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The Joy of the Doctrine of Justification. Trinity 11, 2019

September 2, 2019 Leave a comment

jesus pharisee tax collector11th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 18:9-14

September 1, 2019

The Joy of the Doctrine of Justification

 

Iesu iuva!

 

Beloved in Christ,

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

 

This is the last Sunday I will preach here as your pastor.  That makes it a sad day, because God has bound us together over these years.  He has taught us together.

 

But in our Lord Jesus’ kingdom, sadness never has the final word.  Joy has the final word.  I will not be the called servant of God’s Word at St. Peter anymore, but I will always be your pastor.  It was through you God called me into the office of preaching the Gospel.  And because we are members of one holy communion, I am yours forever.  That is what “the communion of saints” means.  A communion, a fellowship is a sharing.  We share in the one body and blood of Jesus at this altar.  All He has he shares with us.  And we who have a share in Jesus through faith in Him also belong to one another.  One bread, one body.

 

So that is joy in the midst of sadness.  And our Lord has given us other joys, great joys.  You have two new sisters in Christ, newly risen from what St. Paul calls the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5), the washing of Baptism.  They stand among us today with the cross of Jesus marked on their brow, made holy, clothed with robes that have been made white in the blood of the Lamb.  We have waited and prayed for this.  About a year ago, Amber, you asked to be baptized at VBS.  I told the church council about it because I was excited.  And here you are, together with Breanna—you went through catechetical instruction many years ago.  Now both of you are going home from St. Peter justified, as Jesus said about the tax collector in the Gospel reading from Luke.  And that is joy for every Christian here.

 

And after the sermon, Billy and Breanna will confess that they believe Christ’s teaching that they learned from me, found in the Scripture, witnessed by the Small Catechism of Martin Luther.  How can we not be overjoyed to hear that you have been made disciples of Jesus as He commanded—Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you?  Every Christian has to rejoice that you have been taught all of Christ’s Word and now confess that you believe it and intend to live and die by it.

 

Understand though, that there is pain in the Christian life.  You have been marked with the cross.  There is pain at the beginning of the Christian life, at the end of it, and all the way through.  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  (Romans 6)  Paul asks that at the beginning of Romans chapter 6.  When you are baptized you are joined with Jesus in His death; that is not a one-time thing.  It continues throughout our life on earth.  But pain and sorrow do not have the final word in Christ’s Kingdom.  Joy has the final word, and Christians come to know God’s joy in the very midst of the cross that God sends them.

It was joy that drew me into the ministry.  That was the bait on the hook with which Christ hooked me.  And joy in a specific teaching of the Bible—what we call the doctrine of justification.  It is the part of Christian teaching that Paul said in the reading from Corinthians is of first importance.  Justification is what Jesus came into the world for.  It is what pastors are here for.  It is what Baptism is about.  And when it is taught rightly and believed it brings joy.

 

So it is my joy to preach my last sermon on the doctrine of justification, which our Lord Jesus teaches about in the Gospel reading.  If you have that teaching and believe it and stay with it—you newly baptized and confirmed, and you who were baptized and confirmed a long time ago—and you who have not been baptized or confirmed—if you believe this teaching you will be saved, and you will have joy.

 

Jesus pictures this doctrine in the parable we heard of the tax collector and the Pharisee.

 

He tells us about two men who go into the temple to pray.  He tells us what their prayers are like and what kind of people they are.  Then we hear him say: I tell you, this many went down to his house justified, rather than the other (18:14), that is, the tax collector.  But what does Jesus mean by that word “justified”?  He is saying when the tax collector goes home, he goes home with God having declared him righteous.  God judges him to be right and good in his sight.  The other man, the Pharisee, goes home not righteous in God’s sight.  That means, he goes home guilty, not a friend of God but an enemy.

 

Even though “justification” is not a word we use a lot except in church—and in many churches, not even there—you can see why it is important.  We need to be righteous before God, He needs to regard us as righteous, if we are not to be His enemies, if we are to be saved after we die.  But we also need to be righteous in His sight if we are going to live in this world with the confidence that God is with us.

