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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

You Have The Holy Spirit! Pentecost 2017. Acts 2:1-21

Dorffmaister_Istvan-Pentecost.1725-1797Pentecost

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Acts 2:1-21

June 4, 2017

“You Have the Holy Spirit!”

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

  1. Introduction: You have the Holy Spirit!

 

A few years back I went to hear a speaker named John Kleinig, a professor from the Lutheran Church in Australia. Some of you have heard of him because he wrote a book on Christian spirituality called Grace upon Grace that I have recommended many times.

In that book, Dr. Kleinig emphasizes the gift of the Holy Spirit in teaching us to pray, etc.; how prayer, meditation are received from God rather than obligations we have to fulfill

I went up and talked to him during a break and told him about the difficulty I had in some part of living the Christian life. Maybe difficulty with being faithful in prayer.  Maybe it was difficulty in knowing how to effectively do the work that needed to be done as pastor at St. Peter.  I don’t remember. What I remember was his response: “That’s why you have been given the Holy Spirit!” he said.

It silenced me.  At first, it seemed like he was dismissing me with too easy an answer.  Of course I have been given the Holy Spirit, I thought.  But that hasn’t solved my problem.

But as I thought about it more, I realized how foolish it was to think so little of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  After all, the Holy Spirit is God.  He lives in me.  He has all wisdom and knows how to solve every problem.  He is the Lord and giver of life; He is able to create, and raise the dead.  Surely He has the power to make me holy and overcome sin.

Our Savior’s name is Jesus Christ.  The second part of His name, ”Christ”is a title that means “anointed one.”  The catechism published by our Synod says that Jesus is called “Christ”, anointed one, because he has been anointed with the Holy Spirit without limit to be our Prophet, Priest, and King. If I have received the same anointing of the Holy Spirit as Jesus did, how can I worry that I don’t have what I need to live like Jesus and participate in His work?

This Pentecost, in the 2017th year of our Lord Jesus, in the 500th year of the Reformation, I know that you at St. Peter have the same kinds of worries I spoke to Dr. Kleinig about. Today, by the power of God the Holy Spirit, I would like to remind you of the same thing Dr. Kleinig reminded me.  Don’t be afraid.  You have been given the Holy Spirit.

  1. History of Pentecost: How Peter Received Power to Speak

The reading from Acts tells us how the Holy Spirit was first given to the disciples of Jesus.  It tells us that when the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in a house.  Pentecost was one of the 3 holy days that God commanded the Jews in the Law.  It was fifty days after Passover, when Jesus had been crucified and buried.  In the Old Testament it is referred to as the Feast of Weeks or the Day of Firstfruits, because the Israelites were commanded by God to bring the firstfruits of the wheat harvest to the temple on that day.  It was also the day when they remembered how God had given the Law to Israel on Mount Sinai.  After the first Passover and God delivering the Israelites from the Egyptians through the Red Sea, Israel was led by God through the desert to Mount Sinai.  That journey took about 50 days, a little over a month and a half.

On that Pentecost after Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension into heaven forty days later, a sound came from heaven like a mighty, rushing wind and filled the house where the disciples were.  Divided tongues that looked like fire rested on each one of the disciples of Jesus, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other languages, each one speaking the language the Holy Spirit gave them to speak.

The record from Acts tells us that there were people in Jerusalem from all over the world who had come up for Passover.  They had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover at the temple, and they had stayed for Pentecost. A crowd of people heard the sound and came to see what it was.  And when they arrived, they heard the disciples of Jesus declaring the marvelous works of God.  They were amazed because the disciples were by and large uneducated men from Galilee, the north of what had been Israel, and yet every person who gathered heard the disciples speaking in the language in which he had been born and raised.  So they asked, What does this mean?  There were also people there who sneered and said that the disciples were drunk with new, sweet wine, the wine that had just been made at the recent grape harvest.

Then the text says, Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words (2:14). 

There is something for us there.  See how Peter speaks: Let this be known to you; give ear to my words.  Peter speaks like he has authority over this crowd! Where does Peter get this bold speech?  Did Peter speak that way fifty days ago, when some serving girls asked him if he was one of Jesus’ disciples?  No.  He was afraid.  He swore an oath that he did not know Jesus.  Now he speaks to the crowd like a man who has authority, and is confident that he should be heard.

And notice: Peter was standing with the eleven.  Before he denied that he knew Jesus.  He didn’t stand with the disciples of Jesus.  When he thought his life was in danger, he denied being one of Jesus’ disciples.  He didn’t stand with the other disciples.

But now St. Peter stands with them, and speaks for them.  He tells the crowd that no one is drunk, but that this is what was prophesied long ago by the prophet Joel.  God promised that in the last days He would pour out from His Spirit on all flesh.  In the days of old, only the prophets were given the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit enabled them to proclaim God’s Word: to prophesy.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit gave visions and dreams to the prophets.  But in the last days, God foretold that He would pour out His Spirit on all His servants: male, female, young, middle aged, old.

That is what is happening now, Peter tells them.  And he goes on to tell them why: because Jesus had been crucified for our sins, raised from the dead, and seated at God’s right hand to reign.  You crucified Him, Peter said.  But everyone who believes in Him, calls on Him, will be saved and will receive the Holy Spirit.

  1. The Holy Spirit Gives Knowledge of Christ

What we see learn from this is this: the Holy Spirit makes us new people.  He gives the knowledge of God through Jesus Christ. And He makes us, who are naturally weak and selfish, like Peter was, different beings: bold, faithful, courageous.  He gives us the power to speak and proclaim Jesus to others.

You’ve all been in a room that was stuffy, damp, or moldy, and someone said, Let’s let some air in here!  They opened windows, and fresh air came into the room.  You could breathe; the room became more liveable.  That is something like what God did at Pentecost with the disciples; but the air, the mighty rushing wind, was His Holy Spirit.  “Wind” could also be translated “breath”.    God’s breath breathed into the disciples with power, vehemently.

And what does breath do?  Breath gives life.  In the beginning, when God created Adam, He breathed into His nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.  Through the Holy Spirit God breathes His life into us. Without His breath we do not have life before God.  We live physically, but spiritually we are dead.  We don’t know God.  Our attempts to serve Him only drive us farther from Him. But He breathes on us in the Gospel, and we believe that Jesus our God, who died for our sins and took them away. The breath of God that makes us alive to Him by faith also renews our minds, hearts, and bodies.  We start to have confidence in God’s Word.  We start to fear God instead of human beings.  We start to have joy in the face of suffering.  We start to rely on God instead of our own strength.  We start to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Breath also does something else.  Breathing in gives us life. Breathing out is how we talk.  God’s breath, His Spirit within us, enables us to speak His Word.  It enables us to do what Peter could not do fifty days ago: confess faith in Jesus, even when we might have to suffer or lose something to do so.  The Holy Spirit also gives us wisdom and skill to speak the truth about Jesus to our neighbors for their salvation.

On Friday, the group that is working on revitalizing our congregation’s outreach with the Gospel met. One of the things we talked about was how we have a small percentage of the congregation that engages in the work of the church.  And someone said, I think what keeps a lot of people from volunteering is the fear that they aren’t really qualified. I think that is true.  People have also said that about other things.  Some people don’t come to bible class because they are afraid that they won’t know enough and will look foolish.  They are intimidated.  And I think nearly all of us worry that if we try to tell our neighbors about Jesus, tell them the Gospel, we might not say it the right way. We might say it in a way that offends people.  Or we might be challenged and will not be able to answer their questions.

