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Be Ready

36[Jesus said:] “Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:36-44)

Today’s text from St. Matthew gives us opportunity to talk about such things the when of our Lord’s Coming, and to clarify what God reveals from what He has not.

As to the when of Christ’s Advent, Jesus doesn’t give us the time or day when He will return.  But this hasn’t stopped some from trying.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

1843/1844: Mr. Miller (Adventist movement) Mr. Miller, from whom the Adventist movement originated, calculated the date of 1843 or 1844, when the “cleansing of the entire earth” would take place.[1]

1847: Charles Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses); Charles T. Russell, influenced by the Adventists, calculated the date of 1847 as the date which Christ invisibly returned.[2]

2011 (May 21 & October 21): Harold Camping; Predicted Jesus’ return and the rapture (May); the final destruction of the world (October)

The belief that Christ’s return can be “fixed with actual definiteness” is foolishness and contrary to God’s Word.  In other places, too, in addition to today’s Gospel reading, does the Lord indicate this truth (i.e. Christ’s Ascension, Acts 1; Mark 1:15; 13:33ff; John 7:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; James 4:13-16; 2 Peter 3:10)

1 Thessalonians 5:2 “For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.”

And, from today’s Gospel, Matthew 24: 37-39 “37As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

Our Lord binds us to His Word and to nowhere else.  In this Word, He reveals Jesus—the Word become flesh (John 1:14)—to be our Savior.  God doesn’t answer all of our questions or satisfy our curiosity, but what He does give us is sufficient for our salvation.election

Let the Words of the Lord stand on their own.  Do not add to them or subtract from them.  Doing either is to make yourself the master of the Biblical text and the Biblical text your servant (see Proverbs 30:5-6; Revelation 22:18-19).

This is nothing but usurping God and His Word according to arrogance and pride.  It is presumptuous of sinners to think that they know better than God Himself, or to think that they can figure out knowledge that God has denied us, like the particular day of Christ’s coming.

St. Paul writes, “We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain.   For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).

We ought not be like the five foolish virgins who did not have enough oil when the bridegroom arrived (Matthew 25:2).  Nor ought we to be as those who squander what they’ve been given because of false notion that things will always remain as they are.  A day of reckoning is soon approaching, and woe to those who aren’t prepared for it, who procrastinate in their belief that they have time to spare, that God’s Word can wait, and that when the day does arrive, they’ll prepare what needs to be done.

So our Lord says, “43But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

How easy it would be if the Lord did give us the time and the date of His arrival.  Like the approaching day of Christmas, we could buy gifts for Him, put on our best behavior, set everything in order.

If we knew the when of Christ’s return, we could really put on our Sunday best, reconcile with our enemies and those who trouble us and those by whom we are troubled.  We could forgive12th-hour others their debts and sins against us, give up our grudges and discontentments before He comes, because we would know when the Lord is coming.

We could do good to others, without any hope for thanks or appreciation in return, and be content with the promises of our Lord.  We could do what is right and not worry about what the result might or might not be, because we would know that the result of Christ’s death, our sins taken care of, means eternal life, which we would enjoy first hand at the return of the Lord.  We would know that the troubles in this life are almost done and nothing but joy and bliss and heaven await us.

If we only knew…If we only knew, we could be really ready, at just the right time before He comes, believing the Lord’s Word and following His Word, trusting in His promises, and taking seriously His Word before it is too late.  If we only knew…

The thing is, we do know – not the exact time, but how the Lord would have us be even now.

We have Jesus’ Word, that we be ready now, today.  He is coming, at an hour and in a day which we do not expect.

God is the kind of God that speaks to you in your ears that you hear and trust His Word to you as He speaks it.  He speaks to you of your distractions from hearing His Word and following what He says that you turn from these things and look to Jesus for mercy and help and hope.  He reveals to you your sin that you see clearly your Savior, He who is coming again, that you be ready and waiting when He does return.

Therefore, arise from your sleep and your slumber, your laziness and your misguided assumptions.  “Lift up your heads.”  Your “redemption” is drawing nigh (Psalm 24:7, 9; Luke 21:28).  Believe now what your Lord says.  Take His Word preached to you and spoken to you as from God Himself.  Don’t doubt, but take it to heart.  Take Him at His Word—at this moment—and everyday of your life.

Do not doubt the Lord’s kindness to you in Jesus Christ, who on the cross shed His blood in sacrifice for you that you be found clean before the Father.  Hold as your own the forgiveness of your sins given to you in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, for there, Christ gives His true body and His true blood for you to eat and to drink for your salvation.

Believe that God is the one who absolves your sins as the pastor declares to you the forgiveness of sins as a called and ordained servant of the Word, even as we believe concerningblessing-absolution confession, that:

Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.”

On the cross, Jesus finished all that was needed for your salvation, and in Him, you are ready for His return.  Being baptized into the Name of the Triune God and believing His grace to you by such means as water and word, you are His, having been washed clean of all your sin.

Having been baptized, no longer live for yourselves, but to God—and for others, thinking not first for yourselves, but the needs of your neighbor.  Love God and love your neighbor, attend to what the Lord says and serve those in need around you.  Don’t wait for a better time.  Do it now.  Don’t wait for a later time to do what is to be done today, but do it today, while it’s still today and before the night comes (John 9:5).

Being ready for the Lord’s return does not mean doing all the right things, but believing rightly, believing rightly in Him who alone saves you from your distractions and procrastinations, from the world’s pull, and from your fleshly wants and desires.  Being ready has to do with believing He who did all the right things for you that you live, and that none of your wrong things can separate you from God (Romans 8).  Thus being reading and prepared, so you will be busy and active in love, waiting expectantly for the Lord’s return.

Being ready doesn’t mean neglecting what God would have you do, but doing it all the more zealously (2 Peter 3:10-15).

