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“Surety in Christ according to His Word”

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?  For what can a man give in return for his life?  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

bible-cross1It is not of the Gospel to be unsure or uncertain of God’s grace and favor in Jesus Christ.  The grace of God in Christ, without a doubt, is of faith, according to the Lord’s Word.  In this, such faith is sure and will die a thousand deaths.

In a 1992 interview of Diane Sawyer with Billy Graham, speaking about his death, Graham had commented, “I don’t want them (people) to say big things about me because I don’t deserve them.”

He’s right, and such humility is encouraging, and true.

Graham continued and said, “I want to hear one person say something nice about me, and that’s the Lord. When I face Him, I want Him to say to me, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’”

These latter words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” are words from Holy Scripture (Matthew 25:21, 23; Luke 19:17), and in Christ, because of Christ, the Christian has the certainty that these words will certainly be said of him.

Yet, keeping this in mind, Graham continued by saying, “But I’m not sure I’m going to hear it, but that’s what I would like to hear.”(http://newsvideo.su/video/8349827)

I pray that his answer had changed since that 1992 interview.

Graham’s statement, “I’m not sure I’m going to hear” those words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” convey, not sure faith in the Lord’s promiseGraham,  Billy.jpgs, but rather, wavering confidence and doubt, which is not of faith.

 

Certainty of faith does not come from what “we” think or what we “want,” but alone from God’s grace in Christ according to God’s revealed Word.  By this, Christians know God’s love in Christ, are sure of heaven, and are certain of God’s favor.

In the Formula of Concord, it is stated, “6. We believe, teach, and confess that many weaknesses and defects cling to the true believers and truly regenerate, even up to the day they are buried [1 John 1:8]. Still, they must not on that account doubt either their righteousness, which has been credited to them through faith, or the salvation of their souls. They must regard it as certain that for Christ’s sake, according to the promise and ‹immovable› Word of the Holy Gospel, they have a gracious God. (McCain, The Lutheran Confessions, Formula of Concord, Epitome, III. The Righteousness of Faith, 481).

Why had Graham voiced uncertainty with regard to what God would say of him in that interview when such a promise of God is made in Christ?

Graham seemed to be sure of being unsure.

A theology like this centers on something other than Christ and His Word, despite their uses and references.  Because of this, the conclusion is not the hope that the Bible gives, but whatever the person engenders, which can and will not be assertive before God of God’s undeserved forgiveness and His unmerited kindness.

Yet, God gives certainty.  This is the fruit of God-given faith.

It is therefore necessary to make distinctions between that which is, and that which is not, of God.

Not all get Jesus right and have full confidence in Him, because not all abide by the Word alone concerning Christ the Savior and His salvation.

When Peter said of Jesus, “You are the Christ,” he was of course stating the truth, the truth that he hadn’t come up with himself, but the truth that had been revealed to Him by the heavenly Father.  Not one of disciples could come to this confession of the Christ on his own.  And no one can come to faith in Christ on his own.

It is for this reason that Jesus had said in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).

Flesh and blood cannot make out who Jesus is on its own, 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 Corinthians 2:14).

Man, by himself, cannot know God as He is.  He knows that there is a God, but he does not know, nor can he know, who that God is unless God reveal Himself.

This is why St. Paul can say in another place that “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

It was by means of Jesus’ Word that Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ, because the Word of Jesus is the Word of the Father in Heaven.  To hear Jesus is to hear the Father.

To dismiss Jesus’ Word is to reject God’s Word.

To want a Christ apart from the Word is to have a different Jesus.  That’s where Peter went wrong in our text.

Peter wanted a Savior who wouldn’t suffer, who wouldn’t be rejected, who wouldn’t be killed.

Apart from God’s revelation, we, like Peter, want our own kind of god and savior.

first-commandmentApart from the Bible, man makes his own god.  As a result, he makes his own Jesus, not one who suffers and dies, but one who abides by the will of sinful man and follows the dictates of own heart.

The Jesus of one’s own making does not save.  He is an extension of man’s own wickedness.

The Jesus of Scripture is not this way.  The Jesus of the Bible is not He who would be rebuked by Peter for telling the truth.  The Jesus of the Bible is He who would rebuke Peter and who rebukes all who would have their own Jesus and their own god and not the one of the Bible.

There is no other Jesus than the one who was bloodied by the scourging, who wore the crown of thorns, who suffered miserably, and who died so ingloriously.