 

But what Jesus teaches about justification before God goes against the way everyone thinks.

 

People of course have all kinds of different religious beliefs—in this country and across the world.  But there is a common idea that unites everyone, and that is that the way to being right with God is being right and doing right.  People have different ideas about what that means.  The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable had his ideas about “being right and doing right” shaped by God’s commandments that were given through Moses to the people of Israel, including the ten commandments.  So when he prays, he comes into the temple and thanks God that he is righteous, at least compared to other people, because he does not cheat people out of their money, commit adultery, and do other unjust things.  In addition he gives ten percent of everything he gets in income to God.  These were things he knew he was supposed to do or not do because God commanded “You shall not steal,” and “You shall not commit adultery.”  He also told the people of Israel they were supposed to tithe ten percent of their income to God.

 

In other places and times people haven’t always had the ten commandments.  In our country today people don’t know the ten commandments like they once did.  But people still know that there is a right and wrong, even if they are misguided about what it is.  And people today generally think along the same lines as the Pharisee—God loves me because I basically am good.  I’m certainly better than all the hypocrites over there anyway.

 

Some people say they don’t believe in God, or He doesn’t factor much into their thinking.  But you will never find a person who doesn’t care if they are justified.  Everyone wants to be recognized as worth something, as having meant something.  Everyone looks for this.  Even people who don’t care much what other people think want to be able to say that their life on earth was valuable, not a waste.

 

Everybody cares about justification, and everybody goes about different ways of trying to justify themselves.  But we can’t justify ourselves, because we are not the judge.  God is the judge.

 

And see what happens with the Pharisee.  He was a man who seemed to be very concerned with God. But he went home “not justified.”  God did not justify him because, though he kept away from adultery, though he engaged in spiritual practices like fasting and gave his money to God, it wasn’t enough.  He believed that doing more than other people made him righteous and good in God’s sight.  But it doesn’t.

 

To have God regard you as righteous is not a matter of doing better than other people but a matter of doing what God requires of you.

 

To be good in God’s eyes means to love God and trust Him above everything else—money, your health, your family.  But anyone who says he loves God like that without wavering is in denial.  The Bible says that he who does not love his brother whom he can see cannot love God, whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20).  And who loves the people around him perfectly?  Our selfishness, our self-love keeps us from seeing the people around us and caring about them as we should.

 

Why does the tax collector go home justified?  Jesus says, because Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:14).  Jesus doesn’t mean humiliating yourself wins God’s favor.  He is saying that when you come to God admitting the truth about yourself—that you have broken His commandments, that you are not righteous but a sinner, that you do not deserve His praise but His punishment—that is the beginning of the way to God.  The kind of humbling yourself Jesus is talking about is admitting what the ten commandments reveal about you—that in yourself you keep falling short of what God requires.  This is painful.  And it isn’t just at the beginning of being a Christian that we experience this pain, but all the way through.  We grow as Christians not by becoming more able to stand on our own; we grow as Christians by becoming more dependent on God’s mercy.

 

But there is something else in this tax collector’s prayer.  When he says, “God be merciful to me,” the word “be merciful” actually contains the word for “a sacrifice that atones for sin.”  He’s not just asking for God to be merciful in a general way, but to forgive his sins on account of the sacrificial blood that covers his sin.

 

In the temple in Jerusalem there was an altar.  Every day many animals were sacrificed at that altar.  The one who sinned would lay his hand on the animal’s head and confess his sins that needed to be covered.  Then the animal’s throat would be cut and the priest would catch the blood in a bowl, because according to the book of Leviticus, the life (or soul) of the flesh is in the blood.  And God told the Israelites, I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life (or the soul) (Lev. 17:11).  The blood of the animal contained its life, and when the priest sprinkled the blood on God’s holy altar or poured it on the base of the altar or put sprinkled it before God’s presence in the most holy place, the animal’s life or soul was for atonement, or covering.  The penalty of sin is death, but God accepted the animal’s life in place of the sinner.