Being ready, being prepared, being watchful for the Lord’s return means being in the state of readiness, like the soldier on the battlefield or the sprinter ready to run or the family waiting for the guests to arrive at any time.

jesus-with-word-and-sacramentBeing vigilant for the Lord’s return means being serious about the Word of our Lord, clinging to Christ and Him alone for salvation, and believing God’s promises and the gifts God gives to you in Word and Sacrament.  Being ready, being in the state of readiness, has to do with resting and taking comfort in Him who is coming again, and what is ours because of Him:

We should learn to bring our eyes, our hearts, and souls to bear upon yonder life in heaven and in a lively hope await it with joy.  For if we would be Christians, the ultimate objects of our quest should not be marrying, giving in marriage, buying, selling, planting, building—activities that Christ says (Matt. 24:37ff; Luke 17:26ff.) the wicked will be engaged in especially before the Last Day.  To be sure, we, too, must use these things in order to satisfy the needs of the body.  But our ultimate quest should be something better and higher: the blessed inheritance in heaven that does not pass away.[3] 

Amen.

[1]              J.L. Neve, Churches and Sects of Christendom, (Blaire, Nebraska: Lutheran Publishing House, 1944), 461.

[2]              F.E. Mayer, Religious Bodies of America, (St. Louis: CPH, 1961), 474.

[3] Ewald Plass, What Luther Says, (St. Louis: CPH, 1959), 619.

The Hope and the Comfort of the Resurrection

13 I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

Dear Family, friends, and loved ones.

The words of the Lord that draw our attention this day are those from 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, read just a few moments ago, where Paul, an apostle of the Lord Jesus, writes of those who have died in the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, of those who have fallen asleep. Here, he encourages Christians of their hope, even in the midst of sorrow and grief, that they do not sorrow and grieve as others do who have no hope. Christians have such hope on account of Christ’s death and resurrection. Because Jesus rose from the dead, so too do those who sorrow have confidence that the deceased in the Lord will also, with Christ, rise from the dead when Jesus comes again.

I was able to share these encouraging words from Thessalonians with the V. before he went into the hospital. We were talking about All Saints’ Day and how the word “saint” includes believers in Christ who continue to struggle with their sin, as well as those whose race has been won, who now rest from their labors, and enjoy God’s presence apart from sin.

On that day, V. was missing G. greatly. He was grieving her death and longed for her presence.

Even as he grieved, sorrowed, and perhaps felt lonely, it is just in that place that the news of Christ’s resurrection, that death does not have the last word, also for us, takes root and gives comfort. Like rays of light breaking through the darkness, not a “quick fix,” here the moment, gone the next, but a sure Word from the Lord, the resurrection sustains and strengthens. It gives the certainty of God’s favor. Through the good days and the days of trouble, which both come, Jesus is our hope and our peace.

V.’s struggle is now over. No more visits to the doctor. No more disappointments about possible remedies. No more contending with his own sins or the sins of others.

V. is at peace. We can be sure of this, not because of how good V. was in life, but because of the promises of God in Christ, which V. believed.

V. confessed and did not deny what Christians everywhere confess and do not deny, that he was a sinner, a sinner before a just God, a sinner who does not deserve God’s kindness, but rather, his condemnation. V. confessed this, as all Christians will do.

The Bible teaches that we are not as God wants us to be. V. understood this. He also believed that our keeping of the Law doesn’t save. Jesus does, Jesus, and Jesus alone.

There is salvation in no other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NKJ).

Though we are not perfect and holy, Jesus was. He had not come “To destroy the Law or the Prophets” but “to fulfill” them (Matt. 5:17, NKJ). He did not do these things because He needed to do them for Himself. He fulfilled them for us, as our proxy, our substitute, in order that we not be judged as guilty, but innocent before our Creator.

And this we are, Jesus Christ having died our death on the cross and being raised on the third day.

In addition to confessing Himself to be a sinner, V. confessed Jesus Christ to be His Savior. He heard the words of God’s absolution, God’s forgiveness of his sins, and declared this to be his own by the words, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the T life everlasting.”

V. believed these words, confessing them to be so. This is what Christians do. Words have meaning. It is with confidence that the Christian can say and does say, “I am Christ’s and He is mine.” Even in the midst of death, the Christian is sure and certain of the resurrection to come.

Before us is V.’s body in the casket. His death we cannot deny. It is a consequence of the Fall (Genesis 3). Before the first sin, all was good, “very good” and there was no death, only life (Genesis 1:31). Now, there is death.

The troubles that we face in the world, the unrest, the struggles, sicknesses, death—all these are the effects of sin. They show us that the world is not as it’s supposed to be, that something is not right.

As much as we might try to “fix” it or find ways to avoid the inevitable, we will always fall short. Salvation doesn’t rest with us. It comes from God through His Son. Try to go another way and you will only deceive yourself.

The Psalmist says, “What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his life from the power of the grave?” (Ps. 89:48 NKJ). The answer to the first question is “none,” and “no” to the second.

Today reminds us of our own mortality, a truth that we are not able to escape. You can run, but you can’t hide. We have our limits, and running from the truth is one of them. We can only do so for so long. It will catch up with us.

This is why today is not a “celebration of” V.’s “life.” For V. and his 94 years , we do indeed give thanks. These are blessed gifts of God, not at all to be despised or taken for granted.

Today is, though, the recognition that life in this world has an end. We might not want it to be so, but such is the way that it is.

But as Paul the apostle reminds us, this day is not only one of grief and sorrow. It is also a day of hope and confidence, not in the life that V. had lived, but in the life that Christ Jesus had lived, for V. and for you, and the death that He died, for V. and for you, and the resurrection on the third day, for V. and for you.

We also have confidence and hope this day concerning V.’s body. In time to come, just as God has said, so it will be, “The dead in Christ will rise” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Even as the Holy Scriptures reveal that Jesus rose from the dead on day three following His death by crucifixion on Good Friday, so too will those who have died in Christ also rise from the dead, dead no more.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (Jn. 11:25 NKJ).

