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“Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life,” John 11:1-53

 

For an audio podcast, go here.

 

The Reading…

1Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

      5Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

      17Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20So when Martha Jesus.EmptyTombheard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

      28When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus wept. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

      38Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

      45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The words of Caiaphas the high priest to the chief priests and the Pharisees, recorded towards the end of today’s Gospel reading, were prophetic.

Concerning Jesus, Caiaphas had said, “It is better…that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish” (John 11:50).

Caiaphas spoke the truth.

It is better that one man die for all than for all to die.

It is better that Jesus suffer in the stead of the sinner than that all sinners perish.

“If by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17 NKJ).

“The death that He died, He died to sin once for all” (Rom. 6:10 NKJ).

The context in which Caiaphas prophesied such a prophecy concerning Christ Jesus was none other than what we heard in the Gospel account of St. John, following the miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead.

Jesus Raising LazarusThe man Lazarus had been dead for four days—four days—when the Lord cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43).

Lazarus was a man who had no breath and no life, but Jesus, by His Word alone, raised him who was dead.

Jesus has authority over death.

Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus had said, “Truly, truly I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live” (John 5:25).

With Lazarus, so with you.

St. Paul writes, “You He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Eph. 2:1-5 NKJ)

Christ speaks to you the very Words of life.  He raises you up from the deadness of your sins to new life in Him by His Words of absolution.

Jesus’ Words are spirit and they are life (John 6:63).

They give what Jesus says and Jesus says what they give.

Jesus speaks forgiveness.  You are forgiven.

Jesus speaks life.  You live.

Because of Christ, physical death, the last trial of life, does not defeat.

When the Lord returns in glory, you shall meet Him as He is in resurrected bodies.

The grave will not retain its hold.

You belong to Christ.

“You were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold…but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:18-19 NKJ).

Jesus had said to Martha, the sister of Lazarus, “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” (John 11:25-26).

Of Himself Jesus speaks.

Right in front of her was THE resurrection and THE life.

Though He Himself would die, even as Caiaphas had said, so He would also rise again on the third day.

So He did.

It is this way for all who live and believe in Jesus.

Such is the promise of the Lord, He “shall never die.”

One who lives and believes in the Lord will not die eternally.

Death has its day, but that day will not last for they who are in the Lord.

God grants everlasting blessedness and joy to they who trust in the Lord’s salvation, won by Christ, who died for the people that the whole nation, the whole world, would not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

The once dead Lazarus was raised from the dead was a work of God that none could deny.

Even the Pharisees, upon hearing the news, could not denounce the testimony of so many witnesses.

Because they did not believe, they could not but act against the truth that they saw with their own eyes.

In their deliberations to put Jesus to death, their disdain for the truth, for Christ Himself, and the love that they had for themselves clearly showed itself.

The council of the Pharisees and the chief priests agreed to bring about the death of the Christ.

Their thoughts and their motives were turned inward on their own well-being rather than on that of their neighbors.

What a distinction we see between the motives of the self-righteous chief priests and Pharisees to protect their own selfish interests at the expense of another and the motives of the Other on whom the council would dish out their death wish.

The council was completely self-centered.

Christ Jesus was completely other-centered.  They meant to only benefit themselves, whom they considered deserving.

Jesus meant only for the good of others, those who the world considers undeserving.

Jesus had authority to lay down His life down that He take it again (John 10:17).

Jesus Himself said, “No one takes it (my life) from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:18).

No action could be taken against our Lord except it be permitted to do so.

Here foreshadow the words of the dialogue between Pontius Pilate and Jesus, where Pilate asks Jesus,

“‘Where are You from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. Then Pilate said to Him, ‘Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?’ Jesus answered, ‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin’” (John 19:9-11).

Pilate had been given authority from above to carry out the death of Jesus.  So had the council been permitted to arrest Jesus in the garden by the hand of Judas Iscariot.

Though the wicked have their way (for a time), God even works through what we cannot comprehend.

Through the death of Jesus, God gathers “into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:52).

