Biblically-Based Lutheran Sermons 2018
Mount Hope Lutheran Church
Pastor Christian Preus
Baptism of our Lord, 2018
When St. Paul speaks of the foolishness of God he is speaking of God’s crucifixion. That’s where you see the unique and completely unparalleled foolishness of the Christian religion. No human mind could have thought up such a thing, that the almighty God who cannot suffer and cannot die should languish, bleed, and die on a cross. When people say, and they say it all the time, that all religions are the same, that they just teach people to be good and to believe in God, they don’t know what they’re talking about. I had a professor in college who was so anti-Christian that he spent every class period, no matter what the course was, cutting down Christianity. It was a great semester. One day this professor insisted that all religions were the same because they all came down to this one basic thing – if you do good, God will reward you. I immediately objected, of course, and like a good Lutheran I told him that Christians believe differently from all other religions, that we are saved without any works of our own, solely and alone because of Christ. He didn’t believe me. He didn’t. He simply told me that couldn’t be what I believe, because he thought what I said was so completely stupid, so utterly foolish. How could anyone think such a thing? Because my God died, that’s why. Because no work of mine, no matter how great, no matter the sacrifice or the shining virtue, could possibly compare with this act of God’s self-giving, that the sinless, eternal, almighty God would die in my place, take my sin on Himself, and suffer hell in my stead. That’s the heart of the Christian religion. And we know no God except the one who died on the cross.
And so St. Paul asserts, Greeks seek after wisdom and Jews seek after a sign, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Greeks. This is what it means that God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. It’s Christ dying on a cross. Again St. Paul says, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
I’m harping on this point because the crucifixion of Jesus is everything to us who are being saved, and when I say everything, I mean everything: it permeates everything we say and confess and believe in this Christian Church – every word of the Creed we just confessed, especially those beautiful words – I believe in one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins – and every word of the Gospel lesson we just heard.
And nowhere is this more obvious than in the Baptism of our Lord. When Christ will later talk about his Baptism he will say, “I have a Baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished.” Here, besides the wonderful fact that God is distressed, that He takes on our human nature and allows His perfect peace to be disrupted by the anticipation of His impending sufferings and death, here we see the significance of our Lord’s Baptism and of ours. He calls His death His Baptism. And so also His apostle Paul calls our Baptism our death with Christ. These two cannot be separated.
Jesus remembered His Baptism and was distressed. We remember our Baptism and have joy, not anxious distress. Because to remember our Baptism is to remember that all Christ has done has been given to us. If he has died, we have died. If he has risen to eternal life, so have we in spirit and so will we in the flesh. If he has been given the kingdom and the power and the glory, we share in His kingdom, His power, and His glory, as those who have been joined to the eternal Son of the Father, given His Spirit, and made heirs of everlasting life. It is exactly as St. Paul says in our Epistle, “He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” And of course the conclusion, the beautiful and necessary conclusion, “Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” That is, you have nothing to boast about before God – not your works, not your family name, not your talents or your looks, but you have everything to boast about in your Baptism, because here is God’s work, who has loved you and given Himself for you and made you His own.
Here in your Baptism, in fact, is the crucifixion of your Lord Jesus. There is no separating the two. When you think of your Baptism you are thinking also of Christ’s death for you, because here God joined you to it. And when you think of your Lord’s crucifixion, you are thinking not only of its history, that it happened in time and space some 2000 years ago under Pontius Pilate, but that this crucifixion was for you, that those were your sins paid for, your death suffered, your life won. And this “for you” of the crucifixion, this is what your Baptism guarantees you, that Christ’s history has been made your history, because here God has asserted, and when God asserts it happens, God has asserted that this singularly foolish act of God’s love is yours.
The teaching so popular today in so-called evangelical churches, that Baptism is only your commitment to God, your work of obedience, could not be further from the truth. God does not work this way. If He did, it wouldn’t be called foolish. It makes sense to sinful human reason that if we commit ourselves to God then He will be committed to us. That’s because human reason can’t understand how impossible it is for those born enemies of God to choose to love and trust in Him. But we trust in the foolishness of the cross. As Luther once said, “The cross alone is our theology.” And here it is – the Father doesn’t send His Son to be baptized into death, the Son doesn’t show His commitment to you by His dying to appease His own anger, He doesn’t pour out such hard and incomprehensible love, only to add more ceremonies and works for you to do, so that you can make Him your own. No, the exact opposite is the case. We call this divine monergism. God and God alone works to make us sinners His children. Look at how the Bible describes your Baptism. It is a rebirth. What commitment to your mother did you make when you were born? What work did you perform to pass from her womb into this world and take your first breath of air? None. You were simply born. And so it happens in Baptism. God gives you new birth. Born from your mother a sinner, you are born from God a saint, made His righteous child, because the work Christ accomplished on the cross God here gives to you, so that you can live on this earth as your Father’s child, pray to Him by His Spirit, call on Him as your Father in your every need, and live in the good works He has prepared for you. So when you remember your Baptism, you are remembering God’s work, your Christian identity.
But when Christ remembers His Baptism, He is filled with distressed anticipation. Because His Baptism is the complete reverse of ours. John tries to prevent him, because John knows what Baptism is and who it is for – it is the washing of water and the Spirit for the forgiveness of sins, and it is meant for sinners. Jesus is no sinner. But that’s the point. He must become one. Not in Himself. Not as if He could or would ever commit any loveless deed or omit anything loving, because then He couldn’t be our perfect substitute before God’s justice, but He who knew no sin here becomes sin for us. He becomes our substitute. He tells John, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
There’s some arguing as to who this “us” is. Thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. Is this “us” John and Jesus? Or is it Jesus and His Father and the Holy Spirit, the trinitarian “we.” I’m not sure it matters. Because if it’s John, it’s the Holy Trinity working through John. Just as when my sinful hands baptized little Isaac, God the Holy Trinity was at work, placing His name on that child. And this we see in clarity at Jesus’ Baptism. John the sinner applies the water, but when Jesus rises from the water, the Holy Spirit comes down to rest on Him, and the Father speaks from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” This is the act of the Trinity.
Why is the Father pleased with His Son? Obviously He has always been pleased with Him, from eternity. This is what it means that we have a triune God. He has always existed in love, the Father for His Son and the Son for His Father in unity with the Holy Spirit. But the Father has also from eternity planned this Baptism. It’s an amazing thing. His love has always involved us. It was the eternal conversation of the Trinity, before time began. This Baptism seems so low, so weak, so foolish. It’s just the application of water and a few words. But it is the eternal glory, strength, and wisdom of God at work. The Father is pleased with His Son because His Son has by His Baptism committed to doing what the Father sent Him to do.
Your Lord delves into those waters to become the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. It is as if all your sin, every last thing that worries you and causes you to doubt that God could love you, every wicked thought and selfish desire, all of it were in that water, and Jesus soaks it up, places it all on his back, and carries it to the cross, to pay for it all by His blood. And then He leaves in the water His righteousness, His life, His inheritance, so that the water of your Baptism gives you all Christ is and has won.
Remember your Baptism every day of your life. Every time you feel worthless, find your worth here. Every time you’re bored, find your excitement here. Every time you are burdened with your sin, ashamed at what you have done or thought or said, find your peace and your honor here in your Baptism. Every time you are weak and doubt, find your certainty here. Your Baptism stands sure. It is God’s work, it’s Christ-crucified for you. It is as certain and sure as the Father’s declaration at your Lord’s Baptism, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.” God’s own child I gladly say it, I am baptized into Christ. Let us pray:
With one accord, O God, we pray:
Grant us Thy Holy Spirit;
Look Thou on our infirmity
Through Jesus' blood and merit.
Grant us to grow in grace each day
That by this Sacrament we may
Eternal life inherit.
Pastor Christian Preus
The nativity scene normally depicts, along with Mary and Joseph and the Christ Child lying in a manger surrounded by beasts, some shepherds and three wise men, with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. If you take a look at the picture on the front of your bulletin, that’s exactly what you’ll see. Now, it’s become a favorite cheap shot for the detractors of Christianity to point out the obvious, that this nativity scene, which most of us have in our houses and with which all of us are well acquainted, this nativity scene is inaccurate. The shepherds certainly came to the stable that first Christmas night – that’s what St. Luke records with those familiar words, “And so they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger.” But the wise men didn’t come that night. As St. Matthew tells us, they had to travel from the East, they had to stop and ask questions in Jerusalem, and by the time they reached Bethlehem Mary and Joseph had moved with the Christ child into more comfortable lodging. And the number three for the wise men is also picked apart, since Matthew doesn’t tell us that there were three wise men. He says only that there were three gifts. And so what can they conclude, except that you Christians who treasure your manger scenes don’t really know your Bible, and don’t know that there are actually two different, many would even say contradicting, Christmas stories, one with a manger and shepherds, and one with wise men and a star.
But that’s nonsense. I’m sure it’s sadly the case that our culture and even our churches in America have become so biblically illiterate that most Christians in our country couldn’t tell you that Luke records the shepherds and the manger and Matthew records the wise men and the star, or that the shepherds and the wise men were never together visiting Jesus at the same time. But the nativity scene isn’t making an historical mistake when it puts these stories together. No, we do it on purpose. These stories belong together. That’s how the Bible works. It’s why we should read it all the time. It all fits together and tells the beautiful history of God coming to join our human race and bringing salvation to sinners to the ends of the earth.
It’s really that the detractors of Christianity don’t know their art or their theology. It’s certainly true that the wise men came to Bethlehem after several months and that we can’t know how many there were – though three seems like a safe enough guess, since there are three gifts – but the fact is that that Christmas night, the same evening that the angel appeared to the shepherds watching their flocks by night and sang Glory to God in the highest and peace, goodwill toward men, that same night a light appeared in the night sky and far off in the East wise men saw it and knew that a King had been born.
And that is what the nativity scene shows, this is what art does – a picture is worth a thousand words – it shows that this great event of God visiting this world, of taking on our human flesh and blood and humbling himself to be born a baby boy in a filthy stable, this birth of Christ Jesus is not simply an isolated historical event, not even one story among many in the Bible, but the center and point of it all, what ties everything together, a message that isn’t arcane historical trivia, but the history of your salvation that must be preached to you because it has the greatest possible significance for you and for every man, woman, and child that walks this earth, because here is Immanuel, here is God with us, our Creator come to join His creation and take our sin and misery and death on Himself, to bring light to a world of darkness and sin.
It is simply not enough for God to become man, to live, to die, and to rise again, if no one hears about it. This is an historical event that must be preached. The world for whom God comes has to know about it. And this is what we celebrate on Epiphany. Epiphany means manifestation, that God manifests Himself, reveals Himself to the world. Because the Christ child is born to us, and that “to us,” that must be preached to one and all from East to West. And the point of the nativity scene is that it is. And immediately.
First to the shepherds on Christmas night. I’ve been told it’s hard to find shepherds nowadays. It’s part of the reason our wool industry isn’t what it used to be here in Wyoming. It’s not fun work. A shepherd’s out in the elements, away from all civilization. It sounds good for an escape, for a couple week vacation, but certainly not for a life. Shepherds have in fact always been considered the lowest of the low on the economic and social ladder. Despite the classical poems exalting the shepherd’s life, the life of the shepherd was hard. Your typical shepherd was uneducated, illiterate, unskilled, and short-lived.
And Jesus came for them. That’s what the angels preached. God didn’t check credentials, didn’t require an IQ test. He came to nobodies, nameless men and women and children about whom history has forgotten, whose names no one knew or remembered after their death, to these nobodies the angel preaches the good tidings of great joy which is to all people, which tells them they are far from forgotten by God, that God wants to give them a status, wants them as His children here on this earth and forever in eternity.
But that same night the same message comes to the wise men, men who were scholars, who had studied the world’s religions and philosophies, knew how to read the stars, were highly regarded by all around them. They’re sometimes called magi, because that’s the Greek word used by Matthew, but they weren’t magicians. They were what we’d consider professors, the academic elite of their day.
And the nativity scene puts them both together. The illiterate shepherds and the wise scholars, together, on the same footing, bowing before a baby in a manger, because this is the picture also of the church, that God calls and gathers to Himself all people, no matter your background, no matter your social standing, no matter your education, whether you work with your hands or study over books for a living, whether you’re poor or rich, this baby is born for you.
The shepherds ran with haste to Bethlehem. And so did the wise men. What is remarkable is that when the wise men stop in Jerusalem, they run across other scholars like themselves. And these scholars know their Bible. When Herod asks them where the Christ is to be born they answer without hesitation, in Bethlehem of Judea, because this is what the prophet Micah says, “And you Bethlehem, Ephrathah, though you are least among the cities of Judah, out of you shall come a King who will shepherd my people Israel.” They have this book knowledge. They know what the Bible says. But they don’t go to Bethlehem. Just think of that. The wise men submit to the wisdom of God’s Word, which leads them to the most foolish of acts by human standards, to bow down before a baby and worship him as God.
But the scribes and scholars in Jerusalem are different. I’ve often been amazed that our modern liberal bible scholars will devote their entire lives to studying the Bible and yet not believe a single word of it. But it shouldn’t amaze us. The more things change the more they stay the same. The scholars of Jesus’ time did exactly the same thing. They knew the facts and trivia of the Bible, they could cite chapter and verse, but they didn’t take it to heart, they didn’t see the Bible as God’s own unerring and unmistakable preaching to them, that He would come to be their Shepherd, to lay down His life for His sheep.
The preaching of Christ is most certainly the preaching of what happened in history, and we can study it, examine it, cross-reference it, learn all about it – this is what Christians do – but we do more. We receive it as God’s word to us. The wise men came to Jesus because that’s where not only the star in the sky but Scripture itself pointed them. And this Jesus was not a scholarly enigma, but their Lord, their God, who had come for them in human flesh. So they bring him all the riches of earth, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they confess that whatever else they have on this earth, whatever wealth, whatever prestige, whatever knowledge, all of it is worthless beside this priceless treasure.
And so we come today. We will sing shortly, as we come to our Lord’s table, burdened by our sins, knowing that we must face death and meet the Almighty and righteous God, knowing that we have not loved as our God has loved us, that we are, as we just confessed, poor, miserable sinners, we will sing these beautiful words, “Ah, how hungers all my spirit, for the love I do not merit. Oft have I with sighs fast thronging, thought upon this food with longing. In the battle, well-nigh worsted, for this cup of life have thirsted, for the Friend who here invites us and to God Himself unites us.” And that’s it. That’s the joy of the shepherds and the wise men, why the wise men gave their gifts and offerings to the Christ-child, why they came from afar and fell on their knees and worshipped Him, because we know a love that passes understanding, that our God who could condemn us and cast us off forever has instead come to us and made Himself our brother, that He has lived for us, died to wipe away our sin’s punishment, given us a life worth living as children of our Father, bestowed on us the Spirit by whom we know that we are heard by our God in heaven. And so whatever the trials and temptations that afflict you, whatever the sin over which you sorrow, your Lord draws you to Himself today by His Word and gives you the comfort and peace that come only from His body and blood broken and shed for your life and your eternity. And so we pray:
Jesus, Sun of Life, my Splendor,
Jesus, Thou my Friend most tender,
Jesus, Joy of my desiring,
Fount of life, my soul inspiring, --
At Thy feet I cry, my Maker,
Let me be a fit partaker
Of this blessed food from heaven,
For our good, Thy glory, given.
Amen. Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Savior. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
1. Jesus, priceless Treasure,
Fount of purest pleasure,
Truest Friend to me.
Ah, how long in anguish
Shall my spirit languish,
Yearning, Lord, for Thee?
Thou art mine, O Lamb divine!
I will suffer naught to hide Thee,
Naught I ask beside Thee.
2. In Thine arms I rest me;
Foes who would molest me
Cannot reach me here.
Though the earth be shaking,
Every heart be quaking,
Jesus calms my fear.
Lightnings flash And thunders crash;
Yet, though sin and hell assail me,
Jesus will not fail me.
Leading up to our Gospel lesson for today Jesus has two confrontations that can teach us a lot about His calming of the storm. We remember from last week that Jesus showed his almighty power and his unbounded mercy in curing leprosy and healing the servant of the centurion. He went on from there to heal many others, including St. Peter’s mother-in-law – and yes, St. Peter, the first pope according to the Roman Catholic tradition, did have a mother-in-law, which means, of course, that he had a wife, and that should tell you more than a little about how unbiblical the practice of forced priestly celibacy is. In any case, the miracles of Jesus were powerful and undeniable and people flocked to him and asked to be his disciples, his students, his followers. Who wouldn’t? Who wouldn’t run to a man who could cure every disease by the word of his mouth?
But when they come to Jesus, they find that this man Jesus isn’t just about miracles. One man, a teacher of the law, comes and says, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus replies famously and brutally, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” And we can only conclude that this teacher of the law decided not to follow Jesus after all. His rosy picture of following the great miracle worker was dashed. Immediately after this, again, another prospective disciple says to Jesus, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” And Jesus tells him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Another painfully blunt response from Jesus and another very disappointed man.
Jesus knows nothing of modern church growth tactics. He knows nothing of dressing up the Gospel and the Christian life to be as attractive as possible to the highest number of people. He doesn’t do statistical studies to see what people are looking for in a Church. He doesn’t cater to people’s felt needs. No, He is brutally honest. You want to be a Christian? You want to follow me? Why? Because you saw a few miracles? Because it’s the popular thing to do? Because you figure that I’m going to make your life happy and carefree with my magical powers? Well, Jesus says, look at what it means to be my disciple. It’s no bed of roses. My pillow is a rock. Foxes and birds have more bodily comforts than I do. And your life? Your life if you follow me will be a life of forsaking all else, of putting Me above everyone, yes, even your own father, even your own family, and finding your true family in the Kingdom and family of God. And this will hurt. It will daily crucify your flesh and your worldly desires. To follow me means to bear the cross and suffer. And at this pronouncement of Jesus, people walk away, either in despair or confusion or anger.
And so it is to the great praise of the disciples of Jesus in our Gospel this morning that they actually follow him. They follow him into the boat. And they do so understanding that to follow Jesus is to suffer in this world. They understand that a disciple is not above his master, and that if their Lord has no place to lay His head, they can expect nothing better. And still they follow Him. Because they believe Him and they love Him. Not because He makes life easy for them. Not because He solves all their financial woes or gives them a foolproof 9-step program for self-improvement. But because He is their Savior from sin and the One who reconciles them to their Creator. That is where their treasure is. Not in this world’s comforts. Their treasure is quite simply Jesus.
We need to be aware in our day that most of what passes for Christianity directly contradicts Jesus’ clear words. Jesus never promises prosperity and an outwardly peaceful life if you believe in Him. It’s quite the opposite, actually. He promises a cross and teaches us to suffer in faith. So-called evangelical preachers like Joel Osteen and self-help gurus like Oprah will throw around the name of Jesus as if you can have your best life now, have the perfect family, the perfect job, and the self-confidence it takes to make it big in this world if only you give your life to Jesus. Pseudo-Christian religions like Mormonism or the Jehovah’s Witnesses will coopt the name of Jesus while teaching nothing, absolutely nothing, about Jesus’ cross and forgiveness through his blood, instead promising that if you follow Jesus you’ll be able to live a more successful life.
This is not the religion of the Bible. It’s not Christianity. This is the tit for tat religion of paganism. It’s exactly what all pagan religions have always taught. You do something for God, and God does something for you. You give your life to him, he’ll make everything better for you. It’s the exact opposite, the exact opposite, of what Jesus promises. Jesus promises you reconciliation with God freely, with no payment in return. Instead, He Himself makes the payment with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. More than that, Jesus creates in you a clean heart by His Spirit, through His Word, so that you not only trust in Him and delight in your identity as children of your Father in heaven, but you learn to be content in any situation, even in suffering, because you know and trust and love the God who has done everything for you in Christ Jesus your Lord.
We just had a convocation the last couple days entitled, “Why I am a Lutheran.” [It was a great convocation and it was great to see so many of you there. And those of you who couldn’t make it, put it on your calendars for next year. It won’t disappoint.] Well, let me sum it up for you. You’re a Lutheran not because of your German or Norwegian heritage or because your parents told you to be, not because you’re a partisan of Martin Luther, not because you’ve got ties to friends or family at this church, not because it’s convenient or people are nice to you, not for any of these reasons, but simply and purely because the Lutheran Church is devoted to the words of Jesus, to the words of the Bible, which you love with all your heart. Sola Scriptura, we say, Scripture alone. Solus Christus, we say. Christ alone. These aren’t just slogans. They’re our life. And the only reason you should be proud to be a Lutheran, the only reason you should come to this Lutheran Church is because you know and believe that here you will hear the pure and unadulterated Word of God, here you can demand it from your pastor, not to water Jesus’ words down, not to promise you things just to make you feel better, but to give it to you straight, that God’s promise to you is not the wide road of worldly ease and comfort, but the narrow road of trusting in Christ’s cross and the forgiveness of sins He has won for you.
And when God creates faith in your heart by the Word of forgiveness in Christ’s cross He always sends you your own cross, your own suffering in this world, a suffering that God uses to direct your affections away from this world and to Him. The disciples followed Jesus into the boat knowing this. They knew that being a Christian, that following Jesus, meant they would suffer in this world. Jesus had said so. And they believed Jesus.
The disciples immediately experience trouble. As soon as they follow Jesus into the boat, they learn what it means to suffer. And this wasn’t some chance happening. There are no chance happenings, of course, but especially here we see that God is in charge of the wind and the sea. God sent that storm, Jesus sent that storm, even as He lay sleeping in the boat, because He wanted to teach His disciples through suffering to trust in Him.
The cry of the disciples was the cry of faith as it suffers in weakness. They saw the trouble facing them and they didn’t just fear for their lives, they felt the terrible doubt of God’s goodwill toward them. Save us, Lord, we are perishing, they say. It’s important for us to realize that when the disciples say they are perishing, they aren’t just talking about the threat to their bodies. The NIV’s translation, “Save us Lord, we’re drowning” isn’t quite right. That’s not what the text says. It says, save us, we are perishing. And that word “perishing” is important. The disciples aren’t simply thinking of drowning or getting struck by lightning. No, it never works that way for Christians. When you get the news that your mother is dying of cancer, when you yourself fall sick and are at death’s door, when you face danger and fear for your life, when you lose your job and can’t support yourself or your family, this is a crisis not only of life but of faith. Does God care? That’s the question that creeps in. Why has God sent this tragedy into my life? Why does He send me these storms of woe? In fact, in the Evangelist Mark’s account of this same episode, the disciples cry out, “Lord, don’t you care that we are perishing?” That’s the question, as Christians suffer in weakness of faith, “Lord, don’t you care?”
What faith always needs, what it lives on and clings to, is Jesus’ Word. And this is exactly what the disciples get from Jesus. And it’s exactly what we need from Jesus. Not wealth, not a life without trouble or suffering. That’s not what we expect from Jesus. No, we expect His Word of forgiveness and peace with God. Because we know who Jesus is and what He has promised. We hear what the disciples heard. Here is the God who with a word calms the wind and the sea. He has complete power over all creation and he has complete control of everything that goes on in this world. He is the all-powerful God.
And yet look at Him! He lies asleep in a boat. He has become a man. He has joined our human race. And not only that, He has taken on all our infirmities, suffers all our human pain. God doesn’t slumber or sleep. But here is God, slumbering and sleeping, exhausted, because even then He had taken all our sins upon Himself and is making His way to the cross to suffer and die for us. And this is why Jesus says to the disciples and to us, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith? You will not perish, not when I am with you, not when I am on your side.” When you are in the boat with Jesus, when you follow Him and trust in Him and belong to His Church, you will suffer the storms of the devil and this world and your own sinful flesh, you will suffer weakness of faith and fear, but you will never perish. Because the God who controls the wind and the sea, your Creator, is with You. He wears your flesh and blood. He lays down His life for you. He faced the storm of God’s wrath against sin and He won you peace through His suffering. He speaks His word to you, the word that even the inanimate wind and sea obey, and this Word does what it says. I forgive you all your sins, God says through his pastor, and your sins are gone. This is my body, Jesus says, this is my blood shed for the forgiveness of your sins. And so it is. And to have this, to have Jesus’ words, this is to have everything, it is to have God himself with you now and forever. It is to have joy in suffering and strength in our weakness.
Thanks be to God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
Transfiguration Sunday/Sanctity of Human Life Sunday
Today is Transfiguration Sunday, where we take a look at Jesus’ glory as a man who is the eternal God. When the Son took on a human body and soul in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, all His divine attributes, his almighty power, his holiness, his eternity, were communicated to this human nature. He remained a man, just like us in every way, except without sin, but his human nature was and is so united to the Person of the Son, that this man truly is God, and even according to his human nature he shares in the divine characteristics which belong to His divine Person. But he hid it all. He hid it in his mother’s womb. He hid it in a manger. He hid it swaddled in his mother’s arms. Hid it to grow up and learn as a boy and a man. He humbled himself, and only on occasion did he show his almighty power by his knowledge and miracles, beginning with his Baptism in the Jordan. But here in the Transfiguration He showed what belonged to him from the beginning. He shone like the sun. His body radiated the divine glory that belonged to him. Peter, James and John saw his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Today is also Life Sunday, where we look at the preciousness of human life and mourn the disregard we see for it here in our country. Forty-five years ago tomorrow, on January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court by a 7-2 majority invented the constitutional right for a mother to exterminate her unborn child. They overturned the laws of the state of Wyoming and most other states which protected little children from being violently killed in their mothers’ wombs. The Nazi Holocaust, the gulags of the Soviet Union, the mass genocide of the Armenians by the Turks, all of them combined do not compare in numbers to the millions of innocent human lives snuffed out by abortion here in our country, the United States of America, in the last 45 years.
The line of pro-abortion politicians and advocates has been for decades that we should make abortions safe and rare. After 45 years, not only have we seen abortions multiply – they have become less and less rare – but we have also seen just how dangerous they are – there is no such thing as a safe abortion. They’re never safe for the baby, of course, but they’re never safe either for the doctor who performs them or the mother who chooses them or the father who encouraged them or made them possible in the first place. Nor are they safe for the society that tolerates them or promotes them, as ours does. They bring blood guilt, and a life lived in guilt and regret, or in the case of hardened sinners, in total selfishness and disregard of the Creator, is not safe. Because God exists, He is just, and this is His world, and we are His creation, whose lives and country and families and eternities He holds in His hands.
What is obvious to any Christian who repents daily of his sin is that sin is misery. I don’t want it. When I commit it I regret it and pray God never to lead me into temptation. I’d rather be poor than steal. I’d rather see my enemy prosper than murder. I have a wonderful marriage, but I’d rather suffer in a bad marriage than commit adultery. The alternative would be to sin against my God and at that my spirit recoils in disgust. Sin, no matter how sweet it appears to my flesh, makes my spirit cringe. It’s misery. This is what the Christian knows, because He knows the God who hates sin and took that sin on Himself to suffer its punishment.
The same though is true to some extent for non-Christians. They don’t have God’s Spirit, of course, and that means they don’t know Christ or His sacrifice or His love. But their very existence is still the result of God’s creation. And that means a person will not find real contentedness unless he or she lives according to God’s created order.
The old philosophers said that to live is not to live but to live well. Now you could take that in some hedonistic sense, that unless you live with pleasures you aren’t really living. Like what connoisseurs like to say, you haven’t lived until you’ve tried this. But really, to live well on this earth is to live as God created you to live. He determines what is good. And we see this both by the way He makes His creation work and by His commands in His Word. So take a look at a baby in his mother’s womb. That baby is living well, because he’s living as God created him to live, in total dependence on his mother, in the comfort and security of her body, taking his nutrients and his life from her. Or take an infant, he’s living well when he has what God ordained – a father and mother who hold him, feed him, clothe him, show him love, and protect him. Young children live well when they do what God created them to do, obey their parents and teachers, work hard at school, play hard, get outside and run and jump and discover the world around them. A wife lives well when she submits to and respects her husband. A husband lives well when he sacrifices for and loves his wife as his own body. A mother lives well when she nurtures and cares for her children. A father lives well when he works hard for his kids and protects them from danger and teaches them to be honorable and respectful. Because all this God created us to do. And whether it’s we Christians or those who do not know Christ, we are all born into God’s world, His order, and unless we live according to it, we simply aren’t living well. We’ll bring misery on ourselves.
And that’s what abortion has done. It’s brought misery. The United States of America, with all its riches and technologies, has not become a better place to live in the last 45 years. The Supreme Court decision in 1973 didn’t come out of nowhere either. It was the product of more than a decade of rebellion against God’s created order in the sexual revolution and the second wave of militant feminism. People sought after wealth and pleasure and individual independence instead of children. Margaret Sanger and her Planned Parenthood convinced not only the heathen but also Christians, also members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, that children were an economic burden that could easily be prevented with a pill. Fathers and mothers simply changed their values. Money and an independent lifestyle became more important than children and family life. And their children followed suit. If to live well means to live for myself, then abortion will come, because a man will seek after a woman not to be his wife but to fulfil his own lust, he’ll have sex not to have a baby and care for it, but will abandon his lover and her baby, because he’s learned that to live well is to have pleasure, and a wife and baby isn’t his pleasure.
So all this is connected. A political victory, a reversal of Roe v Wade, is not enough. It would be wonderful, it would save countless lives, but it wouldn’t make those lives good lives unless we have learned what a good life really is. And that’s not having money. It’s not having things that perish with the using. It’s not to invest ourselves in sensual pleasures that end almost as soon as they begin. It’s to seek our pleasure and our honor in living as God created us to live, even if we have to suffer, even if we have to deny ourselves momentary pleasures, we will learn to find much greater pleasure in being a faithful wife or husband, in keeping ourselves pure – teenagers listen to me – keeping yourselves away from sex and everything sexual until you’re married, finding joy sacrificing ourselves for our children and investing ourselves in bringing them up as pious Christians who know what’s right and wrong, and for those not married to treat the church as your family and live in self-sacrifice for your brothers and sisters. That’s the kind of pleasure that fulfills us as God’s creation, made in His image, to love what He loves.
It’s only when we learn what it means to be human, to be creatures of a God who created us to live according to His Word, that the tragedy of abortion can be addressed. Yesterday saw the first Life-March in Casper. That’s wonderful. I know some of you were there. It gives a public face to our confession of life. And we for years here at Mount Hope have supported True Care, which helps women decide against abortion and for life in our community. By the way, bring back your baby bottles full of money for them next week. But this kind of action simply isn’t enough. The fight against abortion starts with us in our lives. And then it will expand into our children’s lives and into our community. What is it that we value? What do we think life is all about? What do we confess in our daily lives about the life God has given to us?
Well, here’s where we get back to the Transfiguration. You thought I forgot about that, right? No, the Transfiguration has everything to do with human life. God became a man. Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration shows us what God thinks of human life as his own human body reveals God Himself in our human flesh, living our human life. He, God, began his human life as a fetus, and he lived life well in the Virgin’s womb. He lived it well as a baby crying for his mother’s milk. He lived it well when he submitted to his earthly father and mother. He lived it well when he learned his Aleph, bet and gimel, his Hebrew ABCs, and heard and studied the Bible. He lived it well when anointed by the Spirit he lived out his life according to his calling, by confessing the truth and calling out sin and evil. And the purpose of the Transfiguration, why He revealed Himself as God in the flesh to his disciples, Peter, James, and John, why He brought Moses and Elijah to Him to speak of His death on the cross, was to show us why human life is valuable.
It was after six days that He led them onto the Mount. Six days – these words did not fall from the Holy Spirit unawares. Six days previous Peter had confessed Jesus as the Christ and then turned around immediately and rebuked Jesus for saying that He would go to Jerusalem, suffer many things, die and rise again. And Jesus rebuked Peter right back. He called him Satan and told him he was thinking wicked things. He insisted that as the Christ He must suffer, die, and rise again. Because Peter and his life were worthless without this. Our worth is determined by our God. And this is how He gives us worth. He becomes one of us. But not only that. He becomes one of us to make us and our lives worth something. Sin is worthless, it makes us worthless, worthy of nothing except to be cast into the hell we have deserved. And God cannot look past it. Every sin against his created order, the murder of innocent babies, the culture of death and self-seeking pleasure and sexual immorality, the sin in our own lives, God cannot look past it. It must be punished.
But He takes it all on Himself. He takes the punishment. The Man who shines as God on the Mount, the One whose glory strikes fear into the hearts of his disciples, He takes it on Himself, He humbles himself, and in a great exchange He gives us His worth, the worth of the only Son of the Father, who lived life well, perfectly in our place, and offers His agony and suffering and death, the death of God Himself for the sin that deserved His anger, He offers it up to make us worthy to stand before God as His children.
That’s what God thinks of human life. He invests His body and blood in our life. He gives us this body and blood to restore our worth, to make us precious in His sight, to unite us to Him and His glory and His honor. And in so doing He gives us a life worth living, a life lived well under the forgiveness of our sins, a life as His children, who value life not because of some scientific definition of hearts pumping or some psychological definition of self-consciousness, but because of the life He has given for us, and the life He now gives us to live, to value His creation, to value marriage, to value fatherhood and motherhood, to value children as gifts of God. Do not prevent the little children, Jesus says. We do well to listen to Him as His Father directs us. Our children need to hear His word, and for that to happen they need to be born to fathers and mothers who love His Word. So love it. It’s your salvation, it tells you of marvelous things, it gives us and our children a life well lived here and in eternity with our God. God grant us His mercy and wisdom to love the little children, and to know and love the life He gives us together in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
In his second Epistle St. Peter tells us that he witnessed the Transfiguration of Jesus. He was, as he himself says, an eyewitness of Jesus’ majesty. He saw with his own eyes the divine and eternal light shining like the sun from the face of Jesus as his clothes became as white as light. He witnessed Moses and Elijah appear from heaven and converse with Jesus. He heard the voice of God the Father speak from heaven, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” He was a witness to all this majesty and wonder. And so it seems absurd that St. Peter would go on to say that we, that’s you and me, have something more sure. We, who didn’t see the Transfiguration, who were not eyewitnesses of Jesus’ majesty, we have something more sure than Peter’s experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. That’s what St. Peter says. Listen again to his words, “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” How can this be? How can it be that the prophetic Word, the words of the Bible, the words we have right here and right now, that we read and hear preached in this Church, are more sure than Peter’s witnessing Jesus face-to-face in all His heavenly majesty?
Peter isn’t poohpoohing his witnessing of the Transfiguration. In fact, it is extremely important that we Christians understand that St. Peter and the rest of the apostles were eye-witnesses of Jesus. Peter, James, and John saw him transfigured with their own eyes. All the apostles, along with more than 500 others, saw him risen from the dead. What we have in their writings is not cleverly devised myth, but eye-witness testimony that is undeniably history.
Here is where the Bible is so far different from any other so-called holy book. The Book of Mormon, for example, isn’t a record of eyewitness testimony at all. It doesn’t even claim to be. Instead, it’s allegedly Joseph Smith’s translation of golden tablets that were brought down from heaven by the angel Moroni and written in reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics, a language that doesn’t exist and of which history has absolutely no record of ever existing. More than this, Joseph Smith didn’t witness anything that takes place in the Book of Mormon. The events of the Book of Mormon are supposed to have taken place some 2000 years before Joseph Smith was born. He didn’t claim to witness these events, he only claimed to translate the golden tablets using special, heavenly spectacles that allowed him to read a non-existent language. Nor can any event recorded in the Book of Mormon be confirmed in the least degree by the witness of history. The holy book of Islam, the Koran, is likewise no eye-witness account. Not only does it get many historical facts undeniably wrong, it again doesn’t even claim to be an eye-witness account. Instead, Muhammed claims that the Angel Gabriel dictated the book to him, telling him of sayings and events that Muhammed himself never witnessed. [There’s good reason why the Apostle Paul tells us not to believe any other Gospel but that which was preached to us by the eye-witness of the apostles, not even if an angel should preach it to us.] Neither the Book of Mormon nor the Koran, nor for that matter, the Bhagavad Gita of the Hindus or any other holy book, can claim eye-witness accounts of history. But Peter could. Peter did. The Bible does. The Bible is a book of writings written over a period of 1500 years by men writing in real languages who actually saw and witnessed what they record for us.
The apostle Peter, together with James and John, actually saw Jesus transfigured. Peter was an eyewitness of Jesus’ majesty. And this is important. It means we are reading history when we read the biblical accounts, we’re reading of events that actually happened and were actually witnessed by the people writing about them. But the Bible isn’t simply a recording of eye-witness accounts. Historians can get things wrong, of course. They can focus on the wrong thing. Eye-witnesses can see an event take place right in front of them and completely miss the significance of the event. In fact, this is exactly what happened to Peter when he first witnessed the transfiguration.
He saw it. He witnessed divine light coming from Jesus’ face. He saw Moses and Elijah by Jesus’ side talking with Him. But he didn’t know what it meant. Sure, he understood something of what he saw. He saw the man Jesus, with whom he had spent the last two years of his life, whom he had seen walk and talk, eat and drink, laugh and cry, speak and sleep. He saw this Jesus, who was clearly a man, a human being with a human body and soul, a man who shared all our human characteristics, he saw this Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, clearly manifested as God. He saw the divine light of God’s unborrowed majesty shining from Jesus’ face. For a brief time, Jesus allowed Peter, James, and John to see Him as He really was, not hidden under humility, not despised and suffering and lowly, but in full demonstration of his divine majesty. And Peter also hears the voice of God the Father confirm what his eyes are witnessing, “This is my beloved Son,” the Father says. Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.
In theological terms, Peter saw that Jesus had two natures, divine and human. He was fully man and fully God united inseparably in one Person. This is what we and our children learn to confess in the explanation to the Second Article of the Creed, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord.” We confess this by faith. Peter saw it. He was an eye-witness of it. He knew it with scientific certainty. He could, on the Mount of Transfiguration, see with his own two eyes that Jesus was both man and God.
And yet even though he could see all this, he still missed the significance of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Look at Peter’s bumbling response to what he saw on that mountain, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Of course it was good for Peter and James and John to be there with Jesus. It was good for them to see with their own eyes that Jesus was God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. It was good that they become eyewitnesses of his glory. But it was not good to remain there. No, what was good was for Jesus again to hide his glory, again to humble himself, to go to Jerusalem and be betrayed, mocked, beaten, and crucified. That is what was good. To know Jesus as the Son of God is not to know him, unless you also know Him in the suffering and death of His cross, unless you know why the Son of God has become a man.
No human eye, not even the eye of St. Peter, could look at Jesus’ shame and pain and humility as he suffered on the cross, and say, “This is good.” No, it’s bad. Suffering is bad. We know that from personal experience. Peter saw Jesus’ glory and said, “It is good.” And when he saw Jesus’ suffering, he denied him three times and abandoned him to die alone.
Peter needed something more sure to tell him what his eyes couldn’t. And that’s exactly what God gives him. The Father cuts off Peter in mid speech. God tells Peter to stop looking, to stop talking, and to listen. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”
Listen to Him. While Peter looked on at the glorious scene, Moses and Elijah were busy talking with Jesus. St. Luke tells us what they were talking about. They were talking about Jesus’ death, his departure, his crucifixion outside Jerusalem. Think of that. Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament. Elijah was the greatest prophet of the Old Testament. Here is the prophetic Word, the Bible, personified, and what are they talking about: Jesus’ death on the cross for sinners.
Why has God become a man? What is the significance of Jesus showing Peter and James and John His eternal majesty and Godhead, as Moses and Elijah looked on?
This is what the prophetic Word tells us. This is what Jesus tells us. All of the Bible, all Scripture, all Christian preaching focuses in on Christ crucified for sinners. What looks to the human eye and to human reason like shame and death, is God’s glory and the life of the world. Jesus shows what it means that He is His Father’s beloved Son. He goes down from the mount of transfiguration where his glory shone bright as the sun, and he heads to Mount Calvary. There the glory of God is hidden. There on Calvary, the beloved Son cries out to His Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me.” There, God himself bleeds and dies.
But there is our glory. Not on the Mount of Transfiguration, but on Mount Calvary. There our sins are washed away. There God is reconciled to us. There God’s promise to win us life and salvation is fulfilled. There our suffering is answered by God’s suffering for us.
And this is why the prophetic Word, the Word of Christ’s cross, is most sure and certain. Not only is it sure and true eye-witness history, it is the power of God to save us. And so it is good to be here in Church. Here we don’t see the glory that Peter saw on the Mount of Transfiguration. But we have something more sure. We have God’s glory to save us sinners, to strengthen us, by the Word of His cross. We have his body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. We have God’s glory given to us, as the innocence and holiness of Christ is declared to be ours, as His Spirit is made our Spirit, and as His Father is made our Father. And so we cling to this Gospel as a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts.
Pastor Christian Preus
As a child I took piano lessons from a very nice Roman Catholic woman. My entire goal in taking piano was to learn to play hymns from the hymnal. And when I finally got to the point where my piano teacher thought I was good enough to play hymns, the first I chose was the one we just sang. As I proudly played it for her, probably better then than I can now, she looked at the words of the first verse and asked, “Why would you want to sing this? It’s so dark and gloomy.” The words that particularly troubled her were, “Good works cannot avert our doom, they help and save us never.” Now the tune of Salvation unto Us has Come is a happy, triumphant tune. It was originally an Easter melody actually. So dark and gloomy words just don’t belong. And in fact, the words of Salvation unto Us Has Come are as joyful as the tune is. That good works cannot avert our doom of death and hell is a happy pronouncement, because it’s the necessary conclusion of these beautiful words – “Salvation unto us has come by God’s free grace and favor.” And then again, “Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, who did for all the world atone. He is our one Redeemer.” What our own works, our own goodness could not accomplish, our God gives to us freely, free to us, but hard-earned by our Lord and God Jesus Christ, who suffered our doom in our place by his bitter suffering and death. This is what gives joy and peace to the Christian heart. And it’s worth singing about.
But my piano teacher’s reaction is a very common one. When Martin Luther first began to preach the Bible’s clear teaching that we sinners are justified before our God by faith alone in Christ, without regard to our works, the reaction of many religious people was one of horror. What will people do when they are told they don’t need to do anything to earn favor with God? They’ll run wild. They’ll give themselves up to wicked lives of self-indulgence. They’ll be lazy and gluttonous and refuse to submit to the laws of the state. Anarchy, that’s what you’ll get.
And, in fact, some of that did happen and happens still. There will always be those who take God’s promise of free forgiveness in Christ for granted, live by the motto of cheap-grace, act as if they can purposely live in sin because God will forgive them anyway. In the early church, some would wait to get baptized until their deathbeds, because then they could get forgiveness for a life full of sin just before they died. And it’s the devil’s constant temptation of us Christians, when some sin entices our flesh, to think in exactly this way – just do it, give in, and ask for forgiveness later.
