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Sermon: Romans 5:1-11. Feb. 28, 2019

February 28, 2019 Leave a comment

Thursday after Sexagesima

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Romans 5:1-11

Feb. 28, 2019

 

Iesu iuva

 

In the name of Jesus.

 

The beginning of the fifth chapter of Romans is one of the most loved parts of the Scripture for Christians who understand the Gospel.  It tells us what makes us righteous before God: not works, but solely faith in Jesus—which means that God declares us righteous and sees us as righteous apart from any works we have done, apart from what we are and what we have done.  God judges us to be righteous and without sin because we believe the Gospel that His Son made us right with God. It is a gift.

 

Then it tells us the result of God’s declaration that we are righteous.  Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God (v. 1).  God is no longer angry with us, dissatisfied with us.  He no longer deals with us as sinners who have offended Him.  Instead we have peace with Him—not primarily peace that we feel in our hearts, but peace that is greater than our feelings.  The peace of God toward us.  He is no longer angry with us and ready to punish us because of our sins, because they have been taken away.

 

And because God is at peace with us, St. Paul says, we have hope.  What do we hope for?  Hope that we will be successful or that we will have a great life in this world.  No: hope for the glory of God (v. 2).  We have a certain hope that we will see God’s glory in eternity when Jesus returns on the last day.  Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.  And we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  During this life we stand in God’s grace, in His favor, by faith in His Son, who atoned for our sins with His suffering and the shedding of His blood.  God does not count our sins against us.  He daily forgives them because of the price Jesus paid to blot them out—His blood.  We live this life in His grace, and when this life is over, we will see God’s glory and be transformed into His likeness.  That is the certain hope that Jesus has given us in the Gospel.

 

But Paul follows this up by saying something that is not familiar and well beloved among Christians.  Listen: We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings (v.3)…  You don’t hear Christians say that often: “we rejoice in our sufferings.”  Not just laypeople.  You don’t hear pastors say it either.  Even less do you see pastors or lay Christians do it—rejoice in the midst of suffering.  Yet Paul says Christians do it (even though we don’t see a lot of it.)  Why?

 

Because the final outcome of our sufferings is to make us hope more firmly in what God has promised.  The outcome of suffering for Christians is that we set our hope on the glory of God instead of the false hopes of this world, which do not last.

 

In a Christian suffering produces patience or endurance.  When we suffer we endure it and hold on to the promise of God.  We wait for the day when there is no more pain, only joy.  No more sin, only righteousness and blessedness.  No more death, only life.  We don’t have this now in this life.  In this world the best we can hope for is temporary relief.  For deliverance from suffering into joy, we have to wait for God to fulfill His promise.  Suffering teaches us to endure and wait, looking for the real hope God gives instead of the false hopes of our flesh.

 

Patience or endurance produces “character.”  Literally the word is “testedness.”  As we endure, overcoming trial and temptation, we see that our faith is not a human dream, not something we made up, but something God worked in us, because it continues when a human confidence would have died out.  It continues in the face of suffering, affliction, temptation.  We become tested.  We see that this faith in Jesus that is in us didn’t come from us.

 

And this produces hope—the hope of the life to come.  We have confidence that since God gave us this faith in Jesus that justifies us, He will complete what He began in us.  He will finish our faith by bringing us to see His glory.

 

How could He not?  Paul says: if we were reconciled to God when we were His enemies by the death of His Son, how will He not now save us through suffering and temptation, when His Son is at God’s right hand interceding for us?

 

This is how we should understand it when we receive the body and blood of Jesus.  He is testifying to us that we are redeemed with the death, the pierced body, the shed blood of His only Son.  We were not redeemed with something small, cheap, or insignificant to Him—but with His only Son’s pain and dying.  As great as our sins continue to be, and as weak as our faith is, neither our sins nor our weak faith are greater than the love God showed us and set upon us before eternity.  He will surely finish what His love began in us.

 

And to this our soul’s salvation

Witnesses Your Spirit, Lord

In Your Sacraments and Word.

