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The King of Grace. Palm Sunday 2019

Palm Sunday

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 12:12-19 (Mt. 26-27)

April 14, 2019

The King of Grace

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Not by human flesh and blood

By the Spirit of our God

Was the Word of God made flesh,

Woman’s offspring, pure and fresh.  (LSB 332, st. 2)

 

This is an Advent hymn, but the teaching it presents is just as appropriate for today and the next week as for Advent.

 

God the Son became human by the Holy Spirit in the virgin’s womb, not by a man’s flesh and blood.  He also established His Kingdom not by human wisdom but by the Holy Spirit.  He went to Jerusalem on a donkey with the cross before Him not by the wisdom of the flesh but by the Holy Spirit.

 

And for us to enter Jesus’ Kingdom it is the same.  It can’t happen by the flesh but by the Spirit of God.

 

You can’t see Jesus’ kingdom with your own wisdom; you can only see Jesus’ kingdom by the Holy Spirit.

 

You can only enter His kingdom by the Holy Spirit.

 

You can only serve in His kingdom by the Holy Spirit.

 

Peter found this out the hard way.  Even though Jesus told Peter he would deny Jesus three times, Peter insisted that he would die before doing so.  And he still denied his Lord even after being forewarned.  The reason?  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. 

 

We can’t do the will of God in the flesh.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God, says St. Paul in Romans chapter 8.

 

Many of you made pledges to God on Palm Sunday years ago.  For others of us it was not Palm Sunday, but the promises were the same.

 

Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully?  I do.

 

Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?  I do, by the grace of God.

 

Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?  I do, by the grace of God.

 

When some children and parents make these promises before God they are lying to Him from the beginning.  They never intend to be faithful to Christ.  They are just glad catechesis is over.  They are like Judas, when all the disciples ask Jesus at the Lord’s Supper “Is it I, Lord?”  Am I the one who is going to betray you?  Judas knows he is the one who is going to betray Jesus, but he pretends to be a disciple anyway.

 

Maybe there are some here this morning and this is the state of their heart.  You are going to communion, but you have no intention of following Jesus to the cross.  You are anxious to be done with Him already.

 

Many of us meant these promises we made.  But like Peter, we were faithless.  Maybe we stopped coming to church or fell into a way of life that wasn’t pleasing to God.  Maybe we kept coming, but yet we were negligent in prayer.  Our work in God’s kingdom was half-hearted or ineffective.

 

Why?  Because like Peter, we did not keep our promises by the power of God, by His Spirit, but we tried to live in God’s kingdom by the power of our own flesh and blood.

 

It seems likely to me that many of you feel great sadness because you have not just done what Peter did once or twice, but many times.  You went out to serve Jesus and you fell, not once, but many times.

 

Well, look upon and hear the good news today.  Jesus your king comes riding on a donkey to establish His kingdom of grace, to give You His Spirit and a new life.

 

Jesus our King goes to Jerusalem to offer Himself unblemished to God by the eternal Spirit (Hebrews 9:14).  When we try to reconcile God by our works or keep His law in our flesh, we fall, like Peter.  But when our King goes in the Spirit into Jerusalem to set up His Kingdom, no one can stop Him.  Nothing in all creation can stop Him.

 

See how the Pharisees recognized this!  We are getting nowhere, they said, as the crowds waved palm fronds and shouted to Jesus as the conquering King, rejoicing in Him with great joy.  We are getting nowhere—look, the whole world has gone after Him!

 

They were right.  The crowds kept following Jesus despite their efforts.  It wasn’t because of Jesus’ fleshly qualities, because he had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, no beauty that we should desire Him.  It was by the Spirit of God, by which Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb after he had been dead four days.  The crowds came out to meet Him and called Him the King of Israel.  They waved palms before Him, and palms are a symbol of conquerors.  Jesus is the conqueror of death.  He had already shown His power over death, and they couldn’t keep the crowds away from Him.

 

But Jesus was coming to Jerusalem to establish a greater Kingdom than one in which the Pharisees or even the Romans were replaced.  He was coming to establish the Kingdom of Grace and to overthrow the rule of sin, death, condemnation.

Everyone thought Jesus’ Kingdom was fake, that it never got off the ground.  The soldiers put a crown of thorns and a scarlet robe on Him as they made long furrows in His back with the whips.  They laughed at Him claiming to be a King.  Pilate put a sign over His head: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.  It seemed like a sick joke, as the sky grew dark, and Jesus cried out, forsaken by God.  Even His disciples lost hope as He was placed in the tomb and the stone was sealed.

 

How final it seemed.  And it was.  That was the end of our sins and our old life.

 

But his kingdom had begun—His kingdom of grace.  Because it is a kingdom of grace, Peter who had proven unfaithful was sent out to preach the good news.  It was as if his fall had never happened.

 

Because it is a kingdom of grace, Peter went on to be victorious also, and to confess Jesus all the way to his own cross.

 

According to the flesh, Jesus’ kingdom doesn’t look very appealing.  A cross and suffering in Jerusalem.  And after?  A small band of believers among whom Jesus was preached, and people were baptized in water, and ate and drank bread and wine.

 

These are not the ways flesh and blood builds a kingdom.  They are the means of the Holy Spirit.

 

They are the means in which the Holy Spirit gives you a new life, set free from your falls and your failures, a new life as a son of God.  A life of grace in which not your sins, but only Jesus’ righteousness are counted to you.

 

Let us greet our King who comes to give us this new life of grace in His body and blood.  Hosanna in the highest!

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

The Mediator of a New Covenant. Judica 2019

April 15, 2019 Comments off

jesus the great high priest.PNGJudica, the Fifth Sunday in Lent

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Hebrews 9:11-15

April 7, 2019

The Mediator of a New Covenant

Iesu iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

 

The Gospel reading takes place about six months before Jesus’ final visit to Jerusalem that ended in His arrest and crucifixion.  Jesus is in Jerusalem in this reading for the Feast of Tabernacles, one of the three annual festivals God commanded Israel.  And the Jews almost kill Him.  They pick up stones to stone Him when He tells them that He is I AM, the God who redeemed their fathers from slavery in Egypt.

 

Jesus’ sufferings did not begin when they nailed Him to the cross, or when He was praying in the garden of Gethsemane and His sweat became like great drops of blood.  Jesus was suffering throughout His ministry—indeed throughout His whole time on earth.  He was opposed by the devil and by unbelieving people.  If you’ve had people yell and scream at you, you know how unpleasant that is.  If you’ve had someone threaten you with violence, you know how much pain that causes—even if you are tough.  If someone verbally attacks you, gets in your face, and there is the threat of violence—that is painful.  You will remember that for a long time.  Jesus had this happen to Him in Jerusalem 6 months or so before He died.

 

This shows us that Jesus’ suffering was constant throughout His life.  It also makes it clear that when Jesus returned to Jerusalem at Passover, six months later, it should have been totally unsurprising to Him and His disciples that He was risking death by being there.  He had almost been killed there a few months before!

 

The question then becomes, why did Jesus return to Jerusalem at Passover, knowing that Jerusalem was full of powerful people who wanted to kill Him?  Why did He head back, into more suffering, into what anyone could see was likely to result in His death?

 

The answer of course is that Jesus went to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday knowing He would suffer further when He went.  Knowing that He would die.  And He went to meet suffering and death willingly.  As He said later in John’s Gospel, in Jerusalem at Passover, seeing death right in front of Him: Now is my soul troubled.  And what shall I say?  “Father, save me from this hour?”  But for this purpose I have come to this hour.  (John 12:27)  This was Jesus’ purpose on earth.  He came to suffer and die in Jerusalem—and not to die of old age, but to be crucified, to die in agony, condemned as a criminal.

 

That is a strange thing.  You and I do not think our purpose on earth is to die.  What is your purpose in the world?  Perhaps to bring your children into the world and raise them.  To serve the people around you in your job maybe?  To serve God in His church?  Maybe you aren’t sure what your purpose in this world is.  But nobody ever says, “My purpose in this world is to die.”  Yet that was Jesus’ purpose.

 

And what makes it even stranger?  Is that Jesus was not an ordinary person.  Listen to the things He says in John chapter 8: Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death…Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.  (John 8: 52, 58)  He says, my word gives eternal life and delivers from death, and I am the one true God, the living God.  He is the God of life, the giver of life, the source of life—and yet He came into this world to die!  We all want to have a higher purpose to our lives than simply to die.  Jesus came into the world, God in the flesh, the one who always was—and He came to give up His life.

 

The epistle reading explains this.  Christ appeared as high priest of the good things that have come (Heb. 9:11).  He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15). 

