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Christ Your Hope

Jesus.EmptyTomb

 

19 If in this life we only have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.

 1 Corinthians 15:19-21

He is Risen.  He is Risen indeed.  Alleluia!

On this joyous occasion, Christ’s church confidently rejoices in the bodily resurrection of Jesus her Lord.   The suffering and death that Christ had endured is now past.  Jesus reigns victoriously over death and the grave.  His three-day tomb remains forever empty.  Jesus is risen, just as He had said.  Sin has lost its power and dominion.

Jesus our Savior died with your sin on the cross Good Friday.  But He who knew no sin, who became sin for us, was the only victor, the only one of the two standing when all was said and done.  Darkness had covered the land with Jesus’ death.  But now, the light of Christ shines brightly, piercing through the darkness of death and rejoicing the heart with resurrected gladness.

News of Christ’s triumph flows as a river throughout the world, giving life to all who drink from it.  This water is the pure water of God’s truth.  This water contains no contaminates, nor is any harmful material to be found in it.  It does not make sick.  It brings to health.  It does not make weak.  It brings strength.  It does not cause complacency.  It moves to faith.  It does not cause despondency.  It moves to confidence.  It does not bring hopelessness.  It raises to blessed assurance, the blessed assurance that Jesus is yours, that He has overcome death and the grave.  Just as He has been resurrected from the dead, so you too are brought to life in Christ Jesus our Lord, raised from the deadness of your sin to the resurrection of eternal life.

This is good news!  Christ has now arisen.  Had Christ, who once was slain, not burst His three-day prison, our faith had been in vain.  The words of Hymn 482 in Lutheran Service Book, appropriately titled, “This Joyful Eastertide,” echo the words of St. Paul where he writes, “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (1 Corinthians 15:14).  With these words, St. Paul the apostle demonstrates the futility and the utter uselessness of faith apart from the bodily resurrection of our Lord.

In the day of this blessed apostle, there were those who claimed that there was no resurrection of the dead (v12).  For some reason, they had lost sight of the truth of Christ’s resurrection.   Having lost sight of that, they could do no other except lose sight of the hope and promise of God.  Though St. Paul proclaimed Christ as having been raised from the dead (v12), this message had lost significance among some in the church of Corinth.  Therefore, these men falsely concluded that there was no resurrection from the dead.  Having no confidence in the Lord’s resurrection, they could do no other except construct a hope of their own making.  In the process, the very hope that St. Paul had preached to them became null and void, not because it wasn’t true, but because there was no trust in what had been rightfully and diligently proclaimed.

Except it be for the witness and testimony of the Holy Scriptures, we too would be in the same boat of doubt and denial when it comes to the resurrection of the dead.   But the Words of God before us today reveal differently.  This day called Easter witnesses and testifies, according to the Bible, that there is a resurrection from the dead and that Christ is alive according to the flesh.

These things cannot be apprehended apart from God’s witness and testimony.  They cannot be understood and held to be true based on our own personal experiences.  Instead, the things of God are not naturally known.  They are revealed through the heavenly Word, not the heavenly word of our own heart or head, but the heavenly Word written and sealed in God’s book, written by the apostles’ and prophets.

If these Word’s of our Lord were not so, there would indeed be no bodily resurrection of Christ.  There would be no ‘rose again from the dead’ or ‘rose again according to the Scriptures’ of the Apostolic and Nicene Creeds.  Christians everywhere would be making false confessions and lying before the world of Him who died and rose again; if indeed Christ had not risen.

If there were no resurrection of the dead, all worship and praise would be empty and worthless.  There would be no need to worship in a Christian congregation, for all ‘roads would certainly lead to heaven.’  There would be no uniqueness to Christianity, for it would turn into a religion of salvation by works, as all the other religions are today.  Believers and nonbelievers alike would all be going to the same place.  It would not really matter what one believed, as long as one was sincere of heart.

If Christ did not rise, then it would truly be as St. Paul says, “If in this life we only have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (v19).  If there was no resurrection of the dead, and if Christ had not been raised, then the church’s proclamation of her risen Lord would be for nothing.  Her number one priority would not be preaching the Gospel of forgiveness through Jesus Christ, but preaching man’s works and emphasizing his own endeavors, not in the service of others, but for earning recognition with God.  God’s ministers would be false teachers and false witnesses, because they testify of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up – if in fact the dead do not rise (v14-15).

