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Jesus Raises Us Up In the Divine Service. Trinity 16, 2017

widow-of-nain_thumb[1].jpgThe Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Ephesians 3:13-21, Luke 7:11-17

October 1, 2017

Jesus Raises us Up: Divine Service and Scripture

 

Jesus

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith (Rom. 1:16-17).  Those verses are our theme this year for the fall stewardship series as we approach the anniversary of the Reformation.

 

The Gospel has great power, even if that power is not apparent to human eyes.  That is the reason why the devil goes to great lengths to ensure that it is not heard.  Whenever it is proclaimed, God’s power goes forth against Satan’s power, both to save those who do not believe and to strengthen those who do.  If we are to continue to salvation and eternal life, if we are to have joy as we walk the road of the cross to salvation, we need the Gospel.  We need God’s power.  The place God gives the Gospel is in the Divine Service and in Scripture.

 

In the Gospel reading for today, God gives us a living picture of what the Gospel does to a person who first hears it with faith; and in the epistle reading He explains what the Gospel does for those who believe it and continue to receive it.

 

In the reading from Luke Jesus goes in to a town called Nain with His disciples.  As they come near the gate of the city, they meet a funeral procession coming toward them.  It is a funeral procession, and the body being carried out to burial is a young man, the only-begotten son of his mother, who is a widow.  It’s as if Jesus is meeting Himself and His mother.  He is moved with compassion for the grieving mother and says, “Don’t cry.” 

 

Supposedly, the rule for a Jewish teacher like Jesus was that, if they met a funeral procession, they were obliged to join it and share the grief of the bereaved.  But Jesus instead touches the coffin, and the procession stops.  Instead of mourning death with the funeral, He simply ends it.  He speaks a short command: Young man, I say to you, rise!  The man sits up in his coffin and begins to speak, and Jesus gives him back to his mother.  See the power of Jesus’ word!  He doesn’t do any magic, any elaborate ritual.  With the same simplicity with which He commanded sickness and demons and storms on the sea, He speaks to death and it releases the dead.

 

When Paul says, The Gospel is the power of God for salvation, you can picture this funeral, where Jesus simply speaks a word and the dead man sits up in his coffin.  That’s how the Gospel works; it releases those who are spiritually dead so that, all at once, they become alive to God.

As soon as a person believes that his sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who made atonement for them by His suffering and death, his sins are forgiven.  God is perfectly pleased with him.  He imputes or accounts to that person Jesus’ righteousness.  He is an heir of eternal life.  All that happens the very moment a person believes.

 

Yet we still have not taken possession of all that is His.  His kingdom is ours.  The joys of heaven are ours.  The full measure of His love is ours, and so is His glory and holiness.  But we still have to press on to take possession of these things, so that Jesus’ love, power, wisdom, and goodness become manifest in us, and so that the old sinful nature dies off.  Paul describes this in his prayer for the Ephesians: For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:13, 16-19). 

 

In the Divine Service and in Scripture, Jesus raises us up through the Gospel.

 

We forget where we are.  We deceive ourselves and let ourselves be deceived most of our lives.  We come to church and think we are taking a couple of hours away from our lives.  No!  When you come to the service of God you are taking an hour or two away from death. Death doesn’t visit you in your final hours.  Death attends your whole life.  We are all flying towards death.  Death sits at the foot of your bed with an hourglass in your final years, but he was there when you were young, too, laughing as with the sins of youth you forged the chains that would ensnare you in middle age.  He held the hourglass in his hand all the time, and the sands were always running out.

 

But that is just the death of the body.  But from the very moment you were conceived you were not just dying.  You were already dead in the real sense of the word.  Unable to hear God, unable to know Him or to have the joy of life that is truly life.  You were dead in trespasses and sins.

 

Then, one way or the other, you were brought in your lifelessness through the doors of the

Church, and you ran into Jesus with His disciples.  And Jesus had compassion.  He poured water on your head and preached the Gospel to you.  He said, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  He proclaimed to you how He paid for all your sins, giving Himself up to be crucified, to die, to be placed in the tomb, and to be raised for your justification.  And you sat up in your body of death and began to speak your first words of life in God, confessing your faith in Jesus to others and your sins to God, calling upon Him.  And the Lord gave you to your spiritual mother, the holy Christian Church, so that she would continue to care for you, and you would serve her as the widow’s son did his mother.

 

But what happened after that?

 

You found that being a Christian wasn’t easy.  You were still tempted by all kinds of evil.  And even when you wanted to do what was good and pleasing to God, you found that you fell short.  You found that you struggled to honor your parents.  Maybe you made your teachers and other authorities over you angry again and again, even when you tried to do better.  In confirmation perhaps you weren’t diligent and zealous to learn the catechism.  You were constantly tempted to impress your friends, even when that meant turning away from what pleased your Lord.  You struggled with pride, or with forgiving and loving your enemies.  You neglected prayer or were inattentive in worship.

 

It never gets any easier.  As long as we are in this world, we have the flesh, what Paul calls this body of death (Romans 7), that fights against the new man in us.  This body of death is always working to drag us back down into death, to keep us from reaching the fullness of life that God has promised us in Christ.

 

So even today when we came here today, even believers in Christ, came here with death at work in us.

 

But Jesus came here today to meet you and raise you up so that you may receive His Spirit and have strength to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  (Eph. 3:19)  Jesus has come to put death into remission in us with a word.

 

So He absolved you and loosed you of your sins from the past week and all the ones before.  Now He preaches the Gospel to you.  And in a moment He will strengthen the inner man, the man in His image, with His flesh and purify You within with His atoning blood.

 

The same compassion He had for the widow and her son motivates Him to come here and do this.  In the Small Catechism’s questions in preparation for the Lord’s Supper, Luther asks Finally, why do you wish to go to the Sacrament?  And the answer is: That I may learn to believe that Christ, out of great love, died for my sin, and also learn from Him to love God and my neighbor. 

 

Jesus comes to the Divine Service to raise you up, to put to kill the body of death that is so strong in us, to make you comprehend the height and depth of His love, to dwell in your heart through faith and manifest His power and love in you until you are fully raised to the right hand of God.

 

 

In the Divine Service and in Scripture, Jesus raises us up through the Gospel.

 

If we grasped this, how eager we would be to meet Jesus in the Divine Service!  When we have such a fight against our old nature and faith is cold and weak and temptation is so strong, this place where Christ meets us is where we find divine help in the gospel and sacraments.

