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The Best Thing You Never Did. Last Sunday of the Church Year 2019.

November 24, 2019 Leave a comment

jesus crucifixion criminalsLast Sunday of the Church Year

Emmaus Lutheran Church

St. Luke 23:27-43

November 24, 2019

The Best Thing You Never Did

Jesu Juva!

 

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

 

Zion hears the watchmen singing, And all her heart with joy is springing,

She wakes, she rises from her gloom.

For her Lord comes down all glorious, The strong in grace, in truth victorious,

Her star is ris’n, her light is come.  (LSB 516 stanza 2)

 

Imagine watchmen singing?  You would expect a soldier to cry out with a hoarse and ragged voice; but Zion’s watchmen sing, according to the old Lutheran hymnwriter.  The watchmen of Zion, God’s city, sing out when her king approaches, because Zion is a city of song and of joy, and especially so when her king appears.  Then the city of God’s heart leaps for joy.

 

The season of the church year that is coming next Sunday—you could say it is the “dress-rehearsal” season for the coming of Jesus.  Advent is like a “preparedness drill”, like the military or first responders might do.  We prepare to enter into the joy of our Lord’s first appearing in the world as a baby in the manger; we also prepare for His coming in glory as King and judge.

 

And today, the last Sunday of the church year, is also a day for remembering the Lord’s coming in glory to “judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”

 

Yet the Gospel reading for this Sunday does not show our King appearing in royal splendor or dressed in the authority of a judge.  Instead He appears in shame, weakness, and humiliation.

 

In our country judges wear black robes that signify the gravity of their office and the authority to apply the power God has given the state to punish the guilty.  In Europe the judges even wear white wigs and ruff collars, the clothing of centuries past, to show that they are representing traditions of law in that country that go back beyond our great-grandfathers.

 

But Jesus has no garb, no splendor to mark Him as a judge or King, as one who bears an office.  He has no clothing at all.  He is naked.  And after they strip Him and nail Him to the cross and lift Him up naked, they cast lots for His clothes.

 

It’s hard to picture our Jesus in such indignity.  Most of us have called Him Lord and God since we were children.  And rightly so; in the Epistle reading St. Paul writes that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created….And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together…For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.  (Col. 1:15-19)

 

But the One in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell is now emptied of glory, stripped of dignity; naked, pierced through hands and feet, hung up to die on a tree between two wicked men.

 

Yet you can see that, despite His humiliation, Jesus continues to speak like a man with authority, like a man in a position of power.  As He is being led away to the place called Skull he tells the women who follow Him, wailing over Him, to wail over themselves and their children instead.  When they crucify Him, He prays to His Father to forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).  Even though He is nailed to the accursed cross, He prays as the One who has God’s ear.  And then He promises paradise to one of the men hanging on the cross next to Him.  Though Jesus is stripped naked, nailed to a cross, lacking every visible sign of authority and God’s favor, He behaves as the judge of the world—even on the cross.

 

He behaves that way because that is who He is, even hanging on the cross.  On the cross itself He judges the world, condemning it as He is crucified, and also pardoning it.

 

And because Jesus has already condemned and pardoned the world on the cross, repentant sinners who believe in Jesus can and should greet the day of His return and rejoice as the watchmen sing out His nearness.

 

Jesus condemns the world from the cross.  It isn’t that Jesus pronounces condemnation on the world from the cross.  Pay careful attention to the fact that even while He hangs bleeding and accursed, He gives a guilty man paradise.  Even as they are driving nails into His hands Jesus prays for the forgiveness of His tormenters to His Father.  Note this.  Jesus does not want to condemn the world.  Jesus does not want to doom the sinners of the world to hell.  He wants to save us all.  Even the ones who hammer nails into His hands.  Even the leaders who falsely accuse Him and hand Him over to be put to death.

 

But Jesus’ presence draws out of the world its own condemnation.

 

The world hates God.  Human beings hate God by nature.  We hate God because He interferes with us doing as we wish.  He not only makes us feel guilty for cursing, for getting drunk, for lusting, for seeking revenge, for coveting—He condemns us to die.

 

So we run from God.  We run so far we forgot we ran from Him.  Then we complain that He seems so far away.

 

But what if God came near to us?  What if He came near to us and made Himself like us so that He wouldn’t overwhelm us, terrify or destroy us?  What if He made Himself weak enough that we could harm Him?  What would we do then?  Would we come back to Him?

 

Jesus told a parable about this right before He was arrested to the priests; in His parable there was a vineyard hired out to renters, and the renters saw the son of the owner coming to collect some of the wine of the vineyard.  What do they do?  They say, “Look, this is the heir.  Let’s kill him and the vineyard will be ours.”

 

And that’s what the human race did when God came near to us, in peace, to reconcile us, to bring us back.  We killed Him.  Yes, it was the Roman soldiers who beat Him and drove in the nails and the spear; yes it was Pontius Pilate who gave the order.  And it was the leaders of the Jews who handed Him over to Pilate with false accusations.  But they were only doing what you have done every time you knew God’s will and did what was contrary to it.  And every time too that you sinned in ignorance.  You wished there was no God who commanded you to obey your parents, to pray and learn His Word, or not to hate, or to be chaste, or to not speak evil of your neighbor.

 

People have been doing that ever since Adam and Eve first hid from God.  But at the cross of Jesus, human beings did the worst thing they ever did.

 

People have done lots of horrible things in the thousands of years we have been on earth.  There have been genocides.  There have been oppressions, powerful and rich holding down the weak and the poor.  And there have been the countless personal sins that haunt our lives—the lazy man who doesn’t support his family, the husband who abuses wife and children, those who cheat at business, those who lie their whole lives.

 

But the worst thing human beings ever did was humiliate and put to death God’s Son when He came to save them.  God gave His dearest treasure and mankind killed Him.  This is why Jesus prayed for us as He was being nailed to the wood.  This is God’s beloved Son, in whom He is well-pleased.  As the crucified criminal said, He has done nothing wrong.  Neither toward His Father, nor toward His brothers in flesh and blood.  He came for one purpose only—to help us and reconcile us to God.

 

Of course you will say, correctly—It was God’s will that He die for our sin.  It was written before it happened.  And that is true.  But that doesn’t make it a good work on our part.  It is the greatest act of wickedness on the part of the human race, to treat shamefully and kill God’s Son.  Our guilt is exposed in Jesus’ naked, crucified body.  His shame is really our shame.  If there was anything good in the human race, would we have nailed the firstborn of all creation to a cross?

 

But we could not avoid it.  His presence exposes our sin.  Either He must die, or we must.

 

Son on the cross we see the condemnation of mankind and each of us exposed already—that we killed the Son of God.  And you have your share in this too, because by your thoughts words, and deeds, you have rebelled against this King.

 

That is the worst thing human beings ever did.  It is the worst thing you ever did.

 

 

2.

 

But Jesus the King also accomplishes another judgment on the cross.  He justifies the ungodly (Romans 4).  Or as St. Paul wrote in Colossians, He delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into His Kingdom.  (Col. 1:13-14).  He gave us His Kingdom.

 

This, again, is difficult.  A man naked on a cross, stripped of everything, bestows on us a Kingdom.  A man condemned to a cursed death between two criminals lifts us up to Paradise.

 

But what is more difficult still is that we killed this King sent to save us.  This is the worst thing we have ever done, the crowning evil atop the heap of human evil.  How can He now call us righteous and give us a Kingdom?

 

3 successive people or groups of people mock Jesus’ claim to be the anointed one, the King.  The first are the rulers, who say, “If He is the Christ, let Him save Himself like He saved others.”  The second group is the soldiers, who offer Jesus sour wine to drink and say, “If you are really the King of the Jews we have heard about, if you are the One who will rule all nations, even Rome, save yourself from this cross.”  Both of these groups don’t ask Jesus to save them: they ask Him to save Himself, and prove that He is Christ.  Because obviously a King who is going to defend and deliver others first has to be able to save Himself, right?

 

Finally one of the other hanged men rails at Him: “Aren’t you the Christ?  Save yourself and us!”  He seems to think Jesus has the ability to come down from the cross, and he is angry at Jesus for not saving himself (and the criminals as well).

 

But the last criminal doesn’t talk like this.  He says, “We are getting what we have deserved for our deeds.  But this man has done nothing wrong.”  Then he turns to Jesus and asks for a gift: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

 

The last criminal rightly recognizes that his deeds brought him to the cross.  His own works brought him to die shamefully, painfully, and under a curse.

 

Our works brought the Christ, the chosen one of God, to be crucified.  Our works crucified God’s beloved, the One who came to rescue us.  There is no refuge for us in our works.

 

Bu this man asks Jesus to remember Him when He comes to His Kingdom, and Jesus says: Yes, today.

 

Because He didn’t come to save Himself; He came to give Himself.  He freely bestows His Kingdom on those who believe in Him.  Not on those who have treated Him well, because none have.  But on those who believe in Him.  Though Jesus is dying in humiliation, naked, He has a Kingdom He is about to enter.

 

He enters it as He emerges from the tomb, not only the firstborn of creation, but firstborn from the dead.  He is the firstborn of those who die because of sin and are raised by God with sin and death underfoot.  He is the firstborn of those made new, entering paradise.

 

That is Jesus Kingdom.  He came to give it to us.  And even though our wickedness was so total it drove us to put Him to death, it was not great enough to prevent His Kingdom from coming.

 

Now He freely promises it to you as He did the criminal hanged with Him.  Look at that man hanging next to Jesus, you who are troubled by sin, and realize—there was never an unlikelier candidate for paradise.  But Jesus said, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

 

He made you the same promise—when He baptized you, and when He absolved you this morning and in that absolution put you back in your baptism.  “I forgive you all your sins…”  That was the sound of the stone rolling away.

 

That is why when the watchmen sing to you that He is near, you should know that the joy is meant for you, the burdened one, the dying one getting what your deeds deserve.  Yes, but now you are going to receive the reward of the best thing you never did, the thing Jesus made of your worst.  He is not coming to destroy you on the last day.  He is coming to give you a kingdom.  Not even your worst could stop Him.  When He comes He will simply announce in glory what has already been accomplished in His weakness on the cross.  “The Kingdom is yours.  I am for you.”

