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The Hope and the Comfort of the Resurrection

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

Dear Family, friends, and loved ones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus, Remember Me

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

First: Jesus’ words to the women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second, The Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third: Jesus’ Word to the Criminal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

2 Ibid., 395.

 

Saints of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 5:1-12, ESV

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

 

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

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

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

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

result of a specific petition to the candidate.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Bible = God’s Word

14As for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

As we reflect on these words of our Lord today through the sainted apostle, I would like to read some words from a document entitled, “Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod.” This document, written and adopted by the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in the year 1932, might seem a bit dated, and perhaps not well known, but succinctly states what we believe as members of congregations in fellowship with the church body called the LCMS. The document is “still on the books,” and at least deserves our attention and reflection, as well as our agreement.1

Inclusive in this document, often referred to as “The Brief Statement,” are summary statements of what we believe concerning Creation, Conversion, Church and State, and the Millennium, to name a few. But what draws our attention this morning is the first of the sections, “Of the Holy Scriptures.” This part reads:

1. We tebriefstatementofthedoctrinalpositionofthemissourisynodach that the Holy Scriptures differ from all other books in the world in that they are the Word of God. They are the Word of God because the holy men of God who wrote the Scriptures wrote only that which the Holy Ghost communicated to them by inspiration, 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21. We teach also that the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures is not a so-called “theological deduction,” but that it is taught by direct statements of the Scriptures, 2 Tim. 3:16; John 10:35; Rom. 3:2; 1 Cor. 2:13. Since the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, it goes without saying that they contain no errors or contradictions, but that they are in all their parts and words the infallible truth, also in those parts which treat of historical, geographical, and other secular matters, John 10:35.

2. We furthermore teach regarding the Holy Scriptures that they are given by God to the Christian Church for the foundation of faith, Eph. 2:20. Hence the Holy Scriptures are the sole source from which all doctrines proclaimed in the Christian Church must be taken and therefore, too, the sole rule and norm by which all teachers and doctrines must be examined and judged. – With the Confessions of our Church we teach also that the “rule of faith” (analogia fidei) according to which the Holy Scriptures are to be understood are the clear passages of the Scriptures themselves which set forth the individual doctrines. (Apology. Trig lot p.441, § 60; Mueller, p.284). ‘The rule of faith is not the man-made so-called “totality of Scripture” (Ganzes der Schrift”).

3. We reject the doctrine which under the name of science has gained wide popularity in the Church of our day that Holy Scripture is not in all its parts the Word of God, but in part the Word of God and in part the word of man and hence does, or at least, might, contain error. We reject this erroneous doctrine as horrible and blasphemous, since it flatly contradicts Christ and His holy apostles, sets up men as judges over the Word of God, and thus over-throws the foundation of the Christian Church and its faith.

Not all believe this truth, though, that Paul in his letter to Timothy writes what is right and true. As it was in Paul’s day, and the days, he says, which were to come, so also in ours.

For example, Paul warns Timothy that “evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).

To Timothy, Paul also writes “that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:1-5, NKJ).

Additionally, in today’s epistle, Paul also writes that “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4, ESV).

That time is now. In the 70’s, and in days leading up to that time, our own church body struggled with those in our fellowship, even seminary professors, who minimally cast doubt and at most, denied, that the accounts of the creation, Jonah being swallowed by a fish, and other accounts of both Testaments were historical truths and facts that literally happened.

Uncertainty concerning one account of Holy Scripture, however, puts into question other teachings of Scripture and does not lead to Christ and true, saving faith, but to a Jesus of one’s own making and damning faith.

This is where we find ourselves today. Many simply disbelieve what God’s Word actually says, stating the right to “personal interpretation” and refusing to accept the “interpretation” of others, even if that so-called interpretation is not an interpretation at all, but word for word from the Bible itself.

Unlike Timothy, many of our young and younger people know little about the Bible and its content, let alone what it means. Though olderbible-truth generations might be more familiar with what’s in the Bible, or not, because of the shallow teaching within many congregations and church bodies concerning Christ and His Word, fewer believe according to the true doctrine, picking and choosing what they want to accept and denying that which they don’t.

