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How Jesus Deals With Sinners. Trinity 3 2019

jesus sheep shoulder.PNGTrinity 3

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 15:1-10

July 7, 2019

How Jesus Deals With Sinners

 

Iesu iuva!

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Jesus sinners doth receive;

Oh, may all this saying ponder

Who in sin’s delusions live

And from God and heaven wander!

Here is hope for all who grieve:

Jesus sinners doth receive.  (LSB 609 st. 1)

 

The Gospel reading tells us that “the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus].”  (Luke 15:1)  It also tells us how the Pharisees, the devout Jews, and the scribes—who were knowledgeable about the Scriptures and the theology of the rabbis before them—it tells us how they responded when they saw Jesus dealing with the tax collectors and sinners who came to him.  They murmured about Him.  “Look, He welcomes sinners!  He shares His table with sinners!”

 

So we know how the Pharisees and Scribes dealt with sinners.  They did not welcome them.  They did not eat with them.  But this Gospel reading shows us how Jesus dealt with sinners, and how He still deals with sinners.

 

Now, the murmuring and grumbling of the Pharisees might be confusing to some people.  Why would they criticize Jesus for welcoming sinners?  Aren’t we all sinners?  Who would Jesus welcome if not sinners?

 

Well, that is very true.  But most people don’t think that way, not really.  They certainly didn’t believe all people were sinners in Jesus’ time, and most people don’t believe it today either.

 

In Jesus’ time “tax collectors and sinners” referred to people who openly, consciously lived in violation of God’s commandments.  Tax collectors collected revenue for the hated Roman government, and also extracted a nice amount for themselves and enriched themselves.  They were regarded as ungodly because they stole from people without repentance or fear of God.  And in the Gospels “sinners” usually refers to women who committed adultery or were engaged in prostitution.  No doubt there were other groups who were regarded as sinners too, and who lived a life that was openly in defiance of the commandments of God.

 

“Sinners” were regarded as enemies of God, and rightly so.  If you steal for your living, if you commit adultery or sexual immorality without repentance you are God’s enemy, and you announce it to the world.  And if you understand this you can also understand why the Pharisees and scribes murmured about Jesus “welcoming tax collectors and sinners.”  They saw Jesus as being friends with those who were enemies of God.  This is obviously not what a godly person should do.  Even St. John writes: “Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  (1 John 2: 15)

 

But the problem with the Pharisees’ thinking was that they limited the definition of the word “sinner.”  They thought that because they did not commit adultery or cheat people openly they were not sinners.  As long as their lust remained in their eyes and their heart, and their love of money did not cause them to openly rob and steal, they were not sinners.

 

God’s judgment is different.  In His eyes, a sinner is one who sins.  A sinner can sin in a way that is obvious even to other human beings.  But it can also be hidden in the heart.  Whenever a person transgresses God’s commandments, whether with an action, or a word, or even a thought in the secret place of the heart, that person is a sinner in the eyes of God.  One is a sinner if he openly worships a false god, and one is a sinner if in his heart he loves money and prestige more than the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  You are a sinner if you never listen to God’s Word, never come to hear it preached, and so disregard it in an obvious way; and you are a sinner and an enemy of God if you come to church and you hear the Word with your ears but do not believe it and do it.  You are a sinner if you steal openly, and you are a sinner if in your heart you love money and will not use it to help your needy neighbor.  And the most obvious sin of the Pharisees and Scribes in this reading, and also of many Christians, is that they did not love their lost neighbors.  They did not care whether they were brought back to God and found again.  They were content to let their neighbors perish.  That lack of concern and love—even though no one will call you a sinner for it among human beings—truly makes you a sinner in the eyes of God.

 

In God’s eyes sinners are not merely those who displease and dishonor Him.  They are not merely His enemies.  But they are lost.  They are lost not merely like sheep who go astray, or coins that roll behind the dresser.

 

Sinners are lost in the sense that they are perishing.  They are on their way to doom and destruction—whether they are sinners like the ones who came to Jesus, or whether they are sinners whose sins are not counted sins by the world.

 

So now we have defined what a sinner actually is in the sight of God.  Anyone who commits sin is a sinner, and as a sinner, that person is an enemy of God, and he or she is lost.

 

Now, how does Jesus deal with sinners?

 

The Pharisees assumed that God simply hates sinners because they are His enemies.  And many people still think this way.  They imagine that God is very angry with the obvious sinners, but those whose sins appear less serious to us, He overlooks their sins.  But this is not true, as we have seen.  The wages of sin is death—not some sin, but all sin.  (Rom. 6:23)

 

On the other hand, some believe that God is not angry with anyone because of sin, since “we are all sinners.”

 

But what we see in the Gospel reading, and what we hear from Jesus, is that despite sin being hostility toward God, God desires that sinners return to Him.  Jesus says: There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15:10)  God’s angels rejoice when a sinner repents because God rejoices when a sinner comes to repentance.

That is why Jesus welcomes sinners and tax collectors and eats with them.  He is not telling them that our sins don’t matter to God, or that God is pleased with them.  Jesus is showing them that God welcomes sinners who repent.  He will not cast them away or throw them out.

 

But there is more than this.  God not only welcomes a sinner who turns away from his sin and desires forgiveness, desires to be free of his sin.  God goes looking for the lost sinner, the one who is perishing.  He goes out after the lost sinner as though that lost sinner is the most important one in the world.  Before that sinner begins to look for God, God is out searching for him, sweeping the house for him, going through the desert and the wolves and the lions to find him.

 

How does God seek out the lost sinner?  He sends a preacher.

 

Think about it.  That is what Jesus was doing.  Jesus preached repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  But first He preached repentance.  He revealed to sinners their lost condition.  He didn’t do this just for certain types of sinners—He did it for them all.  He preached repentance to the Pharisees and to the tax collectors.  He preached repentance to those who looked like they were righteous in human eyes, who thought they were righteous because they had done all human beings are capable of doing in the flesh.  He preached repentance to those who were obviously fallen.  To both he preached that they were sinners, under the wrath of God, and they must become new creatures if they were to enter God’s kingdom and escape being lost forever.

 

But that is not good news.  That is preaching that kills, puts to death, and closes the door to heaven.  It is necessary.  It is what must be preached to those who are not contrite.  It is what must be preached to unrepentant sinners today.  When a person hears it, he realizes he is lost.  Without this realization a person cannot be a Christian.

 

But when lost sinners drew near to Jesus to hear Him, they were listening for another message.  They were listening for a message that would tell them how they could be saved.  The Pharisees and Scribes were not listening for this.  They drew near to Jesus, but not to hear this from Him.

 

But the tax collectors and sinners came near wondering how they might be saved from their sins.

 

And look at how Jesus deals with these sinners.  The Pharisees tell us.  They are disgusted by it.

 

Jesus welcomes them.  He eats with them, which means, “We are friends.”  People in the middle east never break bread with their enemies.  It is considered a great evil to eat with someone and hold a grudge against them.

 

When Jesus eats with the sinners He proclaims His own friendship with them and also God the Father’s friendship.

 

How can people who have been God’s enemies become His friends?  Only through Jesus.

 

But if we still have sin, how can we be God’s friends, if sin is hostility toward God?  Those who come to Jesus to hear Him because they are perishing and want to be saved, and who believe in Jesus, have their sins covered.

 

Blessed is the one who transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity (Ps. 32:1-2)  When you are a sinner and you come to Jesus wanting to be free of your sin, God forgives your sins, covers your sins, and does not count your iniquity to you.

 

Instead He seats you at the table with Him as a friend or a family member, as a saint who has no sin.

 

He does this because He came into the world to forgive your sin, to cover your sins, and to count your iniquity to Himself.  And so He did when He humbly went to the Jordan River and was baptized with all the sinners.  He who had no sin made Himself sin for us.

 

And then He allowed Himself to be lifted up a curse for us, to bear God’s wrath, to be punished for our hostility against God, to cover our transgression.

 

See how God deals with sinners?  He welcomes them and eats with them.

 

If only we were sinners like the ones who came to Jesus then!  But we are—and the less we feel our sins, the more in need we are.

 

Come to Him then who has sought you out with His Word and revealed your sin to you.  Come to him and believe that He covers your sins and welcomes you to God’s table.  Come to Him who will not cast you out.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

 

Looking at the Stars. Trinity 1, 2019

abraham stars carolsfeld.PNGTrinity 1

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 16:19-31

June 22, 2019

Looking at the Stars

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

In the name of Jesus.

 

Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great (Genesis 15:1).  Imagine God saying this to you as He did to Abram!  But He does say it to you.  “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  That was God promising you, as He promised Abram, to give you an inheritance and to be your shield.  That was Him calling you to go to a land that He will show you, a land that you were not born in but that He is going to give you as your home.

 

But when we hear God’s gracious voice promising, very often we respond like Abram did.  “Lord God, what are you going to give me, since I am childless?”  God’s promise to Abram depended on Abram having a child.  God was going to make his offspring into a great nation.  But Abram was old and he had no child.  He brings this complaint to God.  We have many complaints like this too.  “How are you going to bring me to heaven to dwell with the righteous when here I see no sign that you are with me and are going to fulfill Your Word?  When others look at me and laugh to think that I am pleasing to you?”

 

God simply says to Abram, No, I will keep my promise.  And He takes Abram outside of his tent into the night and shows him the stars.  How many stars there must have been in the sky that night four thousand years ago, in the desert, where there were no electric lights casting their haze into the night!  Maybe the kids here have never seen a night sky out in the middle of nowhere, so full of stars.  Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.  Then He said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”  (Genesis 15:5) 

 

Abram’s trouble had not gone away.  He still didn’t have a child.  But he had a promise from God and a visual reminder.  You will have as many offspring as there are stars in the night sky in the desert, Abram.  Every time Abram was depressed and lonely and tired as he lived in that land as an alien, promised it but not possessing it, if he looked at the night sky he would remember this promise from God—So will your offspring be. 

 

And Abram believed it.  He considered that if God had promised it, it was as good as done.  And God counted that believing of Abram, that faith of Abram, as righteousness.  Because Abram believed God’s promise, God counted Abram as having no sin.

 

God showed Abram the stars.  He made Abram a great promise.  Abram believed it and God counted him righteous.  The way it was with Abram 4000 years ago is the same way it is with everyone whom God counts righteous.

 

Today, though, just as in Jesus’ time on earth, people think it doesn’t work this way.  It’s not enough that God gives you a promise.  There must be evidence that God is pleased with you.  On the one hand, you must do good works.  On the other hand, God should show that He is with you by blessing you with rewards here on earth—wealth, success, and so on.

 

So Jesus tells this story.  We have a man who is rich and dresses in the finest Egyptian linen, in purple from the city of Tyre—king’s clothing.  He feasts like a prince every day.  He seems to live an upright life, and God allows him so many blessings it seems certain that God is pleased with him.  But then, at the end of the story, he is alone in hell, in a suffering that is not just for fifty or sixty years, but forever.

 

Lots of people think God sent him to hell because he was rich.  But it’s not a sin to have a feast.  It’s not evil to drink wine and have a French chef, wear a tailored suit every day, drive a Bentley, have a diamond Rolex on your wrist.  None of those things displeases God.

 

What makes a person unrighteous and provokes God’s anger is when his heart is fixed on the food, the drink, the car.  God promised Abram a very great reward—but the reward was more than food or drink, flocks and herds, yachts and private jets, power and honor among men.  The reward God promised Abraham—and us—was really Himself.

