Archive for the ‘The Article of Justification’ Category

Good Friday, Chief Service 2017. Why is This Friday Good?

crucifixion grunewaldGood Friday—Chief Service (1 PM)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 19:28-30, 34 (John 18-19, Is. 52:13-53:12, 2 Cor. 5:14-21)

April 14, 2017

Why is this Friday “Good”?


Iesu Iuva


My son asked me—last Sunday, I think it was: “Why is it called ‘Good Friday’?  It doesn’t seem good.”  We sit here in a church stripped bare, in darkness, hearing the agony of our Lord Jesus read out loud, hearing the reproaches of God against us a little on from now, praying prayers asking God for mercy.  It indeed does not seem good.  When we look at the mockery of Jesus, think of the shame and wounds He endured, and consider also that God looked with anger and wrath on His Son as well, because He was carrying the sin of the world, like the scapegoat in the Levitical Law—it is not good.  The sin we were born in, the sins we have committed knowingly and unknowingly, the sin we often excuse, tolerate, continue in and think we can repent later—not good.  Here we see it unmasked for what it is: sin brings death.  Sin brings God’s anger and punishment.  God will not leave sin unpunished.


The word “good” in Good Friday probably originally meant something different than we think when we hear it.  It probably meant something like “holy” or “godly.”


Yet it is right to think of Good Friday as being “good” in the way we normally use the word.  Good Friday is good because on Good Friday (together with Easter) Jesus fulfilled or “finished” the Gospel, the “Good News.”  He finished the message that His apostles would later proclaim, and that the Reformation began to proclaim again after it was lost.  He finished the good news of our justification before God, our being accounted righteous, as Isaiah the prophet put it, our being “released from sin.”


On this day Jesus “finished” the content of the Gospel.

  1. It is recognized as good news only by helpless, condemned sinners, terrified by God’s Law;
  2. But to them it is very good, because it proclaims that Jesus finished our sin and God’s wrath on the cross, and that through His Work alone, received by faith, we are accounted righteous, or justified.




The world doesn’t receive the preaching of Jesus’ suffering and death as good news.  There are plenty of people who understand intellectually what we preach, that Jesus suffered for our sins so that we might not be condemned—as St. Paul writes: For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew know sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:17).  There are plenty of people who understand this with their minds.  Some—many even—profess to believe this. Yet their faith goes no deeper than their mind and intellect; it is not a faith worked by the Holy Spirit, giving salvation, on which a person stakes his life and eternity.


Such a person doesn’t really regard the death of Jesus as good news.  The suffering and death of Jesus, after all, doesn’t seem like anything to rejoice in.  A man dying in shame and mockery a horrible death seems weak and useless to the world, not joyful, happy news.


The agony of Jesus, the death of Jesus, is good news, whether a person realizes it or not.  But most people do not.  There are many people who come to church occasionally who hear the death of Jesus proclaimed, but it appears to make no impression on them.  It does not lead them to renounce their sins, hear God’s Word more frequently, be baptized, live a life that is by faith in the One who died for them.  Even on those who regularly come to hear the Word of Christ preached and receive His body and blood, there are many for whom it does not appear to be particularly good news.


That’s because although it is good news for all people, although it is the best news there is—it is only recognized as good news by the people the Bible refers to as “the poor”.  It is recognized as good news by people who have been brought to a knowledge of sin, who as a result are terrified and afflicted.


A person comes to this knowledge through the Law of God.  The more we look into God’s Law, or hear it, the more we become conscious of our guilt before God, and the seriousness of His anger against those who disobey His Law.  This is one of the reasons why you are so often encouraged and exhorted to learn the Small Catechism by heart and to read the Bible.  When you do, the Holy Spirit will often convict you of your sin before God.  You don’t get very far in the Bible before God starts commanding things and you realize you haven’t done them.  You can’t read the Bible very long before you are confronted with an example of God threatening or punishing sinners, and realizing that you are guilty of the same sins that caused Him to send the flood, or drown Pharaoh, or reject Saul.  The words of Psalm 5 are an example: For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not sojourn with You.  The boastful may not stand before Your eyes; You hate all evildoers.  You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors bloodthirsty and deceitful men.  (v. 4-6)  Is there anyone here today who has never spoken lies?


Those who are brought to a knowledge of their sin become frightened by words like these; we become conscious of the guilt we bear before God and His anger against us as sinners, and we look for how we can become free from sin.  Because we are Lutherans, we learn that we are to take the guilt of our sin to Jesus, who atoned for the sins of the world.


But even as Christians, we find that sin remains with us.  Even if we don’t know it from experience, we can look at the example of St. Peter and see just how much evil and weakness remains even in Christ’s disciples.  Peter said, “I will die with you,” and couldn’t keep his pledge for a few hours.  We are not able to do “our part” to be faithful Christians.  We can’t keep ourselves from falling into sin.


In fact, we are not even able to produce the faith that takes hold of Jesus and saves us.  The more you see your sin, the more your heart trembles in fear of God, or in anger against Him at putting you in this impossible situation of trying to please Him when you can’t.  The more you see yourself fall, the more difficult it becomes in the flesh to believe that God has really forgiven you.


This is a terrible feeling to those who have experienced it.  Such a person feels forsaken by God.


But even if a person has not experienced this so intensely, only those who have come to the knowledge of their sin through God’s Law hear the death of Jesus as good news.  A person may not have felt God’s wrath in their hearts so intensely, or felt forsaken by God.  But all Christians believe testimony of the Word of God, that there is nothing good in them, that born in the sin transmitted by Adam to his descendants, they are by nature spiritually dead, enemies of God.  And all Christians know that God is angry at sin and will certainly punish it with suffering in this life, with death, and with eternal torment in hell.


And in the cross and death of Jesus we see this.  Jesus was born without sin and never committed sin.  The result was that He was immortal.  He was not subject to death, and certainly not to God’s anger, certainly not to His condemnation.


Yet today, on Good Friday, we see Jesus die.  We hear Him cry that He is forsaken by God.  We see how angry God is with our sins, that He would not spare His Son, when His Son was carrying all the sins of the world, but punished Him, turned His face from Him, allowed His Son to die and, while dying, to experience His condemnation and curse.


