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The Small Catechism, Part V: Confession

 

Audio of sermon here on podcast.

 

First Reading: 2 Samuel 12:1-13

1 Then the LORD sent Nathan to David. And he came to him, and said to him: “There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. 2 “The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds. 3 “But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him. 4 “And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd to prepare one for the wayfaring man who had come to him; but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” 5 So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to david-repentsNathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! 6 “And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.” 7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel: `I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 `I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more! 9 `Why have you despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon. 10 `Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 “Thus says the LORD: `Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12 `For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun.'” 13 So David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. (NKJ)

Second Reading: John 20:19-23

19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”” (NKJ)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Blessing.AbsolutionThe Fifth Chief Part of Luther’s Small Catechism: Confession.

Words of the Psalmist from Psalm 51, expressive of King David’s contrite heart and confidence in God when confronted with the Word of God as recorded in 2 Samuel 12 for his sin against God, and the words of Jesus to His disciples on the night of His resurrection, as recorded in John 20, example, illustrate, and highlight for us what confession is and its centrality in and to the Christian Church.

First, what confession is…

Confession, as a word used in the church and in the world, is often understood in the way of ‘relating one’s sins to a member of the clergy,’ as in, ‘going to confession.’

The phrase, ‘fess up means, ‘admit your wrongdoing.’

This is what many consider confession to mean.

In the church, such a use of the term is not wrong, but it certainly is not the only use of the term.

Biblically, the word ‘confess’ has the basic meaning of “to say the same thing,” “to agree with,” or “to acknowledge.”

Where St. John writes, “If we confess our sins” (1 John 1:9), here we then have to clarify.

To confess, to say the same thing, to agree with, to acknowledge our sins according to Whom—provides the clarification.

A related usage of the word, “confess,” is exampled by John the Baptist, as recorded in John chapter 1, where we read,

“Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ’” (Jn. 1:19-20 NKJ).

Here, John the Baptist “confesses” that he is not the Christ, that he is not the Messiah.

The word, “confess,” used in both examples, is identical, that of John the Baptist confessing that he is not the Christ, and that of “confessing sins.”

The “saying the same thing as,” “agreeing with,” and “acknowledging,” either of sins or of John the Baptist in confessing that he is not the Christ also have this in common—that they are not according to self-determination, designation, or definition.

The confession of sins (and what sin is or what sin is not) and the confession of John about his identity (who he is or who he is not), is according to the determination, designation, and definition of Another.

That Other, for John, and for one confessing sin is not self, but God alone.

For John, the One who sent John the Baptist to preach and to baptize was not John Himself, but the Father.  Thus, John pointed to, he confessed, not himself, but Jesus, to be, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

John the Baptist—same said, agreed with, acknowledged—what God made known to him concerning the Christ, who John was clearly not.

In similar fashion, confession of sins has to do with—same saying, agreeing with, acknowledging as true—what God reveals, what He makes known—about our condition and our doing and our not doing.

To confess sin to God is to say that God is right in all of His judgments and that we are rightly deserving of the consequences that God imposes on that sin, even eternal death—as determined by God—not according to our own definition or our own self-determination of how great or little that sin may be in our own eyes.

God declares,

“There is none righteous, no, no one” (Psalm 14/53: 1Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10).

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23 NKJ).

With Isaiah the prophet, we too confess, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5 NKJ).

With David we also say, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5 NKJ).

These things we acknowledge to be true, and not only broadly, but also narrowly.

The Law of God, stated by the 10 Commandments, shows this.

We can do nothing to escape.  There is no work around. No isolationism can help. There is no home remedy, vaccine, or cure.

We are at God’s mercy!

Concerning the confession of sins, Luther writes,

“Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?” (SC, Confession, Which are these?).

Looking into the clear and reflective mirror of God’s Word, we must admit that, yes, we are guilty.

We are not as God would have us be—not only with each other and in our own stations and vocations in life—but also, and especially, before God.

“Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (Jas. 2:10-11 NKJ).

Like David, we say, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13).

The very First Commandment condemns us all.

Writes Luther,

“Let everyone, then, take care to magnify and exalt this commandment above all things and not make light of it. Search and examine your own heart thoroughly and you will find whether or not it clings to God alone. Do you have the kind of heart that expects from him nothing but good, especially in distress and want, and renounces and forsakes all that is not God? Then you have the one true God. On the contrary, does your heart cling to something else, from which it hopes to receive more good and help than from God, and does it flee not to him but from him when things go wrong? Then you have an idol, another god.” (LC, 1st Commandment ¶28)

Luther also says,

“Thus you can easily understand the nature and scope of this commandment. It requires that man’s whole heart and confidence be placed in God alone, and in no one else. To have God, you see, does not mean to lay hands upon him, or put him into a purse, or shut him up in a chest.

