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Faithful Unto Death–Prayer. Trinity 19, 2016. Revelation 2:8-17

October 18, 2016 Leave a comment

polycarp_of_smyrna.jpg19th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Revelation 2:8-17

October 2, 2016

“Faithful Unto Death—Prayer”

Iesu iuva

 

The church at Smyrna left a lasting legacy in the history of Christianity.  One of its sons, a man named Irenaeus, wrote perhaps the greatest work of theology in the Christian Church prior to its becoming legal in 313 A.D.—his book Against Heresies, which identified and refuted the major false teachings that had arisen to trouble the Church up until his time.  Irenaeus was born in Smyrna and grew up listening to the preaching of Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John.  He later became the bishop, or head pastor, of the church in Lyon in modern-day France.

 

Before this another disciple of John named Ignatius was arrested and sent in chains to Rome to be tried and sentenced to death in the arena, where he was fed to hungry lions.  As he made his voyage to Rome, he sent several letters that have survived.  One went to the Christians at Smyrna, and survives as one of the few early witnesses to the life and faith of the Christian Church in the first generation after the apostles had died.

 

Another early witness to the life of the early Church is a short work called The Martyrdom of Polycarp.  It is the account of the death of the bishop of Smyrna around 160 A.D. during the persecution that arose there in fulfillment of the words of Jesus’ letter to the church at Smyrna which we just heard.  It is the earliest surviving account of a martyrdom outside of the New Testament, and has encouraged generations of Christians to be faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10).

 

Why did this church, which was slandered and despised by the people of Smyrna, which lived in poverty and suffered so much persecution, receive such a great name and reputation among the churches of its time?  Why did it leave such an enduring legacy to the Christians who came after it?

 

Smyrna’s glory came precisely because it was despised, poor, and full of suffering—and remained faithful to Christ.

 

That is the way God glorifies the church.  Long before this, St. Paul told the first churches he had planted that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)  Faithfulness through suffering and death are the way to glory and honor before God for individual Christians and for the Church just as they were the way to glory and honor for the head of the Church, Jesus Christ.  Though He was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.  (Philippians 2:5-11)

 

If a person wants to go to heaven, wants to be exalted to reign with Christ at the right hand of God, he must follow Jesus, and expect to endure disgrace with Jesus, to suffer with Jesus, and to die with Jesus.  And if a church wants to be honored by God, it must remain with Jesus.  It must proclaim and confess Jesus and His doctrine without wavering and endure the shame of the cross.

 

There is, however, an easier way to glory and honor.  It was first offered to the Lord of the Church after His Baptism.  The devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to Him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8-9)  This is the shortcut to glory and honor, and many churches throughout history have chosen this way that the Lord of the Church refused.  It is glory and honor given not by God but the world and the ruler of this world.

 

Jesus warned about this danger.  Woe to you when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.  (Luke 6:26)  Nevertheless many pastors and many churches have chosen this way, convincing themselves that they could remain faithful to Christ while seeking the praise of the world, or to lighten the burden of the cross.

 

A church does not have to stop claiming Christ as its Lord to have bowed down to the devil.  It just has to surrender to the devil in one area.  Sometimes Christians do this to escape suffering or make it less intense.  Other times they do it with the delusion that by making Christianity more acceptable to the world they will advance Christ’s kingdom.  We see this today in the non-denominational churches.  Many of them have a sincere zeal to bring unbelievers to Christ, but they rely on human techniques to make this happen instead of the pure Word of God.  As a result, they tend to sprout up quickly for a decade or two, then dry up when the original pastor dies or leaves or when a new man comes along.

 

But why is it that it is so easy for the church to surrender to Satan, to choose a Christianity that does not stay with Jesus under slander, suffering, and death?  That’s not hard to answer.  Our flesh doesn’t want to suffer, experience poverty and disgrace, or die.  It’s not just that we have an instinct to survive; it’s that we have unbelief lodged in our flesh.  If we want to live, we ought to embrace the cross of Jesus, because it is the way to eternal life.  But our flesh doesn’t believe that.  It believes that the only life is the life we see and experience now.  It doesn’t believe Jesus when He says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6); our flesh doesn’t believe that in order to have life we must first die with Jesus.  Our flesh refuses to believe that Christ has been raised from the dead.

 

But the true Church of Jesus crucifies the flesh with its thoughts and desires.  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  (Rom. 6:3)  We died with Jesus in Baptism, and Jesus’ true Church, His faithful ones, continue in their baptismal life.  We continue to die with Jesus to the desires of our flesh—its desires for honor and praise in this world, for wealth, for ease and comfort instead of tribulation.  We die daily with Christ so that, when we are finished dying, we may share in His resurrection.