 

But the rich man’s reward was Egyptian linen and Tyrian purple and a house with a gate and lavish feasts every day.  Those things were what his heart clung to and sought out.

 

They were his gods, even though other people couldn’t see his sin.  It was a secret sin, but it was the sin that dominated his life, this idolatry.

 

A person who doesn’t have the true God but makes the gifts of this world his god not only does not love God.  He doesn’t love other people either.  He really lives for himself, even though he probably covers that selfishness up with various “good deeds.”

 

Every day that Lazarus was lying outside the rich man’s gate, God was calling to the rich man, offering him a way out of this life that he was living.  He was preaching repentance to him through Lazarus’ sores.  As the rich man passed by a window and saw Lazarus out of the corner of his eye, saw the dogs running up to him and licking his sores, God was preaching to Him, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  He was calling the rich man to know Him, the true God.

 

But of course who knows where that might have led?  No doubt if he took care of Lazarus, they would have started bringing all the lepers and the blind in town and leaving them at his gate.  And that would have interfered greatly with the feasting and the wearing of purple, with the serving of his gods.  So the rich man refused to hear God’s call to leave his sinful life, his life of living for himself.

 

Then he died and began to experience torment far worse than anything Lazarus ever went through.  And when he saw Lazarus far away resting on Abraham’s chest, the way that Lazarus had seen him far away, through the gate, eating and drinking, he called out for relief.  But there was no relief, because just as the rich man’s gate had been shut to Lazarus, now God had shut the gate to His feast.

 

So Jesus makes it clear that you cannot see that a person is righteous and pleasing to God because he does well in this life.  At the same time, when you see a person suffering and laid low his whole life, you can’t be sure that that person is displeasing to God.  Lazarus is the illustration of that.

 

Lazarus’ whole life gives no evidence that God loves him.  He suffers.  He is sick, hungry, without family.  He is abandoned by the people who could help him.  He seems to be abandoned by God.

 

Yet when he dies, God sends out the angels to take his soul to “Abraham’s bosom,” which means to rest with the righteous people who please God.

 

God is so pleased with Lazarus he has the angels escort his soul to the party, the feast, of His chosen ones, like a billionaire sending his limo to drive you to his house.  Like Elijah, who was carried to heaven on a chariot of fire.

 

Even though Jesus doesn’t tell us why Lazarus received this treatment, we know why, because Abraham and all the righteous are righteous before God for the same reason.

 

When God brought Abram out and showed him the stars, and told him what he could not see or feel or imagine—“Count them, if your are able to.  So shall your offspring be”—Abram believed God, and God counted it to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6). 

 

Lazarus is righteous because he believes God’s promise that he will have a great reward.  He believes that God has forgiven his sin and will acknowledge him as His own on the last day, and let Lazarus see His face.  And he believes that God gives him all this as a gift, for free.

 

Lazarus, like Abraham, looks at the stars while he lies on his mat, sick and dying.  He believes God’s promise about Abraham’s offspring, who takes away the curse of sin and death.  He was praying with King David in Psalm 17:  Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword…from (U)men of the world whose (V)portion is in this life.[b]

You fill their womb with treasure;[c]
    they are satisfied with (W)children,
    and they leave their abundance to their infants.

15 As for me, I shall (X)behold your face in righteousness;
    when I (Y)awake, I shall be (Z)satisfied with your likeness. (Psalm 17:13-15)

 

The reward for which Lazarus looked was to see God’s face.  For that he was willing to endure suffering.  Because he believed God’s promise that he was righteous through Abraham’s descendant Jesus, who would carry all his diseases.

 

Jesus’ story asks us the most important question, maybe in some ways the only important question in our lives.  The question is, which are you?

 

Are you the rich man who only believes in what is on his table, on his back, in his wallet?  Or are you looking at the stars with Lazarus and Abraham?  That is, do you look to God’s promise about the bright morning star, His Son?

 

Maybe you are defensive and irritated when you hear that question, as I might well be if I was not preaching.  It is not polite to imply that someone might be headed to hell.  Especially not people who go to church regularly.  But of course the rich man in Jesus’ story went to church regularly too; Abraham said that if he and his five brothers had listened to Moses and the prophets, they would have repented, and he would not have come to this place of torment.

 

And is it not the case that often your mind is set on this world and its pleasures and not on the reward God has promised of seeing His face?  And is it not the case that while you have lived an upright life before other people, you were really living to make yourself happy?

 

And isn’t it true that outside of your gate there are many people laid, like Lazarus, whom God calls you to serve, but you do not, or are slow to do it, because it seems like it will accomplish nothing besides trouble for you?

 

This congregation has had Lazarus lying outside our gate for a long time.  Now in addition to our neighborhood, which has open sores of poverty, broken homes, drug addiction, we have another.  Now our whole town, like the whole country, is spiritually sick and needy.  It is often in darkness about the commandments of God and the judgment of God.  And increasingly our neighbors, even our own former members and grandchildren have no right knowledge of God’s promise of salvation.

 

God puts them at our gate so that we are called out of our old life of alienation from God.  So that we remember His law that commands not that we live an upright life before the world, but that we love our neighbor as ourselves, whatever the cost, however impossible it may seem to us.

 

Then He shows us the stars.  See how many they are!  That is how many righteous will be in my Kingdom.  And you are one of them.  In my eyes you already shine like one, because of the bright morning star, my Son Jesus, who took the curse of sin on Himself and replaced it with blessing for all the nations.

 

Come and taste that blessing and that feast.  Eat His body, drink His blood.

 

Then go out to Lazarus and to the land that I will show you.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Accepting God’s Invitation. Trinity 2, 2019

July 1, 2019 2 comments

jesus great banquet.PNGSecond Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 14:15-24

June 30, 2019

Accepting God’s Invitation

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Hence, all earthly treasure!  Jesus is my pleasure,

Jesus is my choice.

Hence, all empty glory!  Naught to me Thy story

Told with tempting voice.

Pain or loss, or shame or cross,

Shall not from my Savior move me

Since He deigns to love me.  LSB p. 743 stanza 4

 

The man is eating and drinking at a supper with Jesus.  He says to Jesus, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”  (Luke 14: 15)  When you say something like that, you let everyone know that you want to be among those who eat and drink in God’s Kingdom.  And no doubt this man really thought that he wanted that.  But Jesus’ answer shows us that the man was deceiving himself, and so were most of the Jews who seemed to be most pious.  Jesus was frankly telling this man—lovingly telling him—that he was deceiving himself, that he did not really want to eat and drink in God’s Kingdom.  He did not really want to go to heaven, because he was invited, but he did not accept the invitation.

 

But imagine that.  Truly thinking that you want to go to heaven.  Longing for it, expressing longing for heaven—and yet you have deceived yourself.  You really are rejecting the invitation to heaven all the time.  That is the saddest thing I can imagine, or the scariest.  Yet Jesus says repeatedly that when He returns, many people will be shocked that they are locked out of heaven.  In Luke 13, for instance, He says, “When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’  Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’  But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from.  Depart from me, you workers of evil!’” (Luke 13:25-27) 

 

It’s frightening to think about, but that is the state of many who consider themselves Christians and who are considered Christians by others.  They hear Jesus’ invitation, but they do not accept it.

 

God issues an invitation to the feast of His Kingdom, of heaven, of eternal life.  It is a real and serious invitation from God and it comes in the Gospel.

 

We have all heard this invitation.  We have been invited by God to come to the feast.  And yet it is quite possible to hear this invitation, and even take a certain pleasure in the invitation, yet not accept it, not come to the feast God has prepared.

Sadly this is the kind of “faith in Jesus” that we see in many church people.  Today as in Jesus’ day people ask to be excused from God’s banquet.  In Jesus’ parable they say, “Please excuse me.  I just bought a field, a yoke of oxen.  I just got married.  I can’t come to your feast.”  I have other things to take care of that are more important, more pleasurable to me perhaps, than to come to your feast.  This is what a person does when he comes to church, hears the Gospel of Jesus preached, and merely listens to it but does not, by the power of the Holy Spirit, take it to heart, cling to it, and become willing to leave everything else rather than have Jesus taken away.

 

Some do this with God’s invitation over and over, hardening their hearts.  But even in us who believe the fact is that we have often done it.  We have made excuses to not come to the feast of eternal life, even while perhaps telling ourselves we were already there.  We wanted to sow our wild oats while we were young, so we abandoned Christ.  We got older and then we were too busy with work or money to cling to Christ as our treasure.  We knew about Christ and His invitation and maybe even went to church, but we did not come to the feast.  We tried to feed our souls on the pleasures, possessions, and cares of this life, and could not really sing with Luther:

 

Christ alone our souls will feed,

He is our meat and drink indeed.

Faith lives upon no other.  Alleluia! (LSB p 458 st. 7)

 

Perhaps even today you can’t say this.

 

Jesus says that the master of the house, when his invitations came back “declined”, was angry. We shouldn’t be surprised.  You and I are angry when people give lame excuses not to come to the parties and weddings we invite them to.  We know that they could easily put aside their business for an evening.  God invites us to the banquet of eternal life.  He prepares it all at His own cost.  It is a free gift, this invitation, paid for by the death and the agony and the blood of the Son of God, but how many times have you and I said, “I can’t come today.  Maybe another time I will be willing.”

 

Every time we have taken God’s invitation to come to the banquet of eternal life and not listened to it, we have provoked God.  And Jesus warns that in the end, those who refuse God’s invitation will “never taste of His banquet.”  They will never taste His joy, His delight, His happiness.  They will be excluded from it forever.

 

If you take this to heart, you will probably be frightened.  Why have I so often rejected God’s invitation and provoked His anger?  You may even be saying to yourself, “Even if I wanted to accept it now, maybe it is too late.  Also I know myself.  I might accept it today, but tomorrow I will fall again.  What hope is there for me that God would permit someone like me to come to His table after I have so often misused His invitation?”

 

Jesus shows us in the second part of the parable that it is just such wretched people that He brings in to His banquet of eternal life.

 

When those who were invited refused the invitation to his banquet, the master of the house told his servant to go into the city and find “the poor and the crippled and blind and lame.”  You can imagine what kind of banquet that would be, if you collected homeless people and beggars in the streets and lanes of Joliet.  If we did that here, cooked food in the kitchen and brought in people we could find from the street, we’d also feel like we needed to hire an off-duty cop to protect us, call the insurance company to make sure it was okay.

 

But Jesus says that this is what God does.  When the people originally invited refuse his invitation He brings in the sick, the crippled, the blind, the broke—all the disreputable people they can find.  That’s also who God brings into His banquet of eternal life.  It is those who are spiritually poor—who come to God owing a great debt and have not a dime, not a single good work to offer toward it.  He brings in those who are crippled and cannot walk in the way of righteousness.  He brings in the spiritually blind who have to be led by the hand, who do not have the ability to recognize God.

 

These people, these helpless and wretched people, are the people God compels to come in to His banquet.  He wants people like this at His feast.  It is not a trick.  It was for such helpless, unclean, wretched people that Jesus came into the world and was nailed to a cross.  It was for such people that He became accursed.  It is because you and I are wretches that the Son of God came and was crucified—that nothing less would help us.