There He sends true consolation

Giving us the gift of faith

That we fear not hell nor death.  LSB 559 st. 3

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Build Up, Raise Up, Repair. Trinity 18 2018

September 27, 2018 Leave a comment

nehemiah.PNGThe Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Isaiah 61:1-4 (Ephesians 4:1-6, Luke 14:1-11)

September 23, 2018

Build Up, Raise Up, Repair

 

Iesu Iuva

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

 

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
They shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.

 

Just over the river there is a park with nature trails through the remains of the old Joliet Iron and Steel works.  They say it was the second biggest steel mill in the country, but by the early 1980s it was abandoned, and now there is a nature trail through the ruins.

 

Nobody wants to rebuild those ruins, but a lot of people would like to have back what that steel mill represented.  It represented a vibrant industry in Joliet.  There was work here that allowed working people to support a family.  Work that brought people to this town and kept them here.

 

But now it’s a ruin.  Most of the other industries that employed lots of people in Joliet are either gone or drastically cut back too.  And when the money and the jobs went, so did a lot of the people whose great-grandparents built the churches in downtown Joliet.  There’s a beautiful Catholic church downtown right next to the casino, with a steeple that points high into the heavens.  But it’s been vacant for decades as, right next door, the casino was open for business and had lots of visitors.

 

There are other ruins around us, and it’s hard not to notice them—especially if you loved them.  The Christian culture we had in America, despite its flaws, now seems to be a ruin, being replaced by people with no religion.  The neighborhood around our church is full of vacant houses and crime and blight.  It has fallen into ruin.

And worst of all, when you look at your church and compare it to earlier times when it was full of children and full of energy, when you had to come an hour early on Christmas to find a seat—it feels like even your church has become a ruin—to many of you—at least a ruin compared to what it once was.

 

But then we have this word from God in the 61st chapter of Isaiah saying, They shall rebuild the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities. 

 

Today we don’t usually rebuild things that have fallen into ruin.  It’s usually easier to start again somewhere else, where the history, the bad memory of failure isn’t there.  But God behaves differently than we do.  Throughout the Old Testament He continues to work with the people of Israel, the people He had chosen, despite their terrible track record of unfaithfulness.

 

And, though Jesus’ disciples all fail at the crucial moment, though they all fall away as He is led to the cross, He rebuilds them as well.  He makes them into the apostles they could not have been on their own.  He rebuilt them from the ruins of their failure, and made them people who rebuild the ruins and raise up the devastations.  Through them He built the Holy Christian Church, His holy people in the world.  They are the people Paul speaks about in the epistle reading—who share in the one body of Christ and have the hope of eternal life in front of them.

 

This is the people Isaiah is talking about who will build up, raise up, and repair the ruins and devastations that are everywhere in our world.  Our world is a world where ruin and decay and death reign.  Ask the trustees what happens if you don’t keep maintaining the building and cutting the grass and trimming the trees in the cemetery.  Things fall into ruin.  And history teaches us that even when people build great things and take care of them for generations, eventually they become like the pyramids in Egypt, or like Stonehenge in England, or like the Iron and Steel Works in Joliet.

 

It’s just another example of death and its power over creation.  No matter how people try to come to terms with death, there is no way for us to remove the sting from it.

 

That’s why people will always need to hear this messenger described in the 61st chapter of Isaiah—and His message.

 

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound… (Is. 61:1)

 

Who is this?  Who did the Lord anoint and consecrate and pour out the Holy Spirit on to bring “good news to the poor?”  It is Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit descended upon Him when He was baptized by John.  The Father said, “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased.”  He was marked out as one sent by God with a message of good news to the world.

 

The good news Jesus brought, and still brings, is the message that God forgives our sins and has put them away for the sake of Jesus, His Son.  And with the forgiveness of sins comes release from all the consequences of sin—sickness, misery, poverty, ruin and brokenness, death.  So in the Gospel reading, Jesus refuses to postpone healing the man with dropsy until after the Sabbath day to avoid offending the Pharisees.