 

Christ’s way to glory and honor through suffering and death is a way proceeding from love toward the world, but it is not a way of compromise with the world.  Christians gladly surrender their possessions, reputation, time, even their body and life out of love for the world.  But they do not surrender or compromise their Lord’s word.  To compromise with the world, to depart from Christ’s command, or to edit His teaching, is to forsake Christ and join the world.

 

Nor can the Church tolerate compromising teaching in its midst.  If it does, it allows that teaching to spread and deceive others, and it joins those who teach it in their concessions to the world and the devil.  Jesus is the Lord of the earth.  He doesn’t share His throne with Satan and those who share Satan’s rebellion.  He proclaims God’s rightful judgment over all men, and God’s forgiveness through His condemnation on the cross.

 

Compromise with the world and false doctrine is surrender—to the world that is at war with Jesus and His Father, and to the prince of this world.

 

Whatever peace, honor, or security may come from bowing the knee to this world’s prince, it is only for a short time.  Then death comes, and with it, “the second death” (Rev. 2:11)—the everlasting agony and death that will be given to those who refuse Christ’s kingdom—who refuse to suffer with Him in order that [they] may also be glorified with Him. (Rom. 8:17)

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Christians are not called to compromise with the world.  They are called to conquer it, as Jesus conquered it.  This is the victory that overcomes the world—our faith (1 John 5:4).  Jesus overcame the world by not participating in its worship of the devil and not giving in to its enticing nor its threats.  He was faithful unto death, even death on a cross.  Then God raised Him from death and seated Him at His right hand to reign until all His enemies are made His footstool.

 

By faith in Him the Church also overcomes.  The moment we believe in Christ, His righteous life and atoning death are credited to us by God.  But we must persevere in this faith to the end, even to death, if we are to share in the eternal victory of reigning with Christ.  We conquer by remaining in faith in Christ.

 

If all that was necessary to conquer the world, the flesh, and the devil was an intellectual understanding of the doctrine of justification, it would be easy both to come to faith and to remain in it.  But faith isn’t mere knowledge.  It is trust in Christ that assures us of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  It also renews the heart so that we being to love our neighbor and resist and overcome sin.

 

But whenever a Christian is led into willful, knowing, conscious sin, he is no longer in the faith that conquers.  Rather he is overcome and conquered by the evil one.  When a Christian is tempted with sin and submits, he falls from saving faith in Christ.  When a Christian is threatened with suffering and death for faithfulness to Christ and gives in, he falls from saving faith.

 

This is what happened to St. Peter the apostle…

 

Peter didn’t want to do this.  Neither do many of the young people who are confirmed and who renew their baptismal vows to be faithful unto death.  Why do they?

 

Jesus told Peter: Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

 

The faith given in Divine Service is lived in prayer; as a Christian grows in faith, he also grows in prayer.  Prayer comes from faith, expresses our utter dependence on God and our trust that He will hear and help us.

 

Prayer necessary for the growth of the Church, the extension of God’s kingdom, the ability of the church to stand in temptation.

 

We have neglected prayer and relied on ourselves

 

But God promises to hear the prayers of the repentant, is able to do far more than all we ask or imagine, to deliver those at the point of death and to raise the dead

 

Let us call upon God for the forgiveness of our sins and the deliverance of this congregation.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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Going Without for the Sake of God’s Word. Trinity 7, 2015.

7th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Mark 8:1-9

July 19, 2015

“Going Without For the Sake of God’s Word”

Iesu Iuva

Beloved in Christ:

You can see in the Gospel reading how far above human power true and living Christianity is. There we see a group of four thousand people go out to Jesus in the desert to hear His Word. They stay so long listening to His Word that they run out of food and become so weak from hunger that they are sure to faint on the way home.

That is the way true Christians act. They love and desire the Word of God and are willing to give up comfort and health and even risk their lives for it. No one forced these people to stay so long listening to Christ preach. They did it willingly.

True Christians hunger for God’s Word. They love God’s Word. They don’t love it perfectly, because they still carry the sinful flesh with them. But they have begun to desire God’s Word. First of all because in the third commandment God requires that we “not despise preaching and His Word, but gladly hear and learn it.” True Christians repent of their laziness and unwillingness to hear God’s Word, which comes from the sinful flesh they inherited from Adam. They fear God’s wrath because of their despising of God’s Word.

True Christians also love the Word of God because it contains great treasures. It proclaims God’s free and gracious forgiveness of all our sin through Jesus’ suffering on the cross. And Christians hunger and thirst for this forgiveness. They daily feel their sins, and they long to hear the Gospel that declares that Jesus has borne God’s wrath against those sins.

