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“The Passion of the Lord,” John 12:20-43

 

For audio, go here.

 

20Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; JesusInSynagogue, copybut if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

      27“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered,  “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 34So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35So Jesus said to them,  “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

      When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,  40“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” 41Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Today is the day in the Church year called “Palm Sunday,” that day in which the Lord entered Jerusalem on a donkey, that day in which the people, with palm branches, cried out, “Hosanna!  Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord! The King of Israel!” (John 12:13 || Psalm 118:25, 26).

On this day, the people proclaimed acclamation to God.

Here was Jesus, entering Jerusalem, the people declaring what was right and true.

In less than five days, this same One, so gloriously welcomed by the people as He entered Jerusalem, would undergo trial for crimes that He didn’t commit, suffer shame and contempt for preaching the truth, and be crucified for sins not His own.

On this day called Palm Sunday, Jesus, and we, enter the week of the Church year called “Holy,” where our attention turns to the events suffered by our Lord in this last week prior to His glorious resurrection.

This day is also called “Sunday of the Passion.”  Our attention draws to the last hours of Christ in His State of Humiliation.

Our attention also draws to the reality of our own passion, our own suffering, as followers of Christ, as our Lord Jesus Himself testifies.

In short order, today’s second Gospel reading follows the account of our Lord on Palm Sunday after the people met Him on the road with the shouts and praises and acts of worship.

Shortly thereafter, Greeks asked to see Jesus.  It is at this point that Jesus begins His discourse, words to be taken to heart.  Jesus here speaks about His forthcoming death, what it means, and its purpose.

Connecting the later reading of today’s Gospel with the former reading of John’s Gospel at the beginning of the service, a close connection reveals itself.

The last few words of the Palm Sunday reading earlier this morning were these, spoken by the Pharisees among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing.  Look, the world has gone after Him!” (John 12:19).

Immediately following these words by the Pharisees, John the evangelist records that certain Greeks then sought Jesus.

Jesus’ word and work were not only for the Jews.

The expectation of the Messiah, the Christ, as recorded in the Old Testament, was not only for the chosen people of national Israel.

Remember Jonah…God sent Him to Nineveh, a Gentile city, to call them to repentance.

It was Isaiah whom God moved to write, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7).  These very words Jesus Himself also spoke in the clearing of the temple (as recorded by Mark 11:17).

The “House of prayer for all nations” referred to by Isaiah under inspiration, and then by Jesus, the Word made flesh (John 1:14), was a reference to God’s house where God is worshiped.  All nations include Jews and Gentiles. God’s house is for all people, none excluded.

This is the irony of what those Pharisees had said among themselves about Jesus, that “the world has gone after Him.”

They were right.

This is how it was, and how it was to be, as the Psalmist declares, “Let the peoples praise, You God; Let all the peoples praise you” (Psalm 67:3).

What is ironic here is that the Pharisees despised the very thing that was happening that God had said would happen, and yet they claimed to be teachers of truth.

Far from it!

Those of the truth hear God’s voice (John 18:37).

Greeks, non-Jews were seeking to see and hear Jesus, yet the Pharisees closed their ears to Him.

Salvation is of the Jews (John 4:22), but salvation is for all people, not just for the Jews alone.

But how does such salvation come?  Through what means is salvation won?

This is where the words of our Lord Jesus from today’s second Gospel reading come in.  Jesus’ Word in response to those Greeks who sought Him reveal that by His death, there is life.  This is a great paradox: by means of death is life.

Jesus also stated that “Whoever loves his life loses it.” Both verbs, love and lose, are in the present tense.

Jesus also says, “Whoever hates his life in this world” (present tense) “will keep it” (future tense) for eternal life.

These words, too, are paradoxical.

Life through death—loving life and losing it—hating life and keeping it—these statements seem to be contradictory.

One lives by living, not by dying.  You keep your life by loving it, not by hating it.  You lose your life by hating it, not by loving it…

This is what fallen man considers to be true.  He wants to believe that God works the way that the world works—not according to what God the Creator says, but according to what man the creation says and what it wants to say/mean.

If the world had its way, Jesus would not have entered Jerusalem on a donkey.

