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“Eyes Opened,” John 9:1-41

 

John 9:1-41

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Jesus-healing manIn today’s text from the ninth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, there was a man born blind to whom our Lord Jesus gave sight.

There was a common belief, then, as now, that if one was born blind, lame, deaf, mute, with a birth defect, or had another noticeable mark, there was a reason for it.

That reason was either that one or both of parents had sinned, or that somehow the child born with the condition had done something to deserve such a condition.

When the disciples of our Lord asked Jesus who had sinned, the blind man or his parents, that he was born blind, they assumed that the blindness was some kind of punishment.

It is true in general that we receive the consequences for the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden and for our own sin, including sickness, pandemics, and death.

Also, for the things that we do or don’t do in caring for the bod, there can be consequences.

But to say that a sin committed by the parents or a sin committed by the son resulted in the punishment of blindness is something that we cannot say.

To the disciples who had asked the question, Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3).

Jesus didn’t mean by this that neither the man who was born blind nor his parents were sinless.

What Jesus meant was that the blindness was not a punishment for a specific sin, the very thing that the disciples were thinking.

The man’s blindness, Jesus says, was not because he or his parents committed anything to bring it about, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.

And revealed in him they indeed were.

Jesus healed the man of His blindness.

But even more than that, the Lord Jesus opened the man’s eyes to see Him for who He really was, the Son of Man, God’s Son and Savior of the world.

First, Jesus worked the work of God in giving the blind man the ability to physically see, then He worked the work of God in giving the blind man the “eyes” of faith to believe in Jesus.

Jesus had done, and does similarly, for you.

The works of God are revealed today in you.

You still bear the effects and consequences of sin in your bodies and in the world.

This we can see clearly today, also as we see the spread of that for which we have little control.

It is only by God’s abounding grace that the Lord continues to provide for all our bodily needs, even through medical advances, doctors, nurses, hospitals, medications, treatments, and vaccines, as He wills.

Of greater value than these things, your Lord gives you the gift of sight that you see His promises.

Our Lord, by means of His Word, works the miracle of faith in your hearts by which He gives you faith to believe Jesus to be your Savior, your Savior from that same sin which brings forth physical, spiritual, and eternal death, your Savior from that same sin which Adam and Eve brought into the world.

Because Jesus died on the cross and was raised on the third day, you have no need to fear physical death.

You have no need to fear physical death because you know, on account of Christ’s resurrection, that you too will not remain in the grave.

Jesus Himself said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

He also said, “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25).

Because it is Jesus who said these words, you have no reason to doubt them.

You have no reason to doubt them because Jesus is who He claimed to be.

Jesus is He through whom you have the precious forgiveness of sins; He through whom you have no need to fear eternal death.

The things of this life are only temporary.  And though they certainly are real, they will not last.  Nor do they define who you are as baptized children of God.  God does.

By His Word, our Lord gives you faith to continue believing what He says to be so, that you not think of yourselves higher than you ought to think, but that you humbly look to Him for help and hope (Romans 12:3).

In Him is where you find such things, for such is His promise, now, and when He returns.

All that you rightfully deserved because of your sin Christ Jesus suffered and bore on the cross.

St. Paul says it this way, that “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Romans 5:19). There too does he also say that “Through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation” (Romans 5:18).

As that man born blind from birth could not bring about his own sight, so you too are helpless in your own condition to get yourselves out of it.

The Bible says that “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 Corinthians 2:14).

By nature, our fallen condition, we don’t believe in the Lord Jesus because we are spiritually dead.

Unless God breathes into us the breath of life, His Spirit, in our sin we will remain.

Natural man can give himself life as much as a baby in or outside of the womb can give itself life.

The baby doesn’t give itself life.  Its mother does.

Natural man doesn’t give himself life.  God does.

So also, with the new birth of water and word in Holy Baptism.

One doesn’t choose or decide to be born again.  It is a gift of God.

