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“Jesus, the Good Shepherd,” John 10:1-10

 

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1[Jesus said:] “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out

Word and Sacrament

all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

      7So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Being a Christian is not based on what you do, but on Christ and what He has done for you.

Though you are not holy, Jesus is.

His holiness, His righteousness, His goodness is counted as your own through faith in Him.

Like Abraham whose faith God counted to him as righteousness, as Abraham believed the promise of God when God promised him a son to be born of his own body, though he was old and his wife Sarai was past the age of child bearing, so your faith too is counted as righteousness—as you believe in Christ who died and rose again for our salvation (Genesis 15:1-7).

Jesus did not stay dead in the grave following His crucifixion.

“The third day He rose again according the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father” (Nicene Creed).

To be Christian means to have Christ as your own, to have Christ’s righteousness counted as your own.

Christ’s righteousness counted as your own means that such righteousness has not, nor does not, depend on you.

Such righteousness does not originate from you, is not founded on you, and is not kept by you.

The righteousness of Jesus, reckoned by God as yours through faith in Christ, is therefore certain, true, and sure.

Your identity as the righteous of God is found in Jesus, the One who makes you whole and acceptable to God.

It is what God has done, Jesus’ Word and work, that makes you who you are—a saint; forgiven and not condemned; redeemed and not forsaken; a child of the living God, baptized, cleansed, and holy.

Through faith you take hold of these declarations of God and say “Amen” to what God has said.

God speaks His Word.  He reveals to you your Savior.

 Even “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

“God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7).

“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 John 4:9-10).

This is all good news!

God has not left you in your sin.

He does leave the decision to you.

If He did, you would all be lost.

None who are dead in their sin can make a choice, choose, decide for, or accept Christ, contrary to what well known preachers such as Billy Graham and now his son, Franklin Graham, or any others, fervently preach and who call for nonbelieving hearers to pray a prayer asking Jesus into their heart for salvation.

God is not only willing save sinners.

He does, in Jesus Christ!

It is not the sinner who chooses to believe.

It is God who creates the faith to believe, for “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

Just as Adam was lifeless apart from the breath of God breathed into Him, so is the sinner lifeless when it comes to the things of God unless God first give that longing for His mercy, forgiveness, and life according to His Word (Genesis 2:7).

It is as St. Paul writes, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

“But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

God, by means of His grace, reveals His Son, Jesus Christ, not as judge, Law giver, or a new Moses, but as Savior and author of eternal salvation (Hebrews 5:9).

Therefore, do we say that ‘we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him.  But the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, and kept us in the true faith.’ (Meaning to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed).

Jesus comes to you—in Word, water, and with His very body and blood.

What you receive in Word and Sacrament are the gracious and salvific gifts of a loving God.

This is the blessing of the abundant life promised by the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is why He comes to you, to give you everlasting life.

He comes not to destroy, but to save.

He comes, not to steal, kill, and destroy, but to protect, to make alive, and to preserve for all eternity.

The abundant life Jesus speaks of is more than anything this world could ever offer.

The abundant life Jesus speaks of does not have to do with having abundance of the things of this life.

Jesus Himself said it this way, “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?” (Matthew 16:26).

The answer to both questions is–nothing.

It is of no profit if a man gains the whole world and loses his own soul.

Nothing can man give in exchange for his soul.

One might have everything in this life, yet really have nothing at all.

All the riches of the world amount to nothing compared to eternity.

One might have nothing in this life (by the world’s standards), yet have everything, and all the riches of heaven.

The difference between the two, between the one who has nothing and the one who truly has everything, is not in the quantity of things possessed.

It is a matter of Who has you. It is a matter of Whose you are.

If God has you in Christ and you are His, you have everything, though you don’t now fully see the fullness of all that is yours.

True and lasting treasure is that which God gives unto eternity, where both moth and rust cannot ever destroy (Matthew 6:19-20).

If God doesn’t have you, if Jesus is not your Savior according to His Word, you really have nothing, though you might think that you have everything.

False and counterfeit treasure is that which does not remain.

It is by nature temporary, a façade, only a mirage.

This is the kind of treasure that the world seeks after. It may offer momentary comfort, but such is only pale in comparison to that which of eternal value and gives true peace with God.

God’s Word—not the world’s—does not and will not fail (Joshua 21:45; 23:14).

God’s mercy—not the world’s—endures forever (Psalm 118:1, 2, 3, 4, 29; 136:1-26).

God gives to you His Word that you distinguish between what is true from that which is false; that which is of God from that which is not of God.

So, His people do.

God’s people discern between what is of God and what is not of God—because they are of God.

All who are of God believe Jesus, because Jesus is God.

All who believe Jesus follow Him.

They know Jesus’ voice.

They don’t follow another.  They don’t listen to another’s voice, because another voice they do not know.

Only the voice of Jesus do they recognize.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd.

He leads His sheep, His people, only to the good pasture, the pasture of eternal life.

To all that follow Him and hear His voice, He gives life that has no end.

Such life, here and now, is not trouble-free and without challenge.

Such trouble-free, challenge-free, or prosperous life in the sense of the world’s ideas and dreams is not what the Lord promises.

The Lord promises the life where Christ is, preserving, sustaining, and saving.

True preachers preach Jesus according to what the Bible says.

They preach the preserving, sustaining, forgiving, and saving Christ.

False preachers preach something different.

False preachers very readily make use of the Bible, but they do not use the Bible rightly.

They use the Bible to their own ends, not for the salvation of sinners.

They do not preach Christ aright.

Those who follow Jesus hear, and only want to hear, preachers who preach Jesus rightly.