There is no other Jesus who conquered sin and death by means of His own death.  There is no other Jesus who humbled Himself as man in flesh and blood, though He Himself is One with Father (Philippians 2:8; John 10:30).

There is no other Jesus than He who was sent of God, who was rejected by men and still is rejected by men who don’t want to hear, because they refuse to believe what He says that they may have life and peace with God.

Just as there is no other Jesus than He who gave Himself for you and even He who gives Himself to you by means of His Word and body and blood in the Lord’s Supper for thejesuswomen4 forgiveness of your sins, so there is no other life of the Christian than coming after Jesus, denying self, taking up the cross, and following Him.

All who would go their own way bear the name of Christian in name only.

This is the easier way, for “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14 NKJ).

The way of the Christian is different.

With Paul, the Christian also confesses, “What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:7-10).

The way of the Christian is the life of the cross.  It is the way of death, not only of Christ’s death, but of one’s own—dying to sin, crucifying the sinful flesh and desires and lusts which war against the soul, and seeking help and salvation in Christ alone, casting aside lady reason and man pride; having nothing to give but only everything to be given on account of the real Jesus who suffered and died; the real Jesus then, and the real Jesus now, whose Gospel word is life, lasting life.  Amen.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, aid me in putting to death my sinful flesh, denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Jesus according to His Word. Amen.

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Hope in Temptation

“He (Jesus) was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan”

(Mark 1:13)

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Words from Luther on temptation…

107] To feel temptation is therefore a far different thing from consenting or yielding to it. luther1We must all feel it, although not all in the same manner, but some in a greater degree and more severely than others; as, the young suffer especially from the flesh, afterwards, they that attain to middle life and old age, from the world, but others who are occupied with spiritual matters, that is, strong Christians, from the devil. 108] But such feeling, as long as it is against our will and we would rather be rid of it, can harm no one. For if we did not feel it, it could not be called a temptation. But to consent thereto is when we give it the reins and do not resist or pray against it. ” (Large Catechism, 6th Petition, 107-108)

Temptations are out there and they are bound to come, but this doesn’t mean you have to give in to them.

Yet, though the spirit be willing, the flesh is weak (Mark 14:38).

With the apostle Paul, we too say, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me fromdavid-repents this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).  On your own, you do fail.  And on your own, should you pass the test, you are then tempted to think highly of yourself.

Humility flies out the window, save for the means God uses to once again humble you that you look to Him and boast in Him and not in your own accomplishments and victories.

There is but one hope for sinners who are swayed by temptation and seduced to give in due to the weakness of the flesh.  It is Jesus.  His being tempted in the wilderness gives confidence – not because He is your example, though He is, but more than that – because He is your Savior.

Jesus is Your Savior, who conquered Satan by means of His own death on the cross.  In times of temptation, and at all times, look to Him.  Trust and use His Word and promise, for thjesus-with-word-and-sacramentey are yours, and they are not without power against the attacks of the evil one.

Commend yourselves into the Lord’s hands and keeping.  Entrust yourself to the Lord Jesus, for in Him, God does and God will, deliver you.  He doesn’t lead you into temptation, but He does lead you to Himself, your true and lasting refuge. Amen.

Prayer: Father, lead me not into temptation.  Help me to resist, not by my own strength, but alone in the strength You give me in my weakness. Amen.

“Many Called, Few Chosen”

1Again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 2“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 3and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’ 5But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 7The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

      11“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1-14)

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Cross-ringsThe joining together of one man and one woman in holy matrimony and the accompanying festivities are a fitting picture of Christ the bridegroom uniting with His holy Bride, the Church, on the last day.  That the groom wear black and the bride wear white on their wedding day is a fitting depiction of Christ and His Church, fitting because Christ takes upon Himself our sins and gives us His righteousness.  He becomes our sin, symbolized by the black, and we, the church, are declared holy, symbolized by the white.

St. Paul describes the relationship between husband and wife a similar way.  In His letter to the Ephesians he writes, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27).

The Church does not sanctify or clean herself, nor is she sanctified or cleaned of herself.  She is sanctified and cleansed by another, by her betrothed.  Thus does she not have spot or wrinkle, but is holy and without blemish on account of the bridegroom, Christ Jesus.