Such lack of knowledge of what the Bible actually says and teaches is not only the fault of church bodies, congregations, and pastors, however. The blame also falls on parents and heads of households who do not themselves read the Bible, read it with their family, and who ignore Dr. Luther’s instruction at the beginning of each section of his Small Catechism, “As the head of the household should teach his family in a simple way.”

Luther’s headings remain relevant. Though the congregation and pastor care for both young and old and younger and older in catechetical instruction and teaching the Bible, so should heads of households. Children learn both good and bad from their parents. They also learn from the model that their parents, single or together, provide concerning the importance of Holy Scripture and attending God’s house on the Lord’s Day. Perhaps this is a contributing factor to why church attendance is all over on the decline and why the “religiously unaffiliated” (with any church) is on the rise.

Lament the current state of today’s church and speak of possible solutions that “we” could do is a temptation, and many are about just this. Statistic after statistic relay the endless problems of today’s church. Fingers could easily be pointed in all directions. There is plenty of fault to go all around.

Such talk will not solve our predicament, nor will it provide the antidote. Our Lord has not promised a life of peace – until the “Last Day.” Until then, we continue to struggle, and struggle we will, by God’s grace, God helping us, even in Word and Sacrament, that we daily take up our crosses, all of them, and follow Him.

Our Lord does not leave us alone, to either ourselves or to the mercy of world. Nor does the Lord leave us without hope in the midst of a dying world that seeks every other way of peace and salvation than the peace and salvation that God gives in His Son. Jesus Christ we proclaim, even if all turn their back and all close their ears.

This will be so because “There is no other Name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

We learn of this One through the Sacred Scriptures, the Holy Bible, called so on account of whose Word it truly is – God’s, and not man’s.

Such sublime truth is revealed throughout the Scared text of the writings, both Old and New, as well as by today’s epistle from Paul’s letter to Timothy.

The “sacred writing” referred to by Paul which Timothy knew from his grandmother Lois and from his mother Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5) is none other than the writing of Genesis through Malachi, the very same writings that testify of Christ our Lord, as Jesus Himself says in John 5, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (Jn. 5:39, NKJ).

The Word of Jesus we cannot deny nor omit concerning the Old Testament text, which speak of Christ to come, giving the promise of the Savior who “carried our sorrows,” “was wounded for our transgressions,” “by” whose “stripes we are healed,” and upon Whom “the Lord has laid…the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).

The Words of our Lord, however, do not only recall the past words of God to His people through the prophets. Jesus also spoke of that which was to come, even the writings of the New Testament.

In what is sometimes referred to as Jesus’ high priestly prayer, of John 17, our Lord prays, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word” (Jn. 17:20, NKJ). The “these alone” for whom He prays are His disciples, soon to be apostles. “Those who” would “believe in” Him include also us, who believe on account of the Word which they spoke, the Word which they also wrote.

Of such words, our Lord also promised His disciples the Holy Spirit, to whom He said, “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (Jn. 14:26, NKJ).

The Holy Spirit has done so, having inspired the Apostles, as also the Prophets, to write what He gave them to write, “for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4, NKJ).

St. Peter reminds us that “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

The soundness and validity of the Scriptural text is not the product of your belief or confidence in the text itself. This would make man the Bible’s foundation and not God, nor His Son.

bible-word-of-god1Instead of man’s conclusions, hypotheses, theories, or thoughts, we believe the Holy Bible to be God’s Word, not because man or the church says that this is so, but because God has, even through that very same Word which proclaims Christ, Christ to come, Christ having fulfilled, and Christ coming again.

Jesus says, “He who is of God hears God’s words” (Jn. 8:47, NKJ).

God’s words are those found within the pages of Scripture. The two are the same. Holy Scripture is God’s Word. This we confess. But such confession doesn’t save.

Thus does John write in His first epistle, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 Jn. 5:13 NKJ).