Jesus would not have been unjustly accused and then, “crucified, died, and buried.”

Jesus would not have suffered as He had.

Blood would not have been shed.

Sinners would bear their own sin (to each his own) but could make amends for their transgressions and iniquities by simply trying harder and convincing themselves that this is how one gets right with God.

If the world had its way, sinners would only be sinners as they much as they saw themselves as sinners.

The problem is that it’s not us—or the world—who determines right and wrong, good and bad, the truth and the lie.

God does.

When it comes to paradoxes, we don’t determine their veracity.  God does.

Things that don’t make sense to us don’t make them untrue.  What makes something true or not true is not dependent on our understanding of it, our belief in it, or our acceptance of it.

What makes something true or not true is not established by us.

Jesus Christ is the Truth (John 14:6).

What He says is true, whether we believe it or not.

What He declares to be is so, because He said it.

This way of “reasoning” might seem like a blind kind of faith, but a truly blind kind of faith is that kind of “faith” which follows a thing that it cannot see or know.

We follow what we know, not blindly, but with certainty.

Christians don’t follow what they don’t know or that which is uncertain.

We follow and believe God’s Word as its been given.

We hear it and we listen to it.

We read it and we study it.  We believe it.

To believe God’s Word is not blindness.

God’s Word is not unsure.

What is blindly following something, “blind faith,” is following where one cannot see where one is going.

We don’t follow the Bible this way.

We are not blind to where we’re going.

We know where we’re going.

We know our eternity is with God in heaven.

We don’t know everything that will be—Only God does.  But we do know that we are known by Him Who knows everything.

Because God knows us as His people, because God is our Savior from sin, death, and hell, we don’t need to know all that He knows.  He is God.  We are not.

What we do know, according to His Word, this is what we are to believe and that which we do believe.

Following Christ’s Word, God’s Word, is not blind faith.  It is faith founded on the sure foundation, on that Word made flesh, on Him who suffered, was crucified, died, buried, and three days later, rose again from the dead.

Such a faith rests in Jesus according to His Word.

That Word reveals to you that through His death, you have life.  His blood conceals, covers, and cleanses you of your sin before the Father.

Loving your life means not resting in Jesus alone, not entrusting yourself fully into His care and keeping.

Hating your life means recognizing your uncleanliness before Him Who is pure, your unholiness before Him Who is Holy (1 Peter 1:15), your sin before Him Who is sinless; lamenting your unrighteousness before Him Who is Righteous.

Hating your life is acknowledging that you deserve only judgment from the just God and despising your own sinfulness.

Hating your life means also not trusting in yourself for salvation, but resting in Jesus alone, trusting in God’s mercy through His beloved Son, “seeing” that Christ’s death means—is—your life.

The Son of Man, Jesus, is He Who is life, He through whom you have life, He who gives you life.

Along with the paradox of your life through His death is the paradox of Christ’s glorification.

The word glorify can have the meaning of “Bestow glory upon”; “Elevate or idealize”; and “Cause to seem more splendid” (The Sage’s English Dictionary and Thesaurus).

These things we associate with the high and the mighty, the majestic and the glorious, the strong and the proud.

Yet Christ’s glorification, as revealed in today’s second Gospel reading, is not associated with the worldly understanding of that word.  Contrasted to our view of glory, the glory of Christ is in His lowliness, weakness, and humility, even as he hangs on a tree, “having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).

“Though Jesus was in the form of God, (He) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week, the week of our Lord’s Passion, the entrance of our Lord into His suffering and then death.

Like our Lord, as we fix our eyes on what is to come, we also are aware of our own suffering and struggles.

Amid these, there is Christ.

The Lord comes to serve, giving His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Lowly He enters Jerusalem.

Lowly, and rejected, He journeys to Calvary, to Golgotha, to His death.

He does so that you live—eternally. Amen.

 

PrayingHands&Cross1Almighty and everlasting God, You sent Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon Himself our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross. Mercifully grant that we may follow the example of His great humility and patience and be made partakers of His resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. (Collect of the Day, Passion Sunday)

 

For audio, go here.