 

This is what Jesus does today, still.  He comes with good news.  He comforts. He pronounces freedom.  He releases from prison and slavery—to sin and to death.

 

He takes away grief and mourning, and replaces it with gladness; He takes away “a faint spirit,” the spirit of despair and depression, that says, “We have already lost.”  And gives in its place the garment of praise.  (Is. 61: 3)

 

How does He do all this?  He comes and through the minister He preaches His cross, where He, the Son of God, shouldered your debt and was afflicted with your sickness.  He assumed the penalty for your sins—death and condemnation by God.  And He made the full payment of your debt to God’s law.  He healed the sickness of your sin in His own body, in His suffering, sweating in the garden and nailed to the cross.

 

He comes, and He declares you forgiven and released from sin.

 

And then He attaches an amazing promise to the end of this chapter.  He says that you, and all those who have heard the good news from Jesus and believed it, will go out into the world that is pockmarked with ruin—some of it in the people and places we love.  You will go out and you will build up, raise up, repair the ruins of many generations.

 

He says this.  As weak as we feel ourselves to be, it is written there, and He will do it in all who believe in Him, just as He did it among the apostles who were also weak and torn down in the days after Jesus was crucified.

 

So look around.  When the divine service is over, look around at the halls of the school.  And when you walk out the doors, look around at the neighborhood. And while you are waiting for holy communion, look in your own mind at your loved ones and neighbors who do not know or believe the good news or whose lives do not testify to it.

 

Remember the words Jesus says about His church: They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

 

How can this happen?

 

It happens because Jesus raises us up.  He does it through His Word and Sacraments.  As we attend the Divine Service faithfully, we receive Jesus’ absolution.  We hear His good news proclaimed to us.  He gives us His body to eat, the body in which He healed the ruin our sin has brought on us; He gives us His blood to drink, and purifies us and puts His life in us.

 

This is where the life and the strength comes from that enables us to rebuild in the midst of the ruins we see around us.

 

And when will this rebuilding happen?

 

It starts as soon as a person believes.  It is happening now, whereever Christ’s church is.  There are still many children growing up all around us with no knowledge of the Triune God, no knowledge of the Creed, no knowledge of His Law, no knowledge of the Gospel that proclaims forgiveness to us who have fallen short of God’s law.  And when one child is baptized and taught the faith, the ruin in this world is being repaired.

 

This work won’t be finished any time soon.  But one day the work of Christ’s church will be finished, and everyone will see it.  And those who have been faithful will know that they have been part of rebuilding the world.

 

This is what Christ calls us to in this place.  And He gives us encouragement when we have a faint spirit, a despairing spirit, when we are worn down.  He reminds us of the good news that He proclaims to us.  And He says, “You will rebuild.”  So the first part of our lives as Christians is this—to let the triune God rebuild us by receiving His gifts in the Divine Service, by being present to be taught the Word, by regularly reading the Holy Scripture in our homes.

 

Amen.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

God’s Justice. Eleventh Sunday after Trinity, 2018

pharisee and publican.PNGThe Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 18:9-14

August 12, 2018

God’s Justice

 

Iesu Iuva

 

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

 

“No justice, no peace.”  You might have heard it chanted on the evening news over the past few years.  It typically comes from crowds of protesters on the political left.  A lot of them are the young people whose voices we no longer hear in the churches of our country.  They are not in churches singing and praying to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but many of them are in the streets crying for justice, or what they think is justice for homosexuals, or women, or immigrants, or minorities.  They cried out for the state to recognize same sex marriages; they cried out that the police unjustly used violent or lethal measures against African-American men; they cried out for statues of Christopher Columbus or civil war generals to be taken down because the men had been racist or owned slaves.  This is unjust, they said.  This is not right or fair.

