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Sermon for Ash Wednesday–Luther’s Small Catechism, Part 1: The Ten Commandments

 

The Ten Commandments

You shall have no other gods.

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

Honor your father and your mother.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

 

Readings–Joel 2:12–19; 2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10; Matthew 6:1–6, 16–21

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

As we begin this penitential season called Lent, this year we reflect on the six chief parts of LutherTwoTablets’s Small Catechism.  These six chief parts, learned by heart by catechumens, those being instructed in the Christian faith, include all a Christian should know and believe to be and to remain Christian.

These six chief parts are: The Ten Commandments, The (Apostles’) Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, Confession, and The Sacrament of the Altar.

Tonight, we reflect on the first chief part, The Ten Commandments.

By way of introduction, hear the Word of the Lord according to St. Matthew, Chapter 22.

34 When the Pharisees heard that He (Jesus) had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37 Jesus said to him, “`You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 “This is the first and great commandment. 39 “And the second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”” (Matthew 22:34-40, NKJ)

Quoting from the Old Testament Scriptures, Jesus reveals the summary of God’s Holy Law, the Ten Commandments.

The word Jesus uses to summarize the Law of God, the Ten Commandments, is Love: 1 Love God, 2 Love neighbor.

As Jesus expresses it, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40).

If we go by our own judgment, love to God and love for neighbor is determined, not by what God says and means, but by what we deem as acceptable to ourselves.

In other words, instead of God setting the bar for the meaning of love, we ourselves set the bar—higher or lower—dependent on our agreement with it.

The problem with , our doing, is just this—It puts us in the leading role and gives the backseat to God.

Altering God’s commands to make them acceptable to us is what it means to play God.

This is idolatry, first commandment stuff.

Yet, even we are not immune from the temptation to make God and His Word more comfortable where we find it to be of discomfort.

We may even see ourselves as better, more righteous, and holier than our neighbor, who does all those things that we would never do.

But reflecting on these words of Dr. Luther from his Large Catechism in the section entitled, “Conclusion of the Ten Commandments,” we find that we, too, are in the same boat as others when it comes to making up ways to please God.

311 Now we have the Ten Commandments, a summary of divine teaching about what we are to do in order that our whole life may be pleasing to God. Everything that is to be a good work must arise and flow from and in this true fountain and channel. So apart from the Ten Commandments no work or thing can be good or pleasing to God, no matter how great or precious it is in the world’s eyes. 312 Let us see now what our great saints can boast of their spiritual orders and their great and mighty works. They have invented and set these things up, while they let these commandments go, as though they were far too insignificant or had long ago been perfectly fulfilled.

313 I am of the opinion, indeed, that here one will find his hands full ‹and will have enough› to do to keep these commandments: meekness, patience, love towards enemies, chastity, kindness, and other such virtues and their implications [Galatians 5:22–23]. But such works are not of value and make no display in the world’s eyes. For these are not peculiar and proud works. They are not restricted to particular times, places, rites, and customs. They are common, everyday, household works that one neighbor can do for another. Therefore, they are not highly regarded.

314 But the other works cause people to open their eyes and ears wide. Men aid this effect by the great display, expense, and magnificent buildings with which they adorn such works, so that everything shines and glitters. There they waft incense, they sing and ring bells, they light tapers and candles, so that nothing else can be seen or heard. For when a priest stands there in a surplice garment embroidered with gold thread, or a layman continues all day upon his knees in Church, that is regarded as a most precious work, which no one can praise enough. But when a poor girl tends a little child and faithfully does what she is told, that is considered nothing. For what else should monks and nuns seek in their cloisters?

315 Look, is not this a cursed overconfidence of those desperate saints who dare to invent a higher and better life and estate than the Ten Commandments teach? To pretend (as we have said) that this is an ordinary life for the common man, but theirs is for saints and perfect ones? 316 The miserable blind people do not see that no person can go far enough to keep one of the Ten Commandments as it should be kept. Both the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer must come to our aid (as we shall hear). By them ‹power and strength to keep the commandments› is sought and prayed for and received continually. Therefore, all their boasting amounts to as much as if I boasted and said, “To be sure, I don’t have a penny to make payment with, but I confidently will try to pay ten florins.”

317 All this I say and teach so that people might get rid of the sad misuse that has taken such deep root and still clings to everybody. In all estates upon earth they must get used to looking at these commandments only and to be concerned about these matters. For it will be a long time before they will produce a teaching or estate equal to the Ten Commandments, because they are so high that no one can reach them by human power.” (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 395–396.)

In summary, we can readily note two key things.

The first is this, that the 10 Commandments, given by the Holy and Just God, summarize how His people are to live.

Secondly, we note that man-made/invented works, as good and holy as they might appear before others, are not so before God.

Jesus speaks of this latter thing in the Gospel reading from Matthew 6 about practicing righteousness (ESV), giving to the needy, praying, and fasting.

These things are not to be done before men in order to be seen by them.

God knows the heart.  He sees and knows all.

Before God, not other people, is what matters.

Whether your neighbor sees or knows is not the thing to be concerned about.

“Your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:18).

True and lasting treasure is not found on earth, with praise and recognition by men, or in the things of this side of heaven.

True and lasting treasure is found in the Giver of all that is good, whose very Son is your Treasure, your riches, your “righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

It is not what we think about a thing that ultimately matters.

What God says is what does.

God Himself lays out the summary of His holy will (and purpose) in the Ten Commandments: Love God. Love neighbor.

His first three commandments have just to do with Love to God, namely, having Him alone as God (and no other), using His Name rightly, and holding His Word sacred and gladly hearing and learning it.

These could be considered the positive side of the first three commandments, that which we are to do, in distinction from what we are not to do, as in having another god or gods before the one true God, using God’s Name carelessly and in vain, and despising His Word and its preaching.

Similarly, by Commandments 4-10, “Love neighbor,” God reveals what we are to do and not do in love to neighbor.