But this was only temporary, because it is actually impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4).  Just like ordinary water can’t make a person clean from sin, an animal’s life is not sufficient to make us right before God.  But God accepted them temporarily until the sacrifice came that was enough to cleanse us from our sins.

 

That sacrificial victim was the one who taught this parable.  Jesus is human, like us, but He is also God.  When He suffered on the cross, God suffered.  His blood is not merely human; it is the blood of God.  When this blood was shed, this life was offered up, it truly took sins away, not just from one or two men, but all people.

 

The person who comes to God acknowledging that he is the sinner, and clinging to the sacrifice God provided for us, the blood that purifies and atones for our sin—Jesus’ blood—that person goes home justified before God.  Just like that.

 

We call it “justification by faith alone.”  The Pharisee tries to approach God with his own works and is not justified.  The tax collector clings only to the atoning blood to cover his sin and goes home righteous before God.

 

Jesus does not talk in His parable about the joy of justification.  But joy is what flows from this teaching, and without it being taught clearly we cannot know real joy.  Certainly not in the church.

 

When you see your sins before God like the tax collector did that hurts, but to hear God announce your sins forgiven is a joy greater than the pain.

 

And there is another joy—the joy of someone else being set free from their sins.  The joy of seeing tears run down someone’s face as they are released from the burden of their sins that they carried alone.

 

Pastors experience this joy, but it is not just for them.  It is meant for all the Christians in the church.

 

My friends, you are uniquely situated to experience this joy.  You have been given this pure teaching of justification, where our works are strictly separated from God’s work in shedding His blood for our justification.

 

You have preserved in your midst the means of grace that God uses to confer the forgiveness of sins won by Christ’s blood.  You have baptism, not just as water that symbolizes something we have chosen, but God’s baptism, where the water is joined with His Word and we are washed and presented before God spotless in Christ’s blood.

 

You have the absolution Jesus gave to his church, the authority to forgive sins: Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them they are not forgiven.  (John 20)

 

You have the sacrament of the altar where we receive not just bread and wine and say “This symbolizes Christ’s body and his atoning blood.”  No, you receive His body and the blood that atones for your sins.

 

You have these gifts of God preserved among you.  Jesus wants to bring tax collectors in here and send them home justified.  He is doing it today.

 

You will know His joy in justifying tax collectors as you grow in Him, as you grow in the painful realization that you are tax collectors.  As you come to see your sins as great, not small, many, not few, you will experience the joy tax collectors and sinners experienced when they met Jesus and God justified them through Him.  It is not a joy for the beginning of our lives as Christians but for the middle and the end as well.

 

And how will this happen, that you will grow and learn to see your sins as great?  Luther told you that in the catechism a long time ago when you were being prepared to be confirmed, in the questions he wrote for you to use to examine yourself before you go to the Lord’s table.

 

What should we do when we eat His body and drink His blood, and in this way receive His pledge?  We should remember and proclaim His death and the shedding of His blood, as He taught us: this do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

 

Why should we remember and proclaim His death?  So that we may learn to believe that no creature could make satisfaction for our sins…that we may learn to be horrified by our sins, and regard them as very serious…Third, so we may find joy and comfort in Christ alone, and through faith in Him be saved.

 

So come then with your great sins and receive the blood that cleanses them, and keep coming, and let His justifying word be your all.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

O Key of David. 2nd Wed. in Advent Matins, 2018

December 12, 2018 Leave a comment

Second Wednesday in Advent—Matins

St. Peter Lutheran Church

“O Clavis David”—Is. 22:21-22; Luke 1:67-80

December 12, 2018

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

O Key of David and Scepter of the house of Israel,

You open and no one can close,

You close and no one can open:

Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and the shadow of death.