We also see in the Passion of Jesus that it is not just a human being who is suffering and dying on the cross.  Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father, God of God, light of light.  He tells Pilate “my Kingdom is from another place.”  And when Pilate hears that Jesus has declared that He is the Son of God, Pilate is afraid.  It is fearful to think that not just a man suffers the mockery, the agony, and death of the cross.  It shows not only how wicked human beings are, that His own people would reject Him and demand Him to be put to death.  It shows how serious our sins are in God’s sight, that He would require nothing less than the suffering of God in the flesh to atone for them.


When the rebellious people of Israel were thirsty in the desert, God caused water to flow out of a rock and quenched their thirst.  He refreshed them, even though they were rebellious and unfaithful.  But His faithful Son, there is no refreshment.  Jesus is given sour wine to drink and no water, which is a picture of how the Father did not turn away His wrath from His Son.  He did not relent, but gave Jesus the cup of His wrath, which belonged to us.  It had to be drained to the bottom.




All that is very bad news.  If you take it to heart you will be troubled and distressed, because you realize that Jesus’ agony is a picture of the agony you will endure in hell unless your sin and guilt is removed.


But how can that happen, when we continue to be sinners?


This is the good news that Jesus finished on Good Friday, the good news of the pure Gospel:


We cannot purge away our sins, not even with the help of the Holy Spirit, so that God will no longer be angry with us.


Our sins must be “put away”.  We must be “released” from them.  Our sin must be covered, as the 32nd psalm says.

This is why Good Friday is rightly called good, because this is what Jesus does today.  He covers our sins and makes us to be accounted righteous, as Isaiah 53 said.


When the stripes are laid open on Jesus’ back by the whip, we are healed, and peace with God is being made for us.


When He is mocked and scorned as a King with a crown of thorns, and a jeering crowd calls for Him to be crucified, God is leading Him like a lamb to be slaughtered for our sins; and Jesus does not open His mouth to protest.


He is being oppressed and afflicted by God; God the Father’s will is to crush Jesus, so that we may not be crushed, but be accounted righteous, be declared not wicked but righteous and without sin.


Jesus is “reconciling the Father to us” as He is nailed to the cross and lifted up to hang there under His curse.  He thirsts and is forsaken by God, so that we will not be forsaken, or thirst for God and not have our thirst be quenched.  God does not let us thirst because His anger is removed from us.  He is reconciled to us and at peace.  “The chastisement that brought us peace was upon Him.”


That is why Isaiah says, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied, by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Is. 53:11)


Jesus made us to be accounted righteous by God.  Not as a fiction, a lie.  But really making payment sufficient for God to count our sins to us no longer, so that we are really righteous and just and without sin through faith in Jesus alone.


“It is finished,” says Jesus.  What is finished?  The atonement for our sins; God’s reconciliation with sinners, the forgiveness of our sins.  It is finished.  Nothing is to be done but to receive this Word of Jesus and believe that, as great as your sins are, Jesus has paid the sufficient ransom to set you free from them.


Paul says, God committed to us the ministry of reconciliation. He means the ministry of preaching this Gospel.  This is why God invented the pastoral office and why He still sends men out to preach His pure Gospel.


It is to bring you good news, so that you may not thirst and get sour wine, so that you may not thirst like the rich man in hell, longing for a drop of water in the flames but never receiving one.  Instead you are to receive the water of the Gospel for your thirst.  That water does not come from nowhere.  It comes from Jesus’ death.



Just as His body was pierced and water and blood poured, so God pours on You His grace.  Announces your justification and His reconciliation with you, that He has put all your sins on His Son. Releases you from sin in the absolution.  Purifies you in His sight, burying and resurrecting you with Jesus in Baptism.


Giving you His flesh to eat and blood to drink.


This streams to you from Jesus’ death, here and now.


So we call it “Good Friday,” because Jesus finished the good news on this day.  Good like God said His creation was very good before the fall.  Now God says all who believe in Christ are good like that; spotless, pure, holy, through faith in Jesus alone—a new creation.





The Gospel for the Unforgivable

September 26, 2013 Leave a comment

cranach jesus adulteress 1532reposted from Chad Bird’s blog “The Flying Scroll”

They walked to the gallows together, pastor and penitent.  Each step up took them closer to the fall–the abbreviated, fatal fall to come.  As the criminal stood above the trapdoor that, moments later, would open to rope him into eternity, an officer asked him if he had any final words.  ”I place all my confidence in the Lamb who made atonement for my sins. May God have mercy on my soul,”  he said.  Then, turning toward the man who had been the shepherd of his soul during his incarceration, who had been his confessor, his preacher, and the one from whose hand he had received the body and blood of Jesus in the Supper, he said, ”I’ll see you again.”  Then noosed, hooded in black, and legs tied, he dropped out of this world into another.

As gripping as this account is, no doubt many similar scenarios have played out in the course of history, where condemned men have found repentance and faith when certain death looms nigh.  What makes this story remarkable is that this man, along with many others who were hanged that day, was among the most hated men in human history, guilty of atrocities so horrific only words forged in hell could adequately describe them.  These were Hitler’s men.  His closest confidants.  His very own pack of wolves.  Yet in the months leading up to their executions or imprisonments, many of them had been transformed from Hitler’s wolves into Christ’s lambs thanks to the ministry of a farm boy from Missouri, who grew up to be a pastor, and who reluctantly agreed to be the chaplain of the fifteen Protestant war criminals during the Nuremberg trials at the close of World War II.