And so we’re told that the preaching of grace is dangerous. Look at all the immorality in the world. Look at the broken marriages, the sexual license, the drugs, the rebellious youth, the abused and neglected children. What the world needs isn’t a message of free forgiveness but one of the Law. If people could be convinced that their eternal life depended on them acting like decent human beings, maybe then they’d act like it, and we’d have a moral society for once.
It’s the constant temptation of the Christian preacher also to think the preaching of God’s grace isn’t enough, because it doesn’t seem to be taking effect, because the lives of the people hearing the message of Christ-crucified just aren’t getting better. People still skip church for no good reason. If people thought that they’d go to heaven by having perfect attendance, then maybe they’d actually come. People don’t give enough, and instead spend their money on things they don’t need. But if heaven depended on a tithe of ten percent, then maybe they’d actually give more than a few dollars. People still fall into sexual sin, they still fight with their husband or wife, they still fail to teach their children God’s Word at home, they’re still lazy and selfish. So the answer seems to be to preach more and more Law and tell Christians what they must do if they want to get to heaven.
But Jesus will have none of this. The law, of course, must be preached. And that’s not only to tell you that you’re a sinner, to show you by the law’s demands that you have failed to love as you should and have not deserved eternal life from your God but only His wrath and punishment, that you’re hopeless without Jesus’ blood and merit, but it’s also to give you a guide for your life. You are children of your Father. That’s your life. He has shown you His undying love by His Son’s death for you. He has proved to you that He is a Father who can be trusted, who gives you His Spirit, who hears your prayers, who has secured for you a future and an identity in Christ your Lord, whose self-sacrifice has not only saved you from all evil but also given you a model to live your life. And so when your Lord tells you to be generous with your money, He speaks as the One who has been generous with His blood. When He tells you to go to Church and hear the Word of God regularly, He speaks as the one who lived His life devoted to His Father’s Word. When He tells you to be faithful and loving to your spouse, He speaks as the One who has been faithful to death for His Bride, the Church. When He tells you to care for the children, He is speaking of the children for whom He laid down His life. Any command, any good work, your God gives to you, He gives to His child whom He already loves and who doesn’t need to do a thing to earn His favor. We call this the third function of the law – it tells us Christians what we get to do because we are already holy and righteous through faith in Christ, even though sin still clings to us.
So the law still has a place in our lives. But the law is never there to show you how to get to heaven. Never. It’s not there to show you how you can find favor with your God. Never. It was a false, misleading dream that God his law had given, that sinners could themselves redeem and by their works gain heaven. The law is but a mirror bright to bring the inbred sin to light, which lurks within our nature.
In fact, we’ll never understand sin if we think that it consists only in the outward immorality we see around us. Our Lord makes crystal clear in our Gospel lesson where sin begins, where it festers and boils over in discontent and jealousy. And that is precisely in the self-righteous heart, when we think that we deserve something from God because of our works. Nothing could be more insulting to the God of grace. Nothing could deny who He is or who we are more pointedly or directly. God is the Father who welcomes home the prodigal son. He is the Savior who welcomes prostitutes and sinners to eat at his table. He is the Shepherd who lays down His life for the straying and stupid sheep. He is the One who in the midst of His suffering told a criminal who hadn’t done a good thing in his life, who had lied and murdered and stolen, and was being put to death for his wicked life, He tells him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” He is the Comforter sent from our Lord’s cross to forgive the sins of the penitent. And He will not have self-righteous do-gooders tell Him that they have deserved their denarius from His hand. He will not have His glory taken by another, and His glory is to save sinners by His good works, by His incarnation, life, suffering, death, and resurrection, and by His Spirit, who makes us Christians and delivers to us in the Gospel what we could not earn for ourselves. Here and here alone is our salvation. In Christ our Lord.
I listened yesterday to the brave young woman who first brought charges against that gymnastics doctor preying on little girls. She made, in court, a beautiful Christian confession. She confronted the man who had done unspeakable things to her, and told him that he could not make up for what he had done by his future good works, that nothing he could possibly do would prepare him for that day when God comes with his fury and wrath to throw people like him into hell, and then she pleaded with him to realize the true horror of his actions, to know the guilt that no striving of the human soul could expunge, and then to see the God who came in self-sacrifice to suffer Himself the sins that He did not commit, that forgiveness comes even for the worst of sinners from Him and Him alone. There’s the Christian confession. To look at the nastiest and cruelest of human sinfulness and then to confess the depth of God’s love, that He who is offended far more than we at this sin, would suffer its punishment Himself.
And no one, no one, knowing this God, can imagine that we can do a thing to win His favor. To Him and to Him alone belongs the glory of saving sinners.
Our Lord likens the Kingdom of heaven to the master of a house who hires men to work in his vineyard. The first agree to a denarius for the day’s work, a denarius being the normal wage for a day’s work in Jesus’ time. Later, the master finds more men standing around, and tells them he’ll pay them what is right. Finally he goes out when all the work’s basically done, and still sees people lazily standing outside doing nothing. And he invites them to work in his vineyard too. At the end of the day he gives them all the same pay. That’s what he deems right.
Now it couldn’t possibly be right if we determined pay or reward according to works. The ones who worked all day should get more. That’s basic fairness if we’re talking about works. If I work for twelve hours and bear the heat of the day and the burden of the work, I should get more than the one working one hour in the cool of the evening. But God does not determine what He will give us based on our works. That’s the point. The one who insists on being paid for his works is cast out of the vineyard, which is to say, he’s cast out of God’s Church and from the hope of eternal life. He’s rejected God’s grace and so He’s rejected God and heaven.
What God considers right is that He should freely offer salvation to all. And this is right in God’s eyes because He has won free salvation for all. He paid for it with His blood. And so He gives it freely. That’s what grace is. The free, undeserved love of our God. He died for all, He bore the world’s guilt, and He calls all into His vineyard, into His Church. And of course, we’re called to work. That’s what St. Paul is talking about in our Epistle when he says, “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.” We’re called into Christ’s Church to come to hear His Word, and that takes getting up in the morning, takes putting down our laziness to read the Bible, to pray, to teach our children if God has so blessed us. It takes confessing the faith even when it’s uncomfortable to do it. It takes self-sacrifice and sometimes quite a bit of pain, as we see those we love suffering in sin and unbelief or with cancer and deadly disease, and we have to pray, Thy will be done, when we’d really like our own will done. We’re called to love one another even when those we are supposed to love aren’t too lovable. There’s a lot of work to be done as Christians in Christ’s Church. But at the end of the day, at the end of our lives, at the Judgment of our Lord Jesus, we will plead no work of ours, we will not demand a denarius, we won’t demand our life’s work, we will instead be content as we are now to receive from our Lord’s hand what He thinks is right. And that is the salvation He Himself has won for us, what He gives us today freely in His body and blood broken and shed for us, what He promised us at our Baptism, that we have died with Christ and will rise with Him to everlasting life. Because He has chosen us, He has called us, He has forgiven us through His Word, He has won it all and gives it all to us. Since Christ hath full atonement made And brought to us salvation, Each Christian therefore may be glad And build on this foundation. Thy grace alone, dear Lord, I plead, Thy death is now my life indeed, For Thou hast paid my ransom.
Let us pray: Let me not doubt, but trust in Thee, Thy Word cannot be broken; Thy call rings out, "Come unto Me!" No falsehood hast Thou spoken. Baptized into Thy precious name, My faith cannot be put to shame, And I shall never perish. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
Septuagesima, February 12, 2017
Hard work pays off. That’s a principle we try hard to instill in our youth and, hopefully, in ourselves. If you work hard, your work will be rewarded. If you’re lazy and complacent, you won’t get far in life. That’s what’s fair and just and right. And this isn’t simply the wisdom of the world. No, this is what the Bible teaches. It’s a Christian virtue to work hard at whatever vocation God has called you to do. “If a man does not work, neither shall he eat.” So says St. Paul. “The worker is worthy of his wages.” So says Jesus. God even applies this law to brute beasts, saying, “Do not muzzle the ox as he treads out the grain.” Even the ox deserves the reward of eating some grain for his work. That’s what’s fair. And the Bible here is echoing what God has set down in nature, what everyone knows, or should know, simply by virtue of living and thinking in this world. It’s simply the way things go, or at least the way we expect things to go. Hard work pays off. That’s what’s fair.
So how unbelievably foolish and reckless the actions of this vineyard owner in our parable for this morning seem. He pays out a denarius, that’s a full day’s wage, to people who laid around all day lazy and not working, and then worked for a measly hour. You can’t run a business that way. Any business would fail, the owner would go broke, if he paid people for not working. But that’s what this owner of the vineyard does. He rewards those who do nothing, absolutely nothing, to earn the reward. According to the wisdom of this world, according to the old adage that hard work pays off, his actions are simply unfair.
Jesus here offers us a picture of the Kingdom of God, which is the Christian Church here on earth. And God’s work in this Kingdom simply doesn’t make sense according to the rules of this world. Here God gives freely, with no regard to our work. It’s called grace. God’s grace rewards people not according to what is fair but according to what God Himself wants, according to his mercy. And the reward is lavish – eternal life, joys without number, the right to be called children of God. All given freely and without any price on our part.
But this grace of God is the cause of endless offense to the natural human mind. We are programmed to think in terms of fairness, of work and pay, labor and reward. And so we naturally think that since this is the way it works in the world, this is the way it should work with God. This is why every religion ever created by man, whether we’re talking about ancient paganism, Hinduism or Buddhism, Islam or Mormonism, or modern-day Judaism, they all teach that God rewards people based on their works. It’s a simple analogy. If my work for men is rewarded here on earth by men, then my work for God should also be rewarded in heaven by God. All religions, outside of the Christian religion, come from the mind of man, and this is the only religion our minds can think up. That’s why all other religions besides Christianity are at root the same religion, a religion of works, of expecting God to reward us with heaven for what we do on earth.
Notice what the religions of the world don’t take into account. They don’t take into account that each and every one of us is equal before God. Instead, they deny this equality by measuring each person according to how much work he or she has done. “Hard work pays off” means that those who don’t work as hard aren’t equal with those who do work hard. Those who work 12 hours aren’t equal to those who work 1 hour. That’s just what’s fair.
That’s how it works in the world, but not in the Kingdom of God. Here there is an equality of all people. And this is the equality that all false religions ignore. It’s the equality of being born in sin and under the judgment of God, of being turned in on ourselves and lacking fear, love, and trust in God. It’s the equality of not being able to do a thing to earn anything from God. In this, we are all the same and equal, every man, woman, and child born (or unborn) on this earth.
And this is what Jesus teaches us in our parable for this morning. Here Jesus compares the religions of the world with the true religion, the Christian religion, the religion of grace.
The workers who are called first represent those who follow the religion of this world. They make a contract with the owner of the vineyard. They will work a full day and they will receive payment for their work. This is exactly what the religions of this world practice. People make a contract with God. They work hard and they imagine God will reward them for their work. They deny that they are equal with others, because they’ve worked harder and deserve more from God. They ignore the fact that, like everyone else, they can’t earn a thing from Him, that by nature all their works, no matter how good they look, are nothing in God’s sight, because they are stained by the selfish intentions of their hearts. And so they go on working, thinking they’ll be rewarded for their work.
They demand the just reward for their work. They demand what is fair. And God gives it to them. He is a just and righteous God. He can’t accept the works of sinners as if they gained life, because the wages of sin is death. And so to those who demand from God fairness, who demand that they be rewarded according to their works, God says: “Take what belongs to you and go.” You have your reward. And it isn’t with Me. It’s not in the Kingdom of Heaven. You want what is fair. There it is. To be cast out from the vineyard, from the Kingdom of God. That’s justice. That’s what’s fair. That’s what your hard work earns you.
Dear Christian friends, never demand what is fair from God – demand it from this world, but not from God. The other workers in the vineyard, the ones called at the third and sixth and ninth and eleventh hours, these represent Christian believers. They don’t ask for what is fair. And the owner of the vineyard never tells them He will give them what is fair. The owner of the vineyard doesn’t say, “Work hard and I’ll give you a denarius.” No, he says, “Go work and I’ll give you what is right.” Notice, he doesn’t say that he’ll give them what is fair. He tells them he will give them what is right. And who decides what is right? The owner of the vineyard does! Not the workers. And so these workers are distinguished by their implicit trust that the owner of the vineyard will give them what He thinks is right. And this is the Christian religion. We are called to work in the Kingdom of God, and that means trusting in God’s promise to give us what He deems is right according to His good and gracious will in Christ Jesus our Lord. We don’t make a contract with God and say, “I’ll work this hard and then you’ll owe me this much.” No! Of course, we do our work here on earth, as fathers and mothers and children and workers and neighbors, we do our work as members of Christ’s Church, but we trust God to reward us not on the basis of our works but solely on the basis of what He deems right, solely on the basis of His underserved kindness, His grace and love toward us in Christ Jesus our Savior.
And look, just look, at the difference between the work of the Christian and the work of the one who thinks he is earning his reward with God. Those who want to earn their reward with God by their works are described as bearing the heat of the day, and then again, as jealous of others who get just as much as they do. They’re miserable. And that’s the life of trying to make yourself right with God by your works, of demanding what is fair from God. It’s misery and self-conceit. You’ll either think you’ve done enough to earn God’s favor and so increase your guilt before God by your arrogance, or you’ll be in constant fear that you haven’t done enough to win God’s favor. What misery! [Martin Luther described this misery as he himself had experienced it when he tried as a monk to earn his way into God’s favor. Listen to the third verse of his beautiful hymn, “Dear Christians One and All Rejoice.”
My own good works all came to naught,
No grace or merit gaining
Free will against God’s judgment fought,
Dead to all good remaining.
My fears increased till sheer despair
Left only death to be my share.
The pangs of hell I suffered.]
Now look, on the other hand, at how the works of the Christian are described. They are easy and light. Jesus focuses in on those who worked only an hour. They worked in the cool of the evening. They didn’t bear the scorching heat and the burden of the day. Their work wasn’t tedious. It was joyful.
These are the works of the Christian – whatever they may be, whether supporting the preaching of the Gospel with your time and money, or getting out of bed on a Sunday morning and coming to Church, or changing your child’s diaper, or working hard to support your family – these works are made easy and light. Because you, the Christian, aren’t doing them to earn something from some taskmaster God. You’re doing them because you know and trust the gracious God, a God who doesn’t give you what is fair, doesn’t give you what you deserve, but gives you what He deems right, even if all the world says it’s all wrong – He gives you His grace, gives you what He Himself has earned for you by His life and death in your place.
You see not only that you are equal with all other sinners and can’t work your way to heaven. No, you see a greater equality, the equality of God’s grace. It is offered to all. And that means it is offered to you. The Son of God took on the flesh of all humanity, and that means He took on your flesh. He bore the sin of all to the cross, and that means He bore your sin to the cross. He suffered the wrath of God against all sin of all people, and that means He suffered for you. St. Paul puts it this way, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all, because all sinned…so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (Rom. 5:12, 18). Do you see the equality on both ends? All sinned and all are under condemnation. All are equal. But in the one righteous act of Christ, in his suffering and death for the world, there is justification, the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and innocence, and life for all people.
Thank God that he doesn’t give us what is fair. Instead He shows us what was right and good in His eyes, and that is to have mercy on us. When you feel that your work and your life as a Christian is laborious and hard, when you feel that you are bearing the burden of the day and the scorching heat, remember who your God is. He is the One who bore the burden of all your sin. He is the one who endured the scorching fire of punishment from His own hand, to deliver you from death and win you everlasting life. He has called you in your Baptism to live under the shade of His grace. God’s people called out for water in the desert, and He gave it to them through the Rock – and this Rock, our Lord Jesus Christ, whose pleasure and glory it is to give life to those who can’t earn it for themselves, this Rock, our Redeemer, continues to pour forth water in our wilderness, continues to give us life and quench our thirst for righteousness in the body and blood given and shed for us. He continues to make the last first, to raise the fallen, and exalt the humble. He continues to call all who are weary and heavy laden to find their rest in Him, to live under Him in His gracious Kingdom, and to serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
I’ve often heard a person who’s come from a big city, big band, youthful church, after he walks into some small country Lutheran church, where the old pastor reads the lessons in a monotone and preaches a sermon with no rhetorical flourish, and where the old people of the dying congregation sing old hymns and the old liturgy, I’ve often heard a person say, “I just didn’t feel the Spirit at work in that congregation.” Maybe you’ve heard something similar. The Spirit is equated with excitement. Now, I’ve been to many a dying country church. And by dying, I mean the average age of the congregation is something like 74 and in 20 years, if no younger families join the church, the church will have to shut down. And I’ve heard the dry sermons and the monotone voice. And I’ve sung along with people three times my age as their old vocal cords struggle to reach the E of the Gloria in Excelsis in the old TLH. And at those churches, I’ve come out with the exact opposite conclusion. They were living churches. The Holy Spirit was there.
I didn’t see Him in the excited faces, though if you’d look hard enough, you’d see the inexpressible joy in the eyes of the 80 year-old man who hears again those precious words, “Take eat, the body of Christ given for you” and as he takes the body of His Lord into his mouth. I didn’t see the Spirit in the impressive music – in fact, sometimes there’s been no organist, much less a band. I didn’t see Him in the brilliance and flashiness of the preacher. No, I knew the Spirit was there because I heard God’s Word. I heard the Law that crushed me, that told me I had acted for myself and not for my God or my neighbor, and for that I deserved God’s punishment and not His favor. And I heard the Gospel that gave me once again the hope with which I daily comfort myself, that my God has borne my sins and fulfilled the Law in my place, that He has suffered hell on the cross to redeem me from hell, and died so that I will never die, and rose again so that I will live forever with Him without sin and without any of its miseries. The Spirit doesn’t work through exciting trappings. He works in the Word of Christ.
Martin Luther once said that there is no wordless Spirit and no Spiritless Word. What that means is that the Spirit doesn’t convert people to the Christian faith through outward excitement and ecstatic experience, but through God’s Word. There is no wordless Spirit. If you want to see the Holy Spirit at work you’ll find Him at work in His Word. And this Word always has the Spirit. Wherever the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, the Spirit of God is working, genuinely offering and giving what the Word of God promises. My Word does not return to me void, says the Lord, but accomplishes that for which I sent it out.
Now we should adorn the Word of God with beautiful accompaniment. And we do. We have currently three amazing organists who do an unbelievable job every Sunday for no other reason than that they love to hear and sing God’s Word and love the people of this congregation. We have a congregation that sings loudly, sometimes in parts, and it’s a joy to hear it. We have beautiful poetry in our hymns and in our liturgy, and that’s a beautiful crucifix there on the wall. But all of it is here in this church only in service to the Word of our God.
When I’m in a nursing home, tired and with no prepared sermon, with no fancy robe, no altar, no paraments, but only a pocket-sized Bible and a few crumbs of bread and a flask of wine, in a place where no one – not even the residents – really wants to be (they’d much rather be in their old home or in this church), so long as the message of Christ crucified is preached, so long as the words, “This is my body, this is my blood shed for you” are spoken and the bread and wine are the body and blood of our Lord, there is paradise, there is the Spirit’s home, there angels crowd to see the outpouring of God’s love that never ceases to amaze the heavenly hosts. There God defeats the devil, and the world, and the sinful flesh, and brings life and faith and everlasting joy. It’s the Word of God that does it all.
Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed drives this point home. The power of God for salvation is in that seed. It’s not the soil that makes the seed good. It’s the seed that makes the soil bring forth an abundance of fruit.
What keeps people from believing and from holding on to the faith once they do believe is not a lack of outer excitement. It’s not a lack of praise bands, not a lack of youth activities, not a lack of anything that our contemporary American Christian scene thinks will grow the church. Jesus says plainly what keeps people from believing. The devil, the world’s temptations, and our sinful desire for the pleasures of this world.
Now, before we talk about what attacks the Christian faith, we should see that Jesus is talking only about people to whom the Word of God is actually taught. He’s not talking about people who’ve never heard the Word of God. Those who don’t hear the Word of God at all obviously can’t believe it. Because they’ve never heard it. So when churches attempt to disneyfy the Word of God, to cut off its rough edges and present a bloodless Jesus and a law that condemns no one, for fear of offending, then people can’t become or remain Christians. Because they’re not hearing the Word of God. The Word of God is the message of Christ-crucified for sinners, real sinners with real sins, who have to suffer in a real world full of real temptations, with a real devil lurking about seeking whom he may devour, and real pleasures that really do vie for competition with the pleasure of knowing God as our Father and Christ as our Brother. And the only way to battle in this life against these very real dangers to our eternal salvation is to have the real, genuine Word of God preached to us, which presents the reality of Christ, the Son of God who really did take on our flesh, really did live in our world and suffer our temptations, really did overcome them all, and really did die on a cross and rise again to wash away our sins and reconcile us to our Father in heaven. This Word of a real God who has died for real sinners is the power to save, to make believers out of unbelievers, and saints out of sinners.
Jesus speaks of those who do hear this Word of God. And those of us who do hear it experience threats to believing and to keeping hold of the faith. They are real threats. Falling from the faith is the saddest story ever told by Jesus. But He does tell it. And it does happen. Jesus’s parable of the sower and the seed is not simply about four different sets of people. It’s not as if the devil only attacks a fourth of people who hear the word of God, or that temptations only touch a fourth, or that the pleasures of this life only affect a fourth, or that there is a certain set of holy people with good and honest hearts who never suffer the temptations of the devil and the world and their sinful flesh. That’s simply not the way it works. No one is born a perfect recipient of God’s Word, well fit for receiving what He has to say. Everyone who hears the Word deals with the devil, with temptations, and with a sinful flesh that puts the pleasures of this world above the pleasures of knowing and loving and trusting in Christ our Savior.
Jesus wants us to be good soil, to receive His Word deep down in a good and honest heart. The prophet Isaiah, who was inspired to speak by Jesus himself, says this about how we become good soil:
For the palace is forsaken,
the populous city deserted;
the hill and the watchtower
will become dens forever,
a joy of wild donkeys,
a pasture of flocks;
15 until [UNTIL!] the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.
16 Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
17 And the effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust[a] forever.
It’s the Spirit that makes the wilderness, full of briars and thorns and rocks and devils, into a fruitful field. And the Spirit works through the Word. So if we are to be good soil, we will listen and take to heart the Word of our God, not only here in church but in our homes and in our daily lives.
Only then does the seed take deep root, so that the devil, no matter how he snatches at it, can’t get to it, because his every attempt is met by the Word of our Lord, who said in the wilderness, “It is written,” and the devil fled. Only then do the testings that tests us, the cancer diagnosis, the family troubles, the fear of death, the loss of a job, the pain and sickness that won’t go away, the loneliness, the death of the ones we love, all meet their answer in the declaration of our God to us that His strength is made perfect in weakness, that His grace is sufficient for us, that no testing and no trial and no pain can erase the fact that we have a God who has suffered testing and trial and pain for us, who really and truly sympathizes with us, knows what we are going through, and allows trials in our lives only to draw us closer to Himself, so that we find comfort and joy in Him alone and run to the goal of perfect peace with Him. Only when the Word of God tills our hearts, uproots the rocks, and unroots the weeds, can we look at all the pleasures of this life, whether they are good pleasures, like skiing on the mountain, as our youth group did yesterday, or enjoying good food and drink and good Christian company, or holding your spouse in your arms, or watching your kids grow up, or making a decent living, or whether they are bad pleasures, like drunkenness or gluttony or sexual perversion, only when we have God’s Word and hold it in good and honest hearts, can we say, No, there is nothing, nothing, this world has to offer, that could possibly rival me seeing my Savior’s face, to behold his glory, to look on Him who shed His blood for me, to take His body and blood into my mouth and hear His word of forgiveness, and so I would rather lose everything than lose Him, I would rather be a doorman in the tent of my God than a King in this world. All worldly pomp be gone, to heaven I now press on. For all the world I would not stay. My walk is heavenward all the way.
We do battle against the devil. Let him who stands take heed lest he fall. You stand by God’s Word. You need it every day of your life. You remain good soil, you abound in fruit, you deal with all the trials in life and all its pleasures, by hearing this Word, by subjecting every single thing in your life to the holy will of your God, who instructs you through His Law and gives you the power to fight and stand by His Gospel where the Spirit speaks, who proceeds from the cross of our Lord’s suffering, where all your sin and weakness were swallowed up by the strength of the Almighty’s love for you, who has shed his blood to give you His righteousness. Where this Word of God is there is the Spirit, there is our great Defender, Jesus Christ, there is life and salvation. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Let us pray: On my heart imprint thine image, blessed Jesus King of grace, that life’s riches cares and pleasures have no power thee to efface. This the superscription be, Jesus crucified for me, is my life my hope’s foundation and my glory and salvation. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
He who has ears to hear let him hear. This is, of course, what we were created to do and why we have ears in the first place. God created us in His image to have converse with Him, to listen with our ears to His Word and so learn to love and trust in Him above all things. Before their fall into sin, this is exactly what Adam and Eve did. They used their ears to listen to God. And among the first words God spoke to Adam was His command to work the ground. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” The soil was perfect. There were no roads trampled by feet. There were no rocks that had to be dug out. There were no thorns and briars to choke the plants as they sprung up. Every seed that was planted fell on good soil and produced good fruit.
And so it is very fitting that our Lord Jesus compares the preaching and hearing of God’s Word to a sower sowing seed. Just as God created the soil to receive seed and produce fruit, so He created our ears to happily take in His Word, so that we could abound in love and faith toward Him. That’s how His goodness created things to be.
But when Satan attacked, when he twisted and perverted God’s Word and said to Eve, “Did God really say?” When he led our first parents to use their ears to hear lies about God, to despise God’s command and distrust His promises, then the curse of sin descended not only on Adam and Eve, but on the very soil of the ground. Cast out of paradise, Adam had to work the ground, he had to remove rocks and tear out thorns and weeds. No soil was good without him working to make it good.
And so it is with us, with our ears, and God’s Word. Ears that were created to hear refuse to hear. No human ear naturally hears God’s Word with gladness and willingly. God makes this clear through the Apostle Paul, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. Nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” But just as the farmer still sows his seed, regardless of the cursed soil that works to resist it, so God still speaks His Word to ears that hear and yet don’t understand and refuse to believe. God continues to do what He has done from the beginning of time – because God doesn’t change – He continues to preach His Word to ears He created to hear it.
This is what Jesus teaches us in our Gospel lesson for this morning. Our Lord speaks of sowing His word on four different types of soil. The first is hard and won’t take the seed at all. This Jesus explains as those who hear God’s Word but then the devil snatches it away so that they will not believe.
The devil is real. Our modern world has turned him into a caricature, a cartoon, with a red costume and a pitchfork, and tells us that no enlightened mind can believe in such a being, any more than we can believe in trolls and goblins and other evil characters of fantastical children stories. And, of course, you shouldn’t believe in such a character, because he doesn’t exist. The devil’s not a goblin. He’s not a fairytale character or a Halloween villain. He’s a powerful spirit, a fallen angel. And he’s a liar. And by his lying he is the origin and source of all our sin and pain and ignorance of God. His lying against God’s Word, the same lie he spoke to Eve in the garden, is the most dangerous thing in all the world. False doctrine is what we call it. False teaching about God and who He is, lies about who we are and our relationship to God. That’s the devil’s project. And it leads people who have heard God’s Word to reject God altogether and to spurn the salvation God freely offers in the Word of Christ’s cross and resurrection.
If you fear and hate the devil, fear and hate false doctrine. It’s demonic. We can just as little smile or wink at false teaching as we can flirt with the devil. When people leave the Church because they don’t like confessing they’re poor, miserable sinners, when people stay in the Church but can’t stand all this talk about the blood of Jesus shed for sinners, when they listen instead to the ego-stroking of religious con-artists who tell them nothing about sin or Christ’s cross but instead sell them some feel-good message of human potential and living your best life now – this is the devil tearing them away from God and His heaven. When children are fed the academically respectable myth that they evolved from slime and are nothing but highly intelligent animals, this is the devil robbing them of knowing their Maker and gracious Father. And a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Every attack on God’s Word, whether it’s denying the headship of a husband in his home or demoting the blessing of children to a financial liability or belittling the gracious working of God in Baptism and in His Holy Supper, no matter how slight and harmless the false teaching may seem – it is the devil’s ploy and aim to lead people away from God and life with Him. Because this is what the devil cannot stand. He hates God and he hates us. He cannot stand God’s children listening to their God and loving His Word. He can’t stand our happiness and our forgiveness in Christ. And he uses every lie imaginable to lead us away from this Word.
But in addition to this, in addition to God’s Word being snatched out of people’s hearts by the false teaching of the devil, God’s Word also lands on rocky soil. The rocky soil represents those who hear the Word and at first receive it with joy. They hear the good news that God forgives all their wrongs for Christ’s sake and that He offers eternal life with Him in the perfection of heaven. What a joy to hear! Who wouldn’t want to hear and believe this beautiful message! But then the testing comes. Life doesn’t go the way people want it to go. The joy of present forgiveness and future salvation runs up against the cross and suffering that come with being a Christian. And a shallow faith, a faith that looks forward to the joy of heaven but refuses to remain and stay fixed on the cross and the sufferings of our Savior, this faith can’t endure the trials of this life. It wants the good life now! And so it leaves faith in the Word of Christ’s cross and chases after someone or something that will promise it the worldly comfort it wants in the here and now.
Satan attacks the Word with lies, the cross becomes too much for people to bear, and then the Word falls also among thorns that choke faith to death. Jesus describes these thorns as the cares, riches, and pleasures of life. Now, you should certainly care about your life and provide for it by working hard in whatever vocation God has called you to. You can certainly get rich and use your riches well, to benefit the Church and your community. And God certainly blesses us with pleasures of all kinds, of food and drink and sleep and marital bliss. But these all can become thorns that choke out faith in God’s Word. And this happens, it happens far too often. It happens when we value God’s blessings above God and care more for the pleasures of this world than the joy and instruction of God’s Word. But God won’t take a back seat in our heart. If the Word of God isn’t first in your life, it’s last. You can’t file away God’s Word in the recess of your mind, thinking you can access it at some later date, while meanwhile placing all your affections on the things of this world. That’s self-deception. All the pleasures of life, all our cares and riches, these are passing away before our eyes. We brought nothing into this world and it is certain that we will bring nothing out. Everything our hearts put their trust in in this life will fail and falter, die and fade away. But the Word of our God remains forever, and the joys it promises and delivers are everlasting.
Jesus parable of the sower and the seed hits home for all of us. It strikes a nerve. Because we’ve all seen it happen. We’ve seen people, our own loved ones, reject God’s Word because they’ve believed the lies of the devil that are promoted as academically or socially or politically or religiously acceptable in our day. We’ve seen people abandon the faith because it all got so hard and some other church or group offered crossless promises of happiness here on earth. We’ve seen people choose drugs or sex or drink or family or fame or fortune over God’s Word. And it hurts to see this. It’s one of the crosses a Christian has to bear – to see the Word of God rejected and despised and people fall away from the God who loves them. And so we pray God to open the door of faith to all. And since we know that God desires all to be saved, we support the preaching of the Gospel, the preaching of God’s Word, which alone can fight off Satan’s lies and create faith in the hearts of man.
But Jesus’ parable cuts deep also for another reason. Those who trust God’s Word are called the good soil. So says Jesus. Listen again to His words, “These are those who, hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” But is this us? That’s the question we have to ask. Is the devil not attacking us with his lies? Are we not tempted day after day to doubt God’s Word and believe in the spiritual integrity of our own goodness? Do we not want to flee from trials and pain in this life and then boast in our strengths instead of glorying in our weakness? Do we not catch ourselves putting the pleasures of this life above hearing God’s Word? How can we be described as good soil?
Well that’s the point. God has no good soil to work with. We’re certainly not good soil in ourselves. God didn’t see something special in us. He didn’t find good soil. He didn’t first find faith and then plant His Word. No, He made the good soil, He created the faith. And He makes good soil through the preaching of His Word. The answer to the devil’s lies and the trials and temptations of this world is God’s powerful working in His Word. The fact is that Satan does attack you, that you do have rocks and thorns that rise up to tempt you. To be good soil, to have faith in God’s Word, is not to be free from temptation and sin. To be good soil, to have faith, means not that you are good in yourself, but that God’s Word has made you trust in the goodness of your gardener. He fights off the birds, he rips out the rocks, and uproots the weeds. And that all hurts – by the way. If the soil could feel and talk it would cry out to its gardener, why are you plowing into me? Why are you tearing and ripping things from me? It hurts. But the soil is no good unless it goes through this pain. And so it is with us. God puts down our self-satisfied esteem of ourselves, He sends us crosses to bear and allows us to suffer, He destroys our idols and teaches us that everything we put our trust in besides Him will flourish only to fall. And all this hurts. But we know, because God tells us in His Word, we know that He does all this to allow His Word to sink deep within our souls, to thrive and flourish and rise up to eternal life. He made Paul weak so that Paul could find his strength in Him. And so He does for us.
It is God who makes the soil good. And He does so through His Word. This is our hope and the hope of the entire world, even those who have fallen away. So pray that God continues to grant this great miracle to you, the miracle of His Word. And He will. He’ll give you ears to hear and a heart to believe His Word, to treasure it above all else. What lie of the devil is so sweet that it can compare with the truth of God’s Word, that God Himself has taken the burden of your sin upon Himself and bled and died to win you forgiveness and everlasting righteousness? What pleasure of this world can compare with the knowledge that you, a sinner, are reconciled with the holy God and have eternal joys stored up for you in heaven? What suffering in this world can compare with the glory that is to be revealed in you when your Lord Jesus comes to restore His creation and bring you to be with Him forever? Here you find your greatest treasure. To know God and His boundless mercy in Christ. To know that your God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, has held an eternal conversation about you and your salvation and your future bliss with Him. To see that every trial you pass through in your life as a Christian is not God pushing you away or punishing you but drawing you closer to Him and chastening you as His own dear child. This is the power of God’s Word. It does not come back to Him empty. It is the power of salvation to all who believe. It conquers the devil, the world, and our flesh. It makes good soil out of rocky and thorn-infested ground. God grant that day after day, week after week, through every turn of our lives here on this earth, He plant His Word deeper and deeper in our hearts, so that it produces the fruit of faith in Christ our dear Lord and Savior, into whose death we have been baptized and whose resurrection to eternal life we shall certainly share.
Let us pray: On my heart imprint Thine image, blessed Jesus King of grace, that life’s riches, cares, and pleasures, have no power Thee to efface. This the superscription be: Jesus Crucified for me, is my life, my hope’s foundation, and my glory and Salvation. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
Jesus says he will be handed over to the Gentiles, to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. We have here what is called a passive construction, it doesn’t give us the agent, doesn’t say who is doing the action, it only says, he will be handed over, and so we have to ask the question, who’s doing the handing over? Is it the devil who hands Jesus over to be mocked and spit on and killed? Is it Judas, His betrayer? Is it the high priest and the leaders of Israel? I suppose we could answer yes to all these questions. But we’d be missing the point. Judas, the high priest, Pontius Pilate, all of them, even the devil himself, were instruments in the mighty hand of God. He’s the agent. He’s the one who hands Jesus over. It’s God who inspired the Scriptures that must be fulfilled, it’s God who will raise his Christ from the dead, it’s God who is in control of it all. So the Father hands his Son over. God hands God over. He uses the sin and the actions of others, but He does it, He subjects Himself to the beating and spitting and mocking and death. He’s in control.
This was no fortuitous incident, no unplanned and unexpected miscarriage of human justice. Jesus knows exactly what’s going to happen, he wants it to happen, and he’s going to make sure that it happens. He’s betrayed, mocked, spit on, beaten, crucified, because he wants this. And this is a beautiful thing. He who was in control of His own life and death is in control of your life too, and you know, since He suffered it all for you, that there is no greater comfort than that your Lord Jesus is in control now even in your suffering, just as He was then.
The word used in our Gospel lesson for this assertion of God’s control is telesthhsetai, All the things written about the son of man will be fulfilled. It’s the same word Jesus uses on the cross, when he says it is finished. Tetelesthai. Everything written about Jesus, and that means everything, everything, not just a few prophetic passages, but everything in the Old Testament, the entire history of God’s people, it is brought to completion, finished, fulfilled in this suffering, death, and resurrection. And the control He asserts doesn’t just cover the past. It remains forever. The Law that accused the Son of God, the wrath of God that He suffered, has been swallowed up in His suffering, so that now, for you in this time and place, February 11, 2018, for you who hear and trust the Word of your Lord, it is finished, the guilt and punishment for your sin, your every reason to worry about life, about death, about the state of this world, it’s finished, because you have a God who has asserted His control over your life and this world in which you live.
But it doesn’t look like it. And so we worry and fret. We Christians in America have once again entered a time where we find ourselves not in control of things in our culture, in our country, even in our state and in our city, even in our own families. We call the God who controls all things Father, and yet we see with our eyes no such thing. We don’t see our Father’s children in control of this world. But this is not a call to resignation, to leave this world to its sin and say, “Well, God’s in control, so it’ll work out somehow.” No, we, who really are God’s children by faith in Christ Jesus, have been called to love, and this love rejoices in the truth, the truth that our world, our country, our city, our families need to hear. We begin with ourselves and our families, through our confession of the faith at home, through teaching our children and disciplining them so they know not to follow in line with a culture that has redefined what love is and what truth is, and has replaced the love that rejoices in the truth with the lust of self-seeking pleasure. Love calls us to support the public ministry of this church and school (the school kids, by the way, are singing at Trinity across town as we speak, and they’re singing some beautiful hymns that confess the truth, but we’ll have them to sing here for us in April). Love calls us to confess the truth in this world, and we can do this also by supporting institutions like True Care here in Casper that upholds God’s assertion that human life is precious and educates our community in the truth that God creates life in his image and died to honor it. We can, and I know many of you have already, encourage the leaders in our community to protect Christians from unloving policies and laws that support immorality and violate the Christian conscience.
But if we lose, if we suffer by seeing that all our efforts of love seem to fail, if abortion remains, if we Christians are persecuted by unjust laws, if sexual sin continues to be flaunted and celebrated, if we see our families torn apart by sin and unbelief, if we seem to have lost control of it all, we need to remember and take comfort in this: our God is in control. Through it all, he’s in control. And we need to see how he took control in the first place, how he used sin and betrayal and persecution to fulfill and bring to completion all history, by shedding his blood to save this world from its sin. If we suffer for confessing the truth, we are being conformed to the image of our Lord. Love is patient, love suffers all things, love rejoices not in wrongdoing but in the truth. That’s how Christ took control in the first place. And He still has control, even as His Church suffers.
The disciples didn’t understand it. They were blind to what their Lord said. They couldn’t see that God was in control in suffering. We can only assume they thought what most people thought, and what people still think today, that if God is going to be in control, he’s got to show it to my eyes, so I see it. If God’s in control of the world, why is there so much suffering? If God is in control of America, why do the liberal, loveless agendas that war against the Christian faith and true love continually win out? If God is in control of His Church, why are there so many divisions and false teachers, why do so many fall away? If God is in control of my life and my family, why do I, the object of his love, suffer?
But Jesus answers all this. Not the way this world wants him to answer, not even the way his own disciples expect him to answer. His suffering doesn’t seem like control, but that’s exactly what it is. We don’t believe in a theology of glory. We don’t expect to see grand results of earthly riches and success in our lives because we commit ourselves to God. We don’t demand of God that He save American culture or end our pain and our struggles according to our will. We pray thy will be done. We commend all things, everything in our lives, to the God who’s will we know is good and gracious, because we know His great love in His suffering and His death. That’s where we see God’s control.
We sing Lord, have mercy 7 times every Sunday. I used to think that when we say, Lord, have mercy, we’re simply asking Jesus for forgiveness. We are, but that’s not all. When the blind man cried out to Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, he was most certainly calling on the God who forgives sin, who would suffer to wash away his sins. That’s the great irony. He was blind, but he saw what Jesus’ own disciples failed to see. But this blind man’s specific request is that Jesus give him his sight. He asks for an earthly blessing when he says, “Lord, have mercy.” But how, how on earth, does he know to ask this from Jesus? He knows because he knows Jesus, that Jesus is the Son of David, the one prophesied to bear the world’s guilt. He knows that the God who has committed himself to dying for him, to securing for him an everlasting inheritance by the forgiveness of his sins, that this God is in control of everything, and He will, according to His good and gracious will, give all good things. So the blind man asks with boldness and confidence. He refuses to listen to those who tell him to shut up, not to bother the Lord of the universe with such trivial things. He continues to shout again, Son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus has mercy. He says, your faith has saved you. And it had. His faith grasped hold of the God who would shed his precious blood for him, and he received not only forgiveness but his daily bread.
And so we pray, Lord have mercy. Because we know who our Lord is. He who suffered for our transgressions, who has taken care of our greatest need, who took control of history, our history, by loving us to the death, will surely have mercy in the little things. Lord, have mercy on our country. Have mercy on those lost in error’s ways. Have mercy on our families, have mercy on our congregation and school, have mercy on our city. Give us what we need to fight the good fight of faith on this earth, to love you and others as we have been loved by you, to rejoice in the truth, to be patient in suffering, to endure all things that You put into our path. This cry is a cry of optimism and realism at the same time. How can we go about moping because the world is so evil, that we can’t change a thing, when we have as our Father and our Brother and our Life the God who has proved His undying commitment to us? Yes, the world is evil. Yes, we have sufferings and temptations and trials. But this does not call for resignation or a cry of defeat. It calls for the cry that our Lord hears and answers, Lord, have mercy. This is a cry of confidence. It’s a cry of love for our God and for our neighbor. It’s a happy and joyous prayer. What doubt did that blind man have? No matter what fear racked him as he approached the God of heaven and earth and knew he was an unworthy sinner, he could have no doubt. This is Jesus. This is our Lord and the Lord of the universe. This is the God who suffers and dies for us. He will have mercy. The reality is our God is in control, He answers our prayers according to a will that is full of love for us and for all, and you can commend your life in confidence to Him who suffered for you. Lord, have mercy.