 

That is what He now says hidden under the bread and wine, giving you His body to eat, His blood to drink.  “I am for you.  Take and eat.”  And at the altar, today we are with Him in paradise.

 

Now come, Thou Blessed One,

Lord Jesus, God’s own Son,

Hail, Hosanna!

We enter all

The wedding hall

To eat the supper at Thy call.  (LSB 516 st. 2)

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

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

The Fire of the Day of the Lord. Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year 2019.

November 19, 2019 Leave a comment

Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year

Emmaus Lutheran Church

Malachi 4:1-6

November 17, 2019

The Fire of the Day of the Lord

Jesu Juva!

 

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

 

The day is surely drawing near when Jesus, God’s anointed

In all His power shall appear as judge whom God appointed.

Then fright shall banish idle mirth,

And flames on flames shall ravage earth

As Scripture long has warned us.  LSB 508 stanza 1

 

Our God is a consuming fire, says the Scripture.  And the day of His return in judgment is a day of fire.  The prophet Malachi says it is a day burning like an oven, and all the arrogant will be stubble.  But for those who fear the name of the Lord the same fire heals.  For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings (Mal. 4:2). 

 

The same day and the fire will set some people ablaze and bring healing to others.

 

It is difficult to imagine “flames on flames” ravaging earth and the world as we see it coming to an end.  But two years ago there was a total solar eclipse.  I don’t remember it being that impressive where we were living at the time, but I gather from the internet that the eclipse was pretty intense here.  That was nature proclaiming the coming end of this creation, giving a preview of when the sun will be blotted out, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall and the sky rolled up like a scroll.  Nature proclaims this every year.  The days get shorter and shorter, darkness comes sooner and sooner.  The trees give up their leaves.  Every year ends, just as every human life composed of many years has its end, and so nature bears witness that this creation also has its allotted number of days.

 

And the world understands this on a gut level.  That is why the world is full of fear about various calamities that may end life on earth.  Climate change is one.  Not that many years ago we feared nuclear annihilation.  What the world doesn’t know, or doesn’t want to know, is that when the world ends, it will end at the hand of the Crucified.  The One who was rejected by His creation will return and bring an end to His Creation by judgment.  God the Father has appointed a day on which this will happen.

 

And the prophet Malachi described this day four centuries before Jesus was born.  For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.  The day that is coming will set them ablaze, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch (Mal. 4:1). 

 

If we lived a hundred years ago and wanted to bake a loaf of bread, we wouldn’t turn on a gas oven.  We would build a fire.  And besides sticks we might well throw in “stubble”—leftover bits of hay, grain, cornstalks.

 

When I was young, my dad would build a fire in the fireplace, but I didn’t know how to do it.  What I liked to do was throw pieces of paper, dry leaves, and Kleenexes into the fire.  And this “stubble” would quickly ignite and go up in a big flame.  All that would be left would be little black ashes floating up the chimney.

 

The day of the Lord will be like that.  The stubble, the paper thrown in the flame, will be the arrogant and all evildoers.  They will go up in the flame of God’s judgment and be utterly consumed—except that their burning will never be finished.  The prophet says—they will be ashes under the soles of your feet.  They will be like hay stubble tossed in a fire.  The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.  They will have nothing left.  The name, the wealth, the beauty, the glory they had here—their branches—will be consumed and gone.  So will their root—that which they grow from—their body and soul, to which everything else in life is added.  When this fire burns them nothing will be left to grow back again.  They will endure an everlasting destruction.

 

John the Baptist echoed Malachi’s prophecy when he preached to those he baptized about the One who would come after him: He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.  (Matt. 3:11-12)  And before either Malachi or John, God had foretold this judgment of the unrighteous through David in the first Psalm: The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous (Ps. 1:4-6) 

 

How many times have you been jealous of people who seemed to be great and important, beautiful and wealthy in this world?  Yet the Lord says that those who are merely rich, merely powerful, merely beautiful and popular, but do not fear Him, will be like stubble in the fire.  They will not stand in His judgment.  Every good thing they have and boast in will be consumed in a moment.

 

But what about you?  Malachi says that those who fear the Lord’s name will experience something different.  But he says, the arrogant and evildoers will be stubble.  David says the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the church of the righteous. 

 

We would like to believe that we have done well enough to escape the fire with which the Lord will cleanse the earth, which will burn the chaff without quenching.  We would like to believe that there is at least something good in me that will cause God to spare me, the way He spared Noah in the flood of His wrath.  After all, at least we listen to God’s Word.  At least we confess our sins and are not proud and arrogant.

 

But no, that is not enough to save us.  If we actually listen to God’s Word and believe it, that didn’t come from us.  There is nothing good in me, that is, in my flesh (Rom. 7)  We were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph. 2).

 

But the same fire, the Lord, comes with healing on the day of judgment.  For you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will arise with healing in its wings.  (Mal. 4:2)  The Lord arises like the sun on those who fear His name and heals them.  Does the sun heal?  David reminds us in the 19th Psalm that the sun comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and like a strong man, runs its course with joy.  Its rising is from the end of the heavens and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.  The sun makes its joyful, brilliant circuit across the heavens and kisses the green plants and they bear fruit and flower; it smiles on the grapes and they ripen into wine.  The sun leaves fruitfulness and life in its wake as it visits the earth.

 

So it will be on the day of the Lord.  His coming which sets the wicked ablaze will be like the sun rising on those who fear God.  Their eyes will shine.  Their faces will be radiant.  And the righteousness of Jesus will enfold them like wings of warm light and heal them.  For when Jesus comes in radiance and power, and the earth is shaken, and the sky rolls up like a scroll, He will judge the world in righteousness.  He will condemn sin and sinners and purge the creation corrupted by sin with holy fire.  But He will judge those who fear God’s name—righteous—and pronounce them worthy to enter the new heavens and the new earth.

 

How will the fire of the Lord meet you on that day?  As an oven, or as the sun?  If you scoff at the idea that the crucified Lord will return in power to judge, or if you comfort yourself with the vain hope that God cannot possibly have such unrealistic standards as you hear about in church, the day of the Lord will set you ablaze and leave you neither root nor branch.

 

The Lord is as John the Baptist preached—one who holds a winnowing fork in his hand to separate wheat from chaff.  It is arrogant to disregard God’s Word.  Every time you have set aside the commandments of God you have been arrogant and set yourself above His Word.

 

Then how can we imagine the Lord will rise upon us with healing?  Because we rely solely on His grace.  Only by pure mercy.  And that mercy has already dawned upon us when our Lord appeared on earth.

 

First He sent Elijah the prophet to prepare His way.  John came clothed like Elijah, living in the desert like Elijah, proclaiming a baptism of repentance.  And those who came confessing their sins to John heard John preach the mighty one who was coming next, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  Who would not merely pour water on us, but who would make us new as the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters that covered the earth at creation.  He would bring a new creation out of the dark chaos of our nature.

 

The one John proclaimed is the one who comes to you in the Gospel.  He is mighty but came as a helpless infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes, as a man who did not lift a hand against His enemies, but went like a lamb meek before its shearers to the slaughter.  He was crucified for our offenses.  His blood stained the doorposts of the cross to cover us and cause wrath and judgment to pass over us.

 

He is the sun of righteousness.  Those who look to Him are radiant and their faces are never ashamed.  He has washed us in water with the Holy Spirit and made us new, so that the fire of the Lord does not burn us.  In that water He placed God’s name upon us, and we fear His name because we believe what He has done for us and what He says about us.

 

He has burned up our sin by His appearing in the flesh and His death on the tree.  He has also burnt up our attempts to cover our sins like the sun burns away the morning mist.  He is our covering on the day of judgment, our tabernacle.  He is our righteousness.  He is our shade from the wrath of God.  He enfolds us with His arms that were extended on the cross to fulfill all righteousness.  When He comes He comes like the sun for us.  He fills the earth with life and fruitfulness.  He will bring us forth from the earth healed from death and corruption.

 

Malachi says that when He comes we will be like calves released from the stall.  I have never seen a calf do this but I guess that at least a few of you have.  What I have seen is Joseph’s rabbit, who sometimes when he leaves his cage runs out and for no reason jumps in the air and kicks his legs sideways.  Joseph says he does this for pure joy.

 

This is how it will be for us who rely solely on the Lord’s mercy when He appears.  We will have joy because we are free—from death, from sin, from guilt, from persecution.

 

Come to the Lord who visits you at this altar like the sun to heal you.  Then go forth from this place, not idly waiting for His coming, but living with the certainty that the sun will rise upon you.  Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Third-Last Sunday of the Church Year 2019. Sons of Destruction and Sons of the Resurrection

November 12, 2019 1 comment

Third-Last Sunday of the Church Year

Emmaus Lutheran Church, Redmond

St. Luke 20:27-40

November 10, 2019

Sons of Destruction and Sons of the Resurrection

 

Jesu Juva!

 

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

 

He sits in the temple courts, which are flooded with people who have come to Jerusalem for the Passover.  He does not hide in a corner.  He teaches the people and proclaims the good news.

 

And there are many, then as now, who do not want Jesus’ teaching replacing theirs.

 

Some Sadducees also begin to ask Him questions designed to make the resurrection of the dead look foolish.  You heard the story about the seven brothers.  Since they all married the same woman, and none of them raised up children, whose wife will she be in the resurrection?  The story is designed to make the idea of the resurrection seem ridiculous, and also to give Jesus a question He can’t answer.

 

But the resurrection of the dead is not simply a matter of theological speculation for Jesus.  He is the Son of God and the Son of the Resurrection.  On the other hand the Sadducees are sons of destruction.  In the epistle reading St. Paul wrote that the day of the Lord and the day of the resurrection would not come until the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god and object of worship (2 Thess. 2:3-4).  Paul is talking about the antichrist, the great opponent of Christ and persecutor of Christians who arises in the last days.  He calls the antichrist “the son of destruction”, but there are many other sons of destruction, even if they are not as prominent.  Every teacher whose teaching denies Christ is a son of destruction, but Jesus is the Son of the Resurrection and comes to make many sons of the resurrection.  So today let us look at who are the sons of destruction and who are the sons of the resurrection.