 

But so often we don’t feel this help.  I am sure that someone here is thinking, “I’ve been going to church for decades, but I’ve never experienced any miraculous transformation from the Divine Service.”

 

I have experienced the same thing.  Often it is because I come to the Divine Service but neglect the Scripture during the week.  Then I am often cold and distracted during the Divine Service.  This happens because I mistakenly think that life is found in all the other things I do during the week—whether work or play—and that the Scripture and the Divine Service are interruptions of life.  They are not.  They are interruptions of the death that is at work in my body.

 

That’s how it is with me, and I am forced to go to church and read Scripture because of my calling, even if I am lazy.  But it has become common for so many of our members to come to the Divine Service once or twice a month.  To have strength to comprehend the love of Christ, to know the love of Christ in its fullness—can that happen if you are exposed to it only a few times a month?  Or even once a week?  As long as we have death at work in us, we need the power of God, the Gospel preached and read, and the Sacraments, to raise us up.  We come to know the love of Christ as we come to know Him through meditation on His Word.  This is not a chore, a job you have to do.  It is heaven—to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. 
And so if Christ is to dwell in our hearts by faith, and increasingly display His power among us, it will happen as we gladly hear His Word and grow in the knowledge of it.  Then we will also grow in our knowledge of His love.

 

In the Divine Service and in Scripture, Jesus raises us up through the GospelEven today He raises you up.  He pronounces you righteous, sinless, and an heir of eternal life.  He invites you to come with your body of death to His table and learn to know His love that surpasses knowledge, that moved Him to die for your sin.  He doesn’t hold against you the ways you have neglected His Word in the past.  He invites you to know and experience His love by reading your bible every day, by confessing your sins and being absolved, by letting the called minister of His word teach you it.

 

I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation.  Jesus’ Gospel is God’s might that gives us faith in Him and makes us alive, and it is His mighty power that strengthens us in the inner man, so that we grow to know His great love for us and reflect it in this world.

 

Oh Lord, grant us to know Your love that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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Trinity 12, 2017. The Glory of the Ministry of the New Testament. 2 Corinthians 3:4-11

September 3, 2017 Leave a comment

holy-apostles-icon12th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

2 Corinthians 3:4-11

September 3, 2017

“The Glory of the New Testament Ministry”

Jesus

 

In the vestry behind me there is a desk with a glass cover.  When I began here there was a cartoon cut out of a magazine or a newspaper between the glass and the desktop.  In the cartoon an old bald preacher is staring out from the pulpit over the rims of his spectacles.  In the pews there is a skeleton in crumpled dress clothes, with cobwebs growing on it.  And in the caption on the bottom the preacher was saying something like: “Did I preach too long?”

 

One might think that killing your hearers with your preaching is something a preacher would want to avoid.  But according to the Epistle, a preacher who leaves skeletons in the pews has done the work of God.  That is the proper work of preaching the Law of God, what Paul refers to as the letter: The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor. 3:6).  A preacher who stares out of the pulpit over his spectacles and sees skeletons, or at least dead people, could say to himself, “I have done God’s work.”  But if he wants to be a minister of the New Testament, he would also have to say to himself, “I have not preached long enough yet.”  Because though it is the work of God to work death through the preaching of the Law, the work of God in the ministry of the New Testament is to give the Holy Spirit who gives life to the dead.

 

This week a preacher made the news.  This preacher is probably the most popular, the most famous preacher in the United States.  His church used to be a sports arena.  It seats 16,800.  Every Sunday he fills this cavernous building.  Untold thousands more watch his sermons on television.  And judging from the sermons he has on the internet, he seems to preach just around 27 minutes each Sunday.  I noted this with interest.  You may be surprised to learn that every once in a very great while someone voices to me the complaint that my sermons are too long.

 

You don’t look surprised!  Well, because of this occasional criticism I am very conscious of how long I am preaching, at least until about 7 minutes in.  Then, when I become conscious of the time again, I usually think, “Well, I can’t leave off here, otherwise the dead will not be raised.”  And then, when I do quit, I always make a note of the time I stopped.  And for a long time now, it is almost always 25 to 28 minutes.

 

So that’s my response to those very rare complaints I get about the length of my sermons.  Joel Osteen fills a stadium every week preaching 27 minutes, so it can’t be the length of the sermons alone that’s the problem.

 

But Mr. Osteen took flak in the media this week because, they say, he did not fill his former stadium up this week with those who had been driven from their homes by the terrible floods in Texas.  I don’t know what to say about that.  I didn’t have time to read carefully to find out what his explanation was for why the church wasn’t opened and look into whether his explanation made sense.

 

What I do know and can say confidently is this: if the people of Houston understood what Joel Osteen was doing to his hearers in his 27 minutes in the pulpit each week, they would thank God anytime they heard that he kept the church’s doors shut, and pray that he would do it more often.  Or do it once more and never open them again.

 

Mr. Osteen’s ministry is certainly not a ministry of the New Testament, because he seldom, if ever, has anything to say about Christ crucified for sinners.  Nor is it a ministry of the Old Testament, because though he does preach God’s commandments, at least sometimes, his message can be summarized like this: If you trust God, if you obey God, God will bless you and give you prosperity in this world.  That is a complete falsification of God’s Law.  God didn’t give His Law as a guide to earning His blessing, certainly not in this world.  His Law, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3, has this purpose—to kill and to condemn.  Paul refers to it as the ministry of death and the ministry of condemnation.

 

In this world, Joel Osteen has as much glory as a preacher could ever hope for.  He has made millions and millions in selling books.  Thousands upon thousands listen to his preaching.  He lives in a multi-million dollar mansion.

 

But he has no glory from God.  In his ministry he does not minister in God’s name.  God’s power does not attend his preaching and teaching, no matter how many people listen to him—except perhaps insofar as he speaks the words of Scripture that he contradicts.

 

On the other hand, the genuine preaching of the Law does come with God’s glory.  When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments with His finger, his face shone so that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory (2 Cor. 3:7).  Looking at Moses’ face was like looking into the sun.  You couldn’t stare directly at it, not for very long.  God was showing that the Law Moses brought down came from Him.

 

That may be perplexing to us when we consider that Paul says that the ministry of the Law, the correct preaching and teaching of God’s Law, brings death.  It kills.  Moses didn’t come up with this.  God did.  God gave him a law and told him and those who came after to preach it, knowing that when it was preached it would kill those who hear it.  That was what He wanted.