Honor Father and mother. “Serve and obey, love and cherish them.” Do not despise or anger them. (4th Commandment)

Be content with what you’re given.  Don’t be discontent with what you don’t have. (Commandments 7, 9, 10)

Speak well of your neighbor, not only of those you like and get along with, but also with those you don’t. Don’t gossip and defame another, “but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way” (8th Commandment)

Help your neighbor.  Help and don’t hurt. (5th Commandment)

Have clean, pure, and holy thoughts, words, and actions.  Do not lust or fantasize about another. (6th Commandment) –

The Commandments of the Lord are all encompassing.

They exclude nothing that God would have us do, how we are to live, and how we are to be.

They reveal God’s will.

They also reveal your sin.

So, St. Paul says, “I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet” (Rom. 7:7 NKJ.

Again, he says, “We know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:19-20 NKJ).

Also does St. James reveal, “Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (Jas. 2:10 NKJ).

The truth of God about His Law and our inability to keep it would certainly mean His righteousness condemnation and His abiding wrath upon us.

But for Christ’s sake alone, this is not so.

God’s wrath and condemnation are not on you because of how good you are or because of how good you try to be, not because of any holiness in you, and not because of any desire of yours to be better.

God’s righteous wrath and just condemnation against sin was met on Another, on Him whose fulfilment of the Law in your stead (Active obedience) and whose receiving God’s judgment for your sin (passive obedience) is Your life and salvation.

The very Law of God expounded and revealed by Jesus, Jesus has fulfilled.

The penalty for your sin Jesus suffered on the cross.

Because of Jesus, through faith in Him, God sees His doing of the Law as your own.

Because of Jesus, through faith in Him, God sees the punishment for your sin met.

Because of Christ, through faith in Him, you seek to abide in Christ and to do according to the Lord’s will, according to His Word.

You do this, not because by doing so you have God’s good pleasure, but becase you already have God’s good pleasure, His favor, His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and salvation, in Christ Jesus the Lord.

You continue to repent of your sin, throughout this Lenten season and beyond.

According to the Law of God, you know that you are not as God would have you be.

According to the grace of God in Jesus Christ, you know and believe that Jesus alone is your help, Savior, and salvation. Amen.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasAlmighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. (Collect for Ash Wednesday)

 

Series on Luther’s Small Catechism for midweek Lenten Services.

 

The Penitential season of Lent

Blessing.AbsolutionWe are at the beginning of the penitential season called, as of Ash Wednesday.  During these 40 days, you’ll notice omissions in the Sunday Divine Services for the Sundays in Lent. These omissions include the Hymn of Praise (“This is the Feast,” “Gloria in Excelsis”), the “Alleluia” response(s) (i.e. before the Gospel reading), and the Post-Communion Canticle, “Thank the Lord.”

We omit such portions to draw attention to the solemnity of the Lenten season.

The word “penitential” means, “of or relating to penitence or penance” (Merriam-Webster, online).

The word “penance” as a noun, according to Merriam-Webster, can mean “an act of self-abasement, mortification, or devotion performed to show sorrow or repentance for sin.” So, the dictionary.

Christians do seek to mortify (put to death, crucify) their sinful flesh, as St. Paul writes, “put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13) and “your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desires, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5).

Christians do this, however, not “to show sorrow or repentance for sin” for others to see (i.e. Matthew 6:1-4, 5-6, 7-8, 16-18), or to demonstrate to God that they are sorrowful (as if God can’t already see or doesn’t already know, 1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Chronicles 28:9; Jeremiah 23:23-24; Hebrews 4:13).

Rather, Christians, because they desire to live according to God’s Word, seek to amend their sinful lives.  They trust in the God of salvation; whose Son went to the cross for the salvation of the world (John 1:29; 3:16).

God calls all people to repent (i.e. Acts 17:30; 2 Peter 3:9), to turn from their sinful ways and to believe in Jesus.

The season of Lent is just about this, and points to “Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2 NKJ).

Now, about that word “penance” as a verb, “to impose penance on” (Merriam-Webster, online).

This word is not to be understood in the Roman Catholic way of “doing penance.” We know that if it was that, we could never do enough. Because of our sin, we are not able to “get right with God” by what we do (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16).  This is to minimize Christ and His work for our salvation.

Rather, salvation is not by our doing at all.  It is God alone who saves, through His Son alone.

“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NKJ).

Christians don’t “do penance,” to show repentance, yet Christians are penitent. We sorrow over our sins and want to do better. We trust in Jesus alone for help and salvation.

We “Therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16 NKJ).  We seek to hear the Word of God often.  We regularly partake of Christ’s body and blood for “forgiveness, life, and salvation.” We also recognize “that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts,” and also “that a new man should daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Fourth, What does such baptizing with water signify?). Amen.

 

 

“The Transfiguration of our Lord,” Matthew 17:1-9

1And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4And Peter said to Jesus, “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.” 5He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

      9And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

On the mount of transfiguration, to a select three, Jesus manifested Himself in all His glory

Flesh and blood no longer concealed Christ’s divinity, the truth that Jesus is God.  Though Christ’s humanity concealed His divine nature both before and after that mountain top experience until His glorious resurrection, the disciples saw a glimpse of what was under the veil.

To those three, Jesus revealed Himself as the Son of the living God in a real, tangible way.  They saw with their own eyes and heard with their own ears the glory and honor of God the Father and Christ, His beloved Son.

We do too.  God reveals Himself through His Holy Word and through His visible means called Sacraments.  By these do we see the God of heaven and earth working among us, planting and cultivating the seed of faith within our hearts, calling us to believe the Gospel, and strengthening the faith which God Himself has given.

It is as St. Peter says in what is our Epistle reading this day.  He spoke thus about his presence on the mount of transfiguration:

“We did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18).

Peter was certainly there on the mount, just as the Scripture says, and just as He recounts in his second letter.  But then He speaks of a greater assurance than His experience on the mountain.

He speaks of the word, the prophetic word, the prophetic word which was confirmed, namely, what God had given—that word which had come to pass.