The “die” in “never die” that Jesus speaks about is eternal death, hell. Like the resurrection, many deny this teaching, too. Jesus didn’t. He speaks the truth, because He is the Truth, the Truth through whom one comes to the Heavenly Father and lives (John 14:6).

Whoever lives and believes in Me”, Jesus says, will never suffer eternal death. “Though he may” physically “die, he shall live.” These are the very promises of God’s Son, Savior, and these are for you.

V. believed these words, too. He believed that death does not have the last word. Christ has conquered death. Jesus has overcome the grave. The last word is not death and hell, but life and heaven.

In the resurrection, “When this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54-57 NKJ).

Baptized “in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), V.’s identity was as a child of God. Feeding on Christ’s body and blood in the Supper of our Lord, V. regularly received the forgiveness of sins. He did not sustain his own life. It was God that did. And now, V. awaits the resurrection of His body, but even “today,” He is with the Lord, “in paradise” (Luke 23:43)

Even as you did so much for V. in caring for him to the end, so the Lord took care of his greatest need—“Peace with God” (Romans 5:1). And this peace, V. had, in Christ.

This peace is also yours, in Christ, resting on and in Him who “was crucified, died, and buried,” who rose from the dead, and who lives and reigns to all eternity. Because of Him, your death, too, will not have the last word. You have no need to fear it, because the death of Jesus means that your sin no longer has the final say.

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (Romans 8:31-35) And the answer—No one and nothing! (Romans 8:38-39).

Do not grieve as those who have no hope. The hope of the world is fading and will not last. Lasting hope and true comfort that remains is that which God promises through His Son. Amen.

Jesus, Remember Me

27There followed [Jesus] a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:27-43)

Introduction

Today’s Gospel reading from St. Luke seems far removed from ‘The Last Day of the Church Year’. Where we would expect to hear of God’s Coming Judgment, of signs in heaven and growing tribulation on earth, and of Christ’s return in the clouds (Acts 1:9-11), instead we hear jesus-remembermeof Christ on Calvary’s cross, of women weeping after Him, of people mocking Him as He’s dying, and one of the two criminals crucified with Him saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

An account such as Jesus’ crucifixion does not seem to ‘fit in’ to this time of the church year. It seems like it would be better suited for Lent and Good Friday than today. However, taking a closer look at the text, we find that it is indeed fitting: first, with regard to Jesus’ words to the women who were mourning and lamenting after Him as He is on His way to the cross and death. Second, concerning the proper way to be prepared for our Lord’s return. And third, with reference to Jesus’ words to the criminal on the cross, to whom He said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

First: Jesus’ words to the women

First, Jesus’ Words to the women who had followed Jesus. They were mourning and lamenting because of what was happening. Jesus was going to His crucifixion and death. But to them He says, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for jesuswomen4your children” (Luke 23:28). Then He proceeds to tell them what is to come, “29For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:29-31).

Here our Lord is not talking specifically about the Day when He will return. Rather, He is talking about the coming destruction of Jerusalem, of which Jesus spoke of earlier when He wept over it and said,If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:42-44).

The destruction of Jerusalem was in 70 A.D.. It was a foreshadowing of the destruction of the world to come.

The words of Jesus, “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves,” are words also for our years.

We comfort in the ways of the world than in the ways of God. We seek help and remedy from men and not exclusively from God. We look to the here and now and neglect that which is to come according to the very promises of God in Christ. We sorrow over what could be and rejoice little in what is. Yes—indeed—we are sinners.

On these words of our Lord, Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves,” Luther writes…

confession-cross1Such admonition we should accept as addressed to us. For we must all confess that we, on account of sin, are like an unfruitful, dry tree, in which there is nothing good, nor can any good come out therefrom. What will it, then, behoove us to do? Nothing but to weep and to cry to God for forgiveness, and to resist the evil, sinful nature earnestly, and not to give it free reign. For there the sentence stands: Since the fruitful tree is thus treated and God permits such severe sufferings to come upon His dear Son, we should certainly not feel secure, but acknowledge our sin, fear the wrath of God, and pray for forgiveness.1

When it comes to Christ’s death on the cross, many pity the Lord and His suffering, but go no further. They only hear of a man in pain and dying a slow death. But if that’s all that Christ is, Jesus is not Savior.

To pity and to be sorry for Jesus on the cross is not yet to recognize the why of His suffering and of His dying. Jesus willingly chose to go to death on Calvary for you…to pay the penalty for your sins…to suffer in your stead…and to die your death. You deserved all that He received. Willingly He suffered His passion and death, in order to save you from you sins.

Second, The Cross

Second, the cross. St. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Later, he wrote, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

It is through Christ and Him crucified by which your sin is no more held against you, Jesus having put to death that which is rightfully yours, that is, death and hell. Because of Christ, you no longer bear the curse of the Law. Christ did that for you.

3crossesThe curse of the law is that curse which says that unless you keep the law’s demands entirely and perfectly, you are judged a sinner and deserve nothing but God’s wrath and punishment.

Paul says again, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them” (Galatians 3:10).

On account of God’s law, you all fall short, for “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). None is righteous, perfect, or holy (Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3; 143:2; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10).

This none, the all who have sinned, includes you. You have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. You are not righteous. You are not perfect. You are not holy.

Jesus went to the cross that you not die in your sin, but that you live, no longer bearing the curse of the Law because of Adam’s sin and your own. On the cross, Christ took that curse upon Himself, and there, He did away with it.

Jesus died as a criminal—as a sinner—yet He had no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). Indeed, Jesus “Was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12)

As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:19-21).

Christ crucified means that your sins are no more held against you, nor can they remain to be. They cannot condemn you before the Holy God because they were already put to death when Christ died. “By the blood of His cross” you have peace with God (Colossians 1:20; Romans 5:1).