 

The Law brings death because it awakens and uncovers sin.  Paul writes in the 7th chapter of Romans: Apart from the law, sin lies dead.  I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died (Rom. 7:8-9)  People are born in sin and are totally corrupted by it, but they do not know it until they hear the commandments of God proclaimed.  Then we begin to realize that we are not basically good, like Osteen and others imply when they say that all we need to do is know what God wants from us and then try our best and He will bless us.  The Law reveals that God is angry not only with our conscious rebellion against His commandments, but with the natural impurity of our hearts.  The world sees us not murdering people and approves.  God sees the anger, the desire for revenge, the grudges that linger in our hearts even when we try to make them go away, and judges us murderers.  Joel Osteen says that God is pleased when we put our faith in Him as best we can, but God says You shall have no other gods before Me…You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me (Ex. 20: 4-5).  You shall not worship anything else as God by fearing or loving or trusting them more than Me, God says—by bowing down to them, by offering them sacrifices, or by simply clinging them in Your heart more than Me, for I am jealous.  I do not tolerate any trust in anything in heaven and earth above Me—not your money, your parents, your senses, your mind.  To trust anything else more than Me, ever, is idolatry.  Partial worship of Me does not earn my blessing but My wrath.

 

When we hear the Law explained this way, it doesn’t make us better.  It makes us worse.  It stirs up sin in us.  We find that we immediately begin to rebel against God.  “Why does He threaten us with hell when He knows we can’t keep these commandments?”  We desire the very things He forbids.  This is why the Law of God is the ministry of death.  It reveals the sin that lives in us.  It stirs it up.  And the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).

 

Yet God’s glory comes with this preaching that stirs up sin and puts us to death.  That is because He preaches the Law whenever it is preached and taught rightly.  He kills us.

 

But Paul says that he has another ministry, the ministry of the New Testament that God made with human beings through His Son.  He calls this ministry the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  It’s called that because this ministry gives the Holy Spirit, who is, as we confess in the Creed “The Lord and giver of life.”  The Creed is right to call Him that.  He was hovering over the waters of creation when God’s Word came and brought light out of darkness, dry land out of the waters, living creatures out of the dust of the ground, and made man in the image of God.  And in the Baptism of Jesus the Holy Spirit descended on Him visibly to show that He was offering Himself as a sacrifice to God for our sins not by human wisdom but by the wisdom and in the power of God.  Then when Jesus had offered Himself for our sins and was buried, the Holy Spirit gave life to Him, quickened Him, so that He arose, descended victoriously into hell, and emerged from the tomb to proclaim victory over death for us.

 

When Jesus is preached to those who have been killed by the Law, He comes and gives life to the dead.  He rebirths us.  He raises us from the dead with Jesus.  He makes us a new creation, not subject to death.  He makes us innocent before God, applying Jesus’ innocence to us and purifying us from sin with the blood that He shed to atone for it.  And then we have God’s favor and blessing, because we are regarded as having fulfilled God’s Law.

 

 

This is why Jesus ascended into heaven and poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit on the disciples.  Through their ministry—their preaching His word and deeds, their baptizing according to His command, their celebration of the supper of His body and blood, their absolution—the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, would come and give life to those who heard with faith.  Just as the Law of God stirs up sin and reveals it, so that we are convinced that we are God’s enemies, under His judgment, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the preaching of the Gospel comforts the heart stirred up by the Law, and reveals our righteousness and life.  Our life is not from us and our works.  It is in Jesus, who cancelled our sins and our death in His death, who delivered us from them and made us free by suffering death on the cross for them and rising again to life, leaving them buried.

 

And the Holy Spirit raises up a new man in us in the image of Jesus.  He makes us a new creation that is innocent and without sin, that is not condemned by the Law because it gladly wills, thinks, and does what God commands.  We still have the old man fighting against the Law of God, but Christians also are a new man.  We rejoice in God, love and trust Him.  We are open to God’s Word, able to hear it, rejoicing to hear it instead of hiding from it as Adam did after his sin, as the deaf man Jesus healed must have rejoiced when his ears were open and he heard, for the first time, the voices of God’s creation that were created to sing His praise.  The Holy Spirit creates new life in us, restores God’s image to us, so that we begin to crucify our old nature, and in the joy of His gift of salvation we begin to gladly and spontaneously live according to His commandments, in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward our neighbor.

 

Paul uses another set of terms for the ministry of the Old Testament and the ministry of the new.  He calls the first the ministry of condemnation, the second the ministry of righteousness.  They both have God’s glory; both come from God.  When they are carried out God is doing His work.

 

The ministry of the Law not only kills by stirring up sin.  It condemns.  It damns.  When you come to church and hear the Law of God preached rightly, you hear His sentence of condemnation to death and hell.  If you hear that from a preacher, you are not hearing the devil but God.  The devil’s trick is to only preach condemnation—to remind you of the Law’s condemnation, but to keep you from hearing about God’s righteousness given to sinners.  But a person must be condemned before he is justified.  Without the preaching of condemnation of sinners, fallen human beings believe that they are already righteous, or that it is within their grasp.  But in the ministry of the Law, the ministry of condemnation, God declares His verdict on you.  Your slackness in prayer makes you a blasphemer; your laxness in hearing and learning His Word makes you a Sabbath-breaker, a despiser of His Word; your lust makes you an adulterer, your hard work for your own wealth or honor instead of His makes you a thief, your failure to defend your neighbor and your gossip makes you a false witness.  Your sentence is His displeasure in this life, to be followed by death and hell, and there is no appeal, no way to change or reduce your sentence.

 

But Paul boasts of his ministry, the ministry of the New Testament, which He calls the ministry of righteousness.  The ministry of condemnation came with glory, he says, but the ministry of righteousness will have much more.  It is a glory that will overflow and that will endure forever.

 

When Paul or faithful ministers who follow him preach Christ crucified for you, they administer the righteousness of God to you.  All who believe it, with nothing but condemnation in themselves, are justified before God.  He counts them righteous.  The perfect satisfaction for our sins is given in the Gospel.  Our sentence of condemnation, which Jesus paid, is fulfilled.  The Law has no further say over us because we who believe the Gospel have fulfilled it through faith in Jesus, given to us by the Spirit in the Gospel.  We are not condemned, but declared righteous. This is what is given to you by God through the ministers He sends when they baptize you, when they give you the bread and wine with Jesus’ Word.  Through them God buries you with Jesus and raises you to live before Him forever with no condemnation.  Through them God gives you His Son’s body to eat and His blood to drink; He gives you a part in Jesus’ death that wipes out the sins of the world.  Through them God absolves you; He declares you free from guilt and condemnation, saying, “I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

 

This is the glory of the ministry of the New Testament.  The glory of false preachers is that they can pack a house.  They may have many followers.  They may look and be regarded as successful by the world.