Let us pray:
Most heartily, I trust in Thee, thy mercy fails me never. Dear Lord, abide; My Helper tried, Thou Crucified, from evil keep me ever. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
There’s a lot of sight language, a lot of talk about “seeing” in our Gospel lesson for this morning. Jesus, of course, gives sight to a blind man – a miracle that the prophet Isaiah explicitly predicted of the Christ, as we learned in our Old Testament lesson – never until Jesus had anyone given sight to a blind man. And so Jesus reveals that He is the promised Christ by this miracle. But before Jesus gives sight to this blind man, he explains to his disciples what it means to be the Christ. And fittingly, he begins his speech with the word, “See.” “See, we are going up to Jerusalem.” But here Jesus isn’t using the normal word for “see,” he’s using the word usually translated, “Behold.” We don’t use that word much anymore – behold – and I suppose that’s why our translators gave us the word “see” instead. But when Jesus says behold, He means much more than simply “see.” He means, “Look! Pay attention! What I’m about to tell you is more important than anything else that’s occupying your mind. Stop letting your mind wander. Forget what you’re going to do later in the day. Forget about your petty concerns, your ambitions, your anxieties, and listen up. Because all human history, and that means your history, your life, finds its fulfilment here.” There is nothing more important, more pressing, more relevant to your life than that Jesus Christ, Son of Man and Son of God, is delivered over to the Gentiles, mocked, treated shamefully and spit upon, flogged, tortured, and killed, to rise again on the third day.
But it doesn’t seem so. The disciples didn’t understand it. It’s not that they didn’t understand the vocables, the bare words and syllables, of Jesus’ speech. It’s not like Jesus was mumbling or whispering. They understood perfectly that Jesus had just told them he was going to be betrayed, beaten, and killed. They just didn’t want to think about it or consider Jesus’ suffering and dying on a cross. It was distasteful. Nevermind that this is the great and constant topic of Scripture. Nevermind that from the promise of God in the garden that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of Satan all the way to John the Baptist’s cry, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” all the prophets spoke of Jesus’ suffering and death. Nevermind that David explicitly prophesied, “they pierced my hands and my feet.” Nevermind that Isaiah decreed with unmistakable clarity, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.” It’s not that the message wasn’t clear. It’s not that they hadn’t heard it. It’s that they didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to dwell on it. Not only is it a hideous thing to talk about – it seems hopelessly irrelevant and out of touch with their daily lives.
And so it is today. God’s Word is clear. It consistently presents us Christ crucified for our sins. But do we want to hear it, to dwell on it? Do we understand how relevant it is to our daily lives? Do we look forward to Sunday morning, so that we can hear this message? Do we dwell on it in the morning and when we go to bed at night? Do we make it our goal and our joy to teach it to our children and confess it to the world? Or do we hear it now and again and then relegate it to the periphery as we go on with what we think is relevant and important in our lives, as if Christ-crucified for our sins has nothing to do with our family relations, with our social life, with our daily work and play?
This is the way of the world. And it is a blindness as real and as devastating as that of blind Bartimaeus in our Gospel lesson for this morning. And this blindness to the foundational relevance of Christ’s death and resurrection in our lives has also infiltrated the Church. What do people look for in a church? What do you look for in a church? Most people want a social society, a support group, because we’ve convinced ourselves that our problems are all social and psychological. What does the suffering and death of Christ have to do with my marriage problems, with my problems at work, with my family relations and my hopes and dreams? And so Church becomes the place for socialization and entertainment, because people can’t understand how the cross of Jesus has anything to do with their daily lives. And the same goes for their attitude toward Jesus. What do people want from Jesus? They want a friend, a spiritual buddy. But a Savior? A Savior who is tortured and disgraced and killed to pay the penalty for sins? No. This all seems so unreal and out of touch with the hopes and ambitions of our lives.
And yet this is exactly what people need, exactly what we need. You can’t have a friend in Jesus unless you have Him as your Savior who suffers and dies for your sin. When Jesus calls his disciples friends – the only time he does it – he joins it to his death, “Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Your greatest problem, your greatest need and concern in life is not social or psychological, it’s theological – it has to do with God and your relationship with Him. And this is what the suffering and death of Jesus broadcasts so loudly. Here your life and all your problems comes into focus. Here you see how serious and singular your problem is and how serious and singular is God’s love. You’re a sinner. And God takes your sin seriously. As the Psalmist says, “God is angry with sinners every day.” Every day. And so what need every day, what you need from Church, from God, from Jesus, every day of your life, is mercy. And God has mercy in no other way than in the cross of Jesus.
This is why the Church has echoed the cry of blind Bartimaeus for the last 2000 years in the words of the Kyrie: Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us. Again and again, every Sunday, we pray these words. The world tells us to stop, rebukes us, tells us to be more relevant and not so gloomy, but the Church locks her eyes on Christ’s cross and cries out all the more, “Lord, have mercy upon us.”
One of the reasons we keep the liturgy, the old order of service that Christians have been following for the last 1500 years or so, is because when people replace the liturgy with something else, with modern rock music and praise songs, the first victim is the Kyrie. They stop singing it. There’s lots of praises and alleluias. But the cry of Bartimaeus recedes into the background. But this cry, “Lord have mercy upon us,” embodies what it means to be a Christian. To address Jesus as Lord and Christ and ask Him for mercy, to look at the suffering and death of Jesus and see it for what it really is – God’s love and mercy for you a sinner, to see that you live every single day of your life by the forgiveness of sin found in Christ, and that everything you have in life, your house and home, family and friends, food and drink, everything, God gives you for the sake of Christ’s bitter suffering and death.
So don’t go to a church where they don’t say, “Lord have mercy.” It doesn’t matter if they have “Lutheran” on their sign. Don’t go. It doesn’t matter if they’ve got great youth activities or real nice people or exciting and entertaining music. The Christian Church cries out, “Lord, have mercy upon us,” because the Christian Church knows what it means to be a Church, and that’s not simply a society of likeminded religious individuals, but sinners gathered around their Savior to hear His words and receive His mercy. The Christian Church takes the words of Jesus to heart – Behold – look at what I have come to do, to be treated with contempt, to be hated, to be spat on, to die. Don’t turn your eyes away. Don’t close your ears. You need this. You need mercy from God and here on the cross is where it’s at. Only here. You need the Son of Man to wipe away your sin and your guilt and to bless your life by the shedding of his holy and precious blood.
And this isn’t to poohpooh human relationships and the troubles we have in our lives. No, quite the opposite. It’s to identify them for what they are. What is sin except a lack of love? And what does this lack of love do to our lives and to our relationships? It not only puts us at odds with God, in fear of Him or in careless apathy of His commands, but it makes us impatient with others, makes us arrogant and rude, irritable and resentful of those around us. When we cry out for mercy to God we aren’t crying out because of some unfelt, abstract, and irrelevant sinfulness. No, our lack of love, our sin, is concrete and personal. We see it in our daily lives. We see how our harsh words, our judgmental attitude, our anger and our impatience, our lackadaisical attitude toward the truth damage our relationships with others even as they make us guilty before our God. We can’t separate our everyday lives from our daily need for God’s mercy.
And as we see our lack of love we see how Jesus’ love is the most relevant and priceless thing in our lives, how our cry of mercy to our Lord is the greatest and most practical prayer we could possibly make. Show me the man or woman who does what love requires! “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” How happy our marriages would be if we had this love! How wonderful our relationships with our family and friends and neighbors! We wouldn’t bicker or gossip at home or here at church. We would forgive every wrong done to us and bear with the weaknesses of everyone, even the people we find annoying and overbearing. We would never doubt God or question His will. But where can we find this love? Where do you find it?
You find it in the mercy shown you in Jesus’ cross. There is love. As the Son of God goes patiently and willingly to the cross, not irritable or resentful at the burden that His Father lays on Him, but bearing all things, enduring all things, trusting that God’s will is good, even as He suffers the wrath of God against our sin. There is love, as the only One who has ever loved perfectly offers up His love for the loveless, his perfect obedience for the disobedient, offers this divine love up to His Father and declares it to be yours, wins you life and joy by His death and sorrow. There is love.
Jesus’ love is not simply an example for you to follow. It is your righteousness before God, the source of all His mercy, and the source of your love for Him and for all around you in your daily lives. When you receive mercy and free forgiveness from Jesus, God plants His love in your hearts. He daily renews you to love as He has loved, to forgive those who do you wrong, to bear with the weak, to hate evil and love what is good and beautiful and right according to God’s holy Word.
We are approaching Lent. It’s three days away. We’ll meet back here on Ash Wednesday. I’m looking forward to it. I love Lent. It’s the time when we sing the most explicitly Christian hymns, hymns that focus our eyes on the cross of Jesus. We’re going to be singing every Wednesday, “On my heart imprint Your image.” Now this is a hymn that you can sing and pray every single day, and not just during Lent. To focus your heart and mind on God’s mercy in Christ’s cross, to learn again every single day how it is your life, how it forms who you are and how you act and what you say. Let us pray:
On my heart imprint Your image, Blessed Jesus King of grace, that life’s riches, cares, and pleasures, never may your work erase. Let the clear inscription be: Jesus crucified for me, is my life, my hope’s foundation, and my glory and salvation. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
1 Samuel 17:40-51
It’s no secret that people in America don’t know their Bibles anymore. Even in the church, it’s an epidemic. The old scene of a father gathering his family around the dinner table to read through a chapter of the Old Testament has been replaced by moms and dads hustling to get their kids in the car for practice, or whatever else occupies our evenings and our Sunday mornings. If there is anything that will bring vibrancy and growth to the Christian Church in our day, it won’t be youth-focused programs instituted by congregations and implemented by youth ministers. It will be the refocus of families, of individuals, of fathers and mothers, on the importance of reading and teaching God’s word in the home. If this season of Lent is anything, it is a time to do exactly this, to recommit yourselves to reading and discussing God’s Word at home, so that what happens here at Church is not some strange ritual we find ourselves doing on Sundays, but the continuation of our everyday lives in this world.
Now, with all the biblical illiteracy in our day, there are some Bible stories that have survived in popular imagination. And the history of David and Goliath is one, probably the only one, that has remained as popular as ever in modern America. Even if all you do is watch sports or listen to NPR, you’ll hear mention of David and Goliath. The story is simply irreplaceable, timelessly applicable to all sorts of situations we find ourselves in daily life. A young boy, against all odds, defeats the great giant. That’s the story, at least in its popular telling. The sports world couldn’t get enough of the David and Goliath analogy when assessing the last Super Bowl. And if you watch the Olympics enough this winter, it’s a guarantee, you will hear reference to David and Goliath, as an underrated athlete beats out the expected champion.
But this dumbing down of the story of David and Goliath only proves the point of biblical illiteracy and shows us why we need to actually talk about these things and think about these things at home and in our daily lives. What’s the story all about? Is David an inspirational character who tells us that if we believe in ourselves and put the work in, we can accomplish great things? Is he the biblical version of the little engine who could? Is David an underdog who goes into his fight doubting, but pulls himself together, digs deep down inside, and finds the strength to overcome? Is he the weakling child who faces down the class bully on the playground?
No. In fact, the history of David and Goliath has nothing, nothing at all, to do with the popular perception of David as the one who faces his fears and goes up against impossible odds to triumph. David doesn’t face his fears.
Look at the history. David is utterly confident. He’s not struggling in the least. He has no doubts. He has no fears. His trust is in the Lord God of Israel, and he’s certain of the outcome before it starts. He knows it. God told him.
Here is no generic trust that God will let good triumph over evil. David has a specific trust in a specific promise from a specific God. And here he’s not a model for us, not yet. If anyone is our model, the picture of us, in the history of David and Goliath, it’s the people who refuse to go out and fight because they’re terrified of facing this giant who mocks them and their God. David is the model, the picture or type, not of us, but of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the chapter before he goes to meet Goliath, David is anointed king over Israel. The Greek word for anoint is chrisdo, which is why we refer to Jesus as the Christ. He is the anointed one, the Christ, anointed at His Baptism to do battle against the devil and save His people from the devil’s power over us. This anointing of Jesus, this declaration that He is the Christ, happens immediately before He is led out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, which we heard in our Gospel lesson this morning. And Jesus goes into His fight against the devil with utter confidence. He’s the Anointed one. He will defeat him, He knows it.
David faces Goliath as the anointed one. That’s the ground of his confidence. And he goes as the substitute, the stand-in, for the people of Israel. He’s the one who’s anointed. They’re the ones who are afraid. They’re the ones who stand there fourteen days in fear and doubt as the giant mocks them, insults their God, and laughs at their ability to do anything against him. They refuse to meet the giant Goliath, because they know he is too much for them. And he is. It’s not that they don’t have enough faith, that if they’d only trusted like David did, then they’d have been able to do what David did. No. They can’t do what David did. God didn’t anoint them. They feel weak because they are weak, and they’re afraid of failure, because they will fail, at least without David. He, and he alone, can win the fight against Goliath.
David’s the type, the picture, of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ and Christ alone can face down the devil. He became our substitute, our stand-in, our anointed one, our Christ, to fight a battle we are simply unable to win. You should, like the army of Israel, be afraid and insecure about your abilities against your enemy. He is stronger than you are. You know it by bitter experience. He throws his insults against you, he accuses you of sin and weakness and cowardice, and his accusations hit home.
The same tempter who led Eve and Adam into sin, has won the same battle against us time and time again. He has pointed our inner desires to the things of this world, to feeding our bellies, to our jobs and our income, to our own glory and reputation and riches and pride, and we have put our desires above the Word and command of our God. The devil has made his accusation against your conscience, if you are a son of God, a child of God, why have you doubted God’s Word, why have you fallen into the same sin you promised never to do again, why have you eaten of the fruit of lust and doubt and gossip and pride that God commanded you not to eat. What can you do against this accusation? It’s true, isn’t it? The devil’s power is the sin he knows is in you. And he not only makes that sin sweet to you, tempts you by it, but when you fail to be courageous in the trials God puts in your life, when you find yourself prideful and resentful, or when you’ve discovered that once again you’ve drunk too much, said too much, envied or coveted or been angry at the wounding of your self-esteem, the devil strikes again and makes you doubt the power and love of your God, makes you question whether the God whose name you call upon really cares for you and fights for you, will forgive you and own you as his child. And so you need a champion.
And your champion is not what the devil wants you to expect either, not even the champion the devil expected. Goliath wanted a mighty warrior to face him. David was a humble shepherd. He goes up against Goliath with a sling and a few stones. He doesn’t go with the power and might of armor and sword. He’s easily mocked. His own brothers are offended at his presence. And Goliath himself laughs at the idea that this humble creature could possibly defeat him. “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?”
Have you ever wondered why the devil tempted Jesus? It’s a curious thing, really. How does he think he can best the almighty God? Because that’s not the champion he sees. He doesn’t know, after thousands of years, he simply doesn’t know, despite the fact that God prophesied it countless times, pictured it in the history of Israel, in Goliath’s defeat, how he would conquer the devil, the devil still doesn’t understand. He sees a famished, weak, humble man. Is this the Seed who will crush the head of the serpent? Is this the prophesied Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, who will end the terror of death and defeat the forces of hell, who will usher in the rule of God over His people? But he’s so frail, he’s a worm and no hero, just the sort of pitiable man the devil has always triumphed over since the fall of Adam in paradise.
When the devil asks, “If you are the Son of God,” he means it. Because he sees a man who looks like you. The Son of God should come with might and power. This man comes in weakness. And the devil’s attempt to make this Man sin is the attempt he has used on every man, woman, and child who has ever walked this earth. And he’s used it with perfect success.
But our champion defeats the devil with his own weapon. David cuts off Goliath’s head with Goliath’s own sword. Jesus uses the devil’s weapon, his power, to conquer him.
The power of the devil is sin and death. And Jesus comes at the devil washed in the sin of the world, christened and anointed in His Baptism to be the Lamb of God who bears your sins, he comes as a mortal man – to be mortal means you will die – and Jesus faces the devil as the Mighty God who has humbled Himself to die, and He will die because He has become sin for us, He has willingly taken every sin the devil has ever accused you of, and made it His own, and yet He remains sinless, meets every temptation of the devil with perfect obedience, to win for us a perfect righteousness that makes every accusation of the devil against us a lie. He who knew no sin became sin for us. This is why He is weak and vulnerable in the wilderness, this is why He goes weak to the cross, to meet a death and a punishment that belonged to us, a death God takes on himself to give us His life.
Now the greatest part of the history of David and Goliath is its conclusion, the death of Goliath. It’s one of those supposed contradictions in the Bible that if you’re snarky enough and looking for a contradiction, you’ll find. How did Goliath die? David hits him with a stone, it sinks into his forehead, and he dies. But then David goes, takes Goliath’s sword and kills him. Each time, the biblical history says David killed him. Twice. He killed him. Now we know Goliath was only killed once. And you could translate the first part of Goliath’s killing as David giving him a death blow, which will inevitably result in the death of Goliath, which really ends up happening by Goliath’s own sword. But the Holy Spirit wrote what He wrote for a reason. There’s a double death of Goliath and yet just one death.
Our Lord slays the devil with his humility, with the humble weapons of a Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep, and He slays him also with the sin and the death, the devil’s own weapon against us, which our Lord takes on Himself. He kills him once with a double death.
And this victory over the devil and sin and death we receive now in our Baptism, in our Lord’s body and blood which we eat and drink for the forgiveness of our sins, in the preaching of the Gospel which delivers to us Christ’s victory in the here and now. So the devil’s power over us ended at the cross, there it met its death, and it ends now in our Baptism. The devil dies a double death, but it is only one death. Because our Baptism is our Lord’s slaying of our enemy on the cross now given to us. Against all the devil’s accusations, his lie that we sinners cannot be righteous, cannot be children of our Father, because we have sinned time and again and have fallen short of the glory of God, we answer with the decree of God Almighty when He made us one with our Lord Jesus, gave us the anointing of His Spirit by the washing of water and the Word in our Baptism. Christ has defeated the devil, and Christ is ours, His victory ours, His righteousness ours, His death to sin and His rising to eternal life, ours. And we are His.
We are Christians, and only here do we finally identify with David, the conqueror of Goliath. We defeat the devil with the Word of our Christ. Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us, we tremble not, we fear no ill, they shall not overpower 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. That’s the word of your Baptism, the Word made flesh, who has given us His Kingdom. The Kingdom ours remaineth, because we have the Word that silences the devil forever, and this Word belongs here, and in your home, and in your life, until you hear it and discuss it and sing it forever in heaven. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
Every command assumes a status or identity. The commands I give my kids assume certain things about them. If I give Mary a command, for instance, it should fit her character, her identity as a 1 year-old girl. So, “Mary, go shovel the driveway!” is a nonsense command. It simply doesn’t fit with her abilities and her station in life. First off, Mary’s a young lady, and she has perfectly capable brothers who should learn to be men and shovel the walk for the ladies that God puts in their lives. And then, most obviously, Mary can’t shovel the driveway – she can’t even lift a shovel. She’s one. Or say you walk into Governor Mead’s office and say, “Governor, go make me some coffee!” Now, while Governor Mead is perfectly capable of making you coffee, it’s simply inappropriate for you to command him to do it. He’s the governor, not a barista. The point is that when you command someone to do something, you’re assuming things about that person.
So too with Satan’s commands and temptations. They assume something. First, they assume something of Jesus. But they assume something of Jesus that shouldn’t be assumed. Satan says, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Satan’s command assumes that the Son of God is the kind of person who puts his own wants and desires first, who doesn’t trust that His Father in heaven will provide for His bodily needs. That’s like me telling Mary, “If you are my one year-old daughter, go shovel the driveway.” It’s nonsense, utter nonsense.
It is precisely because Jesus is the Son of God that he won’t, that he can’t put material things above God’s Word. It’s precisely because Jesus is the Son of God that he can’t turn those stones into loaves of bread. Jesus’ identity as the Son of God means that he doesn’t live by bread alone but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God. And Jesus’ identity as God’s Son means he never puts God to the test, that he never seeks his own advancement, but instead worships God alone and serves Him only. That’s Jesus’ identity. And everything he does accords with that identity. He is holy and righteous, the ever obedient, loving Son of His Father. And He can be and do nothing else.
You have an identity too. You aren’t the Son of God, of course, but you are a son of God, a child of God by faith in Christ Jesus. God put his own name on you, claimed you as His own, rescued you from sin and death, washed you and cleansed you in the waters of Baptism, all that you may be His own and live under Him as his dear child. You have been so united to Christ by faith, to His righteousness, that you are truly a Christian, a little Christ, a little Jesus, whom God identifies as perfect and holy in his sight.
And that’s why God gives you the kind of commands that fit a holy and righteous person. God gives you the kind of commands that fit your identity as a son of God, as a child of the Father, as a Christian. That’s what the 10 commandments are. They are God’s commands to His children, to live as His children. God tells us to live by His Word, and not by bread alone, to trust God’s Word and hold it more precious that any material good. He tells us to expect from Him everything we need in this life, to acknowledge Him and pray to Him as the provider of our food and drink, house and home, our job, our children, and all we have. He tells us never to test Him, but instead to live in the calling to which he has called us, whether as fathers or mothers or children or workers or wives or husbands. He tells us never to act as if we are in control or as if our will determines what should or shouldn’t be done, but to pray, “Thy will be done,” and consult His Word to see what His will is. He tells us to honor and serve Him as our only God and Savior. And He says all this to you because He has made you His holy, righteous child. And He want you to act like His holy and righteous child. This is your goal and joy as a Christian, to live life as a child of God, to live in the identity that God gives to us in Christ Jesus our Savior.
But this is the difference between you and Jesus. Jesus always lives up to His identity. He is the Son of God. When He became a man in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, He remained the eternal Son of God. And He always acted and always acts like the Son of His Father. Satan tempted Jesus immediately after Jesus was baptized. And at His Baptism the Father declared from heaven, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” But in the wilderness, after 40 days of fasting, in the weakness and humility Jesus assumed for us men and for our salvation, He doesn’t look like the Son of God. He looks like a mere man, a mere son of Adam, as if He, like Adam, could fall into temptation and fail to live up to His identity as a son of God. But Satan failed against Jesus. He failed because Jesus is not simply a son of God, not simply a son of Adam, but the eternal, holy, righteous God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of the Father from eternity. And Jesus always lives like it.
You, however, don’t always live up to your identity. You are a son of God, a child of God, through faith in Christ Jesus, because that’s what God made you in your Baptism. But you don’t always live like it. Satan’s commands and temptations that clearly make no sense when they are addressed to Jesus make a sick sort of sense when Satan puts them into your head. And the commands that your loving Father gives you, the commands of the 10 commandments that should be so easy and natural for you to follow, seem oppressive and impossible to your sinful flesh.
So this is what Satan does. First he succeeds with you where he failed with Jesus. He gets you to live on bread alone. He gets you to put an extra hour of sleep or a sporting event or a job or some other insignificant thing over God’s Word. He gets you to test God, to expect all the wrong things from Him, to look for his promises and gifts not in His Word but in your own flighty feelings. He gets you to care more about the approval and recognition of popular society than the approval and recognition of your God. He succeeds with you. He leads you into sin. And he doesn’t stop there.
No, then he lies to you. Then he tells you that you can’t possibly be a son of God. You can’t possibly be holy and righteous. You can’t possibly identify as a child of the Father in heaven. Because you’ve sinned. You’ve failed exactly those tests and temptations that Jesus passed. And if Jesus proved that He was the Son of God by passing the tests, what have you proved by your failure? Ducks quack. Dogs bark. Good trees bear good fruit. Children of God obey their Father. And children of the Devil obey theirs.
So Satan attacks. And his aim is always the same. To get you to doubt your identity. Instead of saying, “If you are the Son of God,” he says to you, “If you were a son of God, you would have put God’s Word above your own pleasures. But you didn’t, did you. No, you failed.” And Satan forces his terrible, inevitable conclusion on your conscience. You are no child of God, no Christian, no saint.
And here is where you must realize that you depend completely on God’s Word, that you need it not just sometimes, not just once a week or once a month in church, but in your everyday life. Because without this word of God all Satan’s accusations are true. Every single day, Satan can point to your works and show you are a sinner. And he’s right. But the act of the Christian every day, the act of faith, is to point in turn to Jesus and say, “There is my righteousness, there is my identity. I know I have failed to live up to it, and God help me not to fail again, but my Baptism hasn’t failed, the body and blood of my Savior haven’t failed, the victory of my Jesus is still the same. The seed of the woman has crushed the head of the serpent. And he’s done it for me.”
And this is where we must cry out with Jesus, “Away with you, Satan.” Do not let his lie stand. Satan is a liar and a murderer. And more than this, he is a failure. And that’s where his miserable identity rests, in his failure against Jesus.
But your identity does not rest in your failures. Who you are is not determined by your giving into temptation. Your sins do not define who you are. No. You have received your identity from God. Let God be true and Satan a liar. That’s what faith cries out. God has spoken His absolution on you. He has called you His child, He has forgiven you your sins, He has given you to eat and drink of the body and blood of your Savior. That’s your identity. So claim it.
Jesus is your identity. When Jesus won in the desert, when Jesus conquered Satan in the wilderness, He didn’t do it for Himself. Everything He did, He did for you. When He answered Satan’s lies with the truth, when He repulsed Satan’s temptations with a righteous devotion to God’s Word, He did it for you. And He did it for you not simply to give you an example, but to win the very righteousness that now clothes you. You won in the desert against Satan, because Christ won for you. Jesus’ victory is your victory.
As long as your identity is in Jesus, in His righteousness, which God has showered upon you in your Baptism and gives to you day after day in His Word of forgiveness and Sunday after Sunday in his body and blood, as long as your identity is in Jesus, Satan has nothing on you.
And since your identity is in Jesus, live like it. When Satan comes with his temptations answer him as Jesus answered him, with God’s Word. Live by God’s Word. Study it. Confess it. Pray it. Believe it. This is what is pleasing to your Father in heaven, that you cherish His words to you. His commands and His loving promises in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
Lent 2 Midweek, 2018
1 Peter 2:21-25
The news has been abuzz lately with arguments about guns and gun control and how best to defend ourselves and our children. No one wants another shooting like the one in Florida two weeks ago. But people have different opinions about how to stop these shootings. We live in the United States of America, and so our thoughts about guns and the right of self-defense center around the Second Amendment, our right to bear arms. And that’s especially the case here in Wyoming, the most heavily armed state in the country. So people argue constitutionally, about America, about what restrictions the second amendment allows, whether we need fewer guns or more guns, and so forth.
I’d like to take a minute tonight to talk instead theologically about this issue. Not about guns – that’s beyond my office as your pastor – but about self-defense. The American constitution gives us the right to bear arms, to defend ourselves against violent aggression. The question is: does God? Does our Lord Jesus? We live as Christians before we live as Americans. So is this a God-given right, what we call a law of nature, that everyone, when his life is threatened, has the right or duty to protect himself? May we, as Christians, here at Mount Hope, conceive of defending ourselves if some madman comes and tries to shoot up our church?
Well-known are Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” And we just heard the words of Christ’s apostle, St. Peter, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
The first thing we need to notice here is that Jesus and His apostle are talking about a private individual receiving insults and suffering. Jesus is forbidding us from seeking private retaliation for something wrong done to us. He’s certainly not saying that if your neighbor is suffering and is insulted you should not defend him or speak well of him. If a father or a mother see their children in need, or if a member of this church sees a fellow member in need, it’s their duty to defend them. So, in the case of a home invasion, or a church invasion, it is the Christian duty of a father to protect his family from harm, even if that means using physical or lethal force.
The fifth commandment exists not simply as a prohibition – don’t kill – but as the positive confirmation that human life is precious. That’s your life, and the life of those around you. Human life is precious because God made it in his image, and although we have stained and thoroughly corrupted our nature by our sin and have lost God’s image, God has declared to the world in Jesus Christ our Savior just how precious He makes human life, that God himself would become a human and then give His life to restore us to communion with God and create us again in his image.
So human life is to be protected. There is no hint in God’s word that we Christians should never resist threats to our life. Paul fled persecution constantly, he escaped the governor of Damascus by hiding in a basket and being let down across the city wall. God gave to his people Israel the right to defend against and even kill a home invader who came in to steal at night. And this is not just to protect other people, say your family. God gives you personally the right and duty to defend yourself, whether that’s by running away, as St. Paul did, or by physical resistance, as God commanded the Israelites. And he gives you the right and duty to do this because you are His creation and the object of His redemption and your life is therefore precious in His eyes. But more than this, no man is an island unto himself. Simon and Garfunkel sang some of the most pretentious song ever written, but one takes the cake – “I am a rock, I am an island,” but even they had to admit it was all nonsense. You are not an island. You are a son or a daughter, a church member, a father or mother, a husband or wife, a sister or brother, an employee or employer, a citizen, and as such your life affects other lives. The father who doesn’t protect himself against physical harm and death isn’t protecting his wife and the kids who need him.
So we need to be clear on this, when Christ our Lord tells us not to return evil for evil, when he tells us through His apostle that we should take his suffering as an example and not return reviling for reviling, He is not preaching complete pacifism. We should, of course, be willing to die for the faith – a faith not worth dying for isn’t one worth believing or confessing. And we know that death is not our end, that we have eternal life in Christ. But to protect human life, which includes your own life, is not to do evil, it’s not to return evil for evil or insult for insult, it’s to uphold the sanctity of life according to the 5th commandment. Normally God does this for us through the government, through police and jails and judges and juries. But in cases of self-defense and defense of others, when there is no government to protect immediately, we have the God-given right and duty to protect human life.
When Jesus says, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,” he is saying the same thing as His apostle Peter who tells us to take Christ as our example, not to return insult for insult. It’s not just a personal attack, not an attack on our bodies, but an attack on our personal pride that Jesus speaks of. To take a slap on the right cheek is to take an insult, not a threat to your life. Jesus even specifies the right cheek, because he’s talking about a backhand slap, a slap of the right hand against the right cheek. And that’s a slap of reviling, not a punch with the intent to end life. As Jesus made his way to the cross, he suffered insults, he was reviled. He suffered without resistance those who persecuted Him and mocked Him, though he did nothing wrong and no deceit was found in His mouth.
And this is what we Christians are to endure and suffer, as our Lord did. We are to suffer insults to our pride, and that is far more difficult than suffering attacks on your body. Because it is to commend your worth and your honor to the God who judges justly, who holds your cause in His hands, it’s to realize that you have no reason to boast in yourself, to defend your pride, because your worth is not in your self-esteem or your self-determined value, but in the God who made you worthy to be a chosen race and a royal priesthood by purchasing you with His own blood. There is your worth and your pride, in Jesus’ suffering to wash you from your sins, by whose wounds you are healed.
And here we come, finally, to our hymn for tonight. Upon the Cross Extended focuses our minds and hearts on the God who bore our sins in His body. Who is it, the hymn asks, who sore abused you, Lord Jesus? Who caused you all your woe? And we answer, “I caused your grief and sighing, by evils multiplying, as countless as the sands. I caused the woes unnumbered with which your soul is cumbered. Your sorrows raised by wicked hands.” Here is the opposite of pride. We look at our Savior’s passion, his suffering, and it is not the Jews or Pilate we blame. No, those are my sins that bring the punishment of hell on my God. As Isaac Watts puts it, “When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.” My defense of myself, of my worth, when I’m insulted, can only be found in my Lord suspended on the cross for me, in His love that suffered insult for my sin, in His humility that bore the price of my pride.
There’s a verse of Upon the Cross Extended that didn’t make it into our hymnal. And it brings us back beautifully to our Epistle for this evening.
When evil men revile me,
With wicked tongues defile me,
I'll curb my vengeful heart.
The unjust wrong I'll suffer,
Unto my neighbor offer
Forgiveness for each bitter smart.
This is a personal confession of St. Peter’s Epistle applied to you. If you’re insulted for being a Christian, if you’re reviled for living and doing and holding to what is right, the answer is not to return evil for evil, but to run back to your Savior’s suffering, to find there the healing for your wounds, to find here your glory and your honor and the worth of your life, of human life, to commend yourself to the God who judges justly, where you find forgiveness for yourself and for everyone in Christ’s love and death for you. And so we sing and confess:
Your cords of love, my Savior,
Bind me to You forever,
I am no longer mine.
To you I gladly tender
All that my life can render
And all I have to You resign.
Reminiscere, Second Sunday in Lent, 2017
The traditional name given to this second Sunday in Lent is Reminiscere. Almost everyone pronounces it wrong, so it’s OK if you do too – you can say Reminiscair or Reminiscairay, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we know what it means. Reminiscere is Latin for Remember. It’s the first word of our Introit this morning, “Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.” And this word, Remember, addressed to God, is about as significant a word as you can ever speak. God, of course, can’t forget. When we say “Remember” to God we aren’t reminding Him of something He’s lost sight of or forgotten. What we’re doing is holding God to His promises, because that’s what He wants us to do. We’re pointing to what God has told us and, in all reverence and holy fear, we are insisting that He do for us what He has promised to do.
Think for a moment what this means, that we say “Remember” to God. It means that He has actually spoken to us, that He has actually told us who He is and what He has done and what He will do for us. Otherwise, it makes no sense to say, “Remember” to God. The little child says, “Remember,” to his father, because His father made a promise. I promise to play monkey in the middle after supper. And the boys say, “Remember, Dad. Remember what you said. You said you would play monkey in the middle.” They hold Dad to his word. And the only reason they can do that is because Dad has actually spoken, he has actually promised. If Dad hadn’t promised, they wouldn’t say, “Remember.” And so this is the first thing we need to realize when calling on God. We say, “Remember” because God has made specific promises to us. And we, like children, hold God to the specific promises He has made.
He has promised in His Word, in the Holy Scriptures, that He is our Savior from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil. He has revealed Himself to us as our Father, who has sent His only Son to take on our flesh, to live a life of perfection in our place, to die and shed his precious blood to pay the penalty that our sins deserved and to crush the devil and death and hell under his holy feet. He has promised us His Spirit, who through His Word imparts to us the forgiveness of our sins won on the cross and our Lord’s victory over the powers of death and hell. And He wants us to remind Him of this His mercy and His steadfast love, which have been from of old.
The way of the world is to behave like a spoiled child. Dad makes a promise to play ball, but the kid wants to play his videogames by himself or look up naughty pictures on the internet with his friends, and so he doesn’t care a bit about his dad’s promise. He doesn’t want to play ball. He never says, “Remember” to his dad, because his dad’s promise means nothing to him. So goes the world. The world doesn’t want God’s promises, because it clings to very the sins that God promises to forgive.
St. Paul declares that God’s will for us is our sanctification, to keep from sexual immorality, to control our bodies in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. Gentiles here simply means unbelievers. These passions of lust are exactly today, as in Paul’s day, what the unbelieving world that does not know God chases after and desires rather than the holiness that God our Father promises in the forgiveness of sins and the imparting of His Spirit. And it is an act of love for us to condemn these sins. The world calls us mean and intolerant and unkind for pointing to sin and calling it what it is. But it is only in calling sin the evil and offense against God that it is, that people can know their need for forgiveness and run as children to their Father to claim God’s promises as their own. And we need to understand, as St. Paul tells us, that sexual sin is especially dangerous to people. As we’ve seen in the last decades since the sexual revolution, people define themselves and seek their identity according to their sexual desires. And if they’re finding their identity in sex outside marriage or homosexuality or in choosing their own gender, they’re finding their identity outside God and His Word. And that’s a miserable identity. So we Christians, when we see family or friends fall into these sins, it is our duty of love to call sin sin, trusting that God is merciful and abounding in steadfast love, always willing to forgive all who seek His mercy in Christ our Lord.
But Paul’s warning isn’t to the world, you notice. It’s to us who know God’s promises. It’s to us who claim God as our Father and Jesus as our Lord over sin and death. And it is in Paul telling us God’s will for our lives, our sanctification, our keeping from sexual lusts and the passions of the flesh, that we see our own need to call on God to remember His mercy.
We certainly can’t appeal to ourselves, to our deserving anything, because of who we are or what we’ve done. The same desires that rule the world are the lusts that we feel, that infest our minds and haunt our hearts, and that remind us day after day that we are sinners who deserve God’s punishment and not his steadfast love. The same Psalm 25 from which we learn to say “Remember” to our God, also teaches us to cry out, “Remember not the sins of my youth, O God, or my many transgressions!” You call on God to remember, not because you have some special claim on account of your holy life or your membership in a church or your freedom from lust and passion. It’s quite the opposite. If you look at yourself and what goes on in your life, if you remember how the world and its pleasures captivate your mind’s attention, you’ll see you have no right of yourself to call on God. You don’t say, “Remember what I’ve done. Remember how faithful I’ve been. Remember how pure I have kept myself, how I am free from lust and passion. Remember that I’ve loved you and sacrificed my own desires.” No, you say instead, “Remember not the sins of my youth. Remember not my lust and my greed and my doubt and my fear.” You point away from yourself. You point only to God’s mercy in Christ.
Look at the woman in our Gospel lesson for this morning. Who does she think she is to approach Jesus? To call on him for mercy? She’s a Gentile, a Canaanite. She’s not an Israelite. She doesn’t hold membership at a church or a synagogue. She lives among pagans who offer their children to Moloch and live in the lusts of their passions.
And Jesus reminds her of all this. Think of that! Jesus reminds her how unworthy she is to call on God. At first He refuses even to answer her. He simply ignores her. Then, when the disciples ask Jesus to send her away because she’s making so much noise, Jesus tells her that He hasn’t been sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. She’s not worthy of Jesus’ attention. And when she bows down to worship Jesus and again asks for help, Jesus calls her a dog, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus could not make it any clearer to her that she has no right of herself to ask anything of Him.
Now Jesus isn’t being mean. He’s showing her what it means to be a sinner crying out for mercy to God. And he’s showing the same thing to us. It means you claim nothing of yourself. It means you are willing to confess, “I a poor miserable sinner,” and mean it. It means you answer the Law of God that calls you unworthy, that insults you and calls you a dog because of your sins, with a hearty Amen.
The woman says Amen to everything Jesus says. Jesus calls her a dog, and she says Amen. But she still makes her claim on Jesus. Because her claim isn’t in herself, but in Jesus. She begs Him to remember His mercy. Because she knows who Jesus is and she knows His promises. She knows that He has come to conquer the devil and hell and sin for her. She has no confidence in her own worthiness, but she has every confidence that Jesus will stay true to His promise. She identifies Him for who He is. She calls Him Lord. She calls Him the Son of David, the promised Christ. She asks for mercy. And even when this same Lord and Son of David calls her a dog, she clings to His word. She’ll be the dog, she’ll take the crumbs, she’ll take the scraps of His mercy. She reminds Him that His promise is even for dogs. And she binds Him to His promise. Like Jacob wrestling with God at the River Jabbok, she insists on her Lord’s blessing. And Jesus gives it.
And so it is with us. We make no claim of ourselves. We instead remind God of His promises. Without them we are lost under the rule of our own desires and the tyranny of the devil, doomed to the hell that our sin earns and the devil urges on us. We run to the God who has made His promises to us and sealed them with his own blood, and we say, “Remember.” Remember that You came to save sinners. So here I am, a sinner, and I need the help You promised me. Do not leave me alone to face my sin and my fear of death. Remember that you have borne my sins for me. Remember that you have tasted my death on the cross of Your passion. Remember that you have promised me your Spirit to rule my heart and my mind by the forgiveness of my sins. Remember that you promised me peace in your resurrection from the dead and the sure hope of eternal life with you.
And God remembers. He remembers His promises. Our Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t just give us crumbs of bread, but His own life, His body and blood that were pierced and shed for our transgressions. He doesn’t treat us like dogs, but like children. He washes us clean and welcomes us to His table. He gives us His Spirit and makes His Father our Father, so that we as dear children pray daily to our Father who art in heaven. And He hears us and grants us everything we ask according to His most gracious will and Word. He cares for our daily lives with fatherly attention. He delivers us from every evil of body and soul, and finally, when our last hour comes, He will lead us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven. “Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.” Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
Oculi (Lent 3), 2018
The baptismal ceremonies of the ancient Church included the exorcism of the devil. Before baptizing the pastor would say, “Begone evil spirit and make way for the Holy Spirit.” That’s actually how my little Martha was baptized, and it wouldn’t be a bad thing to bring it back into our churches. It’s how the Lutheran Church did it in Reformation times too. Now we’ve kept the questions, “Do you renounce the devil? Do you renounce all his works and all his ways?” which is a sort of exorcism. But no matter what we add to the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” a Baptism is a Baptism and therefore a true exorcism. It takes a child of the devil and makes him into a child of God.
Now it’s not a physical, a bodily exorcism that we’re talking about here. The devil’s not omnipresent, he can’t be in more than one place at one time, and so he can’t be bodily possessing millions of people at the same time. And it’s a useless endeavor to speculate on how many demons there are, how many thousands or millions of angels fell with Satan in the beginning and were cast from the presence of God, as if every person when he’s born has a devil locally present inside of him. No. When we say that everyone born into this world is under the power of the devil, we can’t picture the Hollywood caricature of a girl twisting her head around and chanting creepy Latin phrases, and we aren’t saying that Satan or a devil possesses everyone’s body or locally fills some place in the soul. We are saying that Satan has the power to accuse everyone born into this world of sin because by nature we know nothing of the true God, don’t love Him or fear Him or trust in Him, but instead readily believe lies about ourselves and about God, happily embrace our sin and join the devil in being separated from God and from communion with him. That’s how we’re born.
And it’s this relationship that God reverses in Baptism. This is the exorcism. God laid claim on you in your Baptism. He ended the devil’s right to accuse you of sin, because you were given the sinlessness of your Lord Jesus. And at the same time, your Father gave you His Spirit, so that you know who your God is, love Him, trust in Him, fear Him, you have a new will and a new mind to fight against your sin, to hate it, to want to know the truth and live by it, to desire to remain in union with the holy God and live with Him forever. This is what it means that the devil’s power is ended, that he is exorcised, that he has no claim on you.
There is no neutrality here. This is why Jesus responds as He does to those who accuse him of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, of the devil. That’s impossible. The devil can’t cast out the devil. I suppose the devil could order one of his demons to leave a person who’s been physically possessed, but the devil can’t change the spiritual state of that man. There is no neutral state between God and the devil. You can’t say, I don’t want anything to do with the devil, I want nothing to do with evil, but I also don’t need Jesus. That’s just not how it works. He who is not with Me is against Me, Jesus says. This is the basic dichotomy, the essential either/or of human existence, either you are with Jesus or you are under the power of the devil. There’s nothing in between. Because to be in the power of the devil is exactly this – not to know and love Jesus, not to hear his Word and keep it. Jesus calls the devil a liar and a murderer. And the devil’s lie is precisely that you don’t need Jesus to take away your sins and teach you who your God is and what it means to lead a good life as God’s creation on this earth. The point of Jesus’ casting out the demon from this mute and deaf man is not simply that the demon physically left him, I suppose the devil could accomplish that, but that this man now knows Jesus, loves him, and trusts in Him, has ears to hear Him and a voice to confess Him. And this, obviously, only God can accomplish.