Brothers and sisters, I promise you: if you are a Christian, you are qualified to speak and to serve in the Church. You have been given the Holy Spirit.  You had your personal Pentecost when you were baptized.  The Holy Spirit will speak through you and work through you to benefit the church and your neighbors.  And the Holy Spirit, Jesus says, leads us into the truth and reminds us of what He has said; the Holy Spirit teaches us to speak Jesus’ words and not our own.

  1. The Holy Spirit is Received through Keeping Jesus’ Word

One thing remains to be said, about how we receive the Holy Spirit.

You notice what the disciples did to receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  They didn’t do anything. God simply poured out His Spirit upon them.

The Holy Spirit, God in us, is not a prize that is earned.  He is given freely as a gift, the greatest gift that can be given.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells us more about how the Holy Spirit is given.  If anyone loves Me, He will keep My Word, and my Father will love Him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (Jn. 14:23)

The Holy Spirit is given in and through the Word of Jesus; and He remains where Jesus’ word is received and kept by faith.  When you hear a sermon that proclaims Jesus alone as our Savior, His blood alone as our righteousness, the free gift of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus, the Holy Spirit is both offering the gift of Jesus’ death for your sins, and the gift of Himself.

So whenever we hear preaching that is faithful to all that Jesus said to the apostles, that is the Holy Spirit, the breath of God.  Whenever we receive the Lord’s Supper, when it is celebrated according to His institution, we are receiving the Holy Spirit along with the body and blood of our Lord.  Whenever we are absolved, forgiven, according to Jesus’ command, by His authority, the breath of God is rushing upon us, letting the breath of God into our bodies and souls, rooms that are naturally closed, foul and corrupted.

But we are not given the Holy Spirit all at once. It’s a gift that God gives as He wills. Jesus says that as parents know how to give good gifts to their children, even more the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.

But we need to ask for the Holy Spirit, and receive from Him.  Neglecting to do that means we try to get by on our own power as we carry out the work God has called us to.

We need to keep His Word.  That means: learn it, and go on learning it.  Read the Bible.  Learn the teachings of Jesus, not only in a 20 minute sermon once a week, but also making sure we know what we were taught when we were confirmed, that we not only stay where we were when we were fourteen, but that we grow to maturity in God’s teaching, asking God to make it alive in our hearts by His Spirit.

That is why Christians often lack the Spirit’s power and wisdom.  We try to improve our lives or reform the Church or build the church by our own wisdom and strength.  That is so hard, and it doesn’t work.  The Holy Spirit enables the church to live and to confess and to speak and to believe in Jesus, of Jesus.  We wear ourselves out trying to do what the Holy Spirit alone can do.

That’s what Luther supposedly said about the Reformation; he said, we didn’t do anything.  The Holy Spirit did it all.  We just preached, wrote, and drank good Wittenberg beer.  The Spirit worked through His Word and reformed the Church.

Oh, may God grant us to be able to say this!  That God would teach us to be like children at Christmas, eager to receive the gifts given by our Father!  That we would see the chief task of our Church to be to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit through hearing, reading, and learning the Word of our Lord!

May the Holy Spirit also teach us to focus on receiving Him through God’s Word and Sacraments; to receive the good news of Christ.  Then our speaking and working will not be in vain, because He will be speaking and working in us.

Amen.

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

Soli Deo Gloria

Be Bold! Rogate, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 2017. 160th Anniversary of the Congregation. St. John 16:23-33

GideonRogate, the Sixth Sunday of Easter/ 160th Anniversary of St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 16: 23-33

May 21, 2017

Be Bold!

Iesu Iuva

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Jesus tells His disciples about something in the Gospel reading that will be necessary for them after He ascends to the Father, and they are left in the world, seeing Him no longer, something that the disciples will need for prayer, and something they will need in order to carry out their mission in the world without Jesus’ visible presence.  That something is boldness, daring.

If Jesus’ word to His disciples here had been recorded in American instead of Greek, maybe it would have used our phrase, “Have some guts!”

The disciples of Jesus will need to be bold, daring in order to ask the Father in Jesus’ name. They will need to take heart, as our translation says it; they will need to “be of good courage if they are going to continue in faith in their Lord and continue His work in this world in which they will have tribulation.

That is our Lord’s word to us on this morning where we are gathered to give thanks for the 160th year of St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church. Take heart!  Be of good courage!Be bold!  Be daring!

Here on our 160th year many of us are anxious. Our future as a congregation appears uncertain. Many have already concluded that it is only a matter of time before St. Peter has a service of thanksgiving that marks the congregation’s end, just as later today we will be doing with St. Peter’s school. Those who love that school are already full of anguish, grieving the loss.  We ought to have compassion for this grief.

At the anniversary dinner last night for the church I saw tears in the eyes of men who do not cry as we saw the pictures of beloved brothers and sisters in Christ who our Lord has taken from this valley of sorrows to Himself in heaven. There is no doubt about how much many of you love this congregation, and the pain that would be in your heart if you were forced to say goodbye to it.  Let us have compassion on those among us who were closest to St. Peter school and are therefore already grieving.

But even now, many who work tirelessly at St. Peter, giving hours and hours every week, are anxious, full of heaviness, worn out with work that never seems to bring the desired results.  We would like renewal for St. Peter, security for St. Peter, visible assurance that when our work is over, this congregation that we have been nurtured by and love will outlive us.  But it doesn’t appear to come.

Again, the word of our Lord to His apostles is the word of Jesus to us this morning, grieving at the closing of St. Peter school, anxious about the future of St. Peter congregation: In the world you have tribulation.  But take heart; I have conquered the world.  (John 16:32-33)  Be bold, says our Lord; be daring! Be of good courage!  Have a smile on your faces in tribulation, uncertainty, in the face of looming death!

Lord Jesus!  How can you say this to us? Don’t you know we are flesh and blood, not gods?  We fear death! We are weak and needy, and are terrified when the things that give our lives meaning are taken away!  Have mercy on us!  How can we obey this command?

Don’t doubt that Jesus knows who we are, what we are, what we are capable of; that He knows our weakness, our fear.  Don’t suppose His compassion for us is as little as our ability to understand it.

Be daring, be of good courage!  This is not a command from Mount Sinai, with fire, lightning, and the terrifying splendor of God’s glory.  It is an invitation. It’s like when our Lord says, “Believe the Gospel!” That means, “Receive forgiveness, life, and the glory of God as a free gift!”  It comes not out of cloud and fire, but out of the mouth of a man who appeared with no beauty or majesty that we should desire Him.  It comes from the mouth of a man like us in every way, who is facing death Himself.

Be bold!  I have conquered the world.

 

Jesus is not a sergeant in a trench, stoking his soldiers’ sense of courage and honor to motivate them to go over the top and charge into gunfire against the enemy.  The boldness Jesus is talking about comes from Him. I have conquered the world.  He is victorious. We have been singing about Jesus the conqueror all through Easter.  This is the feast of victory for our God, Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Blessing, honor, glory, and might be to God and the Lamb forever, Amen; for the Lamb who was slain has begun His reign. We sing as people whose war is already won. We sit down and feast at the victory banquet. We praise the conqueror, Jesus our Lord.