 

Jesus came into the world as high priest.  Priests make sacrifices.  They kill animals and offer them up to God as substitutes.  A priest’s job is to mediate—to go between God and other people, in order to reconcile God to people who have angered Him.

 

Why do priests kill animals?  Because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  The price of sin, of turning away from God, of disobeying God, is death.  So in the Old Testament God taught His people in many ways, using many pictures, that it was necessary for a substitute to die and take away their sins.  And outside of the people of God, people’s consciences were aware that a price had to be paid to make God favorable to them.  So there were sacrifices and priests among nearly all people, even though they worshipped false gods.

 

Under the old covenant, God would accept the blood of lambs and goats as a covering for the sins of the people of Israel.  They had to be offered by the authorized priests at God’s tabernacle or temple.  But the animals had to be sacrificed again and again, and the sins of the people were never taken away.  Their blood was a reminder that the people of Israel were still full of sin and their sin was not covered, once and for all.

 

But Jesus came as the mediator of a new covenant.  Under this covenant, there is one sacrifice offered for sins, and then no more sacrifices are ever offered again.  The reason is because by this one sacrifice sin is covered—forever.

 

Jesus the great high priest would enter into the very presence of God in heaven, not the earthly tabernacle, with the blood of this victim—and the sins of the people would be covered forever.

 

The sacrificial victim was not a lamb or a goat.  It is Jesus Himself—the God the Son.  When you hear the words of the Gospel reading, you realize what kind of a sacrifice Jesus is.  Before Abraham was, I AM!  Jesus says that He Himself is the God that appeared to Moses in the bush that burned and was not consumed.  He is the Lord who appeared on Mount Sinai in fire.  He is God of God, light of light.  The God of life, who gave life to the world in the beginning by His Word.

 

Yet He is also one of us.  He doesn’t appear to the Jews in His omnipotence.  He comes in flesh and blood, and they try to stone Him.  They insult Him as though He was their equal.

 

This person—God, equal to the Father, but also man, our brother—is the sacrificial victim of the new testament.  Jesus offers up Himself.  That is why He goes back to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  It is why throughout His life He endured opposition and pain.  He did not need to do it for Himself.  He did it because as the high priest of a new covenant He was offering Himself as a sacrifice.

 

And His sacrifice is finished.  Jesus doesn’t offer it again and again because He has secured an eternal redemption.  This means all sin is taken away forever by His suffering and the shedding of His blood.

 

From this you can understand why we sing such joyful songs every week when we receive Jesus’ body and blood.  We sing like heaven is opening, the angels are coming down, and we are in paradise—like there is nothing left for us to do but give thanks forever.  We sing that way because in the Sacrament of the Altar we participate in the New Testament of this great high priest.  As we eat His body and drink His blood, we are purified from sin.

 

This is what the epistle means when it says For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Heb. 9:13-14).

 

In the old covenant, you would be cleansed from leprosy and other defilement with water mixed with the ashes of a heifer that had been burnt on God’s altar.  But this only purified you externally.

 

But God’s Son offered Himself to God for our sins without spot.  It was like when Abraham was prepared to offer his only son Isaac to God.  But Jesus freely sacrificed Himself to atone for our sins, to put them away from God’s sight.  This purifies our conscience.  When your sins make you feel guilty and defiled, what do you do?  Normally people try to take away their guilt by doing what they think will make God happy.  But this doesn’t take away guilt and defilement.  It makes us more guilty.

 

Your conscience becomes clean when you believe the truth—that Jesus covered and cleansed your sin with His suffering in your place.

 

Believing this makes us able to serve God.  Without the sacrifice of Jesus, received by faith, we can’t serve God.  We have a defiled conscience and are always trying to make up for our own guilt.  This is not serving God.

 

But when your conscience is cleansed by the sacrifice of Jesus, and you believe that you are free from sin because of His offering of Himself, you serve God with a glad heart and are acceptable to Him.

 

As we come to Holy Week and look upon the suffering of Jesus, we come face to face with the darkness of our sin.  We see it written all over Jesus’ body, in the wounds and the blood.  We see it reflected in the deeds of the disciples who denied Him, Judas who betrayed Him, the priests who connived against Him and Pilate who condemned Him.

 

But if we see it rightly, we see not only our sin.  We see our great high priest willingly give Himself to suffer and die.  We see Him offer one sacrifice that purifies from sin forever.  We see the same high priest come to us in the Holy Supper to give us a clean conscience by the blood of the New Testament and the body He offered spotless to God.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Lent 5 Midweek 2019. Tenth Commandment and Close of the Commandments.

Lent 5 Midweek (Wed after Judica)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

10th commandment and Close of Commandments

April 10, 2019

 

Iesu Iuva

 

What is the tenth commandment?  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

 

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not entice, estrange, or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, but urge them to stay and do their duty.

 

What does God say about all these commandments?  He says, I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.

 

What does this mean?  God threatens to punish all who break these commandments.  Therefore we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them.  But He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments.  Therefore we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

The tenth commandment is a second commandment against coveting.  The word we usually use for coveting is “jealousy.”  Coveting is a desire for what someone else has.  In the 9th commandment God forbade us to desire our neighbor’s house—his possessions, his inheritance.  In then tenth He forbids us to be jealous of our neighbor’s wife, his manservant, maidservant, ox, or donkey.  He tells us we are not to desire the people in our neighbor’s life.

 

I always thought this commandment was funny when I was a kid, because I didn’t know anyone who had an ox or a donkey, and it was funny to think of coveting them.  Sometimes it still seems that way to me when we recite the commandments with the children.  But God goes into detail about what things we are not to be jealous of.  You must not desire your neighbor’s wife or husband, his male or female servants—not even his ox, or his donkey that works in his field.  What belongs to your neighbor God has given to your neighbor.  What He has given to you He has given to you, down to your animals, and your pets.  God wants you to recognize these things as coming from Him and to be content with what He has given you.

 

Coveting and jealousy over other people’s relationships are actually widespread in our time, perhaps because good relationships are rarer these days than they might have been once.  People are jealous that they don’t have a husband or wife, a boyfriend or girlfriend.  We are tempted to think God has wronged us because we are alone.  Others have a spouse, but they are jealous of the husband or wife of their neighbor, because this person’s husband is so much more kind or attentive, this person’s wife so much more affectionate.  People who don’t have children are jealous and feel cheated.  So are those who lose their husbands or wives or children, sometimes.

 

Why are we jealous in this way?  Because we think God doesn’t give us enough and doesn’t give us what we need in terms of relationships, in terms of love and respect.  We do not trust God to provide us with what we need.  We do not love Him so that, even if we lack a husband or children, we are happy anyway.

 

God commands us that we not feel this kind of desire.  As Luther points out in the catechism, this kind of jealous often leads people to scheme how they may alienate their neighbor’s spouse or workers and get them for themselves.  But even when covetousness and jealousy doesn’t break forth like this, the desire itself is sinful.

 

What this commandment reveals is that sin is not just something you do.  Sin is like a creature that you don’t know is there until it wakes up.  It is as if the serpent that tempted Eve lived hidden inside of us instead of in the tree in the garden.  You don’t know it is there until it wakes up.  And sin living within us is often asleep, or we are not aware of it.  The thing that stirs it up is the Law of God.

 

Paul said this in Romans 7: What then shall we say?  That the law is sin?  By no means!  Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.  For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.  (Rom. 7:7-8)

 

That’s the way the sin that lives in us works.  It uses God’s commandments as opportunities to do evil.  God says, “Do not commit adultery.  Do not even covet your neighbor’s wife.”  Sin produces in us all kinds of lust and jealousy.  Our nature rebels against God as soon as God commands us to do what is right.

 

And so God’s Law can’t be simply guidelines for us to follow.  God’s Law is a touchstone that reveals whether we are righteous and have right hearts.  And the Law shows us our hearts are warped.

 

When we get to the place that we no longer recognize our own sin and take it for what it is, that is when Christians become all the things people say we are—self-righteous, hypocritical, judgmental, deceiving ourselves.

 

That is why God also gives us the close of the commandments, where He tells us what kind of a God He is.  He is a jealous God.  Our flesh is jealous and covetous.  It is resentful of other people having good things and asks, “Why has that not been given to me?  I deserve that more!”

 

God also is jealous.  The difference is that our jealousy is sinful.  God’s jealousy is righteous.  He is jealous and wants us to love Him with all our hearts, love Him above all things.  He is jealous of His glory and wants to be obeyed and honored.  He is not selfish and petty in His jealousy.  He is right, because He deserves all honor, praise, obedience and love.  He is God, our maker.