 

On the other end of the political divide you don’t see marchers in the street so much, but the complaint against injustice is the same.  Most on the political right decry the injustice of our laws that allow the legal killing of unborn children.  They are angry that the moral landscape of the country has been changed by people at the top—at universities, in judges’ benches, in the media—that these people have taught their children and grandchildren to despise traditional marriage, traditional roles of man and woman, husband and wife.  Taught them to think of their country as fundamentally immoral—racist, sexist, bigoted.  This is unjust, says the political right.  We aren’t going to take it lying down.  “No justice, no peace.”

 

People from all sides of the political spectrum, however, frequently agree that in our time and place the Church is not doing its job.  The Church is not speaking to the people of our time.  I have been told so many times that it is not enough for the Church to teach the Word of God—we have to find other ways to get people’s attention.  It’s interesting.  Crowds will come out into the streets to yell about justice.  There’s no surer way to get an intense emotional reaction out of people right now than to start a conversation or an argument about the justice of the ongoing Justice Department investigation into the President.  Many people, if not most people, in our country are intensely concerned that the President gets justice.  Yet the very heart of the Bible has to do with justice, righteousness.  It proclaims a righteous God who will finally bring justice to our world and the people in it.  It declares what justice and righteousness is and how a person may do justice and be just.  Maybe the problem is not that the Church is preaching the Word of God too much, but that it is holding too much back—that the world is not hearing the Word of God’s justice but sentiment and emotional appeals, like bedtime stories for children.

 

When a person is denied justice, or feels they are, bedtime stories from their mother don’t satisfy.  God is not a God of sentiment.  He is the God of truth and justice.  In the beginning of the 18th chapter of Luke, Jesus addresses our hunger for justice.  He tells his disciples that they should always pray for God to give them justice, to send His Son in glory to establish justice on the earth by judging between the righteous and the unrighteous.  They should keep praying this and not lose heart, because God is not an unjust judge who really doesn’t care if we get justice.  And will not God give justice to elect, who cry to him day and night?  Will he delay long over them?  I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.  (Luke 18: 7-8)

 

Why does Jesus tell us to pray to God to give us justice?  Because this is an unjust world, and injustice brings suffering.  But human beings can’t fix the injustice in this world, because human beings themselves are unjust.  Only God can solve that problem.  So Jesus says, “Pray to God to bring justice to this world, and don’t give up.”  Pray that He sends His Son to do what we say in the Creed—to judge the living and the dead, when He will destroy every last vestige of sin in believing Christians and when He will cast the unbelieving who do not want Him to be King and Judge out of His creation into the lake of fire.  There all the inexcusable evil that people have done and still do in this world will be punished, because God hates injustice far more than you do.  He hates it so much that He will condemn the unjust to an eternity of torment.

 

 

Is Jesus serious, that we should pray for this to happen?  He is!  Yet few Christians pray for this, consciously.  It seems like pressing the nuclear button to pray for this kind of justice.

 

 

But that is part of the reason why Jesus teaches us to pray this way.  Jesus did not come to earth to affirm our righteousness.  God sent His Son into the world to establish real righteousness, actual righteousness—not changing human laws, but changing human beings so that they obey God’s laws freely and gladly.  Without that there can be no true justice and no peace—either with God or between men.

 

But instead, often, we get disgusted with our neighbor.  Our neighbor is ignorant of God’s Word, and is unwilling to be taught God’s Word, and as a result the way he lives is unjust and harms us.  Young people don’t understand that with the fourth commandment God has given them the duty to discipline their children—so the kids run wild, and older people have to put up with noise and disrespect; they have to pick up the slack for children and grandchildren who aren’t teaching their children God’s Word and bring them to church without the parents help.  They have to babysit all the time.  Other church members don’t volunteer to serve and don’t tithe on their income, so ten or twenty percent of the membership is at the church 4 days a week, giving up all their spare time to serve, and the church is always in danger of running out of money.  This is just talking about people who are in the church or who are related to people who are.  But we get disgusted with them, and if we are disgusted with them, imagine how disgusted we must sound to those who are far away from Christ and His Church!