Because of this Christians are eager to hear God’s Word. They are eager to support the preaching of God’s Word by their offerings and their service and by speaking it to the people around them. They hunger to grow in knowledge and faith in God’s Word. And they are willing, if necessary, to lose earthly comforts and things in favor of having God’s pure Word. They are willing, for instance, to make less money so that they are free to hear God’s Word on Sundays. They are willing to drive a longer distance to church in order to get to one that preaches God’s Word purely and faithfully. They take time away from other activities to teach their children the Word of God, to bring them to catechesis and church.

This is different from the children of the world and from false, hypocritical Christians. False Christians and unbelievers don’t care about God’s Word. This may be obvious, like when people simply don’t come to hear it preached, don’t read it at home, allow themselves to be cut off from contact with the Word of God. Or it may be more subtle. False Christians may hear the preaching of God’s Word even on a regular basis, but they neither tremble at their sins, nor hunger and thirst for forgiveness, nor believe in the good news of God’s forgiveness for the sake of Christ alone. And because they are not much concerned about their sins, false Christians can’t imagine giving up earthly comforts and things for the sake of God’s Word. They often think that true Christians are overly pious or fanatical.

We should be on our guard against despising God’s Word. We should repent and turn from it each day. What do you think would happen in most LCMS churches if a group of visitors showed up to worship, and after the service was finished, they said, “No, we can’t leave yet. We want to hear more of God’s Word!” What do you think would happen? Maybe some of us would be put to shame by their hunger for God’s Word. But there would also be some who started looking at their watches, annoyed at the pastor for allowing money to be spent keeping the lights on for such “fanatics.”

But Jesus doesn’t respond this way to the crowd who comes to Him. He doesn’t shorten the sermon and say, “Now get home before you faint on the way.” He sees how hungry the people are for God’s Word and He has compassion on them. He keeps preaching and teaching even though the food has run out. As long as the people are spiritually hungry, Jesus will give them what is His—the Word of God which proclaims Him and the forgiveness of sins at His expense. Jesus doesn’t say, “Now it’s not sensible that you should listen so long to God’s Word that you run out of food.” It is sensible in Jesus’ eyes. He knows how much we need the Word of God. We need it more than food, more than clothing, more than air. Food, clothing, and air give temporary life, temporary comfort. God’s Word gives eternal life, eternal comfort, eternal joy.

So Jesus has compassion on those who long for God’s Word, not contempt, like the world does. He fills the hungry souls with the living and abiding Word of God. Then He also sees that their earthly needs are met and that they will not die of hunger. He multiplies the loaves and the fish so that everyone eats and is satisfied and the disciples pick up seven large baskets full of broken pieces.

We now live in a time where to receive God’s pure Word may come at the expense of earthly comforts, pleasures, even needs. There are normal things that people have always had to give up for God’s Word. You don’t get to sleep all day on your day off. You have to get up and go to Church. And if you want to be a faithful hearer of the Word you have to give to support its preaching, when it is already difficult to afford all we need and want for ourselves and our children. But these are sacrifices Christians have always had to make for the sake of the Word of God.

But now we have more sacrifices that we may be called on to make for God’s Word. To hear God’s Word proclaimed purely and faithfully may cost us at work and in our children’s activities. Want your kids weekly to hear God’s holy Law and His life-giving Gospel (as you should)? That may cause your kid to sit on the bench during a game or not even be on the team at all. Don’t hide that you are an orthodox Christian at the company you work at and you may be skipped over for promotion or required to attend sensitivity training.

As a church we risk losing earthly comforts for the sake of having God’s Word preached in its purity. Many people don’t want to be members of a Church that wants to be faithful to God’s Word and therefore doesn’t allow people of a different confession of faith to receive Jesus’ body and blood. We may in time lose our tax-exempt status if we continue to hold with the Word of God that homosexual lusts and acts are sinful. People outside and even inside the community of the visible congregation may call us fanatics, intolerant, bigoted, unchristian, unloving, and worse.

And it may get even worse than that. We will probably live to see the time when hearing and remaining faithful to the Word of God will alienate you from members of your family. You can already see this starting to happen in the lives of people in this congregation. Maybe we will live to see the day when faithful preachers and hearers of God’s Word will go to prison.

That’s a lot to risk for the sake of God’s Word. And the world and false Christians don’t understand why you would. Why not just compromise? Don’t insist so strictly on the difference between God’s Word and falsehood. Make sure your meals and shelter and entertainment are lined up and then, if you have anything left over, worry about hearing and supporting the preaching of God’s Word.

No, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ! Don’t listen to the mockery of the world and the whispers of your flesh. Jesus’ Word is the true treasure. Whoever has it can rest assured knowing that it is the truth, that it is infallibly true because it comes from God Himself, no matter who it offends or how lightly the world regards it. When it gives commandments, we aren’t simply hearing human ideas about morality, but the commandments of the all-knowing, all-righteous God. The Word reveals the true and living God to us—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which no human reason could have ever attained. No one would know God if He didn’t reveal Himself in His Word. And the Word of God is the true treasure because it makes known the way of eternal life. It proclaims the forgiveness of the Holy God even to those who have sinned and are unable to keep His laws. It declares to the trembling and contrite sinner, even the one who has despised God’s Word and sees his flesh working daily to make him despise it, that He is righteous for Christ’s sake, who died and was condemned for him. It declares you righteous today for Christ’s sake.

This is true treasure. Jesus wants to give it to you in the Word. And it is worth having even if we lose our lives and everything else in the world, as the great reformation hymn sings:

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.

 

Jesus has compassion on you who hunger for His Word. Just as He did on the 4000, so He cares for you. And because He has compassion on you, He will sustain you. He will not only give you His Word that brings with it all the treasures of heaven. He will also sustain your life in this world. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The Lord promises to hear this prayer that He taught us and give us food, clothing, wife, children, friends, good reputation, house, home, money, goods, good government, good weather—everything that we need for this body and life. And if He ever allows us to go without something for the sake of His Word, He says that no one who has to leave “house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel…will not receive a hundredfold now in this time…and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). Just as He had compassion on the crowd, so He has compassion on us. He will sustain us in this world and comfort us when we are dying.

So Christians, eagerly desire the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow up in salvation. Many Christians begin well. They are brought to repentance when they hear the law of God, when they hear that God will judge men’s secrets on the day of Jesus Christ. They are comforted by the good news that all our sins, even those only known to our conscience, all these sins have been punished and taken away in Jesus’ crucifixion. But then they stagnate. They do not go on and progress in knowledge of God’s Word. They remain spiritual infants, and when persecution or hardship comes they fall away.

Repent of your lazy flesh’s wickedness, its attempt to use the Gospel as an excuse not to grow in God’s Word, not to support the preaching of the Word. Your sinful flesh was crucified with Christ when you were baptized, and you belong to Him who rose from the dead and lives in the presence of God the Father, hearing His voice forever. Be what you are, children of God who hunger for and delight in His Word. Take every opportunity to be instructed from God’s holy Law and to be blessed and forgiven by His holy Gospel. You will not fail to receive great treasure through God’s Word. You will be strengthened in faith and hope and the assurance that when you die you will not come into judgment but have eternal life. That is great spiritual treasure. But you will be supported also in earthly things until the Lord Jesus comes and gives us our inheritance in heaven.

Lord, Your mercy will not leave me

Ever will Your truth abide

Then in You I will confide.

Since Your Word cannot deceive me

My salvation is to me

Safe and sure eternally.

 

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

Witness and Persecution. Exaudi 2015.

The Seventh Sunday of Easter—Exaudi

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 15:26-16:4

May 17, 2015 (Confirmation Sunday)

“Witness and Persecution”

Iesu Iuva

Jesus said, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness about me, because you have been with me from the beginning. I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” John 15:26-16:4

 

In this text our Lord tells us about the Church’s mission and its necessary results. The mission is simple to understand. The Church, the believers in Christ, bear witness to Jesus along with the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus tells us about the necessary result of this witness. The world will not love the Church for bearing witness to Christ. Instead the world will persecute the Church with excommunication and death. This is the road our confirmands are pledging to walk today—the road of witness to Jesus and the road of persecution. It is the road they began on when they were baptized, the way of death with Jesus Christ that they might be raised with Jesus Christ. It is the same road that every member of the Christian Church has pledged to walk. It’s good that we remember this. We were not promised victory in this world by our Lord, but persecution and death, and then the victory of the resurrection from the dead.

But this is not said so that we can pity ourselves about our sorry lot in this world. If we Christians were living life only for this world, then, as Paul says, “We are of all men most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15)   But it is not for this life only that we have hoped in Christ. It is for the life that is to come, the life that is truly life, when we will see God face to face, that we have hoped in Christ.

No, what is truly pitiable is to be without God in the world. This is how most of the people in the world live. They hope, vainly, that God is not displeased with them because they have tried to live a good life. They hope, vainly, that God is not displeased with them because they imagine that God is reasonable in a human sense and doesn’t expect more of us than we are able to do. They imagine that because they have tried to live a somewhat decent life in the eyes of other people that things will hopefully turn out all right with them in eternity after they die. God’s judgment on sin they do not know, or they reject it. They don’t believe that no one is righteous in the sight of God, that we have all earned His anger by our transgression of His commands. They flee from His righteous judgment and so they go through their lives with vague ideas about God but never knowing Him. They don’t realize that aside from all the other commandments they transgress the very first one—“You shall have no other gods.” They create a god in their own image—a reasonable God, so-called, who doesn’t want any more from us than that we be reasonably good people. They don’t realize that their fundamental sin is that they have avoided and run away from the true God, the God who commands that we be not merely “nice” but righteous. And because they run from this God who speaks to us in the Law and in our conscience, they are never certain of themselves before God. When trouble or death comes, their false religion falls apart. They are no longer sure that God is pleased with them. They have no helper in the day of their trouble. And what is worse is that when this wretched life is over they have nothing but God’s fearful judgment where He holds them to account for every idle word they’ve spoken, every evil thought and desire.

