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“Fear Not,” Matthew 10:5a, 21-33

 

Audio

 

5These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, . . . 21“Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

cross      24“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

      26“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (ESV)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

In Psalm 91, the Psalmist writes,

1 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.” 3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler And from the perilous pestilence. 4 He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. 5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day, 6 Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you. 8 Only with your eyes shall you look, And see the reward of the wicked. 9 Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place, 10 No evil shall befall you, Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; ” (Ps. 91:1-10 NKJ).

Such confidence radiates from the Psalmist, not because of real or perceived worldly circumstance, but because of God’s promises having taken root—believed—with the result that certainty of God’s promises—His Word—is and exists against the antagonists and enemies of God whose words and deeds cannot undo what God declares, whose words and deeds are not at all above God and His ways, and who do not know the extent of God’s revelation in Christ and cannot therefore account for the things of God.

Such confidence in the Lord proceeding from the lips of the Psalmist are quite a contrast to how things are this side of heaven.

Take for example the last verse from Psalm 91 read, verse 10, where the Psalmist records, “No evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling.”

Such promises appear null and void with reference to reality.

Abraham, King David, the prophets, the apostles, God’s people of all times and ages have suffered and have struggled with all that is at enmity with God.

What we see today, what Christians worldwide experience, what God’s people encounter—the challenges to the true faith that we ourselves struggle with, lament, and long to end continue to go on and seem to be on the increase.

Calls to repent for sins of those before us; growing unrest and rebelliousness against God and His order; redefining gender; broadening the definition of sex beyond biology and contrary to God’s order of creation to whatever one wants to define it as, according to one’s own self-identification and perception and not according to the truth; calling male female and female male; legitimizing homosexuality and all kinds of sexual deviancies…These are just a few of the struggles we face as God’s people in our increasingly godless society, where not truth and reason guide and rule, but emotion and felt-need reign supreme.

Such things, and the positions promoted by the world, as disturbing and troubling as they are—these are only expressive of the greater contrast between the godless and the godly; between the wicked and the righteous; between the unholy and the holy—that greater distinction between that of unbelief and belief; of the impenitent heart from the repentant one.

The myriad of issues finding greater and more open expression today in the church and in the world have as their solution, not changes in policy, political affiliation, greater rules and regulations, giving into the demands of the masses or bowing down to ideologies.

The only true and lasting solution for these things, that which the world rejects, is something more profound, something only God, not we, can produce—sustain—keep.

That “some-thing” is repentance and faith, repentance unto God—faith in God’s Son, Jesus the Christ—that which is produced by God by means of His Holy Word, effected and continued by God and what He Himself says, apart from any human endeavor.

What God says, this is what God’s people cling to, hope in, adhere to, and live by.

We do so because God so commands, and because God so promises, according to His Word, that forgiveness, life, and salvation are ours through His Son.

The Christian believes this, not because of life’s circumstances or the place(s) we find ourselves in.

Christians believe in God.

Christians believe in God’s grace and forgiveness, His compassion and mercy, indeed, His unconditional love—because of Jesus.

They do not believe in God as dependent on changes in the world, that things will get better, that a greater number than less will convert to His Name.

Christians are realists, realists in the sense that they acknowledge life not to be what we determine it to be, but what God so determines according to His will, whether that will of God be pleasing to us or not.

Christians also acknowledge God’s love in Christ in all of this.

As it was the Father’s will that His Son suffer and die, so it is God’s will that we continually look to Him for refuge and strength, in trying times and always.

The truth that things may not get better in life until the Lord’s return does not at all change what Christians do as God’s people as they live by faith unto Him who is their salvation.

Their call is neither to change people or to be the change in society so that others follow.

Theirs is the call far weightier and far more eternal than the call of the world to make this place better.

The Christian is called to believe and to so live by that faith that no trust, no confidence, no hope be in self or in the world, but in the crucified Christ alone.

The salvation of God is not isolated, nor focused, on cleansing the world of its ills or undoing the evils in the world so that we have a peaceful kind of life.

Such a dream for the utopian society is the hope of some, but it is not the teaching of Christianity.

As Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matt. 24:35 NKJ).

God’s aim is not the purging of society’s uncleanness, making more humane laws, creating equality among peoples, or eradicating societal divisions for a worldly kind of peace.

Jesus, of course, did preach peace.

Jesus did preach the true unity of all people—as sinners before God, equal in their individual and collective enmity to Him.

Jesus did not come to establish new laws or to do away with old ones.

Jesus did not come “to destroy the Law or the Prophets…but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

By using the term “Law,” Jesus is not speaking about man-made-laws, but that which God revealed in the Old Testament, specifically, His Word given in the first five books of that Testament, known as the Torah or Pentateuch, including the 10 Commandments.

Jesus did not come, nor does He preach, how to live a better life now or how to get through the upheavals of the day, with the result of peace of mind or peace in our day as the world understands peace.

Jesus does not promise the peace that the world seeks to give.

What Jesus does promise is far greater and without comparison.

To His followers, Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33 NKJ).

Our fears and concerns, our doubts and uncertainties—these give way to Christ and His Word.

Jesus has conquered death by means of His own death.

Jesus has overcome the world.

It’s ruler, Satan, the devil, Jesus has defeated.

To Jesus is the title, “Victor.”

The resurrection of our Lord testifies to this.

Jesus continues to reign on His heavenly throne, the throne of Him Who is also our Father, our true Father, “so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father” (Small Catechism, Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer).

It is true that we do not perceive these truths with our eyes, but by faith in the Word of the Lord given.

Nonetheless, hidden does not mean absent.

Nor does hidden mean non-existent.

Our confidence is the Word!

Our hope is Christ!

Our certainty is in that which God has revealed, that which He makes known.

So, it was for the 12.

So, it is also for us.

The disciples, the 12—these Jesus sent out as apostles, “sent ones.”

To them Jesus spoke the words of today’s Gospel.

Jesus commissioned them to go out.

He sent them to do certain things, to speak certain words, to declare the nearness of God’s kingdom.

Their reception by all, then, as well as today, is not all welcome, but even that of spite, ridicule, persecution, and even death.

The refusal of others to hear and believe, the preponderance to deny the truth, the resulting opposition to the Gospel—these would be reason for many to not do what the Lord gives to be done.

Not all will believe, so why put in all the work?

It seems a waste of time to put in the effort without the return.

Add to that the apparent foolishness of saying and doing what God gives to say and do, with the result of rejection and martyrdom.

Jesus is not painting a pretty picture of what His followers will encounter.

To remember is that the disciples, the apostles, God’s people, are not so because of what may be in this world as a result of believing in God through His Son.

Jesus’ disciples, apostles, God’s people are so because of God and His Word, because of God’s Son and His promise of eternal life, because of God’s grace, forgiveness, and mercy—not because of what they now see and experience in the world, but because of the sure hope in that which they do not now see but have the certainty of because of Christ’s death and resurrection.

What Jesus gives His apostles to do and say, Jesus gave them to do and say.

What Jesus gives His church to do and say is what He gives His church to do and say.

Independent of the consequences, the Word of the Lord stands—because it is the Word of the Lord.

To not do it, to not keep it, to not say it—this is unbelief—not of God.

As the world rejected Christ, so also will that same world reject those who belong to Christ.

“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Matt. 10:24 NKJ).

As it was for Jesus, so will it be for they who follow Him according to His Word, some more, some less.

The outcome of such following, of such doing and saying as Jesus gives the church to do and say is not ours to determine, manipulate, or control.

As it is Christ’s Word—His Word and not our own—the result also belongs to Him alone.

It has always been the way of the Lord to do what He does apart from the dictates and demands of His creation.

Simply said, “God is God.”

There is only one God.

This means that the consequences of preaching are not our own.

The growth of the church is not our responsibility.

The changed heart of the hearer is not our burden to bear.

