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Faith is God’s Work

 

“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (Jn. 6:29 NKJ).

 

“Faith is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, John 1[:12–13]. It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. O it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown him this grace. Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers who imagine themselves wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools. Pray God that he may work faith in you. Otherwise you will surely remain forever without faith, regardless of what you may think or do.” (Luther’s Works 35)

 

 

Doing and fulfilling the Law

 

“Accustom yourself, then, to this language, that doing the works of the law and fulfilling the law are two very different things. The work of the law is everything that one does, or can do, toward keeping the law of his own free will or by his own powers. But since in the midst of all these works and along with them there remains in the heart a dislike of the law and compulsion with respect to it, these works are all wasted and have no value. That is what St. Paul means in chapter 3[:20], when he says, “By works of the law will no man be justified in God’s sight.” Hence you see that the wranglers and sophists practice deception when they teach men to prepare themselves for grace by means of works. How can a man prepare himself for good by means of works, if he does good works only with aversion and unwillingness in his heart? How shall a work please God if it proceeds from a reluctant and resisting heart?

To fulfil the law, however, is to do its works with pleasure and love, to live a godly and good life of one’s own accord, without the compulsion of the law. This pleasure and love for the law is put into the heart by the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in chapter 5[:5]. But the Holy Spirit is not given except in, with, and by faith in Jesus Christ, as St. Paul says in the introduction. Faith, moreover, comes only through God’s Word or gospel, which preaches Christ, saying that he is God’s Son and a man, and has died and risen again for our sakes, as he says in chapters 3[:25]; 4[:25], and 10[:9].

So it happens that faith alone makes a person righteous and fulfils the law. For out of the merit of Christ it brings forth the Spirit. And the Spirit makes the heart glad and free, as the law requires that it shall be. Thus good works emerge from faith itself. That is what St. Paul means in chapter 3[:31]; after he has rejected the works of the law, it sounds as if he would overthrow the law by this faith. “No,” he says, “we uphold the law by faith”; that is, we fulfil it by faith.” (Luther’s Works 35)

 

 

The Peace of God, John 16:33

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

“Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17 NKJ).

Hear what Dr. Luther writes concerning the Word of God and the Christian…

“One thing, and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom. That one thing is the most holy Word of God, the gospel of Christ, as Christ says, John 11[:25], “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live”; and John 8[:36], “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed”; and Matt. 4[:4], “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Let us then consider it certain and firmly established that the soul can do without anything except the Word of God and that where the Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul. If it has the Word of God it is rich and lacks nothing since it is the Word of life, truth, light, peace, righteousness, salvation, joy, liberty, wisdom, power, grace, glory, and of every incalculable blessing. This is why the prophet in the entire Psalm [119] and in many other places yearns and sighs for the Word of God and uses so many names to describe it.

On the other hand, there is no more terrible disaster with which the wrath of God can afflict men than a famine of the hearing of his Word, as he says in Amos [8:11]. Likewise there is no greater mercy than when he sends forth his Word, as we read in Psalm 107[:20]: “He sent forth his word, and healed them, and delivered them from destruction.” Nor was Christ sent into the world for any other ministry except that of the Word.” (LW 31, 345–346)

Thus does the Lord say, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.”

Such peace is not the peace that either the world gives and the peace that the world expects, but that peace which alone is God through His Son, that which can never be taken away, that which lasts unto eternity.The peace of the world is that which is highly volatile, dependent on the words and the ways of man, unstable, uncertain, and dependent upon mutual agreements, enforcement, and circumstance.

The peace of the world is also that which strives for what is external.

In contrast, the peace of God is that which is from God and of the heart. None can steal such peace away.

“Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:1-5 NKJ).

Because of Christ’s Word and work, you, too, have such peace, peace that surpasses understanding.

In the midst of trouble and tribulation, in the middle of doubt and uncertainty, in the thick of suffering and the feeling of hopelessness, the peace of God is yours in Christ!

God is not angry with you.  He loves you “with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).

God has not forsaken you.  He abides with you.

God has not left you alone, though you might feel lonely.

“Jesus Christ the righteous” is your Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1).

“The Man Christ Jesus” is your Mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5).