 

Look again at the Sadducees.  They come to debate with Jesus the Son of God.  They are so blind that they trust their own intellect to guide them in the ways of God, and so arrogant that they imagine they will defeat Jesus by the exercise of their intellects and their smooth talk.

 

But even though Jesus is the Son of God, for Him the question of the resurrection is not one that he can approach self-confidently, the way the Sadducees do, without fear and trembling.  For Him the resurrection is His only hope.  Narrow eyes in the crowd watch Him, looking for an opportunity to seize Him and put Him to death.  Only days from now, in the darkness, when the crowds are gone, they will send armed men with lanterns and torches to bring Him to them.  And He will go out to them not with arrogant words but with a robe damp with the cold sweat of death.

 

Resurrection is not a mere topic for debate for Jesus.  It is His hope as the pit of destruction swallows Him up.  As His lifeless body is taken down from the cross, wrapped up in spices, sealed behind a stone.

 

Today our bodies are tended to in funeral homes with chemicals or crematory ovens.  They are rolled down into concrete vaults in the ground dug out by backhoes.  When we lay dying, we are attached to machines that beep and blink and are usually sedated so that we feel no pain.  But the resurrection of the dead is no mere topic for debate for us, as far as we have progressed in reducing some of the physical pain of death and the unsightliness of the dead.  An old hymn says:

 

In the midst of life we are in death.

From whom can we seek help?

From You alone, O LORD,

Who by our sins are justly angered.

 

Death is the reminder that we are sinners against God.  It is, as Scripture says, the wages of sin.  For the most part people today do not experience the fire of God’s wrath tormenting the soul—not in this life.  But we experience the pain of getting old, losing strength.  We experience regret at the loss of youth, of wasted years.  We get disillusioned as we get older and realize that the bill of goods we have been sold about the pleasures life in this world seldom turn out as good as they were advertised.  All of this is part of what you have earned as a sinner.  And then death takes our bodies, and our souls, unclothed of their earthly habitation, depart from this world.  And as this is happening comes the fear and anguish of the soul realizing that it must return to God its judge.

 

The Sadducees were all blind to this, and they didn’t care.  They dismissed the resurrection of the dead as childish.  This life is all that matters, they said.

 

This is the way of the sons of destruction.  They take away life from human beings, the possibility of real life.  They put themselves in the place of God, who is the God of the living, the living God.  And by their teaching they take away the possibility of life.

 

In the Old Testament reading Pharaoh is oppressing the people of Israel.  When Moses comes and tells him that the Lord said to let His people go so that they might go worship Him in the desert, Pharaoh says, No!  Let them focus on working for me.  Let them focus on this life and obey me.  The Pharaohs actually believed they were gods, but they were gods of death.  They oppressed people in this world and took away the possibility of everlasting life by teaching lies.

 

In the Epistle reading Paul tells how the antichrist will take his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.  Many people wrongly think that the antichrist can’t come until the temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem.  But Christians should understand that even if the Jews manage to build a temple there, it would not be the temple of God.  God’s temple is the Church, the community of believers in Christ.  The antichrist sits in the Church and says that his false teaching is actually God’s teaching.  That is why Luther and the Confessions of the Lutheran Church say “the Pope is the true Antichrist, who has exalted himself above, and opposed himself against Christ” (Smalcald Articles Part II, Art. IV:10-11).  He would not be the antichrist if he sat merely in a Jewish temple; the antichrist sits on a throne and claims to be over God’s Church and demands obedience to himself even when that means disobedience to God.

 

Paul calls the antichrist the son of destruction.  Jesus called Judas the same thing.  They are bound for destruction, and they belong to the destroyer, the devil.  But there are many sons of destruction who are less important, but nevertheless doomed to eternal damnation.

 

We have those in our synod whose practice and teaching is opposed to Christ’s.  And when they are confronted about it, there are those who protect and excuse it.

 

We do not have those, God be praised, who openly deny the resurrection of the dead.  But we do have many preachers who, by their words and practice, fail to preach repentance.  They do their best to make worship so appealing to unbelieving people that they are never confronted with their sin and the destruction that is awaiting them.  As a result the Gospel they preach is something other than resurrection from the dead.  It is a good news that allows them to remain as they are.  Those who preach and practice this way without repentance are sons of destruction.

 

But why are there so many who practice open communion, of whose worship it could be said, “Keep your sandals on your feet, because the ground on which you are standing is not holy?”

 

Isn’t it because many in our churches like it this way?  We like to hear preaching that does not call us to repentance.  We like worship that does not confront us with the living God, the God who kills and makes alive?

 

Isn’t it true that, in us, there is an antichrist waiting to get out, who wants to be the authority, who wants his word to rule?  Yes, because we too were born to destruction and death.

 

II.

 

However, in the Gospel reading, we hear the good news from Jesus.  Despite the mockery of the Sadducees, there is a resurrection of the dead.  First Jesus contradicts their false ideas of what the resurrection will be like.  Then He proves the resurrection from Scripture.

 

The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but not those  who are counted worthy of attaining to that age and of the resurrection from the dead….For they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection (Luke 20:34-36).

 

Jesus says that sons of God are sons of the resurrection. It is a strange saying.  All sons of God are sons of the resurrection?  But what about Jesus Himself?  Wasn’t He God’s Son before He rose from the dead, before He even became man?

 

Assuredly so.  Yet God’s Son became the Son of Man, subject to death, subject to the wages of sin.  He became the first son of the resurrection so that there would be many sons of God after Him.

 

He made Himself subject to death for our sins in order to release us from them when He rose from the dead.

 

We hope for our loved ones who die in Christ that they will rise from the dead and become equal to the angels and sons and heirs of God.  That was Jesus’ hope also, because He took on Himself our helplessness before death, the sin that makes us subject to destruction.  He allowed it to swallow Him up.  And then He burst it open.  He is the first Son of the Resurrection.  And all who are united to Him are joined to His resurrection.

 

The proof of this is just a little word: God says that His name is I AM, the living God, and that He is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.  God is not the God of those who have ceased to exist, Jesus points out to the Sadduccees who think people cease to exist when they die.  He is the God of the living, not the dead.  Death has nothing to do with Him.  If He is Jacob’s God, then Jacob lives.  If He is your God, you live, even though you are dead.

 

And with a little word like this Jesus has already killed the antichrist and the sons of destruction.  He has already pronounced judgment on them.  His Word, wherever it comes, robs them of all their power.  Five hundred years ago all who were called by Christ’s name bowed the knee before the Pope and considered him the lord of Christ’s kingdom on earth.  Now millions in Christendom have no fear of the antichrist at all.  This is the work of Christ’s breath, His Word, that, let loose in the world, taught people that salvation comes solely through faith in Him, apart from works.

 

But when the day of the Lord comes, the antichrist and all the sons of destruction will be brought to an end forever.  They will be cast into destruction with their master the devil.  But for those who are joined to Christ by faith the day of the Lord will be the day of resurrection, the day of life and adoption as God’s Sons.

 

That is why you come to this table.  You come and eat and drink and share in the death of God’s Son.  And then as death comes upon you—as it comes on all men—it is not destruction for you.  It is the beginning of being raised up, of becoming a Son of Resurrection and a Son of God.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Courage to Pray and Not Faint. 19th Sunday after Pentecost. Oct. 20, 2019. Luke 18:1-8

October 31, 2019 Leave a comment

19th Sunday after Pentecost

Emmaus Lutheran Church, Redmond, Oregon

St. Luke 18:1-8

October 20, 2019

Courage to Pray and Not Faint

Iesu Iuva

 

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

 

Bow down Your gracious ear to me

And hear my cry, my prayer, my plea;

Make haste for my protection,

For woes and fear

Surround me here.

Help me in my affliction.  LSB 734 stanza 2

 

There may be a few here today who are possessed of an iron will, who never quit, no matter how great the pain.  I don’t think Jacob was that kind of man, though he did start wrestling while he was still in the womb, and though he was born into the world grasping his brother Esau’s heel.  But the Scripture says he was a quiet man who stayed near the tents and his mother.  Even in the Old Testament reading, where Jacob is much older, you don’t see great physical courage.  He sends his wives and little ones across the river to meet his brother, who he fears is going to take revenge on him for stealing his blessing decades before.  Look at my wives and my little ones and spare your brother.  Jacob is not a tough guy.

 

But in the night he gets into a wrestling match with an unknown assailant.  And the wrestling match goes until the morning.  I tried wrestling for maybe a month my sophomore year in high school.  It’s hard to wrestle for a few minutes, let alone an entire night.  And wrestling is okay when you are winning, but really, really painful when you are losing.  You can’t really breathe, but you’re supposed to keep fighting.

 

We can be pretty sure Jacob was losing all night.  His opponent, when he is tired of the game, just touches Jacob’s hip, and Jacob has to walk with a limp for the rest of his life.  But even then, Jacob does not let go.  He doesn’t lose heart.  He refuses to let God go until God blesses him.

 

Jesus says we should pray like Jacob wrestled.  He told the parable in Luke chapter 18 to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart (Luke 18:1). 

 

Jesus gives us courage to keep praying for Him to return and not become spiritless.

 

I know from talking to a few of you and I know from my own experience how difficult a struggle it is not to lose heart in prayer.  You might be the type of person that pushes through physical pain no matter what.  You don’t quit.  You might be a person who stays steady and calm under emotional pressure.  But the kind of strength needed to pray without ceasing, without growing weary or losing heart, is not found in human beings, in their natural power.  To keep praying without becoming listless and depressed and weary is a spiritual contest.  And in our fallen human nature we have no spiritual strength.

 

In our fallen human nature we don’t even know what to pray for, St. Paul tells us (Rom. 8:26).  Listen to what Jesus says God’s elect, His chosen ones, cry out to Him for day and night.  They want Him to give [them] justice against [their] adversary (Luke 18:3).  They want justice against their opponent.  The opponent is the devil, who accuses us and who torments us, together with the fallen world that he controls.  God’s elect cry out to God day and night that He avenge them, that He vindicate them against this opponent who falsely accuses them and who wrongs them when they are innocent.