 

In Revelation chapter 3, the glorified Lord Jesus says: These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts, and no one opens…” (v. 7)

 

It is a reference to the words just read from Isaiah chapter 22, where Eliakim the son of Hilkiah is given “the key of David,” and thus has the power to open what he wants and lock what he wants and no one can second-guess him.  The key refers to authority.

 

David had been given authority and made king of Israel by the grace of God.  The Lord had promised that He would establish the throne of David’s offspring after him forever (2 Sam. 7:12-13).  And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before Me (2 Sam. 7:16).  Through his offspring, the Messiah, David’s Kingdom would endure forever.

 

And God promised also that David’s offspring, the Christ, would not merely rule over Israel, but over all nations, to the ends of the earth.  I will tell of the decree: the Lord said to me, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.”  Psalm 2:6-7

 

And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.  Daniel 7:14

 

Dominion over all the peoples on earth—authority to rule over all the nations forever.  So God promised David—this authority would belong to his descendant, the Christ.

 

So you can see why the Jews wanted something different out of their Messiah than they saw in Jesus.  It was nice that Jesus made a lame man walk here and cured a leper there, but they were looking for power.  They wanted a ruler that would break Caesar’s scepter.  We have a lot in common with the Jews of Jesus’ day in this respect.  They saw themselves as the people of the one true God under the boot of a ruthless pagan emperor.  More and more that is the way Christians who continue to believe in the Ten Commandments and the Creed feel.  This Christmas the Illinois State Legislature has on its front lawn a nativity scene.  And also a Jewish Menorah.  And a statue of a serpent and a hand holding an apple donated by the Satanic Temple of Chicago.

 

So we would like God to send a king that would uphold His Law and make the true faith the head and not the tail in our country.

 

Is it wrong for us to wish for that, for a king to uphold God’s Law, to uphold justice, and not only not allow a Satanic emblem to stand alongside the manger of Jesus, but also to forbid the murder of the unborn, to uphold marriage instead of fornication and sodomy?  No, it’s right that we should want this.

 

It’s just that it’s aiming too low if that is all we are looking for from the Christ.  It underestimates the authority He has from God.  And it underestimates our need.

 

The antiphon cries out: Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and the shadow of death.  It echoes the words of the Benedictus, which says that the Lord God of Israel has visited and redeemed his people…that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness all our days (Luke 1:68, 74-75).  But the enemies that the horn of salvation in the house of His servant David (Luke 1:69) has come to redeem us from are not the Romans, nor the forces of cultural Marxism or whatever we choose to call the rising paganism of our day.  The Benedictus names them at its ending which we will sing in a little bit: our enemies that hold us captive are our sins, which cause us to sit in darkness and the shadow of death and keep us from knowing the way of peace (Luke 1: 79). 

 

The Christ has authority over those enemies—sin, the darkness of the evil one, the shadow of death.  He has power to release from those enemies.  He opens, and sin cannot shut, death cannot hold the door closed, Satan can no longer keep it locked.  That is the kind of authority He has.

 

We heard last week that the Christ is the Divine Wisdom through whom God mightily ordered creation, that He is Adonai, the Lord, who gave the Law on Mount Sinai.  In other words He is God and has divine authority.  But in the  antiphons that follow we are reminded that the mighty God, the Word of the Father, has become man, a son of David, who takes up the scepter given to David’s royal house.

 

He laid aside His heavenly throne—His eternal glory and majesty—so that He did not use them, they were not seen.  And the Scripture tells us He made Himself nothing.  He made Himself the slave of mankind, being born under the Law that binds us, because He is truly one of us.  And, having fulfilled the Law He gave, He also took on Himself the debt of our transgressions.  He died as a sinner; as the world’s only sinner, bearing our sin.

 

The Scripture says that because of this the Father exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that was above every name.  And all of this was for us, that we might be exalted with Him.  He has been given all authority (though it was His by nature) because of His obedience.  So when this man, this king declares our sins forgiven—they depart from us, like when you push open an unlocked door.  When He opens, sin gives way, death gives way, the devil gives way.