Third: Jesus’ Word to the Criminal

Lastly, in today’s Gospel text, is conversation between the two criminals and Jesus while on the cross. The one mocks and blasphemes our Lord. The other defends Him, and says to Him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Then, Jesus says to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

By those words, “Remember me,” that one criminal wasn’t asking Jesus to simply not forget him. He was placing himself into the mercy of the Lord Jesus, whom he had come to recognize as One Who did not deserve to be lifted up on a tree, but Who did have the honor of God’s very Son. The man was confessing His faith in the Lord Jesus, and his desire to be with Him. And to him, Jesus promised eternal life.

kingdom-of-god2As you, too, call upon the Lord to remember you, placing yourselves into the Lord’s hands, trusting in Him for deliverance from this body of death, so too does He promise you paradise. When He comes again, this is where all who believe in His Name will be. This is the certain hope that all Christians possess, because God is faithful in all that He declares through His Son.

This is a present hope, but a future reality. It is not a question of “if” you have eternal life. The question is when. And that question is answered even for you, as it was for that thief on the cross, TODAY.

Kretzmann writes, “For all sinners in the whole world the Lord has opened the doors of paradise by His life, suffering, and death, and whosever believeth on Him has complete salvation as soon as he dies. That is the glorious fruit of the Passion of Christ: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.”2

Said another way, “Do not receive the grace of God in vain. Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:1, 2).

Conclusion

Though at first, a Lenten text having to do with Christ’s crucifixion might not seem to ‘fit’ very well as a reading for the Last Sunday of the Church Year, there is plenty there for us to consider with reference to the Lord’s Second Coming.

With His precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death”, Jesus “purchased and won you from all sins, death, and the power of the devil” (Explanation to 2nd Article). Rather than weep and sorrow for He who through suffering and death delivered you from hell, sorrow over your own sin. Find comfort in Christ, who died in your stead. Take Jesus’ words of forgiveness, peace, and eternal life to heart, for in and through Him, these are yours. Amen.

1 Paul Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, New Testament, Vol 1, (St. Louis: CPH), 393.

2 Ibid., 395.

 

Observations/Reflections on a recent pastor’s conference, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Apologetics”

“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Apologetics”

Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense

 

swd-logoA recent pastor’s conference (Oct 2016) of the South Wisconsin District (a district of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, LCMS) offered participants the opportunity to hear from Dr. Horvath (of Athanatos Christian Ministries) and Dr. Peter Scaer (an Exegetical Professor at Concordia Theological Seminary-Fort Wayne, IN).  Both presenters, in my opinion, offered insightful reflection on numerous challenges currently faced within in our society and by the church.

Dr. Horvath founded Athanatos Christian Ministries (AMC, Inc.) a group “to equip Christians to defend the Christian faith through the arts and literature, in addition to using evidence and argument.”  Much of his presentation consisted of “connecting the dots” for what is currently going in Christendom, with reflection on the rise of the “religiously unaffiliated.”

For example, Dr. Horvath noted that in the early 1990s, the religiously unaffiliated (i.e. those having left the church and not returning) were in the 5% range of the U.S. Population.  Yet, in 2016, that percentage jumped to 25%.  In the span of around 20 years, the number of religiously unaffiliated jumped 20%.  Commenting on a reason for the rise in the number, Dr. Horvath observed a connection between the effects of the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s and the growing divorce rate that followed.  The increasing number of religiously unaffiliated from the early 1990s to 2016 reflect the consequences of acm_1120x198parental divorce and the effects of such divorce on the children, including growing disbelief and disconnection (even atheism) in relation to the Christian faith.

Divorce has consequences.  Sin has consequences.  Horvath suggests that challenges the society and church are now facing have been influenced by actions of the past.

Another insightful connection concerning the direction of our culture is that of information gathered about communications related to the need for population control (i.e. in affiliation with the Center for Family Planning Program Development, 1969 [The Technical Assistance Division of Planned Parenthood-World Population, Frederick S. Jaffe]; Too Many Americans, L. & A. Day; and Public Health & Population Change, Sheps & Ridley, 1967).

Though “dated,” the following (partial list of) “proposed measures to reduce fertility, by universality or selectivity of impact in the U.S.” are eerily being fulfilled, with many, also within the church, oblivious to such an agenda, which is affiliated with Planned Parenthood:

Restructuring of family: a) Postpone or avoid marriage b) alter image of ideal family size (i.e. from greater to lesser)

Compulsory education of children

Encourage increased homosexuality

Encourage women to work

Payments to encourage contraception

Abortion and sterilization on demand

Allow harmless contraceptives to be distributed nonmedically

Make contraceptives truly available and accessible

Improve maternal health care, with family planning a core element

Though many migsin12ht view such occurrences, not as fulfilling an agenda, but simply as our “progression” as a society, recognizing the influences of the past upon our own day can help us in the church to better understand and respond to our current, and continual, challenges, moving us to repentance, also for our silence, and to steadfast faith in our Lord, who is the Head of His Church and faithful, even though we be faithless (Colossians 1:23; Colossians 1:18; 2 Timothy 2:13).

God calls His people to wariness and to preparedness (Luke 21:36; 1 Timothy 6:12; James 1:12; Revelation 2:10), as well as to boldly confess His Name.

On an information table for Athanatos Christian Ministries at the pastor’s conference was a brief information sheet entitled, “Know thy Enemy,” which consisted of quotes from Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, and reference to her book, The Pivot of Civilization and a Plan for Peace (1923). Compare the following quotations:

“The emergency problem of segregation and sterilization must be faced immediately.  Every feeble-minded girl or woman of the hereditary type, especially of the moron class, should be segregated during the reproductive period.  Otherwise, she is almost certain to bear imbecile children, who in turn are just as certain to breed other defectives.”

Margaret Sanger, in The Pivot of Civilization, 1923

“…the state must act as the guardian of a millennial future in the face of which the wishes and the selfishness of the individual must appear as nothing and submit.  It must put the most modern medical means in the service of this knowledge.  It must declare unfit for propagation all who are in any way visibly sick or who have inherited a disease and can therefore pass it on. And put this into actual practice.” Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1925

The above quotes of Margaret Sanger and Adolf Hitler indicate that both wanted to either segregate or limit certain “types” ofsanger_and_hitler people.  What’s amazing is that Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood, included blacks as those who were “feeble-minded” and “of the moron class.”  Where is the outcry today against such racist and prejudicial comments, even by African Americans, who also make use of and advocate for a group such as Planned Parenthood whose founder sought to limit the population of certain people and groups in order to establish a society based upon her own ideology?