What is our burden is to hear and believe what the Lord says to us—that which is according to His Word alone.

Our responsibility, our call, is to continue in the true faith—to trust, not what we see or experience, but the Lord Jesus Christ.

As this has to do with the very nature of faith itself, so also does it have to do with speaking and living.

This is what God’s people do, as God gives them to do.

The hope and confidence of Christ’s Church, the surety of God’s people everywhere, and the motivation to keep going and to press on amid adversity of all kinds, within and without—is not to be found within or dependent on visible outcome or expectation.

The hope and confidence of Christ’s Church, His body, is founded on the promises of God in Christ Jesus, on what He reveals in Jesus the Savior—Jesus our Savior—Jesus your Savior.

Because of Him, you need not fear God’s wrath and against your sin, nor His displeasure of your doubt and uncertainty in His faithful promises.

These are far weightier than the earthly concerns of this life.

But for Jesus, God’s judgement would be upon you for eternity.

Now—in Jesus—you have God’s favor—indeed, His everlasting love.

Jesus says that, “The very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:30 NKJ).

“Do not fear,” Jesus says, “…you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:31 NKJ).

It is not by circumstance or feeling that you know of God’s love for you, His kindness toward you, or His mercy to you.

It is in Christ Jesus that you know, are certain, and believe God’s good will toward you.

Such confidence moved the disciples to preach and to write, that you, too, also have such confidence before the world, both in believing and in living.

Such confidence in the Lord Jesus also moves you to confess His Name, sure of His mercies, certain of His promises. Amen.

 

PrayingHands&Cross1O God, because Your abiding presence always goes with us, keep us aware of Your daily mercies that we may live secure and content in Your eternal love; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

 

Audio

 

 

Concerning a “Virginia Pastor Who Defiantly Held Church Service Dies of New Chinese Coronavirus”

 

via Virginia Pastor Who Defiantly Held Church Service Dies of New Chinese Coronavirus

 

Christians are not immune from the effects of sin, including troubles of this life, both physical and spiritual.

Christians are not immune from sin’s consequence of physical death, either.

This is important to note!

God’s people are defiant of sin’s tyranny and hold—because of Christ—Who Himself died on the cross and “rose again on the third day” (2nd Article of the Apostle’s Creed).

It was St. Paul, inspired of God, who wrote, “Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14 NKJ).

A little bit later in the same letter of Paul to the Romans, he writes, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1 NKJ).

This reference to Romans 8 in no way disassociates the Christian from the flesh and spirit reality in which he lives. That “according to the flesh” Paul is speaking of doesn’t have to do with the physical body, but of the way of the flesh, that is, with reference to and concerning the desires of the flesh, which are at odds, even at enmity and war, with the way of the spirit, the things of God.

In Galatians, St. Paul writes, for example, “The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:17-23 NKJ).

St. John the evangelist also writes, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world– the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life– is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 Jn. 2:15-17 NKJ).

All of this is to draw attention to the truth that Christians are simultaneously body and soul.

The physical does not cease being physical because of the spiritual, or vice versa.

This has import concerning not only how Christians live, but also their proclamation.

The Christian Church preaches “Christ crucified” (i.e. 1 Cor. 1:23).

Such a Jesus died bodily, according to His human nature. But this does not at all imply or indicate that the divine nature of our Lord did not at all participate, even as Jesus is both God and man in one person.

What this means regarding the current topic is that, just as preaching “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (i.e. 1 Cor. 2:2) is not to say that only “half” of Jesus died and therefore, insignificant and not worth our attention. So also, when Christians preach of salvation through faith in Christ, overcoming sin and death, this does not at all imply that the effects of sin in the world and crucifying the sinful flesh are somehow now obsolete, as if Christians somehow live only spiritually in the world and not also bodily.

Jesus does say, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26 NKJ).

Said another way, faith in Christ and confidence in the Lord’s salvation does not now mean that we no longer live in the world, suffering due to the consequences of the first sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3).

God disciplines His children, whom He loves.

Referencing Proverbs and commenting, Paul writes, ” ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives’ (Proverbs 3:11-12). If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:5-11 NKJ).

God forgives the sin of sinners. This is true!

The hope of the resurrection of our bodies is certain, just as Christ is risen from the dead (1 Cor. 15).

Nonetheless, Christians do not deny the truth that we live in the fallen world and are at God’s mercy as we live in it.

Christians do not lay claim to being above death or the effects of say, a virus.

At the same time, however, it is important to clearly state that the Bible clearly teaches that God is above these.

Though we suffer, as God wills, suffering does not indicate that God is less than, or not God, because we suffer.

The article referenced above may be advancing the view that Bishop Glenn was wrong to declare that “God is larger than this dreaded virus,” because if God were larger than the virus, then Bishop Glenn would not have died.

Glenn’s death, even after stating what he did, does not disprove God’s authority over sickness, or death.

What Glenn suffered demonstrates the hold of sin and death upon all people.

“The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

We ourselves are not in authority over it. Only God is.

Yet, God in the flesh, Jesus, having authority over it, submitted Himself to His heavenly Father and Himself died (Phil. 2:5-8).

Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead.

Could Bishop Glenn not have died as a result of the virus, even as he expressed God’s “largeness” over it? Most certainly!

The account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego may here be directive.

When commanded to bow down to a statue of the king, these three refused.

They were threatened with death.

They replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Dan. 3:16-18 NKJ).

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego believed that God could save them.

Such salvation, they also believed, was not up to them.

Additionally, they believed in God regardless of a momentary deliverance in the face of trial.

God was God, independent of the outcome.

Such is what true faith does. It believes according to the Word and promise of God. Either way, whether of temporary deliverance or of suffering in faithfulness to the Lord, God remains God.

Such words may seem to be of fantasy by the world.

What God would not save those who claim to be His and claim Him to be God?

The God of the Bible contrasts with the God of our own making and intellect.

“God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God– and righteousness and sanctification and redemption– that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the LORD’ ” (1 Cor. 1:27-31 NKJ).

The God of the Bible reveals that through the death of Christ is eternal life; through trial and tribulation—peace; through sorrow and grief—joy; through lack and emptiness—abundance and fullness, in the Lord Jesus.

Also, through humility and humbleness before the Lord, glory and exaltation.

 

 

“Loving the Lord Jesus, Keeping His Commandments, and the Spirit,” John 14:15-21

Audio

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the cropped-bible-cross1.jpgworld cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (ESV)

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Approaching Holy Scripture, we do so in a way that differs from that of others.

We believe the Bible to be God’s Word.

The Bible is God’s Word, not because I make it so, not because I believe it to be so, not because the church says it is so, and certainly not because anyone has determined the Bible to be God’s Word, God’s revelation, on the basis of investigation, explanation, or analysis, thus make the Bible God’s Word based on man’s finding and declaration.

It is the Word of God itself that reveals Holy Scripture to be of God, not the work or idea of man.

It is the Word of God itself that reveals Jesus Christ to be God enfleshed for the salvation of sinners.

We do not make the Bible any truer than it already is because we believe it.

Nor does one make the Bible any less true by not believing it.

Contrary to popular belief, truth is not relative.

Many are learning today that we don’t get want we want the way we want it or when we want it.

We are learning that we are not the one’s who decide how everything is in life.

We are at the mercy of Another.

Because the Bible is God’s Word, it is true, whether believed or not.

We believe the Bible to center on Christ.

As the Bible is God’s Word, it reveals, not what we want it to, but what God wants to make known to us.

Many view the Bible as primarily a book of do’s and don’ts.

Some even refer to the Bible with the acronym B-I-B-L-E, “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.”

That the Scriptures contain do’s and don’ts throughout is readily observable.

The Commandments may immediately come to mind, as given in Exodus chapter 20.

The words of Jesus in Matthew chapters 5-7 also might draw out attention, where Jesus speaks of love to neighbor and enemy alike and how His people are to be towards one another, whether friend or foe.

