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The Small Catechism, Part IV: The Sacrament of Holy Baptism

 

First Reading: Acts 2:36-39

36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”” (NKJ)

Second Reading: Matthew 28:18-20

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.” (NKJ)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

From Parts 1-3 of Luther’s Small Catechism, Part 1 being the Ten Commandments, Part 2 being the Creed, and Part 3 being The Lord’s Prayer, we come to Part 4, God’s Means of Grace through water and Word.

In the Ten Commandments, God gives words for how we are to live before him and with our neighbors. On account of our not keeping them, we stand condemned before God, except for Jesus Christ, the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity, confessed in The Creed, the 2nd Chief Part of the Catechism.

Here, we confess God’s work to and for us sinners in providing all that is temporary for the body and all this is eternal for the soul.

Here, we confess God’s goodness, our salvation from sin, death, and hell through the Redeemer Christ, and God’s work of preserving us in the truth faith through the Holy Spirit, whose work it is to create, sustain, and nourish faith through Word preached, sins absolved, water poured, and the body and blood of Christ given to eat and drink in the Holy Supper of our Lord.

In the Third Part of The Catechism, having to do with the Lord’s Prayer, our Lord instructs self-centered sinners how to pray and what to pray for.

He turns us away from ourselves in submission to the Lord’s Holy Will—in everything, excluding nothing, giving the very word to pray, that we would learn that all comes from Him.

The Commandments, The Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer (The Our Father), the first three parts of The Small Catechism, all Christians should readily be familiar with.  They cannot be exhausted, known, or contemplated enough.

Baptism, ShellThe same applies to the next chief Part, Part 4, The Sacrament of Holy Baptism, and the chief parts that follow.

Concerning Holy Baptism, Luther outlines the topics therein in four sections, and then also gives Biblical references in support of each.

Each section consists of a question:

1 What is Baptism?

2 What benefits does Baptism give?

3 How can water do such great things?

And, 4 What does such baptizing indicate?

In beginning to address these questions, it is necessary, at the first, to speak about the word “baptize” itself, as any number of people have been mislead to believe that “to baptize” means something that it does not, or that it only should be used one way and no other, lest it be invalid or not a true baptism.

Some teach and believe that “to baptize” means “to immerse in water only,” or “to dunk only,” and that baptism is truly a baptism if only immersed, or that a greater amount of water must be used, because baptism is only a symbol, not a work of God and a Means of Grace.

In truth, “to baptize” with water can mean to immerse or dunk in water.

It can also mean “to dip,” “to sprinkle,” or “to pour.”

Biblically speaking, “to baptize with water” includes all of these.

While many want to give emphasis to the washing of water only, and to the amount of water used/applied, as do all who deny infant Baptism and God’s grace given in Baptism, “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word” (SC, Baptism, First).

We do not deny, therefore, God’s work in water due to the amount used or to the mode applied.

Instead, as Christians, we look to the Word and promise of God.

The identification of Baptism as God’s work is determined according to the Lord’s revelation and not according to our definition, disposition, or symbolic attribution to the Sacrament.

Writes Luther,

17 …Baptism is a very different thing from all other water, not by virtue of the natural substance but because here something nobler is added. God himself stakes his honor, his power, and his might on it. Therefore it is not simply a natural water, but a divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water—praise it in any other terms you can—all by virtue of the Word, which is a heavenly, holy Word which no one can sufficiently extol, for it contains and conveys all the fullness of God.

18 From the Word it derives its nature as a sacrament…When the Word is added to the element or the natural substance, it becomes a sacrament, that is, a holy, divine thing and sign.

19 Therefore, we constantly teach that the sacraments and all the external things ordained and instituted by God should be regarded not according to the gross, external mask (as we see the shell of a nut) but as that in which God’s Word is enclosed.”

Luther continues,

22 I therefore admonish you again that these two, the Word and the water, must by no means be separated from each other. For where the Word is separated from the water, the water is no different from that which the maid cooks with and could indeed be called a bathkeeper’s baptism. But when the Word is present according to God’s ordinance, Baptism is a sacrament, and it is called Christ’s Baptism.” (The Book of Concord, LC, Baptism ¶17-19, 22)

In Matthew 28, verse 19, Jesus is recorded to have said to His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19 NKJ).