Henry Gerecke was in his early 50′s when he went, cell by cell, to introduce himself to his infamous ‘congregation’ and to invite them to chapel services.  Some refused, others wavered, and still others promised to be there.  Of the fifteen chairs set up for the first service, thirteen of them were filled.  Scriptures were read, sermons preached, hymns sung, prayers prayed.  And, through it all, hearts were changed.  Soon some of the very lips that had once barked, ”Heil Hitler!” spoke a repentance-confessing, faith-affirming Amen as they knelt to eat and drink the body and blood of their forgiving Lord.  They expressed a desire for their children to be baptized.  One of them, though he began reading the Bible to find justification for his unbelief, ended up being led to faith by the very same divine words.  So reliant did these men become upon their pastor that, when a rumor surfaced that he might be relieved of his duty and allowed to return home, they wrote a letter to Mrs. Gerecke, begging her to ask him to stay.  On that letter were the signatures of all these former Nazis, men who had enjoyed power and rank, now humbly beseeching a housewife in America, who had not seen her husband for two and a half years, to let him stay.  In her brief reply, “They need you,” is packed a whole volume about sacrifice and love.

Pastor Gerecke’s story has already been told (see links below), but it deserves to be retold, again and again, to every generation, for two very important reasons.  The first has to do with the men to whom he ministered, the ones who repented and believed in Christ.  The scandal of Christianity is not that these men went to heaven; it is that God loved them so much that he was willing to die to get them there.  Had it been a human decision, many would have thrown these men, guilty of such atrocities, into the flames of hell.  But the truth is that people are not condemned because they murder, or steal, or lie, but because they reject Jesus as the one who has already endured hell for them on the cross, and earned a place for them in heaven.  There is no one who is so vile that he is beyond redemption, because the redemption of Christ envelops all people.

Another reason Pastor Gerecke’s story needs to be remembered involves his vocation, and those who share it.  What pastor, knowing he was about to visit men such as these, would not have struggled to find any hope in their possible repentance?  But Gerecke visited each cell anyway, invited each man to hear the Word, and left it to the Spirit to do the work of making new creations of these hardened criminals.  Nor did he mince words, surrender his convictions, or water down the truth for them.  On the evening before he was to be hanged, one of the men, Goering, asked to be communed, just in case he was wrong and there was some truth to the Christian claims.  But Gerecke refused to give the Sacrament to one who so obstinately refused repentance, and treated the Supper as if it were an edible, just-in-case, insurance policy.  When Christ calls men into the office of the holy ministry, he calls them to be faithful—not successful, not popular, not practical, not winsome, not cool, but faithful.  They are to preach even when they doubt it will bear fruit.  They are to give the word of Christ to sinners, and let the Christ of that word do his work.  And he does.  He convicts, he calls, he saves, he baptizes, he feeds, and, finally, he welcomes one and all into his kingdom with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

In 1961, at the age of sixty-eight, Pastor Gerecke passed from this life into the next.  He entered that innumerable company of saints who had gone before him, some of whom had been among his flock during his years of ministry, one of whom, atop the gallows, had promised, “I’ll see you again.”  And he did.

Online Resources:

I strongly urge you to click on one or all of the links below to read Pastor Gerecke’s story.  The details and quotes I included above are from these resources.

Gerecke’s story, in his own words, was published in the Saturday Evening Post, 1, September, 1951, pp. 18-19, under the title, “I walked to the Gallows with the Nazi Chiefs.”  Click here to read his story:

Don Stephens, in War and Grace:  Short biographies from the World Wars, (Evangelical Press, Faverdale North, Darlington, DL3 0PH, England) devotes a chapter to Gerecke and his ministry.  The chapter is available online at:

In 1950, Gerecke was called to be Assistant Pastor at St. JohnLutheranChurch, Chester, IL.  That congregation’s website includes audio files of Pastor Gerecke speaking about his experience.  These can be listened to by following the link below, and clicking on the audio files on the right side of the website.


Like a Loaded Gun Pointed At Your Face–Luther

September 15, 2013 5 comments

martin-luther-152614.  …We must believe that our righteousness, salvation, and comfort lie outside of ourselves, namely, that we are righteous before God, acceptable to him, holy and wise, even though there is nothing within us but sin, injustice, and stupidity.  In my conscience there is nothing but an awareness and feeling of sin and of the fear of death; and, therefore, I must look elsewhere for help, and must believe that there is no sin and no death.  A person who refuses to see what he does see, and who refuses to feel what he does feel must be completely bewitched.  My eyes see a bronze gulden, a sword, fire, and yet I’m supposed to say, That is not a bronze gulden, no sword, no fire.  That’s how it is with the forgiveness of sins.  I feel that I have been a bad boy, that I still am a bad boy, and yet I’m supposed to say, All my sins are forgiven; for this is the message that has been proclaimed to me: “Your sins are forgiven.”


16.  But I repeat, flesh and blood have this affliction, that they are always trying to bring up something on which they can depend.  Human nature is defenseless against a bad habit; it cannot avoid an awareness of sins and yet cannot believe in pure grace and the forgiveness of sins.  If you have developed this skill, of not seeing what you do see, and of not feeling what you do feel, then let me tell you about something nobler and more majestic.  But I warn you, it will take you a long time to develop this artistic skill!  For this business of faith in the forgiveness of sins is just as if someone were aiming a loaded gun at your face and was ready to pull the trigger, and yet you are to believe and to say, Not to worry!


18.  Now there is no way of receiving forgiveness of sins except to simply close my eyes and believe that my sins are forgiven, as we pray in the Christian Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit…the forgiveness of sins.”  But by nature my reason would prefer to have this article avoid calling sin “sin”, and would instead describe it as an apparent but imaginary sin; in other words, that sin would be a word used only in a self-deprecating way to indicate humility.  In short, I would prefer to present myself to the Lord as a falsely accused sinner, and to confess myself to be a sinner but without feeling guilty of sin.  To me that would be the ideal kind of sinner.    …So, whoever wants to truly confess that he is a sinner must see to it that he is not confessing any dreamed up or imaginary sins.  He must confess that his sins are just as real as adultery, theft , murder, and the like, that is, that these sins are so great that they will take you to hell unless they are forgiven.  For even if we don’t commit all the gross, outward sins like adultery, theft, or murder, nevertheless, unless we have this benefit of believing in the forgiveness of sins, our sins will damn us to the abyss of hell.