Of this word, Peter says, “You do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place” (2 Peter 2:19).

The Psalmist speaks a similar note where He writes, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).  So it is.

The Lord’s Word leads the way to go and lightens the path.

This is none other than to Christ, the Word made flesh, who dwelt among us (John 1:14).

Hearing Him is hearing God.

Looking to Him is seeing the glory of God, not condemning us for our sins, but saving us through crucifixion and cross.

In humility, Christ lived; but not in honor before men.

Through His Word and work alone will you see and know Christ for who He really is, not as only man suffering and dying, but as the almighty God, saving and delivering all who trust in Him.

God reveals Himself through the very means that He Himself gives.

It’s not for you to decide when, where, or how God manifests His glory.  This is in His hands.

If it be through a baby being born of a virgin, so be it.

If it be through a man “despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” then it is (Isaiah 53:3).

If it be on a mountain to only three disciples, Christ speaking with Moses and Elijah, Old Testament prophets of the Lord Most High, so it is.

And if it be by means of Word with water, Word with bread and wine, and through Word preached, we recognize these as God’s works and give thanks.

Christ says, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:39-40).

By this reference to Jonah, the Lord shifts our gaze from seeking Him anywhere to where He promises to be—to Christ Himself.

Whether it be to the glory on the mountain or to the humbleness of the plains, Jesus Christ remains and always will be the One to whom you are to look.  He is your only salvation.

Just before the account of the Transfiguration, Jesus asked a question of His disciples.

He said, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” (Matthew 16:13).

“So they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (Matthew 16:14-16).

Peter’s answer was right on.

From that time on, the Gospel says, “Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Matthew 16:21).

It is this same Christ who is your Savior.

 Jesus doesn’t save through power and might, but through obedience, suffering, and death.

It was not on the Mount of Transfiguration that Christ took away your sin.  It was on another Mount, Mount Calvary.

There, He crushed the serpent’s head and canceled out your sin, for good.

By His death, there is life.

Peter was right in declaring Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16).  But the Jesus promised in the Old Testament and fulfiller of the New is He who tasted death for all and slayed sin by shedding His own blood.

It seems too earthy of a thing that God become one of us, not as a figure of Greek mythology, but as it is in truth, God in the flesh, not for Himself, but for us who are by nature dead in our sins.

But this is just the kind of God we have.

The popular spirituality of the day focuses on personal benefit and self-progress, self-desire and gratified fulfillment.

The spirituality of God directs to the Lord Jesus and His Word, recognizes and acknowledges sin and looks to God for mercy in Christ.

True spirituality attends to God’s revelation, to His Holy Word and there, in Christ, finds its dwelling place.

The Christian faith is a “revealed” religion.

It is not made up by man.

It is not a religion of how to get right with God.

It is not a religion that preaches positive thinking, self-help, or self-improvement.

The Christian faith is a religion with Jesus at the center:  Jesus receiving God’s justice and God forgiving the real sins of real sinners.

Here, man does not get right with God; Nor does man get a right relationship with God.

It is God who makes the move, taking from you what is inherently yours and giving you what you don’t deserve.  He takes your sin and death and gives you eternal life.

God reconciled you and the world to Himself through His Son on Calvary’s cross (2 Corinthians 5:19).  It is not you who do for God.  It is God who does for you.  Everything depends on Christ.  Take Him away, and you have nothing.

On the cross, Jesus died for sinners, none excluded.

This was the fulfillment of the words spoken through the Law and the Prophets.

Representative of them were the Moses and Elijah on Transfiguration’s mount.  These were the same saints of the Old Testament: Moses, the one who led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 13); and Elijah, the one through whom God also spoke, even raising a dead woman’s son (1 Kings 17:17-24) and later taken to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11).

On the mountain called Sinai, God gave Moses the Ten Words (Commandments), that the people of God live according to them.

On another mountain, Mount Carmel, God revealed Himself to be the true God, in contrast to the false prophets of the false god (god with a small ‘g’) Baal, by consuming a sacrifice with fire from heaven.  Thus, seeing this work of God, the people proclaimed, “The Lord, He is God!  The Lord, He is God!” (1 Kings 18:20-40).

On yet another mountain, the mount of transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared, talking with Jesus.

In Jesus, the words of Moses and Elijah find fulfillment.

Jesus Christ came, not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).

It is right to say that the Bible is all about Christ.

Though the Bible appear to many like just other book, there is Christ, revealing Himself as your Savior; not Christ against you, but Christ for you.

Christ for you in birth, Christ for you in Baptism, Christ for you in transfiguration, Christ for you in suffering and death, Christ for you in Resurrection and Ascension, Christ for you in His Second Coming.

Jesus’ words, “Rise, and have no fear” (Matthew 17:7), He also says now to you.

Though your sins trouble you, and though you are indeed a sinner in thought, word, and deed, those sins no longer condemn you.

 Before God—alone—you have everything to fear.

In Christ, you are not alone.  In Christ, you have nothing to fear.

Even as Jesus worked and spoke humbly in the flesh to His disciples before us, Jesus today still works humbly and lowly, in Word and in Sacrament, His glory hidden, revealed by Word.

The voice from heaven on the Mount, of Jesus, heard by the disciples Peter, James, and John, is also for you to hear.

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). Amen.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasHeavenly Father, give me everlasting peace through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Calm all of my fears before You, for Jesus is my Savior. Give me boldness and sure confidence of Your mercies, always. Amen.

 

 

“True Righteousness,” Matthew 5:21-37

21[Jesus said:] “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

      27“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

      31“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

      33“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

In Gospel reading, continuing from Matthew 5 and Jesus’ teaching on the Mount, Jesus reveals that the commandments of God are not at all kept by the simple outward doing of them.

Keeping the commandments in the way of “righteousness” that “exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20) is first a matter of the heart and doing rightly before God, the just judge.

The three particular commandments that Jesus addresses in today’s reading are these: “You shall not murder,” the 5th Commandment (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17 ); “You shall not commit adultery,” the 6th Commandment (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18); and “You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God,” the 2nd Commandment (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11).