They don’t listen to strangers. They don’t listen to false teachers.

The sheep of the Good Shepherd therefore care about discerning the difference between what is true from what is false.

They love the Word of the Lord (John 14:23-24).

They believe the words of Jesus.

They distinguish between Law and Gospel.

They abide in what God reveals in His Word and not by novel interpretations.

God’s people concern themselves with the truth and cling to the Word.

They seek to avoid error and false teaching.

They take doctrine seriously, for doctrine, the teaching of God, they have come to know, is life.

Christ’s sheep, therefore, only listen to Christ and His Word.

They love the Lord and His Holy Word.

For preachers faithful in preaching only Christ’s Word, they give thanks, and they avoid preachers who preach something different.

Because they long to hear the Word, because they long to hear of Christ, where Christ is preached, they gather.

Where Christ is given, there they receive.

Where He speaks, where Christ’s voice goes out, there they rejoice, and live, in God’s abundance—in that which He freely gives. Amen.

 

O God, through the humiliation of Your Son You raised up the fallen world. Grant to Your PrayingHands&Cross1faithful 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 for the 4th Sunday of Easter)

Blessed Lord, You have caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning. Grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and take them to heart that, by the patience and comfort of Your holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. (Collect for the Word)

 

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Words out of place for today’s church?

False Prophets“Behold, I am against the prophets,” says the LORD, “who use their tongues and say, ‘He says.’ “Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,” says the LORD, “and tell them, and cause My people to err by their lies and by their recklessness. Yet I did not send them or command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all,” says the LORD.”

Jeremiah 23:31-32

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.  To many, even in the church today, these words from Jeremiah the prophet seem out of place.  “They are too rigid, too condemnatory, too judgmental.  They are words from an historical narrative, an unenlightened past, and don’t deserve our hearing.”

Though many in the church in today’s Christendom would immediately dismiss these words of our Lord through the prophet as irrelevant, irrelevant these words certainly are not!  To say that they are irrelevant to our day is essentially to declare that God’s Word for God’s people is only applicable for a certain time, place, and locale.  But a closer look at what God says reveals the truth far differently than that of today’s “enlightened” and “advanced” “Christianity.”

A closer look at Holy Scripture reveals that God’s people today face the similar temptations of those who have come before us in the faith, to deny the truth and to go after their own gods, even while claiming faith in the true God.  Today’s church faces the same struggles as the people of God in the Old and New Testaments and throughout the history of the Church, to compromise the faith, to follow the popular and “acceptable” way, and to live by sight (and experience) and not by faith in what the Lord says.

In Jeremiah’s day, prophets preached, not according to the Word that God had given them to preach, but according to the content of their own heart and that which the people wanted to hear. This was the easier way to go.  Just look at Jeremiah!  Look what his preaching got him—thrown into a pit, ridiculed, despised, rejected by the people.  Who wants that?  I know that I don’t.

Jeremiah didn’t have an easy time with the people, for they didn’t listen.  Yet his calling was not to please people or to say what they wanted to hear (Ephesians 6:6).  His calling was to speak the truth, the very words that God gave him to speak:  “Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’ Then said I: ‘Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’ But the LORD said to me: ‘Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ For you shall go to all to whom I send you, And whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, For I am with you to deliver you,’ says the LORD. Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, To root out and to pull down, To destroy and to throw down, To build and to plant’” (Jeremiah 1:4-10).

Jeremiah’s words were not to be his own, but God’s.  The same applies to those who preach with the name clergy today.  However, as in JerNo Compromiseemiah’s day, so today, there are those who say that the Lord says where the Lord has not said.  Today, there are those who say what people want to hear, who compromise the truth for acceptance by the world, and who condemn those who speak the truth as unloving, intolerant, and hate-mongers, even though they are simply making the same distinctions that God Himself makes in Holy Scripture.

Most certainly, there are those who do say what they say in spite or in anger.  There are those, too, who speak uncharitably and not out of love for neighbor.  Yet how something is said should not take precedence over what is said.

The litmus test for the truth is not how we sinners view or respond to the message.  Just because we get excited about the preaching because of the dynamism of the preacher, or “get into the service” because of the beat of the music, these don’t immediately translate into “God at work.”  In contrast, just because the preaching is unappealing and the service slow or dull doesn’t mean that God is not at work.

The true litmus test for cross1true preaching and the faithful worship service is not how you feel during or afterwards or what you get out of the sermon, how moving the message was, or how people react.  The true litmus test is simply this, the Gospel rightly preached and the Sacraments administered according to the Lord’s institution.  The music, hymns, responses, etc. should all point to Christ and what God has done in Him.  Where they do not, be on guard, and closely examine Scripture.  Yet, even where the preaching is right, and the congregation seeks to be faithful, and the worship is Christ-centered, continue to examine Scripture, for those who are of God hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:27).  They continue in His Word (John 8:31-32), and they know Him and His ways, not according to what they see, feel, or experience, but according to Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).

Also to remember is this, as St. Peter reminds us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  We remain sober and vigilant as we look to the Lord and His Word (See also Ephesians 6:10ff).

We most certainly have the devil to contend with throughout our earthly lives, as well as the world and our sinful flesh.  Therefore, does our Lord give us His Word, that we remain in the faith.  He gives us prayer, that we call upon Him in every trouble (Psalm 50:15).  He joins us together with others that we encourage one another in the faith (Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 10:23-25).  In effect, God doesn’t leave us alone, but gives us what He would to keep us in the faith.