At the conclusion of his Gospel, St. John also wrote, “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31 NKJ)

The Holy Scriptures, the sacred writings of both Testaments, testify and point to Jesus Christ, their center, the Jesus whose life, death, resurrection, and ascension give life to sinners. They reveal the glory of God the Father in the crucified and risen Son, whose blood cleanses you from all sin and by whom you have life and salvation.

The Bible is more than just a book of do’s and don’ts. If this is all it is to you, you still don’t have faith in the One thing needful, which is Christ. He is your life and your standing before God, He, and He alone. The Bible does contain do’s and don’ts, but knowing what to do and what not to do doesn’t save.

Through these come the knowledge of sin, for “By the deeds of the law no flesh shall be justified in God’s sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). bible-cross1

What shows us our Savior is the Gospel. And it is by the Gospel, the free forgiveness of sins by means of Christ’s death, that you live, by which God reveals this truth, “Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14, NKJ), not an excuse to sin, but reason to rejoice in the grace God freely bestows and to live by faith in that Word through which God makes your salvation known. Amen.

The Importance of Distinguishing Law & Gospel

thelutherandifference

“For Luther, a proper distinction between Law and Gospel opened the door to a right understanding of God’s Word and, therefore, a right understanding of God’s will for humankind and our salvation.  Throughout its history, the Lutheran Church has continued to maintain that rightly distinguishing between Law and Gospel is absolutely necessary in this regard.  The Law shows us God’s will and reveals our sin; the Gospel proclaims our salvation in Christ.  To confuse these two doctrines is to remain confused about ourselves and about our God.  To misunderstand them is to misunderstand the reason for the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  In short, Law and Gospel are the means by which we can rightly understand the whole of the Christian faith.” [Edward Engelbrecht (ed.), The Lutheran Difference (St. Louis: CPH, 2010), p40-41)]

“I have my faith”?

Therefore, having been justified by faith,

we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Romans 5:1

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

There is much talk about faith these days. Recently, I heard one numerous times in discussion say, “I have my faith.” Yet, such talk about faith is quite vague. It seems to emphasize the “me,” of faith, and doesn’t really get to the object of the Christian faith, which is Christ.

MyFaithChristian faith doesn’t exclusively speak in the way of “me” or “my” kind of faith. Rather, Christian faith confesses Christ, front and center.

Remember the words of Jesus. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).

Remember the words of St. Paul, too. “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD” (1 Corinthians 1:31).

These words also apply to Christian faith, even our own faith, which is neither self-derived or self-chosen, a personal decision or a choice. Rather, the Christian faith is the God-given faith.

The Bible teaches such truth, for as Jesus says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Speaking of the flesh, St. Paul writes, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8).

According to God’s Holy Word, which is what the Bible is, “those who are in the flesh” are not of faith. This applies to all people, as all people are born through the womb. Naturally, such people are in need of a Savior since the Fall of AdaBorn-of-God1m and Eve (Romans 5:12). Dead in sin, from conception to physical death, a spiritual birth is needed. One must be reborn.

Such rebirth cannot and does not happen by choice or personal decision. That which is dead cannot do anything of itself. It is God, through His Holy Word, which gives life, new life, abundant life (John 6:63, 10:10). Thus do we have Christ, who speaks life, that we be born anew, even through water and word (John 3:5; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21).

Similar to the account of Jesus calling dead Lazarus from the tomb (John 11:38-44), so Jesus calls us from death to life by means of His Word, even His Word preached today (John 6:63). Where His Holy Word continues to be preached today, He continues to bring forth the hearers from death to life.

The preaching of Christ’s cross does not make Christians either lazy or unproductive (Ephesians 2:10, Galatians 5:6). Instead, the preaching of Christ’s cross, of His death and resurrection, enlivens true faith. Evangelicalism here gets it wrong where they empty their preaching of the Gospel and instead preach only what you must do of yourself and how to live, yet apart from faith in Christ. They also get it wrong where they emphasis personal faith over and against objective faith, which is the faith given by God through the hearing of Christ and His holy Word (Romans 10:17).

This faith, and this faith alone, that which is of God and His Son Jesus Christ, wrought by the Holy Spirit, is that faith which does not seek its own, but glories in Christ, clearly confessing Him to be Savior.