Through that which was done to Jesus, even His death on the cross, Jesus saved the world and draws all men to Himself.

Through Christ’s death, “God reconciled Himself to the world” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

No longer are the children of God scattered abroad.

They come together in Christ.

He is your Head.

Christ and His truth truly unite.

The reason all are not one in this unity is because all do not accept the truth.

But it is the Lord Jesus alone Who saves.

Though you don’t always see or understand how things, circumstances, afflictions, trials, sufferings, or even death can be for good or that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:18), you don’t need to.

It’s in what God has done in Christ Jesus and by what He has spoken, by what He speaks in His Holy Word, that you are sure that they do.  Amen.

 

PrayingHands&Cross1Almighty God, by Your great goodness mercifully look upon Your people that we may be governed and preserved evermore in body and soul; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. (Collect for the Fifth Sunday in Lent)

 

For an audio podcast, go here.

 

 

God is the God of the Living, Luke 20:27-40

27 Then some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, 28 saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife, and he dies without children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 “Now there were seven brothers. And the first took a wife, and died without children. 30 “And the second took her as wife, and he died childless. 31 “Then the third took her, and in like manner the seven also; and they left no children, and died. 32 “Last of all the woman died also. 33 “Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife does she become? For all seven had her as wife.” 34 And Jesus answered and said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 “But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; 36 “nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37 “But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord `the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38 “For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.” 39 Then some of the scribes answered and said, “Teacher, You have spoken well.” 40 But after that they dared not question Him anymore.”

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

In St. Paul’s second epistle to the Thessalonians, today’s Epistle, we hear the emphasis of what was to be in time to come.

“Now…concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come” (2 Thess. 2:1-2).

In today’s Gospel, we hear reference to Exodus chapter three, what is now.

“Even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’” (v37).

The context is this-In today’s Gospel, the Sadducees, a group of religious leaders in the Jewish community of Jesus’ day, tried to trick him.

The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, nor angels or spirit (Acts 23:8).

They assumed that Jesus would have no plausible defense to give.

They were wrong!

More than simply disproving them, Jesus reveals their false teaching and their unbelief in a doctrine which is found throughout Scripture.

Of this teaching, Jesus testifies, using text with which they were familiar.  This doctrine of which we speak is the doctrine of the resurrection, the very doctrine that the Sadducees disbelieved and the very doctrine which today still has opposition.

Usually when we think of the doctrine of the resurrection, we rightly consider the resurrection of our Lord Jesus from the dead on the third day.

Of this resurrection, Jesus Himself testified to before He died, and proved His Words to be true in rising from the dead, showing His hands and His side to His disciples, eating food in their midst, and ascending into heaven.

Of this resurrection of our Lord, Peter and John, and the other disciples, now apostles, and later Paul himself bore witness of, so that even the rulers of the people, “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John,” for example, “and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

The message of the early church immediately following the ascension of Christ into heaven was His resurrection from the dead.

St. Paul writes, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.   And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.   Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up — if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen.   And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!   Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.   If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.   But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.   For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.   For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.   But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:13-23).

This same message that death did not hold Christ is also your own, for by it do you have the hope of eternal life.

Sin was put to death on Christ’s cross.

There, on that cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.”

He completed all the work that was needing to be done for your salvation (John 19:30).

There, on that cross, Jesus paid the debt of your sin in full.

To demonstrate that death has no more dominion over Him, or over you, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.

Through His death and resurrection, God gives you certainty of sins forgiven, the certainty that just as Christ rose from the dead, so shall you.

When we think of resurrection in the New Testament, we most certainly consider Christ’s resurrection, from whose resurrection we have the confidence of our own resurrection on the Last day.

Other resurrections, too, we find in the New Testament, which all point to Him who has power over death and the grave and through whom we too have the victory, through faith (1 John 5:4).

We might think of Jairus’ daughter, whom Jesus spoke to and said, “‘Little girl, arise.’   Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately. And He commanded that she be given something to eat” (Luke 8:54-55).

We might think of the account where Jesus “Went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd.   And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her.   When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’   Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’  So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother.   Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God” (Luke 7:11-16).