Truly, it is pitiable to be without God in the world. But that’s the way people are by nature. Whether they are religious in a human sense or not, people are by nature without God. They don’t know the true and living God, and they are lost.

But God does not want human beings to be without Him in the world. That’s why our Lord says in our text, “When the Helper comes…He will bear witness about Me. And you will also bear witness.” Jesus sends the Holy Spirit on His Church so that together they may bear witness to Jesus, which means that the Church and the Spirit bear witness together to the world that the true and living God is reconciled to sinners, is for them.

The Holy Spirit bears witness to Jesus that in Him and Him alone God makes Himself known. He makes Himself known as the Holy and righteous God who demands that we be not merely reasonably good, as humans measure things, but that we be righteous in thought and feeling, in word and deed. He is the same God we see in the Old Testament who gave the Ten Commandments, who spoke to the patriarchs and said, “Walk before me and be blameless.” (Gen. 17) But this righteous God has drawn near to us in Jesus, the Son of Mary. He has not come near to condemn and destroy us for our sins, but to redeem us, to justify us. He has come to live a righteous, obedient, and perfect life as one of us under God’s law. And He came and offered that righteous and perfect life as a sacrifice to cover our sins so that we would be regarded as righteous before God through faith in Him alone. This is the witness the Holy Spirit bears about God. The true and righteous God is the Father who willingly gave His only Son to be the sacrifice that redeems us from sin, death, and hell. Though we are sinful and can’t make ourselves clean in the sight of God, the true God has made us clean in His sight by the suffering and death of His Son.

This is the witness the Holy Spirit bears about Jesus Christ and God the Father. He has been bearing this witness in the world since He was poured out on the apostles at Pentecost. And since then the Church has also been bearing witness to Jesus. She bears witness by preaching His death and resurrection in the whole world. Preachers have proclaimed Christ’s death for our sins and His resurrection from pulpits. Missionaries have gone with this message into pagan lands to turn people from the worship of false gods. Christian parents have brought their children to be baptized and then taught them the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. Christians have carried out their callings in the world, serving their neighbors in love and looking for opportunities to proclaim salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus. In all these ways and more the Holy Spirit bears witness and the Church bears witness to Jesus.

And because the Holy Spirit has faithfully borne witness to Jesus through the centuries, we are gathered here today in His holy congregation, the Church. We have in this church a little refuge, a little outpost of salvation, where the Holy Spirit bears witness to Jesus and the forgiveness of our sins. It’s not through merely human power that a group of German immigrants got together and founded this church; it’s certainly not through human power that twenty or so years later this congregation embraced the true doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church [in the Book of Concord]. It’s not through human power that this congregation and school have been here through a century and a half, through economic depressions and world wars and cultural revolutions. This congregation is here by the power of the Holy Spirit, who bears witness to the death of Jesus in our midst.

It is the witness of the Holy Spirit that has brought these three sons of the congregation today to confess their faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and to receive the Holy Body and Blood of the Lord for the first time. It was the Holy Spirit who moved their parents to bring these children to Jesus in Holy Baptism while they were still infants, that He might bless them and give them the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit who was at work in them when they were taught the word of God by their parents, in Sunday School, and in catechesis. Now by the same Holy Spirit they are going to bear witness that the doctrine they have been taught from the Small Catechism is the truth. They are going to bear witness that the one true God is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who has redeemed them from sin and damnation by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They will bear this witness with their lips in our midst and carry this confession with them out into the world.

The witness of the Holy Spirit and the witness of believers in Christ is one witness, and this witness brings salvation. But Jesus speaks a solemn word to those who bear witness to Him, which all of us who are baptized and confirmed need to give serious attention. He says: “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” What can our confirmands expect to receive for their faithful witness to Christ? Persecution, says Jesus. Even the most extreme forms of persecution—excommunication and death. The world does not know the Father and the Son. Even many who are supposed to be the Church of Christ do not know the Father and the Son. They trust in their own righteousness and invent a god who is satisfied with human works. This is what Martin Luther experienced. He came bearing witness to Jesus Christ alone with the Holy Spirit, and the Pope and his followers excommunicated Luther and put him under a death sentence. Why? Because Luther bore witness that salvation was a free gift through Christ alone; that the Father is pleased with us not through our works but through faith in Jesus only. For this Luther was put out of the Roman Catholic Church, which claimed to be Christ’s true Church even while it denied Christ’s Gospel.