 

Such is His authority.  And this authority He gives to His Church, just as His Father has given it to Him.  When the Church preaches the Gospel and declares your sins forgiven, Jesus opens the door.  When His church baptizes, you are released from your enemies, death, and the devil, and sin.  When the church absolves you, the darkness of the devil and the shadow of death have no dominion over you.  You are set free and come under the dominion of the key of David.

 

That is why we rejoice at the little child who was born in a manger and why we rejoice when we receive the bread and wine in the Divine Service.  He seems to lack all earthly authority, and He lacks all the trappings of power.  But His power is such that death and hell cannot touch us, and even Caesar or the Satanic Temple of Chicago and their friends in government and the courts, doing their worst, can only serve us.

 

And so we wait the return of this King to turn the key that closes this age and opens the new one, where the shadow of death will be gone and the light of His glory become clear.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

In A Broad Place. Quasimodogeniti 2018

jesus thomas.PNGQuasimodogeniti—The Second Sunday of Easter

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 20:19-31

April 8, 2018

“You Have Set My Feet in a Broad Place”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

A week ago from last night, we observed the vigil of Easter.  It started after darkness had fallen.  Then the new paschal candle that through most of the year stands next to the baptismal font was lit from a fire outside.  Everyone had little candles in their hands, like we do on Christmas Eve, and they were all lit with the fire from the candle that symbolizes the life of Jesus that conquers death.  Then we processed into the totally dark church.

 

Then there were several readings from the Old Testament.  All of them pictured some part of Jesus’ descent into the darkness of death and His resurrection.  One of them was the story of Noah, who went into the dark, cramped box called the ark for a year as the wrath of God descended and wiped out all life from the earth.  After he had gone in with the remnant of animal and human lives that would repopulate the earth, the Scripture says, The Lord shut him in (Gen. 7). 

 

In the Gospel reading, the disciples are also shut in.  Eleven men (ten on the evening of Easter), plus others, probably, are sitting in a living room with the doors shut (or locked).  They don’t go out lest people recognize them as the disciples of Jesus, and the chief priests do with them as they had done with Jesus.  They are alive, but in a prison, fearing that at any time there will be a knock on the door that will mean the end for them.

 

Even worse, they are shut up in the darkness of a bad conscience.  Have you ever been in a narrow place where you couldn’t stand up straight, where you were so packed in that you couldn’t move?  It’s like that when you have a conscience that condemns you as a sinner.  You would like to believe that you are at peace with God, but your sins press in on you, bind you up.  Every time you get your head above water another wave of condemnation hits you.  For the disciples of Jesus there were two waves that kept crashing into them.  The first was the events of the last week, the flogging, mockery, and crucifixion of Jesus, which made it seem that their faith in Him had been misplaced.  The second was the way they had abandoned their Lord when they were put to the test.

 

Some of you, most of you know what it is to have done what the disciples did.  You were faced with some temptation or other and you abandoned Jesus.  Maybe it was long ago.  And when the memory of it returns, you are closed in, shut up, fighting for air.

 

Or it is simply the awareness that every day, no matter how faithfully you have tried to live a new life in Christ, you have never quite accomplished it.  You always fall short of what a Christian life should be.  And so you are always in a dark room, like the disciples, fearing that when the knock comes on the door, you will not be ready to stand before God.

 

And others are closed in by the feeling of despair that your faith in Christ is in vain.  When you see how your life and the life of Christians does not seem to be one of “victory on to victory”, but instead one wave of trouble after another, the darkness closes in on you, and you are tempted to think that it is foolish to put too much confidence in Jesus.