 

When Luther was dying, he scribbled on a piece of paper two sentences that someone found later.  It said, “Wir sind alle Bettler.  Hoc est verum.”  That means: „We are all beggars.  This is true.“  The reformer, the great man of faith, died knowing that he was a beggar before God.  Even at the end of his life he knew that he was nothing, that he would only enter heaven by God’s gracious gift.

 

So if you know yourself to be blind and crippled, unable even to believe and keep believing in your own power, you know yourself rightly.  And you should not refuse the invitation of God.  He says, “You must come to my feast and be forgiven.”

 

Even though you have refused and turned back, because of that, you are to come to Jesus, crucified for the ungodly, and take Him to yourself as your own.  He seats you at His feast not just when you die but now.  He will satisfy you with what the world can never give you—His body nailed to the cross with your sins; His blood poured out to atone for you.

 

So often we are without joy.  We don’t believe we are at a feast.  We are weary.  This is almost certainly because we are trying to accept Jesus’ invitation and stay with our fields at the same time.  We are trying to have Jesus be our “meat and drink indeed” and also the pleasures of this life.  That is impossible.  You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons.  You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.  (1 Cor. 10:21)

 

The one who spread the feast invites you: Come, believe in Me, your Savior.  Come return to the invitation and promise I made you at Baptism, to be your God and your great reward.  Bring to me all your infirmity, your inability to believe, your divided heart, your addiction to the world.  I will forgive you and raise you from the dead.

 

Hence, all fear and sadness!  For the Lord of gladness,

Jesus, enters in.

Those who love the Father,

Though the storms may gather, Still have peace within.

Yea, whate’er I here must bear,

Thou art still my purest pleasure,

Jesus, priceless treasure!  (LSB 743 st. 6)

 

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

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Regeneration. Trinity Sunday 2019

jesus nicodemus.PNGThe Feast of the Holy Trinity (Fathers’ Day)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 3:1-17

June 16, 2019

Regeneration

 

Iesu iuva!

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

I am not going to preach about the divine calling of being a father, as important and necessary as that topic is today, and today being Father’s Day.  I’m not going to preach about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, even though I wanted to do that today, and that is even more important.  Instead I felt it necessary to preach on the doctrine of regeneration or of the new birth that Jesus discusses in the Gospel reading with Nicodemus.

Let me begin by saying: there is nothing sadder, nothing more pitiful than to be called by God’s Name, and yet be cut off from God’s power.  There is nothing sadder than to bear the name of God and yet to not know Him.  That is the situation Nicodemus is in in the gospel reading.

 

St. Paul warned in second Timothy chapter three: In the last days difficult times will come….[people will have] a form of godliness, but [deny] its power. (2 Tim. 3:1, 5)

 

Try to imagine a more miserable situation than to be religious at least in your outward bearing and activity—but it is merely a “form”, an empty shell.  There is no power in it.  It is just the outward trappings of churchiness and “acting religious”.  Imagine having that and denying that there is any more power to it.  Denying that there is such a thing as God changing a person, recreating him or her, giving him a new heart, a new way of thinking.  Denying that there is power in God’s Word to save and to recreate human beings.

 

Let me say it again: How sad it is to outwardly confess the Triune God, the true God, and yet deny that His power is at work in true Christians—that His power is necessary to make us Christians!  How sad it is to be ignorant of His power, the power Paul describes in Ephesians chapter 1: [I pray] that you may know …what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places…(Eph. 1:18-20) To be ignorant of it and to not live by it!

 

But that isn’t us, is it?  It could be.  Ask yourself if you know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power that is at work in believers?  Do you live by this power or by your own power?

 

The truth is that most Christians are not aware of it.  They may understand the doctrine that the power of God is necessary to make us believers in Christ, Christians, but it is rare that Christians consider the greatness of the power of God that is given to them when they believe in Christ, so that they depend on it and live by it.

 

Then there are many who despite having the name “Christian” are not Christians at all.  Whatever faith they have in Christ is not a faith that will save a person.

 

It is a faith like we see in Nicodemus in the Gospel reading.  He comes to Jesus at night and says, Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who comes from God (John 3:2).  This seems like a pretty high compliment to Jesus.  Nicodemus is part of the ruling council of the Jews.  He is a man of authority, high standing, probably learning, probably wealth.  Jesus is just a poor laborer from backwater Galilee, who has just recently become a wandering preacher.  It appears to be high praise that a leader of the Jews would come out and find Jesus and call Him “Rabbi,” a term of honor, and say, “We know you have come from God.”

 

But Jesus cuts him off and says, Amen, Amen, Truth, truth, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.  (John 3:3) 

 

You can see how shocked Nicodemus is by this response.  He says, “How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he go back into his mother’s womb a second time?”

 

It shocked Nicodemus to hear that nothing in his life till then was any help to make him enter the kingdom of God.  That is a powerful miracle, a divine miracle, if someone is born a second time.  The word translated “again” can also mean “above.”  But either way we are talking about something that no human being can do for himself.  It must be done for Him.  God must cause a person to be born from heaven, or must make a person be born a second time. If God does not do it, a person will not be saved, and he will be separated from the power of God.  He may be a member of a church in an external way, even a right-teaching church, but he will not be a member of Christ’s church.  He will be like a blind man, a man chasing after the wind, who neither understands God or His work.

 

What is this second birth that we need to be saved, to have God’s power, to be in His Kingdom and participate in its blessings and in its work?

 

The Lord makes that clear at the end of the reading.  As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.  (John 3:14-15)  Being born again is coming to faith in Jesus.

 

Many people will hear that and breathe a sigh of relief.  “Well if that’s all it is, believing in Jesus, then I am safe.  Then I am born again.”  But pay attention!  Jesus doesn’t say that faith like Nicodemus had is being born from heaven—where you say, “Jesus is a teacher from God.”  He isn’t talking about the faith either where a person only intellectually assents to the teaching of the Apostles’ Creed—that Jesus died, rose again, ascended into heaven, and so on.

 

Our Lord uses the example from the book of Numbers, where the people of Israel complained against God and Moses, and God sent fiery serpents among them who bit them and they died.  Then the people of Israel cried out to God for forgiveness, and He told Moses to make a bronze serpent and attach it to a pole and lift it up so that all the people who were bitten by snakes could see it.  And whoever looked at the snake on the pole would live.

 

That is the kind of faith Jesus is talking about.  When a person has that kind of faith, he is born again.

 

It is not an intellectual understanding about the basic doctrines of Christianity that one holds in a more or less disinterested way.  Saving faith in Jesus looks to him the way those Israelites bitten by snakes looked to the snake lifted up on the pole.  They looked to it trusting God’s word, and they looked to it as if their lives depended on their looking.  They looked while their wounds were inflamed with poison, in great pain, with death working in them.

 

This is how Christians who are born again look to Jesus.  This is what faith in Jesus that saves you is like.  You know that you are infected and poisoned with sin, and that it is working in you to make you an enemy of God and carry you down to hell.  There is no fighting this poison with your own power.  You are bitten with it, you are dead.  It is as simple as that.

 

But the Gospel shows Jesus lifted up on the cross and dead.  Like the snake, the source of the poison, Jesus has become sin for us on the cross.  And He who became sin for us is put to death.  If you believe that as sin’s poison rages inside of you and you feel it, then you have been born again, born from above.

 

Of course Jesus says more about this; He tells Nicodemus that Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  He is referring transparently to Baptism, in which the Holy Spirit joins Himself to the water to give us the new birth, to bring us to faith in Jesus.

 

Now everyone who is a member of St. Peter has received this bath through which the Holy Spirit gives us the new birth and works faith in Jesus.  But not everyone who is a member of St. Peter has remained in the new life that was given in Holy Baptism.  Many fall away from faith in Christ.  They grieve the Holy Spirit, and He departs.  Christ must be formed in them again, as St. Paul wrote to the Galatians: My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!  (Gal. 4:19)

 

When that happens, we become like Nicodemus.  We may be very religious, but we do not have Christ, the wisdom of God and the power of God (1 Cor. 1:30).  We have a certain amount of knowledge.  We may have human virtue.  But we do not have love, and so we become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal ( 1 Cor. 13).  We become blind guides, who lead others into a ditch; whitewashed tombs, who look religious on the outside but inside are full of the uncleanness of sin.

 

But the Gospel tells us today that God wants you to be reborn.  For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him (John 3:16-17). 

 

Jesus came into the world so that every person might be saved.  Might be born from above, and believe in Jesus like the Israelites who looked to the snake on the pole and lived, even though they were bitten and death was at work in them.

 

Jesus came into the world so that we might have eternal life.  Not when we die, but now, through faith in Him.  And so that we might be confident and assured that we are saved and righteous before God.

 

That is why He baptized you and gave you the new birth of water and the Spirit.  It is also why He sends you His Word—in the preaching on Sunday morning—in the teaching of it in Bible Class—in the bible sitting on your dresser or your bookshelf.  Through His Word, if you receive it and use it and do not resist it when it comes, the Holy Spirit comes with power to reveal your sin and your helplessness.  He makes you realize you are bitten like the Israelites—that you are by nature God’s enemy, and sin’s poison is coursing through you every day.

 

And then the Holy Spirit leads you to see Christ lifted up and made sin for you.  Through that, the message of the Gospel, He makes you sure that your sin cannot harm you, because it has been put to death in Jesus.  And with this certainty comes not empty religiosity but joy, love, power.

 

If you have this faith, even if it is just a yearning to be able to believe this, you have been born again.  And along with this faith comes a new life.  The Holy Spirit lives in you.  Christ lives in you.  Immeasurably great power is at work in us who believe.  It is a miracle.  This power and this new life is the life of the church.  Like the hymn says:

 

We thank You Christ, new life is ours,

New light, new hope, new strength, new pow’rs.

This grace our ev’ry way attend

Until we reach our journey’s end. (562 st. 6)

 

Thanks be to God, the Christian faith and life is not without power.  God’s mighty power begins it in us in Holy Baptism.  He begins it again when it has faltered through His Word.  And He sustains it and makes it grow through the same Word.  May this mighty power of God’s Spirit in the Word be known among us and sustain us.

 

Amen.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Trinity 3, 2018. Lost in a Different Way.

lost coinThe Third Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 15:1-10

June 17, 2018

Lost in a Different Way

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

Psalm 26: I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites.  I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked (Ps. 26:4-5).

 

Psalm 139: Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?  And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?  I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.  (Ps. 139: 21-22)

 

The Pharisees, as usual, were partly right.  You can’t be friends with sin and friends with God.  And if you are close with sinners, friendly with sinners, are you actually being friendly with God’s enemies?  Isn’t that treachery toward God?

 

How would you feel if you saw your friend having coffee and laughing with a person who was in the process of cheating you out of your business or life’s savings, your enemy?  You’d feel betrayed.

 

This is how Pharisees thought Jesus should deal with the tax collectors and sinners, if He was truly from God.  If He didn’t kill them, He should at least have nothing to do with them—shun them.  And they were right, as far as the Law of God goes.  God’s Law does not make excuses for sinners.  It tells us that God is a jealous God, and will punish sinners in this life, then with physical death, then with everlasting punishment in hell.

 

But what is a sinner?  Who is a sinner?  That needs to be clarified, doesn’t it?  Who today calls anyone a sinner and means it seriously?

