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The Visitation, Luke 1:39-56

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Luke 1:39-56

“Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? “For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. “Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” 46 And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.”

 

“And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Lk. 1:39)

Luther: God is not magnified by us so far as His nature is concerned—He is unchangeable—but He is magnified in our knowledge and experience when we greatly esteem Him and highly regard Him, especially as to His grace and goodness. Therefore the holy mother does not say: “My voice or my mouth, my hand or my thoughts, my reason or my will, magnifies the Lord.” For there are many who praise God with a loud voice, preach about Him with high-sounding words, speak much of Him, dispute and write about Him, and paint His image; whose thoughts dwell often upon Him and who reach out after Him and speculate about Him with their reason; there are also many who exalt Him with false devotion and a false will. But Mary says, “My soul magnifies Him”—that is, my whole life and being, mind and strength, esteem Him highly. She is caught up, as it were, into Him and feels herself lifted up into His good and gracious will, as the following verse shows. It is the same when anyone shows us a signal favor; our whole life seems to incline to him, and we say: “Ah, I esteem him highly”; that is to say, “My soul magnifies him.” How much more will such a lively inclination be awakened in us when we experience the favor of God, which is exceeding great in His works. All words and thoughts fail us, and our whole life and soul must be set in motion, as though all that lived within us wanted to break forth into praise and singing.

But here we find two kinds of false spirits that cannot sing the Magnificat aright. First, there are those who will not praise Him unless He does well to them; as David says (Ps. 49:18): “He will praise Thee when Thou shalt do well to him.” These seem indeed to be greatly praising God; but because they are unwilling to suffer oppression and to be in the depths, they can never experience the proper works of God, and therefore can never truly love or praise Him. The whole world nowadays is filled with praise and service to God, with singing and preaching, with organs and trumpets, and the Magnificat is magnificently sung; but it is regrettable that this precious canticle should be rendered by us so utterly without salt or savor. For we sing only when it fares well with us; as soon as it fares ill, we stop our singing and no longer esteem God highly, but suppose He can or will do nothing for us. Then the Magnificat also must languish.

The other sort are more dangerous still. They err on the opposite side. They magnify themselves by reason of the good gifts of God and do not ascribe them to His goodness alone. They themselves desire to bear a part in them; they want to be honored and set above other men on account of them. When they behold the good things that God has done for them, they fall upon them and appropriate them as their own; they regard themselves as better than others who have no such things. This is really a smooth and slippery position. The good gifts of God will naturally produce proud and self-complacent hearts. Therefore we must here give heed to Mary’s last word, which is “God.” She does not say, “My soul magnifies itself” or “exalts me.” She does not desire herself to be esteemed; she magnifies God alone and gives all glory to Him. She leaves herself out and ascribes everything to God alone, from whom she received it. For though she experienced such an exceeding great work of God within herself, yet she was ever minded not to exalt herself above the humblest mortal living. Had she done so, she would have fallen, like Lucifer, into the abyss of hell (Is. 14:12).

She had no thought but this: if any other maiden had got such good things from God, she would be just as glad and would not grudge them to her; indeed, she regarded herself alone as unworthy of such honor and all others as worthy of it. She would have been well content had God withdrawn these blessings from her and bestowed them upon another before her very eyes. So little did she lay claim to anything, but left all of God’s gifts freely in His hands, being herself no more than a cheerful guest chamber and willing hostess to so great a Guest. Therefore she also kept all these things forever. That is to magnify God alone, to count only Him great and lay claim to nothing. We see here how strong an incentive she had to fall into sin, so that it is no less a miracle that she refrained from pride and arrogance than that she received the gifts she did. Tell me, was not hers a wondrous soul? She finds herself the Mother of God, exalted above all mortals, and still remains so simple and so calm that she does not think of any poor serving maid as beneath her. Oh, we poor mortals! If we come into a little wealth or might or honor, or even if we are a little prettier than other men, we cannot abide being made equal to anyone beneath us, but are puffed up beyond all measure. What should we do if we possessed such great and lofty blessings?