The reality is, in Jeremiah’s day, as in ours, not all preachers preach the truth.  False preachers and false preaching continue.  Falsehood, however, is not of the truth.  And false gospels, though appealing and man-centered, do not confess the truth, nor do they lead to heaven.  False gospels, essentially, teach salvation apart from faith in Christ alone.  They teach another way to heaven than the way God has already given (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

It is necessary, therefore, to make distinctions, to clarify, and to avoid that which is false, according to the Word of our Lord.  Not doinWalther's-L&Gg so leads away from Christ and His Word.  It also leads to self-security or despair.  Either direction does not lead to heaven, but to eternal death.

God’s people do make such distinctions between truth and falsehood, and they long to abide where Christ is.  Indeed, where Christ is, there also are they (John 12:26).  They forsake the false, even denying themselves, and follow Christ, carrying their crosses and burdens, and rest only in Christ, where true rest and genuine peace are found (Matthew 11:28; Romans 5:1-5)

Luther

Now when Paul speaks of “the truth of the Gospel,” he shows that there are two uses of the Gospel, a true one and a false one, or a true and a false gospel. It is as though he were saying: “The false apostles proclaim a faith and a gospel too, but their gospel is a false gospel. Hence my stubbornness and refusal to yield. I did this in order that the truth of the Gospel might be preserved among you.” Thus in our day the pope and the sectarians brag that they proclaim the Gospel and faith in Christ. Yes, they do, but with the same results that the false apostles once had, those whom Paul (Gal. 1:7) calls troublers of the churches and perverters of the Gospel of Christ. By contrast he says that he is teaching “the truth of the Gospel,” the pure and true Gospel, as though he were saying: “Everything else is a lie masquerading as the Gospel.” For all the heretics lay claim to the names of God, of Christ, of the church, etc.; and they pretend that they want to teach, not errors but the most certain truth and the purest Gospel.

The truth of the Gospel is this, that our righteousness comes by faith alone, without the works of the Law. The falsification or corruption of the Gospel is this, that we are justified by faith but not without the works of the Law. The false apostles preached the Gospel, but they did so with this condition attached to it. The scholastics do the same thing in our day. They say that we must believe in Christ and that faith is the foundation of salvation, but they say that this faith does not justify unless it is “formed by love.”7 This is not the truth of the Gospel; it is falsehood and pretense. The true Gospel, however, is this: Works or love are not the ornament or perfection of faith; but faith itself is a gift of God, a work of God in our hearts, which justifies us because it takes hold of Christ as the Savior. Human reason has the Law as its object. It says to itself: “This I have done; this I have not done.” But faith in its proper function has no other object than Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was put to death for the sins of the world. It does not look at its love and say: “What have I done? Where have I sinned? What have I deserved?” But it says: “What has Christ done? What has He deserved?” And here the truth of the Gospel gives you the answer: “He has redeemed you from sin, from the devil, and from eternal death.” Therefore faith acknowledges that in this one Person, Jesus Christ, it has the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Whoever diverts his gaze from this object does not have true faith; he has a fantasy and a vain opinion. He looks away from the promise and at the Law, which terrifies him and drives him to despair. (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p87-88)

Prayer: Gracious Father, forgive us for turning from you to our own way.  Continue to have mercy on us, through Your only Son, Jesus Christ, that we remain steadfast in the true faith, and denying all others, boldly confess Your Holy Name.  In Your Name we pray, Amen.

Rise Up and Build? Build what?

RU&BHave you seen advertisements like this before?  Some of the wording about the conference, which I recently received in my email, follows:

“Has God placed a vision on the heart of your church or Christian school to reach out in new ways and expand ministry opportunities to your community and beyond?”

“Is your facility limiting your ability to accomplish that vision?”

“If so, this seminar will encourage you to apply the determination and courage of Nehemiah and step out in faith.”

Quoted (in part) on their web page is Nehemiah 2:8, 18: “And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests…And they said, “Let us rise up and build”.

Since this conference advertisement quotes the Bible, it is necessary to try to understand how the passages used are to be understood according to their context in Scripture, and then compare the actual scriptural use of the passage with the how the words are used to raise interest in this conference, “Rise up.”

Very briefly, the Old Testament book of Nehemiah concerns the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s city walls and the reform (repentance) of the people of Jerusalem.  The city walls had been in disarray since the Babylonia Captivity, [1] and this demonstrated the neglect of the city where God’s temple was, neglect for the temple, and the state of affairs between God’s people and their Lord.  God had punished His wayward people by exile due to their apostasy and waywardness, yet by His grace, He would bring them again to Himself.

The words of Nehemiah 2 (v8), quoted above, refer to the request of Nehemiah to King Artaxerxes concerning materials and the building of the city walls (2:1-8).

The “Let us rise up and build” of verse 18 is the response of the city officials to Nehemiah after he had examined the condition of the city walls himself and said to them, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.” And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me” (v17-18).

Essential to note concerning Nehemiah’s motive and God’s gracious hand concerning the “building project” are both the report of Jerusalem and the people living there (Nehemiah 1:1-3) and Nehemiah’s response and prayer.

When Nehemiah heard the news about the condition of Jerusalem and the people, he “sat down and wept.”  He also “mourned and fasted and prayed.”  In his prayer, Nehemiah said:

“I pray, LORD God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; ‘but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’ Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” (Nehemiah 1:5-11, NKJ)

Notice the bold face words in Nehemiah’s prayer?  These are telling, because Nehemiah is calling on God to do as He had promised.  He is calling on God to fulfill His Word of mercy (i.e. Leviticus 26 (40-45).  Additionally, and not at all to be ignored, is the humble and repentant heart of Nehemiah, demonstrated by his words.  He recalls why the people of God suffered exile and the reason for the city’s condition—because of their sinfulness (i.e. Leviticus 26 (14-39)).