“We lay hold of him when our heart embraces him and clings to him.

“To cling to him with all our heart is nothing else than to entrust ourselves to him completely. He wishes to turn us away from everything else, and draw us to himself, because he is the one eternal good. It is as if he said: “What you formerly sought from the saints, or what you hoped to receive from mammon or anything else, turn to me for all this; look upon me as the one who wishes to help you and to lavish all good upon you richly.” (LC, 1st Commandment ¶13-15)

Lastly, Luther states,

“Behold, here you have the true honor and the true worship which please God and which he commands under penalty of eternal wrath, namely, that the heart should know no other consolation or confidence than that in him, nor let itself be torn from him, but for him should risk and disregard everything else on earth.

“On the other hand, you can easily judge how the world practices nothing but false worship and idolatry. There has never been a people so wicked that it did not establish and maintain some sort of worship. Everyone has set up a god of his own, to which he looked for blessings, help, and comfort.” (LC, 1st Commandment ¶16-17)

Our hope, our confidence, our hope—is not in God as it should be.

The responses to our worldly circumstances show where our trust and confidence is or is not.

Yet, to the sinner, God gives forgiveness (Acts 13:38).

To the fearful, God gives courage (John 14:1, 27; Ephesians 6:10; 2 Timothy 1:7).

To the doubting, God gives faith (John 14:1;2 Corinthians 5:7).

To the uncertain, God gives confidence (Psalm 118:8; 1 John 3:20-21).

To the anxious, God gives peace (John 14:27; Philippians 4:6ff).

To the weak and the weary, God gives Rest (Matthew 11:28).

To the speechless, God gives voice (Psalm 51:15; Ezekiel 33:22; Matthew 12:22; 15:30-31; Mark 7:37).

God gives His Word that we believe, and places that Word on our tongue to say what He Himself makes known.

Confession of sin is acknowledging what God says of our fallen condition, what God says of us in our fallen condition.

We are sinners, sinners in the state of death and dying, hopeless of ourselves before Him.

“To God’s mercy we cling.  Our sins before Him we bring.”

God is right and true in His judgments.

We are not blameless before Him.

Yet, He does not forsake us.

This, too, we confess, agree with, same say, and acknowledge: God is God, the gracious, merciful God, who out of love for sinners, out of love for you, individually and collectively, sent His Son Jesus to be your Savior from sin, death, and hell.

Even as confess God to be true according to His Word in condemning sin, our sin, all of it, so we also confess to be true God’s mercy and forgiveness because of Jesus the Christ.

“God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21 NKJ).

Instead of you suffering the eternal consequences for your sin, Jesus suffered all in your stead on the blessed cross.

Whatever you face today or in days to come in no way and in no sense compares to what the Lord Jesus has delivered you from—to the where of your promised inheritance in Him.

This, too, we confess before Him and before one another.

We acknowledge our sins before God, all of them, even those we don’t know, for against Him have we sinned, as well as against our neighbor, from whom we also ask forgiveness.

We also and especially believe God’s promise in Christ, “Your sin is forgiven.”

The Word of absolution, also spoken by the pastor, is full of import.

That Word delivers to you the very Word of God spoken.

Not only are these words for you publicly, corporately, on Sunday morning–they are also for you privately, too.

Before the pastor you may confess sins for which you are troubled.

We call this private confession, private absolution.

This is different from the Roman Catholic churches, where one is told to do in order to be forgiven, or because of obligations’ sake.

For the Christian, the main thing in the confession of sin privately to the pastor—or corporately as in the Divine Service—is not your part.

It is the absolution, “For you is the forgiveness of sins.”

These words mean something.

They are life.  They are salvation.  They are reason for joy.  They are reason to rejoice.

Thus, do we also confess,

“I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself” (SC, Confession, Office of the Keys, What do you believe according to these words).

The church is just about doing this: proclaiming God’s forgiveness of sins in and through Christ.

This continues to be her message and it is in this that she remains faithful—confessing, same saying, agreeing with, acknowledging to be true—what God says. Amen.

 

PrayingHands&Cross1Almighty, everlasting God, for my many sins I justly deserve eternal condemnation. In Your mercy You sent Your dear Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, who won for me forgiveness of sins and everlasting salvation. Grant me a true confession that, dead to sin, I may be raised up by Your life-giving absolution. Grant me Your Holy Spirit that I may be ever watchful and live a true and godly life in Your service; through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen. (Lutheran Service Book, inside front cover, Before confession and absolution).