Therefore God lets us remain poor and hapless, because we cannot leave His tender gifts undefiled or keep an even mind, but let our spirits rise or fall according to how He gives or takes away His gifts. But Mary’s heart remains the same at all times; she lets God have His will with her and draws from it all only a good comfort, joy, and trust in God. Thus we too should do; that would be to sing a right Magnificat. [Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 21: The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 21 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 307–309.]

 

Prayer: Lord, visit us that we blessed by Your Word through Your Son, believe Your Promises, confess Your Name, live by faith, proclaim Your praises, and entrust ourselves fully into Your blessed care. Amen.

 

 

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All are equal before God

 

“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

Jn. 7:24

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

People are tempted to see others as better than themselves, or, on the other hand, to see themselves as better than others.  Both positions are extremes and not in accordance with the way things really are.

Before God, all stand on equal footing.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), writes St. Paul.

Of these all, Paul also writes, “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

Christians continue to struggle with their sinful flesh, and in this struggle, we are tempted to believe that the saints of Old (i.e. Hebrews 11) are somehow better than we are, and more deserving of God’s kindness and mercy.

Example after example reveals otherwise.

As God’s mercy extended to them, so also to us.

Others are not better than you before God, nor are they the worse because of their sin.  It is sin, period, that condemns.  Yet, such sin, all of it, and its accompanying judgment, have been accounted for through Christ’s death on the cross.

The one who believes this, whether lesser the sinner or greater the sinner in the eyes of others, is justified before God (Romans 5:1).

This is good news, indeed!

By faith in Christ alone, the believer in Christ, stands forgiven and has God’s peace. Amen.

Luther

“For it is a great comfort for us to hear that even such great saints sin—a comfort which those who say that saints cannot sin would take away from us.

Samson, David, and many other celebrated men who were full of the Holy Spirit fell into huge sins. Job (3:3 ff.) and Jeremiah (20:14) curse the day of their birth; Elijah (1 Kings 19:4) and Jonah (4:8) are tired of life and pray for death. Such errors and sins of the saints are set forth in order that those who are troubled and desperate may find comfort and that those who are proud may be afraid. No man has ever fallen so grievously that he could not have stood up again. On the other hand, no one has such a sure footing that he cannot fall. If Peter fell, I, too, may fall; if he stood up again, so can I.

Those whose consciences are weak and tender should set great store by such examples, in order that they may understand better what they are praying when they say: “Forgive us, etc.,” or “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” in which the apostles and all the saints believed. They prayed the Our Father just as we do. The apostles were not superior to us in anything except in their apostolic office. We have the same gifts that they had, namely, the same Christ, Baptism, Word, and forgiveness of sins. They needed all this no less than we do; they were sanctified and saved by all this just as we are.” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p108-109)

 

Prayer: Holy and gracious God, look not upon my sin, but look upon Jesus, who died for me and through whom I am reconciled with You.  Help me to receive comfort from the examples of  the saints, for as they had your Word and promise, Your compassion and mercy, so do I. Amen.

 

 

The Greatest

 

30[The disciples] went on from there and passed through Galilee. And [Jesus] did not want anyone to know, 31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

      33And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:30-37)

 

Because what Jesus says is important, for Jesus is God, His Word is necessary to hear and to believe.  To not do these things is to indicate that God’s Word is not necessary to hear or to believe, even though God says it is.

“We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” (Third Commandment)

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! (First Petition, How is God’s Name kept holy?)

Inattentive and thoughtless ears and thoughts to God and His Word indicate a cold heart and rejection of the very means by which God gives salvation.

Thank God that the Lord is merciful and kind, and not like us!

The disciples in the text were thinking and talking about matters of a selfish-nature, even after Jesus revealed the sacred truth of what would win their redemption.

Jesus used the content of their discussion to draw their attention to the truth of their condition, that they turn away from selfish ambition and self-centeredness and instead, turn to Him Who is the Greatest and Servant of all.

The disciples’ understanding of greatness reflected their own perception and judgment, that which is common to the sinner, and contrary to God’s will and Word.

The disciples’ understanding of greatness, contrary to greatness in God’s kingdom, is also our own by nature.