The second presenter, Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary also offered insightful reflection of challenges that we face as Christians and encouragement for the body of Christ.  Similar to Dr. Horvath’s presentation, Dr. Scaer spent some time reminding us of earlier generations and their influences upon us in our day.  He mentioned, for example, Lawrence Lader, who was influenced by Margaret Sanger, who spoke of the need for limiting the size of the family.  Dr. Scaer also mentioned H.G. Wells, whom he referred to as an “eugenicist.”

Additionally, Dr. Scaer also spent time informing us about the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, whose idolatrous agenda was rebellion against men and against God, who divorced her first husband, was involved in numerous affairs, and ironically, said that women don’t need men.  Dr. Scaer had also observed that Sanger had used (coined) the phrase, “Every child a wanted child” (emphasis mine).

Dr. Scaer’s presentation also included a critique of how the LCMS has responded in the past to Planned Parenthood and abortion, noting that Concordia Publishing House had published a book by Rehwinkel entitled, Planned Parenthood, which essentially “sold” Planned Parenthood to Lutherans.  What was quoted of this work, and others, would be disturbing to those concerned about life in general and about the Christian doctrine in particular, since a great emphasis was placed, not on what God says, and what He says about life (i.e. 5th Commandment, “You shall not murder”), but on the individual circumstances (i.e. of the pregnant woman) and the challenges that she would face if the child was born, or the “solutions” offered if the baby was not born.  In other words, Rehwinkel and others offered the counsel that the life of the baby was ultimately the woman’s choice and that she determined the continued existence or death of another human being.

In contrwhobrokethebaby-gartonast to Rehwinkel and others, Jean Garton, author of Who Broke the Baby, was a healthy critique to the genocide of the unborn, offering insight and commentary on the ideology and practice of abortion, which both run contrary to the Word of God and what God reveals about life and its gift.

Dr. Scaer offered more than commentary reflecting end-of-life issues like abortion.  He also asked the question whether we can talk about marriage (i.e. 4th & 6th Commandments) outside the church?  He answered, “We must!”  Same-sex “marriage” is the great challenge for today’s church, Scaer commented.  As this practice is more greatly accepted, society and the church more greatly suffer.  And, as Dr. Horvath had earlier noted, sin has consequences.  The effects of homosexuality (rebellion against God) destroy society.  This is something that “the left” know, but don’t want to admit.  “Where (natural/traditional) marriage works, society works,” said Scaer.

Rather than retreat to the shadows, claiming that little can be done, Dr. Scaer offers encouragement.  Politically, laws can change, and even little laws can help.  In contrast to the thought, “Laws can’t change,” Scaer responds, “Laws can be changed” and that “Man’s law is changeable.”  “They change all the time.”  In other words, in the secular world, there is still something that concerned citizens can do.

james1-12God calls the church to be faithful to the Lord who bought her, the same Lord Who Himself was “born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4-5, NKJ).  God is God, and Christ is Head of His Church.

This Lord is the same Christ who is the “bridegroom,” (Matthew 9:15; John 3:29) who “loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Eph. 5:25-27, NKJ).

Though a “weeding out” take place, the faithful will become more visible.  The Church confesses Christ.  In Him, she lives.

“Your Redemption is Drawing Near”

5While some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, [Jesus] said, 6“As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 7And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” 8And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. 9And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”

      10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your lives.

      20“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 23Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. 24They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

      25“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

      29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:5-36)

Apostles’ Creed

apostlescreedIn the Apostles’ Creed, Christians everywhere confess that Jesus Christ “will come to judge the living and the dead.”  This confession is true because so say the Holy Scriptures, as heard in today’s Gospel reading.  The Lord Jesus will one day return, not in humility, but in glory.

He who “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross…God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8-11, NKJ)

Christ’s Coming—Good News for Christians, Fearful Day for all others

As we approach the end of this church year, which concludes next Sunday, news of Christ’s second Advent—His Second Coming—is good news indeed for all who long to be without sin, for all who desire God’s mercy in Jesus.

But for all others, for those without Christ, the day of Christ’s return will not be a welcome day.  It will be a day of fear and dread.  It will be a day of fear and dread because for those who do not have Christ, to those who ignore His calling now to repent and believe the Gospel, they will be called to account for their sins.  For them, Christ’s return is not for salvation.  It is for their judgment.

But for the Christian, for the one who calls upon the Name of the Lord, who seeks God’s favor through the obedience of His Son, Christ comes to bring them to Himself, to take home all who belong to Him.

Be Ready12th-hour

 “The day is surely drawing near” (LSB 508).  We know not when.  Our Lord therefore says “Watch,” “Stay awake,” “Do not be weighed down with anxiety and the cares of this world” (Luke 21:34).

The Lord’s Return-The when we don’t know; That He is we Do

When it comes to our Lord’s His Second Coming, we know that He’s coming, we just don’t know when.  Some speculate that we have plenty of time.  After all, things have been going as they have been.

But in the words of Peter, “Scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation”” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

To those who hold such ideas, Peter says, “This they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.  But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?   Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (2 Peter 3:5-15).

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise…” He “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

Signs of Jesus’ Coming

From today’s Gospel text, Jesus reveals that the time is near.  He tells us that there will be false prophets and teachers, they who would deceive from the truth (Luke 21:8).  There will be wars, and nations fighting against nations.  There will be disasters such as earthquakes, and famines, and plagues.  There will be persecutions and betrayals and even martyrdom for the name of Christ.

All of these things that Jesus told His disciples, He told them that they might know that the end is near, and it is nearer than before.