…The uneducated masses have no idea of what either sin or the forgiveness of sins is.  But we who assume that we do know what forgiveness of sins is will have to keep on learning what it is as long as we live.  For it is our natural inclination to try to erase our sins by our own efforts and to minimize our sins by saying, “I’m not aware of having committed any special sins; I’m not an adulterer, or a thief, or a murderer, and so on.  Our confession of sins, however, must be genuine, so that before God we plead: Dear Lord, if you enter into judgment with me, what you will find is not imaginary, but genuine, great sins…That is the kind of confession of sins that is required, for if the forgiveness of sins is to be genuine, then the sins themselves must also be genuine.


21.  So Christ created this article, forgiveness of sins, in us through baptism but he also continues to maintain it through the Word, Sacrament, absolution, and the Holy Spirit whom he sends into the heart.  Sin is indeed present in us, but is forgiven, just as the snakes which some people carry about in their bosoms are indeed reptiles, but nonpoisonous ones.  That’s how it is with the sin that weights us down; it is truly sin, but it is not a damning kind of sin, because it is forgiven.  It is like death which destroys the Christian physically; it is truly death, but a death that has already been overcome…

Martin Luther, “Sermon on the 22nd Sunday after Trinity (1530)”, House Postil

Eating Garbage…and the Holy Ghost’s Tail-Feathers

April 20, 2013 9 comments

garbage eatersSwallowing the Holy Ghost, Feathers and All…or, “How I Almost Became a Garbage-Eater” (part 1)

For freedom Christ has made you free.  Therefore, stand firm and do not again become subject to a yoke of slavery.  Galatians 5:1

When someone hears himself being admonished by these glorious words, with the salvation or damnation of his soul at stake, he becomes frightened and makes a commitment immediately, unless he is well armed and well grounded against this. For it cuts like a sharp razor and penetrates body and soul.  Luther, The Sermon on the Mount.  Luther’s Works: American Edition, vol. 21, pp. 252-253.

When I left home, I was 17.  I moved as far as I could away from the Chicago suburbs.  Then I came back and went to the University of Illinois for a year.  Halfway through the second semester I decided that the reason I was so miserable was because I lived in Champaign, Illinois.*

*for further information on this you can begin your research here:

So after no small amount of mental and emotional anguish for both me and my family, I dropped out of U of I and ended up back in Seattle.

Strangely enough, I did not end up happier in Seattle.  In fact I was more depressed and miserable.  I would get into why, but that would take a long time.  The point of this story is not to tell you about how bad I used to be (or still am) but about the way the devil can destroy a person who has become convicted of sin.  That is, if the gospel is not preached to the convicted person immediately.

The Lutheran Confessions talk about this.  But it takes experience to understand what the Confessions are talking about.  And even if you’ve experienced it, it takes the Holy Spirit to give wisdom to you so that you don’t hammer and crush people who are already convicted of their sins.

The Apology of the Augsburg Confession (On Justification, parts 36f.):

Lastly, it was very foolish for the adversaries to write that men who are under eternal wrath merit the remission of sins by an act of love, which springs from their mind since it is impossible to love God, unless the remission of sins be apprehended first by faith. For the heart, truly feeling that God is angry, cannot love God, unless He be shown to have been reconciled. As long as He terrifies us, and seems to cast us into eternal death, human nature is not able to take courage, so as to love 37] a wrathful, judging, and punishing God [poor, weak nature must lose heart and courage, and must tremble before such great wrath, which so fearfully terrifies and punishes, and can never feel a spark of love before God Himself comforts].


English: C.F.W. Walther was the founder of the...

English: C.F.W. Walther was the founder of the Missouri Synod. There are four known photos of him in existence. This one was not previously on Wikimedia Commons. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

C.F.W. Walther, the “founding father” of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, quotes Luther to this effect in The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel:


“The doctrine of the Law, then, was given for this purpose, that a person be given a sweat-bath of anguish and sorrow under the teaching of the Law. Otherwise men become sated and surfeited and lose all relish of the Gospel. If you meet with such people, pass them by; we are not preaching to them. This preaching is for the thirsty; to them the message is brought: ‘Let them come to Me; I will give them to drink and refresh them.’ ”


“The Law cannot restore the soul, for it is a word that makes demands upon us and commands us to love God with our whole heart, etc., and our neighbor as ourselves. The Law condemns every person who fails to do this and pronounces this sentence upon him: Cursed is every one that doeth not all that is written in the book of the Law. Now, it is certain that no man on earth is doing this. Therefore, in due time the Law approaches the sinner, filling his soul with sadness and fear. If no respite is provided from its smiting, it continues its onslaught forcing the sinner into despair and eternal damnation. Therefore St. Paul says: By the law is only the knowledge of sin. Again: ‘The Law worketh nothing but wrath.’ The Gospel, however, is a blessed word; it makes no demands upon us, but only proclaims good tidings to us, namely, that God has given His only Son for us poor sinners to be our Shepherd, to seek us famished and scattered sheep, to give His life for our redemption from sin, everlasting death, and the power of the devil.”


After almost becoming a garbage-eater and swallowing the Holy Ghost, feathers and all, together with food out of a dumpster, I read Walther’s book, and that was what made sense of things for me and brought me back to the Lutheran Church.  You can imagine my surprise and dismay upon going to seminary and hearing Walther ridiculed on a regular basis.  But that’s another story.

No one is able to learn theology without experience, i.e. suffering.  So it’s no surprise if aspiring theologians at seminary, having not been through enough of a sweat-bath yet, do not appreciate the importance of the distinction between law and gospel.  That’s why I’ve managed to portray Jesus as a terror to already repentant sinners—even after having experienced the misery of seeing Christ as a “new Moses.”

Anyway, back to the garbage eaters.

Suffice it to say that during this period I was far from God and entangled in a lot of delusions and lies.  And I was suffering.  Towards the end of this I started to think that I was going to lose my mind permanently.

Somewhere in this time period—it would have been in the spring—March, April, early May, 1998, I was walking down Broadway in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.  This is where I was attending Seattle Central Community College.  I went there for a year so that I could get residency in Washington state and begin the following year at the University of Washington without having to pay out of state tuition.

That’s when I ran into this really nice guy who had a long beard and a bicycle.  He started talking to me about God or Jesus.  Now I was not particularly interested in talking about God or Jesus, and I let him know.