We also might think of the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, even after Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days, where “Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.   And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.’”  The text goes on and says, “Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’   And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go.’” (John 11:41-44).

St. Matthew also records the account of dead saints being raised from the dead following the death of Christ on the cross and appearing to many (Matthew 27:52-53).

Indeed, we rightly look to the New Testament to find the doctrine of the resurrection, the bodies of the deceased rising from the dead.

Also do we find this truth revealed in the Old Testament, too, for the God of the New Testament is the same as the God of the Old Testament.

The prophets Elijah and then Elisha both were used of God as instruments through whom God resurrected the dead.

Through Elijah, God returned life to a widow’s son who had died, of whom Elijah gave to his mother and said, “See, your son lives.  Then the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth’” (1 Kings 17:23-24).

Elisha also was used of God to raise a dead boy again to life again (2 Kings 4:87-37, Son of a Shunammite woman).

There is also the account of the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, where Ezekiel writes, “The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones.   Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry.   And He said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ So I answered, ‘O Lord GOD, You know.’   Again He said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!’   ‘Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live.   I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.’” (Ezekiel 37:1-6).  What the Lord had told Ezekiel to do, He did, and because there is power in the Word of God, those very things came to pass.

These accounts in the Old Testament testify to the resurrection in the Old Testament.

But there’s more.

The Sadducees in today’s Gospel reading challenged Jesus using what Moses had written in the book of Deuteronomy about a brother marrying his brother’s widow should his brother die.

Hear the account as recorded in Deuteronomy 25, “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.   And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel” (Deuteronomy 25:5-6).

The Sadducees attempted to give a hypothetical situation of seven brothers having had the same wife, based on these words of Moses, to discredit Jesus.

They didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead and they thought that they had Him.

They didn’t.

The Sadducees, by saying what they said, only demonstrated their ignorance of “the Scriptures” and “the power of God” (Matthew 22:29 || Mark 12:24).

God had instituted the estate of marriage between man and woman after creating Adam and Eve, for He says, “A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

In the resurrection, Jesus says, there will not be marriage nor will there be any given in marriage.

Those who attain to the resurrection of the just are like the angels.

Note, however, that Jesus does not say that they become angels, as is falsely believed today.

We don’t become angels when we die.  We don’t get wings either.

Rather will we have bodies untainted by sin, without the aches and pains of aging, and glorified bodies with no pre-existent conditions with which to be concerned.

Also, to note concerning Jesus’ answer to the deluded Sadducees is the clear reference He makes to Moses and the burning bush.

Even in the second book of the Old Testament, the book of Exodus, there is reference to the resurrection, as we heard in today’s Old Testament reading, where it is written that “Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ “ God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Exodus 3:13-15).

God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.  This must mean that, though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are no more living in flesh and blood on this earth, still are they living, for God is their God.

This is what it means when we speak of the saints who are now with the Lord.

They are living, for God is the God of the living, not of the dead.

In Christ, we await the blessed consummation of the ages, when we in the flesh will join the deceased at the joyous feast of the Lord in all eternity.

When we speak of saints who are now with the Lord, we do not mean all people who have died, for the Holy Scriptures are very clear in making distinctions between believers and unbelievers, and those who have the sure hope of everlasting life from those who do not.

Saints are they who died in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The difference between them and us is this: their struggle with sin and death are over; ours still goes on.

They stand in the Lord’s presence face to face; we, not yet.

We yet undergo trial and affliction in this life.  They do not, but are completely at rest and at peace, awaiting the resurrection of their bodies from the grave.

The saints above and we saints below join together as the community of God’s Holy people in praise and glory to God most High.

God is the God of the saints above, and the God of us who are yet here in the flesh.

Their present joy is your future hope.

Heaven is your true home, not a house built by human hand, but the glorious abode prepared for those who trust in Jesus, who is “The resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

The words of Job which are the basis of that tried and tested hymn of the Christian faith concerning the resurrection are also your own, “I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-27).