Rom01.16,4The Christian faith does just this, and unashamedly (Romans 1:16). This faith confesses Christ, giving Him and Him alone all the glory. So, more than speaking of “my faith” and taking comfort in what “I personally believe” (subjectively, as in “I have my faith”), the Christian faith speaks of Christ and what He has done for me, according to Holy Scripture. Instead of confessing, “I have my faith,” the Christian boastfully confesses in who that faith is—Christ.

My faith” does not save me. Christ does! Thanks be to God! Amen.

“For the faith that takes hold of Christ, the Son of God, and is adorned by Him is the faith that justifies, not a faith that includes love. For if faith is to be sure and firm, it must take hold of nothing but Christ alone; and in the agony and terror of conscience it has nothing else to lean on than this pearl of great value (Matt. 13:45–46). Therefore whoever takes hold of Christ by faith, no matter how terrified by the Law and oppressed by the burden of his sins he may be, has the right to boast that he is righteous. How has he this right? By that jewel, Christ, whom he possesses by faith. Our opponents fail to understand this. Therefore they reject Christ, this jewel; and in His place they put their love, which they say is a jewel. But if they do not know what faith is, it is impossible for them to have faith, much less to teach it to others. And as for what they claim to have, this is nothing but a dream, an opinion, and natural reason, but not faith.” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p88-89)

Prayer: Father in heaven, give us faith which takes hold of Christ and no other. Preserve us in this faith by the means which You freely give and deliver, and keep us from despising Your free gifts of Baptism, Word, and Supper, that we remain yours, and, denying ourselves, follow you. Amen.

Salvation–Possible with God!

“With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”

Mark 10:27

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Such words of our Lord as the words above have a specific context which Jesus speaks them. Here, Jesus is not talking about overcoming every obstacle, climbing every mountain, or prospering in life. The context in which our Lord speaks is quite different.

EyeOfNeedleJesus had just relayed to the disciples how difficult it is for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:23-25), to which the disciples responded, “Who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:26). It is at this point that Jesus then says, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”

Note the it that Jesus references. That it references the salvation that the disciples ask of. This means that salvation is impossible with men, but not with God. Thus, the all things that Jesus speaks here, contextually, is that of salvation.

I know of only one other place in the New Testament where similar words are spoken. However, these words are given in a very different context than that of salvation. The context is that of the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that Elizabeth, who is beyond the age of child bearing, had conceived a son (Luke 1:36). The angel then concludes the announcement, “For with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37).

ContextThe pair of phrases addressed here each has its own context in which it is spoken. However, each is often used apart from its context, and often for personal, self-help, motivational encouragement. Doing this, however, is a misuse use of the text, applying it in ways not intended, and doing so also demonstrates a use of the text according to one’s own circumstances and inclinations rather than that of the Holy Scripture.

Divorced from context, the content of the passage becomes divorced from its biblical meaning. And though this not be the concern of many a people, it is a concern for all who seek to be faithful to the Biblical text itself and its intended meaning.

Confining oneself to the words, context, and meaning of the sacred text of the Holy Bible is not only faithful practice, but is the very means by which the Lord draws us to Himself, even to Jesus, through whom salvation is certain (i.e. John 20:31). The Lord doesn’t give us His Word that we determine its application. Rather, He gives us His Word that we might believe it, and believing it, that we abide by it, and so live through faith in Him who died and rose again.

Slippery slope2It’s a “slippery slope” to use the Bible in ways not given. Remaining with the context, however, leads us to rightly believe, and firmly to trust, in Jesus.

Additionally, if one passage, like Mark 10:27 (or Luke 1:37), doesn’t do for us what we would like it to do, that’s okay, because the Lord directs us with His Word where He wants us to be and where He wants us to go, that is, in and to His Kingdom. Amen.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to deny ourselves and to entrust ourselves into your keeping, that we not misuse Your Hold Word or try to make it say what we want it to say for our own ends. Move us to believe what you say, that we grow in grace and true knowledge of You. Amen.

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