 

The Pharisees had in mind people whose sinful life was obvious.  Tax collectors, who collected taxes for the government, and then collected more for themselves.  Then also people whose life was disreputable, so decent people didn’t associate with them.  Prostitutes and adulterers and people who had sex outside of marriage.  People who openly worshipped idols.  Thieves and criminals.  If there were open homosexuals in Roman Judea, they would have definitely been among those called sinners.

 

On the other hand, God defines “sinner” more strictly.  A sinner is a person who breaks the law of God in thought, word, or deed.  Sin is lawlessness, says John (1 Jn. 3:4).  Anyone who has desires contrary to God’s law, who accidentally speaks words contrary to God’s law is a sinner, according to God.  The one who does [the laws of God] shall live by them (Gal. 3:12); but everyone who fails to do them, or breaks them at any point, is under God’s curse: Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to do them (Dt. 27:26). 

 

This is a problem for the Pharisees.  It was a problem for monks like Martin Luther, who managed to live lives that were outwardly righteous, and avoid adultery, theft, and so on.  It isn’t to say that we should make no distinction between people who commit sins out in the open and live in them without repentance and those who don’t.  We should and we must.  Civil authority must punish murderers even though everyone who is angry with his brother is a murderer.  The church must discipline those who openly despise God’s Word even though all Christians sin against the third commandment in their hearts.  Moses had to discipline the Israelites who openly worshipped idols even though he himself did not fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

 

But the problem is that keeping clear of open, public, obvious sin does not make you righteous.  If your sin only remains in your heart or on your tongue, you are still a sinner, subject to all of God’s threats in the Law on those who break His commandments.  In fact, you may even be in worse danger, because you, like the Pharisees and scribes, think that by keeping clean before men, you are actually righteous before God and need no repentance.

 

Those who live outwardly righteous lives and those who don’t have this in common—they are, as Jesus says, lost.  They are lost from God and cannot find their way back to Him again.  They are like a coin that has fallen out of a purse into the dustballs underneath the fridge, or like a sheep separated from the flock that can no longer hear the voice of its shepherd.  Sinners are lost to God.  They are no longer under His protection.  They are no longer His.  They are under the power of the devil, and share the devil’s fate of destruction, torment, despair.  And they cannot bring themselves back.

 

But Jesus teaches us and the Pharisees something that we can only know from the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures.  He teaches the Gospel—the good news of God—that God looks at sinners of every sort as lost in a different way.  Not just lost—doomed to destruction; but as lost possessions that God wants to reclaim and find again.

 

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, St. Paul tells us in the epistle (1 Tim. 1: 15), of whom I am the foremost.  None of Paul’s Pharisee friends would have called him a sinner.  Outwardly, he lived a dedicated, zealous life.  He was zealous for God’s Law and the traditions handed down by the rabbis and teachers that had come before him.  But Paul says not only “I was a sinner then”, but “I am the foremost sinner.”  His zeal to serve God and keep His Law didn’t change the fact that he was a sinner in the slightest.  He wanted to serve God and uphold His law, but Paul didn’t know God, despite having read the Scriptures and studied the rabbis!  Why didn’t Paul know God?

 

Because He didn’t know the Gospel, even though the Scriptures taught it clearly in passages like the one from the prophet Micah: Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance?  He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.  He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot.  You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18-19). 

 

If God’s Law were the only teaching in the Bible, Jesus would have never told this parable.  Nor would He have sat at the table with sinners. God’s Law says: Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, to do them.  End of story.  If you are a tax collector and a sinner, or if you are a zealous Pharisee, the Law says, if you do not abide in everything written in the Law of God, you are cursed to everlasting death.  That is the reward for being God’s enemy, even if you were born into it.

 

But the Gospel says something more.  It says that God passes over transgression; He casts our sins into the depths of the sea; He forgives our lawless deeds, covers our sins and does not count them against us (Rom. 4:7-8).  This is what we confess in the creed: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

 

That’s why God and the angels see sinners—all sinners—as lost in a different way.  Not simply lost to eternal fire, like when you drop a coin down a storm drain and it’s gone forever.  But lost like a lamb that has gone astray.  Lost like that orange fish in the movie “Finding Nemo”, where the clownfish dad goes on an impossible journey to find his son because he loved him too much to give up on him.  Lost like a rare coin that you drop down the drain, so you shut off the water and take the pipes apart in the sink and do whatever it takes to get that coin back.

 

The Gospel declares that God has found you who were lost in sin.  He has pardoned you and the whole human race through His Son.

 

The Gospel declares that God does not excuse our sins; He does away with them.  God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness because His Son rescued us from the Law’s judgment that we are lost.  All our sins were charged to Jesus.  He became lost and condemned with them.  God has counted and imputed our sin to Him and condemned Him; He imputes His Son’s keeping the Law to us.

 

Why did He do this?  Because He is merciful and gracious and abounding in steadfast love, just as Moses and the Prophets continually declared.

 

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  He came to find those who are lost.  Rather than try to convince ourselves that we are not sinners, or at least not as bad as others, we should confess ourselves to be what we are and not try to escape it.  Jesus came to find sinners.  He came to move the fridge and sweep out the dustballs and find you.  He came over a thousand hills and into the dark valley to snatch you from the jaws of the wolf.  If you could do it, if you weren’t really lost and dead, He wouldn’t have needed to come into the dark valley, to sweat in the garden and cry out under God’s curse on the cross.  He wouldn’t have needed to move the heavy stone of death away from the door of the tomb if you could move it yourself.

 

Let yourself be the sinner you are, because Christ Jesus came into the world to save lost sinners. 

 

This is why we can and should be certain that we are found, even though in ourselves we are lost—because Jesus has another word besides that of the Law to speak to us.  He says we are lost like a sheep, or a coin, or a son, that He wants to find.  And He has found us.

 

This is why we should never despair over the sinners we see around us, or become cynical that they cannot be brought to repentance—that God cannot find them.  He has already found them in His Son.  Though few may believe it, we cannot stop preaching it, for the sake of those who are lost—because our Lord does not stop seeking them, and rejoicing with the angels of God when one sinner repents.

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Invited to the Banquet of the Just. Trinity 2, 2018

jesus banquet parable.PNGSecond Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 14:15-24

June 10, 2018

Invited to the Banquet of the Just

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

“What the people wanted was a government which would provide a comfortable life for them, and with this as the foremost object ideas of freedom and self-reliance were obscured to the point of disappearing.  Athens was more and more looked on as a co-operative business, possessed of great wealth, to which all the citizens had a right to share…Athens had reached the point of rejecting independence, and the freedom she now wanted was freedom from responsibility.”

 

A famous scholar of Greek and Latin literature wrote this in the 1950’s.  The writer of the article I took it from[1] shows the similarity between the thinking of the citizens of the Greek democracy of Athens before its end and the thinking of the citizens of our republic now.  What people want, above all else, is a comfortable life, without the burden of responsibility and obligations to others.  The writer’s chief example of this is the collapse of the American family, of marriage, before expectations of “happiness,” “personal fulfillment,” and “what you deserve.”

 

It’s no sin to want to be comfortable, but even in earthly things there are things more important than being comfortable.  Didn’t you teach your kids that, and isn’t that what your parents taught you?  That it’s more important to do the right thing than to fit in?  That it’s more important to tell the truth than to lie to make things more comfortable for yourself?

 

But when people want to a comfortable life before everything else, they cannot be Christians.  When people want a comfortable life before anything else, they cannot be saved.

 

Not because there is no comfort in Christianity.  The Gospel is pure comfort.  God comforts us with the forgiveness of all our sins through His Son’s suffering and death in the Gospel.  But those who believe the Gospel will not have a comfortable life.  The life of a Christian isn’t comfortable because a Christian has a sinful nature that has to die every day.

 

The Gospel of Christ is an invitation.  He calls us to come to the feast of the righteous, the feast of the kingdom of God. He invites us freely, just as we are.

 

But to accept an invitation does mean you have to cancel your other plans.  If you decide to go to Bob’s birthday party at 6, you can’t go to Linda’s sweet 16 at the same time.   Or as Paul puts it, You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons (1 Cor. 10:21).  If you believe the Gospel of Jesus and are baptized into Jesus, you are joined with Jesus in His death and resurrection (Rom. 6).  That means you are refusing the invitation to go to the banquet of the world and do what it does and value what it values, so that you can go to the banquet of God.

 

It’s not a question of being good enough, it’s a question of which banquet you’re going to attend.  To go with Jesus to the banquet of the righteous means that every day you have to turn away from the crowd going to the banquet of Beelzebub, and crucify your own flesh that wants to go too.  We don’t do this on our own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the life of doing this is called “sanctification”—being made holy—where we daily return to our Baptism in which we were given a new life in Jesus, with whom we died and in whom we rise to live a new life.

 

But for this new life to grow, it must first begin.  In the Gospel reading Jesus was dealing with some people who had not come to the new life of holiness, though they spent their lives being religious—the Pharisees.  One of them said, in a way that sounds so pious and devout, Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!  (Luke 14:15)  He believed that when God raised the dead it would begin with a big feast, and he was expressing his desire to be there at that feast.

 

So Jesus tells a parable, a story, in which he tells the man that he is lying.  He actually doesn’t want to go to that feast at all!  He pretends like he loves God, but really he loves being comfortable in this world—fields, farm equipment, a wife.

 

Pretending like you are godly when you really don’t love God is called hypocrisy—being an actor.  That’s what Jesus told the Pharisees that they were.  Their acting convinced the majority of the people, but God saw through it.  It was religious whitewash over the same heart that does not love God that all people have.

 

Jesus told him, You are being invited to the feast of the kingdom of God, but you refuse to come.  As a result, God will send out His messengers to gather in the people in Israel who are low class, who aren’t as schooled in the Bible and theologians as you.  And then He will send them out even further to the pagan Gentiles, who worship ancestors and fertility gods and know nothing of Him.  They will come in and eat the feast of God, but you won’t even taste it, because you excuse yourself from coming.

 

The point of the parable is that God has invited you to the banquet of the righteous.  To His feast.  There is no cost to get in.  In fact, whatever goodness you might think you have is actually an impediment, because the only way you get into His banquet of eternal life is through His free gift.

 

But just like the people in Jesus’ story, most of the people who hear the Gospel don’t come to the feast.  They don’t accept God’s invitation, because they have other banquets to go to.  Some people reject the Gospel because it proclaims that their sins are forgiven through the death of Jesus, and they don’t want to acknowledge that they need to be freed and forgiven for their sins.  Lots of young people don’t want to give up fornicating—having sex outside of marriage.  They can’t come to the feast of eternal life because they don’t want to be forgiven.  If you want to be forgiven for something, that means you also want to stop doing it.

 

Others want to be excused for never hearing God’s Word or participating in the life of Christ’s body, the church.  I can’t, because I have to do something else, every Sunday, for the rest of my life.  They aren’t saying they are sick, or that they just keep struggling with their sinful nature even though they want to go.  They’re saying, “I don’t want to hear God’s Word, or show love to the other believers, but excuse me anyway.”  But really they’re excusing themselves from the banquet of eternal life.  Because eternal life is not just that we go to heaven when we die.  It’s that we will be like Christ, live like Christ, and see God face to face.  If you want to be excused from hearing God or being around His people here, heaven wouldn’t feel like paradise to you.  You want to be excused from that too.