Reason for hope—Your Redemption is drawing near

Nevertheless, instead of worrying and becoming anxious, instead of despairing over what is in the world and the church today, instead of losing heart and giving in and giving up, Jesus says “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).

For the Christian, and for the Christian only, the increasing days of trouble both inside and outside the church are not reason to loseResurrection hope.  Christ continues to be her head.  Jesus gives nothing but the sure expectation of life everlasting to all who wait on Him!

The Lord will judge your oppressors with righteous judgment.  He will deliver you from the evil foe.  Indeed, He already has.  Sin and death no longer have their stronghold over you.  God the Father sent His Son to fulfill and satisfy God’s will for you on the cross by willingly shedding His precious blood.  His blood cleanses you of all your sin.

“If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:1-2, NKJ).

Sins Forgiven—Eternal Salvation

Now—in Christ–your debt of sin no longer remains.  You have no reason to fear the coming of the Lord.  You have reason to rejoice!  The judgment of God was met on Jesus, all of it, and none remains.

Straighten up and raise your heads!  The coming of the Lord Jesus means your redemption.  The coming of the Lord Jesus is your salvation.

Don’t Despair—Take Courage

Do not Despair!  Take courage! Be of good cheer (Matthew 9:2)!

In Jesus you have peace with God and need not fear Christ’s return at all.

Therefore, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory”(Colossians 3:2-4).

Instead of fretting and complaining because of how things are and despairing or worrying because of what you see around you, hope1turn to Christ, pray, and wait upon Him.

Believe His Word and His promise!  Trust in the Lord!  Seek first His Kingdom, His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), and watch; watch and stay awake, that you be ready for the coming of Your Lord.

Continue to hear His Word.  Continue to partake of the Sacrament, the very body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, by which you are ready for Lord’s appearance.

Jesus comes to deliver you from this veil of tears.  Your redemption is near.  Rejoice and be glad!  You are Christ’s, and He is yours!  Amen.

Saints of God

1Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

      2And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

      3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

      4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

      5“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

      6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

      7“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

      8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

      9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

      10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

      11“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:1-12, ESV

A common misunderstanding of the word “saint” is that it only refers to someone who has already died.  Even among us, we may be more comfortable talking about the deceased as now being “saints” before God more so than any who are living.

 

In the Roman Catholic Church, the process of canonization, the road to sainthood, includes three components:

web-scroll-canonization-31 The candidate must have been dead for at least five years

2 It must be proved that the candidate lived an upright life, and

3 There must be evidence of a miracle or miracles attributed to the candidate after the candidate’s death as a

result of a specific petition to the candidate.

 

Such a process of canonization, first of all, attributes the possibility of sainthood only to the one who has already died.  This view most certainly advances the view that “saint” refers only to the deceased.

Secondly, the Roman Catholic Church necessitates a view that considers only the outward life of the individual in question.

Thirdly, because miracles must be attributed to the candidate after death, most would be excluded, especially as prayers must have been prayed to the deceased candidate prior to the miracle occurring.

The Roman Catholic teaching about sainthood is not everywhere believed or supported, especially among us, but it is a source from which many derive their understanding of sainthood.  As much as the world might want to distant themselves from the church generally, the world continues to take cues from the Catholic Church concerning what Christians believe, without making distinctions between what is true from what is false, not according to what any church body says, but according to what Holy Scripture itself teaches.

Having died, and having lived an outwardly “good” life, are two attributes that seem most to apply to that word “saint” as most understand the word.  And on this “All Saints’ Day,” such an understanding seems to continue.

The use of the term “saint” is much broader, however, and also narrower, in Holy Scripture than either the Roman Church or many inside or outside the church apply.

More broadly, in the Holy Bible, “saint” is the translation of the word for “Holy One” in the singular, or for “holy ones” in the plural (i.e. Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 6:1; 14:33; Philippians 4:21; June 1:14).  The word does refer to those who have died.  It also refers to those who are still living.  The definition of “saint” as only one who has died is not the whole picture.

For the Biblical understanding of the word “saint,” we cannot exclude the living from the word’s definition.  As Scripture speaks, so must we.  This means that we also are to distinguish, more narrowly, who a saint is and what a saint does.

The world and Rome depict a “saint” as one who “had lived an upright life.”  According to this definition, a saint was a “good person.”  An “upright life,” therefore, seems to equate to “being good,” but in the sense of outward behavior, not of the inward heart; external actions and not internal motives.

Our Lord, because He judges with “righteous judgment” and “not according to appearance” (John 7:24), does not look only at what a man does.  He looks at who he is.  God sees what is in the heart.

In Matthew 15, Jesus says that “those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defsin11ile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man” (Matt. 15:18-20, NKJ).

“Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (Matt. 15:11, NKJ).

Broadly, the word “saint,” Biblically used, includes both the dead and the living.

Those who have “died in the Lord,” having believed in Jesus Christ as their only hope and Savior, are members of the Church Triumphant.  These are they described in this morning’s epistle as “before the throne of God, and” who “serve him day and night in his temple…  16They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.  17For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:15-17).

Members of the Church Triumphant are now with the Lord awaiting the resurrection of their bodies.  They were formerly members of the Church Militant, of which we are now, as we continue to struggle in this sinful world, seeking to abide by the only Word that saves and remain in the faith of our Lord through which salvation comes.

Narrowly, the word saint applies only to those who are holy in the sight of God, and not because of what they do or have done, or how good they are or have been, as determined by the world, but who are “good in the heart” before God.

God determines and judges things differently than we and the world do.  We look at the outside of things to determine if it’s worthy of our consideration and of value in our eyes.  God, instead, “confers” worth and value upon the unworthy and to the detestable according to the eyes of the world and its inhabitants (LW 31, Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis 28).

God gives freely to the undeserving.  He is unconditional to the poor who can’t offer return.  Our Lord blesses those without merit.  He forgives the sinner and saves those who cannot at all help themselves.

Being “good in the heart” before God inwardly comes before living an “upward life” outwardly.

“Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit” (Matt. 7:17-18, NKJ).

Being a saint, being a holy one, doesn’t first have to do with how you live your life before God or before others.  It first has to do with what God Himself says, not what you think about yourself.

“Judge with righteous judgment” says our Lord (John 7:24).

A saint, a holy one, is not one who thinks that he is by virtue of his goodness, worthiness, or activities, either before God or before men.  Such a one is truly a hypocrite who believes himself to be worthy of God’s favor and blessing.  None are deserving of sainthood.  Our inability to keep God’s Holy Law reveals this.

“By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20, NKJ)

A saint, therefore, is one who believes himself to be unholy, unrighteous, guilty before God’s Holy Law, condemned, and unworthy before God of anything but His wrath and righteous judgment.

Because the saint believes what God says of him, the saint finds no self-confidence of hope to stand before the sinless Judge.

Like the tax collector, the saint pleads, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Lk. 18:13, NKJ).

To the Word of God concerning the corruptness of his heart, the saint says, “Amen,” it is so.  I am undeserving and unworthy to be called holy.  God so declares and has so revealed.  My condition is such that it cannot be undone.  What we confess is so, “I, a poor miserable sinner…”

“There is none righteous, no, not one,” declares the Psalmist and St. Paul (Psalm 14: 1-3 & 53: 1-3; Romans 3:10).

“There is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

These words we confess to be true.  And to you does our Lord now say, “You are forgiven.  I do not condemn you.  Your condemnation went on Another, on One who did not deserve to die the death that He died, on One who willingly sacrificed Himself in your stead on a wooden cross, on He whose blood cleanses you from all sin.”

Saints believe this Word of our Lord.  They believe that the righteousness reckoned to them is not their own, but Another’s—Christ’s—what we call imputed righteousness.  God calls you good because of His Son.  Jesus was, and is, Good, for you.  He is your goodness and righteousness before the Father.

Your works do not save you.  Christ’s do.  You do not merit God’s grace and favor.  It is gift, your own through faith in God’s only begotten Son.

saintsinner2You are sinner.  You are saint, righteous before God through faith in Christ.  Simul iustus et peccator, simultaneously sinner and righteous.

You have no confidence before God because of your own doing, but in Him who on the cross declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

Your certainty of salvation and confidence in God lies not in your experiences in this life, but in the blessings of God, revealed in Holy Scripture, blessings which are even now yours and blessings which are sure to come, as sure as Christ rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and will come again.

You are blessed according to the Lord’s Word, even if you don’t feel it.  Feeling and experience do not identify you as blessed.  God does.

The blessings declared by our Lord in today’s Gospel reading, often referred to as “The Beatitudes,” are not blessings bestowed upon those who “do” apart from faith, but upon those who believe the promises given apart from their works.

The one who is blessed is the one to whom the promise is given, the one who believes the promise.

So St. Paul, quoting the Psalmist, reveals that, “To him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; 8 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin” (Rom. 4:5-8, NKJ).

Those whose lawless deeds are forgiven are blessed, as is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.

You, too, are blessed in this way, because your lawless deeds are forgiven you, and the Lord does not count your sin against you.

This is what it means to be a saint—To have God’s pronouncement of blessing.  You do, because of—and in-Christ, your hope and your certainty.  Amen.

all-saints-2

The Bible = God’s Word

14As for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

As we reflect on these words of our Lord today through the sainted apostle, I would like to read some words from a document entitled, “Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod.” This document, written and adopted by the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in the year 1932, might seem a bit dated, and perhaps not well known, but succinctly states what we believe as members of congregations in fellowship with the church body called the LCMS. The document is “still on the books,” and at least deserves our attention and reflection, as well as our agreement.1

Inclusive in this document, often referred to as “The Brief Statement,” are summary statements of what we believe concerning Creation, Conversion, Church and State, and the Millennium, to name a few. But what draws our attention this morning is the first of the sections, “Of the Holy Scriptures.” This part reads:

1. We tebriefstatementofthedoctrinalpositionofthemissourisynodach that the Holy Scriptures differ from all other books in the world in that they are the Word of God. They are the Word of God because the holy men of God who wrote the Scriptures wrote only that which the Holy Ghost communicated to them by inspiration, 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21. We teach also that the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures is not a so-called “theological deduction,” but that it is taught by direct statements of the Scriptures, 2 Tim. 3:16; John 10:35; Rom. 3:2; 1 Cor. 2:13. Since the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, it goes without saying that they contain no errors or contradictions, but that they are in all their parts and words the infallible truth, also in those parts which treat of historical, geographical, and other secular matters, John 10:35.

2. We furthermore teach regarding the Holy Scriptures that they are given by God to the Christian Church for the foundation of faith, Eph. 2:20. Hence the Holy Scriptures are the sole source from which all doctrines proclaimed in the Christian Church must be taken and therefore, too, the sole rule and norm by which all teachers and doctrines must be examined and judged. – With the Confessions of our Church we teach also that the “rule of faith” (analogia fidei) according to which the Holy Scriptures are to be understood are the clear passages of the Scriptures themselves which set forth the individual doctrines. (Apology. Trig lot p.441, § 60; Mueller, p.284). ‘The rule of faith is not the man-made so-called “totality of Scripture” (Ganzes der Schrift”).

3. We reject the doctrine which under the name of science has gained wide popularity in the Church of our day that Holy Scripture is not in all its parts the Word of God, but in part the Word of God and in part the word of man and hence does, or at least, might, contain error. We reject this erroneous doctrine as horrible and blasphemous, since it flatly contradicts Christ and His holy apostles, sets up men as judges over the Word of God, and thus over-throws the foundation of the Christian Church and its faith.

Not all believe this truth, though, that Paul in his letter to Timothy writes what is right and true. As it was in Paul’s day, and the days, he says, which were to come, so also in ours.

For example, Paul warns Timothy that “evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).

To Timothy, Paul also writes “that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:1-5, NKJ).

Additionally, in today’s epistle, Paul also writes that “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4, ESV).