Now it’s very fitting that this man, who’s just been saved from the devil and knows God and loves Him, it’s very fitting that he doesn’t get to enjoy it for a moment without controversy. Immediately, the devil attacks. Immediately, he has to face doubt, as the people around him question Jesus and demand that He prove with a sign from heaven that He really is the God who saves.
Because this is the life of the Christian. This is your life. Jesus explains how it goes, first by telling how He makes people Christians in the first place. “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are secure. 22 But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils.” That’s your Baptism. The stronger Man is Jesus who casts the strong man, the devil, out, along with all his accusations against you and his lies about who you are and who God is.
But then Jesus gives a warning, and again, it’s a warning directed to us Christians who have been transferred from the devil’s kingdom to God’s. “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. 26 Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.”
That poor man just got the devil cast out of him, and here Jesus tells him this. Everything’s swept and put in order, you belong to Me, you trust in Me, Jesus says, but there’s seven other devils going after you now, and if you fall to them, you’ll be worse off than you were before I cast the devil from you in the first place.
This is exactly where you are. Your Baptism is a call for the devil to fight against you more strongly than he did before. He was the strong man and you were his palace, and your Lord Jesus took you from him. He’s furious and so he attacks.
We in the enlightened West – and by enlightened West I don’t mean Wyoming, though I’d like to think we’re the best of the enlightened West – we have decided to separate the devil and devils into some other worldly category of hellish monsters, and in so doing we don’t recognize the devil’s works and ways for what they are. We’ve sanitized what is truly satanic. We view sin, if we view it at all, by itself, as some abstraction, with no real purpose or goal. Fornicating is recreation. Telling dirty jokes is harmless fun. Dreaming about being filthy rich is the American way. And the devil is some red monster in hell, completely disconnected from all this other stuff. And so we don’t see that sin and temptation are the means of the devil to take back his palace, that a cosmic war is being fought with every sin we willfully pursue, and that there is a goal in the mind of the devil to take us away from the God who bought us with His blood and made us His children. This is why St. Paul warns us Christians so emphatically in our Epistle lesson to act like Christians, to remember who we are as children of our God, washed of our sins, and not to embrace them, not to participate in sexual sins, in fornication, in nasty talk and jokes, in coveting and wanting more and more stuff, not even to talk about what used to be done in secret and now is open for all to see on our TVs and computers and phones.
Jesus doesn’t step lightly here, neither does His apostle, and so his pastors have no right to either. Your Lord destroys the silly idea of Calvin, so popular in American Christianity today, that once you’re saved you’re always saved. No, once you’re baptized and saved, you have seven devils attacking you. You know this. You know the sins that tempt you. You know the laziness or the lust or the vengeful urge to gossip or to speak that cutting word that nurses your pride and hurts your neighbor, you know the discontent with what God has given you. You can’t take the devil lightly. He is the strong man. And you cannot separate the devil from temptation to sin. To take your sin lightly is to take your salvation lightly. For Christ’s sake, who loves you and wants you with Him forever free from all evil and pain, never imagine that you can indulge in what you know your God says is wrong, don’t be like Pharaoh and hear the word of God and harden your heart against it. We cannot lay claim on the Kingdom given us in our Baptism if we insist on embracing the works and kingdom of the devil. I walk in danger all the way, the thought shall never leave me. That Satan who has marked his prey, is plotting to deceive me. That foe with hidden snares, may seize me unawares. If ever I fail to watch and pray. I walk in danger all the way.
Now I could go on and allegorize here, maybe discuss the seven devils as the seven deadly sins the ancient church liked to talk about, pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. But it’s at this point that a woman in the crowd interrupts Jesus with the wholly irrelevant exclamation, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” It’s as if she couldn’t take any more of what Jesus was saying, so she blurted out a compliment to His mother.
And there comes a point at which we need not warning but encouragement, not law but gospel. A woman calls Mary blessed. Mary is blessed. She gave birth to the eternal God in human flesh. And it is this God made flesh who took all the accusations of the devil against us sinners on Himself and overcame the devil’s every temptation in our place, it is this Jesus who is the subject and center of God’s Word. And so Jesus responds with the wholly relevant declaration, “More than this, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.”
The word for ‘keep’ here in the Greek fits with the picture of a palace and the war that is being fought between God and the devil for this palace – which is you, and that should tell you more than a little about what God thinks of you, to call you His palace. The word is phulassw, it means guard, protect. It’s a war term, what soldiers do. We live in the church militant, where Christians are called to fight. There will come a time when we rest completely in heaven, where no devil has access, where no temptation will taint our desires, where our love will be perfect, and faith will be replaced with sight as we look on the Son of God in His glory, where there is no battle. But now we fight. We fight against our sin and we fight to remain Christians till we die. And that means hearing the Word of God and guarding it as the priceless treasure it is.
Resisting temptation and the wisdom of this world with the truth that God’s law is beautiful, that it tells you exactly what is right and good, that you were baptized to obey it with happy hearts, and with the truth that God has visited you in your weakness, that He saw your failures, how you so easily succumb to sin, and He has not only shed His blood and taken the punishment against your sin on Himself, He has given you His Spirit, by whom you cry out Abba Father, to a God who has made your enemy His enemy, has conquered him, and will keep you in His Kingdom through His Son’s blood shed for you and given into your mouth for the forgiveness of your every sin.
I know the tune of our first communion hymn for today is a bit difficult. So let me close this sermon by telling you why I keep on picking it. Listen to these words: Thou like the pelican to feed her brood, didst pierce thyself to give us living food. Thy blood O Lord one drop has power to win, forgiveness for this world and all its sin. The devil can’t conquer that. He and all his temptations flee from this blood of our God shed for us. If God is for us, who can be against us?
Let us pray:
My walk is heavenward all the way. Await my soul the morrow, when thou shalt find release for aye, from all life’s sin and sorrow. All worldly pomp be gone. To heaven I now press on. For all the world I would not stay. My walk is heavenward all the way.
Pastor Christian Preus
Oculi, Third Sunday in Lent, 2017
Our Gospel lesson for this morning follows immediately upon Jesus teaching his disciples the Lord’s Prayer. He teaches them to call on their Father and His Father to deliver them from evil – that’s the whole summary of the Lord’s Prayer, that God would deliver us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally when our last hour comes give us a blessed end and take us from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven. Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, “Deliver us from evil.” And then what does He do? He shows them how their heavenly Father delivers them. Jesus takes a man who can’t hear God’s Word, who can’t speak God’s praises, who is oppressed by the devil, and He delivers Him from evil. He conquers Satan. He shows himself to be the stronger Man, who has come to disarm the devil of all the weapons in which he trusts and divide the spoil with the righteous who trust in Christ’s Word. Jesus and Jesus alone conquers evil. He makes an open mockery of the devil and all his power, by triumphing over them in the cross and rising again from death to declare with power that it is finished; Satan’s accusations, death’s reign, sin’s punishment – finished, conquered by the willing and innocent suffering of the eternal God.
Christ’s victory over evil is finished. And yet we still pray deliver us from evil. We still pray that we may finally overcome and obtain the victory. How is this? How can the victory be already won, evil already conquered, and yet we still have to pray deliver us from evil? Because it’s Christ’s victory, and Christ’s victory is ours only through faith in His Word. This is why Satan, who has been conquered by Christ, attacks nothing more fiercely than the Word of Christ’s triumph and those who trust in it. That’s why he made the poor man in our Gospel lesson deaf and mute, to keep him from obtaining Christ’s victory by hearing God’s Word. And that’s why Jesus declares, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” God wants His Word preached and believed. Satan wants it silenced and rejected. And so we pray, “Thy Kingdom come.” The Kingdom of God comes upon us, God’s victory over death and sin, His reign over all our enemies, comes to us when our heavenly Father sends us His Holy Spirit – the finger of God, as Jesus calls Him – so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and forever in eternity.
We see two reactions to Jesus delivering the poor man in our text from evil, two responses to Jesus’ victory over the devil. Some marvel. That’s the proper response. That’s what faith does. It marvels at the marvelous. It marvels that the almighty God comes down to join us in our pathetic mortal state, that He who is far above us descends to our level and makes our miserable plight His own, makes our enemy His enemy, fights for us, dies for us, spends Himself for us, takes care for us.
I remember first coming to Casper and marveling at the mountain. Its trees, its cliffs, its smells, its sounds. I couldn’t get enough of it and I still can’t. But I met people and I continue to meet people for whom that mountain has lost all sense of wonderment. It’s just there, they’ve gotten used to it, it’s nothing special. People go days, weeks, without even noticing the thing. And that’s fine, I guess, to each his own, though we should always love and appreciate the beauty of God’s creation, whether we’re talking mountains or plains or oceans, because in so doing we’re appreciating the goodness and beauty of God who created them.
But when it comes to God’s Word, you can never lose your wonderment. Grow tired of the mountain or the lake, but never God’s Word. Do we realize how blessed we are that God even speaks to us? The eternal and holy God who has every right to ignore us and pass us over in silence and leave us in the ignorance of our sins, He takes care to speak to us. But more than this, much more than this, He speaks good things, marvelous things, things that should make the lips He has created sing to the Lord a new song, a continual hymn of thanks as we recount and remember His marvels, all of which He graciously performs for us. Us, who though we deserve nothing from Him but to be left to the devil and all the evil that so often fascinates our sinful minds, He comes to us and delivers us from sin and death and every evil of body and soul. Now that’s something to marvel at.
And yet it’s the most natural thing in the world for sinners to stop marveling. Look at the reaction to Jesus in our Gospel lesson. Some marvel, but others belittle Jesus and His work, saying He casts out demons by the power of Beelzebul. Beelzebul means Lord of the flies. They see what Jesus has done and declare it as trivial as swatting away a fly. Big deal. A man casting out a demon by the power of a demon. Just think of that! Here Jesus does what only God can do. He conquers the Devil and evil. And people think nothing of it. They don’t give thanks for Jesus’ work. Instead they demean it. And instead of crying out to him, “Dear God, I have evil too, the devil presses on me and tempts me. Deliver me from evil also!” They look past the greatest marvel man could ever hope to see or experience.
And so it goes today. It’s tragic how weak and flighty sin has made us. The most marvelous thing in all the world, what we should ponder day after day, to know the height, the depth, the breadth, to know the love of Christ that surpasses understanding, how easy it is to stop marveling at Christ’s delivering us from evil. How easy it is to find yourself praying the Lord’s Prayer and thinking instead of your job or your breakfast or some other insignificant thing. How easy it is stop praying the Lord’s Prayer altogether, stop praying deliver us from evil, stop thinking about evil and Christ’s triumph over it. And it happens. Christians, on whom God has placed His name and to whom God has given the victory over sin, death, and the devil, stop marveling at the Word of God. They take it for granted, ignore it, and finally lose all wonderment. And then they lose faith and Christ’s victory over evil entirely. Because faith survives solely and completely on the Word of Christ.
Jesus warns us how this happens. “When an unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” Our Baptismal rite contains a sort of exorcism. The pastor asks us at our Baptism, “Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?” And we answer, “I renounce him.” And then through water and the Word God delivers us from evil. The Holy Trinity intervenes in our lives, expels Satan, forgives all sin, gives us His name and joins us to the death and resurrection of Christ.
God gives Baptism for us to live in it. It’s not a onetime thing that can be forgotten. It begins a lifelong struggle against sin and evil, a lifelong fight against the devil, a lifelong identity as a child of God who claims Christ’s victory over evil and lives by the Word of God. But when those who have been baptized imagine that their home is nice and tidy, that they have no need any longer for Christ’s deliverance from evil, when they feel no need or desire to come to Church or hear His Word, when they embrace their sin or imagine that they’re good enough for God on their own, when they go on with their lives as if the evil of this world is someone else’s problem maybe, but doesn’t affect them. Then Satan comes back to the house from which he came, and he comes with force. He fills them with the self-conceit of the Pharisees and makes those who once marveled at God’s love think nothing of Him or His victory over their sin. Because they think their sin is nothing. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.
What a warning to us. Whoever is not with me is against me, Jesus says. There’s no neutrality. The reason people aren’t impressed with Jesus is because they don’t think much about evil. They don’t think much of the evil that surrounds them, and they don’t think much about the evil that dwells in their own heart. This is the devil’s game. He convinces the world that he doesn’t exist and then he convinces them evil doesn’t exist. But evil's not an abstraction. And it's not self-defined. We know it for what it is because God's Word tells us the evil with which the devil tempts us, the evil that affects our daily lives. St. Paul calls covetousness, desiring what isn't ours, wanting more and more stuff, being discontent with what God has given us, he calls this idolatry, he calls it worshipping another god. It's evil. And it's our daily temptation. He warns against dirty language and filthy jokes that reveal that our hearts are set on worldly things and find their delight in what displeases our God. It's evil. And it's our daily temptation. He declares that those have no inheritance in the Kingdom of God who make a practice out of sexual immorality, who dishonor their bodies with acts that we shouldn't even put into words. It's evil. And it’s these temptations that are all around us Christians, on our TVs and screens and phones, and in our hearts and memories.
This is why we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” We are praying that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. And though we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.
Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. The Word of God presents to you the great Conqueror of evil, the One who delivers you His victory over sin, death, and the devil. You need this Deliverer, you need Him every day of your life. The Gospel is not something you marvel at once and then shove to the back of your mind as you go about your happy way. No the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh are evil, and they’re not going away, and so you pray, “Deliver us from evil” every single day, if you’re not praying it every single day, start today. Pray, “Deliver us from evil” and know what evil is and who delivers you from it.
We need Jesus our Deliverer from these and all evils. We need Him to send us His Spirit to keep us from practicing these sins, so that we don't grow cold and callous and embrace them, but instead fight the good fight of faith and do battle against the temptations that daily afflict us as we live out our lives as God's children. We need Him to bless us with His body and blood, to give us His forgiveness and His victory on the cross over the sin that we have committed and for which we pray daily, "Forgive us our trespasses." We need Him to assure us that He is the stronger Man, that He has not only defeated our enemies of sin, death, and the devil, but He is with us even now in our weakness, that His Word is far more powerful than our enemies, that our Baptism has united us to the One who continues to fight for us and who pleads by the beautiful marks of his passion and death before His Father's throne that we be kept from the evil one and ushered through this life to our heavenly home. We have the most powerful Word of our Lord's victory for us. This is the Word that forgives sin, that conquers the devil, that saves from death, and delivers from all evil. It’s ours, and as long as it’s ours, Christ and all He has is ours, His Spirit, His righteousness, His Father, and His victory. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it, now and forever. And so we can sing and confess with confidence: As sure as God's own word is true, not earth nor hell's satanic crew, against us shall prevail. Their might a joke, a mere facade, God is with us, and we with God. Our victory cannot fail.
Let us pray
Amen Lord Jesus, hear our prayer. Great Captain now thine arm make bare. Fight for us once again. So shall thy saints and martyrs raise a might chorus to thy praise. Forevermore, Amen!
Pastor Christian Preus
One of the most common accusations against Christianity popular today, and really it’s been popular since the time of the Reformation, is that there are too many different interpretations of the Bible for us to know what it really means. I have my interpretation, you have yours, but who’s to tell which one is right? We Lutherans, together with all Protestants, have of course rejected the idea that the pope should decide what the Bible means for us, and we have no authoritative council to say what the Bible really says. So we’re stuck with all sorts of interpretations and no one meaning.
That’s the argument. I’ve heard it a lot. It’s the kind of gotcha argument college professors like to use on Christian kids. I once helped interview a man for a position teaching at the University of Iowa, who bragged about how much he loved to challenge the interpretations students learned in Sunday School. I recommended against him, but he got the job anyway.
But the argument is a silly one. If a person decides that a red apple is blue, we don’t call that an interpretation. We call that wrong. If a person absolutely insists that four plus six is eleven, again, we don’t entertain his assertion as an interpretation. We say he’s wrong. And in the case of most so-called “interpretations” of the Bible, we’re dealing with the same type of nonsense. Jesus says “this is my body,” so it’s not an interpretation to say Jesus means “this is not my body.” It’s just wrong. Again, Jesus says God created them male and female and the two shall become one flesh in marriage. So it’s not an interpretation of the Bible to say that Jesus approves of homosexual marriage. It’s just patently untrue and strikingly dishonest. Just as the math teacher doesn’t have to argue that two plus two equals four, because some kid refuses to believe it, so the Christian doesn’t have to take seriously so-called interpretations of the Bible that assert the exact opposite of what the Bible says.
The Bible is clear, and it’s always been the job of Christians and pastors in particular, to let the Word of God speak for itself and refute false teachers who twist God’s word to say what they want it to say.
Take our Gospel lesson for today. It’s clear. Jesus multiplies five loaves of bread and two fish to feed five thousand men, together with their wives and their children. And after they’ve all eaten and had their fill, there are twelve baskets left over. Obviously, a miracle. But wait, not so fast. There’s another interpretation. I wouldn’t recommend it, but you can actually hear liberal pastors preach that the real miracle was the non-miracle of sharing. The boy who had five loaves and two fish was willing to share, and as the people saw that this little boy gave his food to share, they were inspired, they stopped being stingy themselves, and they took out the food they’d been hiding and shared too. And that’s how Jesus fed the five thousand.
This is what is called an interpretation. Seriously. But no honest person can possibly take it seriously. That’s not what happened. Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fish. It was a miracle. That’s the entire point, that’s what the text says, and the other so-called interpretation is nothing but a fabrication.
Now, why do these fabrications exist? Let’s just look into this for a bit. What would compel a person to say, contrary to what the text obviously says, that Jesus didn’t actually multiply those loaves? The reason is simple. If Jesus multiplied those loaves, then He’s God. And this is exactly what the liberals need to deny. Jesus is too controversial if He’s God. These are the same “interpreters” who say that Jesus rose only spiritually and not bodily from the dead, even though the Easter histories report what Jesus explicitly says, “Touch me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” People don’t want to believe the history of the Bible, and so they “interpret” it to say something else. Let’s teach people about sharing because that’s inoffensive and everyone will agree, and we don’t want to teach that most controversial fact, the offensive fact of the Bible, that God became a man in Jesus Christ to save our bodies and souls from death and sin and hell.
The irony here is that the entire point of Jesus feeding the five thousand is to show that He is the Creator and God of the universe. John’s Gospel calls it a sign. All the other Gospels call it a miracle, which of course it is, but John calls it a sign because this miracle shows something, points to something. That’s what a sign does. And this miracle points to the fact that Jesus is God.
And note here that it shows a very specific God. There is no teaching so prevalent today or more dangerous than the idea of some generic God up there in heaven. We hear from the pollsters that the overwhelming majority of people in the United States still claims to be Christian, and yet if you quizzed the majority on what it means to be a Christian, they’d say, “Well, I believe in God.” Well, that’s not Christianity. I don’t just believe in God, it will give me no comfort on my deathbed that some generic God exists or to have some generic hope that there must be life after death. No, then and now I need certainty and specificity, not blind hope. I believe in the very specific God who not only made me, but became a man for me and then, the year before His suffering and death to redeem me from death, multiplied loaves of bread and fish to feed five thousand men. Because this God has revealed who He is and shown me by this sign that my trust in Him will never be put to shame.
The sign shows two things about this God. The first is obvious. This God, who wears your flesh and blood, He shows by this sign that He is the Creator who actually cares for your needs, that He loves what He has made, and that includes your body. That Jesus is Creator doesn’t simply mean that He created the universe some thousands of years ago, but that He invests Himself in caring for His creation now, that He cares if you are sick, He cares about the cancer diagnosis, He cares that your body grows old and fails and dies. That’s why He stands in his body on this earth and feeds the bodies of sinners with bread and fish.
But the sign shows more. It’s easy to miss, but inserted in the history of the feeding of the five thousand is the assertion, “Now the Passover, the Feast of the Jews, was at hand.” The Passover was the great feast of the people of Israel, and at a feast people eat. But they didn’t eat simply to fill their bellies. They ate to remember that God had delivered his people from slavery in Egypt, that as they slaughtered the lamb and spread its blood on their doors and ate it, death passed over them. They ate to look forward to the day when God Himself would come as the Lamb of God to spill His blood so that death would pass over all who put their trust in Him.
Jesus will go on to tell these same crowds that He is the true bread that comes down from heaven, that His Father who sent manna from heaven, now sends Him from heaven so that all who eat of Him will live forever, and the food that He gives is His flesh and blood for the life of the world.
And the crowds didn’t misunderstand him. They didn’t even try to interpret away his words. They knew full well what He was saying, that they were subject to sin and eternal death, and that this Jesus who had just fed them with bread and fish and shown that He is the eternal God, this Jesus was asserting that without Him, without His flesh and blood that He would give up to death, they had no happiness or life with God. And they, the majority of them, walked away in anger. It wasn’t the message they wanted to hear. They didn’t want to hear of eternal death and the awful load their God would pay to free them from it. Because this most controversial word is a scandal to everyone who has not been humbled to confess what sinners must confess, what we all confessed this morning, that we are by nature sinful and unclean and that we have sinned against our God in thought, word, and deed.
But we, as Peter, who spoke those beautiful words when Jesus asked his disciples, “Will you also leave,” and Peter responded, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” we confess our great need for this God who gives His flesh and blood for us, who cares not only for our bodies but for our souls, who, even when our bodies fail and we lose the things God gives us to enjoy in this vale of tears, secures for our bodies and our souls an eternal inheritance that death can never steal away.
We just sang “Jesus, Priceless Treasure.” It is a hymn of faith, of confidence and certainty in the very specific God who has told us in no uncertain words who He is and what He has done for us. This priceless Treasure who feeds our bodies on this earth, has given His body to be beaten and bruised, stricken, smitten, and afflicted, to bear for us the wrath of God on the cross, so that we can now be happy. That word happy is the name of this Sunday. In Latin, laetare, be happy. And happy, this word, it derives from the word have, because those who have things are happy, they’re content. And what do we have? Why are we happy? We have the bodies our God takes care for, the souls that He has cleansed from sin, and we will have them forever, without sin, without pain, without failing, because we have that priceless treasure of the body and the blood of our Savior, poured out for us, which we eat and drink in the certainty of the resurrection of our Lord and of our bodies, incorruptible, immortal, eternal. Thank God for His mercy, revealed to us in our Lord Jesus, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Let us pray:
Hence all fear and sadness!
For the Lord of gladness,
Jesus, enters in.
Those who love the Father,
Though the storms may gather,
Still have peace within.
I here must bear,
Thou art still my purest pleasure,
Jesus, priceless treasure!
Pastor Christian Preus
Abusus non tollit usum. I thought I’d start out this sermon speaking in tongues. That tongue was Latin and that’s a famous Latin phrase that means “the abuse of something doesn’t take away its proper use.” This is a very good thing to remember. The abuse of alcohol, for instance, is bad. It brings pain on people and families, and turns a person inward to serve his selfish cravings. But that doesn’t mean alcohol doesn’t have its proper use. God gave it to lighten the heart of man. Jesus used it and we use it in the Holy Supper. It’s a good thing when used properly. The same goes with intimacy between husband and wife. It’s a good thing, expresses the love of a man with his bride, brings children into this world. People abuse it, of course, they practice it outside of marriage and use it only for selfish pleasure, but that doesn’t mean we should all become monks and nuns and swear it off. No, we see all sorts of good things abused, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their use. Abusus non tollit usum.
And the same goes with doctrine. People abuse what God says. As we’ve seen in the last three Sundays, this is the devil’s game. He twists and perverts God’s Word and abuses what is good to teach something evil. But the abuse doesn’t take away the proper use.
God teaches us that He will provide for our every bodily need. He shows himself to be generous in pouring out what we need to support our body and life. He is our Creator and he cares for the stuff of his creation – and that means our bodies and our earthly lives. That’s what Jesus shows us in the feeding of the five thousand. He looks at the hungry and he feeds them. He shows them He is their provider who cares for their every bodily need.
But this teaching gets abused. There’s a type of preaching that poses as Christian called prosperity gospel. It’s not the gospel at all, it completely denies the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins and replaces it with a hopelessly selfish concentration on getting healthy and wealthy. But its preachers act like it’s Christian. They take the Bible’s teaching that God wants to provide for our needs, that He is generous in doing so, and then they twist it and abuse it. They appeal to our selfish impulses, our consuming occupation with being wealthy and healthy and well-situated within our communities, and they feed us with the notion that our greed and selfish desire are good and virtuous, that all we lack is the right program to get whatever our hearts desire from God. And they leave it at that! That’s it. That’s their gospel. You want stuff. God will give it if you do this and that. What a sad, pathetic gospel! Here we are, sinners, whose end is inevitably to lose all our wealth, to lose our health, to die and appear before the God who condemns all selfishness and greed and sin, and these preachers ignore our deepest need and tell us to concentrate on the very things we will inevitably lose! Here God in His Word offers sinners forgiveness and eternal life in Christ who has redeemed us from sin and death and the power of the devil, and preachers posing as Christian sell us fleeting hopes of temporary wealth and health, and purposely avoid talking about sin and death and Christ’s victory over them.
The reason for this is obvious. The preachers of prosperity gospel are giving people what they want. It’s very American. The customer’s always right. People want God to give them stuff. They don’t want God punishing or forgiving sin. So they shop around for a god who will promise them stuff and won’t bother them with talk about sin and forgiveness and Christ’s cross. We all understand supply and demand. God’s Word has a rich supply of forgiveness, a rich supply of reconciliation with God through the blood of Jesus. This is what God supplies to sinners in the Gospel. But the market is driven by demand. It doesn’t matter how big the supply is if there’s no demand. And people simply aren’t demanding what God’s supplying. What’s in demand is stuff. That’s what people want from their gods.
And this is nothing new.
When Jesus fed the 5000, when He mercifully filled their bellies with bread and fish, they wanted to make Him king. They loved Him and adored Him, because He provided for their bodily needs. They wanted nothing else from Jesus but stuff. So what did Jesus do? Jesus withdrew from them. He hadn’t come to be an earthly King, to give people a free meal, but to shed His blood for sinners who were under God’s wrath and lost in their sin. So he withdrew from them.
But if we keep reading in John we see that the crowd doesn’t give up. They know what they want from Jesus. So they chase after Him. They remind Him that their fathers ate manna, ate bread from heaven in the days of Moses. They want the manna too. Give us stuff, Jesus. And when Jesus preaches to these same people that what they need above all else is spiritual food, because no matter how much physical food He gives them, they’re still going to end up dead like their fathers who ate manna in the wilderness, when Jesus tells them that what they really need is to eat His own flesh and blood offered up on the cross for the life of the world, they turn away from Jesus in anger. Most of His disciples leave. They wanted food. They wanted stuff. They wanted a worldly Savior. But Jesus insists on being the Savior from sin.
But the abuse doesn’t take away the use. The remarkable thing is that Jesus still fed the 5000, and He did so because He loved them. He knew they would abuse it, that they would make their belly their god and seek after earthly things. But He gave them food anyway. Because that’s what God does. He mercifully provides for the bodily needs of His creatures. He’s always done it. He still does it. That’s why we confess in the 4th petition of the Lord’s Prayer that God gives daily bread even to the wicked and unbelievers. God doesn’t stop being God and doing what God does just because sinners abuse His Word and actions.
No, God made you a bodily creature. And that means God created you to be dependent on stuff. And He intends on giving you that stuff. You need food. You need clothing. You need a roof over your head – especially here in Wyoming. And you should desire good health and wealth enough to live and benefit your neighbor and your church, you should want good family relations, and all sorts of other stuff God gives His creation to enjoy. God’s the One who gave you a body that relies on food and shelter and health to function, that has the amazing and wonderful capacity to enjoy and appreciate the earth. He’s the One who gave you the mind and the strength to work hard so that you can provide for yourself and your family and put a roof over your head. Every new advancement in medicine, the job you have, the food on your table, your every ability and skill is God’s provision. God actually cares about your body. That’s why He created it and that’s why the only Son of the Father wasn’t ashamed to take your flesh and blood on Himself to redeem both your body and your soul.
God gives us stuff because He loves us. He gives us stuff to direct our heart and minds to His fatherly care and mercy. But we worry about our stuff and our lives because our minds and hearts are fixed on the things of this world. We cling to our money and envy those who have more than we do. Our hearts are drawn to a prosperity gospel, to an obsession with enjoying ourselves as much as we can before we die. And that’s no way to live life. It’s just not. Not only is it sinful and idolatrous, it’s self-defeating. It causes us to fret about all the stuff we can lose and to doubt or ignore our highest good. Here we have a God who has provided for our present and eternal welfare, and we spend our time anxious about stuff. Repent.
Stop worrying about stuff, Jesus says, your heavenly Father knows that you need clothing and food and house and home. He knows it and wants to give it. But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.
What you ask from God first is for His gracious rule, His Kingdom, His righteousness, for forgiveness in Christ’s cross and the promise of innocence and perfect love and a sinless body and soul in heaven. This is the Christian concentration. And when you see that God gives this to you, when you see that God makes you His child in Baptism, that Jesus has lived and suffered and died to win you righteousness and life everlasting, that He gives you His body and blood broken and shed for the forgiveness of your sins, then you can entrust your earthly life to Him, content with what He gives you, then you see the earthly gifts that God gives you not as something to fret and worry about, but as the provision of the God who has spared nothing to make you His child and the object of His every concern.
Despite the abuse of the doctrine of God's providence, despite the fact that people and our own sinful flesh want to look to Jesus as a mere supplier of our bodily desires, the fact remains that Jesus does provide for your every bodily need. And this is a cause to rejoice, as we sang in our Introit, "Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad in her, all you who love her." Because outside the walls of Jerusalem Jesus shed His blood for you. Jesus' Advent, his coming into this world in your flesh and blood, his living and his dying, his resurrection from the dead, these don't win you some merely spiritual redemption. No, you cannot separate the forgiveness of sins from God's care for your body. We don’t answer the devilish error of the prosperity gospel, of concentrating exclusively on God's care for the body, we don’t replace this with the gnostic nonsense that God cares only for our souls! No! The God who created you body and soul has redeemed you body and soul.
The eternal Son of the Father has taken into his person your body and soul, he has subjected his soul to grief and his body to death. When God through your pastor forgives you your sins and gives you the body and blood of Christ, He is promising you also that the body you live in, the body that now feels pain and worries and sees that death is its end, He will raise this body in everlasting glory. And every earthly blessing He bestows on you is a happy foretaste of the perfection He will give to your body when every trace of sin is removed and death is unknown in the courts of heaven.
When you pray Come Lord Jesus at the dinner table you are praying that the Jesus who gave food to thousands by His almighty power will nurture your body so that you can again come to the Lord's table and receive the true manna from heaven, the flesh and blood offered up on the cross for your eternal life in body and soul. Thank God that He feeds your body! Rejoice that He feeds your soul! Don’t worry about your life here on earth. The God who has spent His life for you will guide you by His Word, by His body and blood, through this life to Himself in heaven. God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
In last week’s Gospel lesson the people tried to make Jesus king because he gave them bread. In today’s Gospel lesson, they try to kill Him because He teaches them the truth about God. So it goes. Everyone’s happy to tolerate Christians when they give to charity, when they give food for the hungry in Africa, when they send comfort dogs to people undergoing some tragedy. But when Christians speak the truth without compromise, those who don’t rejoice at this beautiful message do the opposite. They get angry. There’s no neutrality when it comes to the truth. Love it or hate it. As it was with Jesus, so it is with us.
Our duty as Christians is to speak the truth. In fact, there is no greater love we can show to our fellow man, whether that’s our children, our families, or anyone else. We hear often Paul’s statement, “Speak the truth in love.” But too often we hear this verse quoted to silence the truth. It’s reduced to the command to be nice when you talk. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it, we’re told.
But the question is how do you say, as Jesus did, “You are children of the devil,” nicely? I don’t know if that’s possible, no matter how you inflect your voice. But what is certain is that Jesus said, “You are children of the devil” to these men out of love. This wasn’t some petty fight between school children or some internet Facespace debate with exchanges of nasty insults. Jesus saw men living a lie, thinking they worshiped God as Father when they refused to acknowledge the Father’s Son in the flesh. The lie they believed, that God can be known and worshiped outside of Jesus, comes from the devil, the father of lies. And so Jesus told them the truth, called them out as children of the devil. And no matter how harsh it sounds, no matter how they didn’t want to hear it, none of that can change the fact that Jesus spoke these harsh words to sinners for whom He would die because he loved them. And so He spoke the truth in love.
Last Monday I went, as many of you did, to a showing of Tortured for Christ, based on the book of the same name by a Lutheran pastor named Richard Wurmbrand, who was tortured for 14 years in a communist prison for preaching Christ, as tens of thousands of his fellow Christians in Romania were murdered. What struck me was that Pastor Wurmbrand was not nice to the communists, if, by nice, we mean he tolerated their views or understood where they were coming from or just wanted to get along. No, he was faced with an evil that attacked Christ, attacked humanity, attacked everything good and true and beautiful, and he saw no neutrality to be found. He called out evil as evil. He described his persecutors as beasts, men who in service to the devil had lost their souls. He called them evil. There is no nice way to speak that truth.
Yet through it all, he loved them. That is what is so striking. He loved them, the men who crippled him with beatings, who arrested his wife and put her to work in a slave camp, who threatened to orphan his child, who enforced atheism and terror over his country, he loved them. And it wasn’t because he saw any good in them, some spark of humanity. There was nothing good to see. They were children of the devil. He loved them because Christ, their Creator, loved them and laid down his life for them. And there is no contradiction here. He condemned their evil because he loved them. And he continued to confess Christ because he loved not only His Savior but these torturers and communists for whom His God had died.
Here is a lesson for us. Love speaks the truth, even when the truth hurts, even when speaking the truth makes you no friends and makes you feel alone, even when it brings with it the possibility of alienating your own family from you. You’re not alone. When you have God’s truth you have everything, the fellowship of angels and saints in heaven and on earth, the approval and blessing of the God who owns you as his child and has shed His blood to make you His own. Wurmbrand spoke the truth even when it meant torture and threat to his family. Jesus spoke the truth as men lifted rocks to stone him. Think on that. As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, You have not yet struggled to the point of shedding your blood. The Christian in America especially should take a good hard look at this and see that in all our ease and comfort and freedom we still have the duty to speak the truth to our children, to our friends, to our families, and we can do it without any threat to our lives, but with the great hope of seeing these people in heaven.
Now speaking the truth doesn’t mean going to your unbelieving neighbors’ houses, knocking on their doors, and immediately calling them children of the devil. That’s a bad idea. And that’s not what Jesus did. Jesus started a conversation with the Pharisees by preaching the Gospel in the Temple. Before our lesson for today starts, Jesus begins by saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” He was preaching a sermon. And the Pharisees attacked Him and attacked the truth, saying, “You bear witness of yourself. Your witness is not true.” They denied Jesus and the Gospel openly. And so the conversation continued and progressed to the point we see in our lesson for today, where Jesus finally calls them children of the devil because they believe the devil’s lie.
The point is that we can’t think we can tame God’s law or our Lord Jesus. He can’t be tamed, and His truth can’t be tamed. When the conversation comes up, when we are confronted with the evil of rejecting Jesus in word or in action by family or friends or acquaintances, we can’t take some neutral stand – this strange American argument, based on our First Amendment, that you can believe what you believe and I’ll believe what I believe. That’s certainly a right the United States gives its citizens. But it’s most definitely not a natural right, not a right given to us by creation’s God, who spoke His unchangeable law – you shall have no other gods.
And so, no matter how harsh it seems, Christians love by speaking the truth. And we do it in our families, in our schools, in our churches, and with whomever else God puts into our lives, even if it seems hopeless and even when it means we suffer for it.
To speak the truth we need to know the truth. There are three characteristics of this truth as Jesus preaches it in our Gospel lesson.
First, the truth is that Jesus is the eternal God. Before Abraham was I AM, Jesus says. I AM is the name of the Lord God of Israel, what we commonly have translated as LORD in our Old Testaments, the name God revealed to Moses in the burning bush. Jesus emphatically declares that He is not simply a son of God, as the Mormons teach, but the natural Son, eternal, of one substance with His Father, as we confess in the Nicene Creed. He is the God whom Abraham feared and believed, the God who ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son, his only son, Isaac, and then foreshadowed the sacrifice He would make by replacing Isaac, the sinner, doomed to death, with a ram whose head was entrapped in a thicket of thorns. He is the God who will be the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world and will entrap His sacred head in thorns, to be given up as an offering to appease God’s wrath against our sin and save us from eternal death. He, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, is the only God there is. All others are idols, inventions of the devil’s lies and the human minds captivated by them.
Second, the truth is that Jesus gives life, real life, not the pathetic existence of living day by day for ourselves and seeking our own pleasures, only to die and rot with no hope for the future, but an eternal life, forgiven of your sins, reconciled to your God by the blood of your God, and living lives in love to Him and to one another, a life where when you fail and fall into sin, your Lord lifts you up by His Word and stands you before His Father robed in His life given for you and His righteous blood shed for you. Whoever keeps my word will never taste death, Jesus says. Abraham died, but he did not taste death. He didn’t taste the wages of sin. He rejoiced instead in the merciful deliverance from this world to his Father in heaven, where he waits with all the saints the resurrection of all flesh. He kept Jesus’ word and lives to eternity, and so it is with all who treasure the Word of Christ-crucified and risen.
Third, the truth is both Law and Gospel. Jesus called those who denied His Father and His Son children of the devil. This is the thunder of God’s Law. It strikes at the soul of man, renders him defenseless, reveals his pride and self-worth as a fanciful dream and a lie.
But Jesus doesn’t preach the Law simply to insult. He preaches it so that people see their need for Him. And this is why he preaches the facts of the Gospel, even to these men insulting Him, “Amen, amen, I say to you,” he says, makes it just as personal as His preaching of the Law that they are children of the devil, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word he shall never see death. And this, this is based on who Jesus is, that before Abraham was I AM, based on what Jesus does, that He gives His life for his enemies. And this message Jesus preaches even to those who would pick up stones to kill him. And this is the joy of the Christian heart, what captivates our minds, that our God would give His life for ours. And for everything that we confess, if we have to speak the hard truth to loved ones living in sin, we speak the truth for this one reason, because Jesus is the life of the world, because by His death He takes death’s sting away, and we want what our God wants, for sinners to find their treasure in their Savior and live by Him and never taste death.
At this point, you may expect me to call you children of the devil, because that’s the unpretty truth that Jesus speaks to the Jewish leaders in the Temple. But that would be the devil’s lie, so I won’t say it. You aren’t children of the devil. You were born children of the devil. That’s the harsh word. You were born captive to sin, and heirs of death. You were born under the condemnation of God’s perfect Law, and even now the sin that clings to you, in your mind and in your desires, makes you want to believe lies about God, reject His Word, doubt His love when He sends you grief, and live life for yourself. But that is not who you are. You are the children of God. As many as received Him He gave power to become children of God, to those who believe on His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And you have been born of God, given His name and the life of your Savior in your Baptism, fed with His body and blood, redeemed not with perishable things, like gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Christ. And so you keep your Savior’s Word and by this Word your Savior is keeping you for Him forever.
Let us pray:
Then for all that wrought my pardon,
For Thy sorrows deep and sore,
For Thine anguish in the Garden,
I shall thank Thee ever more,
Thank Thee for Thy groaning, sighing,
For Thy bleeding and Thy dying,
For that last triumphant cry:
And shall praise Thee, Lord on high.
Pastor Christian Preus
Judica, Lent 5, 2017
Jesus says to the Jews, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day. And he saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” This is our Lord Jesus Christ’s clearest and boldest confession that he is the eternal God, the Lord almighty who created heaven and earth and revealed himself in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Not only does Jesus claim that he existed before Abraham, he calls himself by the great name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush, “I AM,” in Hebrew, JHWH, in English translation, the LORD. Jesus’ claim is not simply that he is divine. Many a king in the ancient world claimed divinity – whether Gilgamesh king of Uruk, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, or the Caesars of Rome. These all claimed to be gods. But Jesus’ claim is different. His claim is exclusive and particular. He claims not to be a god among many, but to be the one and only God, the God who alone rules heaven and earth, the God who doesn’t just give laws and demand worship and glory in His own almighty power, but descends to earth, becomes a man, and lives and dies for His sinful creation.
There is no God besides Jesus. This is most certainly true. The Father does not exist without his only begotten Son, and the Holy Spirit does not exist except as he proceeds from the Father and the Son. The god of Islam is not God, because he’s not Jesus. The god of the Jews is not God, because he’s not Jesus. This is why Christians don’t pray with Muslims or Jews, or pretend we have the same God or share some common Abrahamic or Judeo-Christian religion. We don’t. Jesus is our God. We point to the crucified Christ and say, there is my God. Can a Muslim or Jew do that? Of course not. But that’s what Abraham did. He rejoiced to see Jesus’ day, and He saw it, and was glad. And that’s what we do. We find the one and only God in Jesus, the crucified Son, whom the Father gave up to death on the cross, so that by the shedding of his blood we may live through His Spirit.
Jesus’ exclusive claim is offensive to our world. Jesus calls Himself the Son of the Father, the God of Abraham, the God whose Word gives life and delivers from death. He says that every other religion and every other god is of the devil, who is a liar and a murderer of souls. And in response the Jews call Him a Samaritan. They accuse Him of having a demon. They mock Him. They pick up stones to kill Him. His Word offends them to the core.
There’s a popular sentiment today that Jesus is inoffensive, that He embodies all the tolerance and universal understanding our modern progressives value so much. Some people want to make Jesus into a great moral teacher, a great moral philosopher who taught people the virtues of love and self-sacrifice. And who would be offended at such a Jesus? Others want Him to be a great social revolutionary, the champion of the poor and downtrodden and minorities, a true liberal hero for our age. But Jesus won’t allow people to view Him as a mere mortal, a mere teacher of ethics or of tolerance or of social justice or of whatever. Jesus won’t be put on the same plain as Moses and Confucius and Gandhi or any other social or moral revolutionaries. No. His claim is decidedly not that He is a great man. His claim is that He is the only Son of the Father, the great I AM, the holy LORD God, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has become a lowly man, a man despised and rejected and hated, to win for His sinful death-bound creatures everlasting life.