We confess these words with Job and we know them to be true because of He who died on Calvary and was raised on the third day.

You know that in Him, God forgives your sins and that you no longer are under God’s judgment, but rather do you have His grace and mercy, through Christ Jesus our Lord.

You have no need to fear God’s wrath, that wrath being taken away in Jesus.

In Jesus, you know that God is the God of the living, the living One, and your God, who keeps His Word and fulfills His promises.

The God of the living will keep you and sustain you a people unto Himself.

He will not leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).

He will not leave you as orphans (John 14:18).

To Him you live, for He gives you life, that you remain in Him.

His Word is effective; His love-abundant; His mercy, abounding; His mercy, given, in His Son; Yours. Amen.

 

Prayer: Your Holy Word, O Lord, is effective and true. Give me faith to believe this of all Holy Scripture, that I believe Jesus to be the Christ and have the certainty of the resurrection unto eternal life. 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.

 

 

 

“He has Risen, as He said,” Matthew 28:1-10

“He has risen, as He said”

1Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 8So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:1-10)

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Jesus is risen, as He said.  These words bring joy to the ear this morning and always.  These words we cannot pass over.  He is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

The great joy of those women who heard the words of God’s messenger that morning and did not see our Lord in the tomb is also our own.  By God’s inspired Word, we know that our Redeemer lives.  Christ is victorious over the grave.  He who had authority to lay down His life also had authority to take it up again (John 10: 15, 17, 18).  This Jesus did on the Third day, the very day that He rose bodily from the dead.

We are not here speaking of some spirit who now lives, as if the body of Christ remained in decay.  Christ in His body is living.

“If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up — if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (1 Corinthians 15:14-17).

Sin is real.  It is doing what God does not command and not doing what He does command.   Death too is real.  It is a consequence of sin.  Sin brings about physical death, of which we all must face, sooner or later.  It also brings about eternal death, unless there be salvation from Another who has overcome sin and death.

This is what Christ did by His resurrection.  His resurrection testifies to the truth that death is powerless against the Lord Christ.  So too is eternal death powerless against the Lord’s brethren,  who we are, through faith in His blessed Word.

“Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)

The death of Christ was real.  On the cross Jesus did die.  His resurrection is just as real and true.  This is how you know that Jesus truly keeps His Word.

The Lord’s resurrection also means your resurrection.  Christ being raised from the dead means your rising from the dead, not only from the deadness of your sin to new life now by faith, but also when our Lord returns.  His resurrection means the same for you.

Christ says through the Apostle Paul, “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. 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.”  (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

In another place, Paul writes, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).

Jesus Himself says, “The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29).

Here, our Lord makes distinction.  Scripture teaches that all will rise from the dead, both believers in Christ and nonbelievers.  But only those who have done good, only those who have faith in Christ’s goodness, forsaking their own, only these will be with the Father unto all eternity.

On the other hand, those who have done evil, those who do evil by not taking Christ’s Word and work as their own, these will rise to eternal death.  Having not believed the promises of the Lord while in the world, these will receive the due reward for their unbelief.

But those who do believe the promises of God, though they not see them fulfilled here and now, these “Will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

As for Jesus only spiritually rising from the dead and not bodily, which some contend happened, Jesus ate and drank after being raised.

As it is reported in Luke’s Gospel, “Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you.’ But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? ‘Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, ‘Have you any food here?’ So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence.” (Luke 24:36-43)

A spirit does not eat or drink.  But Jesus did these very things, right in front the disciples.

From the virgin birth to Christ’s bodily resurrection, and from the creation of the world to the Lord’s glorious return on judgment day, do not trust what you think or what reason tells you to be so.  Trust in the Lord and  what He says.  There will you find Jesus living and dying, and rising and ascending, for you.

Here is the difference between judgment and forgiveness, death and life, hell and heaven:

What God declares to be so in His Word is for your salvation.  It is not just for anyone and everyone.  It is for you.  Believing that the Bible is true is a good thing.  Believing that there is a god is good thing.  But ‘a god’ doesn’t save.