Likewise, St. Mark records Jesus to have said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk. 16:16 NKJ).

Concerning these verses from Matthew 28 and Mark 16, Luther observes that,

6 …these words contain God’s commandment and ordinance. You should not doubt, then, that Baptism is of divine origin, not something devised or invented by men. As truly as I can say that the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer are not spun out of any man’s imagination but revealed and given by God himself, so I can also boast that Baptism is no human plaything but is instituted by God himself. Moreover, it is solemnly and strictly commanded that we must be baptized or we shall not be saved. We are not to regard it as an indifferent matter, then, like putting on a new red coat.

7 It is of the greatest importance that we regard Baptism as excellent, glorious, and exalted. It is the chief cause of our contentions and battles because the world now is full of sects who proclaim that Baptism is an external thing and that external things are of no use.

8 But no matter how external it may be, here stand God’s Word and command which have been instituted, established, and confirmed in Baptism. What God instituted and commands cannot be useless. It is a most precious thing, even though to all appearances it may not be worth a straw. (The Book of Concord, LC, Baptism ¶6-8)

As what God has instituted and commands cannot be useless, neither can Holy Baptism.

Not at all apart from faith, Holy Baptism “works forgiveness of sins, preserves from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation” (SC, Baptism, Second).

Unlike those who posit Baptism to be only an “outward sign of an inward grace,” that you have to be old enough in order to make a decision to be baptized, or that Lutherans believe Baptism to save without faith in God’s promise (because babies can’t believe), the Bible declares distinctly and definitively that Holy Baptism in the Name of the Triune God—in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit—is in His Name, done by Him.

Baptism into God’s Name can be none other than God’s work, independent of what we think, what reason has to say, or what the fallen sinner defines baptism to be.

Can infants, can babies, believe?

Christians say and affirmative, “Yes,” because such faith does not come from within.

The faith which believes God’s Word and promise comes from the God who gives it—through His very Word and promise given, the means by which the Holy Spirit creates and nourishes faith.

When Peter rightly confesses Jesus to be Christ, Jesus did not then say to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah,” for you have come to this conclusion on your own and have decided the truth by yourself. Good for you!

Not at all.

What does Jesus say?

Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17 NKJ).

St. Paul writes, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17 NASB).

In another place, St. Paul reveals that, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3 NKJ).

As the child, so also the adult does not come to saving by self, but by the gifted revelation of God, His Holy Word, even that Holy Word attached to water.

Through the very Means God has instituted to bring about new birth unto eternal life, God raises to life that which was dead in trespasses and sins.

St. Peter, therefore, connects “the remission of sins” and “the gift of the Holy Spirit” to the water and word of Holy Baptism, extending that promise also to children (Acts 2:38).

Such blessings are attached to Holy Baptism.

To be baptized into God’s Holy Name is to be born anew, born from above, born of water and the Spirit, born of God, having His Name upon You, His blessing–yours (John 3:3, 7, 13).

Scriptural baptism is not at all man’s work.

It is God’s.

If Baptism was man’s work, all who claim baptism to be merely an outward sign to God (as if God needs to be shown) or a testimony/sign to man, in union denying God’s great gifts, would then be correct and the Bible in error.

If Baptism was man’s work, there would not be attached to Baptism the blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Man’s work cannot do these things.

Yet, St. Peter writes, “Baptism saves” (1 Peter 3:21).

God’s Word is too clear to deny not only what Holy Baptism is and its blessing to sinners, but also its continual comfort to the Christian.

As we believe in God and Christ, so also we believe His Word and work.

With St. Paul the apostle, we confess with Him “That as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death…Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4 NKJ).

Thus does Baptism indicate, “that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (SC, Fourth).

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph. 4:4-6 NKJ).

God’s one-time act of baptizing you was sufficient.

Into His Name you remain, as you believe His promises.

In what God has done, here is where you have your identity.

What defines you is not how you live, what you do, or who you are as a sinner.

What defines you is what God says of you: washed, forgiven, Mine. Amen.

 

Luther’s Small Catechism

IV. The Sacrament of Holy Baptism

First.

What is Baptism?–Answer. Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.

Which is that word of God?–Answer. Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Matthew: Go ye into all the world and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Secondly.

What does Baptism give or profit?–Answer. It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are such words and promises of God? Answer. Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Mark: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

Thirdly.