“As God is faithful, our word to you” is “not Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who” is “preached among you…” is “not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God” (2 Cor. 1:18-20 NKJ).

God’s promises are yours in Christ, not because you deserve them, but on account of Him giving them to you.

Such is the way God works.

If you will have Christ’s peace, His mediating, His advocating, His abiding, His love, then by faith in His Word you have them.

Apart from that Word, apart from faith, according to the dictations and notions of your own heart, you will have God’s wrath, His judgment, unrest, and no peace, wanting to go it on your own and not the way of Christ according to His Word.

The good that God gives is that of His grace, grace alone.

By God’s grace alone do you have His abiding and undeserved peace.

“To him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin’” (Rom. 4:4-8 NKJ).

The peace that Christ gives is that which He freely gives, not that which you achieve; that which is believed according to His Word, not that which is always and everywhere recognizable that which is of God and sure, not that which is of the sinner and momentary.

To His followers, Jesus promises tribulation in the world, trouble within and trouble without.

Such trouble, however great it might be, has no bearing on the peace given by and given in Christ Jesus.

The peace of God in Christ Jesus is not established by the world or by the things of the world.

The peace of God in Christ Jesus is established on the very Word and work of Christ Himself.

Just as Jesus fulfilled His Father’s will in Word and deed, accomplishing all that the Father had given Him to do in your stead and by His command for your salvation, keeping the entirety of His Word in life, in death, and in resurrection, so you have your Savior, the entirety of your peace with God.

Upon Him, your peace with God hangs.

Upon Him, it is certain.

Upon Him, it is yours. Amen.

 

Prayer: Lord, give me peace, Your peace, always, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

 

“The Separation of the Righteous from the Wicked,” Matthew 25:31-46

 

matthew4.jpg31[Jesus said:] “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

      41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46, ESV)

 

YouAreForgiven.jpegThe central teaching of the Christian faith is that God alone, in Christ, saves sinful man.  Sinners do not save themselves.  You do not contribute at all to your salvation.  You do not make a choice to be saved.  Your works, nor your neglect, do not add to or subtract anything from God’s promise to you in Christ.

With reference to God’s grace, you are recipients, not the active agents, of eternal life.

This is good news!

God gives full confidence, and the blessed assurance, of complete and total forgiveness on account of Christ Jesus, apart from your works, distinct from what you do.

This is the Gospel, and woe to the one to whom the Gospel is not preached.  No faith is given apart from the hearing.  To the one who hears the good news of sins forgiven but doesn’t believe, the certainty of eternal death remains.  But to him who hears and believes, the hope of everlasting life is the sure promise from the God of all grace.

This is so because of Christ’s cross.  Christ died to save you from your sins.  Jesus fulfilled all that the Heavenly Father gave Him to fulfill.  This means that there is nothing for you to do for your salvation.  Christ has already done it all.

To speak, teach, or believe differently than this is to step outside of the Word of God and to walk by sinful reason, instead of going the Lord’s way of revelation.

Any who teach that what you do earns you heaven teaches falsely and leads away from Christ and is outside the parameters of the Christian faith.

Any who teach that what you do keeps you in the faith misunderstands God’s working. It is most certainly true that you cannot by your own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ your Lord or come to Him.  So we confess by the words of the 3rd Article of the Creed.  It is also most certainly true that it is the Holy Spirit who calls you by the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit who keeps you in the true faith, and not you yourselves (i.e. Galatians 3:3-9).

God keeps and preserves you in the true faith, according to His good and gracious will, by means of His Holy Word.  Here, He directs you to Jesus and away from your own self-righteousness, and away from your sinful pride.

Away from these and to God’s Means of Grace the Lord directs you, where you findMeans of Grace-window-round1.jpg refuge and shelter from the attacks of the world, strength to resist temptation and the evil one, and rest for your weary souls (Matthew 11:28-30).

By means of His Word and Sacrament, God keeps and preserves you a people for Himself, a people who live by faith, yet a people who also live in the world.

What God gives in Word, Baptism, and Supper, are the very means by which you live.  Without these, you would be as the nonbeliever who sees Christianity as only one religion among many.  All religions, except Christianity, teach ways of getting right with God by what one does.