 

 

Pray to God for justice, Jesus taught in the beginning of chapter 18.  But in this parable he explains it how.

 

Don’t pray like the Pharisee, who comes into God’s presence and thanks God for all his good works.  I thank you that I am not like other men—greedy, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give tithes of all that I get.  (Luke 18:11-12)  Jesus isn’t faulting the Pharisee for not committing adultery or stealing, nor for fasting or giving ten percent of his income to God.  He is faulting him for trusting in himself that he was righteous and treating others with contempt (18:9).  We should give generously to God’s church.  We should discipline our body and train ourselves to live godly lives.  We should abstain from adultery and be generous with our money and honest in our dealing.  We should do all those things and still more—we should love our sinful neighbors from our hearts, and put whatever good works and virtues we have to work to help our neighbor who is living in sin and darkness.  We should be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.

 

And if we are not, we have nothing to boast about before God, because we also are unjust.  We are also part of the reason the world is a place of injustice and pain.  If all we have is the fact that we come to church, we read the Bible, we tithe, we don’t steal or commit adultery, but our trust is in ourselves and we treat others with contempt, we come to church and we go home not justified.  We go home and God does not count us righteous and just.  And if we remain this way, when He comes again to separate the righteous from the unrighteous, the just from the unjust, our place is with the godless, the tax collectors, the abortionists, the fornicators, who Jesus places on His left and says, Depart from me.  I never knew you.

 

When we pray for God to give justice—as we should do—we should come before God as the tax collector, who kept beating his chest and saying, God, be merciful to me, a sinner!  There was no list of his good deeds, because if a person keeps all of God’s Law and fails at one point, he is guilty of breaking all of it.  There was no talk about how he had lived in comparison to others.  There was no boasting.  There was fear and grief over how he knew he must appear before God.  The tax collector had nothing but fear when he thought of his life when He stood in God’s presence.  When it came to himself, it was like falling into a well with nothing to hold on to and nothing to stand on.

 

That is really how it is for everyone, even Christians who have done many good works, who people regard as sanctified and holy, when it comes to God’s law and their own life.   When people protest in the streets for justice, they cry out against what is unfair.  When someone in power abuses their power to hurt someone they are supposed to help and defend, our heart cries out that this person should not be able to get away with what they have done.  They should not go unpunished.  Our desire and thirst for justice for people who have done wrong, as strong as it is, is nothing in comparison to God’s desire for justice.  I the Lord love justice.  I hate robbery and wrongdoing (Is. 61:8).  If you have done unjust things, thought them, and have an unjust heart, you cannot be proud before Him.  You cannot expect Him to let you off without punishment.  Not if He is just.

 

But the tax collector doesn’t stop there.  He dares to say to God, Be merciful to me, a sinner!  But how can he expect God to be merciful to him?  Is that justice?  How can he ask God to be unjust?

 

He asked the holy and just God this because he was at the temple at the time of sacrifice, where an animal was slain by the priests and its blood poured or painted on the altar to make atonement for the sins of the people.  Inside the temple, behind a curtain, was the ark of the covenant, where God was present with His people to receive their sacrifices and prayers.  Inside the ark was the ten commandments, and on top of it a cover that was called “the mercy seat”—because there, once a year, blood would be sprinkled to cover the people’s transgression of the commandments of God.

 

The tax collector in the parable trusted in God’s promise to receive a substitute who would die for his sins, so that God would remain just, punishing sins, and yet justifying the ungodly.

 

And the One who told this parable is that substitute.  He is the mercy seat which covers our breaking of God’s commandments.

 

He is the one who sends sinners home justified, counted righteous by God.  Because He freely offered Himself to pay for our injustice and take it away.

 

Through Him we can pray for God to bring justice to the world.  In ourselves we can’t, because we ourselves are not just.  In ourselves we are only God’s enemies.  But in Him we can pray it, because through faith in Him alone we are counted just by God.  His death and suffering is our righteousness.