In fact, I was pretty annoyed that everywhere I went, it seemed like people always started talking to me about God or Jesus.  Or they would act like I was a Christian.  I remember I was in some class where we had to write a paper describing some painting of our choice in the Seattle Art Museum.  For some reason, I decided to do mine on a painting of the flagellation of Christ.  I was talking about it with some girl from the class, and she said something like, “You’re kind of obsessed with Jesus.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I mean, that’s just you.”

That really bugged me.

I didn’t want to talk about Jesus or God because, very simply, Jesus got in the way of me doing and being what I wanted.  It wouldn’t have bothered me if Jesus had been just one god among many, or offered one more cool form of spirituality as an option among the many that were on sale in Seattle.

Seattle was not an atheist, secularist place.  Hippies and dreadlocked rastafarians were everywhere.  They were all “spiritual.”  Neo-paganism and Wicca and shamanism were everywhere.  Hare Krishnas were regularly on the sidewalk handing out literature.  Scientologists stood and offered to give free personality tests.  (I took one.  They said I was too screwed up to be a scientologist.)  Buddhist temples were not hard to find in Seattle (although the real Buddhists didn’t advertise as much.)

Then you had nearly every church on every corner with a rainbow flag out in front and a sign that said “Open and Affirming,” letting you know that the Christian churches by and large were just presenting themselves as one more option in the religious smorgasbord.  They were cool with alternative sexualities and didn’t want to be associated with the patriarchal, exclusivist Christianity of the past.

Even Muslims had their niche.  At the one place I went to get gyros all the time, they always had signs up decrying the abuse of the Palestinian people by the Israelis and advertising invitation to Islam classes.  And even though Islam really is exclusive, it too was acceptable in Seattle, because it had the cache of being foreign.  Or not being Christian.

But Jesus was not acceptable in Seattle, unless He was an icon or an image associated with another time and place.

If He was proclaimed as He is, someone who speaks to us today and makes claims upon us, He was laughed at at best.  If you gave away that you actually believed in Him, you became a strange creature.  Lots of people would hate you.  Others would look at you with pity or disdain or strange fascination.  This was in about 1997, 1998.  At least among the people with whom I hung out.

But Seattle’s issues with Jesus were one thing.  The issue was—I was hostile to Him.  I wanted to be left alone.  Jesus made claims on me.  That was the real issue.  I knew Jesus would not permit me to act as if He was one God among many.  He could not be a deep religious thinker whom I, as an intellectual and a poet, chose to follow as someone whose teaching suited my taste.

It wasn’t just moral restrictions that were the issue. Primarily it was that Jesus claimed exclusive access to God.  Salvation came only through Him.  And that meant it wasn’t that I just wouldn’t be able to do this or do that if I was a Christian.  If I was a Christian, everything would belong to Jesus.  I would depend on Him completely and belong to Him; I couldn’t pretend like I didn’t believe in Him when He would have been an embarassment.  If people hated Him, I would have to be hated.  And that was most of the people I hung around with.

If people I didn’t like were Christians, I would have to love them and be associated with them.  (And there were hardly any Christians I liked.)

It wasn’t any one particular thing that I didn’t want to give up.  It was that I would have to give up everything; whatever Jesus wanted me to keep I would keep, whatever He wanted me to lose I would lose.

I didn’t want this and couldn’t tolerate it, and yet it still bothered my conscience somewhere that Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6)

So, as I was saying, this hippie-looking guy with a long beard and a bike, wearing what appeared to be an apron, was talking to me about Jesus.  Somehow I gathered that he had left all of his possessions behind with a group of other people in order to follow Christ.

Now this, I thought, was cool and worthy of respect.  At least if the guy was going to be a Christian, he wasn’t going to be a bourgeois, fat, materialistic, Republican “Christian.”

I told him something to the effect of, “Well, when I was a kid I was raised to believe in Jesus.  But I don’t want to follow Christ. “  Maybe I said something like, “Maybe one day I’ll want to.”  And then the man, who, I emphasize at this time seemed extremely genial and kind, said something like, “Well, there’s a lot of heartache found in pursuing the world.”

That stuck with me.  I was living that.  Consciously, it seemed like nothing was more unlikely than that I would ever be a Christian.  .

Fast forward to the summer.

During the summer quarter I started taking classes at the University of Washington.  During this same period I had undergone a radical change in direction that might be described as a “conversion experience.”  [Not that a “conversion experience” is necessarily the same as actual conversion to Christ.]  What this amounted to for me was that I quickly and drastically changed direction.  I started reading the bible and praying zealously.  I quit hanging around with my old friends, started going to church, and trying to engage with what I was studying and writing as a Christian.

It was a period of high anxiety.  I was by no means stable and I had doubts about how this was going to turn out.

Key to all of this was the conviction that the reason I had been so depressed, so close to nervous collapse, and had such difficulty functioning, because I had been running my own life instead of doing God’s will.

How did I come to that conclusion?  Because I was desperate.

I figured that the reason Christianity had not “worked” before was because I had not been fully committed.  Now I tried on a daily basis to have a will completely committed and surrendered to Christ.

I still remembered—and believed—the doctrine I was taught as a kid—at least that part that we are justified by faith in Christ alone apart from works.

However, I reasoned that if I had wandered from Christ so far as to deny Him, that proved that the faith in Him that I thought I had as a child was not saving faith at all.  Works don’t save, but they prove that faith is living.  I also remembered and believed that from my childhood religious training.

Because I had experienced and lived the outright hostility toward Christians that was common among people I hung around, I thought about martyrdom.  I wondered whether I would be able to be faithful to Christ even if I faced death for it.  My constant question to myself was, “Am I ready to forsake everything for Christ?”  If I could answer “yes,” to the question, then I could be assured that I had true faith in Christ.  If there was hesitation, then it was to be feared that my faith was not real, saving faith.

Right around this time I was walking through Red Square on the UW campus.  It was a bright sunny day.  Suddenly I looked and saw the same bearded guy who had talked to me a few months earlier.  Surely that was providential!  I went over to him and said, “Hey, do you remember me?  I became a Christian since we talked last.”