 

But with most of us who are here today it is more subtle, this refusing God’s invitation.  Christians, of course, don’t refuse it.  We have a sinful flesh that wants to follow the world’s crowd to find our pleasure and comfort in this world and the things it can offer, and that wants to run away, far away, from Jesus Christ.  But Christians crucify their flesh daily and do not let it reign in them.

 

But the call of the flesh and the world is the same to us as to the world.  It says, “The most important thing for you is to be comfortable, happy, and fulfilled in this world.  If you have that, then you have God.”

 

What a damnable lie, no matter how many stadiums you can fill if you attach God’s name to it!  If that were the Gospel, then Jesus is a false prophet who deserved to be crucified!

 

Jesus was not comfortable, happy, and fulfilled in this world.  He was a man of sorrows, familiar with grief, because He loved God and He loved sinful men and did battle with sin and the devil for us.  As a result He was bereft of comfort, He was forsaken by God on the cross to save us!  Yet He not only had God—He was and is God.

 

You were baptized into this Jesus.  You were made a partaker in His death and also in His new life, resurrected from the dead, to serve God in freedom.  So you were not given a life where you behave decently and seek your own good, your material comfort; you were given a life in which your comfort is Jesus Himself, who died for you, a life in which you receive the honor of following Him, in carrying the cross that you might sit at His table as a Son of God with Him, as a conqueror with Him.

 

Our congregation isn’t here that it may be comfortable for us.  It’s here to proclaim Christ’s Word and give out His Sacraments, and to seek to extend the preaching of that word here and to the ends of the earth.

 

Our flesh desires to talk about how great salvation and God’s grace is while refusing His invitation.  The end result of this play acting is that we do not get to taste His feast of eternal life.

 

But our God is rich in grace.  He spreads a rich table.  On it are forgiveness of sins, rescue from eternal death, union with Christ, knowledge of God.  He gives us His Spirit so that we may begin to know all the treasures of His love, knowledge, power, grace, which are open to us, because He gives them to us along with His Son’s death for our transgressions.

 

And there is a lot of room at this table.  For thousands of years He has been gathering in the wretched from the ends of the earth, from the deepest paganism and worship of idols, from the most shameful immorality.  He has them sit down at the feast of eternal life.  He says, Here is my son, who suffered for you and is your righteousness.

 

So now he urges you to come in by His Spirit.  Do not be intimidated by the greatness of the one who spread the banquet or the great things that He offers you—the body and blood of the Holy One in exchange for your life spent serving yourself.

 

He invites you to come.  He urges you to come to the banquet of the righteous.  To renounce your love of yourself and this world, to renounce your pursuit of your own comfort, and to believe that His blood cleanses you of all your self seeking.

 

To come to His altar and eat His body and drink His blood that He gave for you.  He will not only forgive you through His body and blood.  He will strengthen you to live as He lived—in love toward God instead of your own comfort, and in love toward the people around you.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] Christopher DeGroot, “Duty to Others in an Age of Individuals,” takimag.com, June 8, 2018.

First Sunday after Trinity 2018: The Cause and Cure of Eternal Damnation

rich man and lazarus.PNGThe First Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 16:19-31

June 3, 2018

The Cause and Cure of Eternal Damnation

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

This year, during Holy Week, an interview with the Pope came out in an Italian newspaper.  In it, the interviewer claimed that Francis had said that souls which die in sin do not suffer eternal torment in hell.  “There is no hell; there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”  The Vatican put out a statement in response in which they pointed out that the interviewer was not quoting Pope Francis, but “reconstructing” what he had said from memory, and so “No quotation of the…article should be considered…a faithful transcription of the words of the holy father.”  Nevertheless, the interview was very disturbing to many Catholics, as it appeared just a few days before Easter.  Many Christians throughout the world wondered why the Pope did not respond with a clear and forceful repudiation of the teaching attributed to him.

 

On the other hand, mainline protestant churches have tolerated the denial of the reality of eternal damnation for a long time among their theologians and pastors.  And even when they affirm it, they are usually very unclear about who will actually be damned.

 

But in the Holy Gospel we have our Lord Jesus’ words about eternal damnation—its pain, its cause, and its cure.  People are damned because they seek their “good things”, their treasures, apart from God, but Jesus gives you repentance so that the Triune God is your “good thing.”

 

Jesus tells the story of the rich man who dressed in purple and linen and made merry every day, and the poor man, covered in sores, lying by his gate.  When the poor man dies, angels come and carry away his soul to be clasped to the chest of Abraham, the father of righteous people, to be embraced and consoled.  But when the rich man dies, no holy angels come.  His body is buried, and the next we hear about his soul, it is in Hades, which is the Greek word for the place of the dead.  It is a holding tank for the souls of those who have died in their sins.

 

And the rich man, who looked so blessed when he was alive, is now in torments, which means “being tortured.”  The word reminds us of the way the law used to deal with criminals up until the past few centuries.  The Romans tormented Jesus with flogging and with crucifixion; later they tormented the Christians by burning them and by sending them into the arena to be torn apart by the teeth of wild animals.  Even in more recent times, Europeans tortured criminals; they burned heretics at the stake, they broke criminals on the wheel, they drew and quartered them.

 

And the rich man’s soul is being tortured.  He mentions fire, but this can’t be a physical fire.  What kind of fire burns the soul?  People experience some of this in this life—when they are tormented by guilt or grief that they can’t get rid of.  But the Lord doesn’t tell us the nature of all the torments he endures, only that he is in so much pain that when he looks up and sees Lazarus, whom he used to see lying at his gate, he asks Abraham to have Lazarus wet the end of his finger and touch his tongue to cool it off.

But Abraham says, “No.”  For the damned, there is no relief, and there is no escape.  The damned can never cross over into paradise, and there is no relief, no easing of their pain.  Their pain has no end.  Hades is a holding tank for the souls of the unrighteous, but when judgment day comes and the final sentence is pronounced, Jesus will say to them, Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  (Matthew 25:41).  In the lake of fire, the never-ending fire, the unrighteous will suffer in both soul and body with no relief and no end.

 

Why does this horrible end—or rather, this horrible fate that never ends—come to the unrighteous?  Remember, child, that in your life you received your good things.  The unrighteous have their good things here and now.  Their treasure is not God and His praise.  That’s not what they want.  They want treasure here and now, whether that is money, or nice clothes and a nice house, or for people to speak well of them, or to be famous.

 

And if those things are a person’s treasure, that person is an idol worshipper—a servant of a false god.  No one really thinks of this as being a sin.  We think it’s evil to use foul language, or to murder, or to oppress people.  But the worst sin is to reject the true God—to not love Him and thank Him for our lives and the good things we have in this world, but to turn away from Him and give His thanks and praise to something or someone that is no god at all.

 

Luther says this in such a clear way in the Large Catechism: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress….That upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.

 

But what do people set their hearts on?  What do they trust?  There are so few people who live their lives setting their heart on the true God and on the eternal life He promises; everyone is worried about this life.  It is no different today than in the time Jesus preached this parable.  When Jesus preached: You cannot serve God and money (Luke 16:13) the Pharisees sneered at him and ridiculed him.  People found it just as difficult then to believe that you can still have God when you are, like Lazarus, stripped of health, prosperity, and the good things of this life.  The reason people find that impossible to believe is that people do not believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He is not their God; their god is a happy family, success at work, a nice house—their own comfort, pleasure, and happiness.

 

And are you any different?  No, even we who are baptized struggle with this and are tempted by this.  We constantly struggle with thinking that when we have “good things” here, we have God.

 

Will God really damn you for this?  He will, because when you seek your good things here in this world instead of your treasure being God and His praise of you in eternal life, you exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship created things instead of the Creator (Romans 1).

 

But there is a way of escape from eternal damnation. The rich man knew what it was, even in hell; even though it was too late for him, he hoped his brothers could be convinced to take this way of escape.  The way of escape is called repentance.

 

All members of St. Peter know about repentance without me telling you again, or you should, because it is the way of life for all who are baptized.  An unrepentant person has thrown aside his baptism and what God gives in baptism.  What does such baptizing with water indicate?  It indicates that the Old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. 

 

To repent literally means “to change your mind.”  It means on the one hand that instead of liking your sin, you hate it and want to be free of it.  We understand this when it comes to sins like drunkenness, or stealing.  But we seldom think of it when it comes to the first commandment.  We seldom see our need to repent of having our treasures here in this life, to repent of forgetting or despising God, and not rejoicing that He is ours even when we have the cross in this life, and that eternal comfort and glory awaits us.

 

But Jesus gives you repentance so that God becomes your good thing, your treasure.

 

Father Abraham tells us how.  They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.  Moses and the Prophets is shorthand for the books of the Old Testament.  Repentance is worked by God the Holy Spirit through the Word of God—through the reading of Scripture, through it being preached and taught faithfully.  But repentance comes in no other way.  If a person doesn’t listen to the Scriptures, which move us to repent of having false gods, nothing will help them—not even if someone comes back from the dead.

 

Listening to the Scriptures is the means God uses to work repentance.  “Listening” means, on one hand, listening.  It means you actually have to come to Church and hear the Word.  You have to read it in your home.  If a person won’t listen in that way, they won’t repent of their false gods.

 

But even more it means that if you are listening to God’s Word, He will cause you to repent.  He will do what you, by yourself, have no power to do.  He will cause you to repent not only that you said a swear word or got angry or did this or that bad thing, but that you have served false gods.  That you love earthly treasures, by nature, more than you love God.  He will give you repentance through His Word, and He will keep bringing you to repentance.

 

And even more, through His Word, Jesus will give you the second part of repentance—not merely that you are sorry for seeking other treasures instead of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but that you believe that He is your treasure. 

 

The Old Testament reading told us how Abraham became righteous and the father of all believers.  Abraham believed God, and God credited it to him for righteousness.  Abraham believed that God would bring the savior of the world out of his offspring, and God counted Him righteous.  He told Abram, I am your shield, your very great reward.  Abraham had no offspring at that point.  Even though he had wealth, he lived as an alien with no home.

 

But God was His reward because He promised, out of grace, that He would be Abraham’s God, and that He would send the Savior through Abraham’s line. He did not say, “I will be your God if you have a clean heart, or at least if you refrain from great sins.”  He promised Abraham out of grace, without works, without merit.  And Abraham believed God—and God counted Him righteous.

 

That is repentance.  We believe in Jesus as our righteousness, which God has promised us that He is.  God promises us, “Your sins are forgiven, despite the fact you are an idolater, because my Son suffered the torments of your idolatry, when He burned in the fire of my wrath for you on the cross—when He thirsted and received vinegar for His thirst.”

 

Your sins are forgiven because I have baptized you into His death and His resurrection.

 

I am with you as your God.  I will keep you and help you in this life, and I will send the angels when you die to carry your soul to be comforted forever with the righteous, and to see my glory.

 

Jesus gives us repentance so that God becomes our “good thing.”  Through His Word He gives us the Holy Spirit so that we believe that He is our God, that He has redeemed us from eternal punishment, and made a place for us in paradise with the righteous.  Through His Word in the water of Baptism he began this repentance for most of us; through His Word preached and read, through His absolution and His body and blood, He keeps us in repentance, so that we believe that He is our God and our great reward, and know that even when the good things of this life are taken from us, we have the great treasure, the Triune God, as our own.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The Festival of the Holy Trinity 2018. The Depths of God

trinity rublev.PNGThe Festival of the Holy Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Romans 11:33-36

May 27, 2018

“The Depths of God”

Iesu Iuva

 

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Blessed are You, Triune God, who behold the depths, and sit upon the cherubim!