This is what Christ does for you.  Joined together with him through faith, He sanctifies and cleanses you of your sin.  You still struggle and bear your burdens while in the flesh, but before God, you are holy and without blemish.  He does not your sins count against you.  Though you see the dirt, the shortcomings, the failings, the spots, and the blemishes, God does not.  His love for you is greater than your sin.  His compassion for you is more abundant than your iniquity.  His mercy far exceeds your transgression.

Christ calls you His beloved.  As He chose Israel, not “because they were more in number than any other people, for they were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loved them, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to their fathers,” so God calls you His very own people, that you know the Lord God to be also your God, the faithful God who keeps His Word and fulfills His promises (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).

“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).

Through the prophet Hosea, God declares to His people Israel, “I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me In righteousness and justice, In lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the LORD” (Hosea 2:19-20).

Though they were rebellious, God would take action.  Because of His love for His people, He would not leave them alone.  Though He would discipline them, such was His love for them, that they come to see Him as the God who forgives and bestows mercy.

That same love, forgiveness, and mercy your Lord gives to you.  God does not leWord-Baptism-Communionave you alone.  You He will not abandon.  He gives You His Word, that you be certain that He is with you, even present with you in His Word and in His sacrament.   By these does our Lord assure you of His kindness and strengthen you in the true faith that you continue in Him.

He calls you, not because of what you might be able to do for Him, nor because of how good you are, but because He loves you and desires you to be His.  He baptized you with water and His Word, there washing away your sins and calling you His very own.

Therefore do we say with King Solomon, “I am my beloved’s, And my beloved is mine” (Song of Solomon 6:3).  I am Christ’s and He is mine.

“For to me live is Christ and if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Philippians 1:21; Romans 14:8).

He gives you every kind of confidence and assurance of His grace and favor for Christ’s sake.  These our Lord plentifully reveals through His Word.  These He abundantly provides, through His Holy Word of absolution and blessing, preaching and proclaiming.

It is just these things that the servants in our Gospel text were doing, preaching and proclaiming that the wedding feast for the king’s Son was all ready.  Everything was prepared.  All that was left was the arrival of the guests.  All was ready.  Preparations were complete.

The first group of servants went out to invite the welcomed guests.  They did just as they were given to do.  They were sent to call those who had been invited.  These received the announcement, but replied in the negative.  They would not come.  They were not willing to come (NKJ).

This group, and the next, those that refused the invitation and mistreated those whom the king had sent, refer specifically to the Jews, but also to all who continue to reject the Lord’s call and invitation.

The refusal to attend the wedding feast was a refusal of the king Himself.  But this was not the only thing that these refusers did.  Our text says that they not only ‘paid no attention and went off’, but others seized the king’s servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.  This is exactly what happened to the servants sent by God to His people Israel.

The rejection of the messenger is also the rejection of the One who sent Him.  One cannot say that they believe in the Sender and yet reject the one whom He sends.  The reception of the one is the reception of the other, and vice versa.

From this, it’s clear as to why the king in the parable acted the way He did.  His gracious invitation went out.  Everything was prepared and ready. He invited the guests, and what do the guests do?  They reject, harm, injure, and kill the servants that the king sent.

GodPulpit’s gracious invitation of forgiveness, life, and salvation continues to go forth today, just as it did when Jesus’ proclaimed the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven.

There remain those who continue to reject God’s grace and His Son today.  They refuse to believe.

But today is the day of salvation.  Today, Christ forgives you of all of your sins and calls you His own.  Today is the invitation to hear and keep hearing His Word, to take heart His goodness which is yours in Christ, and “to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

There is another table that is prepared, another feast that is offered: the foretaste of THE feast to come, Christ’s body and Christ’s blood, given and shed for you for the remission of your sins.  Through bread and the wine, God strengthens you in the faith, and preserves you steadfast in the true faith.

Do not despise or take for granted this gracious meal.  God calls you to receive it , not for your harm, but for your good.  Because He desires to give you eternal life, He also gives the Supper of our Lord, that you may know God to be a good and gracious God who does not forsake His people, but is really and truly with you throughout your days.

Through faith in Christ, believing the body and the blood of Christ to be truly present, you receive what He offers.  And confessing the faith of this altar, we together proclaim the death of Christ in the unity of faith before the world.

The third group of servants sent out by the king in St. Matthew’s parable were sent out, not to those who were originally invited, but to those who were on the main roads.  These are the Gentiles, and us.  God sent and sends His servants throughout the world, to call all people to believe in Christ as Savior of the world.