 

So He tells us that because He is a jealous God He will punish the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him.  This means He will wipe out the name and the remembrance of those who hate Him and rebel against Him.  On the other hand He will bless a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments.

If you want to see what God’s jealousy looks like, you can look away from the commandments to the passion reading.

 

Tonight we saw Jesus carry out His cross to the place of a skull.  It was the third hour, and there they crucified Him.  The brutality of crucifixion is a physical reflection of the spiritual suffering Jesus endured on the cross.  Long nails were driven through His hands and feet and then they lifted Him up into the air to hang by those wounds.  He was naked and all He could do was gasp for breath.  As He hung there He was mocked by every group of people around Him, but He could not move away.  Above all this agony, He had an even greater one:  He cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Try to imagine what it would be like to die in such pain, and have God turn away from you, close His ears to you.  Shut you out in His wrath.  This is what Jesus endured.

 

And why?  Because God is jealous.  Because He will not tolerate those who hate Him and refuse to keep His commandments—not even those who do it in weakness.  Sin must be punished.  None can be in God’s presence.

 

And so Jesus dies forsaken by God.

 

But for those who are baptized into Jesus and take refuge in Him by faith, the commandments do not speak a curse.  They speak a blessing.  I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

 

For those who take refuge in Christ, the law pronounces a blessing.  The law says God will show love to us and a thousand generations of those who love God and keep His commandments.  Because, it says in Romans chapter 10: Christ is the end of the Law, that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.  Christ is the fulfillment of the Law.  He fulfilled the Law’s demands when He died for our transgressions on the cross.  That is why He cried out “It is finished!”

 

For us who believe the Law is fulfilled by Christ, God promises blessing.  We have kept the law, because Jesus’ keeping of the law is ours.  And now when, believing in Jesus, we seek to keep these commandments, God counts these works as good.  He looks on us as righteous ones, as His sons.

 

Now instead of being jealous against us, He is jealous for us, because we are presented before Him pure and spotless, as His bride.

 

May we then use our Lord’s fulfillment of the law not as an excuse to serve the sinful flesh, but as those who have been set free from the law’s curse by Him who became a curse for us.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

Lent Midweek 4 2019. 8th and 9th commandments

Wednesday after Laetare

St. Peter Lutheran Church

8th and 9th commandments

April 3, 2019

 

Iesu Iuva

 

What is the 8th commandment?  You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

 

What is the 9th commandment?  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way that only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

False witness leads to death.

 

Nothing could be clearer from the passion reading today.  Over and over we hear how the chief priests “vehemently accused” Jesus, leveled false charges against Him to Pilate and to Herod.  False testimony was the poisoned dagger by which the priests murdered Jesus.

 

Of course, false witness doesn’t always literally kill people.  More often people who are falsely accused in a court lose money and have their good name dragged through the mud.  But this is a kind of killing too—at least an attempt on a person’s life.  You take away a person’s wealth, you take away their ability to eat and clothe themselves.  If you take away a person’s honor and good name, you impose on them a kind of social death.   A person with a bad reputation might lose his job or not be able to succeed at business.  But even more that person becomes isolated.  We are learning more and more about the serious consequences of being alienated socially, being alone.  Suicide rates are higher than ever.  Depression is epidemic.  Why is it?  Because people are isolated.  They interact with other people increasingly through the safe distance of a screen and fiber optic cables.  When you “tell lies about your neighbor, slander him, or hurt his reputation” you cut those already fraying cords that allow him to be with other people and hold his head up.  You interfere with his ability to not be alone, which is really to attack a person’s ability to live.

 

False witness, lying—you might not think it could do so much damage.  But lying is tied to the very beginning of human sin.  When the devil wanted to lead Adam and Eve into sin, he lied to them about God.  He slandered God.  That is what the word “devil” means, literally—“slanderer.”  So Jesus says in the Gospel reading for the Sunday coming up that the devil was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, because there is no truth in him (John 8:44)  On the other hand, when Jesus is questioned by Pontius Pilate in the reading today as to whether He is a King, He says, You say rightly that I am a king.  I was born and I came into the world that I should bear witness to the truth.  Everyone that is of the truth hears my voice.  Lying and slander is the devil’s work and leads to death. To tell the truth is Jesus’ work and it leads to life.

 

It’s clear enough from this that to bring false charges against your neighbor is sin and that God forbids it.  But that’s not typically what we do.  What we do more often is speak against our neighbor not in court, but to a smaller jury in the kitchen, or in the parking lot, or the locker room, or maybe in the concourse at church.  And we typically justify it by saying that our complaints and criticisms of our neighbor, whoever he or she is, is not “false witness” because it is true.

 

But in the 8th commandment God refuses to allow this excuse.   When you condemn or speak evil of your neighbor, you sit in judgment on him or her.  But if God has not given you the office to judge your neighbor, as judge, as parent, as boss, or pastor, you are not to judge and condemn your neighbor.  That’s God’s job on judgment day.  And until then it belongs to the people that He has called to do it.

 

Instead what we are called to do is love our neighbor and protect his reputation.  This is why Jesus gave us instructions in the 18th chapter of Matthew about what we are to do if our neighbor sins against us.  The short version is—you go and talk to him privately, and if he repents, you have gained your brother.  If he doesn’t listen to you, you talk to him with another person as a witness.  Then if he won’t hear you you bring it to the whole church to judge.  Or, if it is a matter with someone who isn’t a Christian, you might bring it to the civil authority.

 

The strange thing is, we all avoid dealing with our neighbor’s sins the way Jesus tells us to do it like the plague.  Why?  For at least one reason—because we are afraid of our neighbor getting angry with us.  In reality, to talk honestly with each other when we have offended each other is a loving thing to do.  You speak the truth to your neighbor.  This is what Jesus does in His kingdom.

 

The other thing we do, where we vent and complain about others, and privately condemn them, is the devil’s work.  Even if what you say about your neighbor is true, when you act as his judge in your own private court in a corner, that is not God’s work.  He does not seek to destroy, but to save both our neighbor and us.  When He judges, He does it in the open, in the light.  And even that is done (until judgment day) in the hopes that sinners will repent and be forgiven.

 

The darkness is where the devil does his work.  Coveting is another example of this.  In the darkness of our hearts, he stirs up desire and longing for what belongs rightfully to our neighbor.  He creates a sense of indignation in our hearts that God has given wealth or property to our neighbor that we think belongs to us.  And then we begin to scheme ways to get what God has given to our neighbor that no one will be able to call stealing.

 

Against all this God commands us to love our neighbor.  Instead of telling his secrets or hurting his reputation, God commands us to speak well of our neighbor, defend him, and explain everything in the kindest way.  Instead of coveting his possessions, He commands us to help him to protect and improve his income and possessions.

 

If we paid attention to these commandments, we would never run out of good works to put our energy and strength into.  So often the church is flailing around looking for schemes to get other people to go to church.  This is not always wrong.  But the most powerful thing that would attract people to church is seeing love in our hearts and lives.  This is not a new idea.  Jesus washed the disciples’ feet before He went to Gethsemane.  Then He said, By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  This is why we believe in Jesus and love Him.  We believe that He loved us.

 

We believe that He was silent before the false testimony against Him because He wanted to suffer and die to take away our shame and bad reputation before God.

 

We believe that He was mocked and stripped of His good name and what few possessions He had so that He could give us, as a free gift, the Kingdom of His Father.

 

We love Jesus because He daily and richly forgives our sins.  He feeds us His body and blood.  When we confess our sins, He absolves us.  He daily renews the promise He made to us in Baptism that we are His.  He preaches into our ears how He has atoned for all our sins through His bitter suffering and death.

 

Jesus’ love is what draws us to Him.  The most powerful witness to the world is Jesus’ love working in us.  And among the many ways He has commanded us to love our neighbor is to protect his reputation, speak well of him, and seek to help him improve his possessions and income.

 

May the Lord pour His love into our hearts and teach us to exude this kind of love in the way we speak and act toward each other and those outside the church.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

3rd Wed in Lent 2019. 6th and 7th Commandments

Wednesday after Oculi (3rd Lent Midweek)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

6th and 7th Commandments

March 27, 2019

 

Iesu Iuva

 

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

What is the 6th commandment?  You shall not commit adultery.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.

 

What is the 7th commandment?  You shall not steal.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbors money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.

 

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For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore You, O children of Israel, are not consumed, God says through the prophet Malachi (3:6).  God does not change; this is one of His attributes, called “immutability.”  You can count on Him to be the same tomorrow as He is today.