 

Audio of the sermon here on podcast.

 

 

Luther’s Small Catechism, Part II: “The Creed”

The Apostles’ Creed

The First Article

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

The Second Article

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

The Third Article

I believe in the Holy Ghost; one holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

5CreedccIn the church, Christians universally confess formulated statements of faith.

These formulated statements of faith, known as Creeds, are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.

In the Small Catechism, the Creed “learned-by-heart” is the Apostles’ Creed.

As we continue engaging Luther’s Small Catechism during this season of Lent, we now come to that Creed, that formulated statement of faith whereby Christians everywhere confess belief in the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Apostles’ Creed consists of three articles.

Each article acknowledges the Person and work of the Godhead.

The First Article confesses God the Father and creation, saying in summary form what the Bible reveals about God as Maker of heaven and earth.

The Second Article confesses God the Son and redemption, by and through whom God the Father gives salvation to sinners.

The Third Article confesses God the Holy Spirit and sanctification, how God “calls, gathers, enlightens, and keeps us in the true faith.”

According to Holy Scripture, the Christian Church believes, teaches, and confesses that God is One.

There is one God, and one God only.

Thus, in the First Commandment, the one true God says, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exod. 20:3 NKJ).

The prophet Isaiah declares, “I am the LORD, and there is no other; There is no God besides Me” (Isa. 45:5 NKJ).

Jesus Himself says, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn. 14:6 NKJ).

He also says, “I and My Father are one” (Jn. 10:30 NKJ).

Jesus also declares, “You believe in God, believe also in Me” (Jn. 14:1 NKJ).

To rightly worship the true God is to believe, teach, and confess the Holy Trinity, for so has God revealed Himself to be.

In fact, to “confess the faith” is literally to “Say the same thing” as God has said.

This is what faith does.

Confessing sin before God is saying, “Amen,” to what God has said about us and our condition.

Confessing the Christian faith and the Holy Trinity is saying, “Amen,” to what God has revealed about Himself and the true teaching according to His Holy Word.

The Second Chief Part of the Small Catechism confesses God’s revelation of Himself, for our salvation.  It testifies to God’s work in Creation, Redemption, and Sanctification.

In distinction from the Ten Commandments, the First Chief Part of the Small Catechism, the Creed does not command anything.

The Creed does not tell what to do, how to live, or how to become better.

The Creed, with linguistic precision, declares what the Bible teaches, and therefore, what Christians believe, of God and His work, not for Himself, but for us:

God’s work of creating, preserving, providing, and sustaining us in our earthly needs;

God’s work of saving sinners through Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, by whose fulfillment of the Law (i.e. The Ten Commandments) in their entirety and whose sacrificial death in our stead is eternal life; and

God’s work of creating, preserving, providing, and sustaining us with the needs of the soul, through Christ’s church, which is all about the Means of Grace, God giving life and salvation, won for us by Christ and His cross, given in God’s blessed means of Word and water and bread and wine according to God’s divine institution.

We believe these things because God so says and so promises.

God makes known in His Word what we are to believe, and so we do believe, for we are His people and not another’s.

We note the words, “I believe” in the Creed.

As a statement of what is believed by Christians everywhere, the Creed does not say everything word-for-word that the Bible teaches of God.

The Creed does identify, clearly and concisely, Who God is, in distinction from Who God is not.

In the First Article, Christians say, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”

In a few words, Christians confess that God “Created the heavens and the earth,” just as recorded in Genesis 1:1 and given throughout the Bible.

What this means, however, is more than just that God created the world at one point in time and is now either indifferent to it or just doesn’t care about what goes on it anymore.

Nor does God having created the world imply that we are free to believe according to our own notions or that of popular scientific theory that God created differently than what the Bible records.

To believe either that God did not create as the Bible tells us in Genesis 1 & 2 and throughout Holy Writ, or that God just doesn’t care about His creation is to deny what the Bible teaches about God as Creator.

Very simply, such positions deny God as God.

Far from being indifferent to the world and His creation, God continues to provide for its needs.

Human worry and anxiety about our world, including that of climate change, population growth, health, and advancement, are largely commentaries on sinful unbelief.   They are not expressions of confidence upon God to sustain and preserve His creation as He Himself wills.

Yet, as St. Peter says, “By the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (2 Pet. 3:5-7 NKJ).