Nehemiah confesses His sin to God, and the sin of Israel, and asks for God’s mercy and help. These are not at all to be ignored with reference to the passages, Nehemiah 2:8 and 18, quoted on the “Rise Up” conference website.  They draw attention to two essential elements, which, if removed, misapply scripture and attempt to make God’s Word say something which it in truth does not.

The two elements are just those stated: confession & repentance (faith), and the word & promise of God.  In his prayer and by his request, Nehemiah was seeking for the Lord to fulfill His Word.  He wasn’t asking for something that he simply wanted personally, dreamed up, or envisioned.  Rather, Nehemiah’s motive and prayer had as their basis, foundation, and directive the very Word of God.

This truth is an imperative that cannot be removed from any discussion (or conference) concerning any “vision of your heart,” reaching out “in new ways,” or “expanding ministry opportunities.”  Nor should the Bible be used to say something that it doesn’t.

This conference, “Rise up,” may already be suspect, at least from the questions raised, and in relation to the Scripture used.  In context, Nehemiah is not about his “vision,” “new ways,” or “expanding.”  Instead, Nehemiah seeks to do according to God’s mercy.  And initially, he rightly confesses his sin and the sins of God’s people.  He seeks God’s mercy concerning himself, God’s people, and the work that he desires to do.  Also, initially and throughout, God’s Word and promise alone guide Nehemiah.  He recalls God’s promise and Word, and directs God to do what He has already spoken and according to what He has already said.

In contrast, the questions used on the web site about the “Rise Up” conference direct, not to God and His Word, but to self.  The word, “vision,” remaining undefined, could mean anything, and though reference is made to God placing it, any such vision, if it is of God, finds its sole foundation in the Holy Scriptures.  Yet, reaching “out in new ways” and expanding “ministry opportunities” is not something that God has promised or commanded.  Rather, God would have His people not be ashamed of him and confess His name (not ashamed–2 Timothy 1:8; 1 Peter 3:15-16; 4:16-17; confess– Matthew 10:32-33; Romans 10:8-13; 15:9; 1 Timothy 6:12).  These characteristics have God’s approval, yet our “visions” do not.

Trust in God’s Word is what God calls us to be about doing (Psalm 37:3; Proverbs 3:5-6; John 6:29; 14:6).  Concerning “new ways” of reaching out, these might be new, but in the sense that God opens our blind eyes to His ways and work, that we make use of the time that He has given according to His Word and will (the latter we only know from the former) within the callings that He has already given (1 Corinthians 1:26; 7:20).

Similarly “expanding ministry opportunities” doesn’t have to do with us doing it, but God “opening the doors” (Colossians 4:3) for us and using us as He will.  The challenge, though, is that we don’t always believe, act, and do according to the will of our Lord, because of our sinfulness (Thus is the Christian always and constantly in the state of repentance, denying self, and turning to God for mercy in Christ, like Nehemiah before us).  Yet God continues to use us and work through us, too, according to His grace and mercy.

Additionally, St. Paul writes:

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-11).

That foundation and the building of which Paul speaks is not man’s doing, but God’s, and again, according to His Word (see Matthew 7:24-27), and not all apart from it or conditional on man and his ways.

As to the question about “your facility limiting your ability to accomplish” your “vision,” this too is founded on the precepts of man.  For one thing, man’s facilities are gifts of God, and to be used for His purposes, not ours.  And as mentioned before, “your” vision is to be tested only by and according to the Word.  Thus, if your “vision” is of God, then it’s not yours at all, but God’s.

The question, “Is your facility limiting your ability to accomplish that vision?” is the wrong question, as is the first, for it (and the other) places the emphasis on you, the sinner, and not on God the Giver and Savior.  It also assumes that any change can (and should?) be affected by you.  The questions do not call for repentance from sin (individual and corporate) and assume that any personal “vision” is already godly in nature and not all misdirected.

For these reasons, such a conference (see here for more information) may just be contrary to the very will of God for His people, for God calls His people and church to be faithful to Him and to His Word (Revelation 2:10, to the Church in Smyrna), and in doing so, will speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and preach His name:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’ Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, NKJ)

Lastly, for the present, the intended result of the conference, “will encourage you to apply the determination and courage of Nehemiah and step out in faith,” also is misdirected.  First of all, the “determination and courage of Nehemiah” cannot be ours, because it was his.  Thus, the wording is at minimum, incorrect.  Secondly, who applies that which is of Nehemiah (the determination and courage)?  You do, not God.  And thirdly, the word faith is undefined.  Faith can mean any number of things, and correlated with “vision,” the word may not at all be that which Jesus and Paul speak of, that is, the God-given faith of Christianity according to the very Word of Holy Scripture.  Many, for example, speak of believing, yet such believing is not of God unless it be according God’s Word, centered on Jesus Christ.

Some will likely read this and consider these concerns about such a conference as miniscule and “making mountains out of mole hills.”  After all, shouldn’t Christians be about spreading the Gospel and “reaching people for Christ?”  Yes, indeed!  Yet the church doesn’t need such conferences to do this.  Instead, God calls His church to repent of her selfishness and to speak His truth, not according to our “vision,” but according to His Word, not only for herself, but for others, that they “be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).  This happens as God’s people, moved by God with repentant faith, believe, speak, and live according to His Word.