What is great among us is that of being first, not last; being held in esteem, having the place of honor, being recognized for accomplishments and activities, having the last word, praise by men.

These ideas concerning the greatest all have at least one thing in common—a comparison to another, and the advancement of self above our neighbor.

About comparing ourselves to others, our Lord speaks clearly.

St. Paul the Apostle writes this to the Christians in Galatia, “Let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.  For each one shall bear his own load” (Galatians 6:4-5).

In other words, be concerned about what you yourself are doing as God’s child within the calling that God has called you.  Judge your work according to what God says, not in how you compare with others.

In another place St. Paul writes, “Not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).

Praise, honor, and recognition from others is there one moment and gone the next.

It is fleeting and is not the kind of recognition that really matters.

The kind of recognition that really matters is God’s.

What matters is what God says about you, not what others say.

Acceptance by God far outweighs the acceptance that we might desire from others.  The acceptance of the latter, though appreciated, won’t last and does not give eternal life.

The acceptance of the former, the approval of God, is that which is everlasting.

This kind of acceptance – the mercy of God – demonstrates the greatness of God, the greatness of God in loving the sinner, even the sinner like you and like me, who don’t deserve God’s love, kindness, or acceptance.

The way of the world is to merit approval, to earn recognition, to do for greatness.

This is not the way of God.

The way of God is to exalt the humbled, to recognize those who don’t deserve recognition, to approve of those who believe in the merit and work of Another, of His Son, through whom they have forgiveness, peace, and God’s full favor.

Our Lord Jesus, in saying to His disciples, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all,” is speaking of a different kind of greatness than we and the world speak of.  Our Lord is speaking of a different kind of kingdom than the one we are accustomed to desire and live in, where the greatest is the master and the least is the slave.

Jesus here turns all of what we consider greatness upside down.  Instead of being served and seeking to be served and waited on, He speaks of serving.  Instead of the greater being the first, He speaks of the greater being “Last of all and servant of all.”

Jesus Himself is First and Last, the Alpha and the Omega.  Jesus, though He was truly first over all things, one with the Father and the Spirit and Second Person of the Holy Trinity, became last of all and servant of all.

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Jesus made “Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).

Our Lord God descended to us, coming “In the likeness of sinful flesh,” yet “without” the “sin” (Romans 8:3; Hebrews 4:15).  In doing so, He saves – through His death on the cross.

In doing so, God demonstrated His love for you (Romans 5:8).

“God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17).

Jesus Christ is the servant of all.

He served you in His life and in His death, and in His resurrection and in His ascension, that you have everlasting life.

Greatness in His Kingdom is not about being served by others (except by Him), but of serving others.  It is the serving of even the lowly and the humble in the eyes of the world.

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

This kind of service, the kind of service that God reveals to be great in His Holy Word, is revealed in Jesus Christ.

Jesus, as Lord of lords and King of kings, is the servant of all, who sacrificed Himself in death and rose again the third day.

Through His service to you is life, new life, abundant life, eternal life, yours today.

Ponder His service anew.  In doing so, so you will also begin and continue to serve others, even as our Lord continues to serve you. Amen.

Christian Perfection

 

“We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”

Gal. 2:15-16

 

This is Christian perfection: that we fear God honestly with our whole hearts, and yet have sincere confidence, faith, and trust that for Christ’s sake we have a gracious, merciful God; that we may and should ask and pray God for those things of which we have need, and confidently expect help from him in every affliction connected with our particular calling and station in life; and that meanwhile we do good works for others and diligently attend to our calling.”

Augsburg 27, on Monastic Vows, offers these words as contrast to those who took the taking of vows, in general, and of good works, in particular, as the means by which a Christian becomes perfect, holy, and acceptable to God. The article briefly details that monasticism, orginally, begain with good intentions, that of offering a means to study and learn God’s Word, but that in time, the practice became corrupt, as the teaching that monasticism surpassed even baptism was accepted as true.

The reformers, in their confession, which is also our own, declare that Christian perfection is not that we become perfect by making a vow, trying to keep the commandments, trying not to sin, or anything of ourselves. Changing who we are also doesn’t change our standing before God, as if we could change our standing before God.