 

On Sundays we come not to the temple in Jerusalem but into the community of His Church where He gives us the body and blood that have cancelled our unrighteousness and injustice.  But He, our mercy seat, always stands at God’s right hand, covering our injustice.  So we pray for Him to bring justice to the earth at all times—not to take vengeance on people we are disgusted with, but to bring about real justice and eternal peace.  Protesters certainly can’t do this—neither can we with our good works.  But He will, and He has commanded us to pray for it.  He will do it because He has established righteousness, provided righteousness, by putting our sins to death in His own body.

 

All around us people are angry.  They want justice, they think—but they don’t know what it is.  Really they don’t want the justice of God.  But God wants to justify them just as He did us.  And He wants to do it through you.

 

Therefore, don’t let the devil and your flesh take you captive and deceive you so that you act as if you are righteous in yourself, so that you turn others away in contempt.  We have a calling, each one of us in this place—to make known the righteousness and justice of God.  We can’t do that by being irritated and disgusted with our world.  In fact, we can’t make it happen at all.  Jesus says, pray and do not give up.  Pray that God would spread His Kingdom.  Then, do good works in your calling.  Tithe, give to the church’s work.  Strive to live a just life according to the ten commandments.  And whatever good works God gives you grace to do, don’t consider them your own.  Your righteousness is the righteousness of Jesus that He accomplished when He carried all our sins on Himself and put them to death.  Let your knowledge and your faithfulness as a Christian serve those who are weaker than you or who know less than you.  God sends you home justified with the body and blood of His Son for that very purpose.

 

Amen.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Set Your Mind on Things Above. Funeral Sermon, May 3, 2018

ezekiel wheelFuneral Sermon for JoAnn Sallese

Blackburn-Giegerich-Sonntag Funeral Home

1 Corinthians 15:12-26; John 11:25-26

May 3, 2018

Set Your Mind on Things Above

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Tony,

Mary, Margie, and Tony,

All of JoAnn’s loved ones and friends, including her sister Genevieve, who was here only a week ago and is prevented from making the journey across the country again:

 

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

 

There are over 43 thousand radio stations across the world.  Each day, they broadcast their message into people’s ears as they work, drive, and sleep.  Each year, they produce 290 million hours of programming, and of that programming, 35 million hours are commercials, ads.

 

Those 35 millions hours of advertisements are designed to persuade listeners to set their minds on obtaining material things so that they will have happier and more fulfilled lives on earth.

 

But what the advertisers advise us to set our minds on is totally opposite what God’s Word, the Bible advises us.  Set your mind on things above, God exhorted Christians through the apostle Paul.  Set your minds on things above, not things that are on earth.  (Colossians 3:2). 

 

Why?  Because however good things are on earth, the things above are better, and the things that God promises us in His Word through faith in Jesus Christ are forever.  But the things on earth are only for a time, both the good things and the bad.

 

According to Bible scholars, one sixth of the New Testament is focused on the joy of heaven and eternal life at the return of Jesus Christ.  It was the hope and the joy that filled Christians throughout the two thousand years since Christ died and rose again.  Because they believed in Him, that He had died for their sins and risen again, they had a hope that extended past the pleasures of this life, and also its pains.

 

Although we live in this world where death still seems to rule over everything, and we are tempted to snatch pleasure while we can, where we can, God wants something better than that for us.  He wants us to have the certain hope of eternal life, of reunion with Him and with all the people we love who were united with Him on earth by faith in His Son.  He intends for that hope to give us joy in the midst of the worst pains of this life, and to give us a pleasure that is greater than the pleasures that may be found in “setting our minds on things below.”

 

It’s hard to think about all that right now.  It’s quite possible today that it’s hard to think or set your mind on anything.  Sometimes at funerals people sob and feel like they are about to break apart with grief.  But just as often there is a blank look on people’s faces, a look of lostness, of emptiness, shock.