This is why the Jews were offended at Jesus. C.S. Lewis once wrote that the only response to Jesus is either to call Him liar, lunatic, or Lord. He must either be a wicked deceiver or a raving madman, or else, or else, He is who He says He is, the Lord. The Jews in our text called Him a liar and a lunatic. They didn’t try to call Him a good teacher or an exalted Rabbi or a noble revolutionary. They didn’t try to find a compromise. They couldn’t. Jesus didn’t give them the choice. They could either accept Him as the eternal Son of God whose Word alone gives life and saves from death, or they could reject Him entirely. There was no middle ground.
And the same goes for us today. We are not called to make Jesus’ words more palatable to the modern mind and the emotionally fragile dispositions of the current generation. Jesus doesn’t want our help to make Him less offensive to sinful flesh. His teaching can’t be conformed to the doctrine of tolerance so popular today, because Jesus doesn’t tolerate other gods. He insists He’s the only God, the only Son of His Father. And Jesus doesn’t tolerate sin – not greed, not gossip, not disrespect to authorities, not sexual immorality of any kind, not self-righteousness or unbelief. Jesus isn’t tolerant of sin. He comes to destroy its power over us, to shed His blood and offer Himself without blemish to God, in order to purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God, as our Epistle lesson tells us.
In fact, the offense Jesus gives is necessary, it’s necessary for us and necessary for the world. Yes, it hurts our pride to be called sinners. It’s distasteful to our self-esteem to admit that our lives deserve not praise but punishment from God. But it is impossible to love Jesus, to believe in Him, to keep and treasure His Word, unless this offense is done to our sinful flesh. Because Jesus comes as the deliverer from death and sin. He comes to save those enslaved by the lying and murdering of the devil. He comes to save the helpless, the loveless. He comes to save real sinners from their very real sins which lead to a real death and a real hell. And He alone can do it. Because He alone has obeyed the Law. He alone has satisfied God’s justice. His death alone redeems from transgression. This is the offense of the cross, it’s the scandal of particularity, that in this Man, Jesus Christ, who is God in the flesh, in Him alone is life and salvation and forgiveness. Outside of Him and His Word there is only death, sin, and the devil.
And the Jews in our text knew what Jesus was saying. It was personal. He was accusing them of sin. He was telling them they needed Him. Not just to be their teacher. Not just to be their coach or their therapist. Not simply to give them rules for living. But to be their Savior, to live for them, to die for them, because they were lost in their sin, at enmity with God, whom they had no right to call on as their Father, because their works were the works of the devil. No, they needed Jesus to save them. And there’s the offense.
But this offense to our flesh is at the same time the happiest news in the world to the Christian. God has come to save me. My sin is too much for me. The devil hounds me every day. He presses me hard and tempts me to doubt God’s Word. And the evil within my flesh tempts my treacherous heart to sin. The world entices me with the broad and easy road, with all kinds of seductive, sinful vices. I feel the pain of my mortality, the ever-present reminder that I will die. I can’t save myself. So to hear Jesus say, “If anyone keeps my Word, he shall never see death,” this is pure joy, heavenly joy. This is why Christians come to church over and over and over again. To keep Jesus’ Word isn’t to hear it once and again and store it in the back of our minds until we think we might need it. No. It’s to keep it as our life, our constant relief from sin and fear of death. It’s to think on Jesus day and night. It’s to rejoice to see the day of Jesus, to take His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus says that Abraham rejoiced to see His day. It gave Abraham joy, eternal joy. That’s what the Word of Jesus brings to those who keep it. And Abraham had that joy. He saw the day of Jesus. And he saw it vividly. As death confronted Abraham, as he had to face the death of his only son by God’s decree, he heard the Son of God intervene from heaven and provide a ram for a sacrifice in Isaac’s place. Two thousand years before He took on flesh in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, it was Jesus who taught Abraham to trust in the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, taught him that He would not require the death of sinners but would suffer their death for them. And Abraham believed God, he believed that the Son of God would come, that he would take on his flesh and be born of his seed, that he would end the terror of death by crushing the head of Satan our accuser and submitting himself to death's dark sting. This is Christian joy. Abraham was a Christian. His expectation from God, all his thoughts concerning God revolved around the promise of Christ, the promised Seed and Savior.
This is what it means to keep Jesus’ Word. Keeping Jesus’ Word is rejoicing in the fact that we have an eternal Father in heaven who loves us eternally in his only begotten Son, the Son who has become one with us, has taken on our flesh and blood in Jesus, and sends us his eternal Spirit to convince us of our sins and point us to the One who has taken these sins upon himself and gained for us forgiveness and righteousness before God forever. Keeping Jesus’ Word means having a pure conscience before God, having the joy of Christ as our Mediator before God.
And this is the joy Abraham had.
And so Jesus’ claim to be God almighty, to be the God of Abraham, this is no mere point of arcane historical trivia. It is the greatest truth and comfort also for us here today. Only when we know that Jesus is God do we know who God is and who we are. Since Jesus is God, since he is the eternal God made flesh, since he has become our brother by becoming a man like unto us in every way except sin, since he has taken our place and become our substitute before the throne of God's justice, we can know, approach, and call on God, the Holy Trinity with confidence, we can make requests of our Father in heaven as dear children ask their dear father. God loves nothing more than this, that we his children keep His word, that we rejoice in Jesus, glorying not in ourselves but in our God who has made us his own in our Baptism, where we were given the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by putting on the robe of Christ's righteousness. Here God gave us his Spirit and promised to us that he will be our God and that we will be his children, that we will live forever with him, that all of our sins, having been washed away in the blood of Jesus' cross, are removed from us forever. We hold God to this promise, we confess and rejoice in this promise. And we bless the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, who is the one and only God and ours forever through Jesus Christ our Lord.
In Nomine Iesu
Pastor Thomas L. Rank
Mid-week Lent 5
March 24, 2004
Text: Hebrews 12:22-24
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,
In this chapter twelve of Hebrews the author is drawing our attention to a distinction between two mountains in the Old Testament. One is Mt. Sinai. The other is Mt. Zion. We are told that it is Mt. Zion that we have come to, not Mt. Sinai. The difference between Sinai and Zion is the difference between night and day. It is the difference between the Law, Sinai, and the Gospel, Zion.
Mt. Sinai is known for being the place where God gave Moses and the children of Israel the law, especially the Ten Commandments. There were special rules for Mt. Sinai given to Israel by the Lord. These rules are recorded in Exodus 19:
...For on the third day the LORD will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. 13 Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow; whether man or beast, he shall not live.'...
Clearly this was not a mountain that encouraged people to come near it. In fact, it was a mountain to be careful about. This became even clearer after the Lord began speaking the Law to Moses. Listen to what happened:
Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off (Ex 20:18).
The giving of the Law, the commands of God that demanded obedience, perfection, love with no hint of selfishness, all of this combined with the thunder and lightning made Mt. Sinai a terrible place. The reason was because here God showed Himself in the way of the Law. The Law cannot deliver us from judgment because all it does it show us our sin. The Law is so perfectly fair that our sin leaves us with no hope. God is rightly angry against all sin, for sin is a denial of God, a turning away from Him. So Mt. Sinai becomes the place of terror, of threats, and of fear.
That is why here in Hebrews we read: "but you have come to Mt. Zion." Mt. Zion is the hill of Jerusalem, the place where God's Temple stood, the place where sacrifices for sin, and offerings to God were made day after day. Even more than that, Mt. Zion is where our Savior Jesus came to be the perfect, one-time sacrifice for sin. Jesus is the Mediator of the new covenant, the promise of God’s mercy and forgiveness to all who believe on the name of Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Savior.
Mt. Zion is about promises, grace, undeserved love, charity, and salvation. For these treasures of salvation were bought by the blood of Jesus Christ, who spilled His blood on Mt. Zion in order to buy us back from our deserved destiny of eternal death. These are the wonderful benefits which our Savior desires all to receive from His generous hand.
Besides the mountains of Sinai and Zion, there is mention made of the blood of Abel in this text. Abel, you recall, was the second-born son of Adam and Eve. The first-born son was Cain. These two brothers were also as different as Sinai and Zion. Cain chose the false worship of God, bringing his offerings with no faith, simply going through the motions. His offering was rejected by the Lord. Abel, on the other hand, is described this way in Hebrews:
By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks (Hb 11:4).
Abel approached God by faith. We may think here of the difference Psalm 51 makes between mere outward offerings, brought without faith, and repentance: "For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart – These, O God, You will not despise."
Abel, the second-born son is murdered by Cain. When the Lord speaks to Cain He tells him, "The voice of your brother’s blood calls out to me from the ground." This blood of Abel called out for justice, and the Lord rebuked Cain, making him a fugitive on the earth.
Now hear again from Hebrews 12, "[you have come] to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel." The comparison between the blood of Abel and the blood of Jesus is of blood that calls for justice, and blood that washes away sin, leaving only forgiveness and salvation. The blood of Abel did not help Cain. In fact, Abel's blood was judgment against Cain, just like blood found on a murder weapon often leads to the murderer. The blood of Jesus does not call out for vengeance, but it calls out peace between God and man, it calls out the love of God for you and me. "Even though our sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." Jesus' blood on us does not cause God to send us away in anger, but it brings God to us as our loving Father, as the Father who has sought and found all who are lost.
By God's grace Mt. Sinai and the Law are not our destination, but we have come to Mt. Zion, "the holy Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting." This is what God intends for you, that you may rest secure in the knowledge that you are God’s child, and will dwell in the city of the living God forever. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
Palm Sunday, 2018
Jesus came into Jerusalem on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He fulfilled the first part of Zechariah’s prophecy, “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” He came also to fulfill the rest of Zechariah’s prophecy, but we don’t pay much attention to the rest of it, because it doesn’t have those familiar words about a donkey we’re used to hearing about on Palm Sunday. But the rest of the prophecy is actually the content of our passion reading for this Sunday, and it explains why Jesus comes on a donkey into Jerusalem as a humble King in the first place.
The prophecy continues, “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the war horse from Jerusalem.” Now this is an amazing thing. Because He doesn’t say He’ll cut off the chariot from Babylon or the war horse from Israel’s enemies. No, he says he’ll cut off the chariot and war horse from His people. It’s they who won’t fight anymore. They won’t need to. Because Jesus doesn’t enter Jerusalem to establish it as a state, to renew its nationhood. To be a nation on this earth, you must fight. If you don’t have chariots or war horses, you’ll be taken over. Israel today has nuclear weapons. Jesus isn’t talking about them. He hasn’t removed war from them. They’re in constant war. He’s removed war from His Church, from us. And the war he’s removed isn’t physical, it’s the sinner’s spiritual war with God Himself.
This King establishes a Kingdom that is not won or maintained or defended by weapons of this world, but by His Word. This is why the prophecy continues, “And he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” He shall speak it. And it’s a universal rule. It has nothing in common with the globalist initiatives of the United Nations, nothing in common with the impossible dream that all nations on earth can denuclearize and give up their weapons so that earthly peace can reign on this earth. No, the prophecy speaks of a peace this world cannot give. The violence we have at home in this country, the violence that racks this world, the wars and rumors of wars, will never be solved, never be ended by sinners whose condemnations of others only confirm their own condemnation. So long as we dwell in a world full of sinners and sin remains in our hearts, so long as selfish desire and pride stain us, stain even Christians whose sins have been forgiven, there will be no earthly peace on this earth.
The peace this King speaks, this universal peace, from sea to sea, to the ends of the earth, is the peace won by the blood of Jesus. This is what the prophecy says, “As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.” The Hebrew says, “from the pit, there is no water.” There is no refreshment, no life, no peace in this pit. We have seen and tasted in ourselves and in others what sin does to a man, no matter how he tries to keep himself clean from it. It brings him low and makes him pitiful. And he’s powerless against it. He can dull his mind to it, he can fight against it, but at no time will he defeat it. A young man can conquer lust, find his joy only in the wife of his youth, but he will see soon enough that pride or the pursuit of riches have filled the empty pit vacated by lust. And if he tries to get out of the pit by his own powers, if he tries and thinks that he can solve it all on his own, he only grows more thirsty by his work. Because in this pit, there is no water.
But then he hears the words of His Savior. And the water he needed drowns his pit, lifts him up, as he fills his mouth with it, drinks it in, and it washes him up to stand before God, with no shame, no guilt, no self-imposed delusion that he could ever have risen out of this pit without His Savior’s blood. And then he tastes freedom, beautiful freedom, like nothing this world can offer. A freedom that can say to the sin that has made him a prisoner, I know I can’t win against you, I know I have tried and failed time and again, but I know of One who has destroyed you, who was innocent and whom you killed, who is God himself in my flesh, and He never tasted you but He tasted your punishment for me, He entered into Jerusalem, His holy city, He poured out His blood, He died to end your reign over me, and He has spoken peace to me, He has told me in no uncertain terms that His righteousness is mine, He has washed me, given me the water of life, and you cannot separate me from Him, He is my King, and I will not and cannot fight against Him, He will not only forgive me, He will give me the strength to face every sin as my enemy and His.
Because this King has given a freedom that is protected on all sides, defended by the God who won it by his blood.
This is why he says, “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.” The Hebrew says, prisoners of the hope. There is only one hope. And we are prisoners, captives of this hope, in the stronghold, the castle of Christ’s Church defended by the Lord who bought it. Because on that day of His passion, our King restored to us double. He ended sin’s reign, He took away the guilt, He bore it for us. And now He fights for us. He restores double. He not only forgives the sin, He gives us His Spirit, whom He breathed out with His final breath on the cross. And with this Spirit He makes us warriors, who call out today, Hosanna, to the Son of David, righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
His humble entrance into Jerusalem to die our death, to win the victory over our sin, to pay with His life to reconcile us to our God and give us peace with Him, forms the Word He now speaks to us as He gives us His Spirit and His body and blood that make us partakers of God Himself, and give us fellowship and communion with Him, to live in peace for Him and with Him here in time and forever in eternity. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday, 2017
Matthew 21:1-11; Matthew 26-27
After reading the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, it seems superfluous to preach a sermon on Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. You just heard from God’s own Word why Jesus entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He came to suffer and die, to give up his body on the cross and shed his precious blood for the forgiveness of sins.
So you can consider what you just heard from St. Matthew’s Gospel to be your sermon for today. And I mean that. It’s not that I’m not going to preach a sermon right now – I am – but you are being blessed with two sermons today. I call the Passion Reading a sermon because we too often think of the Word of God as something unclear, something arcane. The pastor reads it to us and then he spends 20 minutes or so having to explain to us what it means.
But that’s not the case. Scripture is clear. And Scripture teaches. It’s the ground and foundation for all teaching in the Church. It teaches me and it teaches you. It’s a sermon in and of itself. And especially when we are talking about the history of Jesus’ betrayal and suffering and death, it is of the highest relevance and practicality to your life. That’s what a sermon should do. When I preach a sermon, I’m not explaining a text that is so unclear that it needs a trained theologian to explain it. No, I’m showing, or I’m trying to show, how this clear Word of God applies to your life.
And that’s exactly what the passion account does to explain the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. What does it matter for you, today, that Jesus road into Jerusalem? Because He road into Jerusalem to be your King, He road into Jerusalem to establish His Rule over you by winning your forgiveness before God in his death on the cross, He road into Jerusalem to institute the Supper of His Holy Passion, where He delivers to you, today, his holy body and precious blood for the forgiveness of all your sins. And that’s the sermon you just heard straight from the Bible. So let me encourage you during this Holy Week not only to pay attention to Scripture when it’s read here in Church, but to take it home with you and let it preach its sermons to you.
The Apostle John tells us that when the disciples saw Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a donkey they didn’t understand its significance. It was only after they saw Him crucified and risen that they understood why Jesus came riding into Jerusalem lowly on a donkey. And the same goes with us.
I’m assuming most of you have seen a donkey. It used to be the custom to bring a donkey in on Palm Sunday and act out the procession of Jesus into Jerusalem. The kids, I’m sure, loved it. In fact, I’m sure they loved it a bit too much. You go to church, see a donkey, throw some palms in front of it, and that’s all the excitement you need for one day. And then you come home from church thinking about a donkey instead of Jesus. That’s not good. And that’s why we try hard to remove all distractions from the Word of God. We want people coming home from church thinking about Jesus their Savior, not about the funny joke pastor told, or the awesome band, or the donkey, or whatever.
That being said, it would be nice to have a donkey here. Just so we could look at it. I remember seeing in the same summer - and this was exciting for me, because I basically grew up in the city away from farm animals – I saw in the same summer, up close, a Clydesdale, a huge, majestic, beautiful horse, the kind of horse that puts you in awe of its power and sheer size, and then a donkey. The donkey is not an impressive animal. It’s a humble one. You won’t see a knight riding a donkey, or a king. And that’s precisely the point. Jesus rides on a donkey into Jerusalem, to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah, that He will be a humble King, lowly, riding on a donkey, a beast of burden.
And this is what Jesus’ passion showed the disciples and shows us today. Yes, He is a King. But He’s not a King concerned with worldly might or riches. He’s not a King who promises wealth or earthly comfort. He’s not a King who exacts taxes and drafts your sons to die in His wars. No, He’s a King who comes humbly to bear your burden, the burden of your sin and corruption, and all that goes with it, the pain and heart-ache and loss and death, this is what your King came to take on Himself, to bear humbly to the cross. That’s how He established His Kingdom, for which we pray every day, “Thy Kingdom come.”
He’s God. Jesus is. That’s how He knew where the disciples could find a donkey. He knows everything. But look at how God uses His almighty power! To fetch a donkey, so that He can ride into Jerusalem to die. That’s how God uses His power. That’s what the centurion saw, the centurion who declared, “Surely, this was the Son of God.” What a scene! Here’s a man, dead, hanging on a cross, tortured to death by His enemies, bloody and bruised and swollen beyond recognition, a ghastly and pathetic sight – and the centurion looks at Him and says, “Surely this, this dead man, is God Himself.” Yes. Yes. He had it exactly right. That’s God. That’s how God uses His power. To fetch a lowly donkey. To ride into Jerusalem, right into the hands of His enemies. To submit Himself to mockery, shame, and death. To use the machinations and scheming of sinful men to accomplish His will of love for the world, so that all people, even a pagan centurion, can look to the cross to see their God, a God whose anger against sin, whose punishment against iniquity, finds its end in His own willing sacrifice and death. A God who instead of punishing us takes our punishment on Himself, becomes obedient unto death so that we don’t need to fear it, but can fall asleep in confidence, knowing that you alone O Lord, who have died for us, will make us dwell in safety, make us live eternally with You.
Behold Your King comes to you, lowly, riding on a donkey. He came lowly to them, and they praised Him as their King, shouting Hosanna, Save us Now, to the Son of David. Behold, Your King comes to you today, lowly. But powerful to save, all the same. We sing today the same words, “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” Because our King, our Jesus, He comes to us. Lowly, through the Word of Scripture that you have heard, lowly through water and the Word, lowly through bread and wine, the humble carriers of the body and blood of God Himself. This is how His Kingdom comes to us. This is how our God rules over us. And what a wonderful rule, what a beautiful Kingdom!
And it’s the Kingdom in which we live our daily lives. As we approach Easter and meditate on our Lord’s passion this Holy Week, we remember who we are. We’re Christians. Let’s think like Christians, let’s think on Christ our Savior, as St. Paul tell us – let this mind be in you which is yours in Christ Jesus. If you want to think Christian thoughts, thoughts of humility before God and love for your neighbor, of forgiveness for those who sin against you, of comfort even in suffering and joy even in weeping, of life even in the midst of death, meditate on Christ’s passion, His suffering, who though he was in the form of God made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Here is your salvation. Here is your life, now and forever. Let us pray:
On my heart…
Pastor Christian Preus
Maundy Thursday, 2018
The wonder of our God is that though He is the almighty and eternal God, far above everything and inspiring the natural laws that make stars burn and planets fly through space, though He gives the birds and the beasts their daily bread and sustains trillions of living beings every day, yet at the same time He comes and visits individual human beings specifically and personally. We see this all throughout the Old Testament. Where is God when He orders Moses to instruct the Israelites to observe the Passover? Where is He when He appears to Joshua before the battle of Jericho? Where is He when He shows Himself to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre and promises that Sarah will have a son? He’s everywhere, and He’s doing everything that makes this universe work, and yet He is with Moses, with Joshua, with Abraham, personally and specifically, meeting their very specific needs with very specific words and actions.
No religion made up by man has such a God. The ancient pagans had their gods and goddesses appear to individual people, but these gods weren’t almighty, they weren’t everywhere, they weren’t creators. They appeared to people on earth only by leaving their place on Mount Olympus or in heaven. And the god of the philosophers was almighty and all-knowing, sustaining all things by his power, present everywhere, but he couldn’t appear to men on earth, couldn’t address specific people with specific words or help, couldn’t be in a specific place at a specific time, because he was too far away, too distant, doing his almighty all-sustaining work.
But God, the true God, from the beginning of this universe’s existence, remains eternal and omnipresent and almighty, and yet condescends to be with His creation, to talk to Adam and Eve personally in Paradise, and to speak, as the author of Hebrews says, in many and various ways to the fathers by the prophets. And all this is a preface, a preamble to God’s very specific appearing in the flesh, in Christ Jesus our Lord, who, though He dirtied his feet on the roads of Palestine, remained the Creator and Sustainer of all things.
God is there in the upper room on that first Maundy Thursday with his dirty feet, with his outer garments thrown aside, wearing a towel, washing the feet of his disciples. The God without whose attention the universe falls into nothingness has all his personal attention on the filth of his disciples’ toes.
When God appeared to Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre to announce that Sarah would conceive and have a child, Abraham knew who his Visitor was. He quickly got a meal prepared and served Him. But he didn’t wash His feet. Abraham instead says, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.”
Wash your feet, Abraham says to God. Abraham doesn’t wash God’s feet. It was simply unheard of for a man of Abraham’s stature to wash feet. You washed your own feet, or you had a slave do it.
Now we know that John’s Gospel is full of signs. Jesus performs signs in John, even his miracles are called signs. The sign here is Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. This is the work of a slave, and not just of a slave, it is the work of the lowest slave in the house. Even slaves had ranks. The top slave might manage the affairs of the house. Some middling slave might cook and serve dinner. But no one but the lowest slave would be asked to wash his master’s feet. Every other slave would look down on the work as below him. Think of that. This is slave work that even slaves look down on, that Abraham and every man of faith after him wouldn’t think of doing. And the almighty God is performing it.
And so we have two things here to consider. First that the almighty and omnipresent God can pay special and individual attention to you. That’s wonder enough. But far more wonderful is that He pays this kind of attention to you.
John is the only Gospel that doesn’t include the institution of the Lord’s Supper. He instead records this sign. And here Jesus shows what it means that He is present with us in the Lord’s Supper. He dies the death of the lowest slave, crucified in shame and humility, and the body He gives up to be pierced and the blood He lets pour from His holy veins, He gives to us now, as our Lord and God who came not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for the many.
What we have in the Lord’s Supper is our God’s special attention to us. And who are we? Why would the almighty God, our Lord and Master, deign to bend down like a slave to take care of our filth? Peter objected when Jesus kneeled down to wash his feet. We judge him for this, of course, because we see Jesus’ reaction, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” But Peter understands full well how out of place this is. He is the creature, Jesus the Creator. He is the sinner, Jesus the only righteous Man who has ever lived. He is completely unworthy of His Lord’s attention, much less this attention.
And so are we. So are we. I’ve often heard it said that we should have the Lord’s Supper less frequently, because then it’s more special. This makes no sense. All Christians know their unworthiness to receive this Supper. I am unworthy of this Supper, yes, I know, I have sinned grievously and thought and said and done what should ban me from God’s presence and communion forever. I cannot fathom why this God would want me, would pay such attention to me, would offer me forgiveness for the sin that I continue to commit even though I know its punishment and misery. But this, this is exactly why the Christian thirsts for the God who binds Himself to pay this special attention to us. It’s not infrequent communion that makes communion special, it’s the fact that the God who insisted, insisted, on bending down to wash the filth off of His disciples’ feet, is the God who insists now on wiping the filth from us His children. And it is precisely because you have dirtied yourself, precisely because you have made yourself unworthy of communion with this God, that you need this God’s special attention today and often, as Jesus Himself says, “Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me.”
He comes with no human transaction, no deal that involves you earning His attention. He comes today as He came then, as only the true God comes. He deems you worthy of His presence, His body and blood, His cleansing, because He wants to forgive the won for whom He gave His life. And He wants no objection, no “You will never wash my feet,” He wants instead to feed the one who desires what Peter desired, “Not my feet only, but my hands and my head.” Peter often says stupid things to Jesus. But this isn’t one of them. He wanted everything from Jesus, everything that Jesus was willing to give. He saw the significance. He saw that His God was bending down to serve him, a sinner. And once he sees this marvel, he cries out for more.
And here, in this Supper, you have everything Jesus gives. Everything. You have no need to cry out for more. The God who governs the universe looks down on you specifically, He knows your wants, He knows your sins, He knows your needless worries, He knows even what you haven’t confessed because you don’t know the depth of the misery that separates you from Him, but He knows, and He comes with everything He has won by His life and His cross, His body and blood poured out to remove your separation from Him, your sin and your hell, to give you communion with the God whose love and commitment to you is so specific that He Himself stooped down into the mire of your sin and bore it all, paid for it all specifically, and has sought you out specifically to forgive you and make you His own forever.
And the beauty of this particular attention that the Almighty showers on you, is that He showers it on your brothers and sisters in Christ also. And it isn’t dissipated. It doesn’t run out. My mother, who raised 12 kids, was often asked how she could love them all, whether it wasn’t the case that the more the kids, the less love can be poured out on each specifically. She couldn’t understand how anyone could think such a thing. And neither can our Lord Jesus. I saw it as a child. The more my mother loved the new baby, the more she turned her motherly eyes with affection to me, and the more I loved the baby that my mother loved so much, the more I knew my mother’s love. And so it is with us. Love one another. See your Savior’s love for you, for your husband, your wife, your children, your brothers and sisters in Christ, for whom He gave Himself into death, see how He places His body and blood into your mouth and into the mouths of the members of His holy Christian Church, how He unites you all together as partakers of His most holy love, and know what it means that Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. As I have loved you, so you love one another.”
Let us pray,
Ah, how hungers all my spirit, for the love I do not merit. Oft have I with sighs fast thronging, thought upon this food with longing. In the battle, well-nigh worsted, for this cup of life have thirsted. For the friend who here invites us, and to God himself unites us. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018
John’s history of Jesus’ resurrection is very neatly divided into two parts. In the first, he gives the facts. And in the second, he tells us what these facts mean. We need to know both. That’s why John wrote them together. Forgiveness, eternal life, heaven, these religious words are worse than meaningless if they aren’t grounded in the fact of Christ’s resurrection. As St. Paul says, if we believe in God and the forgiveness of sins and eternal life and Jesus isn’t risen, we’re the most miserable people imaginable, duped, pitiable religious enthusiasts. But then, on the other hand, if the fact of Jesus’ resurrection is nothing but remote and irrelevant history, if we don’t know why He was resurrected, what this means for us in the here and now, then this fact is nothing but useless trivia. And so these two things belong together, they must stand together always. The historical fact of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and what it means for us now.
First the facts. Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early on the Sunday after Jesus died on the cross. She couldn’t come to the grave on Saturday because Jews couldn’t work on the Sabbath. So she comes at the earliest possible time she can and sees that Jesus’ tomb is empty. And this fact, that Jesus’ tomb is empty, this is the indisputable fact of history that the Gospel doesn’t stop emphasizing. Mary says it three times – “they’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb,” “they’ve taken my Lord away,” “sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him.” And the disciples Peter and John, they see the same thing, and give a detailed description of it – the grave is empty, the linen in which Jesus was wrapped is lying to one side and the face cloth is in a separate place, neatly folded. All of this stressing this one fact – Jesus’ body isn’t in the tomb.
And this is an amazing thing. The leaders of the Jews, the Sanhedrin, had heard Jesus say he would rise from the dead. They were terrified of it happening. His disciples, on the other hand, had forgotten all about it. Someone, whether God in his grace or the devil in his wickedness, had blinded them to it. They huddle terrified in an upper room and the women bring spices to anoint the body they’re convinced is still dead. But Jesus’ enemies take him seriously. They knew he had raised Lazarus from the dead and they’d heard of others. And so they ask Pilate for an armed guard to place at the tomb. They seal the boulder covering the tomb. They do everything within human power to make sure that body stays in that tomb.
But it’s not there. Those are the facts of Easter, known by unbelievers and believers alike, because it takes no faith to believe history. In fact, knowing these facts doesn’t make believers out of Mary and John and Peter either. Instead Mary breaks down weeping, so obsessed is she that she can’t find the dead body. John and Peter look and believe that Jesus’ body is gone, but “they did not yet understand the Scriptures, that he must rise from the dead.” They know the fact, but they don’t know what to do with the fact. Mary even sees Jesus and mistakes him for a gardener.
So that’s the fact. But now the Gospel turns to telling us what this fact means. And here is where the fact of Jesus’ resurrection insists on being relevant and personal to sinners. The Gospel focuses in on Mary, personally, and Mary recognizes Jesus because Jesus calls her by name. Mary. One word, addressed to a poor sinner in her grief and doubt and unbelief. And it means everything. I didn’t rise for myself. I rose for you, to call you by name, because I know you, I know your sin and your cares and your fears and the stubborn unbelief of your heart, but I come to you still and call you by name, because I died for you, because I had you in mind when I cried out those powerful words, “It is finished,” all your sins, your separation from God, your failure and hopelessness, finished by the sacrifice of your God who wears your flesh and bled for your sins and now lives to give you His life.
And the response of faith, Mary’s response, is also one word, at least in Aramaic: Rabboni. We’re used to hearing the word Rabbi, and we know what it means, teacher, but this word Rabboni says more. My teacher, it means. This Jesus is mine. Everything He is and does and says, is mine.
But more than this, and this is what the Gospel stresses, this resurrected Jesus is my teacher. You’d think that something more heartfelt, more intimate would pass from Mary’s lips – my friend, my Savior, my Lord. But no, there is nothing more intimate, nothing Mary needs more, nothing we need more, than Jesus as our teacher. This is what she begs for with this word, “Rabboni.” Teach me, Lord. She needs to hear the words of everlasting life from the One who has conquered her death.
And that’s exactly what Mary gets. It’s what Jesus gives. Jesus says, “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” And with these few short words, Jesus teaches Mary and us everything His resurrection means.
He calls his disciples His brothers. And He explains why. “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” The eternal Son of the Father declares that His Father is the Father of sinners, that He gives them His Sonship, that His Father looks on them as He looks on Him, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Because the Son of the Father is our substitute, He stands in for us, and He blesses us with a great exchange, giving us everything He is and has and taking from us and putting on His cross everything that keeps us from God.
And then Jesus says the amazing, this Jesus who has declared so many times that He is the great I AM, that He is the eternal God, He calls God His God. And this, this is because He is and remains one of us. This is what the resurrection means. The Son of God didn’t just use our human nature to win our salvation and then discard it. He joined it to Himself forever. He loves humanity. He is a man. God is a man, one of us. How could God forsake you, how could He leave you alone, how could He fail in all His promises to you, when He still bears your flesh and calls your God His God?
The resurrection of Jesus means everything. And it’s beautifully personal. We call the resurrection of Jesus the fundamentum fidei, the foundation of faith. He rose, He said He would, and by His resurrection He has proven that He is God almighty in human flesh, that everything He promises is true, that His sacrifice on the cross has been accepted as the payment for all our sin, that death is not our end, that we will rise as He has risen, to spend eternity without sin or shame in the presence of the Holy Trinity.
And this is the foundation of our faith, personally. It isn’t dry, these aren’t factoids to be memorized and compartmentalized in some part of the brain we never use. No, this is what gives joy in sadness, relief from guilt, confidence and certainty of God’s commitment to you, when doubts ravage your mind, when you fear death, when you don’t want to wake up to face another day. No, Christ is risen to life. And that means human life is beautiful, that God loves it, and He wants life for you with Him now and forever. The God who took on your flesh and blood, who placed your sin on Himself, who faced your death, who was lonely and forsaken on the cross for you, He lives, and He lives to call you by name, and to give you His name.
And this He does. This is your Baptism, where your Lord joined you to His death and resurrection, where you became one with the Son and He made God your Father. This is the Holy Communion, where the God who still wears your flesh gives you the body and blood that make you partaker of His divinity.
The tradition is that we have church every Sunday because Sunday is the day Jesus rose from the dead. And that’s true. Since that first Easter, Christians have met together every Sunday for 2000 years. So important is the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. But it’s more than this. It’s because that day, Jesus held Church for Mary, that’s what He rose to do, He called her by name, He instructed her, He showed her that He was her God and her Brother who had destroyed her death and buried her sin and made her a child of His Father. He held Church for her. And because He is risen, He continues it with us this Easter and every Sunday, until we with our resurrected bodies see our resurrected Lord face to face.
Alleluia. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
Pastor Christian Preus
Quasimodo geniti (Easter 2), 2018
The Easter accounts are full of fear and doubt on the one hand and joy on the other. These two sets of emotions, which we’d think don’t belong together, are in fact the common Christian experience. It’s a silly picture of Christianity that paints an always happy life, with no trouble, no doubt, no fear, because we have the message of joy and life. No, it is precisely because we have trouble, we fear, and we doubt that we need the joy and life our Lord’s resurrection gives us. And it’s this trouble and doubt and fear that is so prominently displayed in the history of Jesus’ resurrection, in Mary, in his disciples, in Thomas, in everyone who will take joy in seeing the pierced hands and side of their crucified and risen God. And so we need to spend some time on this fear and doubt, what it really is, because we Christians still face it today.
Our Gospel says the disciples were afraid, huddled in a locked room. They were afraid of the Jewish leaders, it says, afraid that they would be put to death as Jesus was. But if we take a good look at this fear, we see it’s really a fear of God and of Jesus in particular. The Bible speaks of the fear of God in two ways. The first is what God commands of us, to reverence Him as our Creator and our Savior, and to fear Him as a child fears and respects his father. The second is this doubting and servile fear, the fear Adam and Eve first felt in the Garden, after their fall into sin, as they hear the sound of the Lord God walking in the Garden and hide themselves, afraid to face the One whom they’ve denied and offended. And this is the fear of God the disciples felt. A cowardly fear rising from doubt of God’s love and care for them. What else does it mean to be afraid of the Jewish leaders? It means to be afraid that Jesus won’t protect them. The One who was crucified is alive, they know, they’ve heard the Easter message, Peter’s seen Christ alive, but still they’re afraid. And this shouldn’t surprise us.
Because they know what they’ve done. They all ran from Jesus, abandoned Him to be tortured and to die on a cross, looked out for themselves and not for their Lord. Peter denied him with his words. They all denied him with their actions. And because of this they are afraid of their God. Why should God be on the side of betrayers and cowards? Why should He come to the aid of those who left Him helpless to His enemies? Why should He not abandon them and leave them alone to the evil they’ve brought on themselves? Why should God befriend sinners?
The disciples don’t have the luxury we think we have. They broke the fourth, the fifth, the seventh, and the eighth commandments when they abandoned Jesus. They failed to honor this man, who was their teacher, they didn’t look out for his life, they allowed his clothing to be stripped from him and stolen, and they refused to speak up for him. Now when we do these things, we see our failing as a human affair, because we see very clearly that it’s other humans we hurt. To err, the pagans liked to say, is human, but more than this, it affects humans. When I disrespect authority, when I break a trust, when I look out for myself instead of my wife or my children, I see the human consequences, the breaking of relationships, the hurt caused by my words and my actions. And to some extent I can make up for them, say a kind word, resolve to do better, prove that I’m a better man than all that. God doesn’t need to enter into the picture. That’s the way the unbelievers live, and the unbelieving flesh in all of us deals with sin the same way. It’s a horizontal, human affair, simply between me and my neighbor.
But the disciples can’t think this way. Obviously and personally, their sin against Jesus is a sin against their God. When they refused to honor Jesus, they refused to honor God, when they refused to speak up for Him, when they ran away, they did it all to God. Their sins against the second table of the law, what we learned in catechism has to do with love for our neighbor, love for other people, these were sins also against their God, Jesus.
And this is how we Christians need to learn to see sin. Sin is an offense against God. Always. It is never simply a human affair. The story of David and Bathsheba, which we all know, has always surprised me in its emphasis on this one point. David’s sin was clearly against people. He was lazy and lustful and had all the power, so he used and abused it to murder a man and steal his wife. But when David confesses his sin, which is clearly, obviously a sin against Uriah, whom he killed and betrayed, and undeniably a sin against Bathsheba, a married woman he treated like his plaything, when he confesses this sin that so hurt these people, he says “I have sinned against the Lord,” and again in Psalm 51 he confesses to God, “Against you, you only have I sinned and done this evil in your sight.” Against You only, he says.
The point here isn’t, of course, that we shouldn’t confess our sins and seek forgiveness from those people we sin against. Of course we should. Unhappy is the marriage, unhappy is any human relationship, where the words, “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you” are never heard. The point is rather that God is the judge. It is to Him we are accountable. We live before God always. Every day, every minute of every hour, we stand before the God who created us and who constantly attends us, against whom we have sinned. And the Christian, who knows this, knows it, because God warns us and tells us that He is the avenger of sin and executes judgment on the unrighteous, we must see ourselves in those disciples locked in that room, hiding not only from the Jews but from their fear of the God whom they’ve betrayed by their sin.
The beautiful thing is that the disciples can’t even try to go find Jesus. How could they? It’s not a matter of emotions or willpower that draws God to us. They can’t bring Jesus to them. No, but Jesus comes. He comes freely, moved by His love alone. He comes to poor sinners, afraid and cowardly, unable to even think how they could approach the God whom they’ve offended. And He comes with no rebuke. None. His first word is, “Peace.”
But even before He speaks that Word, the disciples go from fear of God to joy in Him. The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord, our translation says. The Greek is echaresan, they rejoiced, they were full of joy. And this not simply because He was there, but because He showed them the hands and the side that bled for them. That’s what they see.
And this word, “see,” means much more than simply seeing with the eyes. Obviously, they saw with their eyes. They’re eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, and Scripture insists on this against all the skeptics of our age and every age, as we just heard at the end of our Gospel, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” – I have to say here, I came home yesterday to my wife and son David listening to some awful sermon online, where the preacher, this last Easter, told his congregation that it doesn’t matter whether Jesus factually rose from the dead, because it’s the story that counts. I have no idea what that means. But I was really happy to hear my wife and son burst out laughing when they heard it. I hope and pray if I ever preach, and God forbid it, if I ever preach anything so terrible and contrary to the facts of God’s holy Word, you’ll do the same thing, you’ll laugh me out of this pulpit. What belongs here is the truth and conviction of the facts of God’s Word, and that’s it. – And the fact is that the resurrection of Jesus means everything because it happened in our history and our time, with the God who is one of us, has united our humanity forever to Himself, because He really died in the place of sinners and He really rose with His body on the third day, and He really showed His pierced hands and His pierced side to those ten men.
And this is what they saw in those wounds. The God who was not angry with them. This is why they rejoiced. They had no reason to fear Him. Those wounds proved that this Jesus, who because He is God could enter into a locked room and ignore the rules of physics that He creates and governs, this God is one of them, who comes to them not to punish but to show them the marks of their punishment in His own body, that all their fear, their lack of trust, their doubt in Him, their betrayal, their cowardice, their every sin, all of it, was paid for by His suffering and dying in love for them.
And this is exactly what He tells them. Peace be with you. What I have bought with these wounds I give to you. Peace with God. And this peace consists in the command that only Jesus could give, only the One who earned the right of us sinners not to cower in fear before God, but to know the fear and love and trust that God’s children possess for Him, because you know that no matter how badly you have failed, no matter how you have doubted and feared and played the coward in your life, your Lord and God Jesus commands Peace in the forgiveness of your sins found in His wounds. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, Jesus says. And the God who won it is emphatically serious.
When we confessed our sins this morning we said, each of us, individually, and all of us together to our God, “I confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You.”
And God told you your sins are forgiven. All of them. And there is no barrier that keeps Him from you. No locked door, no laws of physics. He comes, He descends upon bread and wine, He gives His body and His blood into your mouths. He speaks peace. And He gives His Spirit, who convinces us of the truth that our Lord Jesus is risen, that our sin and death are left in the grave, that we have an eternal inheritance with our God. And here we have boldness and confidence to live as Christians before both men and our God, in faith, hope, and love, and joy, till our faith becomes sight, and we cry out with Thomas as we see our Savior’s face, “My Lord and my God.”
Alleluia. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
Easter 2, Quasimodo geniti, 2017
When people first come to a Lutheran church and hear the congregation confess their sins and then the pastor forgive them their sins, you will often hear the words, “That’s catholic.” And by catholic, they mean, “Roman Catholic.” We could object and say, no, no, this is Lutheran. We’ve always done this. But that wouldn’t be quite right either, at least not if we’re saying this is merely a Lutheran thing, something we Lutherans came up with. It’s not. Jesus came up with it. That’s why we do it. We don’t do things because Luther told us to. He’s not our pope. We do things because Jesus told us to. And Jesus speaks in no uncertain terms to his apostles, to the first pastors, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Jesus tells his pastors to forgive sins. He commands them to do it. It’s no serious thing to disagree with Luther, because Luther can be wrong – he was the first to admit it. And it’s certainly no serious thing to disagree with the pope. He’s usually wrong, even if he doesn’t admit it. But to disagree with Jesus, that’s not something Christians may do.
But the objection remains and is very prominent and insistent especially here in America– how can a man forgive sins? I’m a sinner. Sinners can’t forgive sins. They need forgiveness themselves. And that’s true enough. But the forgiveness I give doesn’t come from me. Christian Preus doesn’t forgive you your sins. He doesn’t have the power or authority to do that. But Jesus does. And Jesus commands pastors to forgive sins. That’s why the pastor doesn’t just say, “I forgive you your sins.” He says, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you your sins.”
The words I speak aren’t my words. You shouldn’t care what Christian Preus has to say, at least not when I’m up here. You didn’t come to hear me talk. You came to hear Jesus talk, to listen to God’s Word. That’s why, by the way, I don’t come up here in a suit and tie or in jeans and a t-shirt. Not that a pastor couldn’t do that – there’s no dress code commanded in the Bible for pastors – but if the pastor did, you might just get the impression that it’s him, and his personality, and his words up here. Pastors dress the way they do to take the focus off themselves, off their own person, and show that they speak not for themselves but for Jesus. Because it’s Jesus you need to hear.