Jesus reveals these commandments in such a way that no one is excusable before Him.

The One who is truly righteous is only He who originally is, Jesus Himself.  Salvation must come from outside of us, and it is found in Christ alone.

Only after being blessed of God through His Son do we begin to rightly exhibit that righteousness which is Christ’s, thus being salt of the earth and light of the world (Matthew 5:13, 14).

Concerning the 5th Commandment, “You shall not murder,” Jesus connects anger and insult.  Here, we could certainly add hate, too, for St. John writes in his first epistle, “He who does not love his brother abides in death.  Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.  And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:14-16).

Instead of hate, insult, and anger, God would have us love, build up, speak kindly, and sacrifice ourselves for others.

Jesus condemns the physical act of murder, including euthanasia, abortion, and even neglect, but He also condemns hatred, bitterness, holding grudges, and harboring resentment.

 “Out of the heart,” Jesus says, “proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.  These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man” (Matthew 15:19-20).

What we need is a Savior.

In Jesus, you have yours.

Those things of not murdering, not hating, not insulting others, and not harboring bitterness, Jesus has thus fulfilled.

Such is the love Jesus has for sinners like us that He turned the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), suffered the reproach and mockery of men, as well as suffered even death at the hands of sinners-for the sake of sinners (Matthew 20:19; 26:45).

On the cross, Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).

In doing so, Jesus demonstrated, not hate, but the love of God by which He reconciled you to God, saved you from sin and death, and through whom you have a new heart and a new mind, that you not put yourself first but others, and seek peace.

Christ forgives you. You you also forgive others.

In today’s text, Jesus cuts through the falsehood of only outwardly doing the law before others.  He speaks of the heart before God and our actions before others, not only regarding the Fifth Commandment, “Do not murder,” but also with regard to the Sixth Commandment, “Do not commit adultery.”

“He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:17-20 NKJ).

Only where God has first cleansed the heart and forgiven sins does one then begin to rightly do what God commands.

Of himself and apart from Christ, all that the sinner does before God is just show, even if it be great in the eyes of the world.  But before God is what eternally matters!

Once again, Jesus penetrates through the hypocrisy of those in Jesus’ day and our own.

Not just committing the act of adultery is sin, but even looking or lusting after another is sin, too.

Here especially, our society and culture don’t at all help the Christian remain Christian.  In our schools, on TV and in movies, on billboards and posters, and not least of all, on the internet, one cannot escape the amount of skin shown and the type of clothing worn, or not worn, and the lack of modesty, in order to attract and allure, to tempt and to evoke.

Sex sells, they say.

Even Christians, whether younger or older, male or female, are not immune to such enticements.

Also, the number of couples living together before marriage, according to one statistic, is 66% (Aug 2019, https://www.thespruce.com/cohabitation-facts-and-statistics-2302236).

Even within the church, what is considered sin before God is considered less so today, especially by those who wish, and do, advocate and legitimatize same-sex attractions, let alone perversions of many kinds, contrary to God’s creative order and will.

Christians, those who seek to abide by God’s Word and will, seek to avoid temptations, of all kinds.

We cannot, however, avoid our sinful hearts. This is a cross that the godly continue to bear.

Thus, do we pray, “Lead us not into temptation” and “Deliver us from the evil one” (6th & 7th Petitions of the Lord’s Prayer).

These two petitions, respectively, have these explanations (The Lutheran Confessions):

“God indeed tempts no one. But we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us nor seduce us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Though we are attacked by these things, we pray that still we may finally overcome them and gain the victory.” (Meaning to 6th Petition)

“We pray in this petition, as in a summary, that our Father in heaven would deliver us from all kinds of evil, of body and soul, property and honor. And finally, when our last hour shall come, we pray that He would grant us a blessed end and graciously take us from this vale of tears to Himself into heaven.” (Meaning to 7th Petition)

“‘God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:6-8, NKJ).

Seek the Lord and His help.  Look to His Word.  Remember your Baptism, daily, and boldly say, “I am a child of God.  I am not my own.  I was bought at a price.  Thus, will I “Glorify God in” my “body and in” my “spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20), God helping me.

Continue the struggle and look to Christ alone for your help and stay!

“If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (1 Jn. 3:20-21 NKJ).

“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world– our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn. 5:1-5 NKJ).

Common in Jesus’ day, and in ours, was the notion that murder only meant physically taking someone’s life, and that someone committed adultery only when the physical act was committed.

Jesus dispels such limitations.

Both issues stem from the heart, and given in to, make themselves known in word and deed.

Committing sin inwardly, though not committing the sin outwardly, Jesus points out, is still sin before God.

It is the sin being born of the heart that leads to the actual doing of it, if not held in check.

With reference to divorce and the corresponding to the 6th Commandment, Jesus had said, “What God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6).

These words had, and have, to a large degree, fallen by the wayside in many minds today, almost as if they don’t exist, as if God had not done the joining.

Having forsaken the will of God for the will of man, many reasons were, and are, given for justification to divorce one’s spouse.

Because of the hardness of hearts, Moses had permitted the certificate of divorce to be granted, but, as Jesus says, “From the beginning this was not so” (Matthew 19:8).

The prophet Malachi declares, “The LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce” (Malachi 2:16).

Divorce is not according to God’s will.

Yet, note the exception that our Lord here gives, that of the sexual immorality of the other.

As Christians, we want to recognize the boundaries that God gives to protect marriage between man and woman, as that’s the only kind of marriage instituted and acceptable to God, and so also to His people.

We also want to distinguish between what is pleasing to God from what is not.

Bearing with one another, forgiving one another, and even suffering another’s faults is according to God’s will. This includes, especially, within that union of two people bound to one another through the sacred institution of holy matrimony.

Faithfulness to one’s spouse, love, sacrifice, and forgiveness are according to God’s will should one be married.

In the book of Proverbs, it is written, “Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all sins” (Proverbs 10:12).