The God of salvation is knowable.  Unless the God of Scripture, even Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is your God, all the believing in the world will not help you.  Christ did die and He did rise from the dead.  But His death and resurrection will not save you unless it is also yours.

By means of His own death, Jesus Christ put your sin to death. Jesus left your sin for dead on Mt. Calvary, but on the third day, His body was not in the tomb.    If you wish to carry your own sin and have it your way, Christ’s death and resurrection does not profit you.  You will bear your own load and come the judgment, the penalty for your sin will be yours and yours alone.

But in Christ, your sin is gone forever and God does not count your daily sins against you.  In Christ, your sin is forgiven.  Lay your sins on Him, therefore, and receive His forgiveness.  Believe the heavenly Word of grace, mercy, and peace.  In Christ, these are yours.

Our Lord does not lie.  What He says is true and truly will come to pass.

Christ’s resurrection bears witness and sure testimony that He fulfills and will fulfill, and does and will do, all that He says.

Just as Christ had said, He rose from the dead.  Before that Good Friday, Jesus declared to His disciples, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again” (Matthew 20:18-19).  A few other times, too, Jesus spoke of what would soon come to pass.  And it did.

Jesus Christ, alive from the dead forevermore, is your surety and guarantee of what is to come, not only later, but even now, as you hear Christ’s Word preached, eat and drink His body and blood, and receive His blessing.  The joy of Christ’s gifts are yours.  Christ is risen, just as He said.  Your Redeemer lives.  Jesus Christ is risen today.  Alleluia!  Amen.

 

“Watch” (Matthew 25:1-13)

1[Jesus said:] “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Lutheran Commentator Kretzmann offers an instructive summary of key points from the Gospel reading before us today, that of the 10 virgins who wait for the Bridegroom.  In his Popular Commentary, Kretzmann writes,

“This parable is connected very closely with the preceding admonitions of the Lord, urging watchfulness and faithfulness, faith and love. The nearer the time of His departure, the more earnestly He strove to impress upon His disciples the need of the Christian virtues which are necessary for a living, active Christianity.”

Continuing, Kretzmann then quotes Luther,

“‘Therefore this parable, to summarize, does not indicate anything else than that we should watch and not be too secure, since we do not know when the day of the Lord is coming…All of it is spoken against our carelessness, the accusation being that we are far too secure, and always think; There is no danger, the last day is not coming for a long time. Against this Christ and the apostles cry out, bidding us take heed for that day, watch, and be in lasting fear, lest it find us unprepared. Therefore those that watch will receive the Lord with His grace, those that are secure will find Him a merciless Judge.’”

Take heed, and remember the Words of our Lord on the night of His betrayal, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41 NKJ).

It is not those who say that they’re Christian and are not that receive the Lord with His grace.  Rather, it is those who continue waiting on the Lord, finding their security in Jesus alone and sure of His mercy and favor, in the present, and until He comes again in all of His glory; these are they who properly watch, having “no confidence” whatsoever, “in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).

They who “wait on the Lord,” (Isaiah 40:31), these shall renew their strength, because it is the Lord Himself who strengthens them.

And how does the Lord do this? By the very means that He provides for the certainty of your salvation, that He “strengthen and preserve you steadfast in the truth faith to life everlasting”.

Therefore, believe the Word of the Lord, to you, of sins forgiven, of peace with God, of His favor.  He washed you of your sin by water and Word.  He gives you life through the means of Christ’s very body and blood.  He upholds you by means of the preaching.  He sustains you by His Word, and there, calls you.

“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 Pet. 2:9-10 NKJ)

Those who deny the blessed gifts of our Lord show that they are not His, for those who are of the Lord “hear His voice” and “follow” Him (John 10:3).  They demonstrate the carelessness and the false security that Luther spoke about concerning the Gospel.  They really do not expect Jesus to return soon, nor do they heed the warning that the danger is here, now, the danger of impenitence and the Lord’s judgment upon sin, to be fully met upon them on the Day of Judgment.