 

Because He does not change, He told the people of Israel, they were not “consumed”—burnt up.  He didn’t destroy them because He had a purpose for them that He had planned before the world began. Their continual turning away from Him, as wrong as it was, would not change it.  His purpose for Israel was to bring Jesus Christ into the world, God with us in flesh and blood.

 

Since God does not change we can be certain that He will be the same today as He was in the past; He remains God with us.

 

And since God does not change, we can be certain that His will for us does not change.  God does not stop being God or become a different God when our tastes change.  His commandments are a reflection of who He is.  God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth (1 John 1:5-6).  There is no change and no darkness in God; He commands us to walk in the light, as He is in the light—to walk in the light of His face with no stain of the darkness of sin (1 John 1:7).

 

So when God says, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, we can be sure that these commandments do not mean something else now than He meant when He first revealed them three thousand five hundred years ago.

 

You shall not commit adultery means not only that God forbids us to sleep with someone other than our spouse and break our wedding vows; it means that He commands us also to be pure in thought, word, and deed.  He forbids all sexual gratification apart from one’s spouse, forbids all breaking of the bond of marriage except in cases of adultery and abandonment, and commands that we love and honor our spouse and His gift of marriage.

 

Because we have a tendency to limit the scope of this commandment, Jesus makes it very clear what the 6th commandment entails in the Sermon on the Mount:  You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery.  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.  For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body should be thrown into hell (Matt. 5:27-29).

 

Even lustful thoughts are enough to condemn you to hell, and we must fight against them.  If lustful thoughts and desires will send you to hell, it’s clear enough that fornication—sex before marriage will too.  That shows that a person isn’t even fighting lust anymore—sin has simply won.  That is true of pornography, homosexuality, and all the other transgressions against the 6th commandment that are now considered normal.  God has not relaxed His commandments just because we have stopped paying attention to them, even many in the church.  In the epistle reading this past Sunday, Paul told us bluntly what we are to think about those who live in sexual immorality without repentance: For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure…has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on the sons of disobedience.

 

Maybe the seventh commandment seems a little less frightening.  After all, few of us are shoplifters or thugs who rob people.  It’s not because we’re so good, but because after all, the risks of that kind of stealing are so great it hardly seems worth doing to most of us.  But there are a lot of ways to steal that will never end up putting you in jail.  Being lazy and giving half effort at work is a way of stealing—not only because you get paid for work that you’re not doing, but because God commands you in the 7th commandment to love your neighbor and not only think about getting what you need, but also help your neighbor to improve his possessions and income.

 

It used to be considered stealing and a great evil to be greedy, and charge exorbitant interest, or to ratchet up your prices because you know people have nowhere else to buy what they need.  That’s now considered fair play, but God calls it being a thief.

 

It’s also a form of stealing when you waste things, or when you don’t take care of what God gives you.  You’re supposed to use your property and talents not only to benefit yourself, but others.  Think of how often this form of stealing happens.

 

And finally, it’s stealing whenever we refuse to use our money and goods to help our neighbor who truly needs it.  There are of course many people who beg because they refuse to work—but God says, “He who will not work, neither shall he eat.”  (2 Thess. 3:10)  But if someone is truly in need, and we have power to help him, but think that we can do what we want with our money—we sin against God and cast the 7th commandment aside.

 

The fourth through tenth commandments tell us that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, treat him as we want to be treated.  That is who God is.  God is love.  His commandment is that we be as He is, with our property, with our sexuality, and so on.

 

But we have to fight with our sinful nature, with the power of the Holy Spirit, if we are going to keep God’s commandments.  Even when we are engaged in this fight as Christians we are not without sinful desires.

 

The very fact that we have to fight with ourselves shows us what Paul says about our nature in Romans 8: For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s Law.  Indeed, it cannot. (Rom. 8:8)

 

And so the 6th and 7th commandments not only show us how God wants us to walk; they also show us our need for someone who can walk in them and enable us to do so as well.  They show us our need for someone to stand in between us and God—a person who is holy and chaste, who is not greedy or selfish—and who can turn away God’s anger against us.

 

I the Lord do not change, so you, O Children of Israel, are not consumed.  God had a purpose for Israel, so He didn’t destroy them.  His purpose was to send His Son to become man among the people of Israel; His purpose was to send His Son into the world to fulfill His commandments, to complete the law for all people, so that we would be counted as having done it.

 

That is who Jesus is.  He comes into the world and is chaste, without the least spot of sexual impurity.  He does not steal, but loves his neighbor and seeks his well-being with all His heart.  He comes and does these commands not for Himself, but for us, so that we would be considered righteous, those who have fulfilled God’s Law.

 

And in the passion reading we saw Jesus being tried and condemned for our unrighteousness.  He was specifically condemned for blasphemy—breaking the 2nd commandment.  But when Jesus was punished with whips, crowned with thorns, pierced with nails to the cross and lifted up, He was being punished for our adultery, fornication, lust.  For your laziness, theft, wastefulness, selfishness.

 

He was consumed by God’s wrath against us, and we were counted righteous.

 

Jesus warned that it was better to tear out your eye than to lust and go to hell with both of them.  But last week we heard the chief priest say that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.  And that is what Jesus is doing; His body is cast into the fire of God’s wrath for our impurity, and we are set free.

 

And in Jesus’ suffering is where we also get power to begin to fulfill His commandments here on earth.

Look at Peter.  After he denied Jesus, he broke down and wept bitterly.  He wasn’t even there when Jesus died, he was so full of guilt.  He meant to stand with Jesus and die with him, but he found out what kind of sinner he really was.

 

But later he overcame his weakness and became like his Master.  He also died on a cross, crucified for his witness to Christ.

 

How did Peter overcome this sinful desire to save himself at Jesus’ expense?  He got it from first learning his own powerlessness to fulfill God’s commands.  Through the recognition of his sin he was prepared to recognize the great love of Jesus.  He came to know that Jesus had foreseen Peter’s denial, his selfish heart, and gone to pay for all Peter’s sins anyway.  Through Christ’s cross, Peter became a new creation.

 

Don’t run when the commandments of God show you how deep your sin is.  God does not change.  The love that caused Jesus to take all your sins to the cross does not change either.  God’s verdict that your sins are forgiven does not change, nor does His good news: in Christ you are pure, in Christ you are righteous.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

4th Wednesday in Lent 2019. 8th and 9th Commandments

jesus pilate.PNGWednesday after Laetare

St. Peter Lutheran Church

8th and 9th commandments

April 3, 2019

 

Iesu Iuva

 

What is the 8th commandment?  You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

 

What is the 9th commandment?  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way that only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

False witness leads to death.

 

Nothing could be clearer from the passion reading today.  Over and over we hear how the chief priests “vehemently accused” Jesus, leveled false charges against Him to Pilate and to Herod.  False testimony was the poisoned dagger by which the priests murdered Jesus.

 

Of course, false witness doesn’t always literally kill people.  More often people who are falsely accused in a court lose money and have their good name dragged through the mud.  But this is a kind of killing too—at least an attempt on a person’s life.  You take away a person’s wealth, you take away their ability to eat and clothe themselves.  If you take away a person’s honor and good name, you impose on them a kind of social death.   A person with a bad reputation might lose his job or not be able to succeed at business.  But even more that person becomes isolated.  We are learning more and more about the serious consequences of being alienated socially, being alone.  Suicide rates are higher than ever.  Depression is epidemic.  Why is it?  Because people are isolated.  They interact with other people increasingly through the safe distance of a screen and fiber optic cables.  When you “tell lies about your neighbor, slander him, or hurt his reputation” you cut those already fraying cords that allow him to be with other people and hold his head up.  You interfere with his ability to not be alone, which is really to attack a person’s ability to live.

 

False witness, lying—you might not think it could do so much damage.  But lying is tied to the very beginning of human sin.  When the devil wanted to lead Adam and Eve into sin, he lied to them about God.  He slandered God.  That is what the word “devil” means, literally—“slanderer.”  So Jesus says in the Gospel reading for the Sunday coming up that the devil was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, because there is no truth in him (John 8:44)  On the other hand, when Jesus is questioned by Pontius Pilate in the reading today as to whether He is a King, He says, You say rightly that I am a king.  I was born and I came into the world that I should bear witness to the truth.  Everyone that is of the truth hears my voice.  Lying and slander is the devil’s work and leads to death. To tell the truth is Jesus’ work and it leads to life.

 

It’s clear enough from this that to bring false charges against your neighbor is sin and that God forbids it.  But that’s not typically what we do.  What we do more often is speak against our neighbor not in court, but to a smaller jury in the kitchen, or in the parking lot, or the locker room, or maybe in the concourse at church.  And we typically justify it by saying that our complaints and criticisms of our neighbor, whoever he or she is, is not “false witness” because it is true.