Only the true Christian religion teaches that God saves sinful man through the suffering and death of the God-man Christ, and that God works through visible means of water, bread, and wine, and that in these, according to divine revelation, God gives forgiveness, life, and salvation. This the nonbeliever cannot fathom.  He believes himself to have to do ‘for God,’ rather than say the ‘for me’ of faith.

In truth, God needs nothing from you.  You need everything of Him.  His forgiveness, grace, mercy, kindness, favor, help, provision, and supply you cannot do without, lest you despair of God in your own sinfulness or rest in the false confidence of your wayward flesh.

Either way, whether falling into despair or having a false sense of security before God, you are sinners in need of God’s rescue.  The Lord will come to judge between ‘the living and the dead.’   And when He does, He will come in all of His glory, with all of His angels, and will then sit on His throne.

Sedes-ad-dexteram-Patris.jpgOnly for Christ’s sake, when Jesus does come to separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the chaff (Matthew 3:12), and the believer from the nonbeliever, will you not be the nonbeliever, nor the hypocrite, the chaff, or the goats, to whom He will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41, ESV), but those to whom the Lord will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34, ESV).

In the parable from St. Matthew’s Gospel, the Lord says of the righteous that they had given Christ food and drink, welcomed Him, clothed Him, visited Him when He was sick, and came to Him in prison. Then the righteous answered, “When did we do these things?”

In other words, the righteous were not aware of doing the very things that the Lord had said of them.  From their hearts they did what they did because they didn’t believe in their works, but in Him through whose works they were acceptable to God.

The righteous are called righteous, not because of any self-righteousness, virtuous living, or upright morality, but because of Him who declares them to be righteous, good, and holy, not of themselves, but of the good and gracious God who gave His One and Only Begotten Son, that all would live through Him (John 3:16).

Being righteous has to do with Christ, and having faith alone in Him, whose holiness is counted as your own through faith and not apart from it.  Of yourselves, you are nothing but sinful and unclean, in desperate need of Christ.

Any and all who would deny this truth of Scripture, that you are sinners and remain sinners in need of God’s forgiveness, diminish Christ and throw Him out, regardless of how often and how frequently the name of Christ might be mentioned.

The ‘happy preacher,’ Joel Osteen in Texas, and the popular Joyce Meyer of TV and radio fame are such who give lip service to Christ, but don’t know Him in their teaching.  When they say that you need to stop calling yourselves sinners and move on, they deny John’s First letter which says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8, 10).

They and others in Christendom have said that churches and congregations that confess their sins ‘every’ Sunday need to stop this needless bringing down of its members and speak of the sanctified life, for we no longer sin.

Such optimistic words of the human condition are far from true.  Being a Christian does not mean that you stop sinning.  Nor does it mean that you need less forgiveness.  The maturing Christian finds just the opposite to be the case.

Instead of being ‘sin-free,’ Christians find themselves fighting all the more withgospelgrid1.jpg themselves because of the sin that still clings to them.  Rather than see himself improving and getting better, the Christian sees his sinfulness ever clearer and wants to rid himself of his sinful inclinations and desires all the more.

The Christian despairs of himself and leans ever the more on Christ, through whom alone is his salvation.  The Christian sees himself decreasing, and Christ all the more increasing (John 3:30).

This is what it is to be growing in the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Less and less stock do you place in your own doing.  More and more do you place in the Lord’s doing, to whom is all glory, honor, and praise.

Because the Christian believes that he has no righteousness of his own, and that He is saved completely by another, by Christ Jesus the Lord, all the more good works does He do because of the Lord who works in Him, who creates and strengthens faith by means of His Word.

It is through faith in Christ alone that you are saved, are promised heaven, and have new life.  This new life is not lived unto itself.  Nor is faith ever alone with regard to good works.  Faith is active and busy in love.  Fruits will be born unto it, even as Jesus says in the Gospel according to St. John, the 15th chapter, “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5 NKJ).

In Christ, therefore, through faith, you are not fruitless.  You do bear fruit, good fruit, works that are good and acceptable to God, for only with faith is it possible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).

Such fruits are works which are done in faith and according to His God’s Word.