Jesus has conquered the devil, trampling him underfoot.  He cannot accuse Christians before God.  We were already condemned for our sins when Jesus was handed over by Pontius Pilate.  We died for our sins when Jesus was crucified, when we were buried with Him through Baptism into death.  And God the Father raised us, gave us new lives, made us new creatures when Jesus rose from the dead.  Our new life as sons of God, no longer slaves of the evil one, is by faith in Jesus, our righteousness and justification.

When Jesus conquered Satan, He also conquered sin.  It is now forgiven and blotted out, not through our repenting and being sorry and trying to do better, but through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

And, as He says here, I have conquered the world. The world gives tribulation to Jesus first, then to all who belong to Jesus. Tribulation means to be threatened with death. Open persecution for Christians is part of this, but also the world’s mockery, refusal to hear, its despising of Jesus and scorn of His people.  All these things threaten the existence of Jesus’ community of holy believers, His Church, as well as the existence of congregations like ours.  The Church has always been threatened with death in one way or another.  It has never been clear to human eyes how Jesus’ true Church, that believes His Word and is faithful to it, could continue to survive on the earth.

But Jesus tells us how the Church survives, and how Christians will be bold and daring when their existence seems uncertain, even impossible.  Our security, our existence is assured not by working hard, and not by visible signs that we are secure. The life of Christ’s Church is sure because Jesus has defeated the world.

He made a mockery of the world’s threats, showed them to be hollow. When Jesus proclaimed the Word of God in purity, He was opposed by all the powerful people in His society. Also most of the masses of people didn’t hear what He was saying; they came for His miracles but didn’t believe or listen to His teaching.  If Jesus had wanted to be a success in a worldly way, He needed to change His message to something that didn’t threaten the world.  But He didn’t. He preached God’s Word even though few listened and though He was threatened with suffering and death.

The world followed through on its threats, and Jesus was crucified and buried.

And then He rose in victory.  The world did its worst to Him; it killed Him. And this only resulted in the world’s defeat.  Because now His disciples went forth and preached His resurrection.  Instead of destroying Jesus’ kingdom, tribulation only laid its foundation and caused it to spread.

Be bold, St. Peter.  Be daring, St. Peter!  Do not be afraid.  Be of good courage.  You have not and will not overcome the world by hard work, industry, virtuous living, though these things are good and necessary.  Extraordinarily talented leaders and preachers are gifts of God, but they do not and cannot overcome the world. Churches that the world marvels at because they are full, beautiful, and successful according to your eyes are sometimes that way by my blessing, says the Lord.  But they have not overcome this world. Should you be confident and bold when you have these things, and terrified, anxious, and despondent when you don’t?

Be bold and daring, says He who sits at the right hand of God.  I have conquered the world, and You have Me.

From this boldness and daring which comes from faith in Jesus’ victory come two things.

The first is prayer.  It takes boldness to dare to come and speak with God with confidence that He will hear You and grant Your prayer.  People think prayer is easy until the reality of their sin dawns upon them. Then they are full of doubt about whether God listens to them; they are doubtful about whether they should even come into His presence, how they can even dare to take Jesus’ name on their lips.

This is why Jesus said to the 12: Until now you have asked nothing in My name.  (John 16:24)  The disciples were timid in approaching God.  Who are we, that God should listen to us?  Indeed, we are nothing.  In ourselves, we are right to suspect that God will not listen to us.

But we are not in ourselves.  We come to God in the authority of Jesus His Son who came for us and gave us His Name and standing before the Father.

When our Lord says, “Be bold!” He is saying, Ask the Father in My Name.  Jesus doesn’t promise that God will give us whatever we think is good.  He promises to give us whatever we ask according to Jesus’ will for His Kingdom.  St. Peter is part of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. It is His fortress, His outpost on this limestone cliff, overlooking an anxious, depressed city, full of people crushed by sin.  Many of them don’t even know what is crushing them.  They don’t know what sin is, much less who saves from it.

Kings and generals have in front of them the map of the whole campaign.  Soldiers on the front lines don’t.  Whether the Lord wills for St. Peter to be here till He comes, whether He wills, at some point in the future, to send His soldiers here elsewhere, we do not know.

But let us be bold and daring, confident that the King is victorious and will lead us in victory.  Trusting in Him, let us go to Him for the spiritual armor and provisions we need to carry out His purpose for us here and now with good courage and high morale.  Let us fight!  Let us dare to be courageous in this fight, to stand for the truth, to hold to His Word, to sacrifice and risk that His name may be glorified!  But let us do so under His authority, and call on Him to give us what we need to carry out His plan, not our own plans.

Second, the boldness that comes from Jesus’  victory works in Christians something that the world doesn’t understand.  In addition to confidence that God hears us, that we are saved and forgiven–something the world regards as uncertain–faith in Jesus’ victory over the world produces joy in the midst of tribulations, in the midst of the threat of death.

That is something incomprehensible to the world, and even to us in our weakness, much of the time.

But consider.  Jesus says, In this world you have tribulation. Tribulation, the threat of death for the Church, will never go away as long as we are Christians and are in this world.  Jesus had great tribulation; so did His apostles.  Martin Luther had it 500 years ago.  Faithful Christians at St. Peter experience it.  Various people have told me the same story at different times: It seems like God just sends me one thing after another.  I can’t understand it.

We shouldn’t look at this as though something strange were happening to us, as St. Peter says in chapter 4 of his first epistle. Instead, he says, Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed (1 Pet. 4:12-13). Jesus says that it will be this way in the world.  When it happens, it is a mark that we belong to Jesus and will share His glory.

The president of our congregation, Mark Kroll, wrote a history of St. Peter at the 150th anniversary of the Church.  If you don’t have a copy, you should get one and read it.  It isn’t long, and it is encouraging to read, because we see that we are not unique in our tribulations; yet God managed to keep St. Peter through them in the past.  That is the benefit also of learning about the history of the Reformation.  All throughout the history of the church, people wondered how it would survive, it had so many troubles; yet the Lord’s mercy upheld her.

The history relates that a few years after St. Peter started, there was a pastor who came, after which great divisions erupted in the congregation.  He was accused of  “not fostering peace in the congregation, and not supporting the use of the German language in the school.” The second doesn’t seem like a very godly thing to have conflict about in the church. Yet the division was so bad that, a story says, one member got in the habit of carrying a pistol to church meetings.

That’s pretty bad.  We have experienced our share of conflict and division in the decade I’ve been here.  Even though no one has come to church armed–that I know of– it’s still a sad and sinful thing when the church is full of unforgiveness and division.

Eventually the pastor left with about half of the congregation.  It’s hard to see how you could look at this with anything other than mourning and near despair.

I am sure that people thought or said things like this: “How can God be in this place when there is so much sin and evil?  We have been judged for our sins.  We are defeated.”

Yet, something amazing happened.  The congregation, which had not really been Lutheran at that point–though it had that name on the door–called a pastor from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.  This pastor taught the congregation patiently, and in a few years St. Peter was a different church.  It adopted the Unaltered Augsburg Confession as its confession of faith, the first statement of faith of the Lutheran Reformation, in 1530. A few years later it embraced the entire Book of Concord, the book that contains all of the Lutheran statements of faith.  As a result it joined the young synod that we now know as the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

How different things would have been had this not happened!  If St. Peter had not gone this way, if the tribulation of conflict had not come to her in her formative years, if she still existed today she would have almost certainly been a member congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran denomination in this country.  That would have meant that St. Peter would be part of a church that does not confess the Bible as the verbally inspired, inerrant Word of God.  It would be part of a denomination that has embraced same-sex marriage and other revisions of God’s commandments.  It would be served by pastors who may or may not acknowledge the Bible as God’s Word in every part. And as a result, the truth taught only in the Bible, and nowhere else–that we are by nature sinful and unclean and are saved from hell only through faith in Jesus, without our works–that would not be clearly proclaimed.