It is in chapter 7 that our Lord says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21 NKJ).

The position that the Bible is merely a manual for how to get right with God, “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” a book of do’s and don’ts—such views are not only insufficient, but express the Bible, not as God’s revelation making known Christ as Savior, but as means for the sinner to obtain God’s favor; not as gift, but as compensation.

The Bible would then be like any other text from a nonChristian religion, deceiving people to believe that they can somehow appease God by what they do or don’t do, even if they need a little bit of Jesus to help.

The Bible doesn’t teach this.

The Bible teaches that sinners cannot keep God’s commandments unto eternal life, not because the Law itself is insufficient or lacking, but because we are.

“Whatever the law says,” St. Paul writes, “it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:19-24 NKJ).

“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23 NKJ).

“Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. ” (Jas. 2:10 NKJ).

The list goes on.

The Law cannot save the sinner.

The Law demands.

The Law’s demands what we are not able to do.

Since the Fall, all is not well between us and God.

We cannot make things right.

Only God provides the means of forgiveness and peace: through His Son—through Jesus alone—Who was conceived of the Spirit, born of the Virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, was buried, on the third day rose again, and ascended into heaven.

Jesus did these things and reigns even now, bodily, for you and for your salvation.

Jesus was born, lived, died, rose, ascended, and reigns, not merely as Example, that you follow in His every footstep, but as your Redeemer and Savior.

What you could not do in keeping the Law, Jesus did for you.

The judgment you deserve for your sin against God and against your neighbor Jesus received on your behalf.

All the demands of the Law and all of sin’s judgment were fulfilled and met on Jesus.

This is the Gospel.

Your salvation is won.

It is certain.

It is gift.

This is what the Bible is all about, not about you doing that eternal life and its certainty be yours.

The Bible is about Jesus for you, giving what you don’t deserve, creating that which was not; giving life to that which is dead; giving salvation to those deserving condemnation; forgiving sinners; cleansing the unrighteous; God remaining faithful to His promises, His mercy, His favor, through the very means the Lord Himself provides—not dependent on you—fully resting upon Him.

As God’s people, we believe the Bible to be God’s Word.

As God’s Word—the Bible is true.

We believe Jesus to be the center of all Scripture.

The Bible is about Jesus—God’s salvation—Christ’s redemptive work—God’s promise of a Savior to come and the fulfillment of that promise, recorded in the Gospels of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; and the continual and ongoing work of Christ in His office of Prophet, Priest, and King, post-Gospels, including today, as testified in the writings of the New Testament and until the Lord’s return in glory.

We also believe, because the Bible is God’s Word and that the Bible is all about Jesus from cover to cover—that the Bible is not about us doing for salvation, us retaining God’s good will by what we do, or us remaining in God’s good graces by how we now live.

This the temptation of the sinner, of Christian and nonChristian alike—to believe that we ourselves can somehow choose to or improve our situation before God, and for the Christian, even after conversion.

We can’t.

Though many in Christendom explicitly or implicitly teach this, that the choice is ours to make concerning our salvation or bettering ourselves before God—and then use the Bible to support this false view—the Bible teaches differently.

“By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10 NKJ).

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

“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 is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Rom. 8:31-34 NKJ).

Even today’s Gospel reading from St. John does not at all teach salvation, redemption, or God’s good graces conditioned on man.

Salvation is of Christ, not by your works.

“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’” (Rom. 4:4-8 NKJ).

Jesus, in today’s text, does clearly speak of keeping His commandments; Later, of keeping His Word.

Jesus does speak of “loving Him.”

If these words be understood apart from the truth the Bible is God’s Word, apart from the truth that Jesus is the center of all of Scripture, apart from the truth that God’s love in Christ is unconditioned by us and solely dependent on God and His Word—His grace and favor won for us by Christ’s life and death and resurrection—then here and in other places of the Bible will be read and understood as conditional upon us and our doing, and not upon God’s enlivening work of the Gospel, even as we confess, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or senses believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel” (Creed, Article 3).

As “We walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), so we learn to see that Christ, His Word, and the meanings that He gives to words are their meaning and not what we impose upon the text.

For anyone to truly love the Lord, as the Lord would have Himself be loved, one must first know that He has a gracious God in Christ.

One who doesn’t believe that God is gracious in Jesus Christ will believe that God’s love is conditioned upon them, not unconditionally upon God.

“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:9-10 NKJ).

To love the Lord, there must first be faith in the heart, gratitude for God’s salvation, surety that God is merciful and kind.

Apart from Christ, without faith, none can rightly love God.

Apart from Christ, all that one does will be for the purpose of earning God’s favor, appeasing His wrath, lessening God’s judgment, not in gladly receiving what God freely gives, which is faith.

Any who think that they can or do love God without loving Christ and His Word only deceive themselves.

“God knows” the “hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Lk. 16:15 NKJ).

“The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men…God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence” (1 Cor. 1:25, 27-29 NKJ)

God says, “Whatever is not from faith is sin” and that “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Romans 14:23; Hebrews 11:6).

Jesus Himself says, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

It is revealed in Scripture that all lack what God demands.

Thus, is Christ necessary.

Without Jesus, sinners remain in their sin.

To truly fear, love, and trust in God above all things is to have Christ as Savior.

Not attributed to me is true fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

Only in Jesus—my Savior—Who is for Me—my Savior.

As the hymn has it, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ Name” (TLH 370, v1).

With Paul, we also confess with confidence, “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14 NKJ).

Christ is our boast before the Father.

Because He is, so do we love Him.

Because we love Him, so is He our boast.

Jesus is our salvation.

God’s people do keep the commandments, the Word of Jesus, for they know, they believe, that Jesus’ Word is life and salvation.

It is not that God’s people recognize themselves of themselves to be good and right before God.

Just the opposite.  They acknowledge that they are indeed deserving of God’s judgment.

They do not do as they ought.  They do not believe as they ought.

God’s people confess that they do not do what God demands; that they do what God forbids; that they are not upright and holy as God would have them be.

They also confess that such sin does not lesson God’s favor, God’s grace in Christ Jesus, His mercy—for God’s mercy, His grace, His favor—these are not at all dependent on the sin of the sinner or upon the sinner, but on Christ alone.

Repenting of their sin, confessing Christ to be their salvation, God’s people seek to live and love God and others, not to earn or merit that which is already gift, but because they have come to know and believe Jesus to be God’s Son, whose Word is Spirit and life, and by that Word—alone—they live—and seek to be according to God’s will. Amen.

Praying HandsO God, the giver of all that is good, by Your holy inspiration grant that we may think those things that are right and by Your merciful guiding accomplish them; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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“Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” John 14:1-14

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1[Jesus said:] “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare Jn14,6a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4And you know the way to where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

      8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

      12“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (ESV)

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Christian faith is one of particularity, distinctiveness, and exclusivity.

We make clear distinction between truth and error.

Only the very Son of God, Jesus the Christ, is the head of His body, the Church (Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 10:12; 1 Peter 3:22).

This is He of whom Scripture says, “We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight — if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard” (Colossians 1:14-23).

This Jesus Christ, the Church’s Head, is the Only Way to eternal life.

None other has right to this claim.

“There is salvation in none other” confesses Peter,” for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

This has been the proclamation of the Christian Church throughout the ages from the beginning, and it will continue to be so.

The Church’s message is Christ crucified and this is the content of her preaching.

He receives all glory, honor, and praise.

All these go to, and belong to, Him alone.

His is the Name that is “above every name” (Philippians 2:9).

God’s people confess Christ and declare Him as the only Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

In both love toward God and love toward neighbor, the Christian shows forth the unique claim of Christ, that He Is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

God’s love is not conditional.  It is unconditional.

God’s love in Christ is given to all, and though few believe according to Christ’s Word alone, such does not change God’s love towards the world.