Then he stared at me and said with a completely different demeanor than he seemed to have had the first time we met:  “Have you gotten involved with the worldly church?”

Just as Luther describes in the quote up at the top—those words cut me “like a razor.”  I felt cold fear, like he had just uncovered the truth about me.

More later…

The Lord’s Salvation is Outside Us. Christmas 1 sermon.

December 30, 2012 5 comments

simeonFirst Sunday after Christmas

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:22-40

December 30, 2012

“The Lord’s Salvation is Outside of Us”


Jesu juva.


In the Name of Jesus.


On Christmas Eve the epistle reading from Titus said that “the grace of God” trains us to renounce “ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness, and to purify for Himself a people… who are zealous for good works.”  (Titus 2:11-14)


The proper fruit of receiving God’s grace and salvation is a godly life.  Jesus died for us not so that we could sin without worrying about it, but so that we would be a people who are zealous to do good.


It is a great error that is causing incredible destruction in the Church to think that Jesus’ death for our sins means we now no longer should insist on any rules or standards in our homes, in society, and in the Church.  It is true that religious people who are good about following the rules can easily become judgmental and self-righteous, like the Pharisees.  But that does not mean that the rules should be gotten rid of. 


You should go to Divine Service and hear God’s Word every Sunday and at other times when it is offered where your calling does not prevent you—that should be expected, while at the same time we do not look down on our brothers who falter in this area, but instead seek their blessing.  You should learn your catechism by heart. You should have regular prayer and meditation on God’s Word in your homes while not despising and alienating brothers who have not yet learned to do this. It isn’t wrong for the church to set standards like this.  In fact it is loving.


The church is not sinning when it requires you to behave with reverence in church.  It wasn’t a sin a few decades ago when Missouri Synod churches expected people who wanted communion to announce and be examined by the pastor beforehand.  This was not legalism.  It was discipline.  Our fathers in the faith knew well that outward discipline did not save people.  But they also knew well how easily order in the home, state, and church could be destroyed by people claiming the freedom of the Gospel as their license to ignore good works and live in sin.


The gospel reading shows us today how the godly people who were waiting for the Messiah lived.  They kept the requirements of the law, like Mary and Joseph, even though the baby in their arms was the Lord of the law who fulfilled the law and who would make the law’s requirements for purification after childbirth unnecessary.  They continued in their lowly callings in Nazareth as carpenter, husband, wife, and mother, even though they were told by the prophets in Jerusalem that their child was the glory of Israel—that is, the Lord God in the flesh.  Simeon spent his life watching and praying for the Lord to send His salvation.  Anna lived as a widow for over 80 years and spent her life in the temple, constantly praying and fasting.  Why did they go to all this trouble?  Not because they were trying to save themselves, but because it was God’s will that they walk in His commandments.  And because they believed God’s grace would come and that God therefore forgave all their sins, they gladly sought to live in the righteousness that He had given them in His Word.


This needs to be said because we live in a time where many people think the grace of God is license to sin and live an undisciplined life.  How wicked our old Adam is, that he would try to use the grace of God as license and freedom to sin! 


But at the same time we have another temptation.  When we recognize our sin and ungodliness we begin to say to ourselves, “I’ll just try harder.”  Or we see our continual failures in leading a godly life and we begin to despair and think that we are not saved or perhaps were never saved.


You should indeed repent of your sins and seek to do them no more.  Wherever you neglect prayer, you should repent and seek to do so no longer.  If you have been negligent in hearing and learning His word, you should turn away from your sin.


But fear of God’s wrath and the desire to turn away from sin and live a new life will not save us, nor will it in the long run enable us to change sinful habits—to become diligent and blameless in our callings, to pray and learn God’s Word.  Only faith in the Savior does that.  And that is not something human beings can do.


For this reason Simeon’s song is full of comfort for us who have tried to amend our sinful lives but remain sinners.  The Nunc Dimittis, which we sing after communion each week, proclaims


            The Lord’s Salvation is Outside of Us.


  1. 1.        Jesus is God in the flesh—the glory of Israel, the light for revelation to the Gentiles—and He alone is the Lord’s salvation.

The glory of Israel—the promised one—and the glory in the cloud and fire


A light for revelation—again, Simeon is saying that this baby is God.


Simeon is ready to die because he has seen the Lord’s salvation.  He has God’s Word.  This child is the Lord God in the flesh.

  1. 2.       The Lord’s salvation is an accomplished fact given in this little child.


He speaks of salvation as something done.


He undertakes a great exchange,

Puts on our human frame

And in return gives us His realm

His glory and His name.


My flesh is not completely renewed in me.  But in Him it is perfectly renewed.

In Him it is finished.

  1. 3.       Therefore devout Christians pray and watch and look only for Him, and thus participate in His kingdom and do good works.


“This is the work of God—that you believe in the one He has sent.”  (John 6)


“The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will make known to them His covenant.”  (Psalm 25?  91?)


Why did Simeon pray and watch for God’s kingdom to come, if God had promised it?


When He gives us salvation, God invites us to participate in His kingdom and act as His friends—to pray for Him to fulfill His promise and do His work.


Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and spoke about his exodus  at the transfiguration.


We don’t know all that God has planned, so we can’t see in the things that He brings about in our lives how he means to do us good or accomplish His purposes. 


We do know that this child will be a sign that is spoken against, and that a sword will pierce the souls of those who love Him.  He is spoken against because we say to trust Him alone and not our works.


When this happens, we pray, knowing His ultimate purposes even if we don’t know what is happening in our lives, what his purpose is there.  Cf.  mary and Joseph, who didn’t really understand how this was all going to work out.  There was no coronation ceremony; they went back to Nazareth.


Like Simeon, He takes us into His counsel.  Like Moses, sometimes he gives us a glimpse of the promised land.  Like Anna, He uses us to bear witness and encourage and to bring blessing. 

Like Simeon, we take up the Lord’s salvation physically.  He comes to us in His body and blood, according to His Word. 

And then even if we do not see how all the Lord’s plans work together for good for those who love God, we see His salvation–the glory of Israel in our human flesh–our righteousness and holiness, given into death for our sins, given to us Christians to eat and drink under the bread and wine.