If Christ had not been raised, faith would be in vain.  Worship would be void and hypocritical.  There would be no reason to come to church, even only a few times a year, because there would be no hope in this hopeless world.  There would be no God but oneself, for who could know God if the Bible was untrue?  There would be no eternal hope for a blessed peace.  All would live as many do now, living for themselves and not for the Lord or for neighbor.  There would be little concern for the future and more for the instant gratification of today.

With no resurrection of the dead, nor resurrection of Christ, what would be the hope of sinful man before the just God?  Could man by His work or ability satisfy the penalty of sin, the debt of iniquity, or the guilt of transgression?  What would be the end of it all?   And what would be the end of the entire world, even of us who confess Christ Jesus to be Lord, except hopelessness, misery, and grief.  Satisfaction and contentment could never be guaranteed and everyone would be in the ‘rat race’ of trying to make peace with God at any expense and by any means.

But thanks be to God!  It is not as they in St. Paul’s day claimed.  Nor is it as many in our day believe, that Jesus is a crutch and that one has the power to altar or change one’s destiny before God.  Christ has indeed risen from the dead!  This means everything to us and to Christ’s church.  Death could not hold Him.  The grave could not bind Him.  The tomb could not contain Him.  Christ was not sealed in by death.  He opened the way to life, the hopeful life, the confident life, the blessed life, and the eternal life.

Christ is your hope this day.  By His death, He died your death.  By His life, you are raised to new life.  No longer does your guilt have the last word.  Consciences are clear and free.  The debt of your iniquity is paid.  The penalty of your sin, forgiven.  In Christ, you have everlasting hope before the just God.  Instead of liable, you are innocent.  Instead of accountable for sin, you are liberated from your sin.  Peace with God is now our state of affairs in the presence of God.  Christ is your peace.  Hopefulness, joy, and delight are now your end.  Instead of meaninglessness, there is meaningfulness in life.

Christ is risen from the dead!  Our faith in the resurrection is not in vain.  He who died lives forevermore.  There is reason for eager anticipation and joyous expectation of what will be.  Our heavenly homecoming is drawing near.  His Means of Grace are effective and powerful.  God’s Word gives what it says.  Even today, His Word works wonders.  Great expectations are the product of the faith founded on the Lord’s promises, not only for the future, but even in the present.

The Church’s proclamation of her risen Lord is not for nothing.  Her Lord is her everything.  Through liturgy and song, the church confesses her Savior.  Through prayer and praise, she confesses her Christ.  The preaching that man’s sins are forgiven in Christ Jesus continues to be the mission of the church.  Man does not earn recognition with God by what He does.  But God, in His mercy, grants His favor to man through His beloved Son.  Through Jesus, God recognizes you as saint, holy, and righteous.  The Lord’s resurrection is true.  God’s Word is not untrue.

Because Christ has risen from the dead, worship of the Triune God is not trivial and without value.  Worship of God in spirit and truth is full of meaning and import.  Because God and His Word are true, heavenly gifts are offered at the baptismal font and at the Lord’s altar.  Our Lord speaks words of life.  Those of His sheepfold listen to His voice and feast at His banqueting table of Word and Sacrament.  Because the Lord is risen from the dead, there is complete uniqueness to the religion called Christianity.  No other religion teaches the salvation of the God who became man, died, and rose again on the third day.   All other religions do lead to the same place, but Christ alone grants eternal life.  All others lead elsewhere.  It really does matter what one believes, regardless of how sincere one is.

The Apostolic and Nicene Creeds of Christendom are true.  They do give an accurate witness to the faith of Christians everywhere, both of Christians today and of Christians before.  Their confessions testify to the world of Christ’s resurrection and of Him who died and rose again.  There is a ‘rose again from the dead’ and a ‘rose again according to the Scriptures’, for Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.  The Scriptures are really true.  The testimonies are correct.  The Word is sure.  The truth is found.

There is much reason to rejoice this day.  The Christ, who had once been slain, has burst His three-day prison.  Death no longer entombs Him.  ‘Christ has triumphed!  He is living!  Alleluia!’  (LSB 465, “Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds”).  This is a ‘Joyful Eastertide’, for Christ ‘the Crucified has sprung to life’ (LSB 482, “This Joyful Eastertide”).  ‘He lives, yes, He lives, and will nevermore die’ (LSB 480, He‘s Risen, He’s Risen).  Jesus is your Savior, faithful and true.  Because He lives, you too shall live with Him, now and forevermore.  Amen.

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.”

 

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.”

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