresh air came into the room.  You could breathe; the room became more liveable.  That is something like what God did at Pentecost with the disciples; but the air, the mighty rushing wind, was His Holy Spirit.  “Wind” could also be translated “breath”.    God’s breath breathed into the disciples with power, vehemently.

And what does breath do?  Breath gives life.  In the beginning, when God created Adam, He breathed into His nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.  Through the Holy Spirit God breathes His life into us. Without His breath we do not have life before God.  We live physically, but spiritually we are dead.  We don’t know God.  Our attempts to serve Him only drive us farther from Him. But He breathes on us in the Gospel, and we believe that Jesus our God, who died for our sins and took them away. The breath of God that makes us alive to Him by faith also renews our minds, hearts, and bodies.  We start to have confidence in God’s Word.  We start to fear God instead of human beings.  We start to have joy in the face of suffering.  We start to rely on God instead of our own strength.  We start to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Breath also does something else.  Breathing in gives us life. Breathing out is how we talk.  God’s breath, His Spirit within us, enables us to speak His Word.  It enables us to do what Peter could not do fifty days ago: confess faith in Jesus, even when we might have to suffer or lose something to do so.  The Holy Spirit also gives us wisdom and skill to speak the truth about Jesus to our neighbors for their salvation.

On Friday, the group that is working on revitalizing our congregation’s outreach with the Gospel met. One of the things we talked about was how we have a small percentage of the congregation that engages in the work of the church.  And someone said, I think what keeps a lot of people from volunteering is the fear that they aren’t really qualified. I think that is true.  People have also said that about other things.  Some people don’t come to bible class because they are afraid that they won’t know enough and will look foolish.  They are intimidated.  And I think nearly all of us worry that if we try to tell our neighbors about Jesus, tell them the Gospel, we might not say it the right way. We might say it in a way that offends people.  Or we might be challenged and will not be able to answer their questions.

Brothers and sisters, I promise you: if you are a Christian, you are qualified to speak and to serve in the Church. You have been given the Holy Spirit.  You had your personal Pentecost when you were baptized.  The Holy Spirit will speak through you and work through you to benefit the church and your neighbors.  And the Holy Spirit, Jesus says, leads us into the truth and reminds us of what He has said; the Holy Spirit teaches us to speak Jesus’ words and not our own.

  1. The Holy Spirit is Received through Keeping Jesus’ Word

One thing remains to be said, about how we receive the Holy Spirit.

You notice what the disciples did to receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  They didn’t do anything. God simply poured out His Spirit upon them.

The Holy Spirit, God in us, is not a prize that is earned.  He is given freely as a gift, the greatest gift that can be given.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells us more about how the Holy Spirit is given.  If anyone loves Me, He will keep My Word, and my Father will love Him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (Jn. 14:23)

The Holy Spirit is given in and through the Word of Jesus; and He remains where Jesus’ word is received and kept by faith.  When you hear a sermon that proclaims Jesus alone as our Savior, His blood alone as our righteousness, the free gift of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus, the Holy Spirit is both offering the gift of Jesus’ death for your sins, and the gift of Himself.

So whenever we hear preaching that is faithful to all that Jesus said to the apostles, that is the Holy Spirit, the breath of God.  Whenever we receive the Lord’s Supper, when it is celebrated according to His institution, we are receiving the Holy Spirit along with the body and blood of our Lord.  Whenever we are absolved, forgiven, according to Jesus’ command, by His authority, the breath of God is rushing upon us, letting the breath of God into our bodies and souls, rooms that are naturally closed, foul and corrupted.

But we are not given the Holy Spirit all at once. It’s a gift that God gives as He wills. Jesus says that as parents know how to give good gifts to their children, even more the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.

But we need to ask for the Holy Spirit, and receive from Him.  Neglecting to do that means we try to get by on our own power as we carry out the work God has called us to.

We need to keep His Word.  That means: learn it, and go on learning it.  Read the Bible.  Learn the teachings of Jesus, not only in a 20 minute sermon once a week, but also making sure we know what we were taught when we were confirmed, that we not only stay where we were when we were fourteen, but that we grow to maturity in God’s teaching, asking God to make it alive in our hearts by His Spirit.

That is why Christians often lack the Spirit’s power and wisdom.  We try to improve our lives or reform the Church or build the church by our own wisdom and strength.  That is so hard, and it doesn’t work.  The Holy Spirit enables the church to live and to confess and to speak and to believe in Jesus, of Jesus.  We wear ourselves out trying to do what the Holy Spirit alone can do.