We can’t.

Jesus says, “You will be perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Other passages reveal that such perfection is not something that we can do, earn, merit, or obtain. Perfection is not within us to achieve.

Yet, God still commands it.

This does not mean that you can then do it, that you can keep such a command as God wants it to be kept. Rather, it means that God is commanding the impossible, that you see your sin, and trust in Him who has fulfilled the commandment, each and every one, in your stead; that you trust in Him who fully paid the debt of judgment for your sin; and that you not trust yourself as you seek to keep the commandment, but trust in Jesus alone for your help and salvation.

In this, as the Reformers confessed, as do we, is Christian perfection, not that we trust at all in what we do, but trust in God our Savior, who gave His Son for us and through whom we live out our callings in the fear of God and in true faith. Amen.

Acceptable Offerings

 

Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.(Genesis 4:3-5)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

It wasn’t because of the offering itself that God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s.  Both gave offering to the Lord.  But such offering given revealed the kind of man who had given it.

As a farmer, Cain gave what he did, “an offering.”  Abel, as a shepherd of sheep, “brought of the firstborn.”

Lest we think that an animal offering is greater than that of the harvest, consider that the offering of grains and produce were commended and acceptable to God, as revealed in Exodus (i.e. Exodus 29:41).

The distinction between the offerings were not the issue, though the offerings did differ.

The difference between the offering of Abel and that of Cain was that of the heart.  Had Cain believed, at the Lord’s Word, he would have repented and not later murdered his brother (Genesis 4:8).

Cain demonstrated his unrepentance by murdering Abel.

He demonstrated his disbelief with the offering that he had given, not the first of the crop, but simply “of the ground.”

On the other hand, Abel, having offered “of the firstborn and of their fat,” demonstrated faith.  We know this because God accepted the offering of Abel, but not that of Cain.

Had Abel not had faith, his offering would not have been acknowledged by God.

Though we readily look at what is given by mere appearance (and the amount), God looks at the heart from which such gift is given.

We can’t see the heart and its disposition to God.  God can, and God does.

It’s not by the offering and what we do (or don’t do) by which we become (or are) acceptable to God.  Rather, first, we are acceptable to God, and then the offering (and works) are.

Thanks be to God that this is so!

Acceptance by God is not dependent on you.  It’s founded on Jesus Christ.

“By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.  But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus(Rom. 3:20-24).

“Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,(Rom. 5:1).

 

“Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone

And rests in Him unceasing;

And by its fruits true faith in known,

With love and hope increasing.

Yet faith alone doth justify,

Works serve they neighbor and supply

The proof that faith is living.”

(The Lutheran Hymnal 377 “Salvation unto us has Come,” verse 9)

 

Luther

“First he regarded Abel, the person, and thereafter the offering.  His person was previously good, and right and acceptable.  Thereafter, for the sake of the person, the offering was also.  The person was not acceptable for the sake of the offering.  Then again, he did not regard Cain and his offering.  So also, first he did not regard Cain, the person, and thereafter he also did not regard his offering.  From this text it is certain that it is not possible for a work to be good before God if the person is not previously good and acceptable.  Then again, it is not possible that a work is evil before3 God unless the person is previously evil and unacceptable…God in the Scriptures concludes that all works before justification are evil and of no use and he desires them to be justified and made good first.  Again, he concludes that every person, if they are still by nature in the first birth, are unjust and evil, as Psalm 116:11 says, ‘All men are liars.’ Genesis 6:5, ‘Every thought and desire of the human heart is always evil.’” (Luther’s Family Devotions, p211-212)

 

Prayer: God, forgive me for thinking that You accept me on account of my works and not on account of Your Son who died for me and gave Himself for me that I be acceptable in Your sight.  Help me to believe that, not by my works, but through faith in Jesus alone, I am justified before You. Amen.

 

 

“The Separation of the Righteous from the Wicked,” Matthew 25:31-46

 

matthew4.jpg31[Jesus said:] “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

      41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46, ESV)

 

YouAreForgiven.jpegThe central teaching of the Christian faith is that God alone, in Christ, saves sinful man.  Sinners do not save themselves.  You do not contribute at all to your salvation.  You do not make a choice to be saved.  Your works, nor your neglect, do not add to or subtract anything from God’s promise to you in Christ.