 

But in the 8th commandment God refuses to allow this excuse.   When you condemn or speak evil of your neighbor, you sit in judgment on him or her.  But if God has not given you the office to judge your neighbor, as judge, as parent, as boss, or pastor, you are not to judge and condemn your neighbor.  That’s God’s job on judgment day.  And until then it belongs to the people that He has called to do it.

 

Instead what we are called to do is love our neighbor and protect his reputation.  This is why Jesus gave us instructions in the 18th chapter of Matthew about what we are to do if our neighbor sins against us.  The short version is—you go and talk to him privately, and if he repents, you have gained your brother.  If he doesn’t listen to you, you talk to him with another person as a witness.  Then if he won’t hear you you bring it to the whole church to judge.  Or, if it is a matter with someone who isn’t a Christian, you might bring it to the civil authority.

 

The strange thing is, we all avoid dealing with our neighbor’s sins the way Jesus tells us to do it like the plague.  Why?  For at least one reason—because we are afraid of our neighbor getting angry with us.  In reality, to talk honestly with each other when we have offended each other is a loving thing to do.  You speak the truth to your neighbor.  This is what Jesus does in His kingdom.

 

The other thing we do, where we vent and complain about others, and privately condemn them, is the devil’s work.  Even if what you say about your neighbor is true, when you act as his judge in your own private court in a corner, that is not God’s work.  He does not seek to destroy, but to save both our neighbor and us.  When He judges, He does it in the open, in the light.  And even that is done (until judgment day) in the hopes that sinners will repent and be forgiven.

 

The darkness is where the devil does his work.  Coveting is another example of this.  In the darkness of our hearts, he stirs up desire and longing for what belongs rightfully to our neighbor.  He creates a sense of indignation in our hearts that God has given wealth or property to our neighbor that we think belongs to us.  And then we begin to scheme ways to get what God has given to our neighbor that no one will be able to call stealing.

 

Against all this God commands us to love our neighbor.  Instead of telling his secrets or hurting his reputation, God commands us to speak well of our neighbor, defend him, and explain everything in the kindest way.  Instead of coveting his possessions, He commands us to help him to protect and improve his income and possessions.

 

If we paid attention to these commandments, we would never run out of good works to put our energy and strength into.  So often the church is flailing around looking for schemes to get other people to go to church.  This is not always wrong.  But the most powerful thing that would attract people to church is seeing love in our hearts and lives.  This is not a new idea.  Jesus washed the disciples’ feet before He went to Gethsemane.  Then He said, By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  This is why we believe in Jesus and love Him.  We believe that He loved us.

 

We believe that He was silent before the false testimony against Him because He wanted to suffer and die to take away our shame and bad reputation before God.

 

We believe that He was mocked and stripped of His good name and what few possessions He had so that He could give us, as a free gift, the Kingdom of His Father.

 

We love Jesus because He daily and richly forgives our sins.  He feeds us His body and blood.  When we confess our sins, He absolves us.  He daily renews the promise He made to us in Baptism that we are His.  He preaches into our ears how He has atoned for all our sins through His bitter suffering and death.

 

Jesus’ love is what draws us to Him.  The most powerful witness to the world is Jesus’ love working in us.  And among the many ways He has commanded us to love our neighbor is to protect his reputation, speak well of him, and seek to help him improve his possessions and income.

 

May the Lord pour His love into our hearts and teach us to exude this kind of love in the way we speak and act toward each other and those outside the church.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

jesus pilate.PNG

The Kingdom of God has Come Upon You. Oculi, Third Sunday in Lent, 2019.

jesus exorcismOculi, the Third Sunday in Lent

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 11:14-28

March 24, 2019

The Kingdom of God has Come Upon You

 

Iesu Iuva!

In the name of Jesus.

 

People don’t break free from the power of the devil.  The Kingdom of God overtakes them.  People don’t choose God.  The Kingdom of God breaks in upon them in the Word of God.

 

Do you realize that the Kingdom of God has come upon you, and that the Word of God has freed you from the power of the devil?

 

A man is possessed by a demon.  Jesus casts it out.  The man, newly released from the demon’s control, begins to speak, because the demon that controlled him was mute.  The crowd that has seen Jesus do this mighty work marvels.  It is a terrible thing to be possessed, enslaved, by a demon.  President Lincoln had the power to emancipate slaves, but only after the armies of slave owners were beaten and could no longer resist.  But who has the power to overpower demons?  Not the priests, scribes, and rabbis of the Jews.  Only God has this power, and those to whom God lends it.  And Jesus is exercising this authority over the devil on our behalf.  Just like He did in the first Sunday in Lent when He said, Begone, Satan! …Then the devil left him.  (Matt. 4)

 

But when the mute spirit goes out of the man, a swarm of gossiping spirit appears to descend on the crowd, and many of them start saying, Jesus casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.  Beelzebul means “Lord” or “Master of flies.”

 

Flies are unclean.  Where will you find swarms of flies?  By ripe garbage in the hot sun?  Near a dead animal that has been in the sun 3 days?  By an outdoor latrine?  Yes, wherever there is filth and stench will be flies.  After they have their fun in the filth they will fly somewhere else and spread disease and corruption.

 

The devil is absolutely like this, even though the uncleanness he delights in and spreads often doesn’t have an odor.  Often it looks good and appealing on the outside.  He and his swarm spread the filth that makes us unclean in God’s sight—pride, anger, complacency, lust, self-righteousness, greed.

 

If you want to get rid of flies, how do you do it?  You get rid of the uncleanness that they feed on, don’t you?  You take out the trash.  You go out into the yard with a shovel and a plastic bag.

 

But how do you get rid of the uncleanness in which the devil and his swarm buzz?  Can you get rid of pride, anger, unbelief toward God, complacency, greed?  Can you just “take it out” like you take out a bag of trash?

 

You can’t, can you?  You get rid of your anger one day, and it’s back days, hours, minutes later.  God humbles you so you cry out for help and cast yourself at His feet.  You say, “Lord, I’m sorry I thought I could ever do things on my own.  Forgive my self-sufficiency and pride.”  You say it and a few days later you’re already slipping away from prayer.  The attention of your heart has moved away from God again.

 

Our hearts, minds, souls are fountains of uncleanness.  You get rid of some and more appears to replace it.  Trying to rid yourself of the uncleanness over which the devil rules is like trying to stop a fountain, or scoop out the ocean with a spoon.

 

The devil is like a mafia don or a bandit sitting in his hideout, according to Jesus.  His goons all obey him out of fear.  If he lets them rob each other, his whole operation is going to fall apart.  And no strong man, no bandit, lets people walk in and take the cash he has stashed away from his “business ventures.”  But the devil’s kingdom is much more wicked than the domain of a gangster.  His loot is people’s souls.  Unclean spirits find their version of life by destroying human souls.  Notice how when an unclean spirit goes out from a man, Jesus says he finds no rest until he’s back dwelling in the human being, causing him to suffer.  He calls the human being his “house.”  Satan delights in dragging the souls and bodies God created in His image down to hell.  He especially loves it when he can do it to a Christian, and even better a Christian pastor.  About 1500 years ago an experienced preacher said, “Hell is paved with the skulls of priests.”

 

Satan controls everyone stained with the uncleanness of sin, and he never lets anyone go.  The only way anyone goes free from the devil is if the devil is conquered, or overcome.  Just like if you wanted to rob the gangster in his hideout.  You have to go in, guns drawn, and take him out.  Arrest him or kill him.

 

If someone is going to be free from the devil, someone has to go into the devil’s castle and defeat him.  Who is brave or foolish enough to try that?  The truth is, even if there were such a person, we would not be able to do it.  We wouldn’t even know where to find him.

 

But this is what Jesus does in the reading, and this is what He has done to you.  By the finger of God He overcomes Satan and robs him of his prisoners.

 

If you take this to heart, you will realize what we are up against when we want to spread the Word of God, when we want to teach God’s Word to children, or do any of the works that the Church of Christ does.  Who do you think has the power to challenge Satan and try to take away his possessions?  Do you dare to try it?  Do you think I do?  How foolish to imagine that we can build the Kingdom of God with our own wisdom and talents, with our own charm!  We might be able to build our own kingdoms that way, but not the Kingdom of God.