That’s what Luther supposedly said about the Reformation; he said, we didn’t do anything.  The Holy Spirit did it all.  We just preached, wrote, and drank good Wittenberg beer.  The Spirit worked through His Word and reformed the Church.

Oh, may God grant us to be able to say this!  That God would teach us to be like children at Christmas, eager to receive the gifts given by our Father!  That we would see the chief task of our Church to be to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit through hearing, reading, and learning the Word of our Lord!

May the Holy Spirit also teach us to focus on receiving Him through God’s Word and Sacraments; to receive the good news of Christ.  Then our speaking and working will not be in vain, because He will be speaking and working in us.

Amen.

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

Soli Deo Gloria

The God We Know. Catechetical Sermon, February 2015

Most Holy TrinityCatechetical Vespers

St. Peter Lutheran Church

The Apostles’ Creed (Matthew 3)

February 27, 2015

“The God We Know”

Iesu Iuva

Most people, if you ask them, believe in some kind of a god, even today. But if you ask them who their God is and what he is like, their answers become sketchy. Ask them what his name is, and they probably won’t know.

It’s not that way for you, because you are a Christian. You know God’s Name. He has made Himself known to you in the teaching of the Scriptures, in your catechesis into the mysteries of the Christian faith. You know what He requires of you, because you have learned His Ten Commandments. And you know who God is and what He does, because He teaches you in the Creed.

In the Ten Commandments you learned what God wants you to do, how He wants you to live. In the Creed He teaches you to know Him and what He has done. He has given you life and protected you. He has redeemed you from your sins. And He has made you holy and continues to make you holy.

Who is God? You can answer out loud.

The Apostles’ Creed confesses faith in one God who is three distinct persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These are not three Gods, but one. But they are not one person, but three.

This is a great mystery that is beyond our ability to understand. But we believe it—that God is triune—three persons in one eternal God. People outside the church don’t know or believe this. They know there is some kind of a god, but they don’t know who He is. We know God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

What does the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do? He creates, redeems, and sanctifies us. He makes us, saves us from our sins, and makes us holy.

The first article of the Creed teaches us about God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. The Father created us and all the universe out of nothing. He not only created the world a long time ago, but He continues to preserve the world so that the sun shine and the earth gives food. He provides us everything we need for this body and life. We don’t see Him doing it. We see the farmer grow the food and the sun shine on the plants to make them grow. But God is the maker of the sun, the food, and the farmer. And by His command the sun, the food, and the farmer continue to carry out their work and be the instruments through which the Father feeds us our daily bread. He also watches over and protects us so that we are shielded from many dangers and troubles we would otherwise experience. We can put the 1st article of the Creed to work in our daily lives by thanking God every time we are provided with what we need for life, by thanking Him whenever we are shielded from danger, and by calling on Him for help in every need we have in earthly life. God the Father cares about our bodies, our physical and emotional needs, because He made them and gave them to us, and He takes care of them.

Just for this alone, that God the Father made us, provides for us, defends us and watches over us—for this alone we owe Him all thanks and praise and to serve and obey Him with our whole heart.

But as you have learned from the Ten Commandments, we do not serve and thank God with our whole hearts. In fact, every day we sin much and really deserve nothing but punishment.   Our hearts are always desiring to do what is against God’s commandments. This is something that people outside the Holy Christian Church don’t know. They think we are not perfect, but as long as we try pretty hard to do what’s right God is satisfied.

They don’t know that to be righteous in God’s eyes we must keep His commandments and love Him with all our heart and soul. And they don’t know or believe that we are unable to do it because we were born sinful and unclean, by nature dead spiritually and enemies of God.

Because we are this way and could not make ourselves righteous, God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, redeemed us. He paid for us to be regarded or counted righteous. He justified us. How? God the Son was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, was born for us, lived under the commandments of God, fulfilled them for us, and then suffered and died on the cross to make atonement for our sins, to pay their penalty. He became a human being like us and offered Himself as the substitute for the whole human race. God’s anger and punishment for all our sins and failure to serve Him fell on Jesus, and Jesus took it out of the way. He redeemed us, bought us back from sin, death, and the devil. He paid for all our sins in full so that we no longer have any sin to pay for. We are regarded as righteous because of Him.

And He rose from the dead on the third day, showing that our sins have been forgiven and that we no longer belong to death but to life, because He has freed human beings from death. He ascended into heaven, where He prays to the Father on our behalf, rules the universe for our good, and preaches His saving Word and gives His body and blood through the ministers He sends. And on the last day God the Son will return to judge the living and the dead, to give eternal life to us and all believers in Christ and to condemn to eternal death those who do not believe in Him.