 

The Small Catechism, Part V: Confession

 

Audio of sermon here on podcast.

 

First Reading: 2 Samuel 12:1-13

1 Then the LORD sent Nathan to David. And he came to him, and said to him: “There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. 2 “The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds. 3 “But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him. 4 “And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd to prepare one for the wayfaring man who had come to him; but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” 5 So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to david-repentsNathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! 6 “And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.” 7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel: `I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 `I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more! 9 `Why have you despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon. 10 `Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 “Thus says the LORD: `Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12 `For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun.'” 13 So David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. (NKJ)

Second Reading: John 20:19-23

19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”” (NKJ)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Blessing.AbsolutionThe Fifth Chief Part of Luther’s Small Catechism: Confession.

Words of the Psalmist from Psalm 51, expressive of King David’s contrite heart and confidence in God when confronted with the Word of God as recorded in 2 Samuel 12 for his sin against God, and the words of Jesus to His disciples on the night of His resurrection, as recorded in John 20, example, illustrate, and highlight for us what confession is and its centrality in and to the Christian Church.

First, what confession is…

Confession, as a word used in the church and in the world, is often understood in the way of ‘relating one’s sins to a member of the clergy,’ as in, ‘going to confession.’

The phrase, ‘fess up means, ‘admit your wrongdoing.’

This is what many consider confession to mean.

In the church, such a use of the term is not wrong, but it certainly is not the only use of the term.

Biblically, the word ‘confess’ has the basic meaning of “to say the same thing,” “to agree with,” or “to acknowledge.”

Where St. John writes, “If we confess our sins” (1 John 1:9), here we then have to clarify.

To confess, to say the same thing, to agree with, to acknowledge our sins according to Whom—provides the clarification.

A related usage of the word, “confess,” is exampled by John the Baptist, as recorded in John chapter 1, where we read,

“Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ’” (Jn. 1:19-20 NKJ).

Here, John the Baptist “confesses” that he is not the Christ, that he is not the Messiah.

The word, “confess,” used in both examples, is identical, that of John the Baptist confessing that he is not the Christ, and that of “confessing sins.”

The “saying the same thing as,” “agreeing with,” and “acknowledging,” either of sins or of John the Baptist in confessing that he is not the Christ also have this in common—that they are not according to self-determination, designation, or definition.

The confession of sins (and what sin is or what sin is not) and the confession of John about his identity (who he is or who he is not), is according to the determination, designation, and definition of Another.

That Other, for John, and for one confessing sin is not self, but God alone.

For John, the One who sent John the Baptist to preach and to baptize was not John Himself, but the Father.  Thus, John pointed to, he confessed, not himself, but Jesus, to be, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

John the Baptist—same said, agreed with, acknowledged—what God made known to him concerning the Christ, who John was clearly not.

In similar fashion, confession of sins has to do with—same saying, agreeing with, acknowledging as true—what God reveals, what He makes known—about our condition and our doing and our not doing.

To confess sin to God is to say that God is right in all of His judgments and that we are rightly deserving of the consequences that God imposes on that sin, even eternal death—as determined by God—not according to our own definition or our own self-determination of how great or little that sin may be in our own eyes.

God declares,

“There is none righteous, no, no one” (Psalm 14/53: 1Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10).

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23 NKJ).

With Isaiah the prophet, we too confess, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5 NKJ).

With David we also say, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5 NKJ).

These things we acknowledge to be true, and not only broadly, but also narrowly.

The Law of God, stated by the 10 Commandments, shows this.

We can do nothing to escape.  There is no work around. No isolationism can help. There is no home remedy, vaccine, or cure.

We are at God’s mercy!

Concerning the confession of sins, Luther writes,

“Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?” (SC, Confession, Which are these?).

Looking into the clear and reflective mirror of God’s Word, we must admit that, yes, we are guilty.

We are not as God would have us be—not only with each other and in our own stations and vocations in life—but also, and especially, before God.

“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. 2:10-11 NKJ).

Like David, we say, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13).

The very First Commandment condemns us all.