When in our text the Lord describes that judgment made upon the ‘Blessed of the Father’ and ‘the cursed’ on account of their feeding or not feeding the hungry, giving drink or not giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming or not welcoming the stranger, clothing or not clothing the naked, visiting or not visiting the sick, or coming or not coming to visit the prisoner, He’s looking at the fruits of faith or faith’s outcome.

The one who calls himself a Christian and who claims that doing these things is reason for God’s favor is no Christian.  Such a one instead demonstrates unbelief in Christ because He trusts in his own doing.  This one, therefore, will go into eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46).

The one who fails to recognize the good that he’s done because of His sin, places no confidence in what he’s done, yet clings to Christ and Him alone for mercy and pardon, this one is righteous, and will enter eternal life.  This is the Christian; whose confidence and hope is the Lord.  The nonbeliever does not do these things, but trusts another.

Grace not workds.jpgSt. Paul the Apostle writes,  “To him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.  But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,  just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin.’”(Romans 4:4-8 NKJ)

The Christian rests on God’s forgiveness for hope and salvation, not on his own works.  The glory goes to God.  He seeks to do what God says because that is what God has given him to do.  He serves others because Jesus “did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

The Christian is active in good works.  By faith he is righteous.  This faith is active in serving and helping others, especially those who are of the “household of faith” (Galatians 6:10), the brothers and sisters of Christ, and even the least of these His brethren.

By such good works you are not saved.  But such good works are done by those who have faith in Christ. Amen.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasHeavenly Father, keep me from believing that I contribute to my salvation.  Give me confidence that before You, because of Christ’s death on the cross, I am Yours, forgiven.  Help me to live in this forgiveness in service to others, that I continue to trust in You and in nothing that I do. Amen.

 

 

 

“Surety in Christ according to His Word”

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?  For what can a man give in return for his life?  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

bible-cross1It is not of the Gospel to be unsure or uncertain of God’s grace and favor in Jesus Christ.  The grace of God in Christ, without a doubt, is of faith, according to the Lord’s Word.  In this, such faith is sure and will die a thousand deaths.

In a 1992 interview of Diane Sawyer with Billy Graham, speaking about his death, Graham had commented, “I don’t want them (people) to say big things about me because I don’t deserve them.”

He’s right, and such humility is encouraging, and true.

Graham continued and said, “I want to hear one person say something nice about me, and that’s the Lord. When I face Him, I want Him to say to me, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’”

These latter words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” are words from Holy Scripture (Matthew 25:21, 23; Luke 19:17), and in Christ, because of Christ, the Christian has the certainty that these words will certainly be said of him.

Yet, keeping this in mind, Graham continued by saying, “But I’m not sure I’m going to hear it, but that’s what I would like to hear.”(http://newsvideo.su/video/8349827)

I pray that his answer had changed since that 1992 interview.

Graham’s statement, “I’m not sure I’m going to hear” those words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” convey, not sure faith in the Lord’s promiseGraham,  Billy.jpgs, but rather, wavering confidence and doubt, which is not of faith.

 

Certainty of faith does not come from what “we” think or what we “want,” but alone from God’s grace in Christ according to God’s revealed Word.  By this, Christians know God’s love in Christ, are sure of heaven, and are certain of God’s favor.

In the Formula of Concord, it is stated, “6. We believe, teach, and confess that many weaknesses and defects cling to the true believers and truly regenerate, even up to the day they are buried [1 John 1:8]. Still, they must not on that account doubt either their righteousness, which has been credited to them through faith, or the salvation of their souls. They must regard it as certain that for Christ’s sake, according to the promise and ‹immovable› Word of the Holy Gospel, they have a gracious God. (McCain, The Lutheran Confessions, Formula of Concord, Epitome, III. The Righteousness of Faith, 481).

Why had Graham voiced uncertainty with regard to what God would say of him in that interview when such a promise of God is made in Christ?

Graham seemed to be sure of being unsure.

A theology like this centers on something other than Christ and His Word, despite their uses and references.  Because of this, the conclusion is not the hope that the Bible gives, but whatever the person engenders, which can and will not be assertive before God of God’s undeserved forgiveness and His unmerited kindness.

Yet, God gives certainty.  This is the fruit of God-given faith.

It is therefore necessary to make distinctions between that which is, and that which is not, of God.