Be of good courage!  Be bold!  By faith in Jesus, who died and rose again, overcoming the world, we come to have joy in this tribulation that is always with us in the Church.  We have joy because tribulation can’t destroy us; it can’t even harm us.  Our conqueror always turns it to our blessing, as He did in such a magnificent way at the very beginning of our congregation. Our defeats become victories–for Jesus and for us.  Even our worst falls into sin are turned to blessing and victory by our Lord–as He did long ago with the fall of the apostle whose name our congregation bears.

Be bold and daring, St. Peter.  Your Lord has not left you.  He has conquered the world, and in Him, so have you.

Amen.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Soli Deo Gloria

He Is Not Here. Holy Easter Day 2017–Mark 16:1-8; 1 Cor. 5:6-8

he is not here.jpgHoly Easter Day

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 16:1-8 (1 Cor. 5:6-8)

April 16, 2017

He is Not Here

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Jesus is risen from the dead!

 

During the weeks of Lent we have seen Jesus our Lord without form or comeliness, with nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.  He has been humiliated, cursed by man and God.  Crowned with thorns, beaten and bruised, spit upon, rejected, pierced by nail and spear, forsaken by God, embalmed and entombed.

 

But now, here on Easter morning in the church, we see splendor. Our women have adorned and beautified the sanctuary and the altar just as Mary Magdalene and the two others went to honor and care for His body.  Beautiful easter lilies cover the altar.  The processional cross which was veiled last week, just as Jesus’ face was hidden under bruises, spit, and blood—now it is uncovered.  We see Jesus on it, ascending in majesty.

 

But in the Gospel reading we see no Jesus.

 

We see through the eyes of the three women who have come at the break of day on the first day of the week to anoint the corpse of Jesus.  They are worrying as they walk.  “Who will roll away the stone from the tomb?”

 

But as they walk past the place where Jesus was crucified on Friday, where they saw Him die, into the garden nearby that held the tomb where they laid Him, they look up and see: the stone is already rolled away.  Someone has opened Jesus’ tomb.  Was it in the night?  Did grave robbers come?  But how would they have gotten past the guards that were placed there?

 

Then entering the tomb, the dark cave cut out of the rock, they see that Jesus’ body is gone.  No Jesus!  Instead there is a young man sitting there on the right side, dressed in a white robe.

 

You can imagine why they were startled!

 

The young man begins to speak to them.  “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus, the Nazarene, who was crucified.  He has risen.  He is not here.  Look and see the place where they laid Him.”

 

It is empty.  The women see, and we see.  Jesus is not lying there like He should be.

 

“Go,” the young man tells them.  “Say to His disciples, and to Peter, that He is going ahead of you all to Galilee.  You will see Him there, just like He told you.”

 

So we are left this morning smelling the lilies, seeing the gold on the altar, but not seeing Jesus.  We are not shown the glory that replaces the shame of His crucifixion.  We don’t see the power that replaces His former weakness, the life that replaces the death that claimed Him.  We do not see.  We only hear, “He is not here.  He has risen.”

 

Even if we read a passage from one of the Gospels where Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, we would be hearing, not seeing.  We would not see Him alive with our own eyes.  We would not see His majesty, power, His glory that He now has in place of the weakness and shame in which we saw Him die.

 

So let us talk about what we don’t see.

 

 

The women came by the place Jesus was crucified, Golgotha, on their way to Jesus’ tomb.  They had to walk by “the place of a skull.”  You might easily see why they would want to avoid that place, not only because of its grim name, but because of the suffering inflicted on them there as they watched their hope die.  But they could not avoid it, just like we cannot avoid death.  The tomb in which Jesus was buried was there in a garden nearby.

 

But at this very place named after the symbol of death, the place of a skull, death has been struck a mortal blow.  We do not see Jesus.  The women fully expected to see Him and weep when they saw Him. They expected to see His body lying still and cold beneath linen cloths.  They do not find Him.  Instead they find a messenger waiting for them to proclaim that He has come forth from death.

 

It’s true; but instead of telling them Himself, Jesus sends a messenger, an angel to announce it.  That is how Jesus does it now too.  A messenger tells you.  A messenger in a white robe is there, not a heavenly being, but a pastor—at the grave of your loved ones, at the birth of your children into this world of death, in the middle of the joy of this life where, nonetheless, like the ancient hymn says:

In the midst of life we are in death:

            From whom can we seek help?

            From you alone, O Lord,

            Who by our sins are justly angered.

            Holy God, Holy and Mighty,  

            Holy and Merciful Savior,

            Leave us not in the bitterness of eternal death.

 

Jesus is not there in the tomb.  He is not here either, not visibly, like He was before.  The reason there is a messenger telling you, and not Jesus Himself, is because Jesus is no longer in sin and death, in humiliation and weakness.  And so He sends a messenger.

 

He is risen, and so He does not do what He did before.  Before this He lived in this world that is filled with graves and tombs.  One day, your grave will add to the number.  This is the world that Jesus came to live in with us.  He was one of us in every way, except without sin.  And He came in our appearance, not in the glory which was His, which a man cannot see and live.  He looked like us—not glorious, but earthly, not above pain, weakness, and humiliation, but subject to it.  He lived here and carried out the task of a preacher. He looked like a preacher, like all the ones who have stood before you in white robes; some you liked, some you didn’t, some were talented, some less so.  But all of them were of the dust, of the earth.  Jesus looked just like that.  He went to town after town and preached that the Kingdom of God had come upon them.  Some believed Him; most were only interested in His miracles.  Many not only rejected His message but hated Him.  And finally they succeeded in putting Him to death.

 

Jesus doesn’t do this anymore.  Before He came in the form of a servant.  Though He was God in the flesh, He laid aside the glory of God, which was His from eternity.  He came in our image and likeness, shared our hunger, thirst, weariness, weakness, our pain.  He shared our obligation to obey God’s Law.  He was subject to death even though, unlike us, He had not earned death.  He preached and people were able to reject Him, turn away and laugh, or turn toward Him with clenched teeth and stones in their hands.

 

This can’t happen anymore.  Jesus can’t die anymore, or suffer anymore.  He cannot be rejected in His own person.  He no longer shares our weakness.  He isn’t subject to death.  He still allows people to reject Him, but only as they reject His preaching through the ones He sends.  But He will not share our mortal life, our humiliations, our guilt and our death anymore.  When He wants to speak with us, He sends messengers in our image and likeness.  He does not come Himself now with the glory that a man may not see and live.

 

Why does Jesus no longer share this life and speak to us visibly?  He has done it already, and it is finished.

 

He shared our image and likeness, and the suffering, death and weakness that covers us because He came to be the true Passover lamb, who was slain so that God’s judgment would pass over us, so that we would go free from His judgment, from death and hell.  Now He has been exalted, raised up to the highest place, to sit on the throne of God in His flesh and blood.  He reigns over death, over hell, over all things for us, binding them through the message of His resurrection.  He won’t and can’t dwell among us in lowliness, in the form of a servant who bears the sin of the world, because it can’t be done again.  It is already done.  He has already borne that image to its end—to the cross and the grave.