 

How foolish to imagine that our neighbors and loved ones can be rescued from sin and hell by anything less than God’s pure Word!  Can you imagine going into a battle and carrying ammunition that you weren’t sure would fire?  Yet that’s the way most Christians think about the Word of God.  It doesn’t matter if it’s pure, as long as we think it’s good enough.  Only the Word of God is able to drive out Satan, not human words.  Not human thoughts.  Human words and thoughts that are not from God never serve Jesus.  They always work against His kingdom.  He who is not with Me, He says, is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me, scatters. 

 

That is why you are blessed.  The Kingdom of God has come upon you.

 

How do I know this?  Because Jesus has come to you in His Word.  He is a man like us, but He is clean.  He is not mostly clean, and partially unclean with the devil.  He is completely clean.  He has no uncleanness in Him.  In the Gospel reading He is on His way to stop up the fountain of uncleanness that is in our hearts.  He is on His way to prepare us a bath out of which we come out clean and beautiful in the sight of God, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish.  (Eph. 5:27).  That bath is called Baptism.  He prepares it by burying our uncleannesses in His tomb; carrying them to His cross, and burying them behind the stone.  The power of Baptism that washes away our uncleanness is not the water, but the Word of God joined to the water.  It washes us and makes us clean, so that the devil has no authority over us.

 

Baptism is not something you can do.  I can’t do it either.  I administer it.  I pour the water and speak the words, but Baptism comes from Jesus.  He simply uses me to administer it the way you use a hammer to pound in a nail.

 

That is how lucky you are, how blessed you are.  The Kingdom of God has come upon you.  Jesus has come to you in Holy Baptism and covered your uncleanness.  He put you in His Kingdom.

 

In His Kingdom He keeps loosing you from the power of devil.  He keeps declaring you clean.  You confess to Him; you tell him about what is in your heart, in your mind, on your lips, sometimes on your actions.  You tell him about all the uncleanness you keep finding there.  And He says, “I forgive you all your sins.  I loose you from the devil’s power.”

 

Then He beckons you to come to Him, open your mouth and eat His body and drink His blood and be made clean by His blood that was poured out for you.

 

So the devil has been driven away from you.  You are clean.  The Kingdom of God has come upon you.

 

And yet the unclean spirits that have been driven away from you by Jesus are even now wandering in waterless places, desiring rest.  They would like to come back to claim you.  You weren’t strong enough to get them out of you, and you aren’t strong enough to keep them out.  There’s only one thing that keeps the unclean spirits from moving back in to our hearts—and our homes, and our minds, and taking over.  That is the Word of God.  When the unclean spirits come back and find Him there, they will have a powerful surprise.

 

The word of God needs to be dwelling in us by faith.  And the Word of God does not dwell in hearts that also give space to the devil.  You cannot have God’s Word dwelling within you while also picking and choosing which parts of God’s Word you will accept and which you will reject.  You cannot have God’s Word living in you while you knowingly and unrepentantly intend to serve the devil in some part of your life.  If you insist on being unclean, you reject the kingdom of God.  He who is not for me is against me, and He who does not gather with me, scatters.

 

On the other hand, if you feel the uncleanness in your heart, and it feels like the flies are swarming there—if your heart seems to be dirty again almost as soon as the Lord has declared you clean—if it seems to be divided against itself—don’t despair.  You are weak, but He is strong.  His word is true when it tells you that you are clean, that you have been washed by His Word and made beautiful in His sight.

 

And when the church also seems to be infested by flies and uncleanness and the devil seems to be winning, and many of its members seem to not want the kingdom of God to come upon them, don’t despair.  He will not allow the devil to overcome.  He will glorify His Word.  Call out to Him with the uncleanness of your heart, your home, your church; pray, “Thy Kingdom Come,” as He taught us.  And He will grant His Holy Spirit so that the Kingdom of God remains among us.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Fourth and Fifth Commandments. 2nd Lent Midweek, 2019

Wednesday after Reminiscere

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Fourth and Fifth Commandments

March 20, 2019

 

Iesu iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

What is the fourth commandment?  Honor your father and mother.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.

 

What is the fifth commandment?  You shall not murder.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.

 

Yesterday was my father’s birthday.  If he was still alive today, he would have been 82.  This year I am turning 41, which is the age he was when I was born.

 

Since we all have a father and a mother, and most of us know our father and mother, this commandment is very personal.  Some of us had mothers and fathers we loved and respected.  Some of us had fathers or mothers who left us or abused us.  Some people’s father and mother are in between.  Whatever kind of person your father or mother was or is, God says to honor them.  He makes no distinction.  Good parent, bad parent.  Sinner, saint.  Honor them.

 

And this commandment includes other authorities whose authority stems from the office of parent—teachers, rulers, president, employers or bosses.  Pastors are also fathers, spiritually.  To all these parents God gives authority.  When we disobey parents (unless they command us to sin against God)—we disobey God.  We are commanded by Scripture to submit to rulers except when they command us to disobey God.  Both parents and rulers have authority to inflict pain on us when we disobey, because they stand in the place of God.  Pastors also have authority not to inflict punishments on earth, but to pronounce God’s forgiveness on the repentant and God’s judgment and wrath on sinners who do not repent.

 

“Honor” means more than “love.”  We are commanded to love everyone, but our parents we are to honor.  To honor means you regard them as higher than you.  It means you do not speak to them in an arrogant way.  You don’t talk back when you honor someone—even when they are out of line.  You are humble before them.

 

If Jesus walked into church today, I would not talk to him the same way I talk to everyone else.  I hope I would act as if someone very important, much more important than me, were here.  I would be glad to take his coat, to get him a drink.  I would call him “Lord.”  I would ask Him how I could serve Him.  That is what honor is like.

 

This commandment is barely known anymore.  Young people think that they don’t have to obey their parents, and certainly not other authorities—unless father, mother, teacher, pastor, police earn the respect of the young people.  This means that most young people today have learned to dishonor God.  Because God puts this commandment first after the ones that have to do with Him.  Submitting to the authorities He gives up is the most important commandment after gladly learning His Word and using His name rightly.  Do people know this today?  No.  So our kids grow up without respect for authority, not willing to have anyone rebuke them.  And it is the fault, sadly, of the adults, who have not taught them correctly.  This is why our country is a huge mess.  And it is, of course, harming the church, too.  Because when parents don’t do what God has called them to do, teach, instruct, discipline their children, the children grow up without fear of God and with great pride.

 

But there is also a promise that goes with this commandment.  Honor your father and mother, that it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth.  Experience teaches this to be true.  Whenever you find a household that is well managed, a business that is well-managed, a prosperous country, a church that is functioning well, you will almost always find people who  know how to show honor, who know how to take orders as well as give them.  On the other hand, when we disobey this commandment, God punishes us even in this world.  When we don’t honor our parents, we are repaid with workers, students, children who do not honor us.

 

You might think we would like the fifth commandment a little better.  After all, who here tonight has murdered anyone?  But Luther in His sermon on the fifth commandment from the Large Catechism puts that misunderstanding to bed very quickly.  He explains that in the fifth commandment God not only forbids killing but every kind of vengeance, including the emotion of anger itself.  The only people who are permitted to be angry are parents, rulers, pastors, and others who stand in God’s place.  “It is proper for God and everyone who is in a divine estate to be angry, to rebuke, and to punish because of those very persons who transgress this and the other commandments.”  God has the right to get angry and to punish sin.  When God makes you a parent, a judge, a ruler, a pastor, and you stand in his place, you have the job of rebuking sin in those under your authority, and even punishing it.  But this kind of anger is not the kind where you are getting even for yourself.  If you are a parent and you are angry because your child has dishonored God by disobeying you, that is righteous anger.  But all other kind of anger, where we desire revenge because someone has injured us, God forbids in the fifth commandment.

 

In this world people do wrong and hurt each other all the time.  But it is for God to judge and to avenge.  God never sins.  He does what is right.  When we get angry and judge we don’t do it for God’s glory—we do it in our own interests.  In the fifth commandment God says, “Don’t take revenge.  Don’t even get angry and start down the road of revenge.  That is forbidden to you.  Your job is to love your neighbor.  It is my job to punish wrongdoing, whether on judgment day, or in this world through the authorities I have set up.”

 

In the fifth commandment God forbids harming your neighbor, killing him, even being angry with him.  Instead, He commands you to love and forgive him, and do everything in your power to promote his physical well-being.  Whatever he needs and you have power to help him with, you are required by the fifth commandment to give him, whether it is money, clothes, help, or counsel.  Oftentimes what our neighbor needs is truth spoken kindly and lovingly, but we often withhold it because we are afraid of what his reaction will be.  That can be breaking the fifth commandment, if by our refusal to speak we allow our neighbor to injure himself.