Writes Luther,

“Let everyone, then, take care to magnify and exalt this commandment above all things and not make light of it. Search and examine your own heart thoroughly and you will find whether or not it clings to God alone. Do you have the kind of heart that expects from him nothing but good, especially in distress and want, and renounces and forsakes all that is not God? Then you have the one true God. On the contrary, does your heart cling to something else, from which it hopes to receive more good and help than from God, and does it flee not to him but from him when things go wrong? Then you have an idol, another god.” (LC, 1st Commandment ¶28)

Luther also says,

“Thus you can easily understand the nature and scope of this commandment. It requires that man’s whole heart and confidence be placed in God alone, and in no one else. To have God, you see, does not mean to lay hands upon him, or put him into a purse, or shut him up in a chest.

“We lay hold of him when our heart embraces him and clings to him.

“To cling to him with all our heart is nothing else than to entrust ourselves to him completely. He wishes to turn us away from everything else, and draw us to himself, because he is the one eternal good. It is as if he said: “What you formerly sought from the saints, or what you hoped to receive from mammon or anything else, turn to me for all this; look upon me as the one who wishes to help you and to lavish all good upon you richly.” (LC, 1st Commandment ¶13-15)

Lastly, Luther states,

“Behold, here you have the true honor and the true worship which please God and which he commands under penalty of eternal wrath, namely, that the heart should know no other consolation or confidence than that in him, nor let itself be torn from him, but for him should risk and disregard everything else on earth.

“On the other hand, you can easily judge how the world practices nothing but false worship and idolatry. There has never been a people so wicked that it did not establish and maintain some sort of worship. Everyone has set up a god of his own, to which he looked for blessings, help, and comfort.” (LC, 1st Commandment ¶16-17)

Our hope, our confidence, our hope—is not in God as it should be.

The responses to our worldly circumstances show where our trust and confidence is or is not.

Yet, to the sinner, God gives forgiveness (Acts 13:38).

To the fearful, God gives courage (John 14:1, 27; Ephesians 6:10; 2 Timothy 1:7).

To the doubting, God gives faith (John 14:1;2 Corinthians 5:7).

To the uncertain, God gives confidence (Psalm 118:8; 1 John 3:20-21).

To the anxious, God gives peace (John 14:27; Philippians 4:6ff).

To the weak and the weary, God gives Rest (Matthew 11:28).

To the speechless, God gives voice (Psalm 51:15; Ezekiel 33:22; Matthew 12:22; 15:30-31; Mark 7:37).

God gives His Word that we believe, and places that Word on our tongue to say what He Himself makes known.

Confession of sin is acknowledging what God says of our fallen condition, what God says of us in our fallen condition.

We are sinners, sinners in the state of death and dying, hopeless of ourselves before Him.

“To God’s mercy we cling.  Our sins before Him we bring.”

God is right and true in His judgments.

We are not blameless before Him.

Yet, He does not forsake us.

This, too, we confess, agree with, same say, and acknowledge: God is God, the gracious, merciful God, who out of love for sinners, out of love for you, individually and collectively, sent His Son Jesus to be your Savior from sin, death, and hell.

Even as confess God to be true according to His Word in condemning sin, our sin, all of it, so we also confess to be true God’s mercy and forgiveness because of Jesus the Christ.

“God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21 NKJ).

Instead of you suffering the eternal consequences for your sin, Jesus suffered all in your stead on the blessed cross.

Whatever you face today or in days to come in no way and in no sense compares to what the Lord Jesus has delivered you from—to the where of your promised inheritance in Him.

This, too, we confess before Him and before one another.

We acknowledge our sins before God, all of them, even those we don’t know, for against Him have we sinned, as well as against our neighbor, from whom we also ask forgiveness.

We also and especially believe God’s promise in Christ, “Your sin is forgiven.”

The Word of absolution, also spoken by the pastor, is full of import.

That Word delivers to you the very Word of God spoken.

Not only are these words for you publicly, corporately, on Sunday morning–they are also for you privately, too.

Before the pastor you may confess sins for which you are troubled.

We call this private confession, private absolution.

This is different from the Roman Catholic churches, where one is told to do in order to be forgiven, or because of obligations’ sake.