 

When Jesus was humiliated, cursed, and crucified, when He died and was buried, God was striking and plaguing Him for our sins, for your sins.  He suffocated and burned in the torment that belongs to us for eternity, which we have earned from the time we were conceived in sin.  He hung naked before this anger of God against us on the cross.  He had no defense against it; no excuses in His mouth.  He was silent like a lamb before its shearers and did not open His mouth.  He had no power to push this burning anger away, because He had laid His divine power aside to become like us.  He had laid aside His innocence by which He could have been scared God’s wrath and plunged Himself into the flood of our transgressions. The guilty conscience of the whole world was upon Him.  He sank in the depths of sin where there is no foothold, no ground on which to stand and cry out to God for help, only the full awareness that we have deserved God to cast us away.  On the cross, Jesus was thrown into the depths of this sea, like Pharaoh was thrown into the depths of the Red Sea, like the whole world outside of the ark sank in the deeps of God’s flood.  He did not say, “Father, I did nothing wrong.  Take me down from the cross!”  He had taken our wrongs as His own.

 

And the Father punished those wrongs with agony of soul and body until He gave up His Spirit, died and was buried.

 

So look now.  Jesus is not here in this grave any longer.  We cannot see Him, because He has entered His glory.  We see only a young man in a robe sitting in the empty tomb, waiting for us with a message.  When we enter the young man looks up and says, “He has risen.”

 

And because you are not out of your mind with fright like the women that morning, you can reflect on the message that is spoken to you, what it means to you.

 

Jesus is free.  Every week you say: I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ…who was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.  He suffered and was buried.  And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures.

 

What does that mean for you, that Christ rose again, and is not seen in the tomb, not seen walking among us in our lowly appearance?  What does the message of the messenger mean for you, “He has risen?”

 

It means that He has been released from the punishment He received from His Father for your sins.  He has been released from the sentence of death, and therefore from the grave, the sentence He received because He offered Himself to bear our sin.

 

The Father did not release Jesus until He had tasted death.  Jesus had prayed, “Take this cup from Me.”  The Father did not; He had to be crucified and forsaken by God. He had to die and be buried.  It was clear.  The Father would not let Jesus go until He had paid the full measure of our debt.

 

But now Jesus is free.  In releasing Jesus from the chains of death, the Father is making a declaration.  The debt Jesus went to Golgotha to pay is now paid in full.  Jesus is released from death. The debt is paid.

 

Your debt is paid.  The Father releases you with Jesus from the guilt of sin, from His wrath against you, from the grave, from the fire of hell.

 

Our sins are no longer there to hold Jesus chained in death.  If they were still there, Jesus would still be in the tomb.  Or Jesus would still be among us as He was with His disciples, in the form of a slave.  He would still be serving us as our slave, with His glory put aside, and our guilt and lowliness and death still upon Him.

 

But He is not there in the tomb.  He is free.  And so are you. Unless you despise this.  Unless you refuse to believe it.

 

Victory has been won over the powers that ruled us and kept us chained; the old serpent has been crushed under the heel of the virgin’s Son.  The empty tomb of Jesus is the battlefield from which the enemy has been put to flight.

 

It is the courtroom, now empty after it has been adjourned, where the Father tried you together with all people, and announced His verdict: Not guilty.   Or: “I find the world to be righteous and just.  Set them free.”

 

It is the prison cell in which all people were held as condemned criminals, awaiting the order that would carry out their sentence.  But now, no one is there.  There is only a man in a white robe saying, “You are all free.”  He doesn’t say those words, of course.  He says, “He has risen.”

 

Paul says the same thing to the Church at Corinth.  “You really are unleavened.  For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”  The Corinthian Church was doing some very impure things.  A man married his father’s wife; and the Corinthians, instead of calling this man to repentance, bragged about how he had done this.  Yet Paul says, You really are unleavened, not permeated with the yeast of wickedness, but pure.  The reason is because the Passover Lamb that bears our sins has died and blotted them out.

 

At Passover, Jews were required by God to take all the yeast out of their houses before the Passover lamb was slain.

 

Even today, observant Jews do this. They search the house for any place there might be yeast, where crumbs of bread might have fallen.  They scrape out the dark places under the cupboards and the oven to get rid of every last bit of yeast that might leaven the unleavened bread they eat during Passover.

 

Christians also do this by daily repentance; we “cleanse out the old leaven” of the sinful nature in which we were conceived.  But trying to purge out your sins is not enough to cleanse us, as anyone who has tried it knows very well.

 

God must put away our sins.

 

And He has done it through the blood of Jesus.  Jesus has cleansed the old evil leaven of our sinful natures out of us.  He has buried it.  God has forgiven it, which means, God has released us from it.  Our sin no longer stands before Him.  He does not count it, or impute it.  This is what we mean when we say that God “justifies us.”  It means He counts us righteous for the sake of Christ.  He counts Jesus holy obedience and righteousness to us, just as truly as He imputed our guilt to His Son.  This teaching is the central teaching of the Christian faith.  It is, according to our Lutheran Confessions, the article of the faith “on which the Church stands or falls.”  This is what the Reformation that began 500 years ago was about.  Whoever has this teaching and believes it is righteous before God and saved from hell, even though he remains a sinner.  Where this teaching is lost, human beings are lost. Because there is no other way that human beings can be righteous before God than for Christ’s sake.

 

This cleansing that happened by Jesus’ death and resurrection also becomes effective in you.  We sang about it in Luther’s hymn:

 

Then let us feast this Easter day

On Christ, the bread of heaven. 

The Word of Grace has purged away

The old and evil leaven.

 

Christ purged human beings of sin before God; but the purging away of sin within us happens through the Word of the messenger of Jesus.  Through that word, God works faith that Jesus has purified us.  And God counts that faith as righteousness before Him; and at the same time, He gives the gift of His Spirit, who each day purges away the sin that remains in us, so that it no longer works through the whole lump of our bodies, families, congregations, but goes into remission.

 

The angel said, “Christ is risen.”  Go tell His disciples and Peter.

 

But to you the Word comes differently.  It says, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  It says, “As a called and ordained servant of the Word, I forgive you all your sins.”

 

When the pastor says these words, he is just proclaiming the same word as the angel; he is announcing what God has done for you and to you in raising Jesus from the dead.  He is saying, “God has released you, together with the whole world, from your guilt. God has justified you.”

 

God has not done this only for believers, and this message is not to be proclaimed only to those who already believe and are righteous.  It is to be proclaimed to the unrighteous who grieve because of their sins.  It is to be proclaimed also to Christians who have fallen from Jesus.  “Go tell His disciples and Peter,” says the angel.  Peter had denied he knew Jesus; his own voice had condemned him.  He had said, “I am not a disciple of Jesus.”  You may be here this morning and have done the same thing, by your words or actions.  You may have said, “I am not Jesus’ disciple” by willfully doing what you know to be sinful.  And you may be thinking, “Now that I have denied Jesus and bathed in the mud, and made myself unclean with Jesus’ name on me, how can I become pure and clean again?  How can I undo my falling away?”  You may not be thinking this, and yet you may be one who should think this!