 

The ocean, on average, is 12,000 feet deep.  A little over two miles deep.  At its deepest point, in the Mariana trench, the ocean is about 36000 feet deep—almost seven miles.  If Mount Everest was cast into the depths of the sea, into that trench, its top would be covered by almost a mile of water.  Human beings can swim a couple of hundred feet down.  How much of the depths of the ocean had human beings ever seen or looked into before they invented submarines and video cameras?  We hadn’t seen the deep places of the ocean at all.

 

But God beholds the depths.  He sees what, until recently, was hidden from our eyes at the bottom of the ocean.  He sees the depths like we see the earth.  And He sees much deeper places than the bottom of the ocean—into things so deep that we only know about them if we believe what He tells us.

 

He sees into the depths of human hearts and tells us that there is, by nature, nothing good in them.  They are like the deepest depths of the ocean, where no light penetrates.

 

He sees into the depths of time, and beholds the beginning and the end as though they were now.  Both the beginning and the end are hidden from us—we only can know how the universe began if we believe what God tells us about it.  And the future, and the end of time—we are blind to that as well.

 

God sees into the depths of eternity.  He knows the eternal destiny of each one of us here today, listening, perhaps by chance, on the radio.

 

God looks into the depths.  And we can only know anything about those depths into which He sees one way—if He tells us about them, and we trust what He says.

 

God Himself is a depth we cannot fathom in His very being.  He is one God, not three, He tells us repeatedly.  And yet the one God is three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Each person is equal to the other, but distinct.  The Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Holy Spirit.  They are three distinct persons.  Yet they are not three different beings, three different Gods.  God’s very being is a depth we cannot penetrate.  This is why people have rejected the doctrine of the Trinity since the Gospel began to be proclaimed.  We cannot conceive of it on our own.  Nor does it make sense to human reason when it is told to us.  We believe it only because God has revealed it to us, and given us grace and favor to believe it.

 

  1. We continually move out of God’s sight in the depths

 

God not only can see into the depths, He also wants to look into the depths.  He wants to look upon the lowly and the things that are nothing instead of the things that are exalted.  But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.  Is. 66:2 

 

But we do not like to be in the depths, to be low.  Martin Luther wrote: See how utterly God overthrows that which is lofty!  And yet we rage and rant for nothing but this empty honor, as [if] we had no honor to seek in heaven; we continually step out of God’s sight, so that he may not see us in the depths, into which he alone looks.

 

In the eleventh chapter of Romans Paul was discussing a problem that probably bothered many of the first Christians, who were Jewish by nationality.  The problem was, “Has God abandoned His people Israel, since none of them believed that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God?”

 

It is a familiar question or complaint.  People have voiced it at St. Peter for a long time.  Has God rejected His people?  (Rom. 11:1)  Has He rejected us?  We have no young people anymore.

 

Paul answers his own question: By no means!  For I myself am an Israelite…God has not rejected His people, whom He foreknew (Rom. 11:1-2).  Even if no other Jews believed the Gospel, Paul did, and this was proof that God did not reject the Jews.  And Paul reminds them how Elijah the prophet complained to God that he was the only Israelite left who still believed in the Lord.  But God had preserved a remnant of the people of Israel who had not abandoned the Lord for idols.  And Paul says: So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.  But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.  (Rom. 11:5-6)

 

So, has God rejected His people?  In this congregation?  In your family?  In our synod?  Our nation?  God forbid!  By no means.

 

It’s not true that there are no young people at St. Peter.  To many of you I still count as young, so there is one.  But there is one over there.  There are some others back there.

 

Has God rejected your family?  He has not.  After all, if no one else believes in Jesus and wears the name of the Holy Trinity, you do.

 

“Yeah, but that’s hardly enough people to sustain our congregation, or to preserve our family as a Christian family.”

 

And this is the sin.  When all of Israel worshipped Baal, and only Elijah and seven thousand others did not, it was a remnant, chosen by grace. 

 

That means that God did not preserve them because they didn’t worship Baal.  They didn’t worship Baal because God preserved them.  He showed them grace so that they remained faithful and believed in Him and not idols.

 

The remnant of young people at St. Peter who believe in Christ and hold to His pure Word without the admixture of the teaching of men and demons remain because of God’s grace.  The reason there are any of us is because God shows us favor, preserves us in the faith.  Otherwise there would be none.  We would all turn away from Christ and His Word and be lost.

 

The seven thousand and Elijah did not remain believing in the true God because there was anything human or earthly to encourage them to do that.  No, their very lives were in jeopardy.  Yet God preserved them, this little remnant.

 

So it is with our congregation, with our synod, with the Christians in our nation and the Christians in your family.  They are not preserved by their own efforts or works.  They are preserved by grace alone.  It happens because God shows favor to individuals and grants them to believe in Jesus through the preaching of the Gospel.

 

We don’t like this, because it puts us in a position of utter dependency, helplessness.  “In the depths.”

 

We have no power to save ourselves, to believe in Jesus, to keep on believing.  Everything depends on God’s grace.  For from Him and to Him and through Him are all things.  It is not from us that we are saved.  It is not from us that other people are saved.  From Him are all things.  Everything depends on God’s grace.

 

But we do not trust God very much, do we?  Why doesn’t He make us grow?  Why doesn’t He put more young people in the congregation?  Why does He let so many of the things that once went on at St. Peter decline or die?

 

Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?  (Rom. 11:33-34)

 

From this you can see not only the depth of our ignorance and weakness, but the depth of our helplessness in sin.  You cannot see it all the way to the bottom, but you can see it more deeply than you would without God’s Word.

 

Do you know the mind of the Lord?  Do you think God should take advice from you?

 

And the answer is, the answer of your flesh is: yes.

 

Because according to the flesh you do not believe in the Triune God.  You do not believe, according to your flesh, that He is gracious and kind, that He wants to save you and do good to you, your congregation, your family.

 

You don’t believe that He wants to save the lost more than you do.

 

You do not believe in His power, that He alone saves sinners, and preserves the community of sinners who believe in Jesus.  According to the flesh, you think that that community is ours to build and to preserve.  You don’t believe that God is able to preserve it when everything human and earthly is against its existence.

 

You prefer to believe, in your flesh, that we save.  That we cast the deciding vote in our own salvation.  That it depends on us to save others, that God doesn’t just work through us but actually needs us to help us make His gospel appealing to sinners.  That it depends on us to save the His community of saints.

 

Why does our flesh believe this?  Because then we are not helpless.  Then we can do something to save ourselves, to save those we love, to save what we call “our church.”

 

We don’t want to leave it all in God’s hands because, in the flesh, we do not trust Him or love Him.  We do not think the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is trustworthy.  In the flesh we are idol-worshippers.  We do not want Him as our God, just like the rest of mankind.

 

  1. God beholds the depths.

 

That is something of the depths that is in your heart.  It is a deep, impenetrable darkness, dead set against knowing the true God and trusting Him.

 

But the Triune God looks into the depths.  He beholds what is in the darkness, what is lowly, what is humanly impossible.

 

He is the God who gives life to the dead and calls the things that are not as though they were (Rom. 4:17).  As at the beginning of creation, when God created the heavens and the earth, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the deep, and the word of God came forth and made the light, the sky, the dry land, the sun, the animals, and man.

 

He looked into the depths when you were a little baby, born not only physically and mentally helpless, but also spiritually dead, born in the guilt of Adam, and under the control of the devil and the reprobate mind of your flesh.

 

And in those depths where you were, where salvation was completely out of your reach, and where there was nothing in you that could please Him, He looked with His favor on you.  His Spirit came upon you, His Word poured over you in the water of your baptism.  The Father adopted you as His child and covered your sin.  The name of the Trinity was placed upon you.  The Holy Spirit entered you to live in you, to give you a new life, to preserve you so that your old nature, your flesh, would not cause you to turn away from the Triune God.  So that you would believe the Gospel, that Jesus descended into the depths of your sin and paid for it all with His blood, so that it is no longer counted to you.

 

This is what the true God does.  This is what only the Holy Trinity does.  No other so-called gods behave this way.  Human beings construct idols that they can win over, that they can give something to in order that the idol will do what we want in return.

 

The Triune God gives to those who have nothing to give Him, who are in the depths.  He shows grace; and He can only be known by His kindness, His unearned favor, His grace.  Look at the Old Testament reading:  Isaiah, the priest, suddenly sees God and realizes what he is, despite the fact that he is a priest.  He is a man of unclean lips and should be destroyed now that he is in the presence of the Holy, Holy, Holy Lord.   But the Lord sends forth an angel to take away his sin.  And Jesus tells us that the Father has sent Him not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved.  No one forced the Father to do this.  No one asked the Father to do this.  He did this before the world even thought of it.  He gave His only-begotten Son in exchange for us, that whoever receives the free gift of His Son would have eternal life.

 

The Triune God looks into the depths.  But now Paul invites us to consider the depths of God, even though we cannot look into them on our own.

 

Oh the depth of the wisdom of God!  The Triune God is wiser than we are.  He planned our salvation through the death of His Son.  This is a wisdom that the world simply does not understand.  We would never have thought of it.  It made no sense to the disciples when Jesus was crucified.  But from the cross of Jesus came forth resurrection from the dead, forgiveness of sins, eternal life.  How much deeper is the wisdom of God than we can comprehend? So we should trust that His great wisdom is planning all things for good, for our salvation, for our glory.

 

Oh the depth of the knowledge of God!  God knows the end and the beginning.  He already knows how everything will turn out for you, for our congregation, our nation, for every soul.  He also knows what is best for you, our congregation.  He knows the hairs on your head.  He knew you before you were born.

 

Oh the depth of the riches of God!  God’s riches are deeper than the deepest parts of the sea.

 

He is inexhaustibly rich in grace.  You cannot have sinned so much that you make God’s grace toward you run out.  He does not deal with us according to our works, but according to His grace in Christ Jesus, by which He forgave our sins and put them on Jesus, and His righteousness on us.

 

And His grace leads us to the riches of His glory.  Those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.  He did not predestine His chosen ones to earthly wealth or prestige or even comfort.  He predestined us to bear the image of His Son, risen from the dead, shining with the glory and honor of God.  And what He chose us for He is doing, He is working, with all wisdom and knowledge.  Not with our help: Who has given to the Lord, that He should repay him? 

 

No, He is working out your preservation and your glorification.  And He will do it.  He will not fail.

 

Instead of your limited knowledge and wisdom, the one with all wisdom and all knowledge, an inexhaustible depth of wisdom and knowledge, is working to save you and His elect.

 

To be in the depths where He looks in the unfathomable riches of His grace is the best place to be.

 

Blessed are You, Triune God, who behold the depths, and sit upon the cherubim!

 

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

Soli Deo Gloria

Still There Is Room. Trinity 2/ Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. June 25, 2017.

presentation of the augsburg confession catholic faith.jpgThe Second Sunday after Trinity/Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 14:25-34

June 25, 2017

“Still There Is Room”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

On June 25th, 1530, the chancellor of Saxony (a state in eastern Germany), presented, or read out loud, what we now call “The Augsburg Confession” before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles the fifth, and the gathered princes of the Empire.