For the Christian, the main thing in the confession of sin privately to the pastor—or corporately as in the Divine Service—is not your part.

It is the absolution, “For you is the forgiveness of sins.”

These words mean something.

They are life.  They are salvation.  They are reason for joy.  They are reason to rejoice.

Thus, do we also confess,

“I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself” (SC, Confession, Office of the Keys, What do you believe according to these words).

The church is just about doing this: proclaiming God’s forgiveness of sins in and through Christ.

This continues to be her message and it is in this that she remains faithful—confessing, same saying, agreeing with, acknowledging to be true—what God says. Amen.

 

PrayingHands&Cross1Almighty, everlasting God, for my many sins I justly deserve eternal condemnation. In Your mercy You sent Your dear Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, who won for me forgiveness of sins and everlasting salvation. Grant me a true confession that, dead to sin, I may be raised up by Your life-giving absolution. Grant me Your Holy Spirit that I may be ever watchful and live a true and godly life in Your service; through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen. (Lutheran Service Book, inside front cover, Before confession and absolution).

 

Audio of the sermon here on podcast.

 

 

Luther–Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague

 

In the following letter, here are a few areas Luther addresses:

  • Christians will not all respond in the same manner
  • Vocation and office
  • Prayer
  • Loving neighbor, Caring for the Sick
  • Denouncing the devil
  • Use of God-given reason
  • Hearing God’s Word, Receiving the Sacrament, Confessing one’s sins
  • Contact the pastor for pastoral care

“We here give you our opinion as far as God grants us to understand and perceive. This we would humbly submit to your judgment and to that of all devout Christians for them, as is proper, to come to their own decision and conclusion. Since the rumor of death is to be heard in these and many other parts also, we have permitted these instructions of ours to be printed because others might also want to make use of them…” (Luther)

 

Luther-Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasO God, You desire not the death of sinners, but rather that we turn from our wickedness and live. Graciously behold Your people who plead to You and spare us. Withdraw the scourge of Your wrath and be moved in mercy to turn away this pestilence from us; for the sake of Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. (LCMS, In Time of Pestilence)

 

 

 

“Worship in Spirit and in Truth,” John 4:5-30, 39-42

 

5[Jesus] came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

      7There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jesus & Samaritan Woman at well 2Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

      16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

      27Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30They went out of the town and were coming to him. . .

      39Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

It is truly extraordinary that our God came in the likeness of sinful man.

He became flesh and blood to take your place under the law in order to redeem you from the curse of the law (Galatians 4:5).

You don’t ascend to Him.

He comes to you.

He comes to you in such a way that you can even approach Him.

It was this way for the woman in our text.

At first, she didn’t recognize the identity of our Lord.

She didn’t recognize Him because He didn’t look like anything spectacular.

He looked like a Jewish man of that time, because that’s what He was.

Jesus is also God, but not God revealed in His glory-God concealed in humanity.

You couldn’t tell that Jesus was God just by looking at Him, even as you can’t tell that Jesus is here present, but by His Word.

The woman thought Jesus was just like any other Jew.

Jesus was indeed a man, with all the physical needs that are also our own.

We need to eat.  We need to drink.  We need sleep.

Jesus too experienced these bodily necessities.  “He humbled Himself…taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7).

He “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus asked the woman for water with the intention of directing her to things eternal, not only to things temporal.

As He spoke to her about “living water,” she didn’t get it.

Like with Nicodemus before (John 3), He had told her earthly things, and because she didn’t get those things, she wouldn’t understand as He told her spiritual things.

She continued seeking earthly kinds of things and not the heavenly, even though Jesus sought to draw her attention to matters of eternal significance and away from things temporal.

Jesus is this way with us, too.

We are yet in the flesh.

How often we set our minds on things of the earth and neglect the heavenly things promised in Christ! (Colossians 3:1-2)

We fret and worry about life’s circumstances.

We not only fail to see God’s Word and promises right before our eyes.  We demonstrate lack of confidence and faith in what our Lord has said, even seeking comfort and help from that which is not of God.

We feel sad, get frustrated, and become depressed because things aren’t going our way or because things are just so hard.

We doubt the very promises of our Lord.