How can water do such great things?–Answer. It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.

Fourthly.

What does such baptizing with water signify?–Answer. It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Where is this written?–Answer.St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasGracious God, through the water of Holy Baptism you washed me clean of my sin. Strengthen my confidence in Your Word and work, that through the challenges of this life, I live by faith as Your beloved child, certain that my identity is in You, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

“Worship in Spirit and in Truth,” John 4:5-30, 39-42

 

5[Jesus] came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

      7There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jesus & Samaritan Woman at well 2Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

      16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

      27Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30They went out of the town and were coming to him. . .

      39Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

It is truly extraordinary that our God came in the likeness of sinful man.

He became flesh and blood to take your place under the law in order to redeem you from the curse of the law (Galatians 4:5).

You don’t ascend to Him.

He comes to you.

He comes to you in such a way that you can even approach Him.

It was this way for the woman in our text.

At first, she didn’t recognize the identity of our Lord.

She didn’t recognize Him because He didn’t look like anything spectacular.

He looked like a Jewish man of that time, because that’s what He was.

Jesus is also God, but not God revealed in His glory-God concealed in humanity.

You couldn’t tell that Jesus was God just by looking at Him, even as you can’t tell that Jesus is here present, but by His Word.

The woman thought Jesus was just like any other Jew.

Jesus was indeed a man, with all the physical needs that are also our own.

We need to eat.  We need to drink.  We need sleep.

Jesus too experienced these bodily necessities.  “He humbled Himself…taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7).

He “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus asked the woman for water with the intention of directing her to things eternal, not only to things temporal.

As He spoke to her about “living water,” she didn’t get it.

Like with Nicodemus before (John 3), He had told her earthly things, and because she didn’t get those things, she wouldn’t understand as He told her spiritual things.

She continued seeking earthly kinds of things and not the heavenly, even though Jesus sought to draw her attention to matters of eternal significance and away from things temporal.

Jesus is this way with us, too.

We are yet in the flesh.

How often we set our minds on things of the earth and neglect the heavenly things promised in Christ! (Colossians 3:1-2)

We fret and worry about life’s circumstances.

We not only fail to see God’s Word and promises right before our eyes.  We demonstrate lack of confidence and faith in what our Lord has said, even seeking comfort and help from that which is not of God.

We feel sad, get frustrated, and become depressed because things aren’t going our way or because things are just so hard.

We doubt the very promises of our Lord.

We are tempted to think that God doesn’t care.

We fail to see the blessings of our Lord in the midst of difficult times.

We are distracted by the here and now and we miss the big picture, the big picture of the eternal, that which is, and will be, according to what God says, and that which is our sure hope in Jesus.

Like the woman at the well who heard of living water and sought after only earthly water, we hear about prosperity and blessing and temporary fulfillment.

We might think that God promises earthly wealth and a worldly kind of happiness.

We hear the words of peace and we might think that God promises an earthly utopia.

We hear the words of forgiveness and we might think that God is okay with sin and that sin is really no big deal.

Truly this is how some even perceive the Christian faith, that it has more to do with earthly kind of things than even of heaven itself.

A worldly kind of gospel finds a great following among many today, but it is a gospel that has little to do with the Jesus of the Bible and more to do with feeding the dream of success, earthly contentment, worldly peace, and self-satisfaction.

THE Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ has to do with eternity.

It has to do with contentment in Christ, not in what one does or doesn’t have in the world.

It has to do with how you now stand before God because of Jesus—truly forgiven, your sins not being added to your account, not because your sins are in any way minimized, but because Jesus paid the full price, purchasing you with His own blood (Acts 20:28).

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ has to do with the message of eternal life, not earthly wealth, earthly gain, success, popularity, or acceptance.

The things of the world are passing away, the Bible says, but the Word of the Lord endures forever (1 Peter 1:25).

The circumstances, conditions, and emotions of our lives constantly change, up the one moment and down the next.

We experience uncertainty.

But “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

We know God’s disposition towards us from day to day because of Him: for good, and not for evil; for salvation, not for condemnation; for help, not for destruction.

“Salvation is,” as our Lord says, “from the Jews.”

Jesus Himself was a Jew, born of Mary, the very seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matthew 1:2).

Herein is your hope.