But the glory of the ministry of the New Testament is that God works through their ministry.  He puts sinners to death and condemns them through the Law.  But through the Gospel He makes those skeletons in the pews live.  He gives them His life-giving Spirit and the righteousness that stands before Him.

 

Paul boasted about having this ministry.  So should we.  It may not have the glory of the world, but it has the glory of God.  And not only the ministry has it—but all who receive this ministry  have it now and forever.  That is, all who, condemned and frightened by God’s Law, believe and find comfort in the free forgiveness of sins that God announces for Jesus’ sake in the Gospel.  You who believe, even in great weakness, longing for assurance, participate in the glory of the eternal God, who has worked death and resurrection in You through His Word and Sacrament.

 

Amen.

 

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

 

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 Regime of the King of Peace–Advent 4 Midweek Vespers 2016

December 21, 2016 Leave a comment

jesse-tree-ingeborg-psalterAdvent 4 Midweek (Vespers)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Isaiah 11:1-10

December 21, 2016

The Regime of the King of Peace—adapted from Stoeckhardt’s Adventspredigten, “Siebzehnte Predigt”

 

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Jesus is a King.  That is what His name means: “Christ”—anointed one.  King.

 

But where is Jesus’ kingdom?  Do you know?  Even those who can tell you the right answer are often embarrassed to say it, because it seems so impossible.

 

Yet there is nothing greater that a person could desire than the Kingdom of Jesus.  Isaiah just pictured Jesus’ kingdom for us in the reading—as Paradise.  And that is what it is to be part of Jesus’ Kingdom—Paradise.  To be in Jesus’ Kingdom is to be in God’s gracious presence; and it is to have—peace.

 

But the problem with Jesus’ kingdom is that we can’t see it.  He said this a long time ago to some fools who thought it was impossible that the Kingdom of God could come without them seeing it a long way off.  The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you—or perhaps within you (Luke 17:20-21). 

 

The Kingdom of God can only be seen through the Word of God.  Otherwise we will see it and despise it.  Isaiah prophesied 700 years before Jesus about this Kingdom and its King.  He describes Jesus as the King of Peace and Jesus’ Kingdom as a Reign of Peace.

 +++

 

Unless a person has eyes to see, he will laugh at Jesus’ Kingdom..  Isaiah foretold that this is how it would be.  Jesus’ Kingdom looks like nothing in our eyes because its king looks like nothing in our eyes.

 

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Isaiah wrote: There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.  Jesse was King David’s father.  David became the King of Israel, and God promised that one of David’s descendants would sit on his throne and reign forever.  Yet Isaiah says that David’s house would be torn down and left desolate, like a stump in the ground.

 

Imagine a big, five-hundred year old oak tree.  It’s beautiful.  Its branches spread far and wide; it give shade in the summertime.  Someone ties a rope to a branch with a tire on the other end.  Kids swing on it and laugh.  When they get thirsty they run to the porch and their mom gives them a Dixie cup of Kool-Ade.

 

Then one dark day the family gets evicted and someone comes with a chainsaw and cuts that big tree down.  What is left?  Only a stump.  Now when you go out to see that big old tree that you loved all that’s left is the stump.  If it ever grows back, it won’t be in your lifetime.  That tree is gone, along with the tire swing, the Kool-Ade, and the happy memories.

 

That is what happened to David’s house.  The house of David was a big beautiful tree that had been cut down.  And the Son of David that brings peace never came.

 

But Isaiah says: There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.  A little branch came up from the stump of David’s house.  If you came out to see the tree that had been there before, you wouldn’t even look at it.  You’d say, “If only we could have the old oak tree whose shade we played in as children.”  You wouldn’t even see the twig sprouting from its roots.

 

That little twig was Jesus.  His mother Mary and his stepfather Joseph were from the house of David.  They weren’t kings and queens anymore.  The glory of David’s house was a thing in the history books; nobody remembered.  Nobody cared.

When they went to Bethlehem to be taxed by a foreign king there wasn’t even a place for them to stay.  Mary gave birth to Jesus in a barn or maybe a cave where they kept animals.  Jesus was just a little twig growing from the stump of a once great tree.

 

But Isaiah prophesied that this branch from Jesse’s roots shall bear fruit.  And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him—the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.  (Is. 11:1-2)  Jesus would “bear fruit” because He had something that the great branches of David’s house that had been before Him did not have.  The Spirit of the Lord rested on Him.  The same Spirit that hovered over the empty waters at creation, in which there was no life, the same Spirit who caused order to come out of the chaos and life to spring forth out of barren darkness—rested on this little branch.

Though He was small and unimpressive as humans see things, in this little shoot was all the glory and power of God.  “In Him all the fullness of [God] dwells bodily”, St. Paul wrote in the epistle to the Colossians [2:9].  “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created through Him and in Him all things hold together…” [Col 1:15-17]. 

 

This twig is the living God in our flesh, the God of abundant life in the body of a newborn.  And so this little branch that seemed like nothing bore fruit that the great tree of the house of David, with all its grandeur, had not been able to bear.

 

The fruit Jesus bore was a life of complete obedience to God, of utter purity, a life that earned God’s seal of approval, His honor.  And this priceless gem, never before seen by the world—a human life lived in unity with God—Jesus gave away.  He offered up this precious life on behalf of those who had sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.  He offered it in exchange for the lives of all who had rebelled against God, of whatever stripe… He laid that life aside as though it were not His, and took up the guilty verdict that belonged to all of His brothers, and was condemned for our unfaithfulness.  He endured the agony of body and the anguish of soul that was the just reward for the lives we have lived.  In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether in earth or heaven, making peace through the blood of His cross. (Col. 1:19-20)

 

That is how Jesus is the king of Peace.  He made peace for us with God.  It is a perfect peace that cannot be added to or undone by you or me.  Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed, Isaiah prophesied in a later chapter [Is. 53:5].

 

If you’ve lived long enough, I am sure that there has been a time when you longed for peace—when your heart was full of anger or anguish or fear.  Many of us have repeatedly cried out to God for peace.  And some of you have probably had the experience of longing to feel that you were at peace with God.

 

That longing need no longer gnaw at you.  This King, this little shoot from the stump of Jesse, has made peace with God for all people.