Love does cover all sins.  A husband’s love for his wife.  A wife’s love for her husband.

Not least of all, God’s love in Christ for the sinner, for you.  He does not and will not divorce you.

Rather does He speak kindly to your hearts and give that which alone truly comforts and gives true contentment – even life and salvation.

The love of God in Jesus Christ covers all your sins.

His blood cleanses you, and your conscience, from all unrighteousness, guilt, and shame.

As for the last part of today’s Gospel, concerning oaths, Jesus says, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’”  The people of Jesus’ day had a way of casually and carelessly making oaths.  They swore here and there without a second thought.  They misused God’s Name and used it in vain to their own ends.  They believed it to be ok to defend themselves with God’s honor for even insignificant things.

One’s word should cast no doubt as to it being true, without the need for further embellishments.  Rather than trying to reinforce our words with oaths and vows, we are to simply say, “Yes” or “No.”

We are to use the Name of the Lord rightly and in a way that pleases, not ourselves, but Him who calls us, as Luther addresses in the Small Catechism, the 1st Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!”

So did Jesus speak all that the Father gave Him to speak.

His Word is Spirit and it is life (John 6:63).

So does Jesus speak rightly and truly in all that He says and makes known.

His yes was yes.  His no, no. All that He said He would do He did.

“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and…He was buried, and…rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4 NKJ)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus dispels the myth that the keeping of God’s law only has to do with making a good show before the world and doing right on the outside alone, or assuming justification before God because of what we believe to be right, contrary to His Holy Word.

Keeping the commandments means that one’s “righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20).

This means not first doing rightly according to the Law, but first believing rightly according to God’s revelation in Christ, having faith in God’s Son for the forgiveness of sins, and resting on Christ alone, and not at all on what you do at all for salvation or for anything else.

This truth extols Jesus Christ as the keeper and the doer of the commandments, the One Who had come, not to abolish, but to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, in their entirety (Matthew 5:17).

Jesus held no bitterness or hatred toward anyone, only true, agape (sacrificial) love, even toward those who crucified Him on the cross, even towards you, that you have life.  Jesus had and has a pure heart, desiring only your good.

He is faithful—always—to His Word and promise.  This He demonstrated, not with extra oaths and meaningless vows, but with the shedding of His blood on the cross, even that which is poured out, for you, for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus alone is pure in heart.  As His Father is, so is He.

As His people, so do we seek to be, and so we seek to follow.

As children of God in Christ, so we believe – so we do. Amen.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasHeavenly Father, forgive me my sins.  I have sinned against You and ask for Your undeserved mercy in Christ Jesus. Help me to live according to Your Word and will. Amen.

 

 

Commemoration of Silas, fellow worker of St. Peter and St. Paul

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Feb 10 is a day commemorating Silas, Fellow Worker of St. Peter and St. Paul. Of this saint of God, the Commission on Worship on the LCMS website comments,

“Silas, a leader in the church at Jerusalem, was chosen by Paul (Acts 15:40) to accompany him on his second missionary journey from Antioch to Asia Minor and Macedonia. Silas, also known as Silvanus, was imprisoned with Paul in Philippi and experienced the riots in Thessalonica and Berea. After rejoining Paul in Corinth, he apparently remained there for an extended time. Beyond that there is little further mention of Silas and his association with Paul.” (Commemorations, Biography)

Another description, from Treasury of Daily Prayer, offers these additional words,

“Sometime later he (Silas) apparently joined the apostle Peter, likely serving as Peter’s secretary (1 Peter 5:12). Tradition says that Silas was the first bishop at Corinth.”

These words of comment leave us little to go on with reference to Silas.  It is a given that Paul and Peter both knew him, and that he served the Lord with them according to his calling.

We don’t know about his background like we do with Paul, formerly named Saul.

We don’t know his father or mother, his home country, or his occupation, if he had one prior to his conversion or after.

Little is given about this commemorated man of God.

Curiosity here, though, does not lead the faithful to speculations, lofty or not.  What we can know with certainty of any name referenced in the Bible is that which God reveals in that Word.  This alone is the “rule and norm,” our litmus by which all be tested.

Even here, however, we are left with limited knowledge of the man called Silas.

But to end speculation and wandering curiosity, we are simply left to ask, “What does God say?”—and then—“what does this mean?”—a good Lutheran question, to be sure, but qualified with an “according to the Word alone.”

Too often, the meaning of a thing is not left “as-is,” having confidence alone placed on the bare Word of God as given.

Rather, personal assumptions and sinfully contrived notions and “interpretations” are purported to reveal the true meaning, if not definitively, at least partially, “to me.”

Ego-centeredness and self-interest aside, we can only speak with certainty of Silas as given by Holy Scripture, and as mentioned earlier, there is little to go on, or so it would seem.

The name Silas occurs a total of 13 times, and only in the New Testament book of Acts.

That’s it!

Nowhere else does the name Silas occur.

Additionally, however, commentators connect the name Silvanus to Silas, which adds four more hits to the one today commemorated, once in 2 Corinthians, once in each of the two letters of Paul to the Thessalonians, and once in Peter’s first epistle.

This makes for a total of 17 instances where the name Silas, and Silvanus, appear in the New Testament writings.

In the latter four non-Acts occurrences of the name Silvanus, no lengthy narrative accompanies the name.

In Acts, the findings are quite distinct.

Without laboring you with more numbers, references to the man Silas in Acts connect readily to specific narratives and joined with the apostle Paul.

The first reference to Silas in the book of Acts is in relation to the Jerusalem synod of Chapter 15.

This is where “certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’” (Acts 15:1 NKJ).

And also, where, “Some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise (the converted Gentiles), and to command them to keep the law of Moses’” (Acts 15:5 NKJ).

The church came together and definitively said, “No… we believe and confess that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they” (Acts 15:11).

In other words, not by being circumcised according to the Law of Moses is eternal life, but through faith in the Christ Jesus preached from Holy Scripture, whom Peter and Paul preached.