 

What exactly does that mean, for God to give us justice, to vindicate us?  It means that the elect pray for God to send His Son from heaven to judge the living and the dead, to cast the devil and His angels into the lake of fire, together with all those who did not believe in Jesus.  God gives the elect justice when He declares them righteous before the whole universe and honors them, declaring them to be His sons and heirs, declaring them innocent, sharing His glory with them forever.

 

This is the way the elect people of God pray, Jesus says.

 

But is it the way you pray?  Usually?  With your eyes to the end, looking to the return of Jesus as your hope for everything to be set right?  When you look at all your problems, all your struggle with sin, all your ongoing pain and the things in your life, family, church that are still broken—do you look to Jesus’ return as the answer and pray with a fervent heart for Him to return?

 

No, usually you aim much lower, probably.  We pray that God would give us a blessing here and now that meets our expectations of what His blessing should look like.  When Jacob prayed, no doubt the blessing he wanted more than anything at that moment was that God spare his life from his brother Esau.  But he didn’t ask God for that.  He simply said, “Bless me.”  He did not put a limit on God’s blessing, probably because he had learned that if God blessed him he would be blessed far more and far greater than he could understand.

 

When we pray, so often we ask God for help in the difficulties that we see and feel, and we ask for help that makes sense to us.  None of this is wrong.  Yet Jesus teaches us to pray for more, because God does not simply want to deliver us from money problems or conflict or even deep grief—just for a season.  He wants to give us justice and set all things right.  And that is why what we ought to pray and look for before all else is the return of our Lord.  That is the goal of our lives; that is the even that is going to make you whole and heal everything that is broken in you and this world.

 

Whenever we pray, “Thy Kingdom Come,” we are asking for this—that Jesus returns, that the devil is thrown into hell, that we enter into the joy of our Lord.  But it is seldom the first thing on our mind when we pray.

 

Those who do not have the Holy Spirit and true faith in Christ can’t pray it at all, not from the heart.  Those who are false Christians are terrified of Jesus’ return.  But even Christians, according to the flesh, fear Jesus’ return.  We pray for smaller things.  We doubt His grace, that He has justified us, that He really counts us righteous.  So we fear what His coming will mean.

 

Perhaps we are still looking to delight ourselves in this world and the pleasure it has to offer, and so we don’t long for the return of Jesus.

 

We pray for other things, smaller things—which are good in themselves, but not the highest blessing God wishes to give us.  When our prayers are not answered as we expect, and when Jesus’ coming is delayed, we become weary in prayer.  Because He hasn’t appeared to answer, we become faint and draw back from our Lord in prayer, doubting that He cares about the pain we bring to Him.

Repent.  Repent of your unbelief.  Be courageous.  God has promised that He will vindicate you.  He will deliver you out of every evil when He appears with His Kingdom (2 Tim. 4:1).  He has promised this.  That’s why He encourages you to keep on praying for His return and not lose heart.

 

He has already proclaimed to you that you are declared righteous by His Father, the righteous judge.  His Father justified you.  He declared you righteous in His court, innocent of sin, because His Son offered Himself to suffer and die for you.   That is why Scripture says, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).  He is faithful because He has promised to count everyone who believes in His Son righteous, and to not count their sins against them.  He is just and righteous because His Son has already paid in full for your sins.  If He were to count them to you He would be unjust.  If you believe in Jesus who was condemned for your sins, how can God condemn you for them again?  That would be unjust.  He is just when He forgives your sins because He has already punished them fully in Jesus.

 

Since you are justified, all that remains is for that justification to be made manifest.  That is what Jesus wants you to pray for—for the day when you no longer hear God tell you you are righteous in His sight, chosen and precious in His sight—but when it is made visible.  That day is the day of Jesus’ return.   We will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is.  We will see Him in the glory that He had before the world began, and He will give it to us.  He has made it ours when He justified us through faith in Him.

 

Right now the devil accuses us daily.  He afflicts us, just as he afflicted Jesus.  But he had no right to afflict Jesus, because Jesus had no sin.  After He was put to death on the shameful cross, God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead.  He triumphed over Satan and Satan’s servants, like those who mocked his claim to be the Son of God and the King of the Jews as He hung on the cross.   God vindicated Him and made it clear that He truly was the Son of God.  No human being had ever triumphed over the grave before this man.  God silenced Jesus’ enemies.  When Jesus returns, He will silence our enemies as well—in particular the devil, who flings our sins at us, reminding us of our evil thoughts and our evil words and our past, our weakness, our suffering.  Jesus gives you courage against Satan’s attacks.  Keep praying for His return, because God hears you.  He is not like the unjust judge who only helps the widow because she bothers him.  He has declared you righteous and His son for the sake of Jesus.  He hears you because you please Him.  And He will answer you because He keeps His promise.

 

Today Jesus comes with a pledge that God the Father will give you justice.  He gives you His body and the blood He poured out to save you from your sins.

 

Jesus, the Son of God, is precious to His Father.  Just as He did not leave His Son’s body lying in the tomb, but raised Him and vindicated Him against His accusers, so He will not leave you who receive the body and blood of His Son.  He will raise you up and vindicate you as well.  He will make you a conqueror of death and seat you at His right hand.  That is His pledge today—that on the last day He will raise you up and give you justice.

 

So don’t lose heart when you pray and they seem to go unanswered.  Pray for the Lord’s return when He gives you justice against your adversary.

 

With you, O Lord, I cast my lot;

O faithful God, forsake me not!

To You my soul commending.

Lord, be my stay, And lead the way

Now and when life is ending.  LSB 734 stanza 4

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Jesus Has Made You Clean for the Eucharist. 18th Sunday after Pentecost, Oct. 13, 2019. Luke 17:11-19

October 31, 2019 Leave a comment

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23 Series C)

Emmaus Lutheran Church, Redmond, Oregon

St. Luke 17:11-19

October 13, 2019

Jesus Has Made You Clean For The Eucharist

 

Iesu iuva!

 

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

 

Jesus has made you clean for the eucharist.

 

We know that failure to keep things clean frequently comes with serious negative consequences.  We put antiseptic on wounds, sterilize operating rooms, and we consider it gross if a person doesn’t shower every day.

 

But being clean, and avoiding uncleanness, is an even bigger deal to God.  For us keeping clean is just hygiene.  Being clean in God’s eyes encompasses far more.  This is why God gave His people in the Old Testament hundreds of laws about what was clean for them and what was not clean, how they were to maintain their purity before Him and how they could be cleansed once defiled.  He wanted to teach them, and us, just how serious a thing it is to be clean in His sight, and how much it entails.

 

Many of these laws are difficult for us to comprehend.  We can’t understand why He makes laws about not eating certain types of meat, or about how to deal with mildew.  But there is a reason.  Most of God’s Laws about purity declare things unclean that are associated with the demonic.  The demons brought sin into the world, and with sin, corruption, sickness, and death.  When you smell a dead animal rotting in the sun, when you smell gangrene coming from a wound, when you smell a full outhouse, you smell uncleanness.  You know it is unhealthy.  Those are physical reflections of the uncleanness the evil one spreads and which he has made us participants in when he seduced our first parents into rebellion against God.

 

Nothing unclean can enter God’s presence.  He is the life and there is no death in Him.  He is holy, and nothing impure or unclean is in Him or can be with Him.  That is why we sing, “Holy, holy, holy” in the Sanctus before we come to the table and eat the body of Jesus; it’s why Isaiah heard the seraphim singing it when He saw the Lord as they covered their feet and their eyes with their wings.  He is holy and we must be holy to enter His presence.  Holy in our lips, as Isaiah realized, and clean in our hearts too, as Jesus taught us: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5: 8). 

 

The good news is: Jesus has made you clean for the Eucharist.  He has made you clean not only externally, so that you are permitted to enter an earthly dwelling place, like the Jews.  He has made you clean inside and out, so that you are able to go into the presence of the Holy One and give Him thanks forever.  That is what eucharist means—“thanksgiving.”

 

In the Gospel reading we are presented with ten men whom Jesus makes clean outwardly, but only one is made clean inside and out.  They were afflicted with one of the worst kinds of uncleanness—leprosy.

 

Most kinds of uncleanness in the Levitical law went away after a period of time with a bath.  If you ate unclean meat, you had to wash your clothes and be unclean until evening, which meant you couldn’t have contact with other Israelites, who were clean.  And you couldn’t enter God’s presence in the temple.  You were separated from the holy place and the holy people, but only briefly.

 

But lepers were in a state of ongoing uncleanness.  Until they stopped being lepers, they were cut off from God’s presence and blessing in the temple and from living among God’s people.  The Hebrew word for leprosy is literally “stroke”—meaning that God has struck you.  God strikes you with leprosy, and only he can remove his hand and cleanse you.

 

Lepers were required by God’s law to be separated from everyone else, to go around with their hair unkempt and their clothes torn, like a person mourning the dead.  They were required to cover the bottom part of their faces and to cry out “Unclean!  Unclean!”  whenever someone else was coming by—so that person wouldn’t be defiled by them.   Their entire life was lived like one in mourning for the dead, and the dead person they mourned for was themselves.  They were stricken by God and cast out from His people.

 

Yet the lepers in today’s Gospel have hope.  They see Jesus coming down the road toward them.  And they call Him “Master.”  They believe that He has authority over uncleanness, sickness, death, demons, and over leprosy; they believe that Jesus can make them clean where only God can make a person clean.

 

And their faith is proven by their actions as well as their words.  When Jesus says, “Go, show yourselves to the priests,” they go.  They go to see the priests and have the priests certify that they are clean from leprosy, going even though they do not see themselves cleansed, merely because Jesus has spoken.  That’s how highly they regard the authority of His Word.

 

So when they go to the priests, they believe that just by Jesus saying so, they will be made clean.