That time is now. In the 70’s, and in days leading up to that time, our own church body struggled with those in our fellowship, even seminary professors, who minimally cast doubt and at most, denied, that the accounts of the creation, Jonah being swallowed by a fish, and other accounts of both Testaments were historical truths and facts that literally happened.

Uncertainty concerning one account of Holy Scripture, however, puts into question other teachings of Scripture and does not lead to Christ and true, saving faith, but to a Jesus of one’s own making and damning faith.

This is where we find ourselves today. Many simply disbelieve what God’s Word actually says, stating the right to “personal interpretation” and refusing to accept the “interpretation” of others, even if that so-called interpretation is not an interpretation at all, but word for word from the Bible itself.

Unlike Timothy, many of our young and younger people know little about the Bible and its content, let alone what it means. Though olderbible-truth generations might be more familiar with what’s in the Bible, or not, because of the shallow teaching within many congregations and church bodies concerning Christ and His Word, fewer believe according to the true doctrine, picking and choosing what they want to accept and denying that which they don’t.

Such lack of knowledge of what the Bible actually says and teaches is not only the fault of church bodies, congregations, and pastors, however. The blame also falls on parents and heads of households who do not themselves read the Bible, read it with their family, and who ignore Dr. Luther’s instruction at the beginning of each section of his Small Catechism, “As the head of the household should teach his family in a simple way.”

Luther’s headings remain relevant. Though the congregation and pastor care for both young and old and younger and older in catechetical instruction and teaching the Bible, so should heads of households. Children learn both good and bad from their parents. They also learn from the model that their parents, single or together, provide concerning the importance of Holy Scripture and attending God’s house on the Lord’s Day. Perhaps this is a contributing factor to why church attendance is all over on the decline and why the “religiously unaffiliated” (with any church) is on the rise.

Lament the current state of today’s church and speak of possible solutions that “we” could do is a temptation, and many are about just this. Statistic after statistic relay the endless problems of today’s church. Fingers could easily be pointed in all directions. There is plenty of fault to go all around.

Such talk will not solve our predicament, nor will it provide the antidote. Our Lord has not promised a life of peace – until the “Last Day.” Until then, we continue to struggle, and struggle we will, by God’s grace, God helping us, even in Word and Sacrament, that we daily take up our crosses, all of them, and follow Him.

Our Lord does not leave us alone, to either ourselves or to the mercy of world. Nor does the Lord leave us without hope in the midst of a dying world that seeks every other way of peace and salvation than the peace and salvation that God gives in His Son. Jesus Christ we proclaim, even if all turn their back and all close their ears.

This will be so because “There is no other Name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

We learn of this One through the Sacred Scriptures, the Holy Bible, called so on account of whose Word it truly is – God’s, and not man’s.

Such sublime truth is revealed throughout the Scared text of the writings, both Old and New, as well as by today’s epistle from Paul’s letter to Timothy.

The “sacred writing” referred to by Paul which Timothy knew from his grandmother Lois and from his mother Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5) is none other than the writing of Genesis through Malachi, the very same writings that testify of Christ our Lord, as Jesus Himself says in John 5, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (Jn. 5:39, NKJ).

The Word of Jesus we cannot deny nor omit concerning the Old Testament text, which speak of Christ to come, giving the promise of the Savior who “carried our sorrows,” “was wounded for our transgressions,” “by” whose “stripes we are healed,” and upon Whom “the Lord has laid…the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).

The Words of our Lord, however, do not only recall the past words of God to His people through the prophets. Jesus also spoke of that which was to come, even the writings of the New Testament.

In what is sometimes referred to as Jesus’ high priestly prayer, of John 17, our Lord prays, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word” (Jn. 17:20, NKJ). The “these alone” for whom He prays are His disciples, soon to be apostles. “Those who” would “believe in” Him include also us, who believe on account of the Word which they spoke, the Word which they also wrote.

Of such words, our Lord also promised His disciples the Holy Spirit, to whom He said, “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (Jn. 14:26, NKJ).

The Holy Spirit has done so, having inspired the Apostles, as also the Prophets, to write what He gave them to write, “for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4, NKJ).

St. Peter reminds us that “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

The soundness and validity of the Scriptural text is not the product of your belief or confidence in the text itself. This would make man the Bible’s foundation and not God, nor His Son.

bible-word-of-god1Instead of man’s conclusions, hypotheses, theories, or thoughts, we believe the Holy Bible to be God’s Word, not because man or the church says that this is so, but because God has, even through that very same Word which proclaims Christ, Christ to come, Christ having fulfilled, and Christ coming again.

Jesus says, “He who is of God hears God’s words” (Jn. 8:47, NKJ).

God’s words are those found within the pages of Scripture. The two are the same. Holy Scripture is God’s Word. This we confess. But such confession doesn’t save.

Thus does John write in His first epistle, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 Jn. 5:13 NKJ).

At the conclusion of his Gospel, St. John also wrote, “these 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” (Jn. 20:31 NKJ)

The Holy Scriptures, the sacred writings of both Testaments, testify and point to Jesus Christ, their center, the Jesus whose life, death, resurrection, and ascension give life to sinners. They reveal the glory of God the Father in the crucified and risen Son, whose blood cleanses you from all sin and by whom you have life and salvation.

The Bible is more than just a book of do’s and don’ts. If this is all it is to you, you still don’t have faith in the One thing needful, which is Christ. He is your life and your standing before God, He, and He alone. The Bible does contain do’s and don’ts, but knowing what to do and what not to do doesn’t save.

Through these come the knowledge of sin, for “By the deeds of the law no flesh shall be justified in God’s sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). bible-cross1

What shows us our Savior is the Gospel. And it is by the Gospel, the free forgiveness of sins by means of Christ’s death, that you live, by which God reveals this truth, “Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14, NKJ), not an excuse to sin, but reason to rejoice in the grace God freely bestows and to live by faith in that Word through which God makes your salvation known. Amen.

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