Because of this new life given to us, we desire this new life to also be given to others.

We thus desire to speak the truth in love and pray our Lord to give boldness that we not compromise our witness by what we say or don’t say or do or don’t do.

We pray that we not be ashamed of our Lord, even as that man born blind in our text who was given to see did not back down when questioned about how he came to see.

He stood his ground and gave testimony to what had happened to him and how Jesus had healed him.

How much greater it is that Jesus brought that same man to faith!

Not only did Jesus give him the sight to see worldly things.  Jesus gave Him eternal life, and the faith to believe it.

So, to you, too, does our Lord reveal your salvation.

On you, God shows mercy.

“Through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life” (Romans 5:18).

 “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8).

Through the preaching of this Good News, God gives faith.

God gives faith to take hold of what God has done for you, that you know and believe that what Jesus has done He has done for you.

God gives faith that you know and believe that what Jesus still does He does for you.

God gives faith that you continue to have life in His Name, that you see His goodness to you, and rejoice, give thanks, and follow Him, praising is Name.

God gives faith that your eyes be opened to His mercy and His grace, given and declared to you in Jesus, now and always.  Amen.

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasHeavenly Father, give me eyes to believe Your Son, always, and to confess Him alone to be my Savior. Amen.

 

 

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)

 

 

 

“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.

 

 

“Temptation,” Matthew 4:1-11

1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  2And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  JesusTempted74But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

5Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”  7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  9And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  10Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan!  For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”  11Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.  (Matthew 4:1-11, ESV)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

St. James, in his epistle, writes, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12)

The life of the Christian is a life lived under the cross, under the cross in faith to Christ, under the cross bearing what we are given to bear as Christians, as God’s people who are baptized into God’s Holy Name, as God’s people who look to Christ’s Second Coming and our eternal home.

While here on earth, we are on a pilgrimage, our final resting place being that of heaven, the place which awaits all who endure to the end in the true faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The faith of which we speak is not a blind faith or a faith which simply says that things will get better.

The Christian faith is not faith which looks for peace on earth or hopes to change the world.

Neither is the Christian faith a faith which seeks to escape all kinds of sufferings in the world.

The Christian faith is that faith which places trust in the Lord Jesus alone for help and salvation.

God does not promise that the world will get better.

Nor does He promise that the struggles and the challenges we face as Christians will lessen or lighten.

In truth, as the day of our Lord’s return draws closer, our Lord says, “In latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).

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

In certainty does our Lord Jesus say to his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation.” But He also continues, “But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Like unto His disciples, the Lord draws attention, not to ourselves or to our own strengths, but to Him, to Him who has overcome the world, to Him who has overcome death by His death and who by that same death destroyed Him who had the power of death, that is, the devil (Hebrews 2:14).

True faith looks to Christ for help and aid.

In the Jesus who overcame the world, so you also overcome the world, as St. John writes in his first epistle, “Whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith” (1 John 5:4).

Through the waters of Holy Baptism, you were born of God, even as John writes in his Gospel concerning Jesus Christ, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

As children of the Almighty God, baptized into Christ, you have His promise of faithfulness.

Living by faith in Christ Jesus, you know and believe that where there is sin, there is also forgiveness.

Where there is struggle, there is also God’s Word and promise.

Where there is temptation, there is also the Lord providing help.

We pray to our heavenly Father in the 6th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation,” and in the 7th, “But deliver us from evil.”

Help our Lord does indeed provide.

But our Lord does not always take the temptation away.

Instead, He draws you to Himself, that you call upon Him in prayer and trust in His Word.

God’s grace is sufficient for you that you endure that which is called temptation.

By temptation is meant that which would lead to sin, that which would lead away from God and His Word, that which would lead to forsake Christ.

Temptations to sin abounds, as you yourselves know from experience.

Not a day goes by that you don’t encounter the temptation to break the Commandments of God, to doubt the Lord’s faithfulness to His Word, to place confidence in self and not in Christ.