And Jesus commands pastors to forgive sins. He’s insistent on this very thing. And mark why He’s so insistent. Because He earned it. That’s what we just celebrated on Easter and it’s our greatest joy every day of our lives. Jesus, the man Thomas confesses to be both God and Lord, this Jesus who showed His pierced hands and feet and side to his apostles, who showed them the proofs that He had suffered the punishment for all sinners, for all sins, and swallowed up the wrath of God in his own person on the cross. This Jesus has earned the forgiveness of all sins. The first thing Jesus does when He sees his disciples after his resurrection is say, “Peace be with you.” This is the peace that the angels sang on Christmas to the shepherds, peace with God, peace because the sins that separate sinners from God, the sins that have deserved His anger and punishment, these sins were taken off us and placed on the holy Lamb of God. And He has left them in the grave. And so Jesus, not simply because He is God, but because He is also man, our substitute who has taken on our flesh and paid for our sins, Jesus alone has the authority to forgive us our sins. And He has commanded the pastors of His Church to do exactly this.
We shouldn’t be surprised that despite Jesus’ clear words, people still object to men forgiving sins. This is our natural human reaction. We think we need what we consider a more authentic spiritual experience. We’re not content with words. This is, in fact, exactly what happened with Thomas. Jesus tells his disciples to forgive sins. And they do what Jesus told them to do. They tell Thomas that Christ is risen, which is nothing but a proclamation of the forgiveness of Thomas’ sins. And Thomas won’t listen. They’re just men. They’re just sinners like he is. Thomas wants a more intimate experience with Jesus Himself. He wants to see Jesus, put his hand in Jesus’ side and his fingers in the holes of Jesus’ hands. He’s not content to hear the Word of forgiveness from men.
And so it goes. People want to experience Jesus outside His Word. But Jesus won’t have it. He rebukes Thomas. He scolds Him precisely because He wanted more than the words of Jesus spoken through men. Jesus tells him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Now Jesus obviously hasn’t promised to appear to us here on this earth so that we can put our finger in His hands and our hand in his side. But He has given us His Word, and it’s a word that is priceless beyond compare, a Word purchased by His own blood.
If we want a spiritual experience with Jesus, we listen to His Word, because Jesus has bound His Spirit and His Word together. That’s why when He tells His disciples to forgive sins, He first breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” We receive Jesus and His Spirit in His word of forgiveness. And since Jesus hasn’t sent angels to preach His Word, we can hear it preached only from sinful men, men like the apostles who were cowering in fear in the upper room, timid and imperfect men who have nothing of worth to say of themselves, but only what Jesus told them to say, only what we now have written in God’s Word – as the Apostle John says, “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” Jesus has promised to give everlasting life through His Word. And He’s commanded men, sinful men, to preach this Word.
We call this the pastoral office. It’s Jesus’ doing. He is the Lord of the Church, He is our one and only Teacher. He is the true Pastor, the true Shepherd of our souls. He is the one who creates His church and commands His church to call faithful pastors who are able to teach His Word and are given the task of announcing forgiveness in Christ Jesus.
Jesus created the pastoral office in and for His Church. He didn’t send pastors to lord it over His church, to give them some exalted status in the church, some higher sanctity or holiness than the people in the pews. No. Jesus sent and sends pastors to serve His people. “As the Father has sent Me, so also I send you,” Jesus says. What did the Father send His Son to do? What does Jesus say? “The Son of Man has come not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” The Father sent His Son to serve. And the Son gives His Word and Spirit to His Church and sends pastors for the same reason. To serve.
Pastors serve by giving Jesus’ words to Jesus’ sheep. My sheep hear My voice, Jesus says. The voice of Jesus is always the voice of forgiveness in His name, the voice of the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep. And His voice isn’t just heard in the absolution. It’s heard in the reading of the Bible, in the pure preaching of the Gospel, in the water and word of Baptism, and the body and blood of His Supper. When Jesus tells the first pastors to forgive sins, he’s telling them not simply to speak the words, “I forgive you your sins,” but to speak the whole counsel of God. This is exactly what He says to the same apostles later, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This is how Jesus remains with His Church, how He is with us always, even to the end of the age, how we know the power of His resurrection and receive the Spirit and all His gifts. Through the hearing of His Word. This is the Word pastors are commanded to preach, but it’s also the Word that belongs to all Christians, to the whole Church. All things are yours, St. Paul says, all things. He said this to the Corinthians when they had begun to think that they could form themselves around the personality of a pastor instead of under God’s Word. Some claimed they were disciples of Paul, others of Apollos, others of Cephas. We see this in our day as thousands gather around the personality of a Joel Osteen or some other megachurch leader, and then when he dies or falls into scandal, the whole church falls. Because they were built on the charisma of a man instead of the Word of Christ’s cross and resurrection. Listen to St. Paul’s words, “Let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.”
The pastoral office belongs to the Church. It doesn’t belong to an individual pastor. It belongs to you and it is for you. That doesn’t mean everyone should individually come up here and preach. God is a God of order. But it does mean God sends and calls pastors through you, His Church. It means this congregation has Jesus’ own authority to forgive sins in His stead. It means you yourselves have the Word that forgives sins and can speak those words whenever there is need. It means you call pastors and you hold your pastor to the Word of God, you make sure he teaches it, make sure he does what Jesus commands him to do, that he forgives the sins of those who repent and withholds forgiveness from those who don’t, that he teaches the whole counsel of God, not just what fits his fancy or what is least offensive to the world around us.
No, the Word of God is written so that we may believe in Christ and believing have life in His name. Never be bored with God’s Word, with its teaching. It’s the Word of everlasting life. It’s the Word of Christ’s resurrection, His conquering triumph over your sin and your death. Even when it’s spoken through the mouth of a sinful man, it’s the Word Jesus Himself speaks, a Word of peace with God, a Word that creates faith, bestows the Spirit, and brings us into communion with our Father in heaven. Our Lord Jesus Christ grant that we hear it in faith and live by it now and into eternity. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Pastor Christian Preus
Misericordias Domini, 2018
Our Gospel lesson for today, where Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd, is one of those passages of Scripture so familiar to us Christians that we risk passing over it with little thought to its meaning. Familiarity breeds contempt, the saying goes. It’s like John 3:16. I’ve had it memorized since before I can remember, so why read it? I already know what it says. Well, two things should be answered to this type of thinking, which, by the way, is very common among us Christians, if, as we should, we’ve made a habit of reading the Bible daily and coming to Church regularly. We want to learn from reading the Bible, and reading the same Psalm or singing the same hymn or saying the same prayer doesn’t seem conducive to learning anything new. But here we have to realize first that Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice.” A sheep doesn’t tire of hearing its shepherd, even when the shepherd just says the same things over and over again, just like a child doesn’t tire of hearing mommy say goodnight every evening. There are certain things we don’t tire of, no matter the repetition, no matter if it doesn’t convey new information. I know my wife loves me, but I don’t say, “I know, I know, you told me that already,” when everyday she repeats those same words, “I love you.” Because to hear those words, although they’re never new and they never surprise me and they never teach me anything I didn’t already know, to hear those words is my delight as a husband, and not to hear those words for a day or a week or a month, that would mean something’s terribly wrong and off in my life.
And so it goes with God’s Word, even the very familiar words, and especially them. But more than this, it’s often the case that you will in fact learn new things when you hear and meditate on the same word of God that you’ve heard a thousand times before. God’s Word isn’t like human words that simply pass off or request information. Hand me the salt-shaker or where’s the pepper have a very basic meaning that is easily exhausted by the acquisition of the salt and pepper. But words from the almighty God to his children are inexhaustible, because their source is from the God whose love is inexhaustible and who draws out from us sinners, who are inexhaustibly petty and sinful and undeserving of this God, draws out from us a love and a trust that can only be fulfilled in an eternal life with our God, which begins here on this earth and goes on forever in the resurrection and the heavenly courts.
Now one of the most striking characteristics of this Good Shepherd passage is Jesus’s constant claim of ownership. It’s emphatic. These sheep are mine, they belong to me. He’s constantly using the word my, and also this other beautiful word in the Greek, idios, which again expresses ownership, my own. And he’ll go on to stress this ownership more, that his sheep are in his hand and nothing will take them from him, they’re in his Father’s hand, and no one can steal the sheep from him.
We don’t talk this way, or at least we don’t realize we talk this way, enough. That Jesus owns us. That we belong to Him. We call Him Lord constantly in the liturgy and in prayer and we read it in the Bible, but this becomes one of those religious words we throw out as a synonym for God. But that’s not at all what it is. Lord means master. It means owner. When Jesus sends his disciples into Jerusalem to find him a donkey on Palm Sunday, we hear that the donkey’s owners ask the disciples the very sensible question, “Why are you taking our donkey?” The word for owners there is kyrioi, the lords, the owners, of the donkey, the same word the Bible uses to refer to Jesus as Lord. That’s what it means. When we call Jesus Lord, we’re saying He owns us, we belong to Him.
This of course seems oppressive to the enlightened 21st century mind. It smacks of slavery. We’re far too free, independent, liberated to talk this way. But again we do talk this way without even thinking about it and we should not only say it but mean it. You wives refer to your husbands as your husbands. That’s because you own them. They belong to you. St. Paul says so in 1 Corinthians 7, their bodies belong to you. And the same is true for husbands. You call your wives your wives. And this is an expression not just of some contractual relationship, but of a real and intimate ownership. You belong to one another. And there’s a certain beautiful jealousy in this. Not the suspicious and selfish jealousy of the stereotypical domineering husband, but the jealousy that God speaks of throughout the Bible, that He is jealous of His bride, the Church, that He refuses to let anyone rob their affection from Him, to allow anyone or anything to come between them and Him and sever the relationship. Because we belong to Him. I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, He says. He views His sheep as the loving husband views his wife and the loving father his children. My wife is mine, my children are mine, she has no other husband, and they have no other earthly father. For better or worse, their mine, and I’m theirs. We belong to each other. And heaven help man or devil who tries to separate us. The mother who finds out there’s a bully at school may worry about the other children, but when she sees her own kid bullied and hurt, she drops all gentlemanly tact and compromise and wars for her dear child. It’s as Rudyard Kipling says in his beautiful poem:
She is wedded to convictions—in default of grosser ties;
Her contentions are her children, Heaven help him who denies!—
He will meet no suave discussion, but the instant, white-hot, wild,
Wakened female of the species warring as for spouse and child.
And this is exactly what Jesus is saying when He calls Himself the Good Shepherd. We are His sheep. He fights for us, as we just sang, “Great Captain, now, thine arm make bare, fight for us once again.” Now the analogy here is one of shepherd and sheep, not of husband and wife, or mother and child. And this is to illustrate just how helpless we are without our Lord’s ownership. A woman may be able to make do without her husband, many do. And orphans can make something of themselves. But domesticated sheep are those curious creatures that will be scattered and eaten the second they have no owner. And here we need to realize where we stand in this world, because we are sheep. It’s not as if we can do without an owner. Christian freedom isn’t that kind of freedom. Sheep are owned or they’re dead. Christians are owned by their Shepherd, or they’re scattered and slaughtered, becoming the property of a master who cares nothing for them. The sheep that leaves the 99 and wanders off by himself may think in his sheep brain that he’s been liberated, but he’s only put himself into a world of trouble. And the Christian who seeks liberty outside of Christ, who thinks he can live without Jesus as his Shepherd and Lord and Owner, will only fall into the ownership of his own desires, that leave him prey for a life of misery and discontent, with the devil and the world contending for his eternal soul. And that’s no freedom at all.
And it’s because our Lord knows it, He knows it, that we cannot do without Him, that we are the ones who are constantly tempted with selfish desires and unbelief, that we fall into the same sins that we were determined never to do again, that no matter the front of strength and independence we put on for ourselves or for our families or our neighbors, we are weak and helpless against this world of sin and the death that awaits us, because He knows that the devil exists and false teachers are everywhere enticing us to forget about our sin and our death and our hell and our need for a Savior from it all, because He knows us, that we are helpless sheep, that He insists so emphatically on being our Shepherd and is so jealous to keep us His own, safe with Him here on earth and forever in eternity.
And to prove and establish His insistence and His commitment to you, He shows you who He is, the good Shepherd, in Greek, the noble Shepherd, the one who is honorable and true, and He spends His honor, His goodness, His truth, on you, and lays down His life for you. So that all that could hurt you, the sin, the pride, the unbelief, the itching ears, the devil, He confronts and takes on Himself, makes Himself the brunt object of everything that separates you from your God, and suffers it, all of it, in your place. This God who is your Brother, this Shepherd who is your Lord, is no domineering owner, no selfish and extortive master, He doesn’t lay down principles and rules for you to follow to win His favor, He doesn’t force you into submission. No, He lays down His life for you, to free you to live before Him without fear, in the forgiveness of your sins won by His blood shed for you.
And He doesn’t stop there. He speaks to you with the persuasive voice of the Shepherd who loves you and bought you to be His own. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life. And no one will snatch them out of my hand. My sheep hear my voice. It’s what we do. As the child never tires of hearing his mother’s goodnight, as the happy wife never tires of her husband’s I love you, we hear the words so familiar and so precious to us. And there’s no tiring of it. Sunday morning, when you gather together to hear your Shepherd’s voice, Sunday morning is like an oasis in the desert, like green pastures and still waters to a famished and thirsty sheep. Every Sunday and every morning when you get up to face another day, hear the word of your God, hear the voice of the One to whom you belong, who holds your life in His hands and will not give up on you. He knows you, you have no need to hide from Him, to avoid hearing His voice because of any sin or shame in your life, He knew and He knows all that too, He knew it from eternity, and He bore it, He laid down His life for you, and He sought you out, that’s why you’re here this morning. He calls you by His Word to make you His own. And more than this, you hear the voice of the One who belongs to you. He is your Lord, your Shepherd. He is jealous of you, you be jealous of Him. As we’ll sing in a few weeks here in church on Pentecost, “Let none but Christ our master be.” Hear His voice, love it above everything, to know Him, to know His cross, to know His resurrection, to know His unrelenting love, His unending and unquenchable thirst for your salvation. Let me be thine forever, o faithful God and Lord, let me forsake thee never, nor wander from thy word. … For thou hast dearly bought me with death and bitter pain, let me since thou has sought me, eternal life attain. Amen.
Alleluia. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
Pastor Christian Preus
Easter 3, Misericordias Domini, 2017
The image of the Good Shepherd is the most beloved portrayal of Jesus in the entire Bible. Even if someone has never read the Bible, he’s probably seen a picture of a bearded Jewish man carrying a sheep on his shoulders. The scene is calm and peaceful. A green meadow with rolling hills, a stream flowing with clear water, white, innocent sheep, and a noble shepherd smiling over them. It’s the kind of scene that poetry is made for. It’s the perfect picture of peace and comfort.
But the scene Jesus paints in our Gospel lesson isn’t so peaceful. It bears little resemblance to the tranquil scenes we so often see. Jesus paints the picture of a wolf, the enemy of the sheep, salivating at the sight of his next meal. Jesus shows the sheep foolishly and helplessly wandering toward the very wolf who can’t wait to scatter and devour them. And he pictures hirelings, false shepherds, who are fleeing the scene, abandoning the sheep, because they don’t care at all for them but only for themselves and their own livelihood. Jesus paints Himself as the good shepherd, not simply standing there holding a lamb, but running after the wolf, as the wolf refuses to back down, and meeting His own death as He slays the enemy of the sheep.
Now both scenes are true, both come from the Word of God. The peaceful pasturing of the sheep, safe with their shepherd, is a picture of heaven. It’s the picture of what we inherit as sheep who belong to the Good Shepherd and delight to hear His voice. It’s the picture of what we Christians will possess in fullness in heaven and what we know now only by faith in the Word of Jesus – perfect peace with God through Christ’s death and resurrection. Here there are no enemies. There’s no danger, no wolf, no death, no division. The sheep continually drink from streams of living water as their Shepherd and God watches over them in safety.
But that’s not the scene in which we live. It’s the scene we hope for, look forward to, after our battle is fought and won here on this earth. But it’s not the place in which we live. We live where the wolf prowls, where the devil attacks and scatters, where false shepherds leave us to the mercy of a wolf who knows no mercy. And because these dangers surround us, we can rely only on the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep and takes it up again in His resurrection. And we rely on this Good Shepherd only by hearing His Word. He laid down His life and rose again to preach the Word of everlasting life. The victory of Easter comes to us in this Word. My sheep hear my voice, Jesus says. The same Shepherd who lays His life down for the sheep keeps them from the attacks of the devil and all evil by His Word.
The temptation we face daily is to imagine that we live in the heavenly scene right now, to think that we can live on this earth without any trouble, to forget we have an enemy seeking to devour us, forget that we must face divisions and false shepherds and devil and sin while we live here on this earth.
This kind of thinking is what we call utopian. It’s the dream that we can have heaven now on this earth. Utopia is an interesting word. Topia means place. U means either “good” or “no.” And so U-topia, fittingly, has a double meaning. It means “good place” at the same time as it means “no place.” The good place is no place. Earth is simply not a place where good reigns, where there is no devil and no sin and no danger. And we can’t make it a good place, no matter what we imagine. Every human attempt to make a utopia here on this earth fails.
When Jesus calls us sheep He is locating our only hope and safety in the voice of our Shepherd. Sheep have no powers to defend themselves. They’re completely helpless animals. And the wolf wants to devour and scatter them. They are safe only in listening to a shepherd who actually cares for them and wants to protect them. If they listen to the sweet voice of others who have neither the power nor the desire to protect the sheep, they are left as food for the wolf. And so Jesus warns us against listening to any religious talk, any human dreams of peace and good on earth, outside of the voice of the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. Jesus warns us against false shepherds who run away from the wolf instead of facing him down, false shepherds who teach us that everything is all right and ignore the danger that surrounds us. False shepherds are false teachers. And they always work by ignoring our need to hear the Word of Jesus that delivers us from evil.
Jesus says there will be one flock and one Shepherd. He promises unity. And the unity He promises is created only by His Word, the Word that warns us against the danger of our sin and the devil and places Christ Himself before our eyes as the one who dies and rises again to win us forgiveness and life. My sheep hear my voice. The only good place that exists in the face of the devil and sin and evil is that place where the Good Shepherd reigns with His Word, where the God who died and rose on Easter speaks and creates one flock that hears His voice.
But our eyes see something very different. We don’t see unity under God’s Word. We see divisions. How many denominations are there, all teaching different things? Baptists and Anglicans and Methodists and Lutherans and Presbyterians and Roman Catholics and Pentecostals, and the list goes on and on. And the so-called non-denominationals are just another denomination, who in swearing off creeds have created one of their own. There are divisions among Christians. That’s obvious. We see it. The world sees it. And they look with cynical unbelief at Jesus’ promise of one flock under one Shepherd.
And so the false shepherds of our time have called for us to erase the denominational lines and divisions. Let’s drop our differences and unite together as one church, show the world that we are united, create our churchly utopia here on earth.
But how can we create this utopia and unity? As long as we teach that the pope is not the head of the Church, that only Jesus is the one shepherd of the one flock, we won’t be able to unite with the Roman Catholics who teach that the pope is the pastor of the entire church. As long as we teach that our works don’t earn us favor with God, that faith alone saves because faith alone receives the undeserved forgiveness won by Christ on the cross, then we won’t be able to unite with the Eastern Orthodox or the Roman Catholics who teach that good works earn God’s favor. As long as we teach that Baptism is a life-giving water of forgiveness or that the Lord’s Supper is the true body and blood of Christ, it will be impossible to unite with the various Protestants who deny these things. As long as we insist that the devil is real, that sin is what the Bible says sin is, that the Bible is the unerring Word of Jesus our Savior, it will be impossible for us to unite with the liberal, so-called mainstream denominations, who imagine away sin and the devil and the need for the truth of God’s Word.
And so they urge us to stop. For the sake of unity, stop teaching doctrine. Be tolerant of every teaching. Don’t preach the Law that makes divisions between sin and righteousness. Don’t teach the Gospel that locates the hope of all people in one man, the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, and excludes every other way to salvation. Don’t teach the helplessness of the sheep or the strength of their enemy the devil or the body and blood of Jesus given and shed for them. If you stop teaching all this, we can unite. We can have our churchly utopia here on earth.
But this is no unity at all. It’s just ignoring our common problem, the real problem that divides us. And that’s not God’s Word. What divides us is sin and the false Word of the devil. True unity comes only as Jesus says it comes, when the sheep listen to the voice of their Shepherd who has died for the sin that divides us from our God and one another.
If we compromise the Word of Jesus, who then will be our Shepherd? What good is a flock without a shepherd? Aren’t we sheep? Sheep can’t protect themselves. They can’t ward off the wolf. They can’t survive without a shepherd. And if the sheep imagine that the wolf doesn’t exist, they’ll still be eaten, because wolves can’t be imagined away.
And so it is with us. We can’t imagine away our enemy. We can’t imagine away sin or death or hell or the devil. And what’s more, we can’t do anything against them either. We’re sheep. Sheep don’t unite themselves together and form a coalition to fight wolves. Sheep don’t fight wolves at all. They get eaten by wolves. They run away, and hope he gets tied down eating some other sheep. We are sheep. And that means we need a shepherd.
And the only Shepherd who can do a thing against our enemy is Jesus. And He has, and He does. This is why we hold the pure Word of Jesus so dear, as our greatest treasure. Why we don’t dare compromise it. Why we don’t seek to create our own unity by our own bright ideas. Why we seek instead that good place where we can hear Jesus’ Word in its truth and purity. And Jesus’ Word does create unity, a beautiful unity with God Himself. It unites all who hear and believe it into one flock, joined to the One Shepherd, so that as the Son knows the Father and the Father knows the Son, so we know the love and care of our God. Even if we can’t see this unity with our eyes, we know and believe in One holy, Christian and apostolic Church. We know that wherever Jesus’ Word is taught and heard, there Jesus gathers His flock, forgives sins, and rescues from death and the devil. Because we know that the love of our heavenly Father has been poured out to us in His Son’s great sacrifice for us, his sheep. Therefore the Father loves me, Jesus says, because I lay down my life for the sheep. My sheep hear my voice, Jesus says, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.
Amen, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
The striking thing about Jesus’ words to his disciples here is that he speaks them the night before he was betrayed. He himself is about to go through pain and sorrow, the likes of which no man has ever known, but he concerns himself instead with the pain and sorrow of his disciples. And his disciples, as is often the case with us, though not always, his disciples have pain and sorrow because they deserve it. Their lack of faith, their cowardice, their fear of man instead of God, these are the reasons for their pain, and in contrast, Jesus goes innocent, undeserving of any punishment or pain, to suffer God’s wrath and Hell’s fury on the cross, his concern not for Himself but for those he loves. This is the Lord we have, this is His character, His reason for going to the cross in the first place, because His thoughts are not for Himself but for us and our salvation.
I said that we have pain and sorrow often because we deserve it. Often, not always, but often, because we simply don’t trust our Lord as we should, often, because our own selfish actions and gossiping words and jealous and suspicious thoughts and refusal to submit to authority bring us trouble and worry and heartache. But it isn’t always this way. Sometimes we suffer pain and sorrow not because of anything we’ve done, but because God decides to send it to us, and we have no way of deciphering the why, no rhyme or reason, no way to explain why our good God would give his children pain and trials, except to trust that the God who suffered for us wants to draw us closer to Himself by suffering.
But Jesus doesn’t distinguish here between these sufferings, the ones we bring on ourselves and the ones He sends. He simply says, “You will have sorrow.” He doesn’t say, you might, he doesn’t say, you will if your faith isn’t strong enough, he doesn’t give a way out at all. He states the plain facts, “You will have sorrow.” And he’s completely sympathetic, there’s no word of judgment here, no, “You shouldn’t be so sad, you should have stronger faith, you should try harder,” there’s no, “you’re bringing it on yourself.” Those aren’t his concerns. He is focused myopically on addressing the fact of our Christian existence, that we will have sorrow and pain in life. He wants us to know it.
And this is what makes Jesus’ talk of the mother giving birth so beautifully applicable to our lives. It’s the baby that causes the mother pain. She labors and faces death to bring this life into the world. But she isn’t mad at the baby. The baby is often mad at her, crying and complaining at the shock of the outside world, but the mother is full of joy. And she can’t resent the pain anymore, she can’t say it wasn’t worth it, because the baby that caused all the pain is in her arms, and the joy it gives outweighs all the pain it brought.
Now Jesus is the baby in the analogy, and you are the mother. Which means that it’s Jesus that causes the pain and sorrow, that it’s the Christian life, as opposed to the worldly life, that gives pain. That’s a hard sell if you’re dealing in religious wares. You won’t hear very much talk about Jesus causing pain in the modern American Christian scene. Jesus only gives joy, we’re told, and if you want to fill your church you’d better hide all the hard facts of what believing in Jesus entails. But Jesus doesn’t hide it. To believe in Him is often like going through labor. It’s not easy. It’s why Christian faith is a miracle. It’s God’s work. We worship the God who tells us to take up our cross and follow Him. And we could go and find some sappy religion to fill our emotional needs, have some blind trust that we can live however we wish and then God will reward us with the heaven of our sinful dreams in the end – many do, and lead happy and uneventful lives. But that’s certainly not what Jesus teaches. It’s not the message of Good Friday and Easter. To be a Christian means to have inexpressible joy. But to be a Christian also entails sorrow, entails pain. And so there can be no casual Christians. A mother in labor is anything but casual.
Now what is this Christian sorrow? We sorrow because we know we are forgiven, declared righteous before the God of heaven by the blood of our Lord, and yet we still deal with our sin and wait for the time when we will be completely rid of it. We sorrow because we know we have the God who promises to care for us, who has sealed His love for us by laying down His life to free us from all evil, and yet in in the trial and tragedy of life the same God seems far off. And it’s in this struggle, that Jesus points us to His promise, that the sorrow is but a little while, but He will give joy here in this life and forever in eternity. And so we call on Jesus as our helper and defense. We pour out our trouble and sorrow to Him without shame. The mother gives up on shame in labor, she doesn’t hide her pain, her vulnerability, she shouts it, and she does it all for the joy of seeing that new life.
I continue to marvel at my wife and the mother of my children, how fiercely committed she is to them, how much pain she will go through to bring them into the world, and how little she expects in return. Her reward is that they are alive and they are hers. And we would usually apply this love of a mother to God, to Jesus, and rightly so. The Bible does it. He is the one who labors on the cross to give life to us, to give us birth by water and blood, and He seeks nothing in return but the joy of having us as His children. But the analogy here is reversed. You are the mother, and Christ is the child. And here we see that faith in Christ is no sissy or ephemeral thing. That we would possess this treasure of having Christ, that we would be willing to go through any pain and suffering, even denying ourselves, our wealth, our pride, to see the life that Christ brings. The mother doesn’t resent her child for the pain of labor. She looks at that labor, which seemed an eternity, as but a little while, as nothing in comparison with the life in her arms.
And so it is with us. How can you resent the cross your Lord gives you, the sorrow of admitting your sins, the daily painful meditation that the wages of sin is death, the sorrow of expecting good from God and still seeing pain in your life, how can you resent this cross, when you have the joy that comes through this sorrow, to know Christ as He really is, the God who more than compensates for your sorrows by giving you life with Him and a joy that will never be taken from you.
The name given this fourth Sunday of Easter is Jubilate, which means “Shout for joy.” It’s not just be happy, not just rejoice, but shout with joy. This is no ordinary joy. It’s the joy that comes when trial and pain is answered and overcome. A person can be happy because he’s had a nice meal, but very rarely will he shout for joy because the lasagna was so good. The shout of joy, in the Bible, is the shout of triumph after disaster, of life after death. The Israelites shout for joy when through the waters of the Red Sea God defeats the army that was about to destroy them and return them to slavery. They expected death, they got life, and so they shout for joy. And that’s Christian joy. It’s the joy at seeing the great reversal of circumstances, that the sin that burdened your conscience is lifted off of you, that the death that threatens to make all life meaningless is conquered and turned into the gateway to everlasting life by the cross and resurrection of Jesus, that the senseless suffering is answered in the suffering of your God.
The shout of joy is the Christian’s shout of victory over all the pain and fear and doubt that accompany us sinners living in this sinful world. Now I don’t expect anyone to shout after receiving the body and blood of our Lord today. Please don’t. Not out loud, anyway. But you can shout out the hymns. You will sing, “Where the paschal blood is poured, Death’s dread angel sheathes the sword; Israel’s hosts triumphant go Through the wave that drowns the foe. Alleluia!” You’ll sing, “Thy holy body into death was given, Life to win for us in heaven. No greater love than this to Thee could bind us; May this feast thereof remind us! Lord, Thy kindness did so constrain Thee That Thy blood should bless and sustain me. All our debt Thou hast paid; Peace with God once more is made: O Lord, have mercy.” These are the victory shouts of Christian love for the God who loves us, whom we will see and our joy will be full, as surely as He has suffered for us, and is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
Pastor Christian Preus
Easter 4, Jubilate
Jesus speaks both a hard word and a happy word in our Gospel for this morning. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy.” Jesus goes on to compare his disciples’ life to a woman giving birth, going through terrible pain first and then experiencing inexpressible joy in the end. Jesus promises abundant and sure happiness for those who believe in Him, but he does not hide the hard facts – with that joy and before we experience the fullness of that joy, there will be pain, there will be sorrow and heartache in our lives. That’s what Jesus says.
And when Jesus speaks, we listen. Even when his words are hard, even when he promises what our flesh doesn’t want to hear. Even when he promises us, guarantees us, that we will suffer, that we will sorrow, that we will have pain. We listen. We listen to him speak the truth, even if the truth hurts. Because He is God and we are not. He is in charge and we are not. He is Love itself and knows what is best for us, and we do not.
Christians listen to Jesus. We base our hope, our everlasting joy, on what Jesus has done – his life, death, and resurrection to take away the sin of the world – and on what Jesus says. That’s the nature of faith. That’s the insistence of faith. Faith trusts Jesus, trusts Jesus’ promises. Faith doesn’t look to the changing circumstances of our own lives and conclude from them how God feels about us. It doesn’t look and see that things are going well, that the kids are healthy, that there’s money in the bank, and then conclude that God must love me because He’s blessed me. It doesn’t see that things are going poorly, that Mom’s contracted cancer, that I lost my job, that Grandma was just moved to hospice, and then conclude that God is mad at me, because He’s sent me sorrow. No. Christian faith looks alone to Jesus, to Jesus’ words, and learns from them that our Father loves us and cares for us no matter the changing circumstances in our lives.
In our Old Testament lesson for today, the people of Israel were determining whether God loved them or not on the basis of their own circumstances. And their circumstances were very bad. War, death, disease, drought, starvation. Terrible things. And so they concluded that God must not love them, must not care for them, must in fact have it out for them. “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God,” they said. And they said this because they based their faith, based their belief in God on what they saw going on in their own lives.
This is our constant temptation too. Instead of looking to God’s promises, to God’s Word, instead of letting God tell us what he thinks of us, we are tempted look at our situation here on earth and determine whether God is pleased with us or not, whether he has cared for us and will care for us in the future.
Now for many of us, if we look at our lives right now, we’d probably determine that God loves us. I mean, things are going pretty well. We have food, shelter, and even some luxuries. We’re looking forward to some happy events – the birth of a child, a wedding, a family reunion. It seems God is blessing us. And we could go on thinking that until the next terrible thing happens. We can go on thinking that until pain hits, sorrow hits, death hits. Because they will. They always do. And then what will we think of God? That He’s punishing us? That’s He’s mad at us? That He’s forsaken us? And what will we think of other Christians, our brothers and sisters in Christ who sit next to us in the pews, who even right now are going through pain and disease and misery in this life? Has God abandoned them? Are we who are enjoying the good things in life more in favor with God than these sufferers?
God answers these foolish and godless questions of our flesh with a thunderous declaration: “To whom will you compare me,” he says through the prophet Isaiah. “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” Israel cries out that God has abandoned her, because she looks at the bad things all around her and knows that God sent them, that He could take them away if He wanted, that He could give them instant peace and joy on this earth, but He hasn’t. And God answers by telling them that this is not how things work. Sinners don’t get to judge the almighty and everlasting God by their sinful, human standards. God answers by telling them that if they want to know what God thinks of them, they must shut their eyes and listen to his Word, to His promises.
And this is what we do today. Jesus promises us two things today. He promises that we will have sorrow. And He promises that we will have joy. Both will come to us.
You can expect sorrow in this life. Truly, truly, you will weep and lament, says Jesus, but the world will rejoice. You have pain and sorrow because you are still in this world, this world of sin, this world full of sickness and disease and death, this world full of temptations that try to draw you away from the only true God and his promises to you, this world full of persecution and insult against the Christian faith. You have pain and sorrow because you still carry around your own sinful flesh, because you still desire what you know you should not desire, because you still fail to do what you know you should do. You have pain and sorrow because the devil is still prince of this world, and his aim is directed specifically against Christians, to separate you from the God who made you and died for you. You have pain and sorrow in this life, just as Jesus said you would.
But you also have joy. And I’m not simply talking about the joys that you can see here in this world – of seeing children born, of watching the grandkids play, of reading a good book or seeing a good show or eating a nice meal. Those too are joys that God gives, and every one of us here today could count up these earthly blessings that God has given us. And we do right to thank God for them and enjoy them as gifts from God’s loving hand.
But we can’t base God’s love for us, our relationship with God, on the earthly gifts and joys God gives. These are the joys that so often turn into suffering, because we can lose all of them. Job did. Many a Christian has. We can lose kids to death or – God forbid – to unbelief. They can break our hearts instead of bringing us joy. We can lose jobs and money, not be able to pay for the nice meals or the nice house or have time to read a good book. We can get painful diseases. We can lose friends and spouses. We can lose all the simple joys in life. We can become like Job. And still the joy that Jesus promises us will not be taken away from us. Still we can know that our God loves us.
I want to tell you a story of such a man, like Job, who lost everything. His name was Paul Gerhardt. He was a pastor in Germany during the 30 years war, a war that ravaged Germany with disease, famine, and murder for 30 whole years. Gerhard lost his wife. He lost his dear children. He lost most his congregation. All to death. Hundreds of people he loved, he saw die, and he buried them all. He lost everything. And in the middle of it all, he wrote this hymn, a hymn we would all do well to memorize, to sing in our times of sorrow and pain: Why should cross and trial grieve me? Christ is near with His cheer; Never will He leave me. Who can rob me of the heaven that God’s Son for me won when his life was given?God gives me my days of gladness, and I will trust him still when he sends me sadness. God is good. His love attends me day by day, come what may, guides me and defends me.
From God’s joy can nothing sever, For I am His dear lamb, He my Shepherd ever. I am His because He gave me His own blood For my good, By His death to save me.
The God who allows you to suffer in this life, even if you can’t understand why He allows it, gives you the answer you need in the word of the cross and resurrection of Christ. He has won everlasting happiness and righteousness and purity for you by his bitter suffering and death to take away the sin of the world. He has spilt his own blood, the very blood of God, to win you the certainty that God does love you, that he does care for you, that he will guard and keep you forever as his dear child. And this is true no matter what happens, no matter what. Come what may, come happiness or sorrow, come pain or pleasure, come death or life, the Word of Christ’s victory over sin, and everything sin brings, His victory over your death and sorrow and pain, this Word remains forever true, sealed by the blood of God and guaranteed by His resurrection.
You can expect sorrow in this world. You can expect it because Jesus said it would come. You can expect it because you live in a sinful world. You can expect it because the devil still prowls around like a hungry lion seeking whom he may devour. You can expect it because you still have a sinful heart. But Jesus has conquered the world. He has conquered sin. He has conquered death and the devil. And you belong to Jesus. You have in your Baptism been connected to him so tightly that no sorrow or suffering, neither death nor hell nor any other power on this earth, can separate you from Him or Him from you. His promise to his disciples is that they will have sorrow for a short time. That is the hard word. But the hard word is also a temporary word, it lasts only a little while. The joy and happiness that are yours in Christ Jesus are everlasting. “I will see you again,” Jesus says, “and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” It is an everlasting joy. It is yours in Christ, in His Gospel, so cling to it and treasure it all your life, and you will see it fulfilled on that glorious day when we see our Savior face to face.
Pastor Christian Preus
It’s very fitting that we celebrate this last Sunday of Easter on Mother’s Day. At first, I wasn’t so sure of this. Our Gospel talks about the apostles dying for the faith, “The hour is coming when the one who kills you will think he is doing God a favor,” Jesus says. And of course, Jesus spoke the truth, all the apostles were brutally killed for preaching Jesus, with John being the one exception, and he suffered his share in life too, exile on the island of Patmos and persecution under the Roman Emperors Nero and Domitian. And all this dying and suffering isn’t exactly what you think of when you think of Mother’s Day, is it? But really, it should be. Because that’s what a mother does, it’s how she becomes a mother and how she acts as a mother, she suffers in giving birth, she goes through pain for the one she loves, she risks her life from the very start and pours out her being and her energy for her child. And this is what Jesus tells his disciples they will do out of love for Him. They will give up everything and anything, even their own lives, rather than lose Him.
Now we usually stress Christ’s love for us, not our love for Him. And that’s a good thing. St. John tells us to, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” And again, “We love because He first loved us.” And Jesus Himself compares His love to a mother’s love, that He wants to shield us from everything that will hurt us as a mother hen shelters her chicks under her wings. And He shows this hard, motherly love. He pours out His life, God does, He faces pain and torture and the loss of all things to deliver us alive and safe from the guilt of our sin and the hell we deserved because of it. And again, out of love He ascends to all power, and as God and man He continues to protect us by feeding us with His Word and His body and blood. And so we also sing and compare Jesus’ care for us now, in this life, to a mother’s care, like the pelican, the mother pelican, mind you, like the pelican to feed her brood, Thou has pierced Thyself to give us living food, Thy blood O Lord, one drop has power to win forgiveness for our world and all its sin.
But Christians do love. How could we not, when our God shows us this love? To be a Christian is quite simply to love this Jesus. Of course, it is to believe in this Jesus, faith saves us, but faith isn’t just some intellectual knowledge of historical facts about Jesus, it’s a trust that is fiercely devoted to this God whose death and resurrection is our incomparable treasure. And just as the mother’s love of her children is deadly serious business, just as Jesus’ love was unto death, so the Christian’s love is no fickle love, no mere emotional attachment, but a love that risks all, even death, for the One who has given us everything.
Next week we’ll hear our confirmand Emily swear to the Almighty God that she will, by His grace, suffer anything, even death, rather than fall away from Jesus. And we who have been confirmed in the Lutheran Church have all confessed the same thing.
Now pray God that none of us will suffer deadly persecution. We pray God every Sunday that He will give us peaceful lives and good government. There were those in the ancient church who actually wanted to mimic the apostles, prayed for the chance to lay their lives down for the faith. But there’s no need to morbidly seek out martyrdom. If you are willing to lay down your life, you are willing to fight against the cowardice of sin that puts this sinful life above your Savior. That’s the point, and it’s a daily reality in the Christian life. To be willing to give up your love of money for the benefit of Christ’s Church, instead of holding it back because you love your life so much and everything your money can buy, willing to give up your sinful pleasures, to fight every day against your lust, your urge to gossip, your anger at those who have sinned against you, your discontent with what God has given you.
And this is exactly the point of Jesus’ words in our Gospel. He tells His disciples they will risk it all. And this is not because they are so brave in themselves. They will fight the good fight, take courage to willingly give up anything, because Christ will give them His Spirit, who convinces them of the truth that to have Christ is to have everything. To be a Christian is to have courage, and this courage is not simply the bare manly bravery of being willing to die for the greater good, the soldierly ideal of the ancient Spartans or Romans that it is a good and pleasant thing to die for your country. No, this is a divine courage, a courage only the Spirit can give, and the Spirit who convinces of the truth, the One called by our Lord the Comforter, He inspires a fight in us that places Christ before earthly pleasure, before money, before life, before even father or mother or any other good thing God gives us in this life. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, Jesus says.
Now this is nothing that God can force from you. He can give no law that will make you love Him above all else. Many a government has forced obedience, instilled fear in its subjects, forced them to give, forced outward obedience. But no one can force love or courage. God Himself says Love the Lord your God above all things, but this command works no love in us, no courage. It instead reveals what we have not done, reveals our cowardice, our failure to fight against our sin and love our God as He deserves.
But the Spirit whom Jesus sends from His Father doesn’t force this love. He doesn’t force courage. It can’t be done. No, He gives it. He comforts. That is His name. He is the Comforter. And this word, in Greek it’s Paracletos, it means more than Comforter, it means this Sprit is our Advocate, who argues and fights for us, gives us the courage to stand. He doesn’t come simply to command us to love our God. No, He shows us, convinces us, why this God is worthy of all our love and our life. He shows us the One who required nothing of us, who saw us lost in our selfishness, saw us give way to lust and greed, saw us make failures of our lives, who came not to punish us, not to cast us out of His Father’s presence forever, but to win us back, to lay down His life for us, take every failure on Himself, every sin that pushed aside our love of God and served our own selves, He took it all on Himself, bore it to the cross and removed it from us by His suffering in our place.
The Spirit advocates for us, fights for us, by convincing us of the truth that this Jesus is priceless beyond compare. Our Lord tells a little parable in the Gospel of Matthew, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Jesus seeks out the pearl, He invests you with the great price of His suffering, gives up everything to buy you for Himself, and then seeks you out and makes you His own. And so we do with Jesus, so the Spirit of truth leads us.
Christians are the richest people on earth, even if you have nothing, even if you’re working a dead end job, even if it seems you’ll never get out of debt, even if you’re anxious or depressed, you the Christian are rich beyond comparison.
What riches can you compare to the eternal God joined to your flesh and your blood, who has loved you to His death and ascended beyond all earthly power, giving you the promise of perfection and eternity with Him? What greed for money, what lust for things that perish and only bring pain in the end, what reputation before men, what good thing God has given you in this short life could compare to this priceless treasure, the truth that your Father holds no sin against you but sees you as if you were His own Son, as if you were Jesus Christ Himself, who has given you all that He has? This is the courage the Spirit inspires. It can’t be forced, just as a child’s love for his mother can never be forced.