We are tempted to think that God doesn’t care.

We fail to see the blessings of our Lord in the midst of difficult times.

We are distracted by the here and now and we miss the big picture, the big picture of the eternal, that which is, and will be, according to what God says, and that which is our sure hope in Jesus.

Like the woman at the well who heard of living water and sought after only earthly water, we hear about prosperity and blessing and temporary fulfillment.

We might think that God promises earthly wealth and a worldly kind of happiness.

We hear the words of peace and we might think that God promises an earthly utopia.

We hear the words of forgiveness and we might think that God is okay with sin and that sin is really no big deal.

Truly this is how some even perceive the Christian faith, that it has more to do with earthly kind of things than even of heaven itself.

A worldly kind of gospel finds a great following among many today, but it is a gospel that has little to do with the Jesus of the Bible and more to do with feeding the dream of success, earthly contentment, worldly peace, and self-satisfaction.

THE Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ has to do with eternity.

It has to do with contentment in Christ, not in what one does or doesn’t have in the world.

It has to do with how you now stand before God because of Jesus—truly forgiven, your sins not being added to your account, not because your sins are in any way minimized, but because Jesus paid the full price, purchasing you with His own blood (Acts 20:28).

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ has to do with the message of eternal life, not earthly wealth, earthly gain, success, popularity, or acceptance.

The things of the world are passing away, the Bible says, but the Word of the Lord endures forever (1 Peter 1:25).

The circumstances, conditions, and emotions of our lives constantly change, up the one moment and down the next.

We experience uncertainty.

But “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

We know God’s disposition towards us from day to day because of Him: for good, and not for evil; for salvation, not for condemnation; for help, not for destruction.

“Salvation is,” as our Lord says, “from the Jews.”

Jesus Himself was a Jew, born of Mary, the very seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matthew 1:2).

Herein is your hope.

You don’t climb a mountain or go to Jerusalem to worship.  Nor do you not know Who you worship.

You do.

You do know who you worship because of Him who reveals Himself to you in the Word as the Christ.

This One reveals to you that He is the Son of the heavenly Father, whose Father is now also your Father.

When Jesus says as He does in our text, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth,” Jesus is NOT saying that you worship our Lord however you want.

Worship in spirit and truth does not mean that.

Spirit and truth kind of worship is that kind of worship that is according to God’s Word and Will.

That kind of worship which is according to God’s Word and Will is that kind of worship which has Christ Jesus as the center.

At one point in Jesus’ ministry, he had said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

It is not the one who only thinks that He is worshiping God who truly is, but the one who actually is worshiping God as God wills Himself to be worshiped, that is, through His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Bible doesn’t talk about a generic god.

Nor does it talk about a god that contradicts himself or allows inconsistencies to abound.

Any and all who say that all religions worship the same God don’t worship the true God, for the true God they do not know.

Any and all who say that Jews and Muslims worship the true God don’t know the true God, for the true God is He who does not give His glory to another (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11).

The true God reveals Himself as Triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; not three gods, but one God; three persons, yet one God.

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is indeed a mystery—a mystery that you believe just the same.

You are happy and bold to confess the Trinity.

Also are you glad and bold to confess God’s Son, Jesus.

“Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?  Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22, 23).

“If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son.   He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son.   And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.   He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:9-12).

We worship the Lord God in Christ Jesus.

We confess Christ, seek forgiveness of sins from Him, and seek everlasting life from Him.

Because we believe Christ to be the only begotten Son of God, who gives true and living water unto eternal life, we also gather here in this place.

We know that Jesus is here.

God promises that here, Jesus speaks, according to His Holy Word.

Means of Grace-window-round1Here, Jesus gives His own body and blood to eat and to drink, not to condemn, but to forgive and strengthen faith.

Here, Jesus absolves you of your sin and cleanses you from all unrighteousness.

Worship in spirit and in truth is not about you doing for God.

Worship in spirit and truth is seeking from God mercy and forgiveness, life and salvation—through His Son.

Worship in spirit and in truth is looking to Jesus.

It is believing Jesus and trusting His Word and promise.