So easily we get distracted from the One thing needful—Christ!

Jesus Himself says, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

Temptations often come when and where we least expect them and even where we might think that we are the strongest.

And even should God seem far away or doesn’t seem to be paying attention, God’s Word still stands—His Word that He does not deny, retract, or forget.

He says, “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (Jeremiah 31:4).

He says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Again, He says, “‘For a mere moment I have forsaken you, But with great mercies I will gather you. With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,’ Says the LORD, your Redeemer” (Isaiah 54:7-8).

The Psalmist says, “His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

By yourself, enduring temptation and lasting at all to the end would certainly be impossible.

But you are not alone.

Given in Hebrews chapter 2 are these words:

“Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:14-18 NKJ).

And in chapter 4:

“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:14-15 NKJ).

Christ has indeed overcome death, the grave, and Satan and His wiles, even by His own death.

Also, Christ Jesus has indeed endured temptation—for you.

Three times, Saints Mathew and Luke tell us, Jesus was tempted by the devil, immediately after His baptism.

With every temptation, Jesus wielded the sword of the Spirit.

Through the Word of the living God, through His Word, He remained steadfast, faithful, and true.

When tempted to turn stone into bread, quoting from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, Jesus said, “It is written, Man shall not live be bread alone” (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4—Deuteronomy 8:3).

When tempted to listen to Satan, who twisted Scripture to make it say what he wanted it to say, Jesus answered, “Again, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7; Luke 4:12—Deuteronomy 6:16).

When tempted to worship the devil, Jesus answered, “It is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (Luke 4:8; Matthew 4:10—Deuteronomy 6:13).

Jesus is THE example for overcoming temptation, and for using Scriptural rightly against the attacks of Satan.

But Jesus is more than example.

If Jesus is only an example, He’s still not your Savior.

The Christian faith is not about what Jesus would do.

The Christian faith is not about doing what Jesus did.

The Christian faith is about believing Jesus according to His Word, believing what He has done—for you.

He is your Savior and your Deliverer.

Jesus was tempted in every way as you are, the Bible says, but without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

He overcame temptation, sin, and death, overcoming what you could not, for He is your salvation.

Though it is true that you can’t avoid temptation, temptation doesn’t have the last word.

Our Lord says in 1 Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Though you do and will face temptations for as long as you live because you bear Christ’s Name as a Christian, this doesn’t mean that something is wrong with you or that you’re somehow not of God, or that you’re a bad Christian.

These struggles mean that you still live in the world and wrestle with your sin, the world, and the devil, just as all of God’s people have and continue to do as they continue to breath on this earth.

Such struggles also may mean that you are more aware of your condition as a sinner and your greater need for God’s help.

Dr. Luther takes note of this in The Large Catechism where he writes:

107 To feel temptation is quite a different thing from consenting and yielding to it. We must all feel it, though not all to the same degree; some have more frequent and severe temptations than others. Youths, for example, are tempted chiefly by the flesh; older people are tempted by the world. Others, who are concerned with spiritual matters (that is, strong Christians) are tempted by the devil. 108 But we cannot be harmed by the mere feeling of temptation as long as it is contrary to our will and we would prefer to be rid of it. If we did not feel it, it could not be called a temptation. But to consent to it is to give it free rein and neither resist it nor pray for help against it. (Luther’s Large Catechism, 6th Petition, Lead us not into temptation)

When temptations do come, and they will, do not think that God has left you.

God is faithful, faithful to His Word, and faithful to help.

Remember Jesus, your Help and Your salvation. So He is. So, He will. Amen.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasHeavenly Father, forgive me  for giving into temptation.  Help me to resist the temptation to sin against you and to disbelieve your Word. Make me confidently yours in Christ Jesus, who was tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), that I be found in Him alone and so endure what befalls me, for Jesus’ sake. 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.

 

 

“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.

 

 

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