Continuing with Kretzmann on Matthew 25, he writes what is true and according to the teaching of Holy Scripture.

“When the Kingdom is preached, these are the results: Some receive it with all their heart and are serious about it, believe the Word, make the most strenuous efforts to practice good works, let their lamps shine before the world; for they are well provided with lamps and oil, that is, with faith and love: these are represented by the wise virgins. Then there are some that also accept the Gospel, but are sleepy, are not serious about it, think they can succeed with their works, are secure, and believe it can be paid for with works; those are indicated in the foolish virgins. In Scripture those are called foolish that do not obey the Word of God, but follow their own mind, will not be taught, accept no opinion but their own. But it will happen to them at last as it here happened to the foolish virgins. These two kinds of people are in this Kingdom, namely, where the Gospel and the Word of God is preached and there should be exercise of faith: some follow, some do not follow…”

Jesus gives this warning to all who claim security in themselves and their own faith and not the faith of Christ, “Not everyone who says to Me,`Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21 NKJ).

The truth is, we don’t know the timing of our Lord’s return at the “End of days”.

What we do know is that we are to watch, and in the watching, we wait on the Lord, believing His Word.

Therefore watch! Watch what you hear and watch what you do.  Pay close attention to the “doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:16).  It is your salvation.

Be ready for the Lord’s coming, having the oil of faith, that you endure to the end.  Only those who are prepared will enter the wedding feast when the bridegroom is to come.  Then the door will be shut where none else can enter.

You are prepared, present and future tense, as you are and continue in the Lord’s doctrine and in the true faith, the faith that Jesus is God’s Son, that He died, and that He rose again, for you.

This is the Gospel, the Gospel which is front and center of all preaching and teaching that is Christian, the very life of the church.

Because of this Gospel, because of Christ, we hold God’s Word to be sacred, we gladly hear and learn it, and we receive the Lord’s Supper for the strengthening of our weak souls.

The central teaching of Christ’s church is that the sinner is justified, declared righteous, before God on account of Christ through faith.  If this teaching be weak or nonexistent in the church, the faith of the people will also be weak or nonexistent.

All teaching of the church affects this one saving doctrine, and vice versa.

It is necessary for the church always to be vigilant in her preaching and in her teaching according to the Lord’s Word and not to cower due to oppression by culture, or by persuasion by people.  Rather, she is to be immovable and steadfast to her Head at all times and in all places.

It is also necessary for hearers to hear, and to keep hearing, the good news of sins forgiven, for their eternal well-being, and to distinguish that doctrine which is faithful and true by means of the Holy Word of God, and to avoid that which is false and according to man and the devil.

If one says to you, ‘you are not a sinner in need of forgiveness,’ or another says, ‘your sin is not that bad’, you can boldly say, ‘Christ died to save me from my sin.  Since this is so, I know that I am a sinner, because Christ truly died.  And I still sin.  Therefore do I still need His forgiveness.  And graciously does He give it to me on account of Christ, because of Him and none other.’

Having this confession, you are ready for the Lord’s return, whenever that may be.

Eternal life is not dependent upon you, but upon Christ and Christ alone, even as St. Peter says, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Christ might seem to be slow in coming, but it is as St. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Though “scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4), Jesus will come in His own time, not ours.

The Lord’s timing is different from our own.   To Him, “one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8; Psalm 90:4).  To us, a day is a day, and so we believe that God created the world in six literal days as recorded in the creation account of Genesis.

God sets the time for our sake, not for His, that we abide by what He says and not be led astray by sinners who think they know better than God.

The Bible tells us that, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).

And, “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).

When the time has come for the Lord to return, return He will, for all to see.  Though wars and rumors of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes have been going on for years, and will continue to do so until the Lord’s arrival on the Last Day, these in no way indicate that the Lord misspoke His Words of readiness (Matthew 24:6-7).

The ‘not natural’ disasters of our day point ever to the final judgment.  A ‘Mother nature’ does not exist.  God the Father Almighty is maker of heaven and earth.  Not one sparrow falls to the ground without Him knowing of its falling (Matthew 10:29).