Silas doesn’t appear a main speaker of the meeting proper, like Peter had.  In fact, Silas doesn’t appear to speak at all there.

Yet, the apostles and elders, with the whole church (Acts 15:12), did send Silas, along with Paul, Barnabas, Judas, and Barsabas to Antioch with the letter, crafted to “Not trouble those form the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19).

Silas was known among them, among the “men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26).

Also, he with Judas were considered by Luke to be “leading men among the brethren” (Acts 15:22 NKJ).

With Judas, Silas was to “Report the same things” of the letter “By word of mouth” (Acts 15:27).

This Silas did.

Judas and Silas “Exhorted the brethren” in Antioch, “With many words and strengthened them,” records Luke, relaying also that both were “leaders” and “themselves prophets” (Acts 15:32).

This meant that Silas spoke. Prophets speak.

Words not spoken by Silas at the Jerusalem synod were spoken elsewhere.

So, God gives His servants to speak as He will, where He will, with the Words to proclaim.

In the same chapter of Acts 15, Silas is the one who Paul chooses over Barnabas, to accompany him in visiting the brethren where they had “preached the word” (Acts 15:36).

This was where Paul and Barnabas contended about John Mark going with them, though he “had not gone with them to the work” (Acts 15:38).

Paul and Barnabas parted ways, the latter taking John Mark to Cyprus, the former taking Silas, “Being commended by the brethren to the grace of God” (Acts 15:40).

Next, we hear of Paul and Silas imprisoned, for the simple reason that Paul exorcised a demon from a girl, and her masters could no longer profit from her fortune-telling (Acts 16:19).

Of Paul and Silas, their accusers stated, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; “and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe” (Acts 16:20-21 NKJ).

The preaching of Jesus is not politically correct.  Nor is the true doctrine accepted by all, neither is godly work recognized as such by the world.

The devil fights against Christ and seeks to silence and suppress the truth however he might.

Yet, Paul and Silas, in prison, prayed and sang “hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25).

In the midst of their ordeal, they blessed God.

And in the midst of their ordeal, a jailer heard, asking, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).

The answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).

The jailer and his household were baptized.  They believed God.

In two successive chapters, chapters 17 & 18, we find the remaining places where Silas is named in the book of Acts.

In chapter 17, Paul and Silas, still together in accompaniment, traveled to Berea, where the Jews “were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:10-11).

And, “Many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men” (Acts 17:12).

In chapter 18, when Paul was in Corinth, it was after “Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia” that Paul “was constrained by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 18:5).

What the Lord reveals of Silas in these passages is not at all insignificant.  The Lord had Silas right where He wanted him to be.

Silas was God’s servant, a member of the household of God.

It was not Silas who was running the show or plotting out how he would serve.  It was God directing, God leading, God moving, God giving.

In such giving, moving, leading, and directing, so God’s servant served.

Though it is true that we know little of Silas’ background, life, personality, etc., we know what God makes known.  And what God reveals of Silas manifests, not Silas, but God and His work, God’s salvation and redemption.

By God’s grace and work, the Lord grant you the same. Amen.

 

Collect of the Day

Almighty and everlasting God, Your servant Silas preached the Gospel alongside the apostles Peter and Paul to the peoples of Asia Minor, Greece, and Macedonia.  We give you thanks for raising up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of Your kingdom, that the Church may continue to proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

“Christ came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets,” Matthew 5:13-20

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Psalm 112 reads in part, “Praise the LORD! Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments! … Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous” (Ps. 112:1,4 ESV).

These words correspond very well with today’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel, the 5th chapter.

There, Jesus talks about salt and light, the very things that His disciples, His followers, believers, in fact and in deed, are, not by virtue of their own actions, but as a result of Whose they are, as well as what they are in Christ—blessed.

The words that direct our attention this morning are those that follow what are called
“The Beatitudes” in St. Matthew’s Gospel, also chapter 5, where Jesus opened up His mouth and began teaching, and continues to teach, His disciples.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 11:15 NKJ).

Today’s text cannot be rightly understood apart from the very words of blessedness that precede it.

To be blessed by God, to have God’s blessing, is nothing other than to receive from Him His good will and favor through His Son Jesus Christ.

It is to believe in Jesus alone for help and salvation, and to find nothing in oneself by which one can be helped before the just God.

Self-righteousness, arrogance, and hypocrisy are not the way of Christians, who humble themselves before the Lord and seek God’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ alone, even as they pray, “Forgive us our trespasses” and confess their sins before God and one another, gladly receiving the absolution of God.  For this, they give thanks and praise to God, who wipes their slates clean before Him and reckons to them the righteousness of Christ as their own.

With such blessing from God, in no way attributed to our own endeavors or attempts, we proceed with today’s text.

First, it should be stated clearly that when Jesus speaks the plural yous in both verse 13 and 14 of chapter 5 concerning salt and light, Jesus is specifically addressing His disciples, namely, the blessed ones, those who are blessed because of the promises of God and who believe those promises.

Jesus is not there talking about all people, let alone only Americans, and least of all, nonbelievers, idolaters, believers in false religions, or anyone else who is not included with those who are blessed of God in Jesus Christ.

When such words are taken out of context and applied to nonChristians, the meaning of the text is corrupted and lends itself to false teaching, saying what the text does not say.

NonChristians cannot be the salt and light that Jesus speaks of because their works before God are not good, though all the world would say otherwise.   They are not blessed of God as those described in the “Beatitudes,” not because they don’t do what might be considered visibly “good” according to sinful man, but because they don’t believe in the One whom the Father sent—He alone who Is Good, and through Whom alone anything that we do is acceptable and pleasing to God.

Without Christ, all that we do is sinful—the result of the Fall in the garden—Original sin.

Any hope that the world has is not in or by what we do, but in Him who came into the world as a babe through His virgin mother and died on the wooden cross, shedding His blood for our redemption.  Apart from that One, all is lost.  But in and through Him, all is won.

Before one can be salt of the earth and light of the world, one must first be changed from not being salt and not being light to being salt and to being light.