 

And then something sad happens.  You can hear it in Jesus’ voice. Were not ten made clean?  But where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give glory to God except this alien?  (Luke 17:17-18)

 

What is sad?  That the other nine cured lepers did not run and fall at Jesus’ feet, thanking Him and glorifying God with a loud voice.  Maybe they were planning to come see Jesus after they got through seeing the priests?  But no.  Hearts that recognized what Jesus had done for them would have driven all ten to shout with joy and fall at Jesus’ feet in thanks.  God did not give the healing through the priests or the Law.  He gave it through Jesus.  The priests could wait.  But the nine forgot about the One who healed them and did not return.

 

It’s not the ten lepers who are our concern this morning.  This is our story.  Jesus has made you clean.  And He made you clean for the Eucharist—for thanksgiving.  Not because He needs our thanks, but because thanksgiving follows where Jesus’ cleansing has been received, not rejected.  When we hear “eucharist,” we think of the Lord’s Supper, even though it literally means “thanksgiving.”  We do thank God at the Lord’s Supper, but that is only because that is the natural response of receiving so great a gift—of being invited to sit down at wedding feast of the new heavens and the new earth.  Jesus cleansed you so that you can come to His feast, and feasting, give thanks to God at all times and in all places.

 

But how has Jesus cleansed you?

 

Your skin was not white with leprosy or covered with open sores.  But you were in a state of ongoing uncleanness that kept you exiled from the Holy One.  You inherited a state of rebellion against God from your father and his father before that.  The unclean spirits ruled over you and kept you sick and filthy.  Your sickness was incurable.  Human beings have no medicine that can cure it, and they never will, except that which comes from the God-man.

 

You were born without true faith in the triune God, without true knowledge of Him.  So you were thankless.  You didn’t recognize your life as His gift, nor your loved ones, nor the food and clothing and daily bread He provided you.  You were incapable of being truly thankful to God because, not having Him, you never felt secure.  You never had enough.  You were unclean and could not enter God’s presence, like a leper who needs to come to God to be cleansed, but cannot come to God until he is cleansed.

 

But God came out of His sanctuary to you.  He made Himself unclean.  He drew the poison out of you into His own body.

 

Surely he has borne our [diseases] and carried our pains [caused by our sins], yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God [as with leprosy], and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed (Is. 53:4-5).

 

On the cross Jesus became unclean.  He was stricken by God with the uncleanness of your sins.  He became the leper and the castaway, thrown out by God.  All the uncleanness of your life, the rot hidden away in your conscience and you heart was on Him, when His body was open wounds on the cross.  And when He rose it was with a white garment—not the white of sickness and leprosy, but of purity and cleanness.

 

And that white garment he placed on you in Holy Baptism.  So you no longer have to stand far off from the saints on earth, the saints in heaven, the Holy angels, or even the most Holy Trinity, because you have been cleansed for the Eucharist.

 

You have been cleansed to draw near to Christ and to His table to eat His body and drink His blood.

 

The ten lepers were also cleansed by Jesus.  And they were cleansed for eucharist, for thanksgiving.  They were cleansed so that they would recognize Jesus not only as the one who healed their bodies but cleanses them completely—and to give thanks to Him.  But only nine lepers came back to Jesus.

 

And that is what so many do, isn’t it?  Many are cleansed in Baptism, but they do not come back to receive the eucharist and to give thanks to Jesus by receiving His body and blood.

 

And even you who are here today.  You are here to come to the feast of thanksgiving.  And yet how many times have you left this place only to return to the familiar uncleanness you lived in before?  And if not that, how many times have you left here not eager to become partakers of the divine nature and to grow in the image of Christ?  How many times has your zeal become cold?  St. Peter in his second epistle describes us well—Whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins (2 Peter 1:9).

 

But Jesus has cleansed you.  And He has cleansed you for the eucharist—so that you may continue to receive His work that He completed in His death and resurrection.  He has cleansed you so that you may continue to receive His body given into death for your uncleanness and His blood poured out to purify you from all unrighteousness.

 

And then to give thanks from your heart.  This comes naturally when you hear the good news that He has cleansed you of every last particle of sin and made you clean to stand before His Father.  At His table He strengthens you in the faith that He has done this, and He continues to destroy the leprosy of sin that remains in you by it—until all that is left is Christ in you.

 

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Planted in the Depths. 17th Sun. After Pentecost. Oct. 6, 2019 Luke 17:1-10

October 31, 2019 Leave a comment

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22 Series C)

Emmaus Lutheran Church, Redmond, Oregon

St. Luke 17:1-10

October 6, 2019

Planted in the Depths

 

Iesu iuva!

 

Beloved in Christ:

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

 

Increase our faith, the apostles cry out to the Lord.

 

I don’t think the apostles were asking this because they just thought it would be nice to have more faith.  They were asking because suddenly they were afraid they didn’t have much faith at all.  That’s usually why you ask for more faith.  You are scared you don’t have enough.  Maybe you wonder if you have any.  You feel like you are sinking and can’t find a place to stand.  You feel yourself drifting away from God, like a stick being carried downstream by the current of the water, and none of your thrashing helps.  Then you say: Increase my faith!

 

Stronger faith is no doubt a good thing, but it wasn’t what the apostles needed, Jesus said.  Oftentimes we want more faith so that we have something within us to be confident in.  God wants instead that we look away from ourselves to Him alone.

 

Faith does not do great things because it is so good a work or so strong in itself.  Faith is only good if it is confident in the right thing or person.  Biblical faith, faith that will save you, is trust in the Triune God.  Not a mere understanding that the Triune God is all-powerful or gracious, but confidence that the Almighty God is almighty for me.  That He is not only gracious, but He is gracious to me, the sinner.  Even a mustard seed of faith in the Triune God does miracles because it takes hold of the Triune God Himself.

 

The apostles of Jesus of course did need an increase of faith; Jesus rebuked them for their little faith many times.  We can see how their faith faltered when Jesus was led away from the garden of Gethsemane to be crucified.

 

But we should not judge the apostles for this.  We have the same problem.  We have great difficulty seeing that the One who speaks to us in the Word, the One who comes to us in the bread and wine is God for us.  We underestimate His power toward us who believe, and the depth of His love for us who comes and feeds our souls with His own flesh and blood, like a mother bird her newly-hatched chicks.

 

So it was right for the apostles to go to Him for faith; and it is right for us to do the same.  That’s why you are here today, I hope—that the Lord Jesus may strengthen your faith and love through His Word and His body and blood.

 

But there is a condition that is hostile to faith in the soil of the soul—really deadly.  The plant of faith can’t grow unless this condition is amended.  It is called—self-trust.  Luther called it “carnal security.”  We might also call it complacency.  It is the hardness of heart that does not recognize our need for God’s power and God’s grace.

 

True faith in God doesn’t grow out of natural powers of human beings—in the dirt of our fallen nature.  It doesn’t grow in the shallow water of our own efforts to be sorry for our sins either.  True faith in God grows in a place where no one could imagine it would grow—from the depths of our recognition of our sin, our helplessness, and God’s wrath.  Just as you would never imagine a mulberry tree growing in the salt ocean, so no one can believe that when God casts us into the depths of His flood that faith in Him and His grace could grow.

 

But the Scripture teaches that it does.  Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord…If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?  But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared (Ps. 130)  This was King David’s prayer.  He felt like he was in the depths of God’s flood that destroyed the wicked, in the midst of God’s judgment.  And from there he called to God in faith with the confidence that God would forgive his sins.

 

So when you, like the apostles, feel overwhelmed when you consider God’s requirements and how you have failed; or when you look inside yourself and see doubt and weakness of faith—you would like to get out of feeling that way.  Your flesh says—if you no longer feel the depth of your sin then you have strong faith.

 

But no—self trust kills faith, because true faith grows only out of the depths.  It grows out of those who know they deserve God’s punishment, not His applause.

 

This is Jesus’ point to the apostles when he asks them how they would treat their servants.  Does the master of the house wait on them after they have had a hard day in the field?  No.  A servant is supposed to serve in the field and then come in and wait on his master at the table.  Only then does he get to relax.  And if he does this, he doesn’t get thanked.  He is only doing his job.

 

And that’s how it is supposed to be with us, isn’t it?  God has given us everything we have.  The blue sky outside, the mountains with the snow that melts and runs down into the desert in streams, and the cattle on a thousand hills, and our mother and father, our spouse and our children, our ability to see and smell and touch and think, our body and soul.  We would be nothing, but God gave us a body, a soul, a name.  And in return we are duty-bound to thank, praise, and serve Him.  And if we forgive everyone that wrongs us, and never cause anyone to stumble, and rebuke those who sin to bring them to repentance, and receive the hatred of the world as our thanks—we haven’t done anything special.  We are only doing our duty if we served God with every ounce of our strength all the days of our lives.

 

But we haven’t done that—yet we expect praise for the little, partial obedience we think we have offered God.  Or we praise ourselves.

 

In truth, we don’t want to be God’s servants.  Not in our sinful flesh—which is still at work in us, even if we are believing Christians.  Our sinful flesh wants to declare independence from God.  And independence from those God has put us here to serve.

 

And so God tosses you into the sea.  Down you go, beneath the waves, into the depths of the flood.

 

You aren’t alone in this.  God did this to Jonah, who also didn’t want to serve Him.

 

He also did it to His Son, who alone among men did want to serve Him.  And so He threw Him into the depths when he was baptized by John, and down in the depths Jesus plunged into your sin and uncleanness.  And on the cross, the sun went dark, and he descended into the depths where no light enters, swallowed by God’s wrath, the deep waters where there is no foothold, where He was cut off.  The millstone of our rebellion carried him down to the bottom, into the gates of death.

 

And God has thrown you in with Him.  Into the water of your Baptism.  And you sank with all the ungodliness and self-serving of your fallen nature that you cannot free yourself from or heal.

 

There at the bottom, in the depths of sin, God’s wrath, and death—who would imagine that new life and deliverance would be found there?  That forgiveness would be found there?  But that is what Jonah found.  The great fish came and swallowed him up and belched him back out into the sunlight to live again as God’s servant.  And the children of Israel found life in the depths as they walked on the bottom of the Red Sea, into freedom.  And you find life in the water of Baptism where you have been drowned, tied to the stone, Jesus Christ.  He descended into the depths and claimed them for His own and rose again with the keys to death and hell in His hand.