For the Sake of Christ’s Commission-Evangelism & Church Growth

The Not-So-Great Commission, IE1, 2011

The Not-So-Great Commission, IE2, 2011

VOCATION AND EVANGELISM.Pless


[1] Nehemiah 1:1-4: The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel, that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. (NKJ)

The word of faith which we preach

 

“ ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’

(that is, the word of faith which we preach)”

Romans 10:8

 

Commenting on 2 Corinthians 11, verse two,[1] Luther writes some penetrating words (see below).  In the context, St. Paul writes, “I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.  For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted — you may well put up with it!” (2 Corinthians 2:3-4).

Paul indicates that there is only one genuine Jesus.  All others are other Jesus’.  In other words, only One Jesus is the Savior from sin.  All other Jesus’ are counterfeits.  So does Paul also indicate this where he distinguishes gospels, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.  For do I now persuade men, or God?  Or do I seek to please men?  For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.  But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-12).

According to God’s inspired Word through His servant Paul, one who seeks to please men cannot also at the same time be a “bondservant of Christ.”  Those preachers who do seek to please men preach a different gospel and not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Here we must say that just as there are preachers who seek to please men, there are also hearers who seek to please, not God, but themselves, for they do not seek out the genuine Gospel of Jesus Christ, but another.  They look for that which God has not promised.  They seek to have their “itching ears” scratched.  They do not seek to repent at the hearing of God’s Word, but they seek another Jesus.

Thus, when they hear things they don’t like to hear or how they like to hear it, they turn the power button off and refuse to further listen.  Rather than test the preaching they hear with the Holy Scriptures, they test it according to what they would like to hear or how they would like the message to be delivered.

Essentially, however, doing these things only demonstrates the characteristic of so many who are Christians in name only—the refusal to listen to the Word and the despising of the very Office of preaching which God has established.

Here, the question arises, “How does God come to us?” “How does Christ give us the forgiveness we so desperately need?”  Another way of asking the question is this, “by what means does God give His forgiveness of our sins that we know with certainty that it is ours?”

Some would, of course, answer the question with the word “faith.”  But is it upon your faith that you have absolute certainty of God’s grace and favor?  If the answer here were yes, then certainty is really upon you. And any certainty upon you is really nothing but uncertainty.

On the other hand, if the answer to the question of means is not on my/our/your faith, but on that which is sure and true, that which God does and gives, there can be no uncertainty in it at all, except that which we add to it of ourselves, if it were possible for us to do so.

Faith has been defined by some as “certainty.”  Such a faith, though, does not have foundation in itself.  We do not trust our faith to be certain because of or on account of our faith.  Rather than trust in one’s own faith or in one’s own certainty, the Christian trusts in nothing less and nothing more than the Word of God that establishes that faith.

And where is that Word preached and heard?  In the Lord’s house.  And by whom?  The pastor.  And what is the pastor to be preaching in the Lord’s house?  Only the Word—only Christ.  Where the pastor is doing this, there you can be sure that God is forgiving sins.  There, you can be sure that God is giving you salvation, because of the Word that is preached.

Also in the Lord’s house, God established the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.  For what purpose?  For the purpose of bringing to you that salvation won by Christ’s cross.  Thanks be to God for such gifts!  And instead of murmuring and grumbling about the way God brings these gifts (i.e. through human voice, water, and bread and wine), we rejoice all the more in them (see 1 Corinthians 1:27-31), trusting God’s Word and sure of His goodness, not because we “see,” but because of His blessed promises.

Luther

“Christ has instituted this (apostolic) office as if to say, ‘I send you that you should claim and fetch me my bride who was previously prepared or was washed from sins and became pure and holy.’  Now this happens daily in Christianity through the preaching office, in which one proclaims and preaches that Christ has given himself for you, as St. Paul says.  This was done when he suffered and died on the cross and on the third day was raised again.  For through that he has earned grace and the forgiveness of sins for us.  But if that were left there, it would not yet help us.  For even if he earned the treasure for us and has done all, we would not yet receive it.  But how does this same salvation which he has bestowed finally come to us?   For has he now gone up to heaven and left us behind?  He says it must go to us through the Word and Baptism which he has mandated the apostles to bring to us, to bring us home.  Namely, that through them they should bring us  forgiveness of sins, in his name.” (Geo. Link, Luther’s Family Devotions, 648-649)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant that my faith not be founded on anything in me, but only upon You and Your Holy Word.  Keep me from doubting the way You work and the means by which you give me life and salvation through Jesus Christ.  Rather, lead me to give thanks and to rejoice all the more in Your blessed kindness and favor in coming to me in what is esteemed as humble and lowly in the eyes of the world, that Your Holy Name be exalted continually.  Amen.


[1] “For I have betrothed you to a man so that I present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

 

Preaching and Hearing the Word of God

The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat?” says the LORD.

Jeremiah 23:28

Faithfulness to the Lord in preaching is a hard thing!  It is a hard thing because many will grumble.  Many will complain.  Many will grow tired and turn away from that which gives life.  The many do this because the Word of God does not “fit” them.  The Word of the Lord does not “do” for them what they think it should.  The Word of the Lord, essentially, is not to their own liking, independent of the outer dressing in which it is delivered.  It does not scratch the itchy conscience as it wants to be scratched.  It does not tell one troubled by sin that things are not that bad, that things will only get better, and that happiness is just around the corner.

The Word of the Lord preached faithfully speaks the reality of how things really are.  The Law of God does not mince words.  It does not pull back the punches.  Like the doctor who speaks the truth about one’s condition, so the Law reveals the hopelessness of our situation.  The Law says that you are a poor miserable sinner, deserving nothing but death and eternal condemnation.