 

The Emperor had called this meeting at Augsburg because he wanted to get the princes to give him support in his defensive war against the invading Muslim Turks.  And to accomplish this goal, he said he wanted to settle the religious controversy that had been raging in the Empire for 13 years, ever since the monk Luther had published his 95 Theses on Oct. 31, 1517.  Up until this time there had been little discussion with the Lutherans.  When Luther was brought before the Emperor at Worms in 1519 at a similar gathering, they simply asked if he was ready to renounce the teaching found in his books.  When he said no, the Emperor published the Edict of Worms, which pronounced Luther an outlaw, meaning that anyone who found him could kill him.  Anyone who protected Luther, printed his books, or aided and abetted his teaching was guilty of high treason.  There was never any discussion in the Empire, or the leadership of the Church, as to whether what had been taught by Luther and the churches of the Reformation was faithful to Scripture.

 

So when the Lutheran princes heard that the Emperor wanted to try to settle the controversy in a God-pleasing way, they welcomed the opportunity, even though at least some of them doubted his intentions.  They came to Augsburg and prepared a statement explaining the changes they had made to the traditional practices in the Church.  Then, because a theologian had published a book that falsely accused the Lutherans of teaching things they did not, they wrote up a confession of what they taught on the chief articles of Christian doctrine, believing that they would be recognized as Christian, biblical, and catholic—that is, consistent with what Christians had always believed.

 

But it quickly became apparent that no real discussion was going to happen at Augsburg.  It was a political move.  The Emperor wanted support for his war efforts, and at the same time to make it look as if the Lutheran or “evangelical” teaching had been considered and rejected as false.

 

Yet the Lutheran princes came anyway and had the confession read publicly, despite the efforts of its opponents to keep it from being read, or to have it read in a language most people couldn’t understand, or to keep very many people from hearing it.

 

They confessed—even though doing so made it look like they were prolonging the controversy, and risking the well-being of the Church and the Empire in the face of the Muslim invaders.

 

And because they confessed the faith, the Church was given a pattern of right, faithful, biblical teaching that would outlive those men.  It was a c0nfession that Luther did not write; he couldn’t be present for the Diet of Augsburg because he was an outlaw.  And so the Augsburg Confession was not a writing of Luther or based on Luther.  It was a statement of the biblical, Christian faith that Luther taught but did not invent—the faith taught in Scripture, confessed by Jesus.

 

At the center of the Augsburg Confession is the teaching that defines the Lutheran Church, but also defines Christianity.  Before the Augsburg Confession it had never been clearly summarized in a creed or a church confession except in the pages of Scripture.  Yet it is the center of the Bible, the beating heart of its life.  Jesus taught it to the Pharisees in today’s Gospel reading.  Paul discusses it in the 2nd chapter of the epistle to the Christians in Ephesus.  I am talking about the article of Christian doctrine on justification.  The 4th Article of the Augsburg Confession says it like this:

 

It is taught that we cannot attain the forgiveness of sins and righteousness before God through our merit, work, and satisfactions [for our own sins]; rather, that we receive the forgiveness of sins and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ has suffered for us, and that our sins are forgiven us for His sake, and righteousness and eternal life are given us as a gift.  For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness before Him, as St. Paul says [in the epistle] to the Romans in the 3rd and 4th chapters.

 

Righteousness before God and the forgiveness of our sins, and the eternal life that follows righteousness, are given to us as a gift through Christ, who suffered for us.  We don’t become righteous before God, we are not forgiven our sins through earning it.  We don’t work to achieve righteousness by being a monk, or praying, or giving money, or doing better at keeping the ten commandments.  We don’t win forgiveness from God by being sorry, punishing ourselves, or doing good works to atone for the sins we’ve committed.

 

Forgiveness of sins, righteousness in God’s sight, and the eternal life that comes as a result of being forgiven and righteous is given by God as a gift in His Son’s suffering and death for our sins.  And those who believe that God forgives them only because of Jesus’ suffering and death in their place—who, as Paul says in Romans 4 do not work but trust God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is counted as righteousness.

 

Just like Jesus tells the Pharisees.  God’s banquet is not earned.  People are called, invited to the banquet.  The qualifications we might think we have are irrelevant.  The poor, blind, crippled, and lame are just as qualified to be at the banquet as the people who buy fields and oxen.  What qualifies them is that they are called, invited—and do not refuse the invitation.  Refusing the invitation is unbelief.  Those who do not refuse—those who are brought in to the banquet of eternal life—are those who believe that God lets them in for Christ’s sake.

 

Of course, there are other churches that believe we become righteous before God through faith in Christ alone besides those who hold the Augsburg Confession. Baptists, Presbyterians, non-denominational churches, Pentecostals and Charismatics, and so on.  But if you get people from many of these churches to talk honestly to you about what they think of the Lutheran church, they will often say what my dad used to say: “Luther was good, but he didn’t go far enough.”  Or, more rudely, some may say something like, “Lutherans are basically catholic-lite.  You are still too Catholic.”

 

Even though we seem to agree on the article of justification, we do not understand the word “faith” the same way.  Many Lutherans are confused about this also.  What is faith?  How do you come to faith in Christ?  The confessors at Augsburg wrote:

 

To obtain this faith, God has instituted the office of preaching, that is, given the Gospel and Sacraments, through which, as through instruments, He gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where He wills, in those who hear the Gospel…the Anabaptists and others are condemned, who teach that we obtain the Holy Spirit without the bodily Word of the Gospel, through their own preparations and works.

 

The forefathers of the non-denominational churches, of the reformed churches, of the Baptist and Pentecostal churches, did not believe that the Holy Spirit was given through the “bodily Word of the Gospel”.  They didn’t think it was enough to hear the preaching of God’s Word, or hear the Bible read or taught, or read it yourself.  They definitely didn’t believe it was enough to be baptized, receive the Lord’s Supper, or be absolved.  Faith comes not just through those things, but through the addition of your decision to accept Jesus, or through a powerful experience of being converted.  They taught that in the days when the Augsburg Confession was written, and they still teach it.  And so they think our reliance on preaching Christ’s Work and on baptizing, receiving the body and blood of the Lord, is “Catholic”—by which they mean mechanical, ritualistic.

 

The Roman Catholic princes assembled at Augsburg did not get converted en masse to the evangelical faith taught in the Augsburg Confession.  And the “Anabaptists and others” didn’t either. In fact, they grew in power, and replaced the faith taught by Luther and the Augsburg Confession in many places—in England, France, Holland, Hungary, the Czech lands, and even in many of the German states.

 

And so we come to our time and place.  We all know that, in terms of numbers and influence, Christianity isn’t doing so well in America or in the lands they used to call “Christendom”—in Europe.  Christianity in general is declining, in some places even dying, it appears.  Just like the whole of Christendom was threatened by the invading Turkish armies, today all of Christendom around us is retreating—even if it appears to be growing in Africa and Asia.  And when all Christian Churches are in decline, it seems obscene to many people—even to many Lutherans—to be harping on the distinctiveness of the Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Confession.  It seems like we are rooting for our team instead of for Jesus.

 

But this is always how it has been.  It seemed rude and unnecessary for Jesus to insist to the Pharisees that He was the Messiah, the promised one of God, who would give us rest; to tell them that their strenuous efforts to obey God were good for nothing, and that they could only come to God’s feast on the basis of His call, His invitation, not on the basis of their works.  They could come to God’s feast only through faith in Him.

 

The Pharisees didn’t accept this message from Jesus for the same reason that the Roman Catholic bishops, princes, and emperor didn’t accept it, for the same reason people today don’t want to hear it.

 

In Jesus’ parable, the people who refused the invitation to the banquet were more interested in the land they just bought, the oxen they needed to test, the wife they just married, than in the banquet of the Lord.  And that is the way people are today.  They were that way in Jesus’ day, in the days of the Augsburg Confession, and today.  The emperor cared about fighting the Turk and keeping the empire secure more than he cared about the truth of God’s Word and the eternal life that it brings.  And we see all around us that people are interested in getting a new car, following sports, getting their kids into fun activities, and so on.  But eternal life?  Righteousness?  Forgiveness of sins?  The pure teaching of God’s Word?  The vast majority of people, if you tell them that that is what your church is offering, will think, if not say out loud, “If that’s all you’ve got, your church is going to close.”

 

But if we take seriously what the Bible teaches about human nature, like the Augsburg Confession does, we would not be surprised at this.  In the second Article, it confesses:

 

Further it is taught among us that since the fall of Adam, all men who are born in the natural way are conceived and born in sin.  That is, they all from their mother’s womb are full of evil lusts and inclinations, and by nature are not able to have any true fear of God or true faith in God.  They also teach that this same inborn disease and inherited sin is truly sin, and damns all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit to the eternal wrath of God. 

 

People by nature are unable to fear God or trust Him.  That is the sin in which we are born.  But by nature nobody feels the force of this. It’s not hard to recognize that people are broken.  Many people understand without being taught from the Bible that people are not born good.  You only have to look around and see that people do evil far more easily than they do good.

 

But we do not recognize that even when we are good, humanly speaking, we are still not able to fear God or trust Him in reality—and that this inability deserves and will receive God’s eternal wrath and punishment.  People do not believe this.  Even Christians don’t comprehend their guilt and God’s serious anger against it.  We don’t fully recognize our helplessness in it.

 

It is a counter-cultural message.  It doesn’t matter whether you are liberal or an arch-conservative.  No one, by nature, is able or willing to fully grasp this.  We want to believe it is in our power to draw near to God—or that we are already near Him.

 

It is a work of God when a person recognizes and believes what the Bible says about his helplessness in sin.  It is a work of God to become spiritually poor, blind, crippled, and lame—to be terrified at your sin and cry out for God’s grace.

 

For that person, the invitation of the Gospel is a banquet of joy in itself.  It says, “Believe what God promises.  His Son suffered for you, His Son received the wrath of God against Your sin.  His Son merited and earned the forgiveness of your sins.  His Son fulfilled all of God’s laws in your place.  Through Him God is reconciled to you, forgives you, counts you righteous, clothes you with Jesus’ honor and righteousness.  Through Him God invites you to sit down at His table for eternity and eat with Him, feast with Him, drink wine and celebrate with Him, as His son and heir.”

 

And the Gospel comes into our ears in the words of Jesus to those who are condemned to the eternal wrath of God and says, “There is still room.”  If you persecuted the Church, like Paul; if you have been a self-righteous Pharisee; if you have lived an ungodly life while bearing the name of Christ, and have committed the sins we all recognize as sins, there is still room.  God has gathered in wretched sinners from the broad streets, the alleys, the highways and hedges, through his servants who proclaimed the Gospel—but there is still room.  You are invited, and your place is set.  The meat is steaming.  The wine is sparkling in the glass.  He invites you to come and eat and drink today at the altar a taste of what you will enjoy forever in heaven.  Your garments of righteousness, dyed red with the blood of Jesus, gleaming white with His innocence and glory, are waiting in your Baptism.

 

We should not fear when we see that many are simply not interested.  Jesus said that is how it would be.  That is how it was for Him.  That is also how it went after the Augsburg Confession was read.  And yet Jesus’ Church continues.  It advances under the appearance of weakness and defeat until the final victory appears, when He appears in glory.  In the midst of her weakness, He works in power. As the Confession says:

 

It is also taught that there must always be and remain in existence one holy Christian Church, which is the assembly of all believers, among which the Gospel is purely preached and the holy Sacraments are given out in accordance with the Gospel.