But we could never believe in what God the Son had done for us unless God worked in our hearts, because we are by nature sinful and enemies of God. So the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, does His work of sanctification, or making holy. He proclaims what Jesus has done to take away our sins through the preaching of the Gospel. He says, “Jesus has died for your sins, and all by Himself, without any help from you, has made you right with God.” He says that when the Word is preached. He also says it in Baptism—“What Jesus did on the cross is for you.” He also says it in the absolution through the pastor after we confess our sins: “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And the Holy Spirit speaks and tells us that Jesus’ death on the cross is for us in the Sacrament of the Altar, when the pastor says Jesus’ words—“This is my body which is given for you…This is my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

And through these things, the Word and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit not only tells us our sins are forgiven through Jesus. He also works in our hearts so that we believe it and say, “Jesus died for me too, so my sins are surely forgiven.” No one can believe this on their own. When you believe it is because God the Holy Spirit has worked on you and in you to make you holy.

And when He brings us to faith in Jesus so that we are justified, counted righteous, He also begins to work in us so that we do the righteous works that please God. We begin to hate our sins and want to be forgiven and freed of them. We begin to want to do what pleases God. And we begin to keep His commandments out of thankfulness to the Father who made us and the Son who redeemed us.

The Holy Spirit sanctifies us, makes us holy. He creates faith in Jesus in us and a new man who begins to do the good works that please God. And the Holy Spirit does this for the whole Holy Christian Church. He gathers the believers in Christ together into one body, one communion, where we all share together in the forgiveness of sins. He keeps us together in the one true faith. He preserves our faith until we die, and then on the last day He will raise us and all the dead and give eternal life to all believers in Christ.

This is how the Creed teaches us to know our God. We are not in the dark about God. We are His people—created and fed by Him, redeemed by Him, made holy by Him and growing in holiness. We are called by His name because we have been baptized in the name of this one true God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And we know Him. He is the God who made us, who saved us with His blood, who declares us Holy and is making us holy.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

What is the Sacrament of the Altar? Wednesday after Invocabit 2015

February 26, 2015 Leave a comment

durer lord's supper large passionWednesday after Invocabit

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Catechism: “What is the Sacrament of the Altar? Where is this written?”

February 25, 2015

Iesu iuva

The Passion of our Lord begins around the time of the Passover. This was the feast that God had instituted at the time He delivered His people Israel from slavery in Egypt. It was the final plague on the Egyptians—God would sweep through the land of Egypt and kill every firstborn male throughout the land, both of man and animal. After this devastating judgment, Pharaoh would let the people of Israel go.

But the firstborn of the Israelites would be spared. In their houses they were to take a year old lamb without defect, slaughter it, and smear its blood on the doorposts of their houses. Then they were to roast the lamb and eat it all—head, legs, and inner parts, with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. Whatever was leftover of the lamb had to be burned by the morning. And when the Lord saw the blood on the doorposts of the house, He would pass over and not slay anyone inside, because of the blood of the lamb.

And God commanded that the Israelites eat this lamb every year at the same time to remember what God had done for them, how He slew the firstborn of all the Egyptians, but the sons of the Israelites He spared because of the lamb whose blood marked their doors.

This was the time of year that was approaching when Jesus entered Jerusalem before His Passion. He had told His disciples that His death was approaching. Now Judas makes a deal with the chief priests to betray Jesus. Jesus knows what is going to happen to Him, and at this time He commands Peter and John to go prepare for them to eat the Passover.

That meant they had to go purchase the lamb and take it to the temple to be slaughtered, and then roast it over the fire to make it ready for the evening meal. So they did. And as Jesus sat down to eat the Passover with His disciples, He told them, “I have longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I tell you that I shall not eat of it until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” This means—the Passover meal is coming to its end. What it foreshadowed all these years the Jews have been eating it is coming. The shadow is going away and the reality is coming. The Passover lamb whose blood was shed and smeared on the door so that the angel of death would pass by, the Passover lamb that was completely consumed by the Israelites, and what was left was burned in the fire—this lamb was only a symbol and picture of the true lamb of God, Jesus. He would shed His blood not to save us from physical slavery to Pharaoh but to redeem the whole world from spiritual slavery to sin and the devil. His blood would be smeared on the posts of the cross, on which He stretched out His arms to embrace the world in His death. He would give His flesh to be eaten by faith so that His people might live.