Such a message does not sit well with one who wants to be his/her own savior.  Such a message does not parallel the false hope preached so often today, that all you have to do is try harder, or “give your life to Jesus.”  The Word of God contrasts the “it is not so bad” mentality of today’s church, for faithful preaching consists in addressing the condition and not only the symptoms of sinners.  Only by doing so is the true proclamation of the Gospel clearly heard and believed.

Jesus came to save real sinners, not partial sinners (Luke 5:32; 1 Timothy 1:15)! Jesus died in order to save real sinners from real condemnation and hell.  And this is just what Jesus did, not to make the world a better place, but to give eternal life.

While many go on proclaiming a false gospel of earthly hope and worldly utopia, true preachers of Christ preach the sure and certain hope of heaven.  They teach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), for the very purpose of leading the hearers to Christ and to heaven.  They call sinners to turn from their evil ways and to believe the Good News of sins forgiven through faith in Christ Jesus.

Not all who hear this message appreciate it.  Many turn away from it.  Most reject it.  Such is the world in which we live.  But by God’s grace, there are also most certainly those who do hear, who do believe, and who do confess Jesus Christ to be Savior.  They know God’s Word when they hear it, for they are of God (John 8:47).  They hear Christ’s voice and follow Him (John 10:16, 27).  And they seek none other than the true doctrine, for in this true doctrine is true and everlasting life.  And of this doctrine they are not ashamed, for it is not their own, but God’s.  Thus do they boldly declare it, and of it are most sure!

Luther

“With Paul, therefore, we boldly and confidently pronounce a curse upon any doctrine that does not agree with ours.  We, too, seek by our preaching, not the praise of men or the favor of princes or of bishops but only the favor of God.  We preach His grace and gift alone, treading underfoot and condemning whatever is our own.  Therefore anyone who teaches something different or something contrary – we confidently declare that he was sent from the devil.” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p59).

Prayer: Gracious Father, you have given us Your holy Word that we believe it and boldly confess it.  Grant us not to be ashamed of what you say, nor to depart from it all of our days.  Forgive us our weaknesses, and bring us to firm confidence in Your doctrine and eternal life.  Amen.

We seek to please God, not men

For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men?

For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.

Galatians 1:10

Our Lord Jesus says to his disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.  But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me” (John 15:18-21).

Those who seek to please Christ are those who seek to abide by His Word and remain in it, regardless of the cost involved (John 8:31-32).  Such cost may include the loss of friends, family members, or job.  The hatred of the world may include isolation and persecution.  Collectively, also, for Christ’s Church, for His people gathered around Word and Sacrament, such hatred of the world may present itself in the refusal to hear the Word of God preached by the pastor, the denial of Christ’s absolution, the promotion of schism contrary to the true doctrine, the despising of God’s Means of Grace, and the desire to change the worship service from being that which God works through to deliver His blessed gifts of life and salvation in the hearing of His Word and the distribution of Christ’s body and blood, to what we give to God, without first acknowledging the extent of our sin before Him.

Like the Pharisee, we come to God’s house to tell God what we have done and how we have lived, and thus do we seek His favor based on our work and apart from His mercy in Jesus His beloved Son.  Contrast this pharisaical approach to God based on oneself with the manner that the tax collector approached God.  He could not even look up.  He did not claim any goodness of himself, but simply confessed what was right and true.  He had nothing to give. He had nothing to offer to God-only his sin.  So he says, “God, be merciful to me the sinner!” (Luke 18:9-14, my translation: the definite article is in use here in the Greek text, v13).

This “poor miserable sinner” claimed no merit of his own.  He did not at all trust in himself.  Nor did he look to himself for any “spark of goodness” whereby he might gain God’s favor.  Instead, He trusted only in the mercy of God for help and salvation.  He came expecting to receive from God, not to give.  And Jesus says receive everything, this sinner did, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other” (Luke 18:14).

To be justified before God means nothing less than having peace with God (Romans 5:1ff), having your sins forgiven, being unconditionally in God’s favor, and having nothing but God’s compassion and kindness upon you.  On the other hand, to not be justified before God means nothing less than having God’s wrath and judgment upon you and to not at all have God’s favor towards you.

Only in Christ Jesus do you have such true and lasting peace with God!  This is the Christ who God reveals in His Holy Word.  And this is the Christ which God’s Holy Church proclaims and who God’s people unashamedly confess.  This, too, is the same Christ which the world hates, and for which God’s people joyfully suffer. But God’s people suffer for the sake of Christ and for the sake of His Name because He is their Savior, “for there is no other Name, under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  They know no other God, for there is no other God (1 Corinthians 8:6).  All others are nothing but false God’s, man-made, and of the devil (Revelation 9:20).

This is why the world hates Christ, His Church, and His people—they are of God, not of the devil, the world, or of sinful man.  They teach the way of God aright, neither compromising or weakening God’s message.  They boldly confess and unashamedly proclaim the way of God in truth.

God’s people come before God’s throne of grace, not giving to God, but seeking to receive from Him the mercy that God gives through faith in His Son (Hebrews 4:16).  And by God’s mercy, that have it!

This is indeed not a popular message, for many, even within the church, reject it.  But it is only Christ who gives life (John 6:63).  We are lost and condemned in our sin, with nothing to give to God.  But God covers such sinners with Christ’s righteousness (1 John 1:8-9), and we, now, live unto Him, rejoicing in His bountiful goodness and believing His unmerited and undeserved mercy on account of Jesus, His Son and our Savior.  Amen.