“The earth is the LORD’S, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein,” writes the Psalmist (Ps. 24:1 NKJ).

If God was indifferent to the world and the people of it, as some erroneously claim, believe, or demonstrate in plentiful ways, what is to be made of all that the Bible records of God’s caring for His people, His provision of food and water through fields and rain, His compassion on the weary and spent?

How are we to comprehend the sending of the Father’s only-begotten Son, if not by the love of God for the world?

How are we to believe the giving of Christ in Word and Sacrament, if not as the Lord having mercy and compassion upon sinners, sinners who can’t and don’t save themselves, and who, apart from God, remain condemned in their sin?

The Second Article of the Creed clearly testifies to God the Father’s love for the world, in Christ Jesus.

Listen to the meaning given to the Second Article, as expressed in the Small Catechism.

“I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”

These words most certainly testify to what the Bible teaches of God’s love in Christ for sinners.

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28 NKJ).

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

“In due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6 NKJ).

“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8 NKJ).

“When we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10 NKJ).

And, “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:1-2 NKJ).

We are not deserving of any of God’s mercies and kindnesses—none of them—yet God freely gives what we are not able to earn or merit.

God freely gives that for which we do not ask.

Of His love, God hears our petitions for Christ’s sake and answers according to His good and gracious will and for our good.

Not only does God provide by means physical for body. God provides by means physical for the soul. We call these means, “Means of Grace.”

Throughout these days of Lent, the Sunday readings press onward toward Jerusalem, Gethsemane, and Golgotha, significant locales in the Passion of our Lord.

On the cross is where Jesus won your forgiveness, your salvation, your eternal peace with the Father.

There, Jesus died.

There, His shed blood cleanses you of all your sin.

But you don’t there go to receive such blessings, your forgiveness, your peace with God, your salvation.

You don’t go there.

Christ Jesus comes to you.

Christ comes to you in Word, in water, in bread and wine.

Here is where God freely gives you life to sustain your soul, the certainty of sins atoned, God’s grace unmerited.

This is what the Christian congregation is all about—giving God’s divine gifts.

The is what Christians confess by the words of the Third Article of the Creed.

God’s call by the Gospel is through the means of Word preached and Sacraments administered.

This is how the Holy Spirit works, not through the empty vacuum of space and the unknowable, but through the concreteness of the Word proclaimed, the earthiness of water applied, and the eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood in real bread and real wine.

By these, the Lord creates faith and sustains faith.

Outside of us and from the Lord, according to His Word, they are certain.

Even as what is outside of us is the means by which God provides for the body, so by what is external to us is the means by which God gives and sustains us to eternal life.

These things we confess in the Creed.

It is not we who provide and do for ourselves.

It is God, Who, through means, continually does so.

Such is His love, that God neglects neither the smallest detail nor our greatest need.

We are bold, then, to confess, “I believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  God is my God, of Whom I am not ashamed.  He keeps me.  He sustains me. He saves me.” Amen.

Praying-Hands-Stretched-Canvas“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer” (Ps. 19:14 NKJ). Amen.

 

 

Series on Luther’s Small Catechism for midweek Lenten Services.

 

 

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.

Why so many Christian Denominations?

Blankman, Drew & Todd Augustine.  Pocket Dictionary of North American Denominations.  Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

The preface of this introductory booklet of denominations in North America (which includes such nonChristian groups as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons) states, “There are thousands of denominations in North America” (7).  This is not difficult to imagine, as within most of the mainline denominations, a number of subgroups exist.  Apart from Roman Catholicism, it would appear, the various church bodies subsist under various names and designations.  However, even Roman Catholicism, for its claim to unity, is vastly divided and far from united.

One might wonder why all these categorizations (denominations) exist.  The reality of Christendom today seems to be that of fragmentation, not unity in the confession of the same faith.  The “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” and “one body” of Ephesians 4:4,5 appears nonexistent.

The ecumenical movement strives for the visual demonstration of a united Christendom, albeit in a quite deficient way.  Agreeing to disagree does not work in the realm of God’s revelation in Christ.  Nor does emphasizing only the areas of agreement among Christians offer the solution for uniting the differing church bodies under one umbrella.

The answer to bring about true unity in Christendom is not to minimize the differences and to maximize the agreements.  Neither is the answer to focus only on what might be determined to be the essentials and then allow considerable freedom on “other” teachings deemed by some to be nonessential, even though God has spoken about these very things, too (i.e. the ordination of women, the acceptance of homosexuality, redefining sin, etc.).