With reference to God’s grace, you are recipients, not the active agents, of eternal life.

This is good news!

God gives full confidence, and the blessed assurance, of complete and total forgiveness on account of Christ Jesus, apart from your works, distinct from what you do.

This is the Gospel, and woe to the one to whom the Gospel is not preached.  No faith is given apart from the hearing.  To the one who hears the good news of sins forgiven but doesn’t believe, the certainty of eternal death remains.  But to him who hears and believes, the hope of everlasting life is the sure promise from the God of all grace.

This is so because of Christ’s cross.  Christ died to save you from your sins.  Jesus fulfilled all that the Heavenly Father gave Him to fulfill.  This means that there is nothing for you to do for your salvation.  Christ has already done it all.

To speak, teach, or believe differently than this is to step outside of the Word of God and to walk by sinful reason, instead of going the Lord’s way of revelation.

Any who teach that what you do earns you heaven teaches falsely and leads away from Christ and is outside the parameters of the Christian faith.

Any who teach that what you do keeps you in the faith misunderstands God’s working. It is most certainly true that you cannot by your own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ your Lord or come to Him.  So we confess by the words of the 3rd Article of the Creed.  It is also most certainly true that it is the Holy Spirit who calls you by the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit who keeps you in the true faith, and not you yourselves (i.e. Galatians 3:3-9).

God keeps and preserves you in the true faith, according to His good and gracious will, by means of His Holy Word.  Here, He directs you to Jesus and away from your own self-righteousness, and away from your sinful pride.

Away from these and to God’s Means of Grace the Lord directs you, where you findMeans of Grace-window-round1.jpg refuge and shelter from the attacks of the world, strength to resist temptation and the evil one, and rest for your weary souls (Matthew 11:28-30).

By means of His Word and Sacrament, God keeps and preserves you a people for Himself, a people who live by faith, yet a people who also live in the world.

What God gives in Word, Baptism, and Supper, are the very means by which you live.  Without these, you would be as the nonbeliever who sees Christianity as only one religion among many.  All religions, except Christianity, teach ways of getting right with God by what one does.

Only the true Christian religion teaches that God saves sinful man through the suffering and death of the God-man Christ, and that God works through visible means of water, bread, and wine, and that in these, according to divine revelation, God gives forgiveness, life, and salvation. This the nonbeliever cannot fathom.  He believes himself to have to do ‘for God,’ rather than say the ‘for me’ of faith.

In truth, God needs nothing from you.  You need everything of Him.  His forgiveness, grace, mercy, kindness, favor, help, provision, and supply you cannot do without, lest you despair of God in your own sinfulness or rest in the false confidence of your wayward flesh.

Either way, whether falling into despair or having a false sense of security before God, you are sinners in need of God’s rescue.  The Lord will come to judge between ‘the living and the dead.’   And when He does, He will come in all of His glory, with all of His angels, and will then sit on His throne.

Sedes-ad-dexteram-Patris.jpgOnly for Christ’s sake, when Jesus does come to separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff (Matthew 3:12), and the believer from the nonbeliever, will you not be the nonbeliever, nor the hypocrite, the chaff, or the goats, to whom He will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41, ESV), but those to whom the Lord will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34, ESV).

In the parable from St. Matthew’s Gospel, the Lord says of the righteous that they had given Christ food and drink, welcomed Him, clothed Him, visited Him when He was sick, and came to Him in prison. Then the righteous answered, “When did we do these things?”

In other words, the righteous were not aware of doing the very things that the Lord had said of them.  From their hearts they did what they did because they didn’t believe in their works, but in Him through whose works they were acceptable to God.

The righteous are called righteous, not because of any self-righteousness, virtuous living, or upright morality, but because of Him who declares them to be righteous, good, and holy, not of themselves, but of the good and gracious God who gave His One and Only Begotten Son, that all would live through Him (John 3:16).