From this, all else follows.  Amen.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasFather, forgive me for worshiping You my own way.  Grant me to worship in spirit and truth, according to Your Holy Word and Holy will, trusting Your Word, believing Your promises, confessing Your Name, and so living. Amen.

 

“God So Loved the World,” John 3:1-17

1There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, JesusOnCrossOverWorldunless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

      9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

      16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (ESV)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Perhaps the most “well-known” words of today’s Gospel reading are those of v16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Rightly so.

But such words, as truly expressive as they are of God’s love in Christ, can be easily misunderstood and misapplied, as if to suggest that man has to do something to keep from perishing, to suggest that man has to believe, and that such believing is within his own power to do so, or else he does not have eternal life.

Other errors applied to this text, though apart from the words of the text, include the idea that believing is only the beginning part or that faith in Christ alone is insufficient for salvation.  Something else is still needed other than simple faith. Something remains dependent upon us—what we do, how we live, for eternal life to be and remain ours.

As an example of this are the words of this “testimony” found in a Thrivent magazine article, without qualification and without correction:

“Even though I had been a Christian for many years, it was on a mission trip…that a friend reminded me that if I was a believer but didn’t include ‘service’ in that belief system, I wasn’t really living the way God wanted me to!…I know that simply believing in God isn’t enough.  We must be His servants…” (Thrivent, March 2017, p3).

Within Christianity, these and similar words are accepted as true, the idea that “believing” is not enough.

But “enough” for what?

That service to others is necessary, we wholeheartedly agree, as does Holy Scripture.

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus says (Matthew 19:19||Leviticus 19:18).

St. Paul the apostle writes, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10, NKJ).

Service to neighbor, however, is not the main thing of the Christian faith and life, though it is not excluded from the life of the Christian.

Our Lord directs our attention to His Word, in which He says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, NKJ).

If you want to do what God says, hear and believe Word.

But if such belief is in a god, generically, and not in God’s Son, Jesus, who died on the cross, that faith is not at all sufficient, because such a faith is a false faith and not at all that which saves.

If belief in God is such a faith that looks to something other than God’s mercy in Christ alone for help and salvation, even to one’s own service as completing faith, then, again, that faith is not godly faith through which is eternal life.

The faith that saves is that faith which does not at all believe in self or any other, but rests all hope in Jesus alone for forgiveness and only upon God’s mercy.

It is not our service to others that completes faith by which we are then saved, nor is it our love that makes faith sufficient for salvation.

It is God’s love in Christ alone by which you have your sins forgiven, God’s mercy, and heaven itself as your promised inheritance.

Only in God sending His Son and the Son being sent and lifted on the tree of death in crucifixion is your salvation.

God did, and does, so love the world.

God’s love is unconditional.

God’s love is not conditioned by the response to that love with which God so loves the world.

God’s love is not only for the believer and those who will believe.

For the worst of sinners and for the ungodly did God send His Son into the world.

“When we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6 NKJ).

“To him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5 NKJ).

God’s love extends to all people, none excluded.

Such words, however, don’t make sense to sinful reason. They seem utter nonsense.

Who would give something for nothing in return?

Who would freely give a gift to someone only to have it rejected?

God’s kind of love for us sinners cannot be understood by sinful man.

“O love, how deep, how broad, how high, Beyond all thought and fantasy,

 That God, the Son of God, should take – Our mortal form for mortals’ sake.”

“For us by wickedness betrayed, For us, in crown of thorns arrayed,

He bore the shameful cross and death; For us He gave His dying breath.”

(LSB 544 “O Love, How Deep,” v1)

What is sin before God is not only that which others can see.

Sin before God includes also what others cannot see.

Sin before God includes not only the “big” sins, as we define them, but the “little” sins, too, those sins which perhaps we have little concern about, yet are still condemned by God, regardless of how we think of them.

Sin includes not only that which is known, but also that which remains hidden, even to ourselves.

Sin is not only an action.  It is a condition, which all people since the Fall have inherited.

God shows no partiality (i.e. Acts 10:34).

Before God, one sinner is just as guilty as the next.

The sin might look bigger when compared to another.

