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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.”

 

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Sermon for 4th Sunday after Pentecost, 2012B

Already Clean…

“You are already clean because of the word

which I have spoken to you.”

John 15:3

“For above all one must take care that the heart is good, pure, and holy, as Ps. 51:10 states: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” It is as if he were saying that cleanness of the works of the body is nothing unless there first is cleanness of the heart. But this uncleanness of the heart is so deep that no human being is sufficiently aware of it, much less can purge it away by his own strength, as Jer. 17:9–10 says: “The heart of man is deceitful and inscrutable. Who will search it out? I the Lord search out the heart and the reins.” Therefore the heart becomes pure and good only through faith in Christ, as we read in Acts 15:9: “He made no distinction between us and them, but purified their hearts by faith.” For faith in the Word purifies, because just as the Word of God is completely pure and good, so it makes him who adheres to it pure and good like itself. Whatever it has and is able to do it shares with him who adheres to it and believes it. Ps. 19:7 says: “The Law of the Lord is unstained, changing the souls.” And Christ says in John 15:3: “You are clean because of the Word which I have spoken to you.” Thus also Ps. 51:4, in the Hebrew: “Against Thee alone have I sinned … so that Thou art justified in Thy sentence and blameless in Thy judgment.” He who believes in the Word of God is righteous, wise, true, good, etc. Thus, on the contrary, he who is separated from the Word of God or departs from it will necessarily remain in wickedness, in uncleanness, and in everything that is opposed to the Word of God. “He who trusts in his own mind is a fool” (Prov. 28:26), which is a statement against his own confidence. Therefore the apostle says in Titus 1:15: “To the impure nothing is pure, but their minds and consciences are corrupted.” This is what the apostle means here when he speaks of “falling away from the living God.” For one falls away from the living God when one falls away from His Word, which is alive and gives life to all things, yes, is God Himself. Therefore they die. He who does not believe is dead. But falling away comes about through unbelief. And thus it is clear what an “evil heart” of unbelief is. It is a heart in which nothing is good, but everything is evil, because it departs from everything that is good.” (LW 29: Lectures on Titus, Philemon, and Hebrews)

If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.”

John 8:31

Enthusiasm, in the sense of excitement, can be a good thing.  It gets us moving.  However, enthusiasm can also be a hindrance, for it is often temporary.  It wanes away.  We begin something full of zeal, but then soon lose interest.  We then might begin to even despise what we were once eager about.

This happened during the Reformation concerning the Gospel in Luther’s day.  People were excited about the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  People paid in earnest to the teachings of God.  But shortly thereafter, the heat waned into lukewarmness and even into indifference on the count of many.  People tired of the truth and wanted something new and different to tickle their fancy.

Long before Luther, St. Paul the apostle encountered a similar situation, for to the Christians in Galatia he writes, “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” (Galatians 1:6-10).

The Galatian Christians were turning from the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to something else, another teaching, a teaching which was not of God.  They were tired, ironically, of the only truth that truly makes alive new.

Christians today are beset by the same temptations.  How easy it is to consider the glorious resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday, and then go into the “ho-humness” of everyday life, including Sunday morning!  How easy it is for us to distance ourselves further and further from the Lord and His saving doctrine and all the while take for granted the Good News of forgiveness in Christ!

Like the Christians in Galatia or the Christians during of the Reformation, we too currently face such trials as the people of God in the year 2012.  The answer, however, is not to be found in trying to solve this problem, trying harder, or in looking for something to bring about the escaping enthusiasm and excitement that we so long for.  The answer, simply, is turn from selfishness to Christ—to not seek what the world and our sinful nature looks for—but to seek Him who alone forgives and saves the ungodly (Psalm 32:1-2).

Enthusiasm goes up and down for this and for that.  It can be sometimes quite hot.  On the other hand, it can also become quite frigid.

God’s love for sinners, for you, in Christ, does not wax or wane.  It is constant.  And in Christ, God’s love for you is sure and certain (Romans 5:8).  Therefore do His people seek to continue in that sure and certain Word and doctrine of Christ, for it is only there that Christ’s disciples remain (John 12:26).

Luther

“Whatever we do, we are always very ardent at the beginning; but when the ardor of our initial feelings is spent, we soon lose our enthusiasm.  We give up on things and completely reject them as a impetuously as we undertake them.  When the light of the Gospel first began to appear after the great darkness of human traditions, many listened eagerly to sermons.   Now that the teaching of religion has been successfully reformed by the great growth of the Word of God, many are joining the sects, to their destruction.  Many despise not only Sacred Scripture but almost all learning.”  (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p47).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive us for our lack of enthusiasm for Your Holy and life-giving Word.  Keep us from becoming indifferent to Your heavenly doctrine.  Uphold us by Your Word and grant us diligence in its study, that we continue to be Your faithful servants.  In  Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

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.”

We Confess Christ (John 20:19-31)

The confession of Christ is not self-derived.  It is not self-induced, self-revealed, or self-chosen.  Rather, the confession of Christ is God-given, God established, God revealed, God made known.

No one on this earth would know of Christ crucified and resurrected the third day unless had God had made it known to us.  And this, God, in His mercy, has done.  Through the Holy Scriptures, God makes known your salvation through faith in the crucified and risen Lord.  Therefore, does St. John write,  “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

Also, St. Paul writes, “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

Thus, God gives us His Word, the Bible (and the preaching of that Word), not so you can live a better life or “have a better life now.”  God also does not give you His Word that you might know how to live your life apart from faith in Him.

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) are indeed commands about how God’s people are to live, but the Bible is not a “rule book” or a book of do’s and don’ts.  The Bible is the book of salvation, and speaks of that salvation which is alone by God’s grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

As such, the preaching of the apostles following Christ’s ascension was not, “live this way” or “do these things” to get right with God.   Christ’s preaching was not this way either.  Christ’s preaching, and the apostles’ preaching after Him, and the Church’s proclamation today, is Christ crucified and resurrected for the forgiveness of sins.

If the preaching of the church becomes anything else than this, her preaching is false and not to be heeded (i.e. Rick Warren and trying to find a purpose, Joel Osteen and self-help rhetoric) [See Galatians 1:6-10].  Should the church preach this way, she leads the hearers away from the Gospel and away from eternal life to eternal death and hell.

Because Holy Scripture testifies of Christ, so do Christ’s people confess and bear witness to Him who purchased them with His own blood (Acts 20:28).  This is their confession.  And this is the confession of Christ’s body, the Church.

Therefore, with Thomas who went from unbelief to faith by God’s gracious word and work, we too confess and say of and to Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

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