 

You died with Him by God’s hand and rose with Him through the water and now You are His servant.  It is not because you look at yourself and see a lot of good works.  It’s not because you look in your heart and see great faith.  The service of corporate confession and absolution in the hymnal says it exactly right: When we examine our hearts and consciences, we find nothing in us but sin and death, from which we are incapable of delivering ourselves.  We look inside ourselves and see an abyss.  We find nowhere to plant our roots, no firm place to stand in faith.  We start to call out like the disciples for faith.

 

And the Lord says, “It’s not that you need more of something you can call your own, something inside yourself to rest your soul upon.”  He preaches Himself, crucified and raised.  He bids us to look out from our hearts to Him who was crucified and went down into the depths for you—a place where we thought God should never be found—in sin, in death, in uncleanness.  To look away from the depths of our hearts to Him who has descended into the depths and emerged leading captivity captive, who was hell’s poison and death’s destruction.  Look away from your heart to Him, to your Baptism that joined you to Him, to His absolution.  And in doing so you sink your roots into Him who went into the dark depths of the flood of God’s wrath where we are by nature.  We are planted in Him who went to the lowest place for us.  Our feet find a rock on which to stand, and our eyes look on Him who sits at God’s right hand for us as our righteousness, as our advocate before the Father.  And we claim His obedience and His service as our own.  We claim Him as our own.  That is faith.  It proceeds from the darkness of our sin and it claims for us the one who is at the right hand of God.

 

And claiming that we do something more amazing than telling a mulberry tree to be planted in the ocean and having it obey.  We begin to reign over our old nature, and the world, and the devil, with Him who is enthroned above the flood—by serving our neighbor.  God does not need anything we have.  If we served Him perfectly we would still just be doing our duty.

 

But your neighbor does need what you have.  He needs to hear the word of God from your lips.  He needs you to speak well of him and put the best construction on everything.  He needs you to protect his life and his property.  Your neighbor needs your service.  And that is what God is always doing.  That is what our King has been doing since He was conceived in the womb of the virgin—serving us and our neighbor with all He had.  By faith in Him you begin to become a miracle.  You serve him in your neighbor.

 

He is the tree of life growing out of the depths of Adam’s race.  He grows up out of humanity like a mulberry tree in the ocean, like a tree of life out of death.  Come eat from this tree today at this altar.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Christians Who Persevere and Christians Who Fall Away. Last Sunday of the Church Year 2018.

November 25, 2018 Leave a comment

The Last foolish virgins.PNGSunday of the Church Year

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 25:1-13

November 25, 2018

Christians who Fall Away and Christians who Persevere

Iesu Iuva!

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Seasons and years come to an end, and in their death they preach to us that they are not the only things that end.  Our lives are coming to an end too, and not only our lives, but this whole creation, with its whole history, is coming to its end.  It will happen when Jesus returns, the man who was crucified, who has been preached since then as the Son of God, the source of the world and its end.  He will come to judge the earth, to bring the Creation He brought into being to its end.

 

His coming will be like a thief for most of the world.  But not for those who are His own—the members of His holy Christian Church.  It is not because those who are His will have secret information about when He is coming, but because they are always waiting for Him to return.

 

The world is in darkness, St. Paul says in the Epistle reading.  It is under the control of the devil.  So it is natural for the people of the world to be asleep and be drunk, because that is what you do in the darkness.

 

But Christ’s true church does not belong to the darkness and to this world.  She belongs to Christ, not to the power over this darkness, the devil.  She belongs to the day that will dawn when this darkness is ended, in which the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2), in which there is no need for sun and moon for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb (Rev. 21:23).  So she lives like one who belongs to daylight.  She stays awake and watches with expectation and hope for the Lord to come and bring the new heavens and earth.  She, and all her members, look for His coming with joy, because they know that He is their righteousness.  He is their bridegroom, who takes all that belongs to them—sin and death—and gives them all that is His—perfect righteousness and holiness.

 

That is why Jesus describes the Church as ten virgins, waiting for the bridegroom to appear.  The church of Jesus Christ are pure virgins who are untouched and unstained.  Baptized into Christ the bridegroom, all the impurities of the members of Christ’s church have been cleansed.  We have been given a wedding garment—His death that takes away our sins, His new life of righteousness and purity before God forever.  And just as the newly baptized receive a candle lit from the Easter candle, members of Christ’s church are given the burning light of faith in Christ, which shines in the darkness.

 

But see that in the Gospel reading our Lord says that five of the virgins are wise and five are foolish.  Five are prepared when He comes, and they go with Him into the joy of His wedding.  But five are unprepared.  They are locked out in the darkness.  He says, “I do not know you” to them.

 

In this Gospel our Lord Jesus pictures the difference between Christians who persevere to the end and those who fall away.  Consider with me this morning, on the one hand, the anxiety of those Christians who fall and are unprepared for Jesus’s return; and on the other hand, the joy of those who are ready to enter the wedding of the Lamb.

 

It starts out well for both sets of five virgins.  After all, it’s a wedding.  Who doesn’t enjoy a wedding?  And the virgins are all invited.  They are even given a place of honor at the wedding—to go out and greet the bridegroom when He comes and conduct Him to the wedding supper.

 

But because the bridegroom is long in coming, all the bridesmaids, the virgins, fall asleep.  They are awakened suddenly by the watchmen calling out that the bridegroom has arrived.  Then the difference appears.  When the foolish virgins want to put their lamps in order to be ready to go out to meet the bridegroom, they can’t, because their lamps are going out, and they have no more oil.

 

So many Christians think they will never lose their faith.  They think that the faith that they have now will never sputter and go out.  What does our Lord say about this?  Does He share our confidence?

 

Faith in Jesus is not something you do.  It’s not something you own.  It is something that is given by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word and the Sacraments.  It is given when we were baptized, but it must continue to be given by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word.

 

People often think they have faith in Christ when they do not.  We would like to believe our relatives who refuse to hear God’s Word and stay away from Jesus’ body and blood still have faith.  But is their lamp still burning?  Where do they get their oil?

 

Just as often those who are genuinely Christians feel very confident of their faith, when they are really asleep.  And when they are woken up by the approach of death or the terrors of God’s Law, they feel the anxiety of the foolish virgins.  They look around desperately for the oil that will cause the flame of their faith to burn, but other Christians can’t give it to them.  They must receive the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, but it will be too late to do that on the day of Jesus’ return.

 

The foolish virgins were foolish because they were self-confident.  They had received Christ by faith, and faith as a gift of God.  But having received Christ by faith, and both as gifts, they trusted in themselves to maintain their faith instead of receiving Him in His Word and Sacrament.  And so their faith sputtered and went out.

 

Consider the anxiety and terror of these virgins, and their final despair.  Because though they were members of Christ’s church, washed clean of their sins, given a place at the wedding of the lamb, and even though they made a good beginning, they were locked out in the darkness with the unbelievers, consigned to damnation with the world.

 

Now let us consider the joy of the wise virgins.

 

The wise virgins were not different from the foolish in that they didn’t fall asleep.  We are children of the day and should always be awake and looking with hope and joy for Christ to return, separating ourselves from the darkness of this world.

 

But even those who persevere to the end fall and stumble.  Peter did.  He denied Christ in the hour of His crucifixion, and could not stay awake with Jesus during his suffering.  This was a great fall.  And no Christian is free from stumbling, wandering, temptation.

 

But God’s grace was with Peter and restored him.  It was not because Peter had earned God’s grace through listening to God’s Word.  Peter hadn’t earned anything.  God was simply gracious to Him.

 

The wise virgins, though they fell asleep, still had oil when they awoke.  They had brought extra.  This is the reason why we hear God’s Word, read His Word, memorize His Word, receive absolution and the sacrament of the altar.  We do it because it gives joy, but even if it does not, we also receive the Lord’s Word because it holds us up.  It gives us faith and increases our faith that we are righteous before God.  Because with all our sins and failings even as Christians, it holds up before us the one who has brought our sins, and all the darkness of this world, to an end.  It holds up Jesus crucified, who has buried our old self.  And it holds up Christ risen, ascended, and coming again in glory—the firstfruits of the new heavens and earth.  The head of His body the church.  The one who comes and leads those who are waiting for Him into the joy of His wedding.

 

The wise virgins had great joy.  They got to meet the bridegroom they had been awaiting and go with Him to the feast.

 

This world is not a feast, a celebration.  For awhile it sometimes seems like it is, but the revelry of this world comes to an end.  The joys of this world end in sorrow.

 

But for the wise virgins it is not so.  The sorrows of this world end in joy.  Death ends in life.  The end of this world begins the new world.

 

Christ has promised us a place in that new world, at the joy of God’s feast, the wedding of His Son.  Surely God can provide joy and pleasure better than what we can imagine here.

 

He gives us a taste of that feast today.  He gives us His Son’s body to eat and His blood to drink in the presence of the angels and archangels and the saints who have won the victory, who are waiting with us for the bridegroom to appear and bring us into the wedding hall.

 

Amen

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Out of the Great Tribulation. Trinity 25, 2018

November 23, 2018 Leave a comment

The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 24: 15-28

November 18, 2018

Coming Out of the Great Tribulation

 

Iesu iuva!

 

In the name of Jesus.

 

As we come to the end of the year, the days are shorter and shorter, and darkness takes over most of our hours.  Even the days are not very bright.  The skies are gray and the trees are bare.  But at Christmas, that will begin to change.  Light returns to the world.  That is one of the reasons that the end of the church year reminds us of the darkness of our fallen state and the darkness that will descend at the end of the world.  That darkness is broken not by our own efforts, but by God becoming a man, fulfilling the Law of God, and bringing our debt to an end.  Also, the darkness of the last days will not be lifted by our efforts, but by the return of the God-man, Jesus, which will be as the lightning that comes from the east and shines as far as the west (Matthew 24: 27). 

 

In the Gospel appointed to be read today, the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ describes the “great tribulation” through which the Church of the last times must come.

If we are willing to listen to Jesus today, then we hear Him warning us about the great suffering and danger that His disciples face in the last days.