But before God, sin is sin. Even eating a forbidden fruit brings about eternal death, not because of the size of the violation (as we see it), but because of who the violation is against.

Adam and Eve were not cast out of Paradise for simply eating fruit.

They were cast out of Paradise for eating fruit that God had forbidden them to eat.

It was not the fruit that got them into trouble.

It was their disobedience God, their disbelief in His Word.

In addition to their being cast out, their disobedience, their unbelief, brought death and destruction into the world.

The consequences of their sin we, too, receive.

“Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12 NKJ).

“All mankind fell in Adam’s fall; One common sin infects us all.

From one to all the curse descends, And over all God’s wrath impends.

(LSB 562 “All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall, v1)

Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, and because of our own sin, we are all lumped together before God as sinners.

Some sins might be more obvious than others; other sins are more concealed and hidden (1 Timothy 5:24).

But for this world full of open and secret sinners, God sent His Son, because He so loved the world.

Because He so loved you!

What encouraging words these are!

You are in the world.

Therefore, has God sent His Son for you.

Because of Jesus, you know that the God who made heaven and earth loves you with an enduring love, an unconditional love, an everlasting love.

God’s love is yours, for Christ was lifted in death.

Your belief or unbelief cannot and does not change what Jesus has already done.

Christ already died and lives forevermore.

Lest there be those who hear this as license to sin, St. Paul writes, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”  “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2, NKJ)

Rather, it means all the more that you try to resist temptation, are earnest in prayer, and seek all the more to do what pleases the Lord.

For absolute confidence of God’s love, however, look only to Christ, who says, “Whoever believes—Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

It is not in or by your progress, or lack thereof, that is either your encouragement or reason to despair.

Only see Christ, for in Him is your true and only hope and certainty before God.

There are many who say that God is a “God of love,” for so He is (1 John 4:8, 16).

But many of these do not believe in Jesus Christ.

They believe God to be a god who allows everything and anything, a god who is open to all kinds of different lifestyles, a god who allows all kinds of sins to continue, a god who is  tolerant of the worst kinds of sins, a god who does not condemn sin, a god who simply looks the other way, a god who pats on the back and says, “keep trying” and “just do your best, for that is all that I expect” (as you determine what that “best” is and what that “trying” means).

Such a god is a god of one’s own making and not the God of the Bible.

The God of the Bible says “no” to sin and condemns it.

The God of the Bible does not tolerate godlessness.

Rather does He promise sure punishment upon all who do not turn from their sinful ways and seek mercy, the mercy that is found only in the One whom the Father sent.

God gives you to believe His Son, His Son who gave Himself freely in sacrifice for the debt of your sin, the punishment for which you are not able to pay but by eternal death.

Jesus has truly paid that debt, by means of His death on the cross.

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

Such is God’s love.

It is not by what you do or how good you are that have the certainty of God’s love for you in Christ.

True joy and peace does not come from you or from what you do, but from God, from God in and through Jesus Christ.

This Good News is not made known by the work of man.

It is not gotten to by man’s reason.

It is not rational according to human logic.

It is not deserved or merited.

The Good News of sins forgiven in Christ is the gift of God, revealed by Him through His Son.

By nature, we do not know this Good News of Jesus Christ.

We were born of the flesh, and being born of the flesh, we could not know, for “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14, NKJ).

But thanks be to God! “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).

In the waters of Holy Baptism, God birthed you anew in the spirit.  Now, you are born from above, born-again, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:13, NKJ).

“When the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:4-7, NKJ).

You are heirs of the kingdom—through faith in God’s Son.

You believe this, not because of you or because of your own choice, decision, or work, but because such faith is from the very God who gives it.

“Flesh and blood” neither reveal the wonderful works of God, nor the Savior (Matthew 16:17; 1 Corinthians 15:50).

It is the Giver, the “Father…who is in heaven,” that does (Matthew 16:17). Amen.

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasHeavenly Father, because You so loved the world, because You so loved me, You sent Your 0nly-Begotten Son to die my death and to be my Savior. Give me faith to believe, for I am not able to believe without You creating the faith within me and sustaining that faith so given that I remain Yours. Amen.

 

 

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 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.

 

 

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