You don’t climb a mountain or go to Jerusalem to worship.  Nor do you not know Who you worship.

You do.

You do know who you worship because of Him who reveals Himself to you in the Word as the Christ.

This One reveals to you that He is the Son of the heavenly Father, whose Father is now also your Father.

When Jesus says as He does in our text, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth,” Jesus is NOT saying that you worship our Lord however you want.

Worship in spirit and truth does not mean that.

Spirit and truth kind of worship is that kind of worship that is according to God’s Word and Will.

That kind of worship which is according to God’s Word and Will is that kind of worship which has Christ Jesus as the center.

At one point in Jesus’ ministry, he had said, “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” (Matthew 7:21).

It is not the one who only thinks that He is worshiping God who truly is, but the one who actually is worshiping God as God wills Himself to be worshiped, that is, through His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Bible doesn’t talk about a generic god.

Nor does it talk about a god that contradicts himself or allows inconsistencies to abound.

Any and all who say that all religions worship the same God don’t worship the true God, for the true God they do not know.

Any and all who say that Jews and Muslims worship the true God don’t know the true God, for the true God is He who does not give His glory to another (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11).

The true God reveals Himself as Triune, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; not three gods, but one God; three persons, yet one God.

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is indeed a mystery—a mystery that you believe just the same.

You are happy and bold to confess the Trinity.

Also are you glad and bold to confess God’s Son, Jesus.

“Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?  Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22, 23).

“If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son.   He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son.   And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.   He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:9-12).

We worship the Lord God in Christ Jesus.

We confess Christ, seek forgiveness of sins from Him, and seek everlasting life from Him.

Because we believe Christ to be the only begotten Son of God, who gives true and living water unto eternal life, we also gather here in this place.

We know that Jesus is here.

God promises that here, Jesus speaks, according to His Holy Word.

Means of Grace-window-round1Here, Jesus gives His own body and blood to eat and to drink, not to condemn, but to forgive and strengthen faith.

Here, Jesus absolves you of your sin and cleanses you from all unrighteousness.

Worship in spirit and in truth is not about you doing for God.

Worship in spirit and truth is seeking from God mercy and forgiveness, life and salvation—through His Son.

Worship in spirit and in truth is looking to Jesus.

It is believing Jesus and trusting His Word and promise.

From this, all else follows.  Amen.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasFather, forgive me for worshiping You my own way.  Grant me to worship in spirit and truth, according to Your Holy Word and Holy will, trusting Your Word, believing Your promises, confessing Your Name, and so living. Amen.

 

The Baptism of our Lord, Matthew 3:13-17

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The text before us is a text is a most amazing text. Jesus, “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made,” this same Jesus came to John the Baptist for the purpose of being baptized by him in the Jordan river (Nicene Creed).

This is a most strange, yet wonderful, doing of our Lord.

It is most strange because John’s baptism was a “baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3).

John the Baptist preached the message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:1).

Those who came to John to be baptized by him were repentant, that is, they were sorry for their sins.

They came confessing their sins, for they were sinners.

John’s preaching of repentance was a call to turn from unbelief to belief in the Lord and His word and promises.

This is what is strange about Jesus coming to John the Baptist to be baptized by him—Jesus had nothing to repent of.

Jesus was without sin (Hebrews 4:15).  He had no need for forgiveness, for remission of sins, or for pardon.  Jesus had no sins to confess that were His own.  He was complete, whole, and without blemish.

It was not Jesus who needed forgiveness.  It was John himself and all who came to him who needed redemption, everyone else but Jesus.

For this reason, we might be able to understand John’s hesitation to baptize Jesus and why he said what he did when he said to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

John knew and understood that Jesus was upright.  He recognized that Jesus was mightier, the greater, the Righteous (Matthew 3:11; John 3:30).

John understood that his baptizing was a baptism of repentance, a baptism for sinners.  Jesus was not a sinner.

Jesus needed no baptism.

This was the dilemma for John.

Jesus coming to him to be baptized by him did not make sense.

This is that strange thing concerning the text—Jesus, a non-sinner, comes to John to be baptized by him who baptizes sinners.

Fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness

As strange and incredible as Jesus coming to John to be baptized by him is, his coming to John to be baptized by him is also the wonderful doing of our Lord.