 

Your sentence has been served in full by this strange king of peace, when He was forsaken by God for your sins, and when He shouted in victory “It is finished.” [John 19:30]  God is reconciled to you by this King, and desires you to no longer hide from Him, flinch at His presence—but be reconciled and enter back into Paradise through the gift of His Son.

 

++

 

That is how Jesus won His Kingdom of Peace.  After He conquered in the battle with Satan, He ascended to His Father’s throne and began to reign.

 

But of course we don’t see Jesus reigning.  What we see is those who refuse to accept Him as King behaving as though the world was theirs.  How is Jesus reigning?

 

Isaiah says: He shall not judge by what His eyes see, or decide by what His ears hear, but with righteousness He shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth and with the breath of His lips He shall kill the wicked. [Is. 11:3-4]

 

In paintings a king often holds a scepter or a staff in his hand.  It symbolizes the power by which a king maintains justice, defending the innocent and punishing those who oppress the weak.

 

Jesus does not hold a staff in His hand.  His scepter comes from His mouth.  The rod of His mouth by which He reigns in justice is His Word.

 

That sounds like a joke to the world and even to our own flesh.  We know very well that evil is not restrained with words—it takes guns, tanks, missiles, armies.

 

But the rod of [Jesus’] mouth and the breath of His lips are not like everyone else’s words.  With the rod of His mouth He laid the foundations of the earth; by the breath of His lips He stretched out the heavens.  By the breath of His mouth He breathed into Adam’s nostrils and the man of dust became a living being.  He speaks and it comes to be.  His Words spoken in time are reality now and forever.  Whether people listen or refuse to hear, the judgment Jesus pronounces through the Scriptures, through His preachers, will endure until it becomes visible on judgment day.  The one who rejects me and does not receive My Words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day, he said in the gospel of John [12:48].

 

Jesus reigns.  When He condemns the evil one, the demons, false teachers, unbelievers, it is not just an opinion.  He slays the wicked with the breath of His mouth; the reality of His judgment will appear on the last day,  In the same way, He gives justice to the poor by the rod of His mouth.  Poor sinners who come desire relief from the oppression of sin and the devil receive a favorable decision from the King of Peace.  He finds in their favor.  He declares them innocent of all Satan’s accusation, free from condemnation and sin. From heaven Jesus extends the scepter of His Word and justifies us, the ungodly.  When you hear this happening, you can be sure that you are in the presence of the King of Peace as He reigns.  And when you believe His judgment, you know that you are in His Kingdom.  And though His Word seems insubstantial to our eyes, be sure that it is more powerful and more real than the barrel of a gun, than an open grave.  This Word is the power of the living God.  What it declares, happens.  When it justifies you and says you have peace, rejoice!  It is more sure than the ground beneath your feet.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The Victory Remained With Life. 16th Sunday after Trinity, 2016.

September 13, 2016 Leave a comment

widow-of-nain-waterford.jpg16th Sunday after Trinity (10:45 Church Picnic Service)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 7:11-17

September 11, 2016

“The Victory Remained with Life”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

It was a strange and dreadful strife

When life and death contended;

The victory remained with life,

The reign of death was ended.  LSB 458

 

 

I imagine everyone here who was alive will never forget what happened fifteen years ago on this day.  Strange and dreadful strife appropriately describes what I saw on tv all day that day in 2001, and for the next several weeks.  It was strange—the world felt strange for weeks afterwards.  Strange to watch an airliner come screaming into a skyscraper and explode into an orange ball; strange to watch Manhattan fill with atomized concrete and pieces of paper—who knew that that was what comes out of a skyscraper when it falls—white paper everywhere!  It didn’t feel real.

 

It didn’t feel real because the World Trade Center and the New York Stock Exchange and the giant metropolises of our country and the airports that enable people to do business one side of the country in the morning and go home in the evening—that’s what feels real to us.  What happened on September 11th in 2001 was—for just a day—we saw how fragile our reality is. For a second we sensed that our reality is not real.

 

They said on the news people went back to church for a little while after the attacks.  Maybe that’s because people realized that our American way of life—represented by skyscrapers and jet airlines and megalopolises and stock exchanges—aren’t God.  Some fanatics screaming Allahu akbar fly four planes the wrong way and two of the world’s tallest buildings collapse, one of the most important cities in the world shuts down, and the whole country goes into shock.  The gods we trusted in didn’t fall over; they just swayed a little.  But for a second we realized they are false gods.  There is another God who can knock them over in a second.  It inspired dread in the whole country.  Every time we saw replayed on television the flying into the tower—something that isn’t supposed to happen!—it was a voice that said, There is another God who with a flick of His finger can destroy this whole country.  He can destroy the whole world if He wants to.  And He just let us know that He might not be happy with us.

 

We saw death that day.

 

Robert Oppenheimer was the director of the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb.  He said that when he saw the first bomb dropped on Hiroshima he thought of a passage from a Hindu scripture: I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. 

 

Death destroys worlds on a smaller scale every day.  The widow from Nain who lost her son, for instance.

And sometimes death destroys the worlds of people who haven’t died.  People who live in marriages where love has died and they have stopped hoping that it can be brought back to life.  People whose life has been interrupted, scarred, by illness, chronic pain, or depression.  People who had bright idealistic hopes to accomplish something with their lives who now laugh bitterly at their youthful selves.

 

A surprising number of people say things like, “I think God hates me” in response to death or suffering.  You hear it expressed more frequently than you’d expect by people that aren’t religious at all.

 

The voice that whispers that God hates us is closer to the truth than the voice that says God never would do anything so harsh.  The truth is that everyone who sins provokes God’s anger and hatred, comes under His curse.  Paul writes in Romans chapter 5, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God…” (Romans 5:10).  We were God’s enemies, Paul writes to the Christians at Rome—not just that we hated God, but He hated us, because we followed the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.  Among these we all once lived…following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  (Ephesians 2:2-3).  Doing what comes naturally, following the desires of our bodies and our minds, we, along with the whole world, were following the devil and were “children of wrath”.  God was full of anger toward us.  He was angry enough with us to give us pain in this life, kill us, and sentence us to eternal torment.  All this because we followed the desires of body and mind that we were born with, desires which add up to wanting to be like God, to do what pleases us and answer to no one.

 

God was angry with us, angry enough to destroy our worlds.  And He had been angry for a long time with us.  And has anything changed?  Has God gotten over His anger?  From what we can see in the world, there is no reason to think so.  People still die; they are still receiving the wages of sin (Romans 6). 