Luther

“We do not seek the favor of men by our teaching either, if we may be permitted to say this without boasting.  For we teach that all men are wicked; we done the free will of man, his natural powers, wisdom, righteousness, all self-invented religion, and whatever is best in the world.  In other words, we say that there is nothing in us that can deserve grace and the forgiveness of sins.  But we proclaim that we receive this grace solely and altogether by the free mercy of God and His works, universally condemning all men for their works (Ps. 19:1).  This is not preaching that gains favor from men and from the world.  For the world finds nothing more irritating and intolerable than hearing its wisdom, righteousness, religion, and power condemned.  To denounce these might and glorious gifts of the world is not to curry the world’s favor but to go out looking for and quickly to find, hatred and misfortune, as it is called.  For if we denounce men and all their efforts, it is inevitable that we quickly encounter bitter hatred, persecution, excommunication, condemnation, and execution” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p.58).

Prayer: Dearest Jesus, preserve us, Your Holy people.  Keep us from compromising Your Holy doctrine or accommodating ourselves to the ways of the world for superficial peace in the world.  Give us strength to endure the temptations that befall us that we not forsake Your Word, but remain steadfastly in it and in the true faith for our salvation.  Amen.

The Church and What the Church is, Articles VII & VIII of the Augsburg Confession

Article VII: Of the Church.

1] Also they teach that one holy Church is to continue forever. The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.

2] And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and 3] the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike. 4] As Paul says: One faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, etc. Eph. 4:5-6.

Article VIII: What the Church Is.

1] Although the Church properly is the congregation of saints and true believers, nevertheless, since in this life many hypocrites and evil persons are mingled therewith, it is lawful to use Sacraments administered by evil men, according to the saying of Christ: The Scribes and 2] the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat, etc. Matt. 23:2. Both the Sacraments and Word are effectual by reason of the institution and commandment of Christ, notwithstanding they be administered by evil men.

3] They condemn the Donatists, and such like, who denied it to be lawful to use the ministry of evil men in the Church, and who thought the ministry of evil men to be unprofitable and of none effect.

*Book of Concord

Campus Ministry — A Blessing Indeed!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Place of Campus Ministry, p1

The Importance of Campus Ministry at Secular Colleges and Universities, p1-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faithful Pastors Preach Christ and His Word

 

Dr. C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the church body now know as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, in an 1848 presidential address, addressed the synod in convention, which included these words concerning the relationship between pastor and congregation:

“Only such a preacher is a servant of men as does not serve Christ faithfully because of fear of men or because of desire to please men, departs from God’s Word in doctrine or practice, and preaches for the itching ears of his audience.  But where the pastor is given only the power of the Word, but its full power, where the congregation, as often as it hears Chris’s Word from the mouth of the preacher, receives it as the Word of God, there the proper relationship between pastor and congregation exists; he stands in their midst not as a hired mercenary but as an ambassador of the Most High God; not as a servant of men but as a servant of Christ, who in Christ’s stead teaches, admonishes, and reproves…The more a congregation sees that he who has the rule over them in the Lord desires nothing but that the congregation be subject to Christ and His Word; the more it sees that he does not desire to dominate them, yes, indeed, that he himself with a jealous eye guards the liberty of the congregation, the more willing the congregation will become to hear his salutary recommendations also in matters which God has not prescribed; it will follow him in these matters not as a taskmaster because it must, but as their father in Christ, because they wish to do it for their own advantage.”[1]

These words of Walther are nearly forgotten in many an LCMS congregation today, both by pastor and people.  Pastors lord over the people, and people lord over the pastor, contrary to the words of our Lord where He admonishes His disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.  And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).

The rule or authority of the pastor is none other than the Word of God itself.  In this way the pastor is to serve the congregation—preaching and teaching the very Word of Christ in all its truth and purity.  Where a pastor neglects doing so, he is doing nothing but neglecting His calling by God through the congregation.  The pastor is not to add to or subtract from the Word.[2]  Nor is he a people pleaser, compromising for the sake of peace.  If he is to stand and remain a faithful preacher, he must “abide in Christ.”[3]

All pastors who do not do this do not serve the Lord Jesus Christ, but another.[4]  These are false preachers and teachers, who teach what men want to hear or how men want to hear it.  But to be a servant of God, the pastor preaches according to Holy Scripture—nothing more and nothing less.  This is what God gives pastors to do.  Therefore, the congregation is to help and support them in doing so, even encouraging them with the Word and by praying for them in their solemn servitude.

Whereas the responsibility of the pastor is to be a faithful servant of God and a faithful servant to God’s people, “rightly dividing the Word of truth,” (2 Timothy 2:15) the responsibility of the congregation is to hear the pastor and honor him as one whom God has sent, for so God has.  Not doing so, that is, refusing to hear the pastor, is as not hearing God, just as Jesus says to His disciples, “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16).

Far from this being a novel invention or “lifting up the pastor” to a godly like status, this is the way of God and His blessed Word for the sake of His beloved people.  Remember, the authority of the pastor is not that of himself, all that he says, or all that he does.  The authority of the pastor is that of the Word.  Where he speaks beyond the Word, there ears can truly be shut.  But as he proclaims and speaks the Word, there the ears are to be nothing but open—because it is not the pastor’s words, but God’s.

Thus does Holy Scripture in many places speak of the relationship, even the duty (and vocation) of pastors to their congregation and congregation to their pastor(s).  The following words are found under “The Table of Duties” in The Small Catechism of sainted Dr. Martin Luther:

To Bishops, Pastors, and Preachers

The overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 1 Tim. 3:2-4

He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 1 Tim. 3:6

He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. Titus 1:9

What the Hearers Owe Their Pastors

The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. 1 Cor. 9:14

Anyone who receives instruction in the Word must share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Gal. 6:6-7

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” 1 Tim. 5:17-18.