This is what those who bear witness to Christ today can also expect. Today the threat of persecution seems to come not so much from the false church as from the secular world. More and more in our society we hear voices calling for Christians to be banned from polite society because the Church refuses to acknowledge homosexuality, transgenderism, and other sins as acceptable before God. Already Christian charity organizations have been banned from receiving state funds to place foster children unless they are willing to place them with homosexual households. Attacks on the truth of Christianity are standard fare in college, and skepticism from teachers toward the Bible is becoming more common even in high school and middle school. We may not be faced with death for bearing witness to Christ, but increasingly in the years to come our confirmands are going to live in a society that is at best skeptical of Christianity when it is not hostile.

But we are better off with the Holy Spirit’s witness and the opposition of the world than we would be if we had ease and comfort in this world but no Holy Spirit. Why? Because with the Holy Spirit’s witness we have God. We don’t just have vague ideas about God that collapse in the day of trouble or death. Through the Holy Spirit’s witness we have the true God. We know the Father and the Son. They Holy Spirit bears witness to us that we are righteous in God’s sight through faith in Jesus alone. He testifies to us in the Gospel that Jesus died for our sins and nailed the handwriting of the law that was against us to the cross, putting it out of the way so that it no longer condemns us (Colossians 2). He bears witness to us in our baptism that we have been buried with Christ and raised from the dead with Him and are a new creation. He testifies that we are redeemed from sin, death, and hell by giving us the body of Jesus that was crucified to eat and His blood shed for us to drink. They Holy Spirit testifies that we have God for certain, that the all-holy God is pleased with us. This is an assurance that the world doesn’t have, even if it heaps up all the pleasures of this world. Whoever doesn’t believe the Spirit’s witness to Jesus does not have God and can never be certain how it stands with them and God.

We, however, have the Holy Spirit’s testimony that God is pleased with us because of the innocent suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so when persecution and hardship comes to us with the Gospel, we can be glad, because we know that in the midst of our suffering still God is pleased with us. That consolation is greater than all the crosses the world can give us.

So this is the Holy Spirit’s witness to you today, and by this witness He wants to make your heart certain that God is pleased with you and that you have God, your rock and fortress. You are not without God in this world. It isn’t up in the air. You have God, because He has given His son to die for your sins. This testimony has the strength to make us faithful even in the face of death, because it is God’s own testimony. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. And to make you more sure that this salvation is for you, the Holy Spirit says, “Come. Receive the body and blood of the Savior which has made you pleasing to God.”

Amen.

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

Soli Deo Gloria

The Benefits of Persecution–Luther

January 30, 2014 1 comment

barnes14. Hence, people have here an example where they are to seek their comfort and help, not in the world; they are not to guard the wisdom and power of men, but Christ himself and him alone; they are to cleave to him and depend on him in every need with all faithfulness and confidence as the disciples do in our text. For had they not believed that he would help them, they would not have awakened him and called upon him. True their faith was weak and was mingled with much unbelief, so that they did not perfectly and freely surrender themselves to Christ and risk their life with him, nor did they believe he could rescue them in the midst of the sea and save them from death. Thus it is ordained that the Word of God has no master nor judge, no protector or patron can be given it besides God himself. It is his Word. Therefore, as he left it go forth without any merit or counsel of men, so will he himself without any human help and strength administer and defend it. And whoever seeks protection and comfort in these things among men, will both fall and fail, and be forsaken by both God and man.

 

15. That Jesus slept indicates the condition of their hearts, namely, that they had a weak, sleepy faith, but especially that at the time of persecution Christ withdraws and acts as though he were asleep, and gives neither strength nor power, neither peace nor rest, but lets us worry and labor in our weakness, and permits us to experience that we are nothing at all and that all depends upon his grace and power, as Paul confesses in 2 Cor 1, 9, that he had to suffer great affliction, so as to learn to trust not in himself but in God, who raised the dead. Such a sleeping on the part of God David often experienced and refers to it in many places, as when he says in Ps 44,23: ”Awake, why sleepest thou, 0 Lord? Arise, cast us not off forever.”

 

16. The summary of this Gospel is this, it gives us two comforting, defying proverbs, that when persecution for the sake of God’s Word arises, we may say: I indeed thought Christ was in the ship, therefore the sea and wind rage, and the waves dash over us and threaten to sink us; but let them rage, it is ordained that the wind and sea obey his will. The persecutions will not continue longer than is his pleasure; and although they overwhelm us, yet they must be subject to him; he is Lord over all, therefore nothing will harm us. May he only give us his help that we may not despair in unbelief. Amen.