 

When I was a little kid, I watched a movie on TV one Saturday.  You may have heard of it; it was called Star Wars.  There is a scene in that movie where the heroes jump into a garbage compactor to escape a bunch of storm troopers who are shooting at them.  They are knee deep in garbage and nasty water trying to find a way out when they realize there is some kind of giant snake swimming around their legs.  One of them gets pulled under, but then for some reason the snake lets him go.  They quickly discover why.  The walls have begun to close in to crush the trash.  They try desperately to brace the walls with big pieces of metal, but nothing works.  At the last minute their robot friends contact them on an intercom and manage to shut down the garbage compactor by hacking into the computer.  Then one of the robots hears them screaming over the intercom and thinks he is too late.  But they are shouting for joy because they have been saved.

 

That was what happened to the disciples.  In their cramped prison, with the doors shut, Jesus suddenly appears and says, Peace be with you. 

 

Instead of the knock on the door that means the end, Jesus comes in without knocking.

 

He doesn’t show them their sins and let the walls close in on them forever.  Instead, He shows them the marks in His hands where the nails had been and the place where the centurion’s spear entered His side, proving He was really dead.

 

Those marks are all there is left to say about their sins, their abandonment of Jesus.  Those marks are the signs that the walls of judgment have stopped closing in on them forever.

 

Then, as if that was not enough, He sends them out of their prison.  Therefore Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you.  Just as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”  And having said this He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven them; if you bind them, they are bound.”  (John 20: 21-23)

 

Jesus has the authority to open up the doors and unlock the chains of darkness, sin, death, and a bad conscience, and the authority to lock people in.  He has this authority because He was bound in that prison for us.  That is how He got the marks of the nails and the spear.  He also burst those chains and broke out of that prison for us.  That is how He stood before them alive after those mortal wounds being inflicted on Him.

 

Since He conquered sin and death, He owns them and is able to release from them.

 

And He not only released the disciples from their sins; He gave them His authority to release others.  He authorized them to forgive sins and to bind, to release and lock up.

 

That is how Jesus comes into the midst of us in the prison of sin and a bad conscience and stops the walls from closing in on us.

 

He comes and proclaims release by sending out first the apostles and then ministers to preach His death and resurrection and the forgiveness of sins.  He entrusts to His believers the power to forgive and retain sins.

 

The message that He proclaims to us is not, “If you do this and that, you will be forgiven.”  He proclaims that sinners are bound and condemned to eternal death.  But to those who feel their chains, He proclaims unconditional release.  You are released, He says, because I have been released.  I bore your sins.  See the marks in my hands and my side.  I was closed in by death and judgment.  But now I am risen.

 

And if you still find yourself to be a sinner and wonder if you are still set free, see these marks.  They are the answer to any accusation made against you.

 

Jesus wears those marks before God His Father.  They always stand before Him.  He cannot see or hear about your sins without seeing the nails that went into His Son’s hands, and the spear that went into His side when He died for those sins.

 

Those marks always stand before God and speak louder than our sins.  They say, “It is finished.”

 

But Jesus still comes into our midst to proclaim peace to us, to release us from our chains and darkness and our old life.  It is His voice that speaks when the minister, called to exercise the public office of the Keys, says, “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all you sins, in the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Amen.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

And Sinners Will Return to You. Wed. after Oculi.

jesus caiphas frangipaneWednesday after Oculi—Vespers

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Passion History—Trial Before Caiaphas

March 7, 2018

And Sinners Will Return to You

 

Iesu Iuva

In the Name of Jesus.

 

There is a fire in the courtyard.  Simon is trying to keep warm and trying to keep his head down.  He is also trying to keep an eye on Jesus across the courtyard without anyone noticing.  Jesus has His hands tied.  Around Him are the scribes, the elders of Israel, members of the ruling council called the Sanhedrin, and the chief priests.  Jesus is on trial.

 

And as Peter listens, he hears his Lord give His testimony.  You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God’s power and coming with the clouds of heaven.  And the high priest tears his robes.  Jesus has just referenced the seventh chapter of Daniel’s prophecy and applied it to Himself.  He says that He is the Christ, anointed by God as king over all the peoples of the earth.  That He will return as God’s judge of the men assembled in this night court.