Not all get Jesus right and have full confidence in Him, because not all abide by the Word alone concerning Christ the Savior and His salvation.

When Peter said of Jesus, “You are the Christ,” he was of course stating the truth, the truth that he hadn’t come up with himself, but the truth that had been revealed to Him by the heavenly Father.  Not one of disciples could come to this confession of the Christ on his own.  And no one can come to faith in Christ on his own.

It is for this reason that Jesus had said in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).

Flesh and blood cannot make out who Jesus is on its own, for “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Man, by himself, cannot know God as He is.  He knows that there is a God, but he does not know, nor can he know, who that God is unless God reveal Himself.

This is why St. Paul can say in another place that “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

It was by means of Jesus’ Word that Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ, because the Word of Jesus is the Word of the Father in Heaven.  To hear Jesus is to hear the Father.

To dismiss Jesus’ Word is to reject God’s Word.

To want a Christ apart from the Word is to have a different Jesus.  That’s where Peter went wrong in our text.

Peter wanted a Savior who wouldn’t suffer, who wouldn’t be rejected, who wouldn’t be killed.

Apart from God’s revelation, we, like Peter, want our own kind of god and savior.

first-commandmentApart from the Bible, man makes his own god.  As a result, he makes his own Jesus, not one who suffers and dies, but one who abides by the will of sinful man and follows the dictates of own heart.

The Jesus of one’s own making does not save.  He is an extension of man’s own wickedness.

The Jesus of Scripture is not this way.  The Jesus of the Bible is not He who would be rebuked by Peter for telling the truth.  The Jesus of the Bible is He who would rebuke Peter and who rebukes all who would have their own Jesus and their own god and not the one of the Bible.

There is no other Jesus than the one who was bloodied by the scourging, who wore the crown of thorns, who suffered miserably, and who died so ingloriously.

There is no other Jesus who conquered sin and death by means of His own death.  There is no other Jesus who humbled Himself as man in flesh and blood, though He Himself is One with Father (Philippians 2:8; John 10:30).

There is no other Jesus than He who was sent of God, who was rejected by men and still is rejected by men who don’t want to hear, because they refuse to believe what He says that they may have life and peace with God.

Just as there is no other Jesus than He who gave Himself for you and even He who gives Himself to you by means of His Word and body and blood in the Lord’s Supper for thejesuswomen4 forgiveness of your sins, so there is no other life of the Christian than coming after Jesus, denying self, taking up the cross, and following Him.

All who would go their own way bear the name of Christian in name only.

This is the easier way, for “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14 NKJ).

The way of the Christian is different.

With Paul, the Christian also confesses, “What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:7-10).

The way of the Christian is the life of the cross.  It is the way of death, not only of Christ’s death, but of one’s own—dying to sin, crucifying the sinful flesh and desires and lusts which war against the soul, and seeking help and salvation in Christ alone, casting aside lady reason and man pride; having nothing to give but only everything to be given on account of the real Jesus who suffered and died; the real Jesus then, and the real Jesus now, whose Gospel word is life, lasting life.  Amen.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, aid me in putting to death my sinful flesh, denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Jesus according to His Word. Amen.

“Many Called, Few Chosen”

1Again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 2“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 3and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’ 5But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 7The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

      11“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1-14)

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Cross-ringsThe joining together of one man and one woman in holy matrimony and the accompanying festivities are a fitting picture of Christ the bridegroom uniting with His holy Bride, the Church, on the last day.  That the groom wear black and the bride wear white on their wedding day is a fitting depiction of Christ and His Church, fitting because Christ takes upon Himself our sins and gives us His righteousness.  He becomes our sin, symbolized by the black, and we, the church, are declared holy, symbolized by the white.

St. Paul describes the relationship between husband and wife a similar way.  In His letter to the Ephesians he writes, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27).

The Church does not sanctify or clean herself, nor is she sanctified or cleaned of herself.  She is sanctified and cleansed by another, by her betrothed.  Thus does she not have spot or wrinkle, but is holy and without blemish on account of the bridegroom, Christ Jesus.