 

He tells you how to recognize it, and how you will endure it.

 

How the great tribulation is recognized Jesus tells us at the very beginning of the reading.  When you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.  (Matthew 24:15-16)

 

An “abomination” in the Hebrew language means an idol.  Jesus says that we will recognize when His coming is near and the age is about to end by the abomination standing in the holy place.  When you see an abominable idol in the church that brings down desolation, you will know that it is the last days, the great tribulation has come.

 

This idol already was appearing in the Holy Christian Church in the time of the apostles.  Paul had to tear it down in the church in Galatia, which fell prey to the heresy that to be saved it is necessary not only to believe in Jesus but also to be circumcised and to keep other laws of the old Testament.  But Paul foretold of a day, not far in the future from him, when the idol wouldn’t be torn down in the church, but would come to dominate it.  In 2 Thessalonians chapter 2, St. Paul writes that the day of the Lord would not come until the rebellion comes…and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god and object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God (2 Thess. 2: 3-4). 

 

Well this day that Paul told about has come.  The man of lawlessness has been revealed for a long time—for at least 500 years, when Luther began to preach the pure Gospel, that a man is justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone, God who became man, fulfilled the Law of God, paid for our sins, and overcame the darkness.  When Luther began to preach this, it became clear that the pope was the man of lawlessness, because he claimed that his false gospel of works should be believed and obeyed instead of the Gospel that was clearly taught in Scripture.

 

But even though the Pope was exposed as the antichrist, the deceptions didn’t end.  First new forms of idolatry arose in churches that had been set free from the Pope’s gospel.  Then came indifference, secularism, and atheism, when people decided that no one could know for certain which doctrine was really from God, and so we had to tolerate everything and not be too concerned about whether we are justified through faith in Christ alone, or also through the intercession of Mary and the saints and our own good works; or whether faith is a gift of God or a choice, or whether God gives faith through His Word and Sacraments or without any means.  And this indifference to doctrine has infected nearly every church now, even so-called conservative ones, so that children and grandchildren have become indifferent not only to doctrine but also to Christ and His church and salvation.

 

Now we see not only the abomination, but also the desolation that comes from setting up an idol in the church.  We see a great falling away, so that now people don’t even bother to pretend to be Christians.  The desolation began long ago—now we are seeing the advanced stages of it.

 

The gospel that Christ alone is our righteousness is no longer being heard by very many.  It is what is preached in this church, but it is not preached by most churches in the United States.  How many are hearing it?  Fewer and fewer.  Which means fewer and fewer are being saved, because this Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16).

 

And as bad as this news is, the truth is that it will probably get worse.  Because Jesus warns us about the great tribulation that If those days were not cut short, no human being would be saved.  Eventually the Christian Church would be extinguished on earth.

 

This is how you recognize that you are in the great tribulation: the presence of the abomination of desolation—the church being corrupted by a false gospel that teaches us to trust in our works.  Now the question is, how will you endure the tribulation of the last days and come?

 

First you must realize that if it is left to you you will not endure.  The Lord says that false Christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect (Mt. 24: 24).  Even the elect, those God has chosen before the foundation of the world, would be led away to trust in a false Christ who works together with us but does not justify us by His cross alone.  Even the elect would be led astray and lost had God not chosen them before the foundations of the world.  If God does not choose you and uphold you, you will fall during the great tribulation.  Your will is not strong enough to overcome your flesh, which is opposed to God; it is not strong enough to overcome the world when the whole world is united in opposition to Jesus Christ.  Your will is not stronger than the devil’s will.

 

But how do I know God has chosen me?

 

God shows you that He has chosen you when He puts before your eyes Jesus Christ and Him crucified in the Gospel, when it is preached and taught to you.  He doesn’t show that He has chosen you by doing miracles and signs for you.  The devil and false prophets can do those, and they do them to lead you astray from Jesus to destruction.  God shows you that He has redeemed you by showing you His Son, who became a human baby for you to overcome the darkness of your birth, who was circumcised and put under the Law you could not fulfill.  Who was baptized in the Jordan River and numbered Himself with the transgressors.  Whose sweat poured from Him in prayer like great drops of blood as He wrestled with the punishment of sin that lay before Him.  Who was falsely accused and condemned to death, and dragged a shameful beam to a mountain in Judea and was lifted up, cursed and forsaken by God, and made desolate—for you.  And there He made atonement for your iniquity and sin, and rose and showed Himself free, showed the marks in His hands and side, that marks of your deliverance.

 

When this Jesus is put before your eyes, and He is preached as your salvation and righteousness without your works, God declares you to be His own.  When He baptized you, He placed His holy name upon You and made you His dwelling place, His holy one.  When He absolves you after you name your sins, He declares that He has chosen you.  Here are my sins, Lord.  Here is why I cannot see how I am saved or how I will be saved.  But I have chosen you, says the Lord. Your sins are forgiven.  For those He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.  So when you come to His table today and eat His body and drink His blood, He says that you are justified and you are glorified.  “I will be glorified, you mean.”  No, you are glorified, though you don’t see it or feel it.  You are saved, though you are still in a world of danger.  Because you partake of Christ’s body and blood that overcame your sin, the world, and the devil.

 

In these last days of great tribulation the stress and temptation becomes more intense as people turn away from Christ.  It is difficult to believe that we are glorified when we seem so weak and so few and so sinful ourselves.  We wonder if Christ is enough without numbers, wealth, influence.  So we are tempted to look for Christ out in the desert, hiding from the world, or perhaps in the inner rooms, looking for a mystical experience; we are prey, if some false prophet comes with great signs, wonders, or even simply great talent to achieve some kind of earthly glory for us.

 

Do not go out, do not believe, says Jesus.  When Jesus appears in glory to glorify us no one will need to tell us where He is; like lightning His glory will appear and glorify His saints scattered from one end of the earth to the other.

 

In the meantime, you will look for Him in vain if you look for power and glory and relief from the cross.  Instead He will be found when He is preached as He sent His apostles to preach—as the one who was crucified for us and rose again, and who, solely by becoming man and being crucified in shame, justified us before God.  He will be found only where He is preached in this way, as the Savior who can be received by faith alone, only as a gift.  And where He is so preached and believed, you will find His chosen ones who will come through the great tribulation into His glory in white robes.

 

Therefore we rejoice in the glory given to us today—that Jesus, God in the flesh, comes to us in His body and blood, and gathers to this table those He has chosen out of the world to be His own.

 

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Death Is But a Slumber. Trinity 24, 2018

November 17, 2018 Leave a comment

jesus rulers daughter.PNG24th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 9:18-26

November 11, 2018

Death Is But a Slumber

 

Iesu iuva!

 

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

 

In His hand are the depths of the earth,

The heights of the mountains are His also.  Ps. 95:4 (introit)

 

How big God’s hand must be to hold the deep places of the earth, those underwater canyons thousands of miles below the ocean’s surface, where no light reaches!  And then in the same hand He holds the Andes and Himalayas, towering up in the thin air where none of us ever travel.  He holds the deeps and the heights the way we hold a pencil or coin.  The hand of the Lord made them, and His hand holds them up.

 

But the God who created distant stars and strange sea creatures 30,000 feet deep doesn’t feel close and friendly.  He holds things in His hand we do not understand, and we realize that it can’t be the real God if we can hold Him in our hand.

 

This is also why many people don’t believe in the God of the Bible.  They can’t imagine how the God who made the distant galaxies is the same God who in the Bible is so interested in man, who created man in His image and placed him in a garden, who told him to build an ark and bring two of every animal in.

 

That’s how unbelief works for many people today.  2000 years ago, when Jesus walked the earth, it wasn’t a lot different.

 

The ruler of the synagogue believed that the hand of the Lord that holds distant galaxies, height and depth, life and death, was attached to this man Jesus, who had a mother named Mary.  My daughter has just died, but come lay your hand on her, and she will live.

 

But the people at his house did not believe this.  Look, Jesus has a human name like one of us, a mother like one of us.  We know the town he grew up in.  He talks like one of us.  He eats barley bread like we do.  He has to pay taxes to Caesar just like us.  And He is nice, friendly, gentle toward us.  He is one of us, a man.  Therefore He cannot possibly be YHWH, the LORD, who turned the Nile River into blood and parted the ocean so that our ancestors could come through it, who took dirt and made the first man and told him, You shall not eat of the tree in the middle of the garden, for on the day you eat of it, you will surely die.

 

They were wailing and making a commotion and playing flutes.  It was a funeral.  Jesus told them all, “Get out, because the girl is not dead, but asleep.”  No funeral, she is just sleeping.

 

Of course she was really dead, otherwise all this noise would have woken her up.

 

But Jesus does not call it death.  Because to Him death is not death; He holds death in His hand, just as He holds the snowy peaks of the mountains and the sea vents on the ocean floor.  He controls death and life.  Death cannot hold you unless He says so.  But He has come that death may not hold us.

 

People are afraid of death.  Many people say they aren’t, but they think that death is just when you stop breathing.  But death is more than that.  Death is when you stop being young.  Death is when your glory and beauty fade, when your body hurts.  Death is not just at the end of this life; death is this life.  “In the midst of life we are in death” says the old hymn we sang a version of a little bit ago. You die when you stop breathing, but before that “snares of death surround us.”  Death begins when you are conceived a sinner who does not know God and does not want God.  It continues until your breath stops and then continues—forever.

 

This is why the great miracle is not to have an extension of this life.  The old hymn that Martin Luther rewrote that we sang today said, “In the midst of life, we are in death.”

 

The great miracle is to be given a new life that is truly life, to be released from death forever.  To be born again as a son of God.

 

And this miracle God’s hand has done for you.

 

To quote St. John’s first epistle: And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son does not have life.  1 John 5:11-12

 

The epistle reading today said it this way: …giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  Col. 1:12-14

 

The redemption, is in this Jesus. He died for your sins and burst the prison of death.  He was loosed and set free from your sins when He rose from the dead.  Your sins have been undone.  And He lives.  And His life is your life. By His beloved Son’s death and resurrection, you have been qualified to participate in the inheritance of the holy ones in everlasting light, in the light shining from the glorious face of God.