 

And the assembled dignitaries of Israel give their decision—Jesus must be put to death for blasphemy.

 

The chief priests and the elders of the people were wrong to condemn Jesus, of course.  He had not taught people to worship a false god or prophesied falsely in God’s name.  The man standing before them was the God of Israel.

 

But Jesus did not deny that they had the responsibility and the right to judge.  They were God’s representatives.  It was their duty to try and condemn blasphemers and false prophets.

 

What was true of the chief priests and Sanhedrin is also true of this church named after the apostle who fell so badly that night.  You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that apostle later wrote despite his great sin.  All who are baptized into Christ and believe in Him are, like Peter, priests, and share with Jesus the authority to forgive and retain sins.  To judge, despite the fact that we, like Peter, have ourselves sinned and denied Jesus.  Jesus has entrusted us with the office of the keys, that special authority that Christ has given to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.

 

St. Paul writes about this, “It is actually reported among you that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.  And you are arrogant!  Ought you not rather to mourn?  Let him who has done this be removed from you…  When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”  (1 Cor. 5:1-5)

 

Paul means that the Church in Corinth is supposed to remove the unrepentant sinner from fellowship; pronounce that his sins are not forgiven, just as after confession the Church pronounces the forgiveness of sins by the authority of Jesus.  This is not putting him to death physically.  It is pronouncing God’s judgment that He will speak on the last day.

 

Paul says to do this “so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”  By speaking it now, the unrepentant may turn and be delivered.

 

Most of us here relate with Peter.  We know that we are not pure.  We have denied Jesus ourselves, and so we are very hesitant to ever speak words of judgment to anyone else in the name of God.

 

We should be hesitant to ever judge or condemn anyone in our own name.  When we judge people on our own authority, we condemn ourselves.  But when we hold back Christ’s judgment from unrepentant sinners, we are not really showing them mercy.  We are going easy on ourselves, because we are afraid of being condemned by unbelievers as harsh and unloving.

 

Jesus preached, Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:19-20)  About that Jesus we are saying, “I do not know Him.”

He proclaims that our righteousness must be perfect to enter the kingdom of heaven.  For that He was condemned to die on the cross as a blasphemer—for confessing that He would return with the clouds in divine majesty to judge the living and the dead.  The priests tore their robes and called it blasphemy and handed Him over to Pontius Pilate.

 

We do not want to stand with Jesus and proclaim His judgment.  We do not want to be His Church that proclaims His judgment and His forgiveness because we are afraid.  “I do not know Him,” we say, with Peter.

 

Repent.

 

Before us is Jesus, the Son of the Blessed.  He is the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.  (Rev. 3:7)

 

He preaches the judgment of God on us and through us, His Church, so that the world may be saved from eternal death.  The times have changed, people say.  The times have changed; the hour is late.  Judgment is very soon.  But the judgment of God has not changed.  The torment of hell will never change.

 

Jesus preaches the judgment of God so that the lost may be brought to repentance and saved from eternal death.

 

When the priest questioned Him, He confessed the truth—that He is the Christ, anointed by God to be king over human beings and to be priest for human beings.  He alone will rule over human beings, as their Redeemer and Savior, or as their judge.  He alone is able to reconcile God to us.  Our leniency toward sinners cannot take away their sins or our own.  Our leniency has no more validity before God than our self-righteous judgment, our unjust judgment, like the unjust judgment of the priests that Jesus was a blasphemer.

 

Only God’s mercy makes sin go away, and only His condemnation makes us truly guilty and condemned.

 

It was God who condemned Jesus as a blasphemer, and a denier.  It was His mercy that permitted His only Son to take up our sins as His own; it was His mercy that allowed Him to be condemned for them instead of us.

 

Only those who know that they are condemned by God are able to come to Jesus and receive God’s mercy.

 

Jesus was silent before the accusations they made against Him to the high priest because He was willing to bear every charge against us and the whole world and be condemned for them..  He was willing to shed His righteous blood so that we would be acquitted by God.