Jesus came to John to be baptized by him, not because He, that is, Jesus, had any sin of His person or because of anything that He had done wrong, did do wrong, or would do wrong.

 Jesus remained as sinless before His baptism as after His baptism.

Rather, Jesus came to John to be baptized by him because by doing so, He identified Himself with sinners and as a sinner, really, not only as “a” sinner, but “the” sinner.

By undergoing a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, Jesus identified Himself as THE ONE on whom all sin would rest—THE ONE on whom God’s judgment would rest—THE ONE who would stand in the place of a sinful people and be THE substitute for sinners, both in suffering their judgment for their sin and for fulfilling all righteousness by keeping God’s Law.

Jesus would be the one, who with John, would fulfill all righteousness: John, by baptizing Jesus; and Jesus, by being baptized by John as a sinner, though He knew no sin, even as St. Paul testifies, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

On the cross of Calvary, Jesus paid for your sins and mine.

By His being baptized, Jesus identified Himself as your substitute, even your righteousness, before God.

Jesus did not need to be baptized for Himself.

He had no sin for which to give answer.

However, for you was He baptized, that you not rest on your own doings for salvation, but on Him—and on Him alone—that you rest your hope and confidence in Christ and none other.

God the Father also testifies to this, for the voice from heaven declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

If Jesus’ baptism had not pleased the Father, the Father would not have said what He had said.

Nor would the Spirit have descended and rested upon Jesus.

The events of that day give evidence to God’s approval of His Son, and the approval of His work—a sin bearer and Savior for all of mankind.

John permitted Jesus to be baptized by him

John humbly consented to baptizing Jesus.

He did not refuse Jesus his request.

John did not resist Jesus’ Word because he didn’t understand it.

He simply let the Word of the Lord take the lead.

He permitted to be what the Lord had spoken.

Even though John was less than Jesus and Jesus the greater, John abided by the Word of the Lord, and, filling his office, he did according to the Word that the Lord gave Him to do.

This is no small thing.

It is the work of God that the sinner give in to God’s Word, believe it, and do it.

This is not the work of sinful man, but the grace of God to believe, even should one not know the reason for doing so—except that God say it.

Initially, John tried to prevent Jesus from being baptized.  But at the Lord’s Word, he let it be.

This is what the Lord’s disciples do.

They let God’s Word be as it is—God’s Word—without equivocation, without misrepresentation, without falsification, and without reinterpretation.

They permit God’s Word to speak as it is, and on that alone do they rest their case, believe, and do.

The heaven’s opened—Jesus, the Spirit (as a dove), the Father (voice)—The Holy Trinity—The words of the Father–This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased

And then what do we see?

John permits Jesus to be baptized.

Jesus, so humbly, is baptized by the baptizer.  And the heavens are opened.  The Holy Spirit descends as a dove and rests upon Jesus.  There is a voice from the opened heaven.  And the voice of the Heavenly Father says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

What else can this mean but that Jesus is the one with whom the Father is well pleased?

What else can this mean but that Jesus, the one who “numbered” Himself “with the transgressors and…bore the sin of many,” who later “poured out His soul unto death, even the death of the cross” (Isaiah 53:12; Philippians 2:8) is your Savior, Redeemer, and deliverer from sin, death, and hell?

What else can these words of the Father about His Son mean than that in Jesus, you too, are well pleasing to the Father?

Christ, serving as your substitute, as the sinner of all sinners, means that all your sin is off you and on Him.

If your sin be on Him, your sin is not on you.

Therefore, that sin, your sin, is no more your judgement, for in Christ, that judgment is no more.

“He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:26-28), even your sins.

“He redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).

All this means that the Father’s words about His Son now also apply to you—because of Jesus.

Because the Father is pleased with His beloved Son, and that Son fulfilled all righteousness and put to death your sins on the cross that they be no more, the Father is now pleased with you on account of Jesus.

No more trying to impress God or earn His favor!

Only believe Jesus, your Advocate (1 John 2:1) and Mediator (1 Timothy 2:4), and you have a gracious God.

Like John, permit this to be so.

Suffer the words of Jesus and the words of the Father.

Remember your Baptism, for as Paul says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4, epistle).

Since both Jesus and the Father looked highly upon the baptism of Jesus, so also are you to look upon Christ’s baptism for you, and even your own baptism, for you were baptized in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

God’s Name is no Name to minimize—it is the only Name to regard as High and mighty.