 

Now if you take these commandments seriously, two things appear.  One is that we break these commandments every day, and we are in great need of God’s grace.  The other is that God has given us so much work to do that we have no need to go to a foreign mission trip somewhere.  You don’t need to go volunteer at a soup kitchen in Cabrini Green or take care of lepers in India with Mother Teresa to do good works that please God.  If you simply set out to “help and support your neighbor in every physical need” and to not anger your parents and other authorities, but honor them, love and cherish them, God will give you a million good works to do every day, and if you did them all, you would be a greater saint than Martin Luther or the apostles.

 

For the first thing, how often we disobey God’s commandments, Jesus underwent His passion.  When He told His father “Your will, not mine, be done,” even as His sweat became like great drops of blood, He set Himself to drink the cup of God’s wrath that was for you and me.  When He did not take revenge and strike the high priest’s servants with a sword—but submitted to the authority of the high priests, even though they were doing wrong—He was taking your place under God’s wrath.  So that none of your transgressions would be yours anymore.  Your anger and revenge and hatred, the times you hit people, the times you dishonored your parents and other representatives of God.  None of that is yours.  It is all Christ’s.  He goes in chains to be condemned as a criminal and bear the shame and He does not defend Himself.  He goes in chains and you go free.

 

For the second part, there is no end.  When you believe in Christ you go free, not to be condemned by the fourth and fifth commandments—nor to ignore them—but to live according to them.  You live according to them, but not in order to be saved.  You live in them because that is your new life, now that you have been released from guilt.  And as you go, forgiven, to honor your father and mother and to defend your neighbor in every physical need, Jesus lives in you and works through you.

 

Amen.

 

SDG

Second and Third Commandments. Vespers, First Wednesday in Lent, 2019

burning bush.PNGFirst Wednesday in Lent-Vespers

St. Peter Lutheran Church

2nd and 3rd commandments

March 13, 2019

 

Iesu iuva

 

In the name of Jesus!

 

Please join with me in saying the 2nd and 3rd commandments together with their explanations from Luther’s Small Catechism, as printed in the bulletin.

 

What is the 2nd commandment?  You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God, so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.

 

What is the 3rd commandment?  Remember the Sabbath day, by keeping it holy.

What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

 

In the second commandment, God forbids the misuse of His name, and commands us to use it rightly.  In the third commandment He commands us to rightly use His Word.  These two things—God’s Name and His Word—are the greatest gifts He has given to His people besides the gift of Himself to be our God.  In His Name He gives us access to Himself.  He promises to hear us when we call to Him for help and for our needs to be met.  By His Word He works in us to give us His Spirit and the faith that saves us.

 

This morning, right before the service, I got a call from Chase Bank.  They wanted to know if I had bought a one thousand dollar ticket on Air France this morning with my credit card.  I had not.  Somebody else had used my name to buy a ticket.  Needless to say I was very upset that someone had impersonated me like this in a way that could have cost me a lot of money, and it is unsettling to think someone might be able to do something like this again in my name.

 

That is an illustration of the power that you can have when you have someone’s name.

 

The second commandment points out that we have God’s Name.  The people of Israel were given God’s Name during the Exodus from Egypt.  When Moses asked God to tell him His name if He wanted Moses to go down and bring the people of Israel out of Egypt, God said that His name was “I AM”.  The Hebrew is YHWH.  Not only did God tell Moses His name, He also called the people of Israel by His name.  They were the people of YHWH.  And what God did for the people of Israel He has done for us.  We have been baptized into His Name—the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  In the Old Testament, the priest wore a name plate on his forehead when he went into the temple, into the presence of God.  It said, “Holy to the Lord.”  In the same way, God’s name is on our foreheads, and His mark, the sign of the cross, like the hymn says:

            All newborn soldiers of the Crucified

            Bear on their brows the seal of Him who died.  (LSB 837 st. 3)

 

If we remain in and under the Triune Name, it will save us.  That is the power of God’s name.  It protects us.  The devil is not able to harm us if it is on us.  And it is on us not only when we are baptized, but also when we hold to this name by faith.  And when we hold to this name by faith, it will be on our heads, in our hearts, and on our lips, because we will call on this name in prayer and we will praise the Triune God before the world.

 

The second commandment requires this—the right use of the Name of God that has been given to us.  He has given us His name so that we may call on Him in every need and so that we may give thanks to Him.  We are not allowed to go to any other gods for help.  We are to take up His Name.

 

In this commandment God forbids taking His name in vain—using His name in a way that He has not given it to be used.  That includes speaking it flippantly, casually, as though it were just any name, and not the name of the one true God.  It includes using it to curse people or damn things, because God has not given His name for us to use for our own purposes; He gave it to us so that we would call on Him for help against our enemies.  We misuse God’s name when we use it as a means of trying to control people or things supernaturally—as a means of furthering our own will, as is done when God’s name is used as an aid in occult practices or satanic arts.  Finally we misuse God’s name when we use it to give authority to lies.  This is done when people swear oaths falsely in God’s name, or when they wear God’s name to cover up their evil—when they bear the name of a Christian while living in an ungodly way.  Judas did this in the reading from the passion.  He is plotting to betray Jesus, but meanwhile he goes on acting like a true disciple.  He even goes to the first celebration of the Lord’s Supper, even though he is already intending to sell Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.  Since that first Lord’s Supper many others have done the same thing—gone to the Lord’s Supper as though they intended to live a Christian life, as though they were sorry for their sins, when in reality they were intending to continue in their sins.  They put on God’s name outwardly, when inwardly they did not want God and trampled underfoot the Christ who died for them.

 

This is a lot like the guy who used my name to buy an airline ticket with money that wasn’t his.  When we use God’s name to curse, or when we treat it like it is not worth much, or when we pretend to be Christians when we have no intention to live as God’s children, we use God’s name in a way that goes against His will to get something for ourselves.  Meanwhile, even when we don’t do that, we so often fail to call upon this name that He has given us and use it as He intended.  That means that we depend on ourselves and treat God’s name as though we imagine He will not hear us when we call upon it or do much for us.

 

The second commandment teaches us how we are to use God’s name to call upon Him, but the third commandment teaches us how God desires to work in us.  We know that God created the world and brought life out of nothing by speaking His Word.  In the third commandment He requires that we receive the Word that He speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures and through the preaching and teaching of His Word so that He may work in us.

 

Since we are called by God’s Name and since we are united to God, it follows that we should also be the people who attend to God’s Word.  His Word is the means by which He joins us to Himself and makes us His people.

 

However the commandment doesn’t read “Listen to God’s Word.”  It says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”

 

In the Old Testament the weekly holy day was the Sabbath—Saturday.  That was the day that God rested from creation, and the Jews were supposed to keep it holy, keep it set apart, by not doing any ordinary work on that day.  They were to rest.  In the New Testament, God does not prescribe a certain day to keep Holy.  Instead God intends us to enter His rest by gladly hearing and learning His Word.  Through the Word God works in us; He works faith in Christ in us through preaching and His Word.  When we believe in Christ, we have fulfilled God’s Law and commandments, because we have the one who kept God’s Law—both by keeping it in His heart and His actions and by suffering the penalties it demands of those who have not kept it.  Jesus fulfills the Law by doing it perfectly for you, and by suffering God’s anger and punishment for your failure to keep it.

 

God’s Word shows us God’s will for us and how Jesus has reconciled God to us.  Jesus is the center of the Scripture.  So when we get tired of God’s Word and His preaching, we are really getting tired of Jesus.  He is the One who is proclaimed in faithful preaching and in the Bible.  When we are too busy with work to hear and learn God’s Word, we are treating that Word with contempt, acting as though we are able to do more for ourselves than God is able to do through His Word.  So God commands us to gladly hear and learn His Word—as Luther’s hymn today said:

 

And put aside the work you do

So that God may work in You.

Have mercy, Lord!  (LSB 581 st. 4)

 

When we come to the point that we think we already know God’s Word and that we have heard it all before, we are in a dangerous place.  That is the way that the chief priests, Pharisees, and scribes were.   They went to synagogue all the time.  They studied the Scriptures constantly.  And yet it did them no good; they missed the whole thing, because in all their study of the Scripture they missed Christ.  When we take God’s Word for granted and are tired of it, we are in the same position.  Lots of times people get like this and then simply stop hearing God’s Word.  They stop going to church.  Doing this is just as serious a sin as committing adultery or murder in terms of the damage it does to one’s soul—it simply ends the relationship with God.  On the other hand, we can do exactly the same thing and still be going to church regularly, if we are no longer really hearing the word because we believe we know it already.  Then we are no longer being brought by God’s Word to a recognition of our sins and grateful faith in Jesus who takes them away.  We are simply becoming prouder and harder toward God’s Word.