This was already a solemn night. On it they remembered how they were saved by the judgment of God that struck all around them but passed over them. It was made even more solemn by Jesus’ repeated warnings that He would be handed over and killed on this visit to Jerusalem. On this already somber night, Jesus instituted a new sacrament in place of the old yearly remembrance of the Passover. He instituted His last will and testament.

And what is His last will and testament? It’s vitally important that we know the right answer to this question. Surely Jesus didn’t die and leave us something that is of no consequence.

But that’s just how many people look at it—as if Jesus’ last will and testament was of little consequence. Whether or not a church teaches correctly about Jesus’ testament is considered unimportant compared to other things, like how inspiring the pastor is, how much we like the music, whether they have a good youth group, whether the people seem to be “on fire for the Lord.”

But it matters immensely. It was of such importance to the Lord Jesus that He instituted the sacrament of the altar as His final will before He died.

And it matters to you what Jesus’ testament is and that you know why you believe it to be what it is. Because there are many churches and Christians who change Jesus’ testament into something else than He instituted. What Jesus instituted on the night of His betrayal cannot be an unnecessary thing for your salvation. Rather it is of the highest importance.

Also understanding what the Sacrament of the Altar is and seeing the firm Scriptural ground we have for our belief about it will strengthen your faith and increase your hunger for this priceless gift.

So we consider today

What the Lord’s Supper is.

Who instituted it.

And how it is received.

The most concise answer to the question of what the Sacrament of the Altar is is given to us in Luther’s answer from the small catechism: What is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.

 

There you have it in plain language: the Sacrament of the Altar is the true body and blood of Jesus under the bread and wine.

And how do we know this? We have Jesus own words on the matter in the three Gospels and the Epistle mentioned earlier, where Jesus says plainly, “This is My Body,” “This is My Blood of the New Testament.”

We should consider who it is who instituted this Sacrament.

It wasn’t a mere human being, a prophet or some other great man who instituted the Sacrament of the Altar. It was Jesus, who is true God and Man. That means that it is by divine authority that we celebrate the Sacrament of the Altar. And since it was God who instituted it, it is necessary that we stick to His ideas about what the Lord’s Supper is and what He wants done with it. And we have no other way to know what the Lord’s purpose for His Supper is than to listen and stick with the Words by which He instituted the Sacrament.

Secondly, because the man who instituted the Sacrament of the Altar is God, we can rest assured that He knows what words He wants to use and how to speak clearly. The divine Son of God in infinite wisdom chose the words by which He instituted the Sacrament of the Altar, and the words He chose were “This is my Body, This is my Blood.”

Third, it was on the night of His betrayal that Jesus spoke these words. It was a solemn night—a night of great religious significance already, a night on which the cloud of death was hanging over the heads of Jesus and His disciples. And Jesus spoke these words as His last will and testament. If ever there was a time to speak clearly and without figures of speech, this was it, because Jesus wanted His disciples to know clearly what He was giving them and what He wanted them to do with it before He died.

So it is not a mere man who instituted the Lord’s Supper, but God Himself. That speaks to its importance and necessity. The Lord Jesus did not institute music, youth groups, or religious zeal on the night of His impending death. He instituted His Supper. When people look at these other things as more important than the Sacrament of the Altar they ignore and treat lightly the last will and testament of the Son of God.

So what is it that the Lord says is given in the Sacrament of the Altar? First of all, bread and wine. He took bread, it says in the text. He took the cup, it says, which was a cup of wine. And so in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper we are not free to substitute other elements for bread and wine. It’s not our supper that we may change as seems good to us. It’s the supper of the Lord Christ which He instituted on the night when He was about to die.

And just as we can’t change the elements which Jesus prescribed to be used in His supper, we are also not free to deny or change the heavenly gift which He says He bestows in the Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus does not say, “Take, eat, this is a picture of my body.” He says, “This is my body.” He doesn’t say, “This is a representation of my blood, which is shed for you.” He says “This IS my blood, which is shed for you.”

Imagine a cardboard representation of the sun that you might have in a set on a stage or in a play. The cardboard picture might remind you of the sun, but in reality it is as different from the sun as cardboard is from a star in the heavens. A picture of the sun doesn’t make anything grow. It doesn’t give any heat. It’s a dead thing.   But the sun makes crops grow, separates day from night, makes your skin get tanned or burned. It is a living and real thing.