“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom. 5:8-10 NKJ)

“In this is love,” St. John writes, “not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10 NKJ).

“God is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:7).

Therefore, God sent Jesus into the world, why God gives His Word, why life is still going on today, even as it is.

The end is not yet.

It is by God’s grace that we and the world yet remain and that the world continues, not because of what people do, not because we can beat anything together, not because scientists are all that, but because of God’s providence and provision.

To Noah, God reveals this promise.

“While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Winter and summer, And day and night Shall not cease” (Gen. 8:22 NKJ).

Jesus declares that the Father in heaven, “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45 NKJ).

Such things of life, its necessities, God Himself provides.  He does so through means, means which can be squandered and misused, to be sure, but the world, and sinners, do not have the final word over what is to be, or over what is to come.

When it comes to the holy things of God, when it comes to God’s Word and His teaching, His doctrine, we recognize the simple profound truth that the things of God are His, not ours to do with as we please.

We are on the receiving end of God’s blessings.

We are at God’s mercy.

Regarding God’s Word, we cannot but press on in the truth of our Lord and declare the mercies of God through Jesus Christ.

Such mercies of God through Jesus Christ are our life and salvation.

It is by means of God’s mercy in Christ that sins are forgiven.

It is by means of God’s mercy in Christ that you are heirs of eternal life.

It is by means of God’s mercy in Christ that you are His and no longer your own.

We thus seek to say what is to be said.

We thus seek to do what is to be done.

We abide in Christ’s Word—alone—seeking not to depart from it but to endure in it, with God’s help, even if friend and foe be against us because of it.

God, in the Second commandment says, “You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God,”

Negatively, His Name we are not to use wrongly, to defend lie and error, in our words or of Who He is.

Positively, God’s Name we are to use rightly, according to His Word, according to that which He has made known, in support of that which is true; in building up, not tearing down; in edifying unto faith, not causing another stumble; in speaking the truth, not advancing a lie.

We thus discriminate between that which is of God from that which is not—because our Lord does.

More than example, Jesus is our Savior from sin and death.

The Lord desires your salvation, not acceptance by the world.

There is no other way to heaven but through Christ.

Muhammad, Buddha, the Pope, and the virgin Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus, let alone any other, including ourselves, do nothing for anyone in giving true and genuine peace with God.

All roads do not lead to heaven.

All religions and Christian denominations are not the same.

It really does matter what one believes, regardless of how sincere one is, simply because God’s Word does matter!

Only Christ saves.

There is no other savior.

As man, Jesus died the death of sinners, though He Himself “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Man cannot save Himself from God’s wrath.  Nor can any other than Jesus do anything for you to turn away God’s anger because of your sin.

All religions that teach another way to heaven than through Christ’s suffering, dying, and rising on the third day are false religions.

Some religions do speak about Christ’s work, but then they also add their own works and agenda, not the Lord’s.

These thus cancel Christ’s work of salvation and nullify the true comfort of the Gospel.

There is only one true religion, and it has Christ as beginning, middle, and end—Jesus giving Himself for us, sinners as we are, that we be saved, remain in His Word, and receive the crown of life when we pass from this life to the next (John 8:31-32).

We are insistent on distinguishing between man’s word and God’s Word because the Lord would have us do so, even at the expense of acceptance by the world or the loss of family and friends.

Man’s doctrine and God’s doctrine are the difference between heaven and hell.

Many teachers and preachers bearing the name Christian claim that Christ is their savior, but not all of what they teach is completely in agreement with Scripture.

Whether this refer to church or individual, it is written, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9).

And as said in another place, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine.  Continue in them” (1 Timothy 4:16).

It is possible for Christians to be misled and deceived.  Following man’s thoughts and ways concerning Godly things is dangerous business.

It is also dangerous, and quite common, to believe that one is doing right or believing rightly because one feels right about what he is doing or believing, even if no Word of God supports it.

If no Word of God supports what is believed, such belief is not of God.

To Christ hold fast, to Him and to His Word.

His Word is truth, truth that leads to life.

We distinguish our words and our thoughts from God’s Word, because God does.

Because He does, we do.

Christ alone is the Savior, your Savior, the world’s Savior.

There is no other.

Godly faith, in distinction from worldly faith, is not founded on sinking sand or uncertain ground.

Godly faith is founded on the solid ground of His holy Word, “the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Colossians 2:20).

Such foundation is unshakable. It will endure the test of time.

The rain will descend.  The floods will come.  The wind will blow.  But this foundation will remain (Matthew 7:24-26).

The Christian faith is the only true faith because Jesus is its center.

The Christian faith is the only faith founded on God’s Word, revealing Jesus to be God, Who is one with the Father, Savior, Redeemer, Giver of life and all that is good, for Jesus is God.

As you believe God, Jesus says, believe Me. Amen.

PrayingHands&Cross1O God, You make the minds of Your faithful to be of one will. Grant that we may love what You have commanded and desire what You promise, that among the many changes of this world our hearts may be fixed where true joys are found; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. (Collect of the Day for the 5th Sunday of Easter)

 

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“It’s all about Jesus,” Luke 24:13-35

 

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13That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, EmmausRoad“What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

      28So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Though the disciples of our Lord had had the Lord’s Word spoken in their ears, even that very Word by which He revealed to them what was to come, that Word of His death, and that Word of His glorious resurrection, His followers didn’t believe.

Time after time Jesus told them of what was to come, but they didn’t understand, they hadn’t believed, what He said.

After the third day, the words of the women declaring to the 11 that Jesus was alive seemed like an idle tale (Luke 24:11).

When the Lord first appeared to the 10 behind closed doors that Easter Sunday night, Thomas was not there.

When they had told him that they had seen Jesus, in unbelief, Thomas declared, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger, into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).

It wasn’t until Jesus Himself appeared to Thomas, spoke, and showed Him His hands and His side, that Thomas then believed, confessing, “My Lord and My God!” (John 20:28).

Like Thomas before he saw Jesus and believed, the two men on the road to Emmaus in the Gospel reading also did not believe.

They had heard the reports of others, but they didn’t make the connection between what Jesus had said before and believing that it would be just as Jesus had said.

They hadn’t put two and two together, Who Jesus truly was, that the words of Jesus spoken were as good as done.

Though Jesus truly did die, as He had said, so would He truly rise from the dead on the third day, also just as He had said.

If it was, and is, any other way, then Jesus is not God and you are still in your sins.

But Jesus is God.  He is risen!

His resurrection shows that all that Jesus did and said was true, that you are not your own Savior—Jesus is.

Death is undone.

In Christ, life reigns.

In the post-resurrection accounts, we have examples of those, like Thomas and the two traveling to Emmaus, who did not believe the testimony of others.

Yet, Jesus revealed Himself to them that they not be uncertain, but certain of His resurrection, His triumph over death and the grave, His victory over sin.

The post-resurrection account drawing our attention today offers another example of some whose eyes remained closed to the glorious resurrection until the Lord made Himself known by Word and Sign.

Though Jesus was right before the two, and talking with them, the text says that their eyes were restrained from recognizing who Jesus was, that is, until their eyes were opened when Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them” (Luke 24:30).

Then they recognized the man before them for Who He was.

We might be able to understand why those disciples were down and out concerning the events of the Lord’s suffering and death.

They had hoped that Jesus of Nazareth would be the ONE to redeem Israel.

Reason tells us that the dead remain dead, that the dead do not rise, that death is final.

Reason also tells us that miracles do not happen, that we determine our own destiny, that we are the center of the universe.

God says differently.

God reveals that we are created beings (Genesis 1), created by the Creator who is above us, God who transcends our thoughts and our ways (Isaiah 55:9), yet God who also becomes flesh, taking the form of a servant and coming in the likeness of men, humbling Himself, obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross, not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (John 1:14; Philippians 2:7; Matthew 20:28).