“Thy will be done, O Lord.”

His will is your salvation.

This “world is passing away, and the lust of it; but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17).

The will of God is this, that you believe in Him whom He sent (John 6:29).

For this reason God has His Word declared to you in your hearing, proclaims to you your Savior Christ, and feeds you with the heavenly bread and drink of His body and blood.  By these, receiving and believing, what your Lord gives, as He gives, you are truly ready for Christ’s return.

Thus do you watch, standing in the faith of those who were before you, and waiting for your Savior to descend in the clouds, just as He has promised.

Look to no other.  “Be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8 NKJ).

“Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the LORD!” (Ps. 27:14 NKJ). Amen.

 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, keep our eyes on Jesus, that we not be distracted, but be ready and prepared, always, believing your Word.  Amen.

 

Be Ready

36[Jesus said:] “Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:36-44)

Today’s text from St. Matthew gives us opportunity to talk about such things the when of our Lord’s Coming, and to clarify what God reveals from what He has not.

As to the when of Christ’s Advent, Jesus doesn’t give us the time or day when He will return.  But this hasn’t stopped some from trying.

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1843/1844: Mr. Miller (Adventist movement) Mr. Miller, from whom the Adventist movement originated, calculated the date of 1843 or 1844, when the “cleansing of the entire earth” would take place.[1]

1847: Charles Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses); Charles T. Russell, influenced by the Adventists, calculated the date of 1847 as the date which Christ invisibly returned.[2]

2011 (May 21 & October 21): Harold Camping; Predicted Jesus’ return and the rapture (May); the final destruction of the world (October)

The belief that Christ’s return can be “fixed with actual definiteness” is foolishness and contrary to God’s Word.  In other places, too, in addition to today’s Gospel reading, does the Lord indicate this truth (i.e. Christ’s Ascension, Acts 1; Mark 1:15; 13:33ff; John 7:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; James 4:13-16; 2 Peter 3:10)

1 Thessalonians 5:2 “For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.”

And, from today’s Gospel, Matthew 24: 37-39 “37As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

Our Lord binds us to His Word and to nowhere else.  In this Word, He reveals Jesus—the Word become flesh (John 1:14)—to be our Savior.  God doesn’t answer all of our questions or satisfy our curiosity, but what He does give us is sufficient for our salvation.election

Let the Words of the Lord stand on their own.  Do not add to them or subtract from them.  Doing either is to make yourself the master of the Biblical text and the Biblical text your servant (see Proverbs 30:5-6; Revelation 22:18-19).

This is nothing but usurping God and His Word according to arrogance and pride.  It is presumptuous of sinners to think that they know better than God Himself, or to think that they can figure out knowledge that God has denied us, like the particular day of Christ’s coming.

St. Paul writes, “We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain.   For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).

We ought not be like the five foolish virgins who did not have enough oil when the bridegroom arrived (Matthew 25:2).  Nor ought we to be as those who squander what they’ve been given because of false notion that things will always remain as they are.  A day of reckoning is soon approaching, and woe to those who aren’t prepared for it, who procrastinate in their belief that they have time to spare, that God’s Word can wait, and that when the day does arrive, they’ll prepare what needs to be done.

So our Lord says, “43But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

How easy it would be if the Lord did give us the time and the date of His arrival.  Like the approaching day of Christmas, we could buy gifts for Him, put on our best behavior, set everything in order.

If we knew the when of Christ’s return, we could really put on our Sunday best, reconcile with our enemies and those who trouble us and those by whom we are troubled.  We could forgive12th-hour others their debts and sins against us, give up our grudges and discontentments before He comes, because we would know when the Lord is coming.

We could do good to others, without any hope for thanks or appreciation in return, and be content with the promises of our Lord.  We could do what is right and not worry about what the result might or might not be, because we would know that the result of Christ’s death, our sins taken care of, means eternal life, which we would enjoy first hand at the return of the Lord.  We would know that the troubles in this life are almost done and nothing but joy and bliss and heaven await us.