Being righteous has to do with Christ, and having faith alone in Him, whose holiness is counted as your own through faith and not apart from it.  Of yourselves, you are nothing but sinful and unclean, in desperate need of Christ.

Any and all who would deny this truth of Scripture, that you are sinners and remain sinners in need of God’s forgiveness, diminish Christ and throw Him out, regardless of how often and how frequently the name of Christ might be mentioned.

The ‘happy preacher,’ Joel Osteen in Texas, and the popular Joyce Meyer of TV and radio fame are such who give lip service to Christ, but don’t know Him in their teaching.  When they say that you need to stop calling yourselves sinners and move on, they deny John’s First letter which says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8, 10).

They and others in Christendom have said that churches and congregations that confess their sins ‘every’ Sunday need to stop this needless bringing down of its members and speak of the sanctified life, for we no longer sin.

Such optimistic words of the human condition are far from true.  Being a Christian does not mean that you stop sinning.  Nor does it mean that you need less forgiveness.  The maturing Christian finds just the opposite to be the case.

Instead of being ‘sin-free,’ Christians find themselves fighting all the more withgospelgrid1.jpg themselves because of the sin that still clings to them.  Rather than see himself improving and getting better, the Christian sees his sinfulness ever clearer and wants to rid himself of his sinful inclinations and desires all the more.

The Christian despairs of himself and leans ever the more on Christ, through whom alone is his salvation.  The Christian sees himself decreasing, and Christ all the more increasing (John 3:30).

This is what it is to be growing in the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Less and less stock do you place in your own doing.  More and more do you place in the Lord’s doing, to whom is all glory, honor, and praise.

Because the Christian believes that he has no righteousness of his own, and that He is saved completely by another, by Christ Jesus the Lord, all the more good works does He do because of the Lord who works in Him, who creates and strengthens faith by means of His Word.

It is through faith in Christ alone that you are saved, are promised heaven, and have new life.  This new life is not lived unto itself.  Nor is faith ever alone with regard to good works.  Faith is active and busy in love.  Fruits will be born unto it, even as Jesus says in the Gospel according to St. John, the 15th chapter, “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5 NKJ).

In Christ, therefore, through faith, you are not fruitless.  You do bear fruit, good fruit, works that are good and acceptable to God, for only with faith is it possible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).

Such fruits are works which are done in faith and according to His God’s Word.

When in our text the Lord describes that judgment made upon the ‘Blessed of the Father’ and ‘the cursed’ on account of their feeding or not feeding the hungry, giving drink or not giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming or not welcoming the stranger, clothing or not clothing the naked, visiting or not visiting the sick, or coming or not coming to visit the prisoner, He’s looking at the fruits of faith or faith’s outcome.

The one who calls himself a Christian and who claims that doing these things is reason for God’s favor is no Christian.  Such a one instead demonstrates unbelief in Christ because He trusts in his own doing.  This one, therefore, will go into eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46).

The one who fails to recognize the good that he’s done because of His sin, places no confidence in what he’s done, yet clings to Christ and Him alone for mercy and pardon, this one is righteous, and will enter eternal life.  This is the Christian; whose confidence and hope is the Lord.  The nonbeliever does not do these things, but trusts another.

Grace not workds.jpgSt. Paul the Apostle writes,  “To him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.  But 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; Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin.’”(Romans 4:4-8 NKJ)

The Christian rests on God’s forgiveness for hope and salvation, not on his own works.  The glory goes to God.  He seeks to do what God says because that is what God has given him to do.  He serves others because Jesus “did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

The Christian is active in good works.  By faith he is righteous.  This faith is active in serving and helping others, especially those who are of the “household of faith” (Galatians 6:10), the brothers and sisters of Christ, and even the least of these His brethren.

By such good works you are not saved.  But such good works are done by those who have faith in Christ. Amen.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasHeavenly Father, keep me from believing that I contribute to my salvation.  Give me confidence that before You, because of Christ’s death on the cross, I am Yours, forgiven.  Help me to live in this forgiveness in service to others, that I continue to trust in You and in nothing that I do. Amen.

 

 

 

“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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