 

And the widow from Nain?  Sin had just cut her a check too.

 

The truly terrible thing about coming to the knowledge of sin is that—unless God’s heart is changed—there is no relief and no way out.  The teachers of the Jews told people that repentance would atone for their sins and bring about a change in God’s heart toward them.  But who could be sure they had repented enough to change God’s heart?  The only sure way would be to never sin again.  The widow, if she believed what the rabbis taught, couldn’t be sure if her son was in heaven or hell, nor which way she would go when she followed after her son into death.

 

Now the rabbis said that people should join in any funeral procession they came across.  To do this was to do something that found favor with the Lord; it was good in His eyes, and it would help take away His anger at your sins or increase His love for you.

 

Jesus, who is the Lord, doesn’t do what He’s supposed to do.  He doesn’t get out of the way. Instead He has compassion on her, which is to say He feels her grief like a stab in his own stomach.  He says, “Don’t cry.”  He moves past her, up to the stretcher on which men are carrying the body of her son, and reaches out and touches it.  They suddenly stop.  They are probably in shock that he would touch the dead body and contaminate Himself with the uncleanness of sin and death.  Then Jesus simply says, “Young man, I say to you, arise!”  And the man sits up and starts to speak, and Jesus gives him back to his mother.

 

The crowd’s response to this is interesting.  They call Jesus a great prophet and say that God has visited His people.  They are also stricken with fear, but they still praise God for the miracle.

 

That they are afraid is not surprising, really.  To see a man tell a dead man to rise, and the dead man does so—that would shake your world more than the twin towers falling.  If the technology and wealth are reality to us, death is even more so.  To see someone dismiss death with a few words is to behold power.   When they say “God has visited His people,” they are more right than they know.  They think it means that God has sent a great prophet through whom He will work to deliver them.

 

But a prophet, like Elijah, doesn’t raise the dead like this.  A prophet calls on God, and God in answer sends His limitless power to raise the dead.  But Jesus didn’t do that; He spoke the word that raised the young man from the dead Himself.  They are afraid when they see Jesus as a prophet who can pray to God to raise the dead and be heard.  They cannot fathom that in the man they see all the fullness of God dwells bodily (Colossians 2).  If they could they would probably run.

 

But God is not there in human flesh to destroy or to give out the due reward for our sins.  He is here to change the reality of death.

 

He is on earth to reconcile God and human beings.  To take away God’s anger toward us and replace it with love and favor.  To take away God’s anger toward mankind means to take away sin.  And where sin and God’s anger is taken away, death goes with them.

 

Jesus doesn’t preach in this Gospel.  This is an illustration of His preaching.

 

Jesus didn’t preach like Moses; He still doesn’t preach that way today.  His preaching was not about what you should avoid, what God wants you to do, the rewards and punishments that go with obedience and disobedience.  The substance of Jesus’ preaching was Himself.

 

I have come, He preached and still preaches, to make a sacrifice to God.  I offer up my life of holy obedience, and my agony and dying, to God for you.

 

When Jesus is dragged out through the gates of Jerusalem carrying His cross to the place of His death and burial, God will impute to Him the sins of the world.  And Jesus will feel the agony of those sins and God’s anger as He hangs on the cross.  He will feel the sins of the world as His own sins, and the wrath of God as His own wrath, and cry out that He is forsaken by God.  Until He gives up His spirit and hangs dead on the cursed tree.  And by submitting to sin, death, and God’s wrath, He undoes it—this reality that is the only one the world knows.

 

But by this suffering God will be reconciled to the world and all the sinners in it.  And that is how things stand now.  People can’t figure this out from looking at the world.  They can only learn this in the church where Jesus continues His prophetic ministry through the pastors who preach Christ (and not the wisdom of men.)  The message is that God is reconciled to the world and no longer counts the sins of men against them.  Which is to say, God has forgiven the world and all the sinners in it.  His anger has been discharged.  Our sins have been blotted out.  When Jesus offered up His holy life, His agony and His death, God’s anger against us was spent, and His favor came in its place.

 

The debt of our sins was paid and the price for our release, and the receipt was Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

 

And if sin and God’s anger has gone, then so has the power of death.  Death is different for those who believe in Christ.

 

The grave is no longer a place of uncleanness.  It is a holy place, sanctified by the body of the Holy One who laid there before us and was resurrected in glory.  So our grave is the holy place out of which we will rise imperishable, never to die, never to weep, never again to sin.

 

And dying no longer has the sting and terror of God’s wrath, the despair of being abandoned for those who believe in Christ.  God’s wrath ended on the cross, that Jesus was forsaken once, so that God will never forsake us.

 

And the deaths we experience in life also are not death to Christians who cling to Jesus.  Neither pain, nor sickness, nor failure can separate us from the joy, life, and victory we have in Him.  In Jesus we have God’s good pleasure; in Him God says of us, “Well done, good and faithful servant”—because Jesus has done well.  Because of what Jesus has already done for the world, God regards and declares us to be righteous in His sight, overruling the accusation of our conscience, the raised voices of those who know our sins, even the curse of the Law on our works.

 

This meeting of the two crowds was a foreshadowing of the strange and dreadful strife that happened on Calvary.  There were crowds there too, but only two wrestlers—the eternal Son, pinned to the tree and forsaken by God, and Satan, wanting to hold all people in bondage to sin and death.  It was a strange and dreadful strife…

 

The victory remained with life. A new reality emerged from this struggle. It appeared that Satan had won, that He had claimed Jesus with all the men who had come before Him.  They took Him down from the cross.  No one stopped the funeral procession.  They laid Jesus in the tomb and rolled the stone to shut it.  And then…you know the rest of the story.  Those who go to the tomb to mourn, honor the dead, pay their debt to death, find that the world has changed.  The tomb is empty.  The book recording the world’s transgressions has become clean white paper. The victory remained with life; the reign of death was ended. 

 

When we come out of our graves we will see how true that hymn is.  A little rest in the earth.  Then these mortal bodies will put on immortality.

 

A little cross and suffering here with our Lord.  Then God will wipe every tear from our eyes.

 

But we should not forget that life is ours now before the resurrection.  It lives within us, in these jars of clay that break so easily.  And when they break it shows the more clearly that the life within us is not from us.  When you break, and your world is destroyed by death, God is giving you a new world, and bearing witness to this world of the life of the world to come.

 

 

Holy Scripture plainly saith

That death is swallowed up by death;

Its sting is lost forever.