“Christ is the real reality of humanity before God”

December 28, 2012 1 comment

st pat crucifix color closeup 3This is from an old post from Dr. Jack Kilcrease’s blog.  I like the way that he puts it so much I feel like there is a hymn or a poem about to emerge from it.

With this, therefore, we observe the basic ontic flaw in the logic of those who
rejection of objective justification.  Objective justification assumes that
Christ is the real reality of humanity before God.  Our justification is not
therefore a legal fiction because righteousness is not a predicate of our being,
but something that exists outside of ourselves already actualized in Christ.
This is true irrespective of our faith.  What those reject objective
justification assume is that being righteous means possessing a certain quality
in our being.  The predicate “righteousness” cannot be recognized coram Deo unless faith
is first present.  If faith is present, God can now predicate the quality of
righteousness present in Christ to person who has now accepted and received this
predicate into their being- though of course in this case by imputation  rather
than by renewal (as in RC theology).  … In this theology, I am an individual, centered
entity, existing on my own.  Likewise, so is Christ.  The only thing that
connects the various qualities present in our beings is faith which prompts
God’s imputation.
… The point is rather that the subjective justification brought
about by faith is not a legal fiction or the convergence of two centered
entities by an arbitrary judgment of God.  Rather, since Christ is the being of
my being, having faith means to cease to be self-alienated from my true self
which is to be found in the person of Christ.  The essence of sin is the be (as
Augustine says) curved in on one’s self.  One’s true being is external to one’s
self in God’s address.  Adam was “very good” because God continuously gave him
the good by his sustaining Word and he passively received it.  We now passively
receive the good every moment of every day and yet we are not good because he do
not praise God and therefore reject his grace in creation.  In the same way, the
person of my person is Christ and yet if I remain unbelieving, I am alienated
from my true reality before God in Christ.  I am rejecting God’s grace in
creation and redemption, and consequently I will be judged.  Faith therefore
simply means coming to my true self as God has actualized in a new narrative of
creation in Christ.

Related Links

15th Sunday after Trinity. “He is our true Father and we are His true children.”

September 16, 2012 2 comments

15th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 6:24-34

September 15, 2012

“He is our true Father and we are His true children”


Brothers and sisters in Christ:

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


 I. Intro: “These words God tenderly invites us to believe that we are His true children and He is our true Father.”

A.  Why we memorize the catechism: to continually learn and be comforted in trial that God  is our Father.

B.  (Therefore we remain with Luther like little children who are students of the catechism.)

C.  Theme: God is our true father and we are His true children

i.  How is he our Father?

ii.  How do we live as His children?

  1. D.      Since God is our true father and we are His true children, why are we so anxious?  Jesus comforts His disciples.

II.  How is God our true Father?

  1. A.                    We are anxious as we serve Mammon. 
    1. i.         Mammon is the pursuit of wealth and other earthly things as a way of trying to make our lives secure.
    2. ii.        We serve Mammon, seeking wealth or power or friends or what have you so that we won’t have to worry about the future.
    3. iii.      But mammon doesn’t make anyone secure.  More wealth or success means more worries.
    4. iv.      If it does make someone secure, this is even worse because it cannot deliver us from death and God’s judgment.
    5. B.                    Where does our anxiety come from?
      1. i.         From our alienation from God.

                                                                          a.       The Father shows love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments (Small Catechism, close of the commandments)

                                                                         b.      He punishes the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him.

                                                                          c.      The Introit said, “Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer, listen to my plea for grace,” but the Lord does not listen to those who do not love Him and keep His commandments.

                                                                         d.      Yet we know that we break the Lord’s commandments, so how can He hear us?  So we know from the Law, whether written on our hearts or learned from the 10 commandments, that we have no claim on God for Him to give us food or clothing, or keep us alive, or declare us righteous on the day of judgment.

  1. ii.         Only the Gospel can assure us that we have a gracious God.

                                                                          a.      Only in the Gospel, where God has promised the free forgiveness of sins; and He has proclaimed this Gospel since the first man and woman fell into sin.

                                                                         b.      Yet original sin—the guilt in which we were born and the unrighteousness that has completely corrupted the nature we have from the time of conception, makes us unable to recognize the seriousness of God’s wrath against sin, and unable to believe the promise of the forgiveness of sins only on account of Christ.

                                                                          c.      We by nature think that we can please God by our own strength, by the exercise of our free will.

  1. 1.        But we never know we have in fact pleased God
  2. 2.        So with this uncertainty, we serve mammon, thinking, “This is the only way I can be sure I’ll be taken care of.”

                                                                         d.       So we remain anxious, always trying to make sure we’ll be able to take care of ourselves, never willingly admitting that we cannot secure our own lives but only make ourselves worse and add sin to sin, rebellion to rebellion.

  1. C.                    The cure for anxiety—the Gospel.
    1. i.         Our anxiety is not supposed to be cured either by doing good works or by serving mammon to make sure that we have enough to take care of ourselves.
    2. ii.        Instead, our anxiety can only be cured by finding refuge in God’s grace, apart from our works.

                                                                          a.      That is, by believing His promise to be a gracious God to us;

                                                                         b.      His promise that He is our Father and is well-pleased with us through the obedience and death of His only-begotten Son

                                                                          c.      As a result He remembers our sins no more, but promises in the Gospel that He has given the righteousness and death of His Son to us as a gift, and now He reckons us to be perfectly obedient in Christ.

  1. iii.       You have a gracious God.  That is the good news for you.

                                                                          a.      Not by anything you have done

                                                                         b.      But by the doing of God’s well-pleasing Son.

  1. 1.        He became a man
  2. 2.        Kept God’s commandments
  3. 3.        Died and received the penalty of God for Your sins
  4. 4.        Rose from the dead and lives to pray to His Father constantly on Your behalf
  5. 5.        Rules His kingdom to give You this good news and to capture Your heart so that You believe that God is totally pleased with you for the sake of His Son’s obedience to the law for you and His death for your sins.

                                                                          c.       He pledges this to you in Baptism.