 

That is the way people act when their loved ones die.  And also, sometimes, there is more.  Sometimes, guilt—they feel that they did not love or treat their loved one as they ought to have, or appreciate them as they should have.  Sometimes it’s anger—anger at the doctors who may have failed in treating their loved one, or anger at other people in the family for not doing more.  Maybe, even, anger at God for taking someone they loved, or allowing them to be taken away.

 

Christians grieve like this too.  They have the feeling of loss, of being lost.  Going to church doesn’t take that away when a loved one dies.  Yet I have noticed something in a decade of being a pastor in which I have ministered to many grieving families—usually those who are grieving who have stayed near to Christ, near to His Word when it is preached and taught, near to His altar where He gives us His body and blood—as they weep, they are held up, as though there were an invisible rock underneath them.  They are sustained by a life that is stronger than death.  In the midst of their tears they have an assurance, beneath their own weakness, that does not come from themselves.  They have an assurance that they have a gracious God, who is for them, and who loves them, who forgives their sins and takes them and their loved ones to heaven, and who in the end will raise their bodies from the dead so that they are like the glorious body of Jesus after He rose from the dead.

 

JoAnn was a beautiful woman in her youth, as anyone can see from her picture, and her husband of 29 years summed her up using that word: she always did things to appreciate beauty and practicality.  Which is a rare combination.  Quite often the poetic personality that notices beautiful things is not the person you count on to mow the lawn or paint the garage.  But JoAnn was the type who did both; who was ready to do anything the American Legion asked her to do, was willing to do the tasks necessary to have an organization that supports and honors veterans.  She opened her home to her step-children and when her mother was old she cooked her dinner and brought it to her every day.  And she did all this even though she had health difficulties and pain that would have made it easy to think of herself only.

 

Those who received these blessings through JoAnn can rightly give thanks to God for the blessing she was to them.

 

But what now, as you experience the feeling of loss and separation, the feeling of being torn from her or having her torn from you?  What will end that pain, console that pain, that feeling of loss, today, the next time you are confronted by death?

 

Maybe alcohol, temporarily, or getting busy with work or a project.  These can help temporarily.

 

But the only lasting answer is to Set your mind on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  To be able to say, I have a place in heaven with God, where there will be no more crying, no more death, no more grieving.

 

But why don’t people do this?  Even Christians don’t do it well.  Why not?  Because we can’t see heaven.  And even worse, who can be certain that if it exists, they will go there?  Who knows if I have done enough to have a place in heaven?

 

People say this all the time.  “I hope God forgives me, and I go to heaven.”  There aren’t many people who say with confidence, “I am going to heaven, and I know that God forgives my sins.”  And when people do say it, most people think they sound arrogant.  Because we think that such people are bragging about how good they are, or how strong their faith is.

 

But God tells us to set our minds on things above because He has promised the “things above” as a free giftto the world.  He has promised eternal life because He has already taken away our sins.

 

This is what Paul kept saying in the reading we heard earlier.  Because Christ was raised from the dead, we also will be raised from the dead.  Christ’s resurrection from the dead is the proof that God has forgiven the sins of all human beings, beginning with the first one, Adam.

 

Mary told me that she and JoAnn traced JoAnn’s family tree and took pictures of headstones for a genealogy website.  I signed up for that website too, but I didn’t take that many pictures.  But to do it you have to spend a lot of time in cemeteries.  We think of cemeteries as places of the dead.  But the word actually is similar to the word “dormitory”—it refers to a sleeping place.  Christians named them that because of their faith that the dead in Christ would rise again to eternal life.

 

To rise again and live forever means your sins have been forgiven.  When the first man died and was buried, it was not the way it was supposed to be.  It happened because the first man disobeyed God and bought into the lie that if he took the one thing on earth that God had forbidden, he would be happy.  He would be “like God”.  Instead of becoming a god, he became mortal.  But if you rise from your grave, it means that God has forgiven you, set you free.