The two disciples on the way to Emmaus had heard the news of the women who were at the tomb and came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that He was alive.

But they didn’t believe it.

Even with Jesus before them, they didn’t recognize the risen Lord.

As we go by only what we see or only by what reason tells us, and not by the Word of the Lord, Jesus remains obscured, and His promises remain hidden.

Like Peter who began to sink when He took His eyes off Jesus as he walked on water, so also our attention to Christ becomes distracted when we give attention to that which is not according to the Lord’s Word.

Not everyone has strong faith during great trial and intense tribulation.

Though God’s Word be right in front of us as it is today, it might appear to us to be in the distance and not at all applicable or relevant.

This is not because what God says is ineffective.

Not everyone who hears the Word believes.

Nor is everyone who hears the Word concerned with it.

The dullness of the human heart, our own hearts, is great.

The concerns of our hearts don’t always remain on the Word of our Lord and His Son.

Everything that those two disciples in the Gospel knew to be true to their experience testified against the Lord’s resurrection, everything except the Lord’s Word and work.

The Lord Jesus walks with such as these.

Though the two didn’t recognize Him, Jesus didn’t turn from them in anger or bitterness.

Instead, He walked with them, even asking the reason for their sorrow.

Even though He already knew, He asks for their sake, that He point them to Himself.

“We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 14:16).

The Lord made known to them that Christ’s suffering and death was foretold in the Old Testament and that Christ was indeed the Messiah, the ONE who would redeem Israel.

Indeed, Jesus is the redeemer.

He redeemed us “not with corruptible things, like silver or gold…but with” His “precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

All that the Old Testament had prophesied of Jesus was fulfilled in Him – Even His death and resurrection, all according to Scripture.

What the two had not yet understood was that it was through Jesus’ own death that He Himself would put sin to death and usher in new life by means of His resurrection.

Where sin has ceased, so has death.

There, the hope of life remains.

As Jesus spoke concerning Himself, beginning with Moses and the prophets, the hearts of those two burned within them.

Here, Jesus points the right way to interpret the Old Testament and all of Scripture, through Himself.

Earlier, Jesus had declared to the Jews, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39).

Here, Jesus is talking about the Old Testament Scriptures.

In another place, concerning “the Holy Scriptures,” it is written that they “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).

The reason this is so is because the Old Testament is about Christ, as is the New Testament.

Jesus is the center.

He gives you His Word, that you believe against what you only see, contrary to what your eyes alone tell you, that you take Him at His Word, before and in the present, and into the future.

It is significant that on the road and talking with Jesus, the two disciples hadn’t recognized the risen Lord.

Only as Jesus took bread and blessed it and broke and gave it to them, then their eyes were opened.

We have seen similar words spoken before, as had the disciples.

In the upper room with the Lord’s disciples, on the night when He was betrayed, “Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it” (Matthew 26:26).

In the feeding of the 5000 (Luke 9:16), then in the feeding of the 4000 (Matthew 15:36), Jesus did the same thing.  He took bread, blessed it, and broke it.

When Jesus did these things before the two, they recognized Jesus for who He was.

It was Jesus, alive from the dead, just as the others had said.

In the breaking of the bread, their eyes were opened.

With them all along was the risen Lord, preaching His Word, giving comfort, testifying to the truth of His salvation.  Then He vanished from their sight.

Right then and there, Jesus left them, not in doubt, but believing.

His Word and the blessed bread were sufficient to bring about the recognition of Christ the Lord, to quicken faith, and to cast away any doubt.

The Lord continues to give you His Word and to bestow upon you His grace, that you believe and remain believing in Him who died and rose again, and that you, with the two on the road to Emmaus, recognize Christ for who He is, your Savior from death and the giver of eternal life, indeed, the Messiah.

By means of His Word, and in the sacred meal, the Lord Jesus strengthens the weak and gladdens the heart.

The Lord continues to make Himself known that you hold fast to him, in life and in death.

In the Lord’s Supper, Christ gives His own body and blood for you to eat and to drink, and there, makes Himself known to you as your Savior and strengthens your faith.

Don’t ignore the Lord’s Word or His promises, nor stay away from them, as growing numbers continue to do.

God calls you not to despair of Him, but to place your confidence in Christ alone.

Cast all your burdens upon Him, for He cares for you (Psalm 55:22).

Wait on Him and believe His Word.

Times of refreshing and joy are sure to come. Amen.

PrayingHands&Cross1O God, through the humiliation of Your Son You raised up the fallen world. Grant to Your faithful people, rescued from the peril of everlasting death, perpetual gladness and eternal joys; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. (Collect of the Day for the 3rd Sunday of Easter)

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“Jesus Institutes the Lord’s Supper,” Matthew 26:17–30

 

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17Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.

      20When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

      26Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”   30And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

last-supper2On the night that Jesus was betrayed into the hands of sinners, He held what is called the ‘Last Supper’ with His disciples.

That ‘Last Supper’ is not at all ‘Last’ for us.

Jesus instituted it for you.

Our Lord says, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

The meal in which we partake of Christ’s very body and blood is a proclamation of “the Lord’s death till He comes” again in His glory.

It is a meal of remembrance, but a meal of remembrance in the way of faith and confidence in the Lord’s Word and work and not merely by way of ‘not forgetting’.

The Lord’s Supper is a meal in which the Lord Himself distributes what only He Himself gives.

Though the eyes see one thing, the ears hear more than the eyes see.

The Lord would have us believe what He says.

This is how one eats and drinks the true body and blood of our Lord worthily, having faith in the very Words that the Lord speaks.

True confidence and lasting peace are found in God’s Word alone, even the Incarnate Word, who says, “Given and shed FOR YOU for the forgiveness of sins.”

In the Lord’s Supper the Lord Jesus gives His very body and His very blood to eat and to drink for the remission of sins.

As Dr. Luther had said before, “That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words ‘for you’ require all hearts to believe.” (Luther’s Small Catechism, The Sacrament of the Altar, ‘Who, then, receives such Sacrament worthily?’)

We partake of the Lord’s Supper on the basis of God’s Word, having faith in that and not in ourselves.

Faith takes God at His Word, believing His Son, for you, not only in Word, but in bread and wine, in body and blood.

The Lord’s Supper is therefor offered in our churches, offered and not forced.

We cannot coerce anyone to believe.

We do not force anyone to receive the Sacrament of the Altar.

The Lord does not give it in order to burden consciences.  He gives it to comfort and to gladden the heart.  He gives it that you know that you are forgiven and that you have the Lord’s peace.

Jesus says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Even as the Lord gives rest in His Gospel, so also does the Lord give you rest in the Lord’s Supper, for the Lord’s Supper is Gospel.

In the Lord’s Supper, the Lord gives you this rest for your weary soul.

There, He provides and nourishes you unto eternal life.

There, He strengthens and preserves you to life everlasting.

If you feel or think that you are not worthy to receive the holy things of God, know that true worthiness does not consist in you.

Your sincerity of confession, the sorrow of your heart, or your ‘feeling’ of readiness is not the basis for going to the Lord’s Supper (or for certainty that God hears your prayers, that He cares for you, or that He loves you.

The basis for eating and drinking at the Lord’s Table is not you.

It is the Lord’s Word.

If you wait until you feel worthy to partake of the holy gifts of God, you never will.

Though you know yourself to be unworthy, as you confess yourself to be united with all sinners everywhere since the Fall, this supper is prepared for you, not because of your own righteousness, but because here the Lord gives you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

“Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation” (Luther’s Small Catechism, The Sacrament of the Altar, ‘What is the benefit of such eating and drinking?’).

Take Christ’s words as they are.

Many add to them, take away from them, or fully omit them, but this is not the right way.

Christ gave bread and said, “This is My body.”

Christ gave wine and said, “This is My blood.”