 

17. That the people marveled and praised the Lord that the wind and sea were subject to him, signifies that the Gospel, God’s Word, spreads farther through persecution, it thus becomes stronger and faith increases; and this is also a paradoxical characteristic of the Gospel compared with all worldly things which decrease through every misfortune and opposition, and increase through prosperity and peace. Christ’s kingdom grows through tribulations and declines in times of peace, ease and luxury, as St. Paul says in 2 Cor 12, 9: ”My power is made perfect in weakness, etc.” To this end help us God! Amen.

from the Church Postil (Sermon on the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany)

Consolation in Persecution–Luther

January 30, 2014 Leave a comment

martin-luther-152613. Now it is the consolation of Christians, and especially of preachers, to be sure and ponder well that when they present and preach Christ, that they must suffer persecution, and nothing can prevent it; and that it is a very good sign of the preaching being truly Christian, when they are thus persecuted, especially by the great, the saintly, the learned and the wise. And on the other hand that their preaching is not right, when it is praised and honored, as Christ says in Lk 6,22-26: ”Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you; for in the same manner did their fathers to the false prophets. Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake; in the same manner did their fathers to the prophets.” Behold our preachers, how their teachings are esteemed; the wealth, honor and power of the world have them fully under their control, and still they wish to be Christian teachers, and whosoever praises and preaches their ideas, lives in honor and luxury.

From the Church Postil (Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany)

Shot coming out of Sunday School in Egypt

August 9, 2013 1 comment
egyptian-coptic-christianshttp://www.jihadwatch.org/2013/08/interfaith-outreach-in-egypt-muslims-open-fire-on-church-murdering-10-year-old-girl-leaving-sunday-s.html
“Church Pastor’s Niece, 10, Gunned Down Leaving Sunday School Class, Dozens Injured as Attacks Against Egypt’s Christians Continue,” from MidEast Christian News, August 7 (thanks to Filip):
An horrific attack has taken place against Egypt’s Christian Coptic community, after several unidentified individuals indiscriminately opened fire in front of the Evangelical church in Ain Shams, a suburb of Cairo, killing Jessi Paulis Issa, 10, and injuring dozens of Copts.
According to reports, Issa was the niece of the church’s pastor. After the killing, Issa’s young body was transferred to the Cairo forensics team as the Copt community were left to mourn the latest horrendous attack against them.
“Bearded men belonging to Morsi’s supporters opened fire on the citizens as they were exiting from the church,” one witness described. “They fled the scene in a pick-up truck.”
Pastor Nasrallah Zakaria told Mideast Christian News that the funeral prayers for his niece, Jessi Paulis, would be held this week in the church, after her autopsy is performed. He has described that his niece, Jessi, was leaving her Sunday school class at the church when she was gunned down.
The pastor said he does not know why Copts are being targeted throughout Egypt and called on the government to urgently help to bring a halt to the violence against Christians and the daily threats against them.
He added that the Copts are being used as a winning card to achieve political gains.”

The new year of Sunday School is about to start at our congregation.  That makes this story more poignant.  What would things be like if one of our little children was shot after leaving Sunday School–specifically because people were going around town trying to kill and terrorize Christians?

It’s really sad that so little of this is covered in the media, so it’s hard to tell what stories of persecution you hear from the middle east are reliable.  There are so many accounts of it though that even if you shouldn’t believe every one you read just because you read it, we need to be aware that it’s going on and make elected leaders hear our voices consistently about this. Those in our government who want to support the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt need to be reminded of the Christians who are being brutalized and killed by Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

More and more these days I find myself wondering and praying about Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you, and pray for those who despitefully use you.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Don’t even the Gentiles do that?…”  (Matthew 5…the quote is not exact.  It’s from memory)

When people hate my guts, talk about me behind my back, or seem to be plotting my demise in secret, I pray for them.  When I get angry I say to myself, “I don’t want their damnation, but their salvation,” and then I pray for help not to retaliate with my words or actions.  But the truth is I don’t actively want to love those people.  I don’t want to do them harm, but I don’t want to go out of my way to do kindness to them so they can hurt me some more.  I was thinking about that last night and asking for forgiveness and help.

But that’s only words.  How do you actively love people who are literally trying to kill you?

The more you love them, the more you make yourself available for them to kill you.

It’s one thing not to be afraid of suffering.  That’s why the devout Muslims are able to wield so much influence in their societies, even though you have to believe that most people in the Middle East would rather have freedom of speech, freedom to drink alcohol, freedom to not have their women entirely covered up.  I know Christianity is not a fun religion in the eyes of most people who live in Christian countries, but Christianity has almost never resulted in a true theocracy.  There have been nations that were officially Christian, but Christianity has never preached that the entire world should be conquered with the sword and have Christianity imposed on each nation by force.