 

When Jesus rose from the dead, God was publicly announcing that He was forgiven.  Not that Jesus sinned.  But when He died on the cross, He was dying for the sins of the whole human race, from the first man on down.  That’s why Paul says that if Jesus has not been raised from the dead, we are still in our sins.  When Jesus was raised from the dead, God was announcing that He had forgiven the sins that Jesus died for.  And if He has forgiven the sins that Jesus died for, it means He has forgiven the whole human race.  And if He has forgiven us, we too will rise from the dead like Jesus and live forever with Him.

 

But this is not the end of it.  The eternal life that will belong to us when Jesus returns also belongs to those who believe in Him in this life.  When Jesus went to visit his friends Mary and Martha, their brother Lazarus had been in the grave for four days.  You heard what He said to Martha: Your brother will rise again.  She said, “Yes, I believe He will rise again on the Last Day, when God will raise up all the dead and judge them, and give eternal life to the righteous and eternal damnation to the wicked.”

 

But Jesus doesn’t let it rest there.  He says, I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in Me will live, even though He dies, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.  He is saying, “Whoever believes in Me shares in the life I will have in My resurrection.  On the last day everyone will rise from the dead, but whoever believes in Me shares my resurrection and my life.”

 

That is how we receive a certain hope in this world of death—that one day we will have life and no more crying and no more death, but that even now that life is ours.  We have it through believing in Jesus—not merely believing the fact that He was crucified and rose from the dead.  But believing that His death and resurrection is, as He promises, for us.  He died and paid for our sins.  He rose again as the certification that God accepts the sacrifice of Jesus’ life for our guilt.  That He settled our account with God.

 

It is not possible to make yourself believe this so strongly that you are confident in the face of death.  It takes divine power for anyone to believe it.  But God works His divine power in the word that I am preaching today, in the words of the Scripture when they are read at home and proclaimed and taught in the Church.  Through the preaching and teaching of this Word He makes us recognize that death comes as a result of sin, and that none of us is free from it, no matter how well we live in our own eyes or in the eyes of others.

 

And through the preaching of His Word He also gives us eternal life.  He causes us to believe that through Jesus, and through Jesus alone, our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled to God and He to us.

 

JoAnn heard this word from God when she was young.  When she was six years old or so, she was also baptized, and God took His powerful word and joined it to the water of Baptism, so that she was joined to Jesus by faith.  She entered into His life.  When she was older, after being taught more of His Word, she professed her faith in Jesus and received the bread and wine that are joined with His Word, and she received the body and blood that He gave on the cross for the forgiveness of her sins.

 

A lot of time has gone by since then.  Those words of Jesus that sustain our faith in Him, that make us believe in Him and share in His life—it has been a long time since she received them last.  That is the favorite trick of the devil and our sinful nature—to separate us from the words of Jesus, because those words communicate to us His divine life as a free gift.  They tell us that heaven is ours when we die, and that God forgives us and gives us eternal life now in the midst of this life.

 

The devil has a long history of this, of deceiving us into setting our minds not on the things above, where Christ is seated, where He suffered to make a place for us, but on things below.  But Jesus overcame Him for us.  He took away our sins.  He gives us life as a free gift, now and forever, through His death on the cross.  He proclaims this free gift to you now in your grief, and encourages you to come with your grief to His house, where He will give you life and wipe away your tears through His Word, until He does so with His own hand when You see Him on the last day.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

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

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

St. Peter Lutheran Church

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

June 18, 2017

The Eternal Weight of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Beloved in Christ:

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I am referring to the teaching of justification.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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.

 

1.

 

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.

 

2.

 

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.

 

Amen

 

SDG

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:  http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=54c3a380-d341-4df2-92f0-e25631014730%40sessionmgr4&vid=2&hid=18

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:  http://www.messianicgoodnews.org/henry-gerecke-chaplain-to-nazi-war-criminals/

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. http://www.stjohnchester.com/Gerecke/Gerecke.html

http://birdchadlouis.wordpress.com/2013/08/27/from-hitlers-wolves-to-christs-lambs-how-lutheran-pastor-henry-gerecke-brought-the-gospel-to-hitlers-highest-ranking-disciples-before-their-executions/

 

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