 

God gives us the ten commandments not only so that we may see what pleases Him, but also as a diagnostic tool.  They are meant to show us our sin, and how even after years of hearing God’s Word we continue to have hearts that are infected by sin, hearts that are hard toward God.  Today we see the reflection of our sin in our use of God’s name—our misuse of it, and our failure to call on it; and our use of His Word—our failure to hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

 

At the same time we see this reflection we see God picture before us His healing of our broken image.  We see that in Jesus who, before His suffering began, instituted the Sacrament of His body and blood for His disciples.  He knew how they would all fall away as He was beaten, falsely accused, mocked, crucified, and abandoned by God—all for them.  So He instituted the supper to show them that all this suffering He was about to undergo was for them, so they could return to it again and again, as often as their sins revealed themselves.  The same is true for us.  As we confront God’s commandments and our sins, we must also turn our eyes to our Lord Jesus in His suffering.  This is where our sins are healed and covered.

 

Do we pass that cross unheeding,

Breathing no repentant vow

Though we see you wounded, bleeding

See your thorn encircled brow?

Yet your sinless death has brought us

Life eternal, peace, and rest

Only what your grace has taught us

Calms the sinner’s deep distress.  (LSB 423 st 2)

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

To Destroy the Work of the Devil. Invocabit 2019

genesis 3.PNGInvocabit, the First Sunday in Lent

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 4:1-11

March 10, 2019

To Destroy the Works of the Devil

 

Iesu Iuva

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Though devils all the world should fill

All eager to devour us,

We tremble not, we fear no ill,

They shall not overpow’r us.

This world’s prince may still

Scowl fierce as he will,

He can harm us none;

He’s judged.  The deed is done.

One little word can fell him.  LSB 656 st. 3

 

There was a singleness of purpose to the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Scripture tells us what it was: The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).  Again, in Hebrews: Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [God the Son] likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil (Heb. 2:14).   The purpose of Jesus’ life was to fulfill the promise God spoke to the serpent: I will put enmity 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) 

 

This was the work of His entire life, every moment of it, from the time He was conceived in the virgin’s womb to His last cry from the cross in death: It is finished!  Our redemption required the whole life of the God-man, Jesus.

 

It was not a work we could do.  A great deal can be accomplished if a person works hard and works diligently.  But the redemption of our souls and bodies from the devil’s power is not one of them.  This work requires that a person belongs completely to God and serves Him—heart, mind, soul—every day, every moment.  A person who can do this is already free from the devil.  But such a person would also have to give over his righteous life as a sacrifice for those who had served the devil instead of God, who had bowed down and worshipped Satan, wanting to gain the world.  And, if a person was going to redeem not merely one person but all people, his death would have to be more than just the suffering and death of one innocent man.  It would have to be suffering sufficient to make up for the suffering and death of the billions and billions of people who have walked the earth.

 

This is what Jesus came to earth to do—to redeem us and all human beings from the devil’s control, from sin and its punishment, everlasting damnation.

 

All of His life was aimed at this goal.

 

Now Christians also overcome the devil.  If we are truly Christians and are going to be saved, we will have to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and with Him tread on the serpent’s head.

 

Normally in legends, myths, and fairy tales, when a hero goes out to fight a monster such as a dragon, he first straps on weapons and armor.  The person who undertakes a fight like this is usually a king or a warrior of some kind.  That is the calling we associate with fighting a monster or an oppressor.  And when we think about combat with the devil, Satan, that is a work we usually associate with spiritual occupations—pastors or priests or prophets.

 

But in reality, combat with the devil, and victory over the devil, happens for Christians in every calling.  Son or daughter, husband or wife, widow or widower; pastor or hearer.  Employer or employee.  If you cling to the Redeemer, Jesus, and believe in Him, and you then carry out your calling, you step on the serpent’s head in the most humble of tasks.  Reading stories to small children.  Waking up in the morning when you are tired and going to work.  Making a meal hastily for your family.  Honoring your mother and father by doing what they ask you to do even though it doesn’t make sense to you.  Struggling with family bible reading and prayer.

 

We have this mistaken idea that if we are super spiritual and engage in spiritual tasks then we overcome the devil.  This was the idea that led Martin Luther and others to become a monk.  They thought that by leaving “worldly” concerns behind they would accomplish more for God.  We don’t realize that God invented families.  God invented marriage, babies, work.  They are His works.  They admittedly aren’t always fun, because the fall into sin has brought a curse into the world.  Now childbirth is very painful, and food comes from the ground only with thorns and thistles and sweat.  Nevertheless, God is with us in these vocations.  When Adam and Eve went out from the garden of Eden to bear children in pain and to sweat into the earth to produce thorns and thistles, they sustained themselves with the promise from God that a child of Eve was going to crush the serpent’s head and redeem them from death and the curse.  So they carried out their callings and lived under the curse in hope.  They believed that their sins were forgiven because of this child that was coming, and they lived under the curse in hope, waiting for the day when he would come and wipe every tear from their eyes.

 

That is how Christians live too.  Except for us it is better, because the Redeemer has already appeared and crushed the serpent’s head.  He did this when He died for our sins on the cross.  Because the Son of God was crucified with our sins, we are redeemed from sin and the power of the devil.  Sin has no dominion over us.  It still lives in us but cannot condemn us, because our sin is covered by the life and death of the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us.

 

He has destroyed the works of the devil.  He has taken the devil’s power to condemn us.  Whoever believes in Him and is baptized overcomes the devil and, in Christ, tramples on his head.

 

But the work of the Son of God, of redemption, was not accomplished only at the cross.  The cross was the end of an entire life that was give for you.  Jesus was born and conceived without sin to cover your sinful conception and birth.  He lived as a youth and child serving God with all His heart in order that the sins of your youth would be forgiven and covered (Ps. 25).  Then near the end of His life He began His ministry of preaching the good news to the poor.  This began when He was baptized and numbered with the transgressors.  Immediately after that He was led out into the wilderness to be tempted.

 

The temptations the devil sends at Jesus are the same ones he uses now and probably has always used.  He tempts us to live as though material things—food and drink and clothes—are all life is.  Jesus resists this temptation not with His own moral strength, but with the Word of God: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.  He tempts us to not simply believe God’s Word that tells us that we are sons of God through Jesus’ redemption, through the woman’s offspring who crushes the serpents’ head, but to demand that God do signs and wonders to prove that He is really well-pleased with us and calls us His children.  Jesus resists this temptation with the Word of God: Again it is written: You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. 

 

The devil tempts us with the glory of the world—its power, its splendor, its pride, its allure, its wisdom.  All you have to do to get this is bend your knee before me.  Lots of people have done it before you.  It’s no big deal.  It’s simply the price that must be paid if you want to be a success in the world.  You say you want to serve God—but the only way you can get a hearing in this world is to give me my due.  Who hasn’t given the devil his due?  Who hasn’t conceded something, cut some corners, bent God’s commandments, because we felt that we had to do that if we were going to get along?

 

Jesus.  He said: Begone, Satan!  For it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only you shall serve.

 

Jesus didn’t need anything the devil was offering.  He was the Son of God.  God had announced this at Jesus’ baptism.  This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased. 

 

For Christ’s sake God says the same thing about us.  Because He overcame all Satan’s temptations and then gave Himself as a ransom for you, your sins are covered.  Because this has all been given to you in your Baptism, Satan has no claim on you.  He is expelled from your body and your life.  Because you are absolved of your sins, you can stand before God.  Because you eat Jesus’ body and drink His blood, you live in Him and He lives in you, and God’s work is being done in you, so that the power of sin is day by day being driven out, and you are, day by day, growing into the image of God’s Son.

 

The devil, of course, still tempts us with the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  Compromise God’s Word, and you can have some of this, he says.  He still tempts us to tempt God.  Is it enough that God declares you redeemed and well-pleasing?  Some proof would be nice.  He still tempts us to think that life is nothing more than bread, clothing, cell phones.  If you are God’s child and not mine, why does God make you worry about how to pay the bills?

 

But we are God’s children, and if children, then heirs.  We are more than conquerors of the filthy devil.  Christ our Lord has destroyed the works of the devil and brought us into the kingdom of God.  Therefore we will rejoice.  The Lord will give us, along with Him, all things.

 

The Word they still shall let remain, nor any thanks have for it;

He’s by our side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit.

And take they our life, Goods, fame, child and wife,

Though these all be gone, our vict’ry has been won.

The kingdom ours remaineth.  (LSB 656 st 4)

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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