This change does not take place by going “through the motions” of Christian piety in order to appear “good” before others (aka. What Pharisees do)?

This change does not take place by appearing as if one is Christian while not at all believing what God says (aka hypocrisy)?

This change does not occur by doing the “right” things, but for the wrong reasons, or, merely having “good” intent, but not doing what is “right” before God.

Becoming salt and light is a power that we do not have.

All who believe that they can “make it happen,” of themselves, deceive themselves.

Children of God are those who do not trust in themselves but hope in Christ alone for help and salvation, even that they be ‘salt and light’.

With such hoping, not in themselves, but in Another, they are the salt and the light, as God gives them to be.

God’s people are far from perfect.  You know this from experience, of others and of yourselves.

If you don’t, reflect for a moment just on the First Table of the Law, summed up with the words,  “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37 NKJ).

Do you, at all times and in all places, in every circumstance, under every condition, and in the far reaches of your own heart and mind, love God above everything else, not just with the mouth, but with your whole being, wanting none other than to serve Him, and Him alone, regardless of the cost to yourself, your family, your everything, and not for gain or reward, but simply because God is all-gracious and giving and good towards you?

So does St. Paul also say,

“What I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do…For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.”  For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Romans 7:15, 18-19 NKJ).

Not only with the First Table of the Law do we fall waaay short, but also with the Second Table, we fail.

Loving neighbor as self, including those closest to us—family—as well as those in the household of faith—the church—not for selfish gain or recognition, but simply for the sake of the other, because of need, without any strings attached, giving freely, does not come natural to us.

More often than not, we do what we do to get something, whether it be recognition, praise, or simply, that “feeling” of doing something “good.”

Being salt and light does not have to do with how you fail and fall short.

Your saltiness and the brightness of your light doesn’t originate with you.

Christians reflect Christ and His light, not their own.

So does our Lord say, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.  Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:3-5 NKJ).

St. Peter says,  “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10 NKJ).

Any who do not confess Christ and seek to live as His blessed child, confessing their sin and denying themselves (Matthew 10:38), who desire instead to live by their own rules, according to their own self-righteous ways and not according to His Word, by faith, are not His and are not worthy of Him.

In distinction from play Christians are they who plead for mercy and help from the Lord Jesus, seeking His mercy and His grace, for Christ’s sake alone.  These alone are the salt of earth and the light of the world, and they are so because they do not trust at all in themselves or their own ways, but to God alone is the glory.  Their boast is in Christ alone, as with St. Paul, who declares,

“God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14 NKJ).

In so far as we’ve come this far in the text, we now briefly transition to the words of our Lord concerning the Law and the Prophets.  Jesus did not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.  This much is plain from the text.  What might not be so clear is how these words connect to what is previous to them.

As an introduction, the Law refers generally to the Law of God, the entirety of the Ten Commandments.

Connected with the Prophets, the Law and the Prophets is shorthand for the whole Old Testament, which consists of God’s Commands and promise, the prophecies concerning Christ, the Messiah.  Thus, Jesus came to fulfill both the Law of God and the prophecies about Him in the Old Testament.  And He has.

Yet, Jesus’ fulfillment of the Old Testament Law and Prophets, even to death on the cross, in no way implies the abolishing of God’s Law, as if it is no longer necessary or obligatory for us to live morally under God’s order; not for God (as if He needed anything), but toward one another and according to God’s Word.

As long as we remain in the flesh, we continue to struggle with our sin, and the Law is necessary, that we might more clearly know our sin and more greatly see our Savior.

In Christ, sin no longer is the last word.

Yes, we struggle with it, but under God’s grace (Romans 6:14), we have the certainty of God’s grace and favor, even the sure hope of eternal life.

Far from leading us to live in sin in the way of our sinful flesh, such hope in God’s grace moves us to live unto God, bearing fruit and doing what God would have us do, living the way that God would have us live, not for ourselves, but to God as we serve others, according to the Command, fulfilled in love.

St. James writes that “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20, 26).

These words are true.

Faith reveals itself by what we say and do.

Our hope, at the same time, is not in what we say and do.  This would be placing our trust in our own words and in our own actions, the very thing that the blessed of God do not do.

Instead, our hope is in Christ.

As our hope is in Christ, so will we also seek to do according to His will as He reveals it.

In this way, you are salt and you are light, and you remain so, as you remain in Christ.  Amen.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasPrayer: Gracious God, forgive me for not being who You have called me to be and for not doing what You have called me to do. Help me to change my sinful ways and to abide in You according to Your Holy Word, for I am Yours. Amen.

 

 

“The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of our Lord,” Luke 2:22-40

Simeon&Jesus22When the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, [Mary and Joseph] brought [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 29“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation  31that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

      33And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

      36And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

      39And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Of the accounts of our Lord Jesus, probably the most recognized are that of His birth, and that of His death and resurrection.  The birth of Jesus means God coming in the flesh, for you and for me, to save us from our sins, even as the writer to the Hebrews writes, “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same” (Hebrews 2:14).

The death of Jesus by crucifixion on Good Friday means that your sin has been dealt with in a real way and that it can no longer condemn you, as St. Paul writes, “In Him,” in Jesus, “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

The resurrection of our Lord Jesus from the dead means that you are no longer in your sins.

It means that your faith in the resurrected Christ is not futile (1 Corinthians 15:17).

It means that Jesus “has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.  But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:21-23).

St. Peter also writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).

Though the more familiar accounts of our Lord Jesus Christ might be that of His birth, death, and resurrection, not to mention the numerous works of God that He did before His death, like raising the dead, healing the sick, and casting out demons, and the wonderful Words which He spoke, less familiar might be the accounts of His early childhood, specifically, those early days of His life—those days shortly after His birth.

Of these days, St. Luke writes about in today’s Gospel.  Simply said, they are the accounts of 1Jesus’s presentation in the temple, 2the words of Simeon and his song which we call the Nunc Dimittis, and 3the account of Anna, who gave thanks to the Lord, having seen Jesus.