 

However, because in this life many false Christians and hypocrites, and even manifest sinners remain among the believers, nevertheless the sacraments are powerful and effective, even if the priests who give them out are not godly.

 

Even when the Church seems to be overrun by its own sinful members, Christ is present with us, spreading His feast, giving the gift of faith, inviting and gathering His Church.  In that confidence we confess with the confessors of long ago, trusting that our Lord will continue to gather and preserve His Church around His pure Word in the face of all opponents, all sin, and all the works of the devil.

 

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

 

SDG

The Eternal Weight of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. Trinity 1, 2017. Gen. 15:6, St. Luke 16:19-31 Confirmation of D. Roots, Father’s Day

abraham's bosom bible of souvignyTrinity 1 (Confirmation of Delainey Roots, Father’s Day)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 16:19-31 (Gen. 15:6)

June 18, 2017

The Eternal Weight of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Beloved in Christ:

Delainey, with whom we rejoice on the day of your confirmation,

Delainey’s parents, Mike, Amanda, and her family,

You, her congregation, praying for and watching over those who are being taught the faith and those who are confirmed,

 

As well as those listening on the radio and visiting today:

 

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

 

Today the text to which we give our attention is the Gospel reading.  However, I want to draw your attention also to a verse from the Old Testament reading, which is necessary to understand the Gospel reading.  It is this, Genesis 15:6–

 

Abram believed the Lord; and He counted it to him as righteousness. 

 

That verse is necessary to understand the Gospel reading.  It teaches the doctrine without which nothing in the Bible can be understood, the doctrine without which the Christian faith collapses, the teaching that touches every other article of the Christian faith, the teaching that caused and drove the Reformation that began 500 years ago.

 

I am referring to the teaching of justification.

 

Prior to the Reformation, people generally didn’t talk much about justification, but if they did, they would have said that a person is justified, that is, he becomes righteous before God, by actually being righteous.  They would have said: when God justifies a person, first of all at baptism, He makes that person totally righteous.  He takes away original sin, creates the person anew.  A baptized, justified person has no sin.  He only has an ongoing weakness that makes him inclined to sin.  But that weakness itself is not sin.

 

After being justified in baptism, they taught, the Christian receives God’s grace in the sacraments—Holy Communion, etc.  And cooperating with the Holy Spirit, they would do good works that pleased God.  And on the last day God would pronounce a person like this righteous on the basis of those righteous deeds.

 

But the doctrine of justification taught in the Reformation, which they drew from the Scriptures, was different.  They taught, along with this verse from Genesis, which St. Paul quotes again in Romans 4, that when God justifies a person, He counts or reckons or imputes the righteousness of Christ to the person.  Abram believed God, and God counted it to him for righteousness, says the verse.  That means:  Abram was not righteous in himself.  God counted him righteous, declared him to be righteous.  Abram was righteous not because of what he was in himself, or what he did.  If God judged him on that basis, Abram would be unrighteous, lawless, guilty before God.  But Abram believed God, and God counted or reckoned him righteous by faith.

 

That is how Abram became righteous before God.  That is how people today become righteous before God.  That was the teaching of the Reformation.  We are righteous without our works, through faith alone in Jesus, who atoned for our sins with His suffering and death.

 

Now why did that teaching rock the world?  Why must it continue to be our church’s treasure, our message to the world, instead of some other message or way of gaining followers?  Why am I telling it to you again, Lainey, on your confirmation day, when I no doubt want to preach something that will mean something to you years from now when you look back on this day?

 

Because eternity depends on this teaching.  Whether people are interested in it or not, whether it fills the pews or not, whether our flesh tells us this teaching is worth the attention we place on it, when we are 13 or when we are 70, the teaching of justification by the imputation of righteousness is the teaching that makes a person righteous and blessed for eternity.  If this teaching is not taught, or if it is minimized, and as a result it is not believed, people are damned for eternity.

 

This is what we see in the Gospel reading: The eternal weight of the right teaching of the doctrine of justification.

 

Jesus tells a story.  There is a certain rich man who has a party every day.  He dresses like a king.  He lives like a king.  Everyone wants to come to his parties.

 

Then there is a poor man named Lazarus.  He is covered with sores, like Job.  And someone takes and lays him outside the gate of the rich man, which means—because of his sickness, Lazarus has to depend on charity to go on living his tormented life.  Lazarus longs to eat the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table, and while he lies there, outside the gate, dogs come and lick his sores.

 

One day Lazarus dies and the angels come and take him to Abraham’s bosom.  That means, he goes to be with Abraham, the righteous man, in heaven.  To recline on someone’s bosom in Jesus’ day meant you were a close friend or you were loved by them.  Jesus is telling us that Lazarus is a son of Abraham.  He is one of the stars in the sky that God showed Abraham.  So Lazarus will inherit the blessing of Abraham; he will share in the new heavens and the new earth where God will dwell with people again like He did in the Garden of Eden.

 

Also, Jesus says, the rich man died and was buried.  He goes to hell, and in torment, he looks up and sees Lazarus lying on Abraham’s bosom, and he cries out to Abraham, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.  But Abraham says, Child, remember that you received your good things in life and Lazarus bad; now he is comforted, and you have torment.  Besides, there is a great chasm fixed between us and you, so that no one can come from hell up to us, nor can anyone in heaven come to where you are.

 

Jesus leaves us to imagine the torment of the damned.  He talks about flames.  Being burned alive is probably one of the most painful ways to die. But the rich man doesn’t die.  He longs even for a slight relief from his pain—just a drop of water on his tongue, but he can’t have one.

 

Sometimes people say, “Well, at least in hell I’ll be with all my friends.”  But you notice that if the rich man has friends around, he doesn’t notice them.  He is alone.  But yet he can look up and see heaven, and the saints in heaven.  He can see heaven, which he rejected in life, but he can only look at the joy that he will never have.

 

Jesus tells us this story and pictures the reward of the righteous and the unrighteous.  It is eternal in both cases.  The righteous will be comforted forever, but the unrighteous, will be tormented unceasingly, in both body and soul.

 

The obvious question we want to ask is: what made the rich man unrighteous, and Lazarus righteous?  Does being rich make you evil, and being poor and suffering make you good in God’s sight?  No; Abraham himself was wealthy, but he didn’t end up in hell.

 

Delainey, you have already learned the yardstick by which we are able to evaluate whether actions, thoughts, or the people who do them are righteous or unrighteous.  The measure of righteousness is the Law of God, the ten commandments.  And the summary of God’s Law is one word: Love.  “Love is the fulfillment of the Law”, St. Paul writes in Romans.

 

The rich man was unrighteous because he lacked love.  That is clear enough.  His life was a celebration.  Meanwhile, a sick man laid outside his gates naked, longing every day for someone to pick up the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.  A righteous person doesn’t look on the suffering of his neighbor and feel nothing.  He has compassion, and he acts out of compassion.

 

Today is Father’s day, and it got me thinking about what it is that defines a father who is faithful to his calling.  To be called “Father” is a high honor, because that is what the first person of the Trinity is called.

 

Fathers, of course, beget children.  They don’t give birth to them, but they beget them upon their mothers.  But it’s obvious that a man who simply creates a child has not really deserved the name “Father.”  A Father creates life, but he also cares for and nurtures his children.  He provides for them; teaches them; disiciplines them; plays with them; loves them.  That is how God the Father deals with human beings.  He created us, but He continues to nurture and sustain the lives He created.  He does this not only for those who love and obey Him but those who don’t.  All throughout this life He seeks to teach us.  He sends us pain in order to discipline us.  He does all this out of “fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness” in us.

 

God is love, says the Epistle reading.  And so fathers love.

 

On the other hand, what marks a father who is not doing his job, or what marks a bad father?  A bad father is selfish.  A bad father drinks up his paycheck, and his kids go hungry.  A bad father beats his wife or abandons his children.  A bad father doesn’t teach his children what they need to know to live life well.  A bad father cares about himself instead of his kids.

 

Bad fathers are selfish—which means, they act contrary to the nature of God the Father, who is love.

 

The unrighteous will suffer eternal torment in hell; and the unrighteous are those who, like the rich man, and like bad fathers, are selfish and do not love.

 

And what every hearer this morning should be asking themselves is, “Do I love?  Am I selfish?”  That question should burn within us, lest we burn with the answer to the question in eternity, like the rich man.

 

The answer to this question, the honest answer, is what?  Am I selfish?

 

Every father here probably remembers times, many times, when they selfishly ignored their children because they had other things they wanted to do.

 

Even more, most fathers are selfish in a way that they do not realize.  Most fathers shirk the responsibility of teaching and modeling the most important thing to their children—the word of God.  Just like Adam kept quiet in Eden when his wife was deceived by the serpent.  We see this everywhere in the church.  We simply do not have men today who lead spiritually, either in their families or in the church.  Come to bible class and you will see that 95 percent of the class is women.  Where are the men in the church setting the example for the congregation in hearing and learning God’s Word?  Beyond their own need for it, they forget the need of the young for examples of godly men.  They do not think of the people in their lives who do not hear God’s Word from them because they are not growing in the knowledge of it.

 

But of course, it isn’t just men.  This lack of self-giving love, this focus on ourselves and our own well-being and happiness, our ignoring the needs of others, is the way of the sinful flesh.  It operates in every one of us.  God is love; self-giving love.  Love does not think of itself, it thinks of others.  But we think of ourselves in nearly everything.  Even godly Christians who fight against it still do so.  Even Abraham, the man of God did, when he, for instance, asked his wife to tell Pharaoh that she was his sister, and Pharaoh married her.  He did this not out of love for Sarah, but out of love for himself, fearing for his life.

 

Yet God counted Abraham righteous, because God pointed at the stars and said, “So shall your offspring be,” and Abraham believed him.

 

And so God counts righteousness to all of us who, in the midst of seeing our selfishness, and our worthiness of the rich man’s fate, believe that God justifies us for the sake of Jesus who loved us and gave Himself for us.

 

Jesus is the star to which God points us.  He shines with the glory of God, even in the agony of the cross, where he was covered with wounds like Lazarus, and the spit of his enemies, like Lazarus’ wounds were covered with the spit of dogs.  He shines like a star there, because we see a man who loved and fulfilled God’s law.  God points us to Him and says, He is your righteousness.  He points us to His agony and death on the cross, where He endured the torment of God’s wrath and says, “Your hellfire is quenched.  Your sins are removed.”

 

And whoever dares to believe this, even while the fire of sin and selfishness still burns inside of him, God counts righteous.  God justifies him.

 

If we want to be better fathers, better daughters and sons, better Christians, the solution is not found in exercising your will.  It is found in Jesus, who is perfect in love.  To hear God’s word and believe His promise that you are righteous for Jesus’ sake.  Then the love of God who is love lives in us and flows from us.

 

Even more importantly, even more important than growing in sanctification, is God’s certain assurance in this teaching that we are sons of Abraham and sons of God.  How can I be saved from the torment of the rich man?  Only through Jesus who fulfilled the law.  Only believing that He did this for me.

 

Delainey, you have many years ahead of you to live in faithfulness to the pledges you made at Baptism and which you will make again today.  And it is so easy for the selfish, loveless nature of the flesh to overcome us and lead us into sin, to take us captive.  How can you be faithful?

 

Only through this star to which God points you, this river of water quenching your thirst, Jesus Christ the righteous, through whom God declares you again and again to be righteous and justified.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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