Jesus could not be clearer than this, saying what He meant and meaning what He said.

St. Paul says, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16).

Sadly, not all believe with reference to what God says in His Word, here or elsewhere.

Not all believe that drinking from the cup is to partake of Christ’s blood.

Not all believe that eating the bread is to partake of Christ’s body.

Not all believe that fermented wine is to be used.

Some replace the wine with grape juice or some other drink, which is not according to Christ’s institution.

Not only is Christendom not in common union about the elements themselves.

Most within Christendom do not believe that the Lord’s Supper gives what Jesus actually gives, the full forgiveness of sins.

This is a problem!

Because not all who call themselves Christians are united in the faith about what our Lord says, even by His own clear testimony, we regrettably are not able to express true unity them as one before the world, simply for the reason that we are not clearly united as one in confession.

For this reason, our churches and the Christian church throughout her history has practiced ‘closed communion.

This is not the unloving practicing of welcoming all to the table, regardless of creed and confession.

It is the loving practice of clearly proclaiming Christ and Him crucified to a confused world, declaring that Christ and His Word does matter, that Christ’s body and blood, truly and really present with the bread and wine, are given for life and salvation.

This we believe and this we confess.

The Lord offers the Sacrament of the Altar for your salvation.

It is not the bodily eating and drinking that does this, but the words here written, “‘Given and shed for you for the remission of sins’; which words, besides the bodily eating and drinking, are the chief thing in the Sacrament; and he that believes these words has what they say and express, namely, the forgiveness of sins” (Luther’s Small Catechism, The Sacrament of the Altar, ‘How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?’). Amen.

 

PrayingHands&Cross1O Lord, in this wondrous Sacrament You have left us a remembrance of Your passion. Grant that we may so receive the sacred mystery of Your body and blood that the fruits of Your redemption may continually be manifest in us; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Collect of the Day for Maundy Thursday)

 

Click here for audio.

 

 

 

“The Passion of the Lord,” John 12:20-43

 

For audio, go here.

 

20Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; JesusInSynagogue, copybut if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

      27“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered,  “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 34So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35So Jesus said to them,  “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

      When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,  40“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” 41Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Today is the day in the Church year called “Palm Sunday,” that day in which the Lord entered Jerusalem on a donkey, that day in which the people, with palm branches, cried out, “Hosanna!  Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord! The King of Israel!” (John 12:13 || Psalm 118:25, 26).

On this day, the people proclaimed acclamation to God.

Here was Jesus, entering Jerusalem, the people declaring what was right and true.

In less than five days, this same One, so gloriously welcomed by the people as He entered Jerusalem, would undergo trial for crimes that He didn’t commit, suffer shame and contempt for preaching the truth, and be crucified for sins not His own.

On this day called Palm Sunday, Jesus, and we, enter the week of the Church year called “Holy,” where our attention turns to the events suffered by our Lord in this last week prior to His glorious resurrection.

This day is also called “Sunday of the Passion.”  Our attention draws to the last hours of Christ in His State of Humiliation.

Our attention also draws to the reality of our own passion, our own suffering, as followers of Christ, as our Lord Jesus Himself testifies.

In short order, today’s second Gospel reading follows the account of our Lord on Palm Sunday after the people met Him on the road with the shouts and praises and acts of worship.

Shortly thereafter, Greeks asked to see Jesus.  It is at this point that Jesus begins His discourse, words to be taken to heart.  Jesus here speaks about His forthcoming death, what it means, and its purpose.

Connecting the later reading of today’s Gospel with the former reading of John’s Gospel at the beginning of the service, a close connection reveals itself.

The last few words of the Palm Sunday reading earlier this morning were these, spoken by the Pharisees among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing.  Look, the world has gone after Him!” (John 12:19).

Immediately following these words by the Pharisees, John the evangelist records that certain Greeks then sought Jesus.

Jesus’ word and work were not only for the Jews.

The expectation of the Messiah, the Christ, as recorded in the Old Testament, was not only for the chosen people of national Israel.

Remember Jonah…God sent Him to Nineveh, a Gentile city, to call them to repentance.

It was Isaiah whom God moved to write, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7).  These very words Jesus Himself also spoke in the clearing of the temple (as recorded by Mark 11:17).

The “House of prayer for all nations” referred to by Isaiah under inspiration, and then by Jesus, the Word made flesh (John 1:14), was a reference to God’s house where God is worshiped.  All nations include Jews and Gentiles. God’s house is for all people, none excluded.

This is the irony of what those Pharisees had said among themselves about Jesus, that “the world has gone after Him.”

They were right.

This is how it was, and how it was to be, as the Psalmist declares, “Let the peoples praise, You God; Let all the peoples praise you” (Psalm 67:3).

What is ironic here is that the Pharisees despised the very thing that was happening that God had said would happen, and yet they claimed to be teachers of truth.

Far from it!

Those of the truth hear God’s voice (John 18:37).

Greeks, non-Jews were seeking to see and hear Jesus, yet the Pharisees closed their ears to Him.

Salvation is of the Jews (John 4:22), but salvation is for all people, not just for the Jews alone.

But how does such salvation come?  Through what means is salvation won?

This is where the words of our Lord Jesus from today’s second Gospel reading come in.  Jesus’ Word in response to those Greeks who sought Him reveal that by His death, there is life.  This is a great paradox: by means of death is life.

Jesus also stated that “Whoever loves his life loses it.” Both verbs, love and lose, are in the present tense.

Jesus also says, “Whoever hates his life in this world” (present tense) “will keep it” (future tense) for eternal life.

These words, too, are paradoxical.

Life through death—loving life and losing it—hating life and keeping it—these statements seem to be contradictory.

One lives by living, not by dying.  You keep your life by loving it, not by hating it.  You lose your life by hating it, not by loving it…

This is what fallen man considers to be true.  He wants to believe that God works the way that the world works—not according to what God the Creator says, but according to what man the creation says and what it wants to say/mean.

If the world had its way, Jesus would not have entered Jerusalem on a donkey.

Jesus would not have been unjustly accused and then, “crucified, died, and buried.”

Jesus would not have suffered as He had.

Blood would not have been shed.

Sinners would bear their own sin (to each his own) but could make amends for their transgressions and iniquities by simply trying harder and convincing themselves that this is how one gets right with God.

If the world had its way, sinners would only be sinners as they much as they saw themselves as sinners.

The problem is that it’s not us—or the world—who determines right and wrong, good and bad, the truth and the lie.

God does.

When it comes to paradoxes, we don’t determine their veracity.  God does.

Things that don’t make sense to us don’t make them untrue.  What makes something true or not true is not dependent on our understanding of it, our belief in it, or our acceptance of it.

What makes something true or not true is not established by us.

Jesus Christ is the Truth (John 14:6).

What He says is true, whether we believe it or not.

What He declares to be is so, because He said it.

This way of “reasoning” might seem like a blind kind of faith, but a truly blind kind of faith is that kind of “faith” which follows a thing that it cannot see or know.

We follow what we know, not blindly, but with certainty.

Christians don’t follow what they don’t know or that which is uncertain.

We follow and believe God’s Word as its been given.

We hear it and we listen to it.

We read it and we study it.  We believe it.

To believe God’s Word is not blindness.

God’s Word is not unsure.

What is blindly following something, “blind faith,” is following where one cannot see where one is going.

We don’t follow the Bible this way.

We are not blind to where we’re going.

We know where we’re going.

We know our eternity is with God in heaven.

We don’t know everything that will be—Only God does.  But we do know that we are known by Him Who knows everything.

Because God knows us as His people, because God is our Savior from sin, death, and hell, we don’t need to know all that He knows.  He is God.  We are not.

What we do know, according to His Word, this is what we are to believe and that which we do believe.

Following Christ’s Word, God’s Word, is not blind faith.  It is faith founded on the sure foundation, on that Word made flesh, on Him who suffered, was crucified, died, buried, and three days later, rose again from the dead.