 

You cannot undo the shame of turning away from Jesus, and allowing yourself to be filled again with the leaven of malice and evil.  But the angel specifically says, “Tell Jesus’ disciples, and Peter.”

 

Perhaps Jesus would have the whole congregation of St. Peter hear these words as His Word to this St. Peter.

 

Tell Peter: “He is risen.  God has justified Him.  God has let these sins go; they are paid for, the bonds of those sins are broken.  The guilt is removed.  The shame wiped away.”

 

Let us believe the word of whatever angel comes to you from Jesus with this message, for it is Jesus who sends the message to all who are bound by the chains of sin and hell.

 

Let us rejoice that we no longer see Jesus bearing our weakness.  That means our sins have been removed forever, once and for all.

 

And if we grieve over the weakness we still bear, let us receive Jesus’ pledge that we share, even now, in His glory, as our glorious, risen Savior gives us the foretaste of our resurrection.  Let us eat His body and drink His blood which have purged away the old, evil leaven from us.  See, His blood now marks our door, faith points to it.  Death passes oer.  And Satan cannot harm us.  Alleluia!

 

Amen.

 

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Consider Your Place In Life. Reminiscere, the Second Sunday in Lent, 2017. Matthew 15:21-28

canaanite_woman jesusReminiscere, the Second Sunday in Lent

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 15:21-28

March 12, 2017

“Consider Your Place in Life”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

“No one believes how the devil opposes and resists them, and cannot tolerate that anyone should teach or live rightly…It hurts him beyond measure to suffer his lies and abominations to be exposed…and to be driven out of the heart, and to endure such a breach to be made in his kingdom.  Therefore he rants and rages as a fierce enemy with all his power and might, and marshals all his subjects [against Christians]…in addition, [he] enlists the world and our own flesh as his allies…Such is all his will, mind, and thought, for which he strives day and night, and never rests a moment…

 

If we would be Christians, therefore, we must surely expect and reckon upon having the devil with all his angels and the world as our enemies, who will bring every possible misfortune and grief upon us.” Large Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, 3rd Petition, 62-65

 

How did it go this week?

 

How did what go?

 

Your fight with Satan and his allies, your flesh and the world.  Did it go well?

 

Last week’s Gospel told us about the temptation of Jesus.  To save people out of Satan’s Kingdom, Jesus had to be attacked by Satan.  On Wednesday, we heard the beginning of Jesus’ final conflict with the evil one, His Passion.

 

What happened to Jesus also happens to everyone who doesn’t want to remain in Satan’s kingdom.  You have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection.  You have God’s name on your forehead.  As long as you remain in Jesus’ death and resurrection, in His victory over sin, death, and the devil, you also are in a life-or-death conflict with the old evil foe and his allies the world and your flesh.  You could never hope to win this fight.  But Jesus has already won.  Through faith in Jesus you also conquer Satan, even when you’re weak, even when you stumble.  That’s why Satan’s goal is to destroy faith in Christ.

 

So how did the fight go this week?

 

The chances are good that you didn’t think much about the fact that you were in the middle of a battle with Satan and his allies, your flesh and the world.  We get so busy with work, responsibilities, worries, pleasures, that we forget.  If you forget you’re in a war, this week’s battles probably didn’t go very well.

 

Even if you were conscious of the battle you’re in, chances are good that you experienced defeats.  In the prayer guide in the bulletin this week the catechism memory work is about confession.  “Which are these?” it asks—what sins should we know and feel in our hearts and confess in order to receive absolution?  The answer is: Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker?  Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy?  Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome?  Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds?  Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?  In other words, look at how you carried out the calling God has given you.  The sins the catechism mentions are not what we consider great sins.  They are sins that most of us struggle with every week in one way or another.  Yet to be a Christian is to continue to fight against them, to get up when we fall and try to make progress against them.  For forgiveness and strength in this fight we draw near to God, hear His Word of pardon and absolution, and receive the body and blood of Jesus which cleanses us of all sin.

 

To overcome our sins by faith in Jesus is to fight against the evil one, Satan, and his allies, our flesh and the world.

 

But if you try to do this week in and week out, you find how hard it is.  In fact, you feel overwhelmed.  It is a struggle even to keep your mind on it, isn’t it?  If we don’t want to be overcome by our sins, we need God’s help.  We call out to God to keep us watchful, to give us strength against the devil, to keep us in faith in Christ, to forgive us when we fall.  We pray.  Prayer is our weapon in the war against the devil—not because our prayers are strong, but because the One who has promised to hear and answer our prayers is mighty and victorious.

 

In the Gospel reading we have an example of this in the Canaanite woman.  She cries out to Jesus for help and deliverance in her distress, and she doesn’t quit, because she believes that Jesus is who He says He is—the promised Son of David, come to bring salvation to her and the whole world from the devil’s power.

 

But we don’t need prayer only for ourselves.  God calls you, when you are baptized, to serve Him in specific ways by serving specific people.  He places you in your family and calls you to love and serve your spouse, your children or your parents.  He places you in your congregation and calls you to love and serve your congregation and your pastor.  He places you in your city or country and calls you to love and serve your government and your fellow citizens.  All these things—family, church, state—are God’s institutions.  They are there to bring God’s blessings to people.  When they falter, people suffer.  So they need prayer too.  When the devil makes inroads against someone in your family, against your congregation or synod or your pastor, against your city or country or neighborhood, you aren’t supposed to sit still.  You are supposed to fight the evil one with the weapons God has given you—prayer and the Word of God.

 

The Canaanite woman is dealing with an obvious attack of Satan on one she is called to love and serve—her daughter.  Her daughter, says the Gospel, is “severely possessed by a demon.”  The word literally is “she is demonized.”

 

…[outline]

 

People are naturally “demonized”—under the power of demons.  If the Kingdom of Jesus is going to free them, there will be a fight.

 

If people are going to be saved, there will be a fight.  We need to pray.

 

The problem is sometimes Jesus doesn’t seem to listen to our prayers…doesn’t answer her, says “I was sent only to lost sheep of Israel,” says, when she bows down in front of Him, “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

 

She perseveres in faith in Jesus, believing He will help.  She says, “Yes, I am a dog, but dogs get the crumbs.”  Yes, I’m a sinner, yet you will not refuse forgiveness and blessing even to the chief of sinners.  You came to save sinners.

 

Don’t doubt this.  Hold firmly to it.  Though great our sins, yet greater still/ Is God’s abundant favor.  / His hand of mercy never will/ Abandon us nor waver.  / Our shepherd good and true is He/ who will at last His Israel free/ from all their sin and sorrow.

 

When you see the devil attacking in yourself, your home, your church, your city, call on Jesus for help.  This is how His kingdom advances, people are brought to salvation and preserved in it.

 

Amen

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

The First Battle of Jesus’ Reformation. Invocabit, The First Sunday in Lent, 2017. St. Matthew 4:1-11

 

temptation-of-christInvocabit, the First Sunday in Lent

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 4:1-11

March 5, 2017

“The First Battle of Jesus’ Reformation”

Iesu Iuva

 

You have been hearing this year about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, how God revealed to the world again the truly good news of Jesus after it had been buried under teachings of men and demons.  Martin Luther was the human instrument through whom God accomplished this.

 

But what happened with Luther was only one act in the play.  Reformation began long before this.  The stage was set for it in eternity.  The drama began when God spoke this threat to the serpent in the garden: I will put [hostility] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.  (Gen. 3:15)  When Jesus came out of the Jordan River, still wet from being baptized, the table was set, and the drama began.