That Name is on you through water and Word.

Should you ever wonder God’s disposition towards you, should you ever doubt God’s favor upon you, should you ever be uncertain that your sins are forgiven, or should you ever find yourself questioning whether your sin is too great for God to forgive, look to Christ.

Hold fast to Christ’s Word, “You are forgiven.”

Be bold to say, “God’s own child I gladly say it, I am baptized into Christ,” for so you are.

Through Baptism, God calls you His own.  You are His.

Also be bold to say, “Christ was baptized for me,” for so He was.

This is just the kind of Savior that you have in Jesus, One who truly saves, in whom you can say with certainty, “I am His, and He is mine.”  Amen.

 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, in Holy Baptism, You made me Your own through water and Word.  Help me not to despise this, Your work, claiming it as my own, but to believe in your grace and favor to me through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

 

Circumcision and Name of Jesus, Luke 2:21

 

21 And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. 

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

2019 was a dynamic year, and much has happened since its beginning last January.

From politics, broadly, to personal, individually, this year has been one of change, and also sameness.

As Christians, it is good to reflect on the past year, even as we move forward, recognizing God’s work among us.

It is also good, “meet, right, and salutary,” to reflect on the words and doings of our Lord as revealed in Holy Scripture.

Tonight, we want to consider eight days after our Lord’s birth to the Virgin Mary, the day of His circumcision and Naming.

We also want to consider the establishment of God’s covenant of circumcision with His people of Old, and God’s work among us, still today, not of circumcision, but according to His Word and promise.

Eight days after the birth of the Lord Jesus into the world, Jesus was circumcised.

In our day, circumcision is of little religious significance to us Christians on account of Christ.  But to the more immediate descendants of Abraham, to whom God gave such a covenant, circumcision was a “big deal.”

To refuse circumcision was to reject God’s promise and to demonstrate unbelief.

Circumcision, for us, does not have such a meaning.

Christians today generally view circumcision as a means of hygiene, not as a religious observance.

We can choose to circumcise or not to circumcise, not as a means of being in or out of the covenant with the Most High, but as a means of exercising our Christian freedom.

We are not bound to the ceremonial laws and institutions of the Old Testament as the people of the Old Covenant were.

Because of Christ and His work, we are no longer obligated to keep the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, like circumcision, the sacrificial system, keeping the Sabbath day, the priesthood, and the like, as St. Paul declares.

“Let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col. 2:16).

For Abraham and his descendants until the time of Christ, circumcision was the sign of the covenant, given by God—to Abraham—by which God pledged His faithfulness to His people, for the sake of His people.

Circumcision was not Abraham choosing God.  Nor was circumcision primarily an act of obedience of Abraham to God, as if Abraham worked His way into God’s covenant by performing the rite of circumcision.

It was in Genesis 17 that God established this sign and pledge to Abraham, not for God’s sake, but for Abraham’s, and his descendants, that they might believe God’s Word.

In that account, God said to Abraham, “This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;  and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations” (Genesis 17:10-12).

God institutes the covenant.

Abraham only receives what the Lord gives, as do we, and the receiving of what the Lord gives is faith in what the Lord gives according to His Word.

Abraham had no worthiness of himself by which he could claim anything before God.

Instead, humbly claiming only what the Lord said, and believing it, Abraham heeded the Word of the Lord and “took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him” (Genesis 17:23).

Abraham wasted no time in fulfilling the Lord’s Word.

Such was His faith.

But more than this, such was the Lord’s Word and promise.

As a sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham, circumcision did not establish God’s mercy and faithfulness.

Rather, in the words of St. Paul the apostle, circumcision was “a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he” (That is, Abraham) “had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised” (Romans 4:11-12).

Abraham was good in God’s eyes and had God’s favor before the covenant of circumcision.

Before being circumcised, Abraham already believed, as recorded in Genesis 15, “And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

This believing concerned God’s promise of many descendants, even when Abraham at that time had none.

Such limitations on our part are not limitations of God.

What we are unable to see because of unbelief, God reveals according to His Word.

This we believe, and believing according to the Lord’s Word, we, too, stand before God as righteous.

So, what does circumcision have to do with Jesus?