Such a faith rests in Jesus according to His Word.

That Word reveals to you that through His death, you have life.  His blood conceals, covers, and cleanses you of your sin before the Father.

Loving your life means not resting in Jesus alone, not entrusting yourself fully into His care and keeping.

Hating your life means recognizing your uncleanliness before Him Who is pure, your unholiness before Him Who is Holy (1 Peter 1:15), your sin before Him Who is sinless; lamenting your unrighteousness before Him Who is Righteous.

Hating your life is acknowledging that you deserve only judgment from the just God and despising your own sinfulness.

Hating your life means also not trusting in yourself for salvation, but resting in Jesus alone, trusting in God’s mercy through His beloved Son, “seeing” that Christ’s death means—is—your life.

The Son of Man, Jesus, is He Who is life, He through whom you have life, He who gives you life.

Along with the paradox of your life through His death is the paradox of Christ’s glorification.

The word glorify can have the meaning of “Bestow glory upon”; “Elevate or idealize”; and “Cause to seem more splendid” (The Sage’s English Dictionary and Thesaurus).

These things we associate with the high and the mighty, the majestic and the glorious, the strong and the proud.

Yet Christ’s glorification, as revealed in today’s second Gospel reading, is not associated with the worldly understanding of that word.  Contrasted to our view of glory, the glory of Christ is in His lowliness, weakness, and humility, even as he hangs on a tree, “having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).

“Though Jesus was in the form of God, (He) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week, the week of our Lord’s Passion, the entrance of our Lord into His suffering and then death.

Like our Lord, as we fix our eyes on what is to come, we also are aware of our own suffering and struggles.

Amid these, there is Christ.

The Lord comes to serve, giving His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Lowly He enters Jerusalem.

Lowly, and rejected, He journeys to Calvary, to Golgotha, to His death.

He does so that you live—eternally. Amen.

 

PrayingHands&Cross1Almighty and everlasting God, You sent Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon Himself our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross. Mercifully grant that we may follow the example of His great humility and patience and be made partakers of His resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. (Collect of the Day, Passion Sunday)

 

For audio, go here.

 

New Resource…Learning from the Lectionary

 

The world’s circumstances, and particularly now in the states, have prompted, not less, but more. Though currently we are given to be at a greater distance from each other, such provides an opportunity for offering more, not fewer, means of encouragement in the Word of Lord.

In the right hand column of this blog → you should see a video player. This is a first of other resources to follow.

LSB7“Learning from the Lectionary” is a video (less than 15-minutes) highlighting key components (themes, words, etc.) from the respective set of readings from the Three-year Lectionary, as detailed in Lutheran Service Book.

I pray that you find these videos helpful.

 

“Eyes Opened,” John 9:1-41

 

John 9:1-41

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Jesus-healing manIn today’s text from the ninth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, there was a man born blind to whom our Lord Jesus gave sight.

There was a common belief, then, as now, that if one was born blind, lame, deaf, mute, with a birth defect, or had another noticeable mark, there was a reason for it.

That reason was either that one or both of parents had sinned, or that somehow the child born with the condition had done something to deserve such a condition.

When the disciples of our Lord asked Jesus who had sinned, the blind man or his parents, that he was born blind, they assumed that the blindness was some kind of punishment.

It is true in general that we receive the consequences for the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden and for our own sin, including sickness, pandemics, and death.

Also, for the things that we do or don’t do in caring for the bod, there can be consequences.

But to say that a sin committed by the parents or a sin committed by the son resulted in the punishment of blindness is something that we cannot say.

To the disciples who had asked the question, Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3).

Jesus didn’t mean by this that neither the man who was born blind nor his parents were sinless.

What Jesus meant was that the blindness was not a punishment for a specific sin, the very thing that the disciples were thinking.

The man’s blindness, Jesus says, was not because he or his parents committed anything to bring it about, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.

And revealed in him they indeed were.

Jesus healed the man of His blindness.

But even more than that, the Lord Jesus opened the man’s eyes to see Him for who He really was, the Son of Man, God’s Son and Savior of the world.

First, Jesus worked the work of God in giving the blind man the ability to physically see, then He worked the work of God in giving the blind man the “eyes” of faith to believe in Jesus.

Jesus had done, and does similarly, for you.

The works of God are revealed today in you.

You still bear the effects and consequences of sin in your bodies and in the world.

This we can see clearly today, also as we see the spread of that for which we have little control.

It is only by God’s abounding grace that the Lord continues to provide for all our bodily needs, even through medical advances, doctors, nurses, hospitals, medications, treatments, and vaccines, as He wills.

Of greater value than these things, your Lord gives you the gift of sight that you see His promises.

Our Lord, by means of His Word, works the miracle of faith in your hearts by which He gives you faith to believe Jesus to be your Savior, your Savior from that same sin which brings forth physical, spiritual, and eternal death, your Savior from that same sin which Adam and Eve brought into the world.

Because Jesus died on the cross and was raised on the third day, you have no need to fear physical death.

You have no need to fear physical death because you know, on account of Christ’s resurrection, that you too will not remain in the grave.

Jesus Himself said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

He also said, “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25).

Because it is Jesus who said these words, you have no reason to doubt them.

You have no reason to doubt them because Jesus is who He claimed to be.

Jesus is He through whom you have the precious forgiveness of sins; He through whom you have no need to fear eternal death.

The things of this life are only temporary.  And though they certainly are real, they will not last.  Nor do they define who you are as baptized children of God.  God does.

By His Word, our Lord gives you faith to continue believing what He says to be so, that you not think of yourselves higher than you ought to think, but that you humbly look to Him for help and hope (Romans 12:3).

In Him is where you find such things, for such is His promise, now, and when He returns.

All that you rightfully deserved because of your sin Christ Jesus suffered and bore on the cross.

St. Paul says it this way, that “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Romans 5:19). There too does he also say that “Through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation” (Romans 5:18).

As that man born blind from birth could not bring about his own sight, so you too are helpless in your own condition to get yourselves out of it.

The Bible says that “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

By nature, our fallen condition, we don’t believe in the Lord Jesus because we are spiritually dead.

Unless God breathes into us the breath of life, His Spirit, in our sin we will remain.

Natural man can give himself life as much as a baby in or outside of the womb can give itself life.

The baby doesn’t give itself life.  Its mother does.

Natural man doesn’t give himself life.  God does.

So also, with the new birth of water and word in Holy Baptism.

One doesn’t choose or decide to be born again.  It is a gift of God.

Because of this new life given to us, we desire this new life to also be given to others.

We thus desire to speak the truth in love and pray our Lord to give boldness that we not compromise our witness by what we say or don’t say or do or don’t do.

We pray that we not be ashamed of our Lord, even as that man born blind in our text who was given to see did not back down when questioned about how he came to see.

He stood his ground and gave testimony to what had happened to him and how Jesus had healed him.

How much greater it is that Jesus brought that same man to faith!

Not only did Jesus give him the sight to see worldly things.  Jesus gave Him eternal life, and the faith to believe it.

So, to you, too, does our Lord reveal your salvation.

On you, God shows mercy.

“Through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life” (Romans 5:18).

 “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8).

Through the preaching of this Good News, God gives faith.

God gives faith to take hold of what God has done for you, that you know and believe that what Jesus has done He has done for you.

God gives faith that you know and believe that what Jesus still does He does for you.

God gives faith that you continue to have life in His Name, that you see His goodness to you, and rejoice, give thanks, and follow Him, praising is Name.

God gives faith that your eyes be opened to His mercy and His grace, given and declared to you in Jesus, now and always.  Amen.

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasHeavenly Father, give me eyes to believe Your Son, always, and to confess Him alone to be my Savior. Amen.