 

Jesus came into the world to bring about reformation.  He didn’t come to reform a corrupt government, or even to reform a corrupt religious establishment. He came to destroy the root of the world’s corruption—to dethrone the fallen spirit that had set himself up as the world’s god, and to set free the people God made to bear His own image and likeness. Jesus was here to bring about a reformation of the world, make the world into a temple, where people would worship God in every thought, word, and action, with every breath.  This worship of God, this obedience of God, comes through faith in the true God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

 

All the evil we see in the world—cheating and lying, hatred and killing, immorality, dishonoring God—all of it comes from unbelief, non-trust in the true God.

 

So Jesus entered the world, as God had promised long before, to crush the serpent’s head, make people free from his corruption, and bring about reformation.  To bring them to faith in God & release them from worship of Satan, belief in his lies.

 

He was conceived in the womb of Mary through the Holy Spirit, born in the Bethlehem stall.  For the next few decades we hear little about Him, until He appears at the Jordan River to be baptized with the crowds who were confessing their sins that those sins might be washed away.

 

When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove, and the Father’s voice sounded from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  (Matt. 3:17)  Jesus’ reformation began in earnest.  Jesus had come to the Jordan with no sins to confess.  Nevertheless, He was baptized with the sinners.  The only-begotten Son of God was baptized as a sinner because He had taken the burden of humanity, its sin and its redemption, upon Himself.

 

Then in the Gospel for today, Matthew chapter 4, we hear how the Holy Spirit brought Him to the first battle of His work of reforming the world.  “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  (Matt. 4:1)  Any reformer of any kind has to fight.  If you want to reform a corrupt city government, you will have a fight on your hands from the corrupt politicians who are in power and all the people who benefit from the corruption.  When Luther tried to reform the practice of granting indulgences, he was quickly attacked by the powerful bishops, including the Pope, who profited from the sale of indulgences.

 

Jesus came to reform something much bigger than a city government or even the Church; He came to reform the whole world.  He had to have a confrontation with the ruler of this corrupt world—the devil.

 

But what Jesus experienced as soon as He was baptized happens to everyone who comes after Him.  When you brought your little ones to be baptized into Jesus, you were bringing them to be baptized into His fight with Satan.  As long as you are a Christian and lay claim to the benefits of your baptism, to peace and union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to the forgiveness of your sins, you can’t avoid a fight with the devil and all who are his.  You must suffer his attacks, and you must fight. You must be tempted.  When the fight ends, when the temptation ends, so does your salvation.

 

The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into this fight, and to prepare Him for it, He lets Jesus fast for 40 days.  Jesus is weak almost to the point of death when the devil appears to test Him.  And the tests the devil brings are all temptations to presumption, to pride.  “You are God’s Son,” Satan says.  “Since you’re God’s Son, why should you have to starve out here in the desert?  40 days of fasting?  How unreasonable your Father is to make things so hard and painful for you!  You shouldn’t have to deal with the irritations and humiliations that human beings have because of their sin and unfaithfulness to God when you’re righteous!  The angels should carry you around!  Why doesn’t Your Father let you show Your glory so that these people give you the honor that is due you?”

 

Later Jesus would teach His disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”  The Small Catechism, the handbook of Christian faith and life Luther drew from the Scriptures, explains that part of the Lord’s Prayer in this way, “We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.  Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we would finally overcome them and win the victory.” 

 

We usually think of temptation as the devil trying to persuade us to commit grave moral lapses.  Of course he does that.  But the heart of all the devil’s temptations has to do with faith.  Despair is when the devil convinces us that we cannot be saved, that we cannot believe that God has forgiven our sins.  The other, “false belief”, refers to presumption, false confidence, where our faith rests not on God’s promise but on ourselves—our past good works, our past experiences of being close to God, our feelings.

 

The devil tries Jesus with presumption and false belief.  “You are God’s Son.  Why should you have to hunger and be meek and suffer?  Shouldn’t your Father honor you and give you glory and rewards instead of this humiliation?”

 

Then he lets loose a barrage of flaming arrows at Jesus in his third temptation, in a desperate attempt to get Jesus to fall, like all other human beings have before.  “I know that you have come to take possession of the world,” Satan says.  “You are the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed king.  The Scriptures say you are going to rule all the nations.  Well, here, have a look at them.  You can take possession of them all, right now.  They’re yours.  I’ll give them up.  Just give me my due.  Fall down and worship me.  No one will ever know.  I won’t make you fast for 40 days or suffer humiliation like your Father is doing to you.  It will be quick and easy.”

 

We have to give the devil his due, the saying goes.  This is an evil world, and things don’t go so smoothly for us when we don’t play by its rules.  Christians often give the devil his due too.  We often believe that there is no other way to survive.  (Examples)

 

But Jesus gives Satan—nothing.  Nothing except God’s Word from the Scriptures, which silences his lies and expose his fraud.  Satan is driven off, beaten.  The first man in history has refused his offers and been faithful to God.

 

Jesus could easily have overwhelmed Satan with His power and glory.  He could have done that without coming to earth.  But that wouldn’t have helped us.  Using His divine, almighty power to destroy Satan would have meant destroying all of Satan’s servants as well.

 

Instead Jesus came to reform the world and crush Satan not with overwhelming power but with faith in God and the obedience that comes from faith.  Jesus trusts His Father and accepts His will, even when that will means being humbled and suffering for our sins.  By this humble faith and trusting obedience to His Father, Jesus bruises Satan in this first battle, and finally bruises his head, crushing it in the dust, when He fulfills His work on the cross.  By His perfect faith and obedience to His Father, Jesus earns God’s favor, His grace, for all of us.  By His righteousness, Jesus earns the forgiveness of our sins before God.  God looks at the human race and sees not our rebellion and falling before Satan, but Jesus resisting and overcoming him.  He sees Jesus in perfect trust and obedience giving His holy life, shedding His innocent blood to atone for all of our transgressions.

 

Jesus’ humble trust in the Father, His rock-like holding to God’s Word despite all temptations, all appearances that seem to contradict it, is the example of how our lives are to be lived.  The love and humility He showed in willingly bearing this suffering in the wilderness, when He by rights did not have to suffer at all, is our example of how much God wills that we give of ourselves for our neighbor’s good.

 

But even more, Jesus’ victory over Satan in this first battle, and His final victory in His death and resurrection is our shield and defense in our battles against Satan.  When we are tempted to despair of God’s mercy, we claim Jesus’ obedience all the way to the cross as our own.  God has promised and pledged that it is ours in our Baptism.  We claim it, invoking the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit placed on us in Baptism.

 

The work of reformation that He began here is also our defense against false belief.  When the devil says, “Avoid suffering.  It doesn’t matter.  No one will know,” we hold to the Scripture and lay hold of Christ, who suffered this temptation and the agony of the cross for us.  We say, “I do not belong to you, but to Him who died and was raised to reform this world and me and make me a new creation, a Son of God.”

 

Or should Satan press me hard, let me then be on my guard.  Saying Christ for me was wounded, that the devil flee confounded.    Amen. SDG

Repentance and Reformation. Ash Wednesday 2017.