The answer for today’s fragmented Christendom is to turn from its departure of Holy Scripture and the doctrine of Jesus Christ to it, and to continually pray and strive for genuine unity—not the sham unity of a false and deceiving ecumenicalism, but the true unity of faith which demonstrates itself in same-saying—that is—confessing together as one—the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in Holy Scripture.

Here, however, is right where the problem lies…Not all do or will confess the same thing concerning Christ and concerning the doctrine revealed in the Holy Bible.  This is really the reason why so many different denominations exist today—because not all say (teach) the same thing.

What is the Bible?  Who is Jesus?  Who has the hope of eternal life?  What are the Sacraments?  These are questions that call for answers, and for which various answers will be given.  The fault, however, is not to be found in the Holy Bible.  The fault is to be found in those who disbelieve it and use it contrary to God’s will, which we only know from Holy Scripture itself.

As God says through the prophet Jeremiah, “He who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully” (Jeremiah 23:28).

And also, as Jesus Himself says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word (John 14:23).

So why do all the various denominations exist?  Because they do not all teach the same doctrine.  And because they do not all believe, teach, and confess the same doctrine, they do not consistently all believe, teach, and confess the same Christ.

St. Paul writes, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9).  Even a little departure from the Word of God can (and has) led to apostasy from the true and saving faith.

Though one may continue to believe in Jesus for salvation from sin and death, such faith is quite weakened (and weakening) should one also continue to believe in even theistic evolution or deny the miraculous accounts of Jonah, Jesus feeding the 5000, etc.  Really, it is inconsistent to say that one believes in Jesus and His Word and yet to deny the very Word given by our Lord.

Believing in Jesus Christ and denying Holy Scripture is inconsistent for the Christian and for Christianity, for one who truly does believe in Jesus Christ will also hold His Word to be true.

How can one rightly believe in Jesus Christ if that one continues to deny that very Word which testifies of Christ?  Here we are not only talking about the Words themselves, but also about the meaning of the Words—not the meaning which we place on them—but the meaning which God attaches to them, Scripture interpreting Scripture.

By God’s grace, and only by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, does anyone have the hope of eternal life.  This means that eternal life is the gift of God and not the work of man (Ephesians 2:8-9).

It is faith in Christ alone that saves.  This is true (John 3:16-18).  And one is saved only as one remains in this true faith.  For this reason is it necessary to continue in the Word of God—that one remain in such faith and thus be made more sure of God’s grace in Christ.

Any other doctrine than God’s will only lead away from and not to, Christ and eternal life.

For this reason, St. Paul writes, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).

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).

Confession & Absolution

Large Catechism (Tappert Edition)

A Brief Exhortation to Confession (28-35)

28 Thus we teach what a wonderful, precious, and comforting thing confession is, and we urge that such a precious blessing should not be despised, especially when we consider our great need. If you are a Christian, you need neither my compulsion nor the pope’s command at any point, but you will compel yourself and beg me for the privilege of sharing in it. 29 However, if you despise it and proudly stay away from confession, then we must come to the conclusion that you are no Christian and that you ought not receive the sacrament. For you despise what no Christian ought to despise, and you show thereby that you can have no forgiveness of sin. And this is a sure sign that you also despise the Gospel.

30 In short, we approve of no coercion. However, if anyone refuses to hear and heed the warning of our preaching, we shall have nothing to do with him, nor may he have any share in the Gospel. If you are a Christian, you should be glad to run more than a hundred miles for confession, not under compulsion but rather coming and compelling us to offer it. 31 For here the compulsion must be inverted; we must come under the command and you must come into freedom. We compel no man, but allow ourselves to be compelled, just as we are compelled to preach and administer the sacrament.

32 Therefore, when I urge you to go to confession, I am simply urging you to be a Christian. If I bring you to this point, I have also brought you to confession. Those who really want to be good Christians, free from their sins, and happy in their conscience, already have the true hunger and thirst. They snatch at the bread just like a hunted hart, burning with heat and thirst, 33 as Ps. 42:2 says, “As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God.” That is, as a hart trembles with eagerness for a fresh spring, so I yearn and tremble for God’s Word, absolution, the sacrament, etc. 34 In this way, you see, confession would be rightly taught, and such a desire and love for it would be aroused that people would come running after us to get it, more than we would like. We shall let the papists torment and torture themselves and other people who ignore such a treasure and bar themselves from it. 35 As for ourselves, however, let us lift up our hands in praise and thanks to God that we have attained to this blessed knowledge of confession.

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