This is what Christ does for you.  Joined together with him through faith, He sanctifies and cleanses you of your sin.  You still struggle and bear your burdens while in the flesh, but before God, you are holy and without blemish.  He does not your sins count against you.  Though you see the dirt, the shortcomings, the failings, the spots, and the blemishes, God does not.  His love for you is greater than your sin.  His compassion for you is more abundant than your iniquity.  His mercy far exceeds your transgression.

Christ calls you His beloved.  As He chose Israel, not “because they were more in number than any other people, for they were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loved them, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to their fathers,” so God calls you His very own people, that you know the Lord God to be also your God, the faithful God who keeps His Word and fulfills His promises (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).

“You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Through the prophet Hosea, God declares to His people Israel, “I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me In righteousness and justice, In lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the LORD” (Hosea 2:19-20).

Though they were rebellious, God would take action.  Because of His love for His people, He would not leave them alone.  Though He would discipline them, such was His love for them, that they come to see Him as the God who forgives and bestows mercy.

That same love, forgiveness, and mercy your Lord gives to you.  God does not leWord-Baptism-Communionave you alone.  You He will not abandon.  He gives You His Word, that you be certain that He is with you, even present with you in His Word and in His sacrament.   By these does our Lord assure you of His kindness and strengthen you in the true faith that you continue in Him.

He calls you, not because of what you might be able to do for Him, nor because of how good you are, but because He loves you and desires you to be His.  He baptized you with water and His Word, there washing away your sins and calling you His very own.

Therefore do we say with King Solomon, “I am my beloved’s, And my beloved is mine” (Song of Solomon 6:3).  I am Christ’s and He is mine.

“For to me live is Christ and if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Philippians 1:21; Romans 14:8).

He gives you every kind of confidence and assurance of His grace and favor for Christ’s sake.  These our Lord plentifully reveals through His Word.  These He abundantly provides, through His Holy Word of absolution and blessing, preaching and proclaiming.

It is just these things that the servants in our Gospel text were doing, preaching and proclaiming that the wedding feast for the king’s Son was all ready.  Everything was prepared.  All that was left was the arrival of the guests.  All was ready.  Preparations were complete.

The first group of servants went out to invite the welcomed guests.  They did just as they were given to do.  They were sent to call those who had been invited.  These received the announcement, but replied in the negative.  They would not come.  They were not willing to come (NKJ).

This group, and the next, those that refused the invitation and mistreated those whom the king had sent, refer specifically to the Jews, but also to all who continue to reject the Lord’s call and invitation.

The refusal to attend the wedding feast was a refusal of the king Himself.  But this was not the only thing that these refusers did.  Our text says that they not only ‘paid no attention and went off’, but others seized the king’s servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.  This is exactly what happened to the servants sent by God to His people Israel.

The rejection of the messenger is also the rejection of the One who sent Him.  One cannot say that they believe in the Sender and yet reject the one whom He sends.  The reception of the one is the reception of the other, and vice versa.

From this, it’s clear as to why the king in the parable acted the way He did.  His gracious invitation went out.  Everything was prepared and ready. He invited the guests, and what do the guests do?  They reject, harm, injure, and kill the servants that the king sent.

GodPulpit’s gracious invitation of forgiveness, life, and salvation continues to go forth today, just as it did when Jesus’ proclaimed the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven.

There remain those who continue to reject God’s grace and His Son today.  They refuse to believe.

But today is the day of salvation.  Today, Christ forgives you of all of your sins and calls you His own.  Today is the invitation to hear and keep hearing His Word, to take heart His goodness which is yours in Christ, and “to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

There is another table that is prepared, another feast that is offered: the foretaste of THE feast to come, Christ’s body and Christ’s blood, given and shed for you for the remission of your sins.  Through bread and the wine, God strengthens you in the faith, and preserves you steadfast in the true faith.

Do not despise or take for granted this gracious meal.  God calls you to receive it , not for your harm, but for your good.  Because He desires to give you eternal life, He also gives the Supper of our Lord, that you may know God to be a good and gracious God who does not forsake His people, but is really and truly with you throughout your days.

Through faith in Christ, believing the body and the blood of Christ to be truly present, you receive what He offers.  And confessing the faith of this altar, we together proclaim the death of Christ in the unity of faith before the world.