Ash Wednesday (7 p.m.)second-world-war-german-g-001

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Joel 2:12-19, 2 Peter 1:2-9, St. Matthew 6:16-21

March 1, 2017

Repentance and Reformation

Iesu Iuva

 

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matt. 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

 

That is the first of the 95 Theses that sparked the Reformation.  The first word of the Reformation of God’s Church was about repentance.  If your life needs to be reformed, if a family needs to be reformed, if a congregation or the whole Church needs reformation, this is where it begins—with repentance.

 

But a Christian life not only begins with repentance.  The entire life of a Christian is one of repentance—an ongoing, daily “changing of your mind.”    A change in how we think, look at the world, what we love and hold dear, what we believe, with the result that we return to God.

 

This the reason ashes are imposed today.  Ashes are a physical way of saying that our way of thinking and living must change.  Ashes are what remains to people who have been destroyed.

 

Look at pictures of a place that has been through a war, like Germany after World War 2, its cities pulverized to dust, rubble, and ashes by the rain of bombs falling from the sky.  You see people with wide eyes hiding in blackened, charcoal shells of houses, their faces dirty from the ash that is everywhere.  They haven’t just been going through a hard time.  Their country has been laid into the dust and destroyed.  The ashes of what they once had smeared their faces black.

 

Do you recognize that that is how you are?  A shell of what you were created to be, sitting in the ashes of the glory you once had, not knowing when fire will rain down from the sky to consume what is left of your life?

 

In ancient times, in the Bible, when people grieved and mourned, they sat in ashes, they sprinkled ashes on their heads.  They did this to show that they had been destroyed.  Frequently, along with the ashes, they stopped eating food—they fasted.  People do that when they are too full of pain to fill their stomachs; they also do it when war or destruction has so ruined their worlds that there is no food to eat.  When God had punished people in the Bible, or when it seemed like He was about to punish them, they would sit in ashes, they would fast, and they would cry out to God from their destruction: “You have destroyed us; please bring us back to life.”

 

They understood correctly who the God of the Scriptures is.  He is the God who, out of a handful of dust, made man in His image, and breathed in His nostrils the breath of life.  We were created with glory to bear the image of the one God.  But when Adam and Eve rejected the Word of God, they lost their form, just like the palm leaves in the fire.  The image of God was destroyed.  They lived out the remainder of their lives under a curse until their ruined bodies returned to dust.  God gives life.  God also destroys life that turns away from Him.

 

But God is able to bring back the life He destroys.  He is able to gather the ashes of the palm leaves and make them once again the green branches they once were.  He is able to bring back human beings that have been destroyed by sin; to raise to life flesh and bone that have returned to dust, and to restore the lost image of the Creator to human bodies and souls.

 

But when He does that in a person, or a household, or a church, it always begins with repentance, with a change of mind.

 

If a person is a burnt wasteland, a bombed-out ruin, he hasn’t started to come back to life yet until he recognizes he has been destroyed. Until our ruins are rebuilt and no sin remains in us, a Christian cannot be comfortable and satisfied.  Could a person who has lived through a war be comfortable and content while his country is burning, his home is ashes, and he is sleeping on a cot in a refugee shelter?  No!  He will not be content until his home is rebuilt, the fields of his nation are sprouting grain, the roads are paved, there are schools for his children.  So Christians can’t be content while sin remains in them.

 

As we seek to renew our life of repentance this Lent, it is important to remember that repentance has two parts.  The first is contrition, which is heartfelt sorrow and terror over our sins, the recognition of God’s wrath against sin revealed in the Law, together with the desire to be free from sin and its destruction.  Contrition is necessary, but it is not something we can do or make ourselves feel.  It is God’s work within us, and there is only one way that God has promised to work it.  That is through His Word—in particular, through the preaching of His Law.

 

If you listen seriously to the sermons that are preached to you instead of sitting in judgment on them, as so many do; if you allow yourself to be taught God’s Word by the pastor God sent you;  if you faithfully read the Scripture; and if you take up the Small Catechism, learn the ten commandments with their explanations, and look at the way you live in light of them, God will work contrition within you—not because you have done a good work by listening and reading, but because He desires that all be saved and come to repentance.  His Word is the instrument He uses to create repentance within you.

 

He will give you a contrite and broken heart, which is the sacrifice of God, which He does not despise (Ps. 51).  He will not only terrify you with the threat of His wrath, but if you believe in Christ, He will also create in you the sorrow that comes from having offended the God you love.

 

Ashes a biblical symbol of the destruction sin has brought upon us.  But there is another kind of ashes in the Bible—ashes used not to grieve, but to purify.

 

In Numbers 19, God commanded that a red heifer should be sacrificed and burned and its ashes mixed with water.  This water was used to purify those who were made unclean through contact with a dead body.  An animal, completely consumed in the fire, reduced to ashes on God’s altar—those ashes, that residue of a destroyed life, when mixed with water, made a person clean from the impurity that came from contact with death.

 

God has provided another, much greater life to be consumed in the fire of His wrath for your sins—the life of His Son. In Baptism, the ashes of His sacrifice on the cross, the fullness of His death for the sins of the world, are joined to water and poured upon you to cleanse not only your body but your soul from death.  Not only His death under the wrath of God, but His resurrection into life free from the condemnation of the Law.  In Baptism you become a participant in both.  You are joined with Him.  On the cross, the burning wrath of God fell on His soul as He carried your sins as His own.  You also were brought to an end with Jesus.

 

But God is able to raise up again and put back together what He has utterly destroyed in His wrath. And He did.  He raised Jesus from the dead on the third day.  And in raising Jesus, He raised you and all people up, put us all back together again as a new creation, as children of God.  He raised up our ruins, brought our ashes together and re-formed them, remade us in the image of the glory of God, so that we will never taste the second death.

 

This is the second and most important part of repentance—not only sorrow for our sins, but faith that our sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus.  By faith I mean certain confidence and trust that although we cannot free ourselves from spiritual destruction, God has done so.  He destroyed our sins in the wrath that He poured out on His Son who bore them.  Then He raised up the one who bore our sins, freeing Him from the curse.  Instead of ashes He gave us a beautiful headdress, a crown of victory (Is. 61), like the Old Testament priests who wore a crown that said, “Holy to the Lord.”  This crown is placed on our heads by God, because Jesus, our head, is alive again.  His battle with sin is over and He has emerged in righteousness and victory.  He is our crown of righteousness and sanctification.  He was poured on our heads in Baptism.  By faith we wear His holiness as our crown.

 

“The entire life of a believer should be one of repentance,” Luther wrote in the first word of the reformation.  That means not only a life of sorrow over our sin, but a life of confidence and trust that God has dealt with our sin.  A life in which we daily return to God, not only with sorrow over our destruction, but with firm trust that our destruction has been swallowed up by life.  Then instead of transforming us to ash from outside, God, who is an unquenchable fire of love, transforms us from within into the image of His Son.  He burns away our old self until Christ appears in us.

 

Repentance begins with the recognition of sin and ends with the certain trust that our sins are forgiven—not because we feel that they are, but because the Gospel of God declares them to be.  Where the pure Gospel of God is preached, it will work this change of mind—contrition and faith.  And this repentance—true repentance– always brings reformation with it.  Wherever an individual, family, or congregation is given this change of mind, and clings steadfastly to the promise that their sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake, that individual or family or church will begin to reorder its life according to God’s Word.  It will begin to produce fruit that pleases God.  May God graciously create and strengthen this repentance in us this Lent.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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