 

He was willing to be Christ for us, to be anointed as our king and priest.  He was willing to be our King and be led into hell to rescue us.

 

He was willing to be our priest, and to offer up Himself as the sacrifice that brought the wrath of God against us to an end.

 

This is why you are no longer the one who has denied Jesus countless times.  This is why you are no longer the hypocrite who has no right to speak His Word to anyone.  The judgment and the forgiveness that you speak and that I speak in His name are not spoken on our own authority, but in the authority of the Son of the Blessed One, the Christ, anointed by God, the rightful King who judges the living and the dead.  What He says, and what He authorizes and calls us to say, is not for the destruction of our family, neighbors, brothers.  It is for their salvation.  It comes from the mouth of Him who was silent as He was tried and condemned for the sins we try and fail to deal with ourselves.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

An Example of Announcement for Communion or Confession (2nd Discussion)

September 29, 2014 Leave a comment

loehe5 profileHere’s the second of three discussions from Loehe’s example of announcement for confession.  I call it “announcement for communion” because that’s how it was referred to in the Missouri Synod.

It can be found in Der Lutheraner volume 3, p. 44.  And you can get an English translation of the book here.

 

Second Discussion

Margaretta: I would like to come to the confessional.

Parson: That’s good, why do you want to?

M.  So that I confess my sins.

Pn: So, even you have sins?

M:  We are all sinners and fall short of the glory we should have before God.

Pn:  Do you also know your sins?

M: Some we know and some we don’t.

Pn.: But one must still know those that are known, else, there wouldn’t be known sins, so do you know them?

M.:  I’ve never done anything wrong, and no one can say I have.

Read more…

An Example of Announcement for Communion

September 27, 2014 Leave a comment

loeheA little before I was born a practice that had been common in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod passed into oblivion.  It was called “announcement for communion.”  People used to go talk to the pastor before they went to the Lord’s Supper.  I’ve never really been too sure what went on in these talks.  From asking older people in the church I’ve gathered that over time it became little more than a ritual of going to church and signing your name in a book as intending to commune.  Later people began to phone in their announcements.

But it always struck me as interesting that there was this practice in the Lutheran Church that bore some resemblance to confession prior to communion and that it only recently died out.  Yet you never hear anyone talk about it or suggest resurrecting it.  I’ve written another post touching on the subject (here), but that was two years ago and I can’t remember what I said.

I’ve been flipping around in a fantastic book I bought recently–a translation of C. F. W. Walther’s early volumes of Der Lutheraner, the newspaper he started before the Missouri Synod was even founded.  (Thanks to Pr. Joel Baseley for his work in translating it; you can find the book here.)  I stumbled upon a sample dialogue between a pastor and would-be communicants at announcement for communion, authored by no less than Wilhelm Loehe.  I reprint part of it here for your edification and perhaps to entice you to buy a copy of the book.

A note: the confession referred to in what follows seems to have been a corporate service of confession and absolution rather than private confession and absolution.  Although in the first century and a half or so after the reformation it was normal for Lutherans to go to private confession before communion, by the time this was published (December 1846) private confession and absolution was seldom used.

 

Announcement for Confession

A sketch as to its nature.  by W. Loehe

 

First Discussion

Balthisar: Good day, Parson.

Parson: Good day, Balthisar, what do you want?

B.  I want to announce for Confession this Saturday and the Lord’s Supper Sunday.

Pn.  So why do you want the Lord’s Supper now?

B.  Why?  I think it is now the time to have the Lord’s Supper again.

Pn.  Why now?  Is it because you do that every year at Advent?

B.  Yes, in my family we’ve always thought we should observe that, so if it’s Pentecost or Christmas day or in Advent we go to the Lord’s Supper.  So I do that, too.

Pn.  So you are going because of that custom?

B.  Sure, why not?  I don’t agree with the tradition many hold, who go but once a year.

Read more…

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