According to the covenant that God had given to Abraham, all males of the people of God were to be circumcised at the age of eight days old.

As a descendant of Abraham, from “the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4), Jesus was to be circumcised.

Unlike the males before and after Him, however, Jesus did not need this sign of the covenant.

Jesus, God in the flesh, is in no need of God’s pledge of the Holy One to come, because Jesus IS that Holy One promised to Abraham through whom all nations would be blessed (Genesis 22:18; 26:4To Isaac; Acts 3:25).

Jesus is that One, that “Seed of the Woman” (Genesis 3:15) who would, and did, crush the serpent’s head, conquering death by means of His own death on the cross, “who was delivered up because of our offenses, and who was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25).

In being circumcised, Jesus demonstrated His obedience under the Law, not apart from you, but for you.

As the Holy One, Jesus became the sinner that you become the righteous.

The Lord God, in Jesus, fulfilled the Law and the Prophets in your stead.

In Him, you see your salvation.

Because Jesus is your salvation, you are no longer under the covenant of circumcision.  God has given you a new sign—the sign of Holy Baptism.

“In” Jesus, writes Paul, “you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,  buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.  And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:11-14).

In today’s Epistle reading, St. Paul reminds us what faith in Jesus and Holy Baptism means when he writes, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:23-39).

Because of Christ, circumcision as God’s covenant is obsolete.  Christ having come means that we are no longer under the Old Covenant, but under the New, which Christ has now ushered in.  Life as God’s children is not about do’s and dont’s, as many assume it to be.

Being a Christian is about believing in the One whom God sent.

Such believing in the One whom God sent is also believing according to the very Word of our Lord.

This is what Abraham did.

This is what the descendants of Abraham do.

They desire to live, not by sight, but by faith, by faith in the promises of God.

They do not trust in themselves or in what might be, but have confidence in what the Lord has said, and rejoice in all that the Lord gives.

They look back on the previous year and the times before and find comfort in the Lord’s forgiveness and in His mercy.

For what is new and forthcoming, they seek the Lord’s will, leaving whatever may be in the Lord’s hands and entrust themselves into God’s gracious care and keeping.

They do this because they know that the present and the future do not rest on them, but on God alone.  As the Lord’s children, their life is not their own.  They are the Lord’s, as are you.

You’ve been given a name, a new name, that of Christian, bearing the Name of Christ.

Your life is no longer your own.

In the waters of Holy Baptism, you received your new identity, where God placed his Holy Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, upon you.

This means something.

Named of God, His Name upon you, you are His.

As a beloved child, as an heir of God’s eternal kingdom, all God’s blessings are yours.

They are yours to eternity.

Nothing do you lack, today, tomorrow, or for the remainder of your life here on this earth.

What is Christ’s is yours, because all that was yours, all that separated you from God, your sin, is Christ’s, and on the cross, Jesus put them to death.

This new name of yours means that you are clean before God, holy and righteous in His sight.

The Name of Jesus, given to Him by His parents at His circumcision, means something.

It was the Name given by the angel of the Child before He was born.

That Name “Jesus” means Savior, and that is just who Jesus is.

It was the angel who had told Joseph that Jesus to be the name of the Child, because “He” will “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

This is what Jesus did on the cross when He died, not for the sinless, but for sinners.

If He hadn’t, you would still be in your sins and your faith in Christ would truly be in vain.

We would be, in fact, the most pitiable of all people (1 Corinthians 15:16-19).

“But now Christ is risen from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Jesus is who He says He is.

His circumcision and the Name given Him mean something.

They mean everything.

Jesus is your life and your salvation.

Because of Him, you have a new name.

You have life and salvation.

“Old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

This new year do not be troubled by doubt or anxious with uncertainty about what has been or what might or might not be.

Do not worry about what tomorrow will bring. Rest in the Lord Jesus.

Take comfort in His salvation and in the Name placed upon you.

Though stumble and fall you will, the Lord will uphold and sustain you.

God’s forgiveness in Christ is certain!

Tomorrow is a new day.  Tomorrow begins a New year.  Yet, in the Lord, every day, and everything, is new!  Amen.

 

Prayer: Lord, help me to remember my baptism, that is, Your Holy work of placing Your Holy Name upon me, that I live forevermore to you, believing your salvation through Christ my Lord. 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.

 

 

 

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.

“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.

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