Because the Jews rejected, and still reject Christ, God has seen fit to go elsewhere, to those who will believe.

Where Christ’s Word is preached and rejected, that Word will move on, and those who continually reject it will themselves be rejected.

Those who refuse to hear God’s Word and call upon Him may eventually have what they JesusLamentsJerusalemwant–the Lord’s rejection of them.  This is the worst thing that can happen, that God take His Word away and leave you to yourself, in your own sin.

But because God is Love incarnate in Christ, He bears and is longsuffering.  He continues to send out the call to repent, that those who hear believe the Gospel.  He sends servant after servant after servant to preach His Word and faith, calling hearers to come to the wedding feast, that is, to believe in Christ and so be saved.  And all who hear the Lord’s blessed invitation and believe in Christ, receiving what God freely offers, these are given to wear the white robe of Christ’s righteousness.

You don’t go to heaven in your own attire.  You stand before God naked in your sin.  He sees all that you do.  He knows all that you think and all that you desire.  He hears all of your thoughts and all of your words, both good and ill.

But for Christ’s sake alone, God does not condemn.  The thoughts, desires, and actions of Jesus are righteous and holy thoughts, desires, and actions.  On account of Christ, God judges you, not as sinners, but as having no sin, not because you don’t have any, but because Christ didn’t.

At the wedding feast on the last day of Christ and His bride, the consummation of the ages, you will wear the clothes with which He clothes you.  Your clothes of sin and transgression are filthy and unclean.  His are pure and white as snow, without spot and without blemish.

Wearing your own clothes, that is, bringing your own righteousness and not believing Christ to be your perfection, your holiness, and your goodness, is to be bound hand and foot and to be cast into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This is another way of saying hell.  It does exist.  This is the destination of all who try to get to heaven by what they do or who they are, and all who try to be good and do better apart from believing in Christ as their only Savior.

You don’t save yourself.  It is another who saves you.  And in His salvation, there is no doubt or uncertainty of His goodness and kindness,  There is no questioning of your own worthiness, because your worthiness is not your own.  It is Christ who is your worthiness.  Because of Him, heaven is yours, and called to heaven you are.

Throw away the old clothes of your sin and your self-righteousness, that you be clothed with Christ’s righteousness.  Put on Christ, and “be found in Him, cross.gifnot having your own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:9).   Amen.

The Hope and the Comfort of the Resurrection

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

Dear Family, friends, and loved ones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus, Remember Me

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

First: Jesus’ words to the women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second, The Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third: Jesus’ Word to the Criminal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

2 Ibid., 395.

 

Saints of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 5:1-12, ESV

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

 

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

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

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

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

result of a specific petition to the candidate.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

all-saints-2

Hold Fast…

 

“Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 1:13, NKJ)

 

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

How easy it is to be distracted from the things of God to the things of men, to neglect the One thing needful, and to take for granted God’s grace and favor!

St. Paul, writing to Timothy, writes the words above (2 Timothy 1:13), because, as he indicates in v15, “all those in Asia have turned away from me.”  In other words, “those in Asia” ceased listening to Paul and stopped following the words that Paul preached.

Though many do the same thing concerning the very Word of our Lord, and though many view such diversion from the truth as of little significance, for the Christian, the Word of God has more than importance.  The Word of God is life (John 6:63, 68; 2 Timothy 3:15-17), and directs towards Christ Jesus.  The Law shows us our sin.  The Gospel shows us our Savior, Jesus Christ.   Only Christ saves from sin and hell.  The believer believes this, and desires, seeks, and strives to remain in this faith.

The text from this past Sunday speaks about the challenges of being a disciple of Jesus (Luke 14:25-35).  “Holding fast” is such a challenge, for we, of ourselves, are not strong enough to do so.  We are sinners.  But “holding fast the pattern of sound words” is continuing to believe in the Jesus who saves and not in our strength that falters.

God gives strength to remain “in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” by means of His Word and Sacraments.  God has not forsaken you.  Rather, He continues to call you, preaching His Word of forgiveness and salvation through the death of His Son.  So hear, and hold fast to, Christ, who holds you even more strongly (Philippians 3:12).

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, direct us ever to Your Holy Word which gives life, that we live and not doubt, nor reject Your forgiveness and mercy won for us on the cross.  Keep us fast to you, that we live confidently in and by Your grace alone.  Amen.

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