These three accounts serve as the outline for today’s message.

According to the Law of Moses, a woman who had given birth to a male child was considered unclean for a period of 40 days.  It was at this time that Mary and Joseph brought the child to the temple and gave their offering.  At this time, the first-born son was presented to the Lord.

As the first-born males of Egypt had died in the last plague before Pharaoh freed the children of Israel from their bondage in the Old Testament, so would the first-born males be redeemed by the sacrifice of an animal.

Now—the Sacrifice, He who would redeem—buy back—deliver, not only Israel, but Gentiles, all people—you—was being presented to the Lord, even according to the Law.

Being presented to the Lord in obedience to the Law, Jesus was The One who would redeem—buy back—deliver—you by His sacrifice, that you be acceptable to God.

In Jesus, you are acceptable to God, for He his The Sacrifice for your sins.

Through His blood, God cleanses you of all your sin once and for all (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10).

Where sin is cleansed, “There is no longer an offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18).

Jesus, coming into His temple—even as a baby just over a month old—is not without significance.

It is Jesus that we are talking about here(!), not a child conceived of man, but conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin.  Yet a baby Jesus at the time, none-the-less.

According to the eye, who would know Jesus to be the Savior of the World?

Who would know Jesus to be THE ONE through whom sin is forgiven?

Who would know that through Jesus, through that baby, there is peace with God?

Simeon was such a man, such a man who recognized Jesus for who He was.

He didn’t know this truth by sight.

He didn’t know that Jesus was THE ONE because of how Jesus looked, or because there was some sort of aura about Him.

Jesus appeared as any other baby boy that had been brought to the temple.

So how did Simeon know what He did about Jesus?

Was it through the local or the national news channel?

Was it through an emotionally, charismatically charged, excited televangelist?

Was it through e-mail or social media?

None of these, of course, revealed to single Simeon that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah come into the world.

It was by God’s Spirit alone that Simeon knew the identity of the child Jesus brought into the temple.

No other way would he have known.

No other way do you know the truth of Jesus’ identity except by God’s Spirit—God’s Spirit working through the Word of God—God’s Spirit working faith in your hearts that you believe in Jesus according to that Word.

It is through God’s Word that God makes known to you His will, that you forsake your will and tendencies and instead, to follow Him—to trust in Him alone and not in the things of this world, as tempting as they might be.

According to the Word of God, we know that Jesus is the Consolation, not only of Israel, but of all people, Jew and Gentile alike.

In Him, and in Him alone, is their rest on every side (Matthew 11:28-30).

In Him, and in Him alone, do you have peace within, even if everything else does not appear so.

Even as few believe the Words of our Lord, we pray that God give strength that we remain firm to the end.

We pray that the Lord work faith in the hearts of those who disbelieve, that they too know of God’s grace in Christ.

We pray that they too see Christ, that they not go according to what they see, what think they know, or according to disbelief, but take hold of the bare Scriptures and have them as they are, that they too see the salvation of God, even as we do, and even as Simeon did.

By God’s grace, Simeon received the promise of God and was ready to “depart,” even to die, “in peace”.

The Lord’s salvation in Christ gives such readiness.

We don’t know how old Simeon really was, but seeing the Lord’s Christ, the promise of God having been fulfilled, it doesn’t matter.  According to the Lord’s Word, any who are in Christ, regardless of age, are ready to “depart in peace”, for Christ is their peace.

Having heard the Lord’s Word, His promise of salvation fulfilled in Christ, the expected ONE having come, we too are ready.  You need nothing else—nothing else but Christ, and Him God has sent, Him God has given.

In our liturgies, we boldly confess having this Christ, even as Simeon had.

Note the location of Simeon’s song, also called the Nunc Dimittis, in today’s Divine Service, not yet sung.

The words in part read,

“Lord now You let Your servant go in peace; Your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which You have prepared in the sight of every people.”

Such blessed words, parallel with those of Simeon who beheld Jesus and held him in his arms, are also those blessed words of those who behold the Christ in body and blood and bread and wine of the Sacrament of the Altar.

No mere ordinance keeping memorial meal at all here.

Jesus, giving His very body and blood for your salvation, the forgiveness of your sins.

We sing the song of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis, because just as Simeon, so also do we see the Lord’s Christ in Holy Communion, according to the Lord’s Word.

His Word means something.

He says what He means and means what He says.

Only those of Christ and having faith in Christ, look to Christ for freedom from sin, death, and hell.  There is no other to turn to.  There is no other lasting comfort.  He alone is sufficient.  And for this ONE, Anna gave thanks to the Lord and spoke “of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem”.

The one who hears such words and believes, who has seen the Lord’s Christ and so confesses Him to be the Lord, can’t help but give thanks, as the Psalmist says,

“Oh, give thanks to the LORD! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; Talk of all His wondrous works! Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the LORD!” (Psalm 105:1-3).

The Lord Christ was brought into the temple according to the Lord’s will at that time by his parents, as recorded in St. Luke’s Gospel.

Anna, by God’s grace, was also given to see the child, as Simeon had.

With a thankful heart she spoke of Jesus—with a thankful heart because of the Lord’s kindness to her in making Himself known.

It is like this with you, too.

In Jesus, God makes known to you your salvation.

He makes known to you your peace with God.

This is all His doing.

Readily does our Lord do this—by means of His Word.

By means of His Word, you, like Anna and like Simeon, are given the very gifts God gives you—Jesus, Jesus—your hope—and Jesus—your Savior and salvation.

We close with words from Luther: “Whosoever has this Savior, the Savior of God, may have a peaceful, quiet heart.  For though death be as terrible, the sin as mighty, the devil as evil and poisonous as he ever will, yet we have the Savior of God, that is, an almighty, eternal Savior; He is strong enough to move us out of death into life, out of sin into righteousness.” Amen.

 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, by means of Your Word alone, give me faith to believe Your Son to be my Savior and so rejoice in Him all my days. Amen.

 

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