It’s Mother’s Day. Mothers are known for giving comfort. That’s what a good mother does. She comforts her child. She feeds, clothes, and changes soiled diapers, holds her child when he scrapes his knee and calms him when he wakes up terrified in the night. But the highest calling of a mother is to hand the comforting of her child over to the Spirit of truth. To give him Jesus, to bring her child to the Baptismal font where her child becomes God’s child, to read Bible stories every night when she is tired and worn out, to pray with her child, to sing hymns to him, to bring him to church every Sunday to hear the word of the Comforter. Because one drop of His comfort is worth more than all the comfort this world has to offer, giving us the courage to face this life with the confidence that nothing, not life or death, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. God grant this comfort and courage to us always and fill us with love for our Savior till we finally ascend to Him and see Him face to face. Amen.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. AlleluiaChristian Preus
Pastor Christian PreusPentecost, 2018 (Confirmation Sunday)Acts 2:1-21 Dear friends in Christ, especially you Emily on this your confirmation day, grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.It’s very fitting that today, on Pentecost, the day some 2000 years ago our Lord poured out His Holy Spirit on His disciples, we celebrate the confirmation of Emily and hear her confession that Jesus is her Lord. No one, St. Paul says, no one can call Jesus Christ Lord except by the Holy Spirit. And it is because Jesus sent His Spirit on that first Pentecost and has sent this same Holy Spirit to win us for Himself, that we confess Him as our Lord this day and all our lives.You know what that means, Emily, that Jesus is your Lord. The Holy Spirit has taught it to you. I know you learned it here at church from your pastors and at home from your family and at school from your teachers, but that, just as on Pentecost, is how the Holy Spirit teaches. Through the people God has called to teach, mothers and fathers, teachers who teach in the place of parents, and the pastors of His church. And so you’ve learned from the Holy Spirit not just memory work, but your heart’s confession before God and this world, a confession that not even the gates of hell can overcome: I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true. Don’t forget your catechism, Emily. And if you’re going to forget anything, don’t forget this glorious sentence, that confesses why you own this beautiful Savior as your Lord and your God.You’re confirmed today, Emily. Confirmation isn’t a Sacrament. It doesn’t give God’s grace or favor. It’s not like Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, where Christ binds you to Himself and, as He says in our Gospel, makes His home in you. Confirmation won’t give you the Holy Spirit. You already have Him. It won’t make you a Christian. You already are. It won’t give you some special grace. You already have all the grace and favor of God almighty given you in your Baptism. It won’t bestow special knowledge on you. You have learned who you are and who your God is through the Word of Scripture. And the Holy Spirit, won’t, at least I don’t expect Him to, descend on you today in a tongue of fire. And you will not, at least I hope you don’t, start speaking in different languages when I lay my hand on your head. Instead, you do something today, the most beautiful thing any man, woman, or child can do, something only the Holy Spirit can accomplish in you, and that is confess from you heart your fierce commitment to hold on to the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as you have learned it in the Small Catechism, which is to hold on to Christ your Lord, all your life, come hell or highwater.From the heart, Emily. Now of course anyone who knows how to talk can utter the words. Many a young man or woman has come before the altar and mouthed words they either didn’t believe or soon forgot. Mom and Dad made me do it. It’s expected. But come high school, come college, come the temptations of the devil and the pleasures this world offers, the words are forgotten and the faith forsaken.But you are not mouthing mere words today, Emily. God knows it and you know it. You will be confessing Christ from your heart. You are a Christian, the highest title you could ever hope for, more precious than any aspiration you have in this world. You know that you’re a Christian, because the Holy Spirit bears witness in you, to know the depth of your sin, the hell you’ve deserved, and the inexpressible love of the God who has saved you and lifted you up to be His child, washed in the blood shed for you and soon received into your mouth. You know this of yourself, Emily. Jesus promises it to you in our Gospel, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”We call this the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit. You can be absolutely sure that you are God’s child and an heir of heaven, and this is no arrogance, no overly confident boast, no claim of perfection in your life. It’s the witness of God Himself, who makes His home in you. Think of that. This is what you have been given, this is the message of Pentecost, the promise of your Baptism, that the God who made heaven and earth, the God whom nothing can contain, dwells with you and in you. You know this. Because you keep His Word. You don’t just mouth it. You don’t just hear it. You keep it, love it, want to listen to it and sing it and confess it. This is no child’s play, no rite of passage. Look at your family here with you today, four generations stretching 70 years, this is the confession of a lifetime that never grows old, never becomes irrelevant. Everything else will. Everything else will change in your life. But your Lord Jesus will not. Every new temptation, every new experience you meet, you will have this Rock in your life, the firm foundation in life’s shifting sands.Why do you confess this God as your own and promise to keep His word as your priceless treasure all your life? Why do you promise to come to church regularly, to live a Christian life, to hold the pure confession of the Bible in the Lutheran Church? And this is a question not just for Emily, but for all of you here today. You can point to some sociological, some familial factors. That you were raised by Lutheran parents, or that you grew up in the Lutheran church, or that you met some dynamic pastor or married a committed Lutheran. But this doesn’t get to the heart of it. Not at all.God creates faith. What you have is divine. And it doesn’t consist in wonders that wow the eyes. God, the Holy Spirit, speaks it. It doesn’t look like much at all, but it’s everything. The amazing thing about the Pentecost history is that it isn’t the mighty sound of the Spirit’s descending on the disciples, it isn’t the unparalleled phenomenon of men speaking in languages they’ve never learned, it isn’t fire that rests on heads and doesn’t burn, it isn’t this that converts anyone. We’re not even told what language Peter speaks when he delivers his Pentecost sermon. We’re just given his words. This is the power of God. And beautifully, Peter preaches Christ. He begins his sermon with the prophecy of Joel. And the prophecy doesn’t simply talk of the gift of the Spirit, about dreams and prophecies. “The sun will not shine, the moon will turn to blood before that great day of the Lord.” That’s what Joel says. Joel speaks not only of the day of Pentecost. That day means nothing outside of the greater day, the day of our God’s crucifixion, the day the sun was darkened, as the universe paid tribute to its God dying to redeem this world from all sin and death. It’s this day that ushers in the day of Pentecost.It’s really too bad our Epistle lesson ends when it does. I’ll change that for next year. This is how Peter continues his sermon: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”The men of Israel were there on Pentecost to celebrate the Law of God given on Mount Sinai. This was, at least at that time, the great celebration, that 50 days after the Exodus God gave His Law and made Israel His people. How wonderfully ironic. Because Peter’s sermon shows these Jews, these religious people, what the Law of God really is.There is nothing more important that Emily has learned in the last two years of catechism class than this distinction between the law and the gospel. The law demands. It requires love from us, in action and speaking and thinking and feeling. That’s what God did on Mount Sinai. He demanded from Israel and from us that we love Him above all things, that we love our neighbor as ourselves. And we have not done it. There were mighty sounds and fire then too on Mount Sinai, sounds of thunder and the fire of lightning. But it inspired only fear, because no sinner can stand before this holy God and live. He demands righteousness, demands perfection, and we have not given it. And the Jews there on that first Pentecost needed to hear this Law of God, the law that cuts to the heart, that tells you that you crucified the Lord of glory, you gave Him into lawless hands, that the price of God dying is the price of your sins.“What shall we do?” That was the question they asked after hearing the Holy Spirit’s words come from Peter’s mouth. What shall we do? And Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”Emily, you have been baptized and received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and you repent, every day of your life, you look at your sins and you know God’s judgment against them. You will promise today to strive to live a holy life, to keep God’s commandments, and this is the promise and desire of all Christians, that we would please our God in this life, love Him and love one another, not speak that harsh word, not fall into lust, not disrespect authority, not desire anything beyond what God gives us. And we fail, even we who have the Holy Spirit, we fail.And so we run to our Lord Jesus. And He gives us peace. This is the Gospel, the good news, that doesn’t depend on you, that doesn’t look at your failures, doesn’t look at your sins, but wipes them away, tells you you are perfect and innocent and righteous, because you have your Jesus, your God’s perfection, that He died and bled for you, that He has borne your sin and forgives it all.Make Sunday your favorite day. There is nothing you could need or desire more than to hear your Lord Jesus tell you you have peace with your God. Life is filled with things we want to do, things we so easily put above our Lord Jesus. Sunday is that day when we can mow the lawn, sleep in, run to the mountain, fish, camp, do all those things we feel we need to do before we get too old or die. And none of it, none of it, will ever give the satisfaction we think it will. But Jesus does. He gives peace, satisfaction, fulfillment, that this world simply can’t offer. Not as the world gives, Jesus says, not the peace that fails as soon as we fail or someone else fails us, but the peace with your Father in heaven that cannot fail, because it has been won and sealed by the blood of the Creator of heaven and earth, the peace that is eternal, the peace that nothing and no one can take from you, so long as you have Jesus. And you do. He will place His body and His blood in your mouth this day. He will make His home with you. And throughout your life He will calm your troubled heart and take away your fears and give you peace and joy, so that you love Him and keep His Word by the power of His Spirit, until you with all His saints see Him on His throne with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God world without end. God grant this to us all. Let us pray:Thou holy Light, Guide Divine,
Oh, cause the Word of Life to shine!
Teach us to know our God aright
And call Him Father with delight.
From every error keep us free;
Let none but Christ our Master be
That we in living faith abide,
In Him, our Lord, with all our might confide.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Pentecost, 2017John 14Our world is full of hopeless optimists. Now, on the one hand, optimism is a good thing. This is our Father’s world and we should trust that He will direct all things to good, as He promises to do for those who love Him and are called in Christ according to His purpose. But for a long time we have seen, in our country especially, the kind of optimism that simply thinks too much of our sinful human race. I remember watching a show in the hospital when my daughter Mary was first born, where a man declared it his mission to end all gun crime. To end it. The poor man’s son had died from a stray bullet shot between rival gang members. A terrible thing we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies. And we can and should sympathize with a man like this. We can understand his pain and agree with his sincere desire that all gun violence would end, that no one would have to go through the pain of losing his innocent child to a bullet ever again. We can pray for it and commend it to our Lord, who promises us that whatever we ask in His name He will give. But one thing is certain, this man won’t end gun violence. There is no power on this earth, no man so persuasive, no governmental policy so stringent or well executed that could possibly put an end to gun violence. The government could ban guns and raid houses and outlaw the manufacturing of firearms and ammunition, and guns would still exist and evil people would still use them to kill innocent people. But if you visit a college campus you’ll see clearly that this man’s quest is common thinking, as naïve enthusiasts, young and old, actually think so much of the innate goodness of humanity that they imagine we can end not only gun violence, but wars, bigotry, sexual harassment, domestic violence. You name the evil, they are optimistic we can end it completely. As the recent campaign of the NFL against domestic violence ends every commercial: Together, we can end it.Now, at first glance we see this optimism and agree that we should in fact work as hard as we can to create peace on this earth, to protect the innocent and preserve our families and communities from violence of every kind. And that’s most certainly true. God has given us government for exactly this purpose, to punish evil and reward good, so that, as we pray often on Sunday mornings, we may live a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and reverence. We pray for just laws and faithful police officers and godly citizens. But we can’t be naïve about what the optimism taught at our universities and promoted all over television and social media entails. People actually think we can put an end to evil on earth. They do. Because they have been taught a completely unrealistic and false view of mankind and our potential.It’s the same sort of optimism we see in the history of the tower of Babel, where men trust so much in their own potential for good that they get together to build their own way to heaven and unseat God. This is the optimism that animates every single false religion in the world, the optimism of humanism, which asserts against the obvious that humans are born good and are only turned bad by outside influences. People only need to be educated, the right policies only need to be put into place, the government merely needs to make a few more laws, and we can have peace on earth.But this is a hopeless optimism. Because it’s nothing less than a denial of sin, a denial of sin and its very real consequences on this earth. It’s the teaching of evolution, that we can progress and progress until finally by our own exertions, by our own wisdom, by putting our own economic and social and educational theories into practice, we can obtain a utopia here on this earth, a paradise where there are no violent crimes, no wars, no poverty, no sin.Now it’s a noble and beautiful thing, pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, to work for peace in this world. But we Christians must remember that the peace that this world offers is imperfect. It’s incomplete. And whatever peace is achieved is not only incomplete but temporary. The War to End All Wars had to be renamed World War I after a short 20 years. That’s the way things go in this world. Peace doesn’t last. Human solutions fail. Crime, poverty, war, they can be checked, even reduced for a time, but never ended.The peace of this world is temporary. The peace of this world is imperfect. And that’s because the peace of this world depends on us. And we simply aren’t dependable. We’re fickle. Our innate sinful impulse is to look out for ourselves first. Human selfishness, human greed, human lusts, they make complete and permanent peace on earth impossible. We see this every day. We see it in the world around us. I won’t list off the wars taking place across the world right now, or the crimes that continue to take place in our country, our state, our city, because it would take too long and you can read the newspaper or listen to the news to find an endless list of proofs that evil still reigns in this world. And besides this, we don’t need to see the sin of others. We can see it in our ourselves, see the consequences of sin, the lack of peace, in our own lives, in our own families, in our own souls. And Jesus was right, of course. The poor you will have with you always, he said. He prophesied wars and rumors of wars. And He made it clear that the ruler of this world would be roaming about till Christ’s return. Jesus expressly says that in this world we will have trouble. There is no lasting peace in this world. It’s our fault, the fault of humanity. And it’s a false and misleading dream to think we can clean up our own mess and completely rid ourselves of evil.Instead, we take comfort in Jesus’ words to us today. He assures us that the peace He gives us is not like the peace that this world can give. The world’s peace is imperfect and temporary precisely because it relies on human effort, and human works and effort can never take away sin. The peace that Jesus gives is perfect and everlasting because it comes from our eternal and perfect God, who deals with our problem at its very root, at its very source, by taking away the sin that makes peace impossible.My peace I give to you, Jesus says. Every single one of those words is important.My peace I give to you, Jesus says. Jesus gives you His peace. You don’t work for it. He doesn’t give us a social or political program to carry out, at the end of which we’ll have created peace for ourselves. He doesn’t give us a jumpstart and send us on our way to find our own peace. He simply gives peace. It’s free. By grace. You can’t earn it. You can’t make it. You can’t think it into existence. No. You can only receive it as He gives it to you in His Word.And whose peace is it? It’s Jesus’ peace. My peace I give to you, Jesus says. God almighty, the eternal, the one who lives in unsurpassable peace, He gives His peace to you. It is His peace because He bought it, because he came down to this earth, joined our human nature to himself, and purchased peace with His own blood. He offers his perfect obedience, his perfect righteousness to the throne of God in heaven for us, for this world of sinners, just as He gave up His own peace, His own comfort, His own security, by becoming the One who takes all evil on Himself, all the sin that made peace between God and man and between man and man impossible, he takes it all to Himself and buries it in His sufferings, in His death, the sufferings and death of the eternal God Himself. And with such a price paid, with such love poured out, with such blood spilt, there can be no doubt that this peace, His peace, is eternal and perfect. This is the peace that Jesus gives.And it is Jesus who gives it. My peace I give to you, Jesus says. When God speaks things happen. When Jesus speaks it is so. The God who by His Word brought all things into existence from nothing speaks a no less powerful word when He says, “Peace.” When your soul is without peace because of what you have done, because of what you have failed to do, when there is no peace in your conscience because you have fallen again into that same sin that you promised never to do again, when your fears and doubts and failures overwhelm you as you look at the sinful world around you, listen to Jesus speak His peace. What He says is so. There is peace, peace between you and God. Because Jesus who won your peace with God speaks this peace to you. And what Jesus says is so.And it is to you that Jesus speaks peace. My peace I give to you, Jesus says. Now, of course, he said those words to 11 men gathered around a table the night he was betrayed. But it is to you also that He speaks them. This is the message of Pentecost. The peace that Jesus spoke to His disciples is the very same peace that the Holy Spirit pours out on the world through the apostles’ preaching. It is the peace that Peter preached that first Pentecost when three thousand souls had God’s forgiveness poured out on them in the waters of Baptism. It is the peace that Jesus Himself through His Holy Spirit poured out on you in your Baptism, the peace of Jesus’ own resurrection that left all sin in the grave. It is the peace that He continues to pour out on you every time you hear from your pastor Jesus’ words of peace, of your forgiveness.And Jesus has made sure of this. He has made sure that you would hear His words of peace to you. When Jesus told His disciples that He would send the Spirit of truth to lead them into all truth, He was promising that they would know and preach and write down the truth of Jesus winning God’s peace with the world, God’s peace with you. When you read or hear Jesus speaking peace in the Bible, it is the peace Jesus won for you by his cross. When you hear your pastor speak peace through Christ’s cross, you are hearing Jesus speak peace to you.And this is true peace. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled. Neither let them be afraid. True peace is peace of the heart. Let not your hearts be troubled. You don’t need to be afraid. Even if your world is falling down on you, even if friends and family forsake you, even if pain and death approach, even if loneliness and anxiety attack, even if it looks and feels like there is no peace at all on this earth, you have peace, true peace. Because you have a God who loves you as a Father loves his dear children, a God who can find no fault in you because he has washed all your faults away in the flood of his blood, a God whose glory is to forgive you and remain with you forever. That’s peace. That’s true peace.The world will continue to be without peace. No matter how it tries, no matter how many programs and philosophies it comes up with, it will never achieve the peace it desires. It will only get a temporary peace that merely covers up and paints over the real problem of sin. But we have a peace that is perfect. A peace that never ends. The Holy Spirit makes us holy. He forgives our sins and by that forgiveness also inspires new life in us, to love our Lord Jesus, to love that He is our Lord, to love the peace He brings by His death which He offered up to His Father for us and for our salvation, and to love one another, because we have all been bought with the same price. And it is the Holy Spirit who will perfect our holiness. He will raise our bodies and unite them to our perfectly cleansed souls, so that we live eternally in the bliss of our Lord Jesus, loving Him, loving each other, loving that we are loved by our God, our Father and His Son, our Brother, and the Holy Spirit, our Comforter. The Holy Spirit gives us Jesus. Let the world rage about us. Let our past sins try to bring us sorrow. Let pain and anxiety do their worst. We have peace. Peace with God in heaven. Jesus has won it. Jesus has spoken it. The Spirit proclaims it. It is ours now and forever. Amen.
There are icons, that’s the church word for a picture, there are icons all over Ireland of St. Patrick holding a clover in one hand and a cross in another, preaching the Word of God. Now, I know it’s not St. Patrick’s Day, but since we’ve turned St. Patrick’s Day into a celebration of Irish culture and beer and leprechauns, really today, Trinity Sunday, is as good a time as any to hear about Patrick’s great confession. Patrick brought the Gospel to Ireland in the 5th century. He is known for teaching the Trinity, of course, but it’s always the case that if you teach the Trinity correctly, you will be teaching the Gospel. If you want to confess who God is, you don’t simply say He is one in three and three in one, that He is one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You do say that, of course, we just did in the Athanasian Creed, but this isn’t some dry factoid, some bit of mysterious knowledge about God that you check off on a list of things you need to know to be saved. No, to confess the Trinity, to confess who your God is, is always to confess what the Trinity does. The triune God is an active God. And He reveals Himself in action. You know the Father because you know His Son, who bears your flesh and lived and died and rose in your history, and you know this Son because He sent His Spirit to bear witness in your Baptism of the Father’s love for you in sending His own Son into death, to rescue you from the misery of sin and the fear of death. And this gets us back to the icon of St. Patrick. He’s holding a three-leaf clover in one hand and a cross in another. He preaches the cross, he preaches Christ-crucified for sinners, and in so doing he teaches who God is, the three in one and one in three. Now it’s significant that we have no writing of Patrick’s that references the clover. It’s a legend, probably a true legend, but still a legend, that he used it to teach the Trinity. But if he did use it, he didn’t simply point to the clover and say, “Just like this clover has three leaves but is one clover, so God is three persons and yet one God.” That’s not how to explain the Trinity. First, because it’s not true. The Trinity is a mystery. A clover isn’t. A clover has three, easily divisible parts. There are not three parts to God. He is one, without division. You cannot say of a clover, this leaf is the clover, and this leaf is the clover, and this leaf is the clover. But you must say of God, this Father is God, this Son is God, this Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three gods but one God. You can’t explain this mystery, you can’t figure it out. And so I imagine that’s exactly what St. Patrick used the clover to show. He holds up the clover and says, this isn’t how you learn to know God. He is three in one, and one in three, but not like this clover. This clover you can figure out with your reason, you can divide it and see it’s parts. But not God. No, it’s this cross that explains who God is, tells you what your reason could never figure out, this cross that shows you the Three in One, the Holy Trinity, because this is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in action. This is exactly how our Lord Jesus explains the Trinity. Look at our Gospel for this Trinity Sunday. Nicodemus thinks he has discovered something about Jesus, that he’s figured it out using his reason. “We know that you have come from God as a teacher, because no one can do
these signs you do unless God is with Him.”It’s a simple logical syllogism. Jesus does mighty signs. No one can do mighty signs unless God is with him. So Jesus must have come from God. But Jesus simply dismisses this reasoning. Where will it lead you? What will happen when Jesus stops his mighty works and hangs bloody on a cross? Will you know then that He is a man sent by God, when you see Him cursed by God, mocked by His enemies, abandoned by His disciples? And what will happen when this Jesus who performs mighty works insists that His mightiest work is this very dying and suffering, that everything He has done before points only to this? What will happen when He points to Baptism, to water and the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and says this sprinkling and this Word is no sign at all, but a far greater work than anything that might dazzle your eyes? Will this satisfy your reason? It’s simply amazing what place American Christianity has given to reason. Why is it that our Baptists and Methodists and non-denoms and every other Protestant Church refuse to confess that Baptism saves, that this sprinkling of water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit gives forgiveness of sins and delivers from death and the devil? Because it makes no sense to our reason. Well, neither does the Trinity. Neither does the crucifixion and death of God. Jesus doesn’t pander to our sinful reason. It’s quite the opposite. He opposes it. He crucifies it. He shows that it knows nothing of God, nothing of ourselves as accountable before God for every evil thought, every gossiping word, every lustful desire, and more than this, that our reason recoils at God, recoils at the very idea that we, even as precious little babies, are born without any fear or love or trust in God and under His judgment. But this is precisely the point of Baptism. It’s simply a beautiful thing that God uses what He knows our reason will oppose and think is nothing, to show reason her Master and make her submit to her Lord. This is God’s work, His great and mighty work, to take what is flesh, what rebels against Him, what cannot know Him or love Him, and drown it in the water and the Spirit, and give a new life, new thoughts, new desires. “Amen, Amen, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”Your sinful flesh will never accept this Word from Jesus. It will answer with Nicodemus, “How can these things be?” It will fight it every day of your life. This is why the Christian life is a struggle. It’s not just that our sin boils up, that we do and say and think things that hurt ourselves and others and offend our God, it’s that this same sinful flesh then opposes the remedy, insists that it cannot be as Jesus says it is, that our sins are drowned, that we have a God who receives sinners and makes them holy in His work of Baptism. And so Jesus continues, “If you don’t understand when I tell you of earthly things, how will you understand when I tell you heavenly things?” When your reason rebels at the fact that Baptism saves you, then look to Baptism’ power. This is no bare sign, no impotent Word of God, no plain water. It’s invested with the power of the holy Trinity. And what is this power? Jesus points Nicodemus and us to His cross. This is the heavenly thing. This is God’s mighty work, God teaching us who He is. The Father who lives in heavenly splendor knew you from eternity, He knew your sin, your doubt, your rebellious flesh. And He
loved you. He spoke to His beloved Son, the eternal God who shares His Father’s nature, in the counsel of the Spirit, who with them is one God now and forever, and He acted. The Father sent His Son to take on your flesh, the Son lived perfection in your place, He was raised on a cross, He spilled His blood, God’s blood, He took your punishment on Himself, to give you the Spirit who brings you a new birth and knowledge of your God in the forgiveness of your sins. What you have in your Baptism is the holy Trinity Himself. Nothing you have in this life can compare to this treasure. That the almighty God is for you, that He refuses to hold your sin against you, that His desire is for you to live with Him in righteousness and blessedness forever. That’s your Baptism. The Father who gave up His Son for you makes you His child, by uniting you to His Son, so that His death becomes yours, His resurrection yours, His perfect righteousness yours. And the Spirit makes His home in you to believe and know what your reason could never figure out, that this Holy Trinity has from eternity loved you, planned your salvation in Christ your Lord, has given it to you, and now gives you a life to live in His Kingdom which has no end. And so with St. Patrick and with all the saints of heaven and earth, we give all praise and honor and glory to our Lord Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is one God, our God, forever and ever. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
Trinity 1, 2018
Ever since the Gospel of Luke was written there’s been debate whether this story of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable or a history, whether it’s a story Jesus made up to illustrate a point or whether it actually happened. Jesus never calls it a parable. He just starts telling the story. And in no other parable does Jesus give a name to one of the characters. But here we have the poor beggar named: Lazarus. And so, many have concluded that Jesus is speaking of an historical occurrence, and not simply telling a parable. But I’m not sure it matters too much. We’re in the Trinity season of the church year, and in the next few months we’re going to be hearing a lot of Jesus’ parables. And when Jesus speak in parables he’s speaking of reality. When he speaks the parable of the wedding feast he’s talking about heaven, and heaven is real. When he speaks of the outer darkness outside the wedding hall, he’s talking about hell and hell is real. Parables aren’t simply stories like Aesop’s fables with a moral lesson at the end. They are Jesus preaching the way to His Father, which is found only in Him, in His suffering and death for sinners, which gives heaven and delivers from hell. And so in the story of the rich man and Lazarus what really matters is that Jesus spoke it, and whether speaking a parable or history, the heaven he speaks of and the hell he speaks of are real. And either way, the story is illustrative, it paints the picture of a life of unbelief ending in torment and the life of faith and love ending in comfort and peace. And either way, it’s not just about a rich man and a poor man, but about us, who we are before our God.
The beggar is named, and the rich man isn’t.
Now I have met many a beggar in my life. And I don’t remember any of their names. I know the names of a lot of rich people, though, ones I’ve never met. That’s the way it goes in this world. Beggars are insignificant. Rich people are important. And so we know the name of Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos or Rupert Murdoch, or locally of McMurry or Cercy. But God’s ways are not our ways. Rich or poor, all are alike before God. We are beggars before Him. And so the situation is reversed here in our Gospel. Jesus doesn’t even acknowledge the name of the rich man, but He calls the poor, insignificant beggar by name. It’s as the blessed virgin Mary sings, “He hath filled the hungry with good things, but the rich He hath sent empty away.” The beggar has status before God, and the rich man has none. The beggar’s name is named because it’s written in heaven, in the book of life, on the hands of his Lord Jesus, imprinted on the heart of God, who he knows loves him no matter how bad it looks in his life. And the rich man, who trusts not in God but in his money, has no name, he’s unknown in the book of life or in heaven, because he refuses to beg for God’s love and so has no love for his neighbor.
This is all a matter of the heart, not of outward riches or poverty. What marks the rich man as a wicked man bound for hell is not that he is rich. Abraham, who receives Lazarus into heaven, was one of the richest men in the world at his time. Immediately before our Old Testament text, in Genesis 14, the Holy Spirit tells how Abraham took his own personal army out and went to war against 4 kings and their armies and defeated them. Abraham’s ridiculously rich, richer than kings, and it’s of him that God says, “His faith was accounted for righteousness,” it’s he who stands as a beggar before God for the riches of Christ’s righteousness, it’s he whom Jesus uses to represent heaven and all those who go there, Abraham, a rich man, who is at the same time a beggar before God. So the rich man isn’t hell-bound just because he’s rich.
But this rich man is hell-bound. He trusts not in God’s mercy but in his riches. He loves them, loves what they can do for his life and fears ever losing them. He clothes himself in purple and fine linen. He feasts every day with all the food and drink and friends money can buy. And this attention on self is, as it always is, combined with a complete disregard of God and neighbor. He thinks nothing of the beggar, whose stomach is empty, and whose living body is rotting away outside his gate. Jesus points to the man’s works to show you his heart. The rich man thinks he needs no mercy, no help from God. He has everything already in his money. He refuses to be a beggar before God, and so he can’t understand why he should help his brother outside his own house.
But Lazarus thinks differently. He knows what it means to have nothing, and to beg for everything he needs. We’re not told why he’s a beggar. Whether he, like the prodigal son, wasted away all his inheritance and is wallowing in a misery he created for himself. Or whether he was orphaned and crippled and had no work or family or friends to help him through. It doesn’t matter. He’s a beggar. This is the objective state of his life.
And this is how we Christians must see ourselves before our God. Rich like Abraham, poor like Lazarus, or anywhere in between. God is no respecter of persons. He knows we are all poor before Him, that our end is death, that we have deserved a very real hell, and that our sins beg for Him to give it to us. We can offer Him nothing in ourselves. We can only beg for what He has promised us, His mercy bought and won by His blood shed for us. It is as the beautiful hymn puts it, “I have naught my God to offer save the blood of Thy dear Son, graciously accept the proffer, make His righteousness mine own. His holy life gave He was crucified for me, His righteousness perfect He now pleads before Thee. His own robe of righteousness, my highest good, shall clothe me in glory through faith in His blood.”
After Martin Luther died, his friends found on his bed stool a note that ended with the words, “We are beggars. This is true.” Luther never begged a day in his life, at least not out of need. He was well provided for by his prince, and the only reason he suffered any want in his life is because he gave away most of his money to the church and to beggars and the needy. But he owned himself as a beggar before God. Because he understood, as we must, that this story of the rich man and Lazarus is not simply a history of what happened to two men, it’s certainly not a commentary on the social oppression of the lower classes by the rich, but a theological commentary, God’s commentary, on every man, woman, and child born on this earth. We must be beggars before God.
It’s a beautiful thing how Jesus contrasts these two men. The one clothes himself in purple and fine linen. He masks his defects, the warts and blemishes of our lives that we try so hard to keep from each other. He has no thought of God, that what he can hide from others with a smile and parties and nice clothes, he simply can’t hide from the God who searches the heart, that no matter how he appeals to Abraham as father, he is no child of Abraham, Abraham who bared himself before the Almighty, despised his riches, recognized all his vulnerability and need, and begged for the mercy promised in Christ. The rich man pretends he’s something he’s not, and only death reveals his self-deception. So goes the world. But Lazarus, the beggar, the Christian, he lays it all bare. His festering sores are showing, licked by dogs, despised by those who pass by. He lies before God in the nakedness of his sin, and his only plea is for God’s mercy.
His name is Lazarus. That name means God is my help. Not the riches of this world, not family or friends. God. He is my help. The Father who created me, the Son who redeemed me a lost and condemned creature, the Spirit who gave me my God’s name in my Baptism, He is my help. And so poor Lazarus, who has no money, but has the riches of God and knows that no matter how bad it gets on this earth, no matter how he must suffer, his God will show him mercy, his God will forgive him, his God will clothe him with the righteousness of His Son who came to save the lost, this Lazarus has everything, far more than money can buy.
God is love. The rich man refused to love his neighbor because he didn’t want or care for God’s love. He didn’t realize his need for it. And so he spends an eternity without it. That’s what hell is, separation from God and His love.
We Christians must love. This is not only a command but the way things are, the nature of being a Christian. It’s what heaven is and will be forever. When you know your own condition, that you have cared for yourself before others, that you have failed to love the God who created you and has given you everything you have, and you hear from God that instead of punishing you, instead of giving you hell, He has taken your punishment on Himself, borne it to the cross, suffered hell in your place, to give you His righteousness and eternal life, as you beg from Him to forgive you and give you what He has died to win, and He gives it freely, gives you His name, clothes you in His righteousness, feeds you with the body and blood that forgive every sin and give eternal life, you know what love is, who God is. Here there is no clinging to money, no obsession with the pleasures this life can offer you, but a delight in the love of God that brings with it a love for your neighbor. And this love lasts forever. When in heaven there will be no need for faith or hope, love will remain, our God’s love for us and our love for Him and one another. And that love starts here, as we receive God’s love in His Word and our Lord’s body and blood, and as we love one another and use our riches to help our fellow beggars be fed and clothed with Christ’s righteousness. God grant this to us all. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
Trinity 2, 2018
One of the reasons we have a classical school here at Mount Hope is our Christian conviction that human nature remains the same, it doesn’t change, no matter how much time passes and generations come and go. Now obviously the world changes, we have planes and cars and cellphones, things no one imagined 200 years ago, and there are differences between cultures, what’s so often celebrated as “diversity” in our day, but there is still something undeniably human that remains changeless throughout the generations. And so you can pick up a book written in ancient Greece some 2500 years ago and read it, or a book written in Spain 400 years ago, and you’ll see that people through the centuries struggled with the same problems we struggle with today, asked the same questions about death and right and wrong and the existence of God and our proper place in this world. And yet it remains a very common assumption in our day that human nature has changed, that it is changing, that we have evolved from what we used to be, graduated from the primitive thoughts of our ancestors, that we’re progressing even beyond biology itself, beyond the binary of man and woman created in the beginning. This is the thought a classical education aims to root out and expose as silly and destructive. Our world has changed, for sure. But we haven’t. And it’s not just the classics that prove the point. The Bible does. It remains relevant, constantly applicable, in our day, precisely because it is God speaking to us as men and women who share the very same human nature as those who have gone before us. Every word of our Lord Jesus, written down some 2000 years ago, proves the point. And our Gospel is the perfect example, that no matter how things change, we sinners remain the same.
Jesus speaks of the master of a house inviting many to a supper. The supper is church, of course, where God feeds us with His Word and gives us what He died to win, His Supper, the body and blood that bore our sins and conquered our death. And let’s be clear about this. It’s a ridiculously generous invitation, this invitation to His church. It’s the grace of God, a word we say a lot, but don’t consider enough. Here God offers to those cursed to death and hell eternal life and everlasting joy. Here God takes sinners who’ve stained their lives with shame, and clothes them with His righteousness, gives them honor and glory and status before the Holy Trinity. Here the God who threatens to punish all who transgress His commandments, blesses us instead and tells us He’s taken our punishment on Himself. Here heaven is opened and the angels marvel to see their Lord give us poor sinners on earth food angels will never taste. Here God gives wisdom that far surpasses anything the most brilliant classical writers could give, and riches with which no wealth on earth can compare.
But the invitation is rejected. People make excuses. And here is where Jesus shows how well He knows our sinful nature. God offers heaven. He offers everlasting life. He gives Himself. He gives everything.
But those called don’t want it. And it’s not just that they don’t want it, they actually have the gall to say they’ve found something better, that there are more important considerations in life. And they mean it too. It makes a sick sort of sense to our sinful human nature. I just bought a field and need to see it. I just bought a yoke of oxen and need to test them. I just married, so I can’t come. Why on earth would any of these things keep them from coming to the feast? The field will still be there after supper. The oxen can be tested tomorrow. You can bring your wife to the feast, she’s invited too. But no, the fact is, they’d rather be doing something else.
Jesus hits here on the three things we most commonly put above going to church and hearing God’s Word. It’s sinful human nature on display. The field, the oxen, the wife. That’s wealth, job, and family. That hasn’t changed in the last 2000 years, and it won’t change till the world’s end. Because our sinful nature remains the same.
We like to make excuses for not going to church, for not hearing God’s Word, and I’m not talking about being sick or shut-in – there are those who want to come to church but can’t. I’m talking about the excuses that show we’d rather be elsewhere. Is the statement, “I have to go to a sporting event on Sunday” really an I’d rather go to a sporting event than go to church? Is the “I have to pick up a shift on Sunday,” really an I’d rather make money on earth than receive the riches of heaven in church? Is the “Sunday is the only day I can get to the lake” really an I’d rather enjoy the leisure of this world than rest in the Word of my God? Is the, “My family is in town,” “My friends are visiting,” really an I’m embarrassed to bring my family and friends to learn of the God who died for them? And we have to be honest about this. Because God knows what our excuses amount to. He discerns the heart. Where are your priorities? Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.
Now there is no rule in the Bible, no 11th commandment that says, “Thou must go to church every Sunday morning.” It doesn’t exist. But that’s not the point. You don’t go to church to satisfy a commandment. You go to church because you can’t think of anything you’d rather do. This is why Luther explains the 3rd commandment as he does, “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.” This is something no law can force from you. A law could force you to physically get out of bed and go to church. If we lived in a different place and time we might have that law. But it could never make you glad to do it, could never make you see it as holy and sacred and your greatest pleasure.
Last week we saw that it was Lazarus the beggar who yearned for heaven and God’s promise of rest from sin and sorrow, and it was the rich man who was too concerned with the pleasures of this world to see his need for God’s mercy. Lazarus went to heaven and the rich man to hell. And Jesus stresses the same thing again today. I say to you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my Supper. God is offended when He sends His only Son to die for us, when He spends His love and honor on us, gives up His joy to save us, and then when He offers it all to us, when He shows us He won’t look at our sin, He won’t give us hell, He will treat us like sons and daughters, and feed us and bring us to heaven where there will be no sin or pain forever, and then we prefer instead the pleasures of this earth that fade away in the using. God is offended. He won’t have ingrates in His Church or in His heaven.
And so the master says, “Go out and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” If those I’ve invited would rather be elsewhere, then bring Me those who are hungry and needy and poor, who won’t think of refusing my invitation, who will be glad to come, because I give them something they know they desperately need and can find nowhere else. Bring in the people I won’t have to guilt into coming, who won’t think my invitation an inconvenience. Go out, compel them to come in, I will not have my Son’s blood spilt in vain.
And God builds his church. He fills his supper hall. He populates heaven. It’s what He’s done again today. I haven’t preached this sermon to guilt you into coming to church. It’s quite the opposite. It’s the guilty, you who know you’re guilty, who are sick of sinning and yet keep falling into it, who know the excuses your sinful nature continually offers up, who have loved your money and your leisure and your job and your families at the expense of your God and want it to stop, you who confess from the heart that you are a poor miserable sinner, you our Lord calls the poor and crippled and blind and lame, you He calls to His Supper and are glad to come.
Because you know your human nature, you know what hasn’t changed since Adam’s fall, you know the death that sin brings, you know the state of this world and the temptations all around you, and you know no political solution will suffice, no peace on this earth will bring the solution you need, but here in Christ’s Church you have a foretaste of heaven, your God smiling on you, relief from a burdened conscience, and knowledge of God Himself, who has spared nothing to redeem you and make you an heir of heaven.
And here we see that whatever God gives on this earth, money, leisure, job, family, He gives not for an excuse to avoid Him, but out of the same love and mercy that He gives us salvation, for the sake of Christ, to whom we entrust our life every day, to whom we bring our family, and for whom we work and in whom we enjoy God’s earth, until He takes us to the greater joy of heaven which we taste here at Church.
And we do taste it here. The hymns of the Lutheran Church find their height of beauty in the Lord’s Supper. They express the great desire of the poor and crippled and blind and lame, of sinners who can find no greater joy than in God’s love in Christ’s cross. And so I’ll end this sermon with a couple verses that give our praise to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for His gracious invitation:
Ah, how hungers all my spirit
For the love I do not merit!
Oft have I, with sighs fast thronging,
Thought upon this food with longing,
In the battle well-nigh worsted,
For this cup of life have thirsted,
For the Friend who here invites us.
And to God Himself unites us.
Jesus, Bread of Life, I pray Thee,
Let me gladly here obey Thee.
By Thy love I am invited,
Be Thy love with love requited;
From this Supper let me measure,
Lord, how vast and deep love's treasure.
Though the gifts Thou here dost give me
As Thy guest in heaven receive me. Amen. Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
Trinity 3, 2018
Jesus speaks the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son to the Pharisees and scribes. We know, of course, that the Pharisees make themselves Jesus’ enemies. They’re always at odds with Him. And they take offense at Jesus for two reasons, first because Jesus makes a habit of preaching the law in such a way that it makes sinners not just out of the tax-collectors and adulterers, but out of them, because what the tax-collectors and adulterers do, the Pharisees want to do in their hearts. And second, and we see this clearly here in our Gospel, they are offended at Jesus because he makes Himself a friend of sinners. And yet it’s not as if they have a stricter view of sin than Jesus does. Jesus condemns sin constantly, he preaches against it with all severity, expects his disciples to hate it, and warns against the hell it deserves. But the Pharisees take exception to Jesus because He deals with sinners differently. They look at other sinners, at their outward evil works, and they declare them people to be avoided, hell-bound, hopeless, and worthless. Jesus looks at sinners and knows they are hell-bound, and because He’s come to lay down His life to save them from hell, he refuses to avoid them, refuses to consider them worthless. And He teaches the Pharisees just how much worth and value He places on these public sinners and on the Pharisees themselves with all the secret sin of their hearts.
And so He tells three parables. They each have to do with the worth and value God places on his sinful creatures.
The lost sheep was not this shepherd’s pet. The point of the parable is not that the shepherd loves the sheep. It’s that he considered the sheep valuable. We get confused about this, because we think in terms of the Good Shepherd and Psalm 23, where God compares Himself to a shepherd who adores His sheep and protects them because He loves them. But here in our parable we have a rich shepherd who owns a hundred sheep, and if he loses one of them, he’ll lose part of his wealth. That lost sheep is worth something, in real dollars, and that’s the point the Pharisees can’t deny. “Which one of you wouldn’t go out and find the lost sheep?” Jesus says. Which one of you wouldn’t drop everything you’re doing if you lose your wallet? Appointments get canceled, you call the bank, you make it your top priority to find that wallet, because it’s worth something to you. And the parable of the lost coin drills home the same point even more clearly. The woman doesn’t love the coin. She has no affection for it. But she knows its worth. If you’d drop everything to go and find one sheep out of a hundred, certainly you’d do the same to go and find one coin out of ten. It’s a tenth of your wealth, it’s got monetary value, objective worth.
And the Pharisees understand this. They can see the value, the worth, of stuff, of property and money. But what about the value of people, of sinful people?
People belong to God. Whether they know it or not, they belong to Him. He made them, He became one of them, He shed His blood for them, He sends out His Word to call them to Him. And if He invests them with this worth, with this value, then no one can argue against Him, no one can point to the sins that are so despicable and then declare sinners worthless. They have worth, because God values them. Far more than a shepherd values his sheep, far more than a woman her money, God values the people He made in His image and died to redeem.
And so Jesus transitions from sheep and coin, from monetary value, to a higher kind of value. The value of love. The value a father puts on his child. I remember my grandfather, a few months before he died, when my youngest brother was born, telling my dad that he was the richest man he knew. My dad was not rich. He lived on a single income, a low pastor’s salary, to provide for a wife and 12 kids. He was poor by American standards, poor according to the IRS. But the worth of children is far more valuable than money or possessions. Every good father knows this. There’s not one of us children, even though we’ve caused him pain and given him gray hairs and too often disobeyed him and disrespected him and made him stay up late at night worrying about us, not one of us Dad would give up for all the money in the world.