  1. 1.        God is Your true Father.
    1. a.        He certified that Jesus was His well-beloved, well-pleasing Son when He was baptized and received your sins.
    2. b.       In Your Baptism into Christ, the Father pledges and certifies that you are His true Son, because you have been born again into Christ.
    3. 2.        Jesus’ righteousness covers your sin which provoked God’s anger and which you cannot get rid of yourself.
    4. 3.        This is how you find the assurance that You have a gracious God.
    5. D.                    Since God is our true Father, why do we worry when things in our lives look as though God has forgotten us and is going to let us starve?
      1. i.         Would He do that to someone who is always pleasing to Him?  If so, then He is a liar.  He promises to do good to the righteous, and He made a promise that you are righteous through Christ alone.
      2. ii.        Does this mean that we are really unbelievers, since we so often act as if God is not our true Father and will not take care of us the way that any halfway decent father would on earth, or when we run around seeking what the unbelievers seek, as though God were not gracious?
      3. iii.      Jesus does not say that.  He says that we have “little faith.”

                                                                          a.      Usually if we have no anxiety about anything, that is not a sign of faith but of hardness of heart, of not feeling our sins. 

                                                                         b.      Christians are more likely to experience anxiety about their earthly life than nonbelievers, because Christians face constant opposition from the devil, their sinful flesh, and the world. 

  1. 1.        The flesh constantly insists that God in untrustworthy and gives lousy gifts.
  2. 2.        The devil constantly works to drive us to despair
  3. 3.        The world hates Christians and frequently fights against them

                                                                          c.       So Christians will have more temptation to be anxious about their earthly lives.

                                                                         d.      But Jesus does not want us to remain small in faith, even though He does not cast us out for our little faith.

  1. 1.        So he allows us to be tested so that we don’t know how we will make it and are forced to look to Him and depend on our heavenly Father to provide for us.
  2. 2.        Remember how Jesus dealt with His disciples who He here calls “Ye of little faith”
    1. a.        The storm on the sea
    2. b.       Peter walking on the water
    3. c.        The feeding of the 5000
    4. d.       Finally His own passion and burial, where they thought themselves and Him cast away by God.
    5. e.        All these things were to teach the disciples to trust that God was their true Father and they were His true children
    6. f.         Even though they were seeing the opposite, Jesus taught them through suffering and deliverance that they had to depend on Christ’s word of promise and not their reason and senses.
    7. g.        That is what He is also teaching us through our suffering.
    8. h.       Faith has to become strong, because one day we will die, and on that day we must be able to look at death and judgment approaching and not be torn from the assurance that God is our true Father, even though our hearts are terrified.
    9. i.         That is only possible when the Holy Spirit has taught us to believe God’s Word in spite of what we feel, or see, or think
    10. E.                     Jesus’ encouragement: The Father’s grace to those less valuable than us.
      1. i.         Jesus encourages us here, and also mildly rebukes us.
      2. ii.        Look at how God feeds the birds and clothes the grass
      3. iii.      Are you worth less than the birds and grass?

                                                                          a.      Every human being is worth more—even those who will be lost—because Jesus joined the same human nature which we share to Himself.

                                                                         b.      You are certainly worth more than the grass and the birds unless Jesus Himself is not worth more to the Father

  1. 1.        Because the Father paid for your redemption with His Son’s suffering and death.
  2. 2.        And you stand before the Father as Jesus’ twin, because Jesus’ righteousness has been given as your royal robe, like the coat of many colors that Jacob put on his favorite son Joseph.
  3. 3.        It was put on you when you were baptized into Christ.

                                                                          c.       So how much more will the Father take care of your needs of the body—food, and drink, clothing and shoes, house and home, wife and children (Small Catechism, Apostles’ Creed, 1st article).  

  1. 1.        He gives those already to the heathen who are not clothed in the righteousness of Jesus and who do not believe the Gospel
  2. 2.        Because He is gracious
  3. iv.       How and why the Father feeds the birds and clothes the grass

                                                                          a.      Is it because of their hard work?

  1. 1.        Is it because the birds worry, and wrinkle their foreheads, and try to scrape together enough to carry them through the winter?
  2. 2.        Is it because the grass slaves away and spins cotton into thread and buys silk and makes its own lilies?

                                                                         b.       The birds receive food and the grass splendid clothes without doing anything.

  1. 1.        They can’t do anything but receive.
  2. 2.        Like little children, whom Jesus says the Kingdom of God belongs to.
  3. 3.        The animals and plants God cares for physically, but God gives us what we need for our bodies, and the kingdom of heaven, without our work.
  4. 4.        Because He is gracious and loves His whole creation.

                                                                          c.       How much more will your Father in heaven provide what we need for our bodies and lives when He covers and clothes the shame of our sins?

  1. 1.        He does this without our making it happen for ourselves
  2. 2.        He gives His only begotten Son.
  3. 3.        How can He then not give you what you need for this life?
  4. 4.        What kind of father on earth doesn’t provide anything for His children and makes them go do it themselves?
    1. a.        Fathers make their kids work, if they understand their office as a father.
    2. b.       But they don’t feed and clothe and educate and give gifts to their kids because the kid has earned it
    3. c.        Both the command for the child to work around the house and the food and shelter and gifts come from the father’s love, which has nothing to do with deserving anything.

  To seek the Kingdom of God first is to pray to God that He gives us His Holy Spirit; without the Holy Spirit we cannot believe in Christ or do a single good work.

  That is why Jesus teaches us to pray continually for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

       We pray, “hallowed be Thy name,” and “Thy Kingdom come” before we pray “give us this day our daily bread.” “Thy kingdom come”: is when “our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His Holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”

       Don’t run after what the unbelievers do, as though you had no God!  The Father tenderly invites us to believe “that He is our true  Father and we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask of Him as dear children ask their dear Father.”

What God ordains is always good: He is my friend and Father

He suffers naught to do me harm Though many storms may gather.

Now I may know, both joy and woe;

Some day I shall see clearly

That He has loved me dearly.  (LSB 760 –hymn of the day—stanza 4)



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

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