Alleluia!  LSB 458

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Spiritual Hunger. Second Sunday after Trinity 2016

jesus banquetSecond Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 14:15-24

June 5, 2016

“Spiritual Hunger”

 

Iesu Iuva

On Friday I was at Sunny Hill nursing home, where the Missouri Synod Lutheran churches around Joliet have a service each week for the people who live there.  After the service I gave communion to a member of St. Peter who lives there.  I was taking the elevator up from the lower floor and a lady got in.  I heard a little accent in her voice that I thought I recognized, and I asked her if she was from Africa.  No, she said, Trinidad (which is an island near South America).  I told her how my grandpa and uncles lived in Africa, so I always ask people when they sound like they’re from Africa.  “Oh,” she said, “where in Africa did your uncles live?”  “Zambia and Zimbabwe,” I said.  She said, “I went on a mission trip to Zimbabwe not too long ago.”

 

“Yes, there is a great spiritual hunger there,” she said.  “People have great joy in serving the Lord and a great desire to hear His Word.  Here, in order for people to worship properly you have to spend time coaxing them, cranking them up.”

 

I thought about this after we talked.  I am sure that if we got into what proper, acceptable worship to God is, we would not have agreed.  Emotion and excitement are not what makes worship acceptable to God.  True worship is in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24), says Jesus.  That doesn’t mean that we are emotional in our worship; it means that we have true faith in Christ as our Savior.  From this faith in Jesus that our sins are forgiven comes thanksgiving toward God.

 

Still, she had a point.  Acceptable worship of God can’t mean that we simply show up and say words in which neither our hearts nor our minds are engaged.  Acceptable worship of God—faith in Christ—affects our hearts, our words, and our actions.  Believing that our sins are forgiven, that we are saved, must produce joy and thanksgiving—and joy and thanksgiving toward God—how can it not affect the way that we sing, the way we listen to God’s Word, the way we treat each other?

 

By all accounts, there is a great spiritual hunger in Africa and places in Asia.  These have been mission fields for a long time.  In many places the missionaries worked for years and saw few results.  But now a harvest is coming in.  I often hear and read from Lutheran missionaries in Africa that the pastors eagerly desire to be trained more fully in Lutheran doctrine and to have the Lutheran Confessions and other theological works in their languages.  Meanwhile the people in the churches come in great numbers to be baptized, to hear the Word of God, and to receive our Lord’s body and blood.  It must be exciting to see so many people turning to God and desiring what He offers in the Gospel.

 

But how are things in our country?  It’s not so easy for us.  People don’t appear to be very interested in spiritual things.  There was a time when people came to church on their own.  Now, with younger people, they don’t.  And if the church goes to them—which, to be sure, we don’t do like we should—sometimes we find that people are opposed to Christianity.  More often, it seems that people are able to “take it or leave it.”  They aren’t necessarily hostile, if you don’t say anything that offends them.  They just don’t care that much.

 

But it’s not just outside of the Church.  There is a lack of spiritual hunger inside the Church as well—isn’t there?  Real hunger isn’t a pleasant feeling, but it has a purpose—to make you eat.  Eating is necessary to maintain life, but it’s also necessary to grow.  On earth, there are no Christians that are full-grown.  When we are perfectly in the image of Jesus and there is no sinful flesh left in us, then we will be full-grown.  But if you are not yet perfectly like Christ, you still have to grow.  And yet most Christians don’t eat enough spiritual food to grow; they come and hear the Word and receive the Lord’s Supper on Sundays, or on Sundays when they aren’t doing something else.  But they don’t continue to learn God’s Word after they are confirmed.  They don’t read the Bible in their families and privately.  Most of us don’t know Scripture and Christian doctrine as well as we did when we were confirmed.  Others who do often neglect prayer and devotion, so that we are weak in spirit—not having grown in the life of prayer and lacking in love and trust in God in affliction.  Then we wonder why our lives as Christians are so disappointing and why the Church seems to be dying in our country.

 

One way to look at Jesus’ parable in Luke 14 that we heard is to see it as a parable about the lack of spiritual hunger and the consequences of this lack.

 

In the parable, Jesus is eating at a Pharisee’s house.  One of the guests at the table with him expresses what appears to be a very devout, pious desire.  “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”  (Luke 14:15)  The man talks like he would give anything to participate in God’s kingdom.  But Jesus tells this story to show the hypocrisy of his statement: God has invited you to the banquet of His kingdom, Jesus is saying, but you are refusing to come.

 

Jesus begins his parable like this: “A man once gave a banquet and invited many” (Luke 14:16).  It’s pretty obvious who this “man” is—it’s God.  God is constantly feeding people throughout the Scripture, and He constantly makes invitations to people to come to Him and receive rest and refreshment.  God also promises throughout the Bible that the day is coming when He will prepare a great feast, a great celebration, and all who come and eat His food will live forever.  The great example of this is the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 25: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.  And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.  He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces…” (Isaiah 25:6-8)

 

You see the way Isaiah describes this feast.  God isn’t offering a crust of bread or peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches.  He makes a feast of “rich food”, of “well-aged wine.”  This is a banquet for kings that God is making.  And besides the exquisite food is the honor of the host.  If you are invited to a banquet at the White House, you don’t go just because you know the food will be good.  You go because of the honor of being invited to the White House by the most powerful person in the world.

 

God has also made a banquet and invited many people.  To be invited is an honor higher than any of the honors in the world.  And besides this He puts exquisite food on the table.  The food of God’s banquet is the Gospel of His Son.  He spreads out before us a table of spiritual delicacies—forgiveness of our sins, righteousness before God, rescue from hell and the devil, the right to be sons of God and sit at His right hand, the gift of His Spirit.  And all these come to us through His Son—God with us, God who became fully man, who fulfilled the law, bore our sins as His own, received our condemnation, and rose again with sin and death destroyed forever.  Jesus is given to us as our spiritual food and drink in the Gospel.  By faith in Him we live, by faith in Him we eat His body and drink His blood and receive eternal life.

 

“And at the time for the banquet He sent His servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’” (Luke 14: 17)  That had already happened to the Pharisees and the leaders of the Jews.  They had been invited a long time ago to this feast.  God had promised their forefather Abraham that one of his descendants would bless the whole world, taking away the curse of sin and death.  During the Advent midweek services for the past several years we have looked at the many promises God gave throughout the Old Testament concerning the Messiah of the Jews, the Christ.  But now everything is ready.  John the Baptist came and announced this to the Jews and told them to repent and be baptized to be ready for the Messiah and God’s banquet that would come through Him.