The third group of servants sent out by the king in St. Matthew’s parable were sent out, not to those who were originally invited, but to those who were on the main roads.  These are the Gentiles, and us.  God sent and sends His servants throughout the world, to call all people to believe in Christ as Savior of the world.

Because the Jews rejected, and still reject Christ, God has seen fit to go elsewhere, to those who will believe.

Where Christ’s Word is preached and rejected, that Word will move on, and those who continually reject it will themselves be rejected.

Those who refuse to hear God’s Word and call upon Him may eventually have what they JesusLamentsJerusalemwant–the Lord’s rejection of them.  This is the worst thing that can happen, that God take His Word away and leave you to yourself, in your own sin.

But because God is Love incarnate in Christ, He bears and is longsuffering.  He continues to send out the call to repent, that those who hear believe the Gospel.  He sends servant after servant after servant to preach His Word and faith, calling hearers to come to the wedding feast, that is, to believe in Christ and so be saved.  And all who hear the Lord’s blessed invitation and believe in Christ, receiving what God freely offers, these are given to wear the white robe of Christ’s righteousness.

You don’t go to heaven in your own attire.  You stand before God naked in your sin.  He sees all that you do.  He knows all that you think and all that you desire.  He hears all of your thoughts and all of your words, both good and ill.

But for Christ’s sake alone, God does not condemn.  The thoughts, desires, and actions of Jesus are righteous and holy thoughts, desires, and actions.  On account of Christ, God judges you, not as sinners, but as having no sin, not because you don’t have any, but because Christ didn’t.

At the wedding feast on the last day of Christ and His bride, the consummation of the ages, you will wear the clothes with which He clothes you.  Your clothes of sin and transgression are filthy and unclean.  His are pure and white as snow, without spot and without blemish.

Wearing your own clothes, that is, bringing your own righteousness and not believing Christ to be your perfection, your holiness, and your goodness, is to be bound hand and foot and to be cast into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This is another way of saying hell.  It does exist.  This is the destination of all who try to get to heaven by what they do or who they are, and all who try to be good and do better apart from believing in Christ as their only Savior.

You don’t save yourself.  It is another who saves you.  And in His salvation, there is no doubt or uncertainty of His goodness and kindness,  There is no questioning of your own worthiness, because your worthiness is not your own.  It is Christ who is your worthiness.  Because of Him, heaven is yours, and called to heaven you are.

Throw away the old clothes of your sin and your self-righteousness, that you be clothed with Christ’s righteousness.  Put on Christ, and “be found in Him, cross.gifnot having your own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:9).   Amen.

Hold Fast…

 

“Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 1:13, NKJ)

 

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

How easy it is to be distracted from the things of God to the things of men, to neglect the One thing needful, and to take for granted God’s grace and favor!

St. Paul, writing to Timothy, writes the words above (2 Timothy 1:13), because, as he indicates in v15, “all those in Asia have turned away from me.”  In other words, “those in Asia” ceased listening to Paul and stopped following the words that Paul preached.

Though many do the same thing concerning the very Word of our Lord, and though many view such diversion from the truth as of little significance, for the Christian, the Word of God has more than importance.  The Word of God is life (John 6:63, 68; 2 Timothy 3:15-17), and directs towards Christ Jesus.  The Law shows us our sin.  The Gospel shows us our Savior, Jesus Christ.   Only Christ saves from sin and hell.  The believer believes this, and desires, seeks, and strives to remain in this faith.

The text from this past Sunday speaks about the challenges of being a disciple of Jesus (Luke 14:25-35).  “Holding fast” is such a challenge, for we, of ourselves, are not strong enough to do so.  We are sinners.  But “holding fast the pattern of sound words” is continuing to believe in the Jesus who saves and not in our strength that falters.

God gives strength to remain “in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” by means of His Word and Sacraments.  God has not forsaken you.  Rather, He continues to call you, preaching His Word of forgiveness and salvation through the death of His Son.  So hear, and hold fast to, Christ, who holds you even more strongly (Philippians 3:12).

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, direct us ever to Your Holy Word which gives life, that we live and not doubt, nor reject Your forgiveness and mercy won for us on the cross.  Keep us fast to you, that we live confidently in and by Your grace alone.  Amen.

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