If we only knew…If we only knew, we could be really ready, at just the right time before He comes, believing the Lord’s Word and following His Word, trusting in His promises, and taking seriously His Word before it is too late.  If we only knew…

The thing is, we do know – not the exact time, but how the Lord would have us be even now.

We have Jesus’ Word, that we be ready now, today.  He is coming, at an hour and in a day which we do not expect.

God is the kind of God that speaks to you in your ears that you hear and trust His Word to you as He speaks it.  He speaks to you of your distractions from hearing His Word and following what He says that you turn from these things and look to Jesus for mercy and help and hope.  He reveals to you your sin that you see clearly your Savior, He who is coming again, that you be ready and waiting when He does return.

Therefore, arise from your sleep and your slumber, your laziness and your misguided assumptions.  “Lift up your heads.”  Your “redemption” is drawing nigh (Psalm 24:7, 9; Luke 21:28).  Believe now what your Lord says.  Take His Word preached to you and spoken to you as from God Himself.  Don’t doubt, but take it to heart.  Take Him at His Word—at this moment—and everyday of your life.

Do not doubt the Lord’s kindness to you in Jesus Christ, who on the cross shed His blood in sacrifice for you that you be found clean before the Father.  Hold as your own the forgiveness of your sins given to you in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, for there, Christ gives His true body and His true blood for you to eat and to drink for your salvation.

Believe that God is the one who absolves your sins as the pastor declares to you the forgiveness of sins as a called and ordained servant of the Word, even as we believe concerningblessing-absolution confession, that:

Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.”

On the cross, Jesus finished all that was needed for your salvation, and in Him, you are ready for His return.  Being baptized into the Name of the Triune God and believing His grace to you by such means as water and word, you are His, having been washed clean of all your sin.

Having been baptized, no longer live for yourselves, but to God—and for others, thinking not first for yourselves, but the needs of your neighbor.  Love God and love your neighbor, attend to what the Lord says and serve those in need around you.  Don’t wait for a better time.  Do it now.  Don’t wait for a later time to do what is to be done today, but do it today, while it’s still today and before the night comes (John 9:5).

Being ready for the Lord’s return does not mean doing all the right things, but believing rightly, believing rightly in Him who alone saves you from your distractions and procrastinations, from the world’s pull, and from your fleshly wants and desires.  Being ready has to do with believing He who did all the right things for you that you live, and that none of your wrong things can separate you from God (Romans 8).  Thus being reading and prepared, so you will be busy and active in love, waiting expectantly for the Lord’s return.

Being ready doesn’t mean neglecting what God would have you do, but doing it all the more zealously (2 Peter 3:10-15).

Being ready, being prepared, being watchful for the Lord’s return means being in the state of readiness, like the soldier on the battlefield or the sprinter ready to run or the family waiting for the guests to arrive at any time.

jesus-with-word-and-sacramentBeing vigilant for the Lord’s return means being serious about the Word of our Lord, clinging to Christ and Him alone for salvation, and believing God’s promises and the gifts God gives to you in Word and Sacrament.  Being ready, being in the state of readiness, has to do with resting and taking comfort in Him who is coming again, and what is ours because of Him:

We should learn to bring our eyes, our hearts, and souls to bear upon yonder life in heaven and in a lively hope await it with joy.  For if we would be Christians, the ultimate objects of our quest should not be marrying, giving in marriage, buying, selling, planting, building—activities that Christ says (Matt. 24:37ff; Luke 17:26ff.) the wicked will be engaged in especially before the Last Day.  To be sure, we, too, must use these things in order to satisfy the needs of the body.  But our ultimate quest should be something better and higher: the blessed inheritance in heaven that does not pass away.[3] 

Amen.

[1]              J.L. Neve, Churches and Sects of Christendom, (Blaire, Nebraska: Lutheran Publishing House, 1944), 461.

[2]              F.E. Mayer, Religious Bodies of America, (St. Louis: CPH, 1961), 474.

[3] Ewald Plass, What Luther Says, (St. Louis: CPH, 1959), 619.

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.

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