In just the same way churches and preachers who tell us that the Lord’s Supper is only a symbol of the body and blood of Christ substitute a lifeless imitation for what is real and life giving. Because Jesus’ body and blood really and truly give life and the forgiveness of sins.

In Exodus chapter 24 Moses reads the words of the Lord to the people of Israel, who say, “All the words the Lord has spoken we will do.” Then Moses took the blood of sacrifices and threw half of it against the altar and threw the other half on the people, saying, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with these words.” In doing that it showed that both God and the people were bound together by blood in the Old Covenant.

Jesus used the same language in instituting the Sacrament of the Altar: “This is my blood of the covenant,” or of the New Testament. He did this for a reason. Just as the blood of the old covenant had bound God and the people together under the covenant of the law, so the blood of Jesus which is applied to us in the Sacrament of the Altar assures us that we are bound with God in the New Testament; we are sealed into the new testament of the forgiveness of sins. Because Jesus took His blood into the heavenly sanctuary to atone for our sins before God. And in the Lord’s Supper He gives us that same blood to drink to assure us that we are included in this atonement.

And in the Passover, the blood of the lamb was smeared on the doorposts and the lamb was eaten inside, and the angel of death passed over the house. So we have Jesus’ body and blood applied to us personally in the Lord’s Supper to certify that the judgment of God will pass over us.

How is this Sacrament to be received? Jesus makes this clear in His words of institution also. He says, “Take eat, take drink.” He doesn’t tell us to spiritually eat His body and drink His blood, which we do by faith always. He tells us to eat the bread that is His body with our mouths and to drink the cup of His blood. Nor does He tell us to sacrifice His body again and again, or carry it around in procession, or lock it up in a box and worship it, as they do in the Roman Catholic church. It is really and truly His body and blood, and it is to be eaten and drunk in faith for the forgiveness of sins.

Now there are many Christians who argue this and say that the Lord’s Supper is symbolic, a mere remembrance of Jesus’ death on the cross for us. They think this because it doesn’t fit with human reason to say that Jesus is giving us His body and blood with the bread and wine. They also say this because they don’t understand that Christian faith clings to God’s Word and not to the inner experiences of the heart. We need the Sacrament of the Altar as well as Baptism and the preached Word because our faith cannot live on itself. It lives by the Word of God that comes to us from outside; it holds to the word of God that says we are forgiven and not the inner experience of feeling forgiven.

If you tell a person of this doctrine that you know that you are saved because you receive Jesus’ body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, they will worry that you are not really saved because your faith rests on Jesus’ word instead of an experience you had of being converted or a prayer in which you asked Jesus to be your Savior.

They will say, “Jesus didn’t really mean that communion is His body and blood. He was using figurative language.” The only reason they say this is because they are following fallen human reason instead of the Word of the Lord.

First of all, Jesus had no need to institute another symbolic meal. They were already celebrating a symbolic meal at the Passover. The lamb they ate was symbolic of Jesus whose death gives life to the world. Jesus didn’t need to institute another symbolic meal. He was giving the reality, not a picture.

Secondly, these words of Jesus are the words of His last will and testament. He is instituting a testament the way that Moses did when He threw the blood on the people. No one makes a testament or a covenant using symbolic language. When you are making a will you write very clearly what you want given to whom. When you are writing a contract you don’t use metaphors. You write and speak clearly so there is no misunderstanding. Jesus was not telling a parable when He instituted the Lord’s Supper.

Finally, when Paul repeats the words of institution to the church at Corinth, he adds the warning that whoever eats the bread of the Lord’s Supper without discerning the body of Christ is guilty of profaning the body of the Lord and eats and drinks judgment on himself. In fact, he writes, this is the reason why some of you are sick and weak, and others have died. Paul doesn’t say the Corinthians are guilty of misusing a symbol of Christ’s body and blood. They have misused the body and blood itself because they have not recognized it for what it is.   In the Old Testament people get sick or die in the presence of the Lord when they approach the Ark of the Covenant without authorization or when they mishandle the things that are the Lord’s. The fact that the Corinthians got sick or died because of misuse of the Lord’s Supper indicates that this was something holy–not mere bread but the very body of Christ.

This gives us great comfort. It is not a reminder of the body and blood of Jesus that were given and shed for us that we receive when we approach this altar rail. We receive the very body and holy blood of Jesus Himself. That gives us great, firm, and glorious assurance that our sins are truly forgiven before God and that we have eternal life, no matter what we may be suffering in this world. May God increase our faith in the words of this Sacrament, so that we highly esteem this gift and take from it great assurance that our sins are forgiven.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

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