 

You also have been invited to God’s banquet.  An alternate translation for the word “invited” in the reading is “called.”  In the Small Catechism we learned to say about the 3rd article of the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel…

Whenever you have heard the good news of Jesus’ death for your sins, the Holy Spirit was calling you, inviting you, to believe in Jesus, that He died for your sins, and to receive His gifts.  When you were baptized, that also was God’s call and invitation to you.  He was pledging that eternal life and the forgiveness of sins was yours, just as the circumcision of the Jews was God’s pledge that His Son and all His benefits were theirs.

 

But what happens when God’s invitation goes out and tells people, “Everything is ready?”  Jesus says, “But they all alike began to make excuses.” (Luke 14:18)  One asks to be excused because he just bought a field, another because he just bought some oxen, and another because he just got married.  Jesus is telling the Pharisees at the table that this is what they, and the leaders of the Jews, have done.  They were invited by God to His banquet and were told: Everything is ready right now.  But they made excuses instead of coming.  The Jewish leaders were preoccupied with their jobs, their honor, with earthly possessions and desires.  The religious leaders didn’t want to be baptized by John or follow Jesus because to do so would jeopardize their position.  They would be admitting that their religious lives were not enough to make them righteous before God.  Besides this they saw that Jesus was despised and didn’t have an earthly glory or kingdom and realized that to believe in Him would mean risking or losing their honor, their wealth, their prestige.

 

These were not unfounded fears.  It’s true that to believe in Christ puts our honor, wealth, and security at risk.  This is part of the reason that people don’t want to be Christians today, or leave churches that teach false doctrine.

 

Yet these fears also reveal a lack of spiritual hunger.  A person who knows that he is a sinner and that without the forgiveness of sins he is lost doesn’t think about what he will lose on earth.  He runs to the promise of forgiveness, come what may.

 

Yet how often it’s the case for us Christians that we put temporary goods over eternal blessings.  Often we aren’t willing to sacrifice temporary comforts for the feast that God spreads before us.  We think, “I already know that Jesus died for me and I’m forgiven, so it won’t matter if I don’t read the Bible, or if I skip church this once, or if I don’t take the opportunities to learn God’s Word and worship that are offered.”  But believing the Gospel shouldn’t extinguish our spiritual hunger.  If we believe in Jesus and the forgiveness of our sins, we should long for more of Jesus and His gifts.  And as we receive more—as we read Scripture and hear preaching—it will reveal our need more clearly.  God’s Word reveals more and more of our sinful nature and our inability to overcome it; it reveals our lack of fruit.  God reveals this to us in His Word so that He can satisfy our hunger.  As we see our sinfulness more clearly He shows us Jesus more clearly, so that we find our comfort in Him and His work alone.

 

So what happens when those invited send back their excuses?  The owner of the house becomes angry.

 

‘Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’  And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’  And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and the hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.  For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” (Luke 14:21-24)

 

So what does the master do?  He has a house all set for a banquet.  Everything is ready.  The linens are on the tables, the wine is poured, the meat is ready.  But all the invited guests have refused to come.  Does he cancel the banquet?  No, he insists that his house should be filled.  So he has his servant gather up all the outcasts, the dregs of society to fill his house—the poor, blind, lame, crippled.  And since there is still room, he has the servant go outside the city and compel people from the highways to come to the banquet.

 

God did this with the Jews.  When the leaders of the Jews refused to come to Christ, God gathered the outcasts of Israel.  The poor, uneducated fishermen became Jesus’ disciples.  Tax collectors and sinners came into God’s banquet and ate His rich food and drank His aged wine.  They received the forgiveness of sins through Jesus and became righteous before God.  Then God sent the apostles outside of the people of Israel to the pagan gentiles who were far from God, didn’t know the Scriptures, and worshipped idols.  And these debased people—which includes us and our ancestors, who worshipped stones and statues and trees instead of the living God—came into God’s house, received the righteousness of Christ, were washed in His blood, and took their place among the righteous—Abraham and Moses and the prophets.

 

That is the end result of rejecting God’s Word; the end result of the lack of spiritual hunger.  When people persistently refuse God’s invitation through the Gospel, He takes it away.  Maybe we think the worst thing God could do to a country is let it be torn apart by violence, or impoverished through bad government, or let it be stricken by disease.  No.  The worst way God’s anger could strike us is if He takes His Word away.

 

Without His Word we can’t receive the forgiveness of sins; without His Word we can’t come to faith in Christ or stay in it.  Yet so often we treat God’s Word not as a gracious invitation to eternal life, but as an interruption of the other things we would rather do, or even as a burden.

 

Yes, we do this, even the most devout.  And so God makes His invitation again today: Everything is ready!  Come to the banquet!

 

If you have neglected His Word.  If you are spiritually poor, blind, and crippled, so that you think there is no way that you belong in God’s house, eating as His guest.  If you have at times acted as if you had other things to do that were more important than coming to the banquet God has provided, behaved arrogantly.

 

He doesn’t insist that you make your heart better.  He simply says, “Come, everything is now ready.”  It is a free invitation—there is no cost.  God has taken away your sins at His own cost, the cost of His Son. You only have to come and eat and drink—that is, believe that all your sins are forgiven through the suffering of Jesus.

 

If you don’t feel hunger—your sins don’t bother you particularly, you don’t feel your need as you should—still He invites you.  Realize that this lack of hunger is itself a great sin.  Then come, take your place with the crippled and the blind in God’s house.

 

God is gracious.  He wants His house to be full for this feast, so there is room for each one of us who wants to come.

 

And what a table He prepares for us!  “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, [that] God has prepared for those who love Him!”  (1 Corinthians 3:9)  The joy that we will have when we dwell with God in heaven we don’t know yet.  There are not words on earth to express it.  Yet we have the beginning of this feast now.  Maybe it’s appropriate to say God gives us hors d’oeurves?

 

Before our eyes He portrays His Son crucified for our transgressions, declaring, “It is finished!”  His call and invitation is to take Jesus at His Word.  In the Sacraments and the Word, He gives us the promise that the forgiveness of our sins is accomplished.  Along with that promise comes the promise of eternal life, resurrection from the dead, and union with the Triune God.

 

Whoever you are, come, says God, for everything is ready.

 

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

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The Good News for Parents

May 20, 2015 1 comment

The Gospel for parents who fail.

http://www.mbird.com/2015/05/absolved-parenthood/

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