 

 

“God So Loved the World,” John 3:1-17

1There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, JesusOnCrossOverWorldunless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

      9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

      16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (ESV)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Perhaps the most “well-known” words of today’s Gospel reading are those of v16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Rightly so.

But such words, as truly expressive as they are of God’s love in Christ, can be easily misunderstood and misapplied, as if to suggest that man has to do something to keep from perishing, to suggest that man has to believe, and that such believing is within his own power to do so, or else he does not have eternal life.

Other errors applied to this text, though apart from the words of the text, include the idea that believing is only the beginning part or that faith in Christ alone is insufficient for salvation.  Something else is still needed other than simple faith. Something remains dependent upon us—what we do, how we live, for eternal life to be and remain ours.

As an example of this are the words of this “testimony” found in a Thrivent magazine article, without qualification and without correction:

“Even though I had been a Christian for many years, it was on a mission trip…that a friend reminded me that if I was a believer but didn’t include ‘service’ in that belief system, I wasn’t really living the way God wanted me to!…I know that simply believing in God isn’t enough.  We must be His servants…” (Thrivent, March 2017, p3).

Within Christianity, these and similar words are accepted as true, the idea that “believing” is not enough.

But “enough” for what?

That service to others is necessary, we wholeheartedly agree, as does Holy Scripture.

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus says (Matthew 19:19||Leviticus 19:18).

St. Paul the apostle writes, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10, NKJ).

Service to neighbor, however, is not the main thing of the Christian faith and life, though it is not excluded from the life of the Christian.

Our Lord directs our attention to His Word, in which He says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, NKJ).

If you want to do what God says, hear and believe Word.

But if such belief is in a god, generically, and not in God’s Son, Jesus, who died on the cross, that faith is not at all sufficient, because such a faith is a false faith and not at all that which saves.

If belief in God is such a faith that looks to something other than God’s mercy in Christ alone for help and salvation, even to one’s own service as completing faith, then, again, that faith is not godly faith through which is eternal life.

The faith that saves is that faith which does not at all believe in self or any other, but rests all hope in Jesus alone for forgiveness and only upon God’s mercy.

It is not our service to others that completes faith by which we are then saved, nor is it our love that makes faith sufficient for salvation.

It is God’s love in Christ alone by which you have your sins forgiven, God’s mercy, and heaven itself as your promised inheritance.

Only in God sending His Son and the Son being sent and lifted on the tree of death in crucifixion is your salvation.

God did, and does, so love the world.

God’s love is unconditional.

God’s love is not conditioned by the response to that love with which God so loves the world.

God’s love is not only for the believer and those who will believe.

For the worst of sinners and for the ungodly did God send His Son into the world.

“When we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6 NKJ).

“To him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5 NKJ).

God’s love extends to all people, none excluded.

Such words, however, don’t make sense to sinful reason. They seem utter nonsense.

Who would give something for nothing in return?

Who would freely give a gift to someone only to have it rejected?

God’s kind of love for us sinners cannot be understood by sinful man.

“O love, how deep, how broad, how high, Beyond all thought and fantasy,

 That God, the Son of God, should take – Our mortal form for mortals’ sake.”

“For us by wickedness betrayed, For us, in crown of thorns arrayed,

He bore the shameful cross and death; For us He gave His dying breath.”

(LSB 544 “O Love, How Deep,” v1)

What is sin before God is not only that which others can see.

Sin before God includes also what others cannot see.

Sin before God includes not only the “big” sins, as we define them, but the “little” sins, too, those sins which perhaps we have little concern about, yet are still condemned by God, regardless of how we think of them.

Sin includes not only that which is known, but also that which remains hidden, even to ourselves.

Sin is not only an action.  It is a condition, which all people since the Fall have inherited.

God shows no partiality (i.e. Acts 10:34).

Before God, one sinner is just as guilty as the next.

The sin might look bigger when compared to another.

But before God, sin is sin. Even eating a forbidden fruit brings about eternal death, not because of the size of the violation (as we see it), but because of who the violation is against.

Adam and Eve were not cast out of Paradise for simply eating fruit.

They were cast out of Paradise for eating fruit that God had forbidden them to eat.

It was not the fruit that got them into trouble.

It was their disobedience God, their disbelief in His Word.

In addition to their being cast out, their disobedience, their unbelief, brought death and destruction into the world.

The consequences of their sin we, too, receive.

“Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12 NKJ).

“All mankind fell in Adam’s fall; One common sin infects us all.

From one to all the curse descends, And over all God’s wrath impends.

(LSB 562 “All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall, v1)

Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, and because of our own sin, we are all lumped together before God as sinners.

Some sins might be more obvious than others; other sins are more concealed and hidden (1 Timothy 5:24).

But for this world full of open and secret sinners, God sent His Son, because He so loved the world.

Because He so loved you!

What encouraging words these are!

You are in the world.

Therefore, has God sent His Son for you.

Because of Jesus, you know that the God who made heaven and earth loves you with an enduring love, an unconditional love, an everlasting love.

God’s love is yours, for Christ was lifted in death.

Your belief or unbelief cannot and does not change what Jesus has already done.

Christ already died and lives forevermore.

Lest there be those who hear this as license to sin, St. Paul writes, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”  “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2, NKJ)

Rather, it means all the more that you try to resist temptation, are earnest in prayer, and seek all the more to do what pleases the Lord.

For absolute confidence of God’s love, however, look only to Christ, who says, “Whoever believes—Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

It is not in or by your progress, or lack thereof, that is either your encouragement or reason to despair.

Only see Christ, for in Him is your true and only hope and certainty before God.

There are many who say that God is a “God of love,” for so He is (1 John 4:8, 16).

But many of these do not believe in Jesus Christ.

They believe God to be a god who allows everything and anything, a god who is open to all kinds of different lifestyles, a god who allows all kinds of sins to continue, a god who is  tolerant of the worst kinds of sins, a god who does not condemn sin, a god who simply looks the other way, a god who pats on the back and says, “keep trying” and “just do your best, for that is all that I expect” (as you determine what that “best” is and what that “trying” means).

Such a god is a god of one’s own making and not the God of the Bible.

The God of the Bible says “no” to sin and condemns it.

The God of the Bible does not tolerate godlessness.

Rather does He promise sure punishment upon all who do not turn from their sinful ways and seek mercy, the mercy that is found only in the One whom the Father sent.

God gives you to believe His Son, His Son who gave Himself freely in sacrifice for the debt of your sin, the punishment for which you are not able to pay but by eternal death.

Jesus has truly paid that debt, by means of His death on the cross.

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

Such is God’s love.

It is not by what you do or how good you are that have the certainty of God’s love for you in Christ.

True joy and peace does not come from you or from what you do, but from God, from God in and through Jesus Christ.

This Good News is not made known by the work of man.

It is not gotten to by man’s reason.

It is not rational according to human logic.

It is not deserved or merited.

The Good News of sins forgiven in Christ is the gift of God, revealed by Him through His Son.

By nature, we do not know this Good News of Jesus Christ.

We were born of the flesh, and being born of the flesh, we could not know, for “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14, NKJ).

But thanks be to God! “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).

In the waters of Holy Baptism, God birthed you anew in the spirit.  Now, you are born from above, born-again, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:13, NKJ).

“When the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:4-7, NKJ).

You are heirs of the kingdom—through faith in God’s Son.

You believe this, not because of you or because of your own choice, decision, or work, but because such faith is from the very God who gives it.

“Flesh and blood” neither reveal the wonderful works of God, nor the Savior (Matthew 16:17; 1 Corinthians 15:50).

It is the Giver, the “Father…who is in heaven,” that does (Matthew 16:17). Amen.

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasHeavenly Father, because You so loved the world, because You so loved me, You sent Your 0nly-Begotten Son to die my death and to be my Savior. Give me faith to believe, for I am not able to believe without You creating the faith within me and sustaining that faith so given that I remain Yours. Amen.

 

 

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