 

To be qualified to share with the saints is to have a new life already.  In the midst of this life of death you have the eternal life, the inheritance of God’s chosen ones.  The life that Jesus has is yours. That is what God has been telling you in the story you have heard since you were children.  That Jesus died for your sins and rose again for you, rose to life at God’s right hand.  This life in Jesus is yours.  If you believe it you have been raised up and given a new life.  Not given an extension in this life of death, but a new life.

 

The synagogue ruler believed that Jesus was life for him and his daughter.

 

What he believed is what God tells you in the Gospel.  The mighty one who holds in his hand death and life and depths and heights, far more than you understand, is near to you and is for you.  He is in Jesus.  When you confess all the reasons that God should punish you and give you over to death, He speaks to you and says that Jesus’ death was to undo your sins and His resurrection was to justify you.  “I forgive you all your sins”—that is the voice of God speaking to you in the absolution.

 

He says there again what He said when a few handfuls of water were poured on you in the name of the Trinity.  When that happened He said, this is not just water.  You are delivered out of the power of darkness and death, and transferred into the Kingdom of my beloved Son, to live forever and have a portion with the saints in the light of my face.

 

So death is not the same thing to us as to the world that does not believe in Jesus.

 

To the world, death is a loss than can never be restored.  Unbelievers tell themselves that everyone goes to heaven when they die.  Yet they have no certainty, and they live as if this life, in which snares of death surround us, is all we can be sure of.

 

But for us who hold on to Jesus in faith, death is not an irrecoverable loss but a sleep from which we will awaken.  That’s why Christians invented the term “cemetery.”  It means “sleeping place,” because the Christians believed that their dead brothers and sisters would rise together.

 

This is how the Lord Jesus wants you to see death, because this is what He has made death for us.  It is not more powerful than Him.  He has power over it; and He has declared to us that we are released from it.  Our loved ones in Christ are not really dead.  They are sleeping and will soon arise in glory—they will come into their inheritance.  The weakness and suffering of the church and her members in this world are not the final word.  The church’s dying will be swallowed up in life, just as her bridegroom’s death was swallowed by the empty tomb on Easter Sunday.

 

Do you doubt this though?  Do you tremble at death—at your last breath, at the pain that will come before it?  Are you fearful when it seems like Christ’s Church is dying?  Come with your weak faith and your trembling, doubting heart to Jesus.  Ask that by the body that He took up to give you life and the blood that He shed to redeem you He would make you deaf to the world’s laughter and hopeful that “death is but a slumber.”

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

True Faith and Its Growth. Trinity 21 2018

October 24, 2018 Leave a comment

Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 4:46-54
October 21, 2018
True Faith and Its Growth

Iesu Iuva

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

We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law, St. Paul says in Romans chapter 3 (3:28). That is the summary of what makes the Lutheran Church different from the Catholic and other Protestant Churches. We believe that a person becomes righteous before God and is saved not by doing good things or even being good, but only by believing in Jesus who has done God’s will in our place.

Sometimes Lutherans forget how strange this sounds to people who haven’t heard it a lot. It not only goes against what people think who have no religion at all; it also goes against the thinking of most people who think of themselves as Christians. It is firmly rooted in people’s understanding that if God is going to do good to you, you should deserve it. The idea that God would do good to you and love you when you are undeserving—that God would show you grace—goes against the way we think God acts, or the way He should act.

The common misunderstanding of this teaching of justification by faith alone is that we preach that instead of requiring many things of us, God only requires one—that we believe certain facts about Jesus. But this is not what it means when we say that a person is “justified by faith.”

What it means is that, being convicted by God’s law as sinners, as those who don’t do his will, a person believes that for Jesus’ sake God counts him to be righteous. This is not a dead knowledge of certain facts about Jesus. It is trust in Jesus, worked by God in a person who is struck with terror that he is guilty before God. If you are convicted that you have angered God and brought down His anger upon you by breaking His commandments, it is not an easy thing to believe that God counts you righteous and forgives you, because His Son was crucified in your place. A person can talk about it and understand it easily enough, but to trust in Christ alone, to take refuge in Him alone, is not possible unless the Holy Spirit enters our heart.

But where there is a small, faltering faith that trusts Jesus, even alongside of great fear, there is salvation. Because even a small, weak faith takes hold of Jesus Christ and all that He has—His obedience to God’s Law, His death that pays in full our violations of it, His resurrection and unconquerable life. Strong faith and weak faith take hold of the same Jesus.

But Christ is not content to let faith in Him stay weak. It’s not even possible for true faith to remain weak. It has to grow or it has to die. That’s how living things are—even us. The scientists say that no sooner do you reach your early 20s, then you start dying. And the Holy Spirit who creates faith is called “the Lord and giver of life” in the Nicene Creed. The faith He creates doesn’t stay still. It grows and becomes stronger and produces spiritual fruits and flowers—otherwise it’s not the kind of faith that saves—just a human fabrication that is dead and unable to save, because it doesn’t lay hold of Jesus Christ.

Faith also has to grow and become stronger because it has an enemy that is constantly working to destroy it. Paul talked about this in the Epistle reading (from Ephesians ch. 6). The devil is constantly scheming to destroy faith in Christ. If it were not for the fact that true faith holds Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Satan would not have to scheme; He could simply mow us down, because he is “the cosmic power over this present darkness.” He runs this world order, and he is far more powerful and intelligent than us. But he is not able to overcome those who hold on to Jesus Christ by faith, because he is not stronger or wiser than the Son of God. So instead the devil constantly schemes and tests to overthrow the faith of those who believe in Jesus. And he never quits, and never gets tired.

So faith has to get stronger and lay firmer hold of Jesus. And that is why Jesus works to strengthen our faith once it has begun. This is what happens in the Gospel reading today. A nobleman or royal official comes to Jesus because he has a son, sick with a fever, who is about to die. He travels from Capernaum, by the Sea of Galilee, about 20 miles west to Cana, where Jesus turned the water in to wine. He wants to ask Jesus to come heal his son.

The man had faith in Jesus. He didn’t just have a theoretical understanding about Jesus: “He is able to heal sick people.” He had faith and trust that Jesus could heal and would heal his son. Otherwise he would have turned away as soon as Jesus answered him. Because what did Jesus say in response to the man’s request? He said, Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe. He is rebuking the man for his lack of faith.

But the nobleman doesn’t leave. He still believes Jesus will heal his son. So he says, Lord, come down before my child dies! You wouldn’t speak this way if you disbelieved. See, the nobleman believes Jesus can heal his son. But he can’t see how Jesus can do it unless He comes back 20 miles to Capernaum to be in the same room with his son. He thinks Jesus needs to touch his son to heal him. Or maybe he thinks Jesus’ voice can only carry so far.

Instead, Jesus says, Go, your son lives. And the man goes away trusting what Jesus said, even though he can’t see his son healed; he can’t see how Jesus can do it. He trusts Jesus and what Jesus says.

That is the way true faith in Jesus, created by the Holy Spirit, saving faith—that’s how it works. It doesn’t rest on what it sees and what the person feels and what makes sense to us. It simply holds on to the naked word of God.

When faith grows stronger, it depends on the bare word of God more and more.

By nature this is not how anyone operates, not even the disciples of Jesus. Remember how they were when Jesus was sleeping in the boat with them and there was a huge storm? They were terrified for their lives. They went by what they saw and felt, and their feelings and eyes told them they were doomed.

But we should trust Christ and His Word more that what we see and feel. The world and everything in it that our lives seem to depend on were created and formed by the Word of God. By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host, said the memory verse from “Watch and Pray” a few weeks back—Psalm 33 verse 6. Whatever Jesus says is more solid and reliable than the things we see and the things we feel.

Jesus speaks directly to us this same omnipotent word. Today He spoke to Jesse in the hearing of everyone here: I baptize you. Admittedly it was my voice you all heard; yet the Word is the word of Jesus. He is the one who commissioned His apostles: Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who instituted this washing with water done in the name of the Holy Trinity. So from now on, whatever happens in Jesse’s life, Jesus will be using everything to drive him to take hold more firmly of the promise spoken to him on this day. To learn to say what Martin Luther said he was trying to learn to say with confidence: I am baptized. And if I am baptized then I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in body and soul.

Jesus speaks to us in other ways. He told the nobleman from Capernaum: Go, your son lives. The man had to go, trusting what he could not see. He either had to become stronger in faith, where he would now believe that Jesus could help and heal with His Word anywhere in the world, regardless of whether He was physically present with the one to be healed. Or else his faith would have shipwrecked.

To us Jesus says, This is my body, for you. This cup is the new testament in my blood, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.

And, faced with the trials that beset us individually, as a church, He is teaching us to put our trust in Him and His words to us—in Baptism, in the Supper, in absolution—and not what we can see, or feel, or what makes sense to us.

To believe that He is for us—body, blood—all He is. All His life and righteousness. To save us from our sins, from everlasting death. And if He gives His own flesh and blood to us to eat and drink, He must be for us and not against us. He must make everything turn out well for us. He must be united to us, whatever the storms or darkness we find ourselves in.

When we die, this is how it will be. We will be letting go of everything we can see and feel, but must believe in the face of this loss that all is well for us. That we are not losing but gaining.

Everything we feel and see will tell us otherwise. How will we be able to hold fast to Jesus, and believe that death is not destroying us, but giving us God’s glory and eternal life.

We will not be able to believe this in ourselves. But the Lord strengthens the faith that He has begun in us here so that we will be able to cling to His Word in the face of all that we feel and see. As the Lord sends us trials now, and we cling in the midst of those trials, to Jesus’ promises, we are being strengthened for when we face our greatest trials at the end of our lives.

This is why you must not sleep, but be near His Word and learn to cling to it now, so that when the night comes, His word will be your light. So you will have learned to cling to it when it goes against what you see and feel.

And learning to do this is also the only thing that will give new life and joy to us as a congregation.

May the Lord who added Jesse to His family today cause him and all of us who are baptized to cling to His word to us there, and to increase in our trust in that bare word. Amen.

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

Soli Deo Gloria

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