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 1 Thess. 5:12-13

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. Heb. 13:17

As you can see, neither pastor or hearer is free to forsake the Word or invent new ways of serving God.  Rather, it is in doing what God has commanded, having faith in Christ, that we rightly please God and rightly serve Him.  For Lutheran pastors and Lutheran congregations, the Word is front and center.  The church is not centered on either pastor or people.  It is centered on Christ.  And where Christ is truly the center, both pastor and people rightly recognize their place and give glory, thanks, and praise to God.  Pastors diligently serve God’s people; and God’s people readily hear the preached Word, and give thanks for it.


[1] Carl S. Meyer (ed.), Moving Frontiers: Readings in the History of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1964), 175-176.

[2] “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.  Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6).

[3] “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples.  And you will know the truth and the truth will free you.” (John 8:31-32)

[4] Deuteronomy 18:20;  Isaiah 5:20; Jeremiah 23:1; Matthew 7:15-23; 15:9; Romans 16:17-18; Colossians 2:6-9, 18-23; 1 Timothy 4:1-6; 2 Timothy 3:13-17; 4:1-4; Hebrews 13:9; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1-6

 

 

The Word of faith which we preach


 

“ ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’

(that is, the word of faith which we preach)”

Romans 10:8

Commenting on 2 Corinthians 11, verse two,[1] Luther writes some penetrating words (see below).  In the context, St. Paul writes, “I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.  For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted — you may well put up with it!” (2 Corinthians 2:3-4).

Paul seems to indicate that there is only genuine Jesus.  All others are other Jesus’.  In other words, only One Jesus is Savior from sin.  All other Jesus’ are counterfeits.  So does Paul also indicate this where he distinguishes gospels, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.  For do I now persuade men, or God?  Or do I seek to please men?  For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.  But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-12).

According to God’s inspired Word through His servant Paul, one who seeks to please men cannot also at the same time be a “bondservant of Christ.”  Those preachers who do seek to please men preach a different gospel and not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Here we must say that just as there are preachers who seek to please men, there are also hearers who seek to please, not God, but themselves, for they do not seek out the genuine Gospel of Jesus Christ, but another.  They look for that which God has not promised.  They seek to have their “itching ears” scratched.  They do not seek to repent at the hearing of God’s Word, but they seek another Jesus.

Thus, when they hear things they don’t like to hear or how they like to hear it, they turn the power button off and refuse to further listen.  Rather than test the preaching they hear with the Holy Scriptures, they test it according to what they would like to hear or how they would like the message to be delivered.

Essentially, however, doing these things only demonstrates the characteristic of so many who are Christians in name only—the refusal to listen to the Word and the despising of the very Office of preaching which God has established.

Here, the question arises, “How does God come to us?” “How does Christ give us the forgiveness we so desperately need?”  Another way of asking the question is this, “by what means does God give His forgiveness of our sins that we know with certainty that it is ours?”

Some would, of course, answer the question with the word “faith.”  But is it upon your faith that you have absolute certainty of God’s grace and favor?  If the answer here were yes, then certainty is really upon you. And any certainty upon you is really nothing but uncertainty.

On the other hand, if the answer to the question of means is not on my/our faith, but on that which is sure and true, that which God does and gives, there can be no uncertainty in it at all, except that which we add to it of ourselves, if it were possible for us to do so.

Faith has been defined by some as “certainty.”  Such a definition does not have foundation in itself.  We do not trust our faith to be certain because of or on account of our faith.  Rather than trust in one’s own faith or in one’s own certainty, the Christian trusts in nothing less and nothing more than the Word of God that establishes that faith.

And where is that Word preached and heard?  In the Lord’s house.  And by whom?  The pastor.  And what is the pastor to be preaching in the Lord’s house?  Only the Word—only Christ.  Where the pastor is doing this, there you can be sure that God is forgiving sins.  There, you can be sure that God is giving you salvation, because of the Word that is preached.

Also in the Lord’s house, God established the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.  For what purpose?  For the purpose of bringing to you that salvation won by Christ’s cross.  Thanks be to God for such gifts!  And instead of murmuring and grumbling about the way God brings these gifts (i.e. through human voice, water, and bread and wine), we rejoice all the more in them (see 1 Corinthians 1:27-31), trusting God’s Word and sure of His goodness, not because we “see,” but because of His blessed promises.

    Luther

 

“Christ has instituted this (apostolic) office as if to say, ‘I send you that you should claim and fetch me my bride who was previously prepared or was washed from sins and became pure and holy.’  Now this happens daily in Christianity through the preaching office, in which one proclaims and preaches that Christ has given himself for you, as St. Paul says.  This was done when he suffered and died on the cross and on the third day was raised again.  For through that he has earned grace and the forgiveness of sins for us.  But if that were left there, it would not yet help us.  For even if he earned the treasure for us and has done all, we would not yet receive it.  But how does this same salvation which he has bestowed finally come to us?   For has he now gone up to heaven and left us behind?  He says it must go to us through the Word and Baptism which he has mandated the apostles to bring to us, to bring us home.  Namely, that through them they should bring us  forgiveness of sins, in his name.” (Geo. Link, Luther’s Family Devotions, 648-649)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant that my faith not be founded on anything in me, but only upon You and Your Holy Word.  Keep me from doubting the way You work and the means by which you give me life and salvation through Jesus Christ.  Rather, lead me to give thanks and to rejoice all the more in Your blessed kindness and favor in coming to me in what is esteemed as humble and lowly in the eyes of the world, that Your Holy Name be exalted continually.  Amen.


[1] “For I have betrothed you to a man so that I present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

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