And this is what Jesus drives home with the parable of the lost son. And he does drive it home. He’s been talking about riches, money and possessions, things people know are worth something, and now he reverses it. This son costs the father money, takes his inheritance, a third of the father’s wealth. In monetary value the son is worse than worthless, he’s a deficit, an impediment to wealth. If the father were interested in money, he would have disinherited his son, thrown him out of the house, kept the money for himself. But no, he loves this son. And there, there alone, in the father’s love, is the son’s worth. And this even when the son shows himself totally unworthy of his love, even when he tells his father he wishes he were dead – that’s what it means to ask for your inheritance before your father dies – even when he goes off and shames his father’s name by living in sin and spending his father’s money on prostitutes and drunkenness, the father loves him and sees him as worth far more than all his wealth. And Jesus shows this. The father isn’t just waiting for his son to come back. He’s looking for him. He sees him from far away. He runs to him and showers him with kisses. And after the kid has wasted away a third of his money, the father shows what little he thinks of his wealth, and throws a lavish feast, spends even more money, to celebrate and honor this his son.
And why? Because he loves him. That’s it. That’s his worth. There’s no logic here. There’s no reasoning it out. He loves his son, and so he thinks him more valuable than all the world.
This is the love of God for sinners. It isn’t logical. The Pharisees are. Sin should be punished. Sinners should be thrown into hell. They should have no business sitting and eating with God. But God’s love is this, that He takes the sinner’s punishment on Himself, that He subjects Himself to the sinner’s hell by suffering it on the cross, that He gives up His riches and spends His wealth and honor on unworthy sinners, seeks out those who have rejected Him, who have preferred to live as if their heavenly Father were dead, who have found themselves miserable and unclean, He seeks them out, and when they confess that they are unworthy, that they don’t deserve to be called His son, He gives them His name, clothes their shame, refuses even to mention their sin, gives them the worth and value of His own blood shed for them, and rejoices with them.
And so it goes for us. It’s what God just did for little James this morning, who was born without fear or love or trust in God, lost and dead in sin. God put His name on him, clothed him in Christ’s righteousness, gave him His Spirit, drowned his sin, raised him to eternal life and announced his value and worth, telling His angels and us to rejoice over him. We come soiled, having given our Father in heaven a bad name, having shamed ourselves and our God, confessing we are unworthy, and He washes us clean in our Baptism, absolves us from all sin and shame, robes us with the righteousness of our Lord Jesus, and invites us to feast and rejoice at the Supper He has prepared for us.
This scene is so beautiful that it takes up all our attention. The prodigal son and the gracious father. But there is another character in the parable. And we have to deal with him too, the older brother who stayed in his father’s house while the younger brother ran away.
And really he’s the point of the story, because he represents the Pharisees, and it’s the Pharisees Jesus is addressing. You can and should identify with the lost son because you know your sin and you know what it means for your God to relieve you of all guilt, to forgive you when you fail, and to love the unworthy. But you also know the elder brother’s sin, because even though you are in the Church, even though you live in your Father’s house, and admit you are a sinner and flee for refuge to the love of Christ and strive to live a life pleasing to your God, you still have a little Pharisee within you.
The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. We usually think of the flesh, of sin, in terms of the nasty things the prodigal did. Sex outside marriage, drunkenness, open disrespect for authority. But here Jesus twists the knife in our pharisaical flesh. What is the older son’s complaint? It’s not just that his father rejoices over forgiving a sinner. It’s that he never got to have the fun that his brother had. He wanted a party with his friends. He wanted a bit of the life of the prodigal, a night or two of dissipation, but he didn’t get it, because he’s been in his father’s house, and his father doesn’t approve of that sort of thing. And so he boasts that he didn’t indulge in what he wanted, that he kept himself from the sin that he actually desired to do, and he’s envious, actually jealous, that his brother got to sin and he didn’t, and now his brother gets off without punishment.
It’s amazing to see how Jesus gives answer to this. He answers so kindly, so graciously to this discontent with the Christian life of good works that God gives us to live. All that I have is yours, the father says. You live with Me. What more could you want? The sins of your brother are what made him lost and dead. His joy, My joy, what must be your joy, is that he’s been found, that he’s alive from the death that sin brings, that he now will live with us and rejoice with us and despise the life that brought him nothing but misery.
You miss out on nothing when you shun sin and strive to live a Christian life in your Father’s house. There is no sin out there in the world that could give you real pleasure. You have no reason to envy the lifestyles of the heathen. You have the only life worth living, because you know what gives you worth, you know that your Father in heaven loves you, that your God, the only begotten Son, is your Brother who has laid down His life for you, that what His Spirit gives you in faith and love is true joy and life. You don’t need to seek out the pleasures of this world to know your Father’s forgiveness and love. You have sin enough in your heart and in your life to see the wonder that your Lord Jesus would Sunday after Sunday receive you, forgive you, feed you with His body and blood, and rejoice that you are His and He is yours. God grant us this joy, God grant it to our children, to bring home those who are lost and to strengthen those who stand, so that we all rejoice together in the feast here on earth and the heavenly feast to come. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ.
Pastor Christian Preus
“Judge not and you will not be judged.” These are some of the most famous and most misunderstood words of the Bible. Jesus said it. So you may not judge. Don’t judge the abortionists, don’t judge the homosexuals, don’t judge the communists, the pedophiles, the rapists, the fornicators, the adulterers. Don’t judge when people lie about you, when they steal from you, when they abuse and hurt the people you love, when they mock your God. Don’t judge.
Now this command of our Lord Jesus has been ripped out of context and used to defend all sorts of sins that Jesus Himself judges and condemns. So at a particular Casper City Council meeting a few months back, we predictably heard more than one Council member cite Jesus’ words “Judge not” to chastise us Christians for opposing the lifestyles of homosexuals and transgenders as sin. Don’t judge, Jesus’ famous words, have become ammunition against any conscientious Christian opposition to sin. Now of course this has to stop somewhere. Can we not judge rape and pedophilia as sin? How about child abuse? How about separating children from their mothers, which America has been so up in arms about this week? Can we judge that as bad? Everyone with a brain or heart will have to admit that judging needs to happen on this earth, otherwise we have no law and order, and the innocents are left to the capricious wills of criminals.
And so we need to meet this disingenuous citation of Jesus’ words, “Don’t judge,” with a knowledge of what these words actually mean. Because Jesus does mean them. They aren’t throw-away words, they’re not exaggeration or hyperbole. You may not judge. You are not the judge of others. You may not judge them according to your own standards. You may not judge the homosexual simply because you personally find what he does disgusting. You may not judge the harasser and molester because the #Metoo movement requires it. You may judge only according to God’s standard, because that is to let God be God, to let God do the judging, and not you. He’s much better at it. This is very important for us to understand. It is God who must judge, and we know His judgment through His Word. When we speak that word and confess it, when we say that it is a sin to cheat on your wife, to have sex outside marriage, to pretend you’re a woman when you’re a man, we are speaking God’s judgment, appealing to God’s standard, and there is no sin in that. But we need to go further here, because God’s standard, what we know as the Law, as the 10 Commandments, God’s standard which condemns abortion, which condemns homosexuality, communism, pedophilia, rape, gossip and slander, theft and abuse, God’s standard will also condemn you. God’s standard will show you that unless God is merciful to you, you will receive not his commendation for being so righteously outraged and disgusted at other people’s sins, not his commendation, but his damnation.
How does Jesus describe His Father? Be merciful, as your Father in heaven is merciful. He doesn’t talk about God’s power, his justice, his zeal to punish sinners. The quality, the characteristic that identifies God first and foremost is his mercy. And if we claim this mercy, if we cry out for it, if we ask for forgiveness, when we judge ourselves according to God’s standard and see that we have sinned and deserve his punishment, and God gives it, gives His mercy, gives it freely for the sake of Jesus’ suffering and death for us, then, when we turn to judge others, we cannot forget this mercy of our Father in heaven.
We will shortly sing the Offertory, the Create in Me a clean heart O God, where we ask again for our Father’s mercy. We do so in the words of Psalm 51, which King David prayed after he had stolen another man’s wife, violated her marriage, and then killed her husband to cover it up. Now this is a remarkable thing that we would sing this – I’ve never done what David did. I’ve never cheated on my wife and I’ve never killed a man. But that’s my judgment, you see, it’s not God’s. God is the one who says, If you even look at a woman to lust at her in your heart, you have committed adultery with her. God is the one who says, whoever hates his brother is a murderer. And so we pray the true sinner’s prayer. We don’t pretend we are superior to the adulterer and the killer. We pray his prayer. Because we identify with him. We judge his sin as despicable and awful, and then we pray his prayer, because we judge ourselves according to the same standard of God’s law. And then there is nothing left for us, but to depend with David the adulterer and murderer, on our Father’s mercy.
Now there are some hot topic issues we Christians are dealing with and have been for some time. And we can’t ignore them or think that this passage, “Judge not,” means we should ignore them. It’s quite the opposite. Abortion remains a huge problem. Homosexual marriage, transgenderism, and the general attack on the union of male and female in holy matrimony waged by our own government against us Christians. And since we Christians are now being scared into the closet, afraid to judge homosexuality as sin, to call it what it is, for fear that we will be seen as bigots and haters, afraid to judge sex outside of marriage and all the attacks on marriage, for fear of being considered out of touch and prudish, we need to listen carefully to Jesus’ words in our Gospel for today. Because we can’t be silent. To be silent about sin is to be silent about the Savior from sin. Love compels us, God’s love, our Father’s mercy, compels us to speak against the sins so public and pervasive in our society, so that we can speak the love of Christ that covers that sin and brings people out of its misery.
But before we speak to the world we need to speak to ourselves. After Jesus tells us not to judge or condemn according to our own standards, to instead be generous, to put the best construction on everything, to forgive the faults we see in other people, he tells a parable. “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” A sinner who doesn’t know his own sin can’t lead another sinner out of sin. It makes no sense whatsoever for us to condemn the sins of others when we are not only guilty of the same sins, but we refuse to acknowledge them in ourselves. It’s what the common proverb calls the pot calling the kettle black. It’s what Jesus here calls hypocrisy.
“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but don’t notice the log that is in your own eye?” So says Jesus. And these words are just as practical and applicable now as they were when Jesus first spoke them. We are all guilty. Married couples, fathers and mothers, single Christians, which of us have kept our eyes and hearts from adultery, whether from pornography or what amounts to it? Which of us have kept our mouths from speaking the filthy words that denigrate the sexual union and marriage? Which of us married couples have welcomed children as gifts from God without ever thinking or worrying about the expense they cost us in money and pleasure? Which of us husbands have consistently shown the world what a blessing it is for a wife to have a husband who loves and protects and lays down his life and never puts down or domineers her? Which of you wives have willingly and happily shown the world the joy of submitting to your husband as to the Lord, of sacrifice and care for husband and children? We all have failed.
And so when we turn to judge the sin of our culture against marriage and children, we had better see the log in our own eye and beg our Father in heaven to remove it in His mercy. It’s this mercy that marks our Father and that must mark us His children. Children learn from their Father how to act and what to say. And our Father, he doesn’t turn away in disgust from us, he doesn’t come with hate or anger to cast us from His presence forever, but in compassion He sends His Son, who takes our shame and our punishment on Himself, loves us to the end, and spills His blood for us, to present us as pure and holy before our Father.
David the murderer and adulterer, when in Psalm 51 he had finished singing create in me a new heart o God and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free Spirit, when, in other words, he asks God to remove the log from his eye and have mercy on him, he immediately continues, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will be converted to you.”
We Christians must speak the truth of God’s law to those around us. It’s not optional. But only when we have spoken it to ourselves and seen that we live alone by God’s mercy. And then we don’t approach the abortionist with hate, we don’t confront the homosexual with disgust and revulsion, we don’t act superior to the fornicator and adulterer. We come merciful as our Father in heaven is merciful. And that mercy is never to condone sin, never to excuse it, but to expose it for what it is, show the misery of it, and then display the indescribable mercy of our Lord who never turns the penitent sinner away, never rubs in the shame of it all, but forgives and welcomes to a better life, the only life worth living, the life that avoids and hates sin even as we continue to live by the mercy and forgiveness of our Father in heaven.
It’s especially fitting that we have had a baptism today, actually two baptisms, of Ayden and Aspen. God required nothing from them. God just did what God does, what God is. He loved and had mercy on two helpless little sinners, and welcomed them as children into His Kingdom, declared Himself their Father, and joined them to His Son’s life and death and resurrection. You notice we omit confession and absolution when we have a baptism. That’s because the baptism of these two little ones reminds you of your baptism, where your Father first had mercy on you in your life, and promised to have mercy on you all your life, to speak kindly to you when you have sinned and come for forgiveness, and when you have tasted the sin and death of this world to feed you with living food, to be merciful to you all your life till He brings you to be with Him in the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end. This is the mercy Ayden and Aspen have now been given, the mercy that rules the life of Christ’s Church, and it’s the mercy which we by God’s grace will continue to receive here in our Father’s house and show to this world. God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Let us pray: Lord, let me win my foes, with kindly words an actions, and let me find good friends for counsel and correction. Help me, as you have taught, to love both great and small, and by your Spirit’s might, to live in peace with all.
Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus…
In a few days I plan, by God’s grace, to be about as far north in the lower 48 as I can be, on a lake, with my fishing pole in my hand, my three oldest kids asking me every 20 seconds whether I’ve caught a fish. And my guess is that I’ll have to tell them “No.” every time. Because I’ve never really fished in my life, and until a couple days ago, I had no idea what jigging was – I’m still not quite sure – and I’m still not certain I could tell the difference between a bass and a trout. Now, I’m telling you this not to embarrass myself or to entertain you with some irrelevant story – that’s not why you come to church, after all, you come to church not for entertainment but to hear the Gospel of Christ Jesus. No, telling you my lack of fishing expertise actually has a point. It takes quite a bit of knowledge, technique, skill and experience to catch fish.
Simon Peter was a fisherman. He knew how to fish. And using all his techniques, fishing at the right time, in the right place, with the nets at the proper depth, Peter caught nothing. It happens. And after a night of fishing and catching nothing, Peter heard our Lord Jesus command him to put out the nets. It made no sense to put out the nets. It was the wrong place, the wrong time. And more than this, it was a nuisance to put out the nets. They had finally cleaned them of algae and folded them up. But Peter responded to Jesus, “At your word, I will do it.” Peter did what made no sense to him. He simply obeyed Jesus’ word.
Now this is a picture of the Church and how it grows. That’s what Jesus says. It’s why he later tells Peter that he will be catching men from now on. The Church catches people, brings them into her fellowship, makes Christians of them and children of our Father in heaven, by obeying Jesus’ word. Even if Jesus’ word doesn’t look to us like it will accomplish anything, even if it seems a nuisance and a hardship to preach it and confess it. Jesus is very clear in telling us how to catch men. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and by teaching them to keep all things that I have commanded you. The Church grows and thrives, men and women and children are brought into the ship of the Church, by the net of the Gospel, by preaching Jesus’ word without apology, by baptizing and administering the Holy Supper of our Lord.
But this seems too paltry a thing to human reason. It always has. It just doesn’t seem to work. Church-attendance in America has been plummeting for half a century now. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has lost a quarter of its membership in the last 40 years. And the rate of decline in the other Protestant church bodies is even more staggering, and the same goes for the Roman Catholic Church. People stop coming to church or they never join. And the people of the church have tried to take matters into their own hands and try whatever techniques they can to bring people back. They’ve turned to the earthly experts, to marketing strategists, in what’s become known as the “Church Growth Movement.” The key, we’re told, is to give people what they want, to assess their felt needs and conform the church’s teaching to what people are looking for. What are people looking for in a church? The church has to provide it, whether child-care or relevant messages or contemporary music or a casual atmosphere – coffee shop churches are becoming quite popular.
The marketing experts told us that if we preach the doctrine of the Bible, we’ll alienate people, so pastors water down their sermons, stop preaching sin and the Savior from sin, because that’s not what people want. People want to know how to be successful in life, how to live their best life now, and so the experts told us to preach sermons on how to succeed in finances, how to thrive in their personal relationships with others, how to overcome the various earthly hardships that affect their lives. The experts told us the historic liturgy puts people off, so churches replace it with emotional songs and “praise” services that focus on our feelings instead of on Christ-crucified for sinners.
And what has all this resulted in? Church attendance continues to decline and churches end up calling themselves churches without ever preaching Christ crucified. And as the experts tell us to redouble our efforts, to employ more and more marketing strategies, to put out more and more surveys to see what people are looking for, we must return again and again to the only expert who has anything to say to the Church, Jesus Christ our Lord.
He shows Peter that all his strategies won’t work, not even in fishing, unless God blesses His work. But of course Jesus isn’t interested in teaching Peter how to fish. He’s interested in teaching His Church and His pastors how to catch men. And this happens not by employing our own strategies or techniques, but by trusting that Christ will build up His Church by the preaching of His Word. Because that’s what Jesus has promised. And His promises don’t fail.
Only the Word of Christ can build the Church because only the word of Christ shows people what they really need and gives it to them. We don’t know what we need unless Jesus tells us. And the people of the world can’t tell us what they need either, because they don’t know what they need. That’s the whole point. If they knew what they needed they’d be knocking down church doors to hear the Gospel. We all think we know what we need from God. We’ve all got problems we’d like solved. If only the pain or sickness would go away. If only so-and-so would stop giving me a hard time at work, if only my wife or my children would listen to me, if only I could lose a few pounds, If only I could get a raise or get a job, if only people would respect me, if only my family would get along, if only I could rid myself of my bad habits. We’ve got all sorts of problems we’d like solved. But left to ourselves we ignore our greatest and most pressing need.
It is the Word of God alone, who certainly cares for all our needs of body and soul, it is God who shows us our real need, the need that underlies all our problems. And this is the preaching we need to hear from Christ’s mouth through His pastors in His Church. We don’t need Jesus the financial planner, Jesus the self-help counselor, Jesus the relationship expert. We need Jesus our Savior from sin. We need to see what Peter saw in that boat as he beheld the righteous God before Him and cried out, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.” And this is a need we will only see when we stop worrying about all our selfish concerns, about what we can do to improve ourselves on this earth, only when we stop and listen to Jesus.
You need church because you need Jesus. You need the body and blood of Christ. You need the preaching of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’s cross. You need His absolution. You need your Baptism.
Do you know this need? Do you see what Peter saw? Peter didn’t care about his fish or his livelihood or all his earthly worries, not when He saw the truth of who stood before Him. We stand before God the almighty and nothing is hidden from Him. He knows your thoughts. He knows what you have done and said. He knows the jealousy and the apathy, the lust, the doubts and worries of your heart against Him and His Word. He knows the words spoken and the thoughts imagined against your neighbor. And the righteousness of the righteous God requires punishment for sin. You will meet your Maker. You will be in Peter’s place. You will see His glory and His righteousness and you will see that you cannot stand before him in your sins. And what you need now, what is far more relevant than anything else you feel you need on this earth, is to be able to appear before this God pure and holy, without sin, innocent and righteous.
So hear what Jesus spoke to Peter spoken to you. Do not be afraid. The almighty God has not come down upon this earth to catch fish but to catch men. He has come for you. He has become sin to give you His righteousness. He has paid the price you were required to pay with his own blood and suffering. He has swallowed up His own wrath in the hard love that bore your iniquities and carried your sorrows to the cross. And He gives His life and His goodness and His righteousness to you. Every sin that separates you from your God He has blotted out. He sets you before the throne of God’s justice pure and holy, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. He gives you His own inheritance as children of God by washing you clean by water and the Word. He sets before you the body and blood that were pierced and shed for your sins and now are placed into your mouth so that your heart can know and confess that Jesus’ righteousness is yours now and forever. And since you are God’s child and heirs with Christ of everlasting life, you can commend all your cares to your Father in heaven, knowing that He who has taken care for your greatest need cares for your every need of body and soul.
We confess what we have heard and believed. And we have heard marvelous things from Christ our Savior. We suffer only God to guide us. Because He has taught us our need and He has given Himself to be our Savior. His net has caught us, and we pray that through the preaching of His Gospel, the Holy Christian Church would burst with men, women, and children rejoicing in the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting, in faith toward Christ and in fervent love toward one another. God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
Trinity 7, 2018
The people ate and were satisfied. So our Gospel reads this morning. The Greek word translated satisfied here usually means to be filled, to be stuffed, like an animal, like a pig who doesn’t know when to stop eating. The Latin has saturati, where we get the word saturated. So the King James translates our text, “The people did eat and were filled.” And no doubt the Holy Spirit is stressing that these 4000 people were full. The bread and the fish were more than enough. Jesus did what only God could do, and created from nothing, as He did in the beginning, multiplying seven loaves and a few fish to feed thousands till their stomachs were saturated with food. The point here is that Jesus is the almighty God. He does what only God can do, and this demonstration of divine power proves it.
But we miss the greater point of Jesus’ miracles if we think they only demonstrate His power. These miracles are signs, but they are signs telling not simply that Jesus is God, but what kind of God He is. They show not just His power but His character. What kind of God is this? He is the God who has compassion on His sinful creation. And this we see, of course, when Jesus Himself says, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me for three days and have nothing to eat.” That Jesus had compassion on the crowd means he suffered with them. That’s what compassion means, to suffer along with another. The text uses everyone’s favorite Greek word here, splangnizomai, which means a rending of the guts. This is the God who suffers with His creation. He hungered in the wilderness. He thirsted on the cross. He suffered in his body. He knows the people’s hunger. He knows that they are but dust. And he knows it because he’s become dust like them, because he actually feels the gnawing of hunger in his own stomach, because the mighty God has humbled Himself to bear the afflictions of our mortal flesh and suffer in His body the corruption of our sin.
And this means He knows your afflictions. He’s felt them in his body and soul. He’s woken up with pains in his limbs. He’s had to deal with not knowing where his next meal will come from or where he will lay his head. He’s dreaded death and suffering and hell. He is literally full of compassion, and He acts on His compassion for those whom He loves, He who hungers fills the hungry with good things.
Notice that Jesus never gives a sign from heaven. He never calls on the stars to fall. He isn’t like Elijah. He doesn’t call down fire from heaven. He does his works on earth and He continually stresses the earthiness of his miracles. Just before feeding the four thousand, he heals the deaf man by the most earthly means imaginable, by what one theologian has called the divine wet willy, spitting and putting his finger in the deaf man’s ear. You don’t get more earthy than this. And here again he uses his divine power to feed 4000 hungry stomachs with a common meal of bread and fish. He fills an earthly need.
It’s amazing and no coincidence that the Pharisees, immediately after Jesus feeds the four thousand, the Pharisees demand from Jesus a sign from heaven. The signs on earth weren’t enough. It’s not His compassion they want to see, but His bare power. And Jesus refuses them. He won’t give it. He groans in His spirit and asks in all too human grief over unbelief, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” Of course, Jesus has just performed signs. But they were signs on earth, not in heaven. And God forbid He give them any other sign, any sign that would fail to show not only that Jesus is God but that this God has come to share in our flesh and blood and have compassion on earth with earthly sinners. When the signs from heaven finally come, when the sky grows dark, and the sun turns to blood, it’s only when the greatest earthly sign takes place, as the almighty God hangs suffering in His body on a cross and pays the penalty for the sins that bring corruption and death to us His creation of flesh and blood and soul.
So our translation, “The people ate and were satisfied,” is the right one. It’s not only that they were filled. It’s not that they gorged themselves in gluttony. It’s not simply to prove that Jesus made a ridiculous amount of bread and fish – the seven baskets of fragments left over already prove that – it’s that the people are satisfied because they’ve received compassion from their God and they know it.
We usually think of Christ’s compassion only in spiritual things, that He forgives our sins. But this is the beauty of being a Christian, that we know that the God who has died to win us our forgiveness and our everlasting life, freely gives us all our earthly things, and this precisely because He has won us His favor. The reason the earth still gives fruit, the reason the sun still shines and the rain still falls, the reason you have the skill and the strength to work, the reason this world still exists and God gives all that is needed to provide for it, is because your God died to redeem it. This is our worth, the worth of our bodies and our souls, that our Creator has washed away the sin that stains His creation by His blood. This is why we Christians can confess with Paul Gerhardt, I will sing my Maker’s praises and in Him most joyful be, for in all things I see traces of His tender love for me. In this, in his giving us bread to eat, giving us jobs to work, families to love, faithful friends, good government, in this too we see His compassion.
The proverb says it: “The righteous eats to the satisfying of his soul, but the stomach of the wicked shall be in want.” We eat to the satisfying of our soul. We enjoy life to the satisfying of our soul. The wicked don’t see this. And make no mistake about it, it’s pure wickedness not to see it. God forbid we eat our meal without acknowledging the God who gives it, without acknowledging why He gives it. He owes us nothing. We don’t deserve our cars and our jobs and our meals and our families. We don’t deserve our life. It’s a gift from our God. And He gives it not because He is generally benevolent, not because he is the God of the Enlightenment philosophers called Providence, but because He is specifically compassionate, because He has lived and died as your Brother and your God on this earth specifically for you. And He provides for you, His providence provides for you, not as some far-off God, but as the God who wears your flesh and blood and owns your needs as the needs He had when He humbled Himself to bear your sins. Because He has felt your suffering and wants to relieve you of it.
Before the 4000 ate, they listened to Jesus preach for three days. That’s what the Holy Spirit says. Three days. People complain today that the divine service is too long, that it lasts more than an hour. Why? Because they’ve forgotten how God’s children are satisfied.
Do you want to be satisfied in life, do you want to enjoy your meals, to be content in your job, to get relief and rest after the long hours of labor, to love your wife or husband, to be content that God has not yet given you a wife or a husband or children, do you want to be satisfied in this life? Come to church and read your Bible daily. See the God whose compassion moved Him to feed the 4000, see the God who taught them for three days why they could expect nothing but good from Him, see the God who inspired men and women to go without food, to not worry about it, to recklessly go without the necessities of life and risk fainting and dying on the way home, because they knew they had before them the Creator of heaven and earth who would suffer all for them, take away their guilt, reconcile them to their God, forgive them, and provide for their every need of body and soul.
This is the God you have, the God who comes before you, who said, Lo I am with you always even to the end of the age. Your Creator feeds you today with His body and blood shed for you. He has compassion on you. And when you leave this holy place, and go home to your meal and your home and your job and your life, you will know that He is the one who keeps you safe, who feeds you, who provides for your every need, who satisfies your soul at the same time as He satisfies your body. Because today you eat and are satisfied.
Let us pray:
Since, then, neither change nor coldness
In my Father's love can be,
Lo! I lift my hands with boldness,
As Thy child I come to Thee.
Grant me grace, O God, I pray Thee,
That I may with all my might,
All my lifetime, day and night,
Love and trust Thee and obey Thee
And, when this brief life is o'er,
Praise and love Thee evermore.
Pastor Christian Preus
Trinity 10, 2018
C.S. Lewis, I don’t think, had ever been to Minnesota. I have. I was just there. I grew up there. And so I know nice. In Minnesota, nice is a religion, and too often it’s simply equated with the Christian religion. Being a Christian means being nice for many people. And being nice means you don’t confront others. You don’t disagree with people in public. You don’t raise your voice. And you don’t walk around with a glare on your face. You can fornicate, get drunk, gossip, and never go to church, but you can’t get angry. Because getting angry isn’t nice. And being nice is being a Christian.
Now, this religion of “nice” actually does have something to commend it. All false religions do. They’ve got some vestige of the truth. Being kind is certainly a virtue. Christians should not go around yelling at people for no good reason. Christians shouldn’t be quarrelsome or get in fights over petty things. They shouldn’t be cruel and rub people’s sins in their face. We should show each other and the world the love of Christ by our kindness and generosity. Being kind to your spouse, compassionate to your children, caring for the elderly – God commands these things. They are good and right and Christian.
But does this mean that we Christians should never get angry, never confront others, never oppose others with the conviction that we are right and others are wrong?
Well, if we are to mimic Jesus, and St. Paul tells us we are to do exactly this, we quickly realize that sometimes it is a good thing to get angry. It’s a theological virtue. Sometimes it’s necessary to confront others and oppose those who are doing and saying the wrong thing, especially when God’s word is on the line. Jesus comes into the Temple angry. He makes a whip and he physically drives out those who are selling. He quotes Scripture and yells at those who had perverted the worship of the Temple by twisting and manipulating Scripture to get it to teach a religion of works and niceties.
And here we have to be clear, the same God who repeatedly warns against anger, we now see angry and approving of anger. I’d like you to keep the picture of Jesus casting people out of the Temple with a big whip and shouting at them as he overturns their tables in anger, keep this picture in your mind, while I read some words from God, from Holy Scripture:
“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19:20). “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control” (Proverbs 29:11). “Anger resides in the lap of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9). “But now you must rid yourselves of all … anger and rage…” (Colossians 3:8). “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:22). “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret--it leads only to evil” (Psalm 37:8-9).
That’s what God says about anger. He warns against it. And so we have a seeming contradiction, don’t we? How can God condemn anger and then approve of it?
Well, why do you get angry? Do you get angry simply because you don’t get your way? Do you get angry over trivial things, like the guy ahead of you thinking that it’s OK to drive 30 in a 40? Do you get angry because dinner wasn’t ready on time? Do you get angry because someone else was promoted or praised or commended instead of you? Do you get angry because your feelings got hurt? Why? Why do you get angry at these things? Because you love yourself. That’s why. Because you love yourself more than others. Because someone did something that doesn’t fit into your idea of the way things should be. Because you like to measure what is good and right and proper on the basis of your own sinful desire.
That’s why God so often condemns anger. Because most times our anger manifests what wretched sinners we are. Anger at not getting our own way shows that we care about ourselves so much that we actually determine right and wrong by looking at whether it makes us feel good or not. And instead of thinking about others, thinking rationally and compassionately about others and their needs and desires, we become indignant that anyone could possibly be so brazen as to offend us, as to do anything that may inconvenience us. Anger shows clearly that we like to imagine that we are the center of the universe. So much do we think of ourselves. Anger reveals how pathetic and ugly the sin of our flesh really is. And so most times, most times, we need to repent of our anger, fear God who threatens to punish this sin, because it comes from our selfish love of our own sinful desires.
But Jesus did not need to repent of his anger. He wasn’t angry because people made him feel bad. He wasn’t angry because he cared more about his own desires than others. He wasn’t angry for any selfish reason at all. He was angry precisely because he cared for others. He wept and he was angry for the very same reason. Because He cared for God and he cared for people. And so, because of love of God and his neighbor, because, in other words, he was fulfilling the Law, he got angry at false teachers. Because false teaching kills souls. False teaching keeps people from recognizing that they are sinners and that they need Jesus as their Savior. False teaching tells people they can live in their sin and not fight against it because they’ll be forgiven anyway. False teaching separates people from God, their Creator, and leads them to hell. And so Jesus’ anger was inspired by His love of God and his love of sinners, because He wanted all glory and honor to be given to God, and he wanted his neighbor to hear the pure Gospel of his visitation. Jesus’ anger was a beautiful anger.
And so when we see Jesus getting angry we shouldn’t get embarrassed or quickly read over it in order to skip to a more comfortable passage where Jesus is happier, where he’s taking children in his arms or forgiving tax collectors. No, Jesus gets angry for you. His anger against false teaching, his forceful expulsion of false teachers from the house of God, this is for you. And his anger is for you not just because it teaches you how to get angry and what to get angry about – though it does do that, it does teach you that the only anger that is acceptable is anger that flows not from your selfish desires and preferences but from love of God and your neighbor. More than this, though, Jesus’ anger is for you because He teaches you by His anger how much he cares about you hearing the Gospel, how much it pains Him that anyone would not know the day of his visitation, when Christ Himself comes with His Word to deliver from the misery of sin and death by faith in his blood.
We should learn to get angry together with Jesus. To get angry at false teaching. To get angry at the lies that our own minds try to pawn off as truth. To get angry at any desire or opinion that enters into our head or heart that would set aside Christ crucified for sinners.
And this we need to realize, we sin not only by getting angry – a sin of commission; we sin also in NOT getting angry – a sin of omission. Listening with sympathetic ears to false teachers is a sin. You should mimic Jesus by having a righteous anger against the likes of Joel Osteen or any other false preacher who teaches you to find fulfillment not in Jesus Christ your Savior from sin, not in Jesus becoming your Substitute on the cross, but in your own so-called spiritual growth, your own potential, your own accomplishments. Because this teaching robs people of eternal comfort and leads them to trust in themselves instead of in Christ. But you don’t even have to listen to or read these false teachers to get angry. Their false teaching is in our minds from birth – the constant nagging opinion that we need to do this or that to pay God back, to make God our friend. We’re born with a false teacher in our flesh, trying to convince us that we’re already good enough for God because we’ve done this or that, or because our sin isn’t really that bad, or that God really isn’t that angry at sin, because he’s our buddy in the sky. Or this false prophet of our mind, what Luther calls the monster and whore of reason, convinces us that our sins are too terrible for God to forgive, too much for Christ to die for.
Repentance is nothing more than getting angry at this false religion, this false teaching of our flesh, whose lord and master is sin and selfish desire, and driving it from the temple of our hearts by the power of the forgiveness Christ our God died to give.
And this Jesus also teaches us to do. Because His anger with sin in the Temple is the same anger at sin that joins with His eternal love to destroy sin by taking it into His own Body, the true Temple, by taking your sin into His own body, and telling His Father to purge it out with all His anger, to cleanse it from every sin of deceit and from all false religion. And there, as the righteous anger of God is poured out on Jesus, as the anger of the Lord Almighty is emptied on our Substitute, as Jesus takes the anger that we deserved for all our sins of selfish anger and cowardly submission to our selfish desires, as the Son of God died – God’s Temple was really and finally cleansed.
And so when you look at Jesus getting angry and driving people out of the Temple see your Savior, whose anger at sin and its false teachers shows you His love for you that drove Him to the cross. See your Savior who comes today to His Church with the same purpose. Who sees your need, who has wept over it, who has bled for it, who fights for you still. This is what He does. He comes today and cleanses the Temple of His Church, which is His body. He cleanses her, he cleanses you, by taking every sin of anger, every sin of failing to get angry, every sin of obeying the dictates of the false religion preached by our flesh, every sin period, and throwing it from you as far as the East is from the West. Because you belong to Jesus, because you have been baptized into His death and resurrection, because you receive from Him His body and blood that takes away God’s wrath forever, because you are a member of His body, the Holy Christian Church, you are cleansed in Him, made heirs of eternal life, and given a life worth living as Christians on this earth. This is what makes for your peace, now and forever. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Christian Preus
We usually speak of the Gospel as the forgiveness of sins that God grants to us by faith in Christ. St. Paul calls it the power of God for salvation to all who believe. But here in our epistle lesson, the Holy Spirit explains the Gospel as an historical event. “Moreover brethren I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, by which you are saved.” And what is this Gospel? That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen, by Peter, by the 12 disciples, by 500, by James, by the apostles, by Paul. This is what happened. This is the Gospel. So when the Bible speaks about the Gospel as God’s power to save for all who believe, when it describes the Gospel as the forgiveness of sins declared by God and received by faith, it is speaking of a message that is true, not simply because God speaks it, but because God did it. And as we sing in the Nunc Dimittis, he did it in the sight of all nations. God took on our flesh. God died for our sins. God rose with his body from the dead. God was seen, he was touched – what our eyes have seen and our hands have handled, says St. John. And this, this is why our faith is not in vain. It is not made vain or empty because you have failed to live as you know you should. It is not made vain because you have doubted. It is not made empty because you have fallen again into sin and once again come stained and defiled into God’s house. It is not nullified because you have shown yourself prideful and unworthy of it. No, it stands on the death and resurrection of Christ, its surety, its truth, stands outside of you, and cannot be canceled by anything you have done or failed to do. When you hear God forgive you, you are hearing the Word of the same God who bled and died to win this forgiveness for you, and because He spilt His innocent blood in agony for you, He will not and cannot be anything but sincere and insistent when He tells you that your sins are covered and your warfare now is ended, that you have peace with your God, that you go home justified.
And this is why our Gospel lesson, which is so familiar to us, stands as the clearest expression of what Christian faith is, what it does, in opposition and contradiction to the false belief and despair that reigns outside the Christian religion. We do our Lord’s words here injustice if we think the parable he tells is a mere lesson on humility, that the tax collector is good because he is humble, and the Pharisee is bad because he is proud. No one likes a braggart, I know. It’s the most distasteful thing in the world to see a man or woman wax eloquent about how great they are, what they have done, how they are better than other people. But even the heathen know this. Even the pagan can’t stand being judged and insulted by some holier than thou religious jerk. Natural reason, natural law tells us enough that arrogance and self-promotion are vices and no virtue. The Son of God did not become a man to give us lessons on morality that we could have learned from Aesop or Cicero.
No, Jesus isn’t telling this story simply to teach us not to brag on ourselves. He tells it, as the Holy Spirit explicitly says, to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. And he sets the scene in the Temple, that is, in God’s presence, and he has the Pharisee and the tax-collector say what they say to God, not to men.
It’s one thing to praise yourself before men and quite another to praise yourself before God. Plutarch, a Roman Greek moral philosopher and biographer, who until recently was standard reading for school children in the United States, and is still read here at Mount Hope Lutheran School, Plutarch actually wrote a piece entitled, “How to praise yourself inoffensively,” where he gives tips on how you can tell others about yourself, your achievements, your talents – as someone applying for a job has to do – and not put off that you are boasting and self-obsessed. It is possible. And we, who know that selfish pride is a sin, we still tell our children we’re proud of them when they do well, we still accept the commendation, “You should be proud of yourself,” when we’ve done something that is recognized before men as good. There is some place for pride in our work, pride in one another, pride in our country, pride before men. It is as St. Paul says, “If Abraham was justified by his works, he has something to boast about [before men], but not before God.” Not, of course, that Abraham should boast of himself even before men, but that we can see his good works, and on this earth those good works do and must receive their praise.
In fact, we can accept praise before men and still know that we have deserved no praise from God. Man sees outer actions. God sees the heart. You can praise a parishioner for giving generously to the church, or tithing, that means giving ten percent of all you earn, but you cannot know what God knows – the intention of the heart. The Pharisee gave ten percent of all he had to God and to the poor. That is obviously a good thing. We should encourage it. We should praise it. God commanded it to His people Israel. We can commend the Pharisee’s outward generosity to ourselves and our children as something good and godly. We can praise his virtue of keeping true to his wife, that he is no adulterer. These are things to be praised, things to imitate, things we can see. But we don’t see the heart. God does.
And so to come before God with pride is quite another thing from receiving praise from men. God sees the heart. He sees that even you who give generously to the church, who give your ten percent or whatever, have sinful flesh that takes a sick sort of pride in doing this good work. He sees that even you who stay faithful to your spouse or keep yourself pure outside of marriage have lusted in your heart. He sees that even you who have not stolen like the tax-collector have coveted and desired riches that God has not given you. He sees that even you who attend church faithfully and earnestly desire to receive your Lord’s body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins are distracted like Martha with worries and cares you have no business worrying about before the God who has promised you that He cares for you.
This is where the Pharisee falls. Not that he has not done the good, not that we men and women should not praise the good he did, but that he thinks God acts and thinks like a man. God doesn’t. God insists on this, and the Pharisee should know it, if he’s read his Bible. My thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways, says the Lord. Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has become His counselor? Who has first given to Him, that He should repay him? There is none righteous, no, not one.
Even the one praised by men for all his good works, even Abraham, even Abel, even the outwardly pure Pharisee must come before God as a beggar. What do you have that you did not receive? And if you have received it, why do you boast as if you hadn’t? Let him who stands take heed lest he fall.
The Pharisee is the negative example. And he’s the negative example for us, in the Christian Church, who do work for the church, who clean the church, fix the church, serve on boards, give our money, teach the children, attend regularly. Do not think that the obvious comparison of yourself with others who don’t do this good work can be translated to your relationship with your God. It can’t. You have, as Jesus says, only done your duty. God expects his servants to serve. And He accepts our service by grace, He washes away whatever corruption and pride taint our good works with the blood of our Savior. He praises us and honors us because He sees His work in us and forgives the sin that taints it. If we are to offer sacrifice to God, He accepts it only because of His sacrifice for us. We love God because He first loved us.
And this is why the tax-collector’s prayer is the Christian prayer. He comes before God with nothing to boast about. He knows it. He can’t even boast before men. His pride in himself is shattered. He has sinned. He has done others harm. He has ignored his Creator. He has made a mess of his life. But in all his humility and unworthiness, even in his refusal to lift up his head to the heavens, he has a confidence the Pharisee with all his good works and praise from men could never understand. It is a divine confidence, a confidence that rests not on my worthiness, but on the worth of my Savior who – God knows why – has invested me with the worth of his divine blood and suffering.
And we know the tax-collector has this confidence because of what he says. He says God have mercy on me, a sinner. The word here for “have mercy” is not the one we usually see. Later on in Luke 18 we see a blind man cry out to Jesus, “Have mercy.” He says Kyrie eleison. This, as I’ve been stressing in Bible Class, is a cry not just for forgiveness but for earthly blessing. Jesus asks the blind man what he wants, what he means by saying, “Lord have mercy,” and the blind man responds, “Lord, that I might see.” That’s what his cry for mercy was. That His Creator would restore to him his sight. But here the tax collector cries out, “God have mercy,” and says not eleison, but hilastheti. We really shouldn’t translate it have mercy. It means be propitious to me because of your sacrifice. That’s what it means. Take away the wrath against my sin, not because I haven’t deserved your punishment, but because You take that punishment on yourself. It is a prayer that specifically points outside of you to the truth and certainty of the Gospel, that says, I know that I am unworthy, I know I have no boast to make before You, dear God, I know my lust and my doubt and my greed and my pride, I do not come with anything to offer, I don’t give you my heart, because it’s dirty and you don’t give dirty things to God, I have nothing, dear God, to offer but the blood of Thy dear Son. Look to Him and make His righteousness mine. He gave His holy life for me. He was crucified for me. His righteousness perfect He now pleads in heaven before You. It’s His robe of righteousness that I need, that I plead, nothing in myself. Have mercy on me, a sinner.
This is the Christian prayer. It’s not our only prayer. We pray for virtuous, good life on earth. We pray for our daily bread. But this is the first and the ground of all our prayers. And God answers. He forgives us. He gives us the body and blood that took and takes away our sin. And we go home justified. We go home declared righteous by our God. We go home with Christ’s righteousness, what God did in history, what our dear Lord suffered for, what He rose to life for, this is ours. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.
We are a confessional Lutheran congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). Committed to teaching the truth of God’s Word, with Christ crucified for sinners at the center, our worship follows the historic liturgy of the Church. We sing the great hymns of past and present that reflect the reverence, dignity, and joy of the Christian confession.