Yet Islam keeps exercising influence.  Why?  Because its true believers aren’t afraid to die–and they direct that fearlessness to die toward inflicting pain and death on those who oppose the advance of Islamic rule.  They do this in Muslim societies not only by preaching but through violence.  And they do the same in non-Muslim countries.

People are impressed by the fearlessness they display, and they are also terrified–because most people don’t want to suffer or die.  Pious Muslims are willing to suffer and die.

But when they do that, they inflict injury on the enemies of their god.

But Christians are supposed to not be afraid to suffer and die in the cause of loving those who kill their children.

 

I believe that Christ teaches His church to love their enemies through suffering.  But I have to say that I do not want to be zealous and active in the love of those who hate me.

It’s not just the pain.  The worst thing is the injustice.  Someone hates you and tries to harm you.  The worst thing is you cry out about it–to them, maybe to others–and they refuse to hear you.  They have already  cast you out as evil and condemned you.  That to me is the hard part.

But if my little child was shot coming out of Sunday School, it would break me to love the people who did it.  Yet that is what we are called to–to be active and zealous in the love of our enemies.

 

Thanks be to God that our salvation is secure not in our love of our enemies, but in Christ’s zealous love of us while we were still His enemies.  He not only was silenced and falsely condemned to death by men, but also bore the most awful pain of being condemned before the judgment of God for His enemies’ sins.

May God teach us to believe this and bear the fruit of this faith–faint reflections of Jesus’ love in our love toward those who hate us.  That fruit is pleasing to God, and He will give us justice in the end.  He has already justified us by grace, and He will not allow us to be destroyed by our suffering, nor to be snatched out of His hand.

And may God give us His Spirit so that we remember and pray for our brothers who are persecuted, and gladly give what we have for their relief.

 

Church Shopping? Consider Iran.

August 8, 2013 7 comments

waffles“The court’s judgment came after Bordbar and about 50 other Farsi-speaking Christian converts were detained by security agents in a house in northern Tehran during a worship service celebrating the birth of Jesus, Christians said.”

http://www.jihadwatch.org/2013/08/interfaith-outreach-in-iran-christian-gets-ten-years-prison-for-evangelizing.html

 

Think about this for a second:

 

How many Missouri Synod Lutheran Churches are there that have around 50 worshippers at a divine service on an average Sunday?

A lot.  If I’m not mistaken, most LCMS congregations have under 100 people in divine service on Sunday.  That is to say, on Sunday when they worship in a church (or a rented building, less often), not someone’s house.  On Sunday we can come to church openly, not secretly; there is no danger of arrest or death, as Islam traditionally mandates for those who have departed from Islam for another religion.

 

Yet with these benefits attendance at an average LCMS church is not much  greater than at this underground Iranian church where everyone was rounded up and arrested.

 

Obviously this isn’t really a fair comparison.  They were celebrating Christmas.  Usually attendance at Christmas is greater at LCMS churches at Christmas than on other days.  Then too this church was in Tehran, a city of 8 million.  So fifty people in a city of 8 million and fifty people in a small town in Iowa are very different things.

But the point is this: there were fifty people at this church in Iran, where Christian evangelism is illegal.  Fifty people willing to risk arrest or pastor-youcef-2death to go to church.

 

We know from experience how easy it is for American Christians to skip church on Sunday morning–work, baseball practice, taking a day “just for the family”–just about anything can be an acceptable justification for missing church for sometimes months, as though the devil, world, and flesh are willing to take breaks from their war with us while we go to work or take our kids to ballroom dancing competitions and bushido tournaments.  Admittedly sometimes you do have to work on Sunday, and it’s not necessarily wrong to have your kid in a travelling sports team.  But it is tragic when you can go for weeks or months without hearing the Word of the Lord and receiving His Sacrament and not feel any hunger to get on the phone and make other arrangements for you and your kids to receive God’s faith-sustaining gifts, at least.

 

So think about this for a moment: in which country is it “easier” to be a Christian?

thCAV8XC6YIn Iran, it’s illegal to go to church.  You could go to jail very easily if you go to church.  Yet we have this story that fifty people gathered in a house to worship the Lord at His birth, and all of them were arrested.

In the US, it’s legal to go to church.  Churches are open all the time.  Christianity has been part of our culture for as long as Islam has been part of Iran’s, so your American family is not going to think you’re joining a strange foreign religion, like they might in Iran.  Yet in most LCMS churches attendance on Sunday is only marginally higher than in this church in Iran where everyone was arrested for going to church.

Which country is the Christian country again?

In which country is it “easier” to be a Christian?

 

 

 

 

Is it possible that there are actually more Christians in the Islamic Republic of Iran than in the United States of America?

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