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Jesus, Remember Me

27There followed [Jesus] a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

32Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:27-43)

Introduction

Today’s Gospel reading from St. Luke seems far removed from ‘The Last Day of the Church Year’. Where we would expect to hear of God’s Coming Judgment, of signs in heaven and growing tribulation on earth, and of Christ’s return in the clouds (Acts 1:9-11), instead we hear jesus-remembermeof Christ on Calvary’s cross, of women weeping after Him, of people mocking Him as He’s dying, and one of the two criminals crucified with Him saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

An account such as Jesus’ crucifixion does not seem to ‘fit in’ to this time of the church year. It seems like it would be better suited for Lent and Good Friday than today. However, taking a closer look at the text, we find that it is indeed fitting: first, with regard to Jesus’ words to the women who were mourning and lamenting after Him as He is on His way to the cross and death. Second, concerning the proper way to be prepared for our Lord’s return. And third, with reference to Jesus’ words to the criminal on the cross, to whom He said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

First: Jesus’ words to the women

First, Jesus’ Words to the women who had followed Jesus. They were mourning and lamenting because of what was happening. Jesus was going to His crucifixion and death. But to them He says, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for jesuswomen4your children” (Luke 23:28). Then He proceeds to tell them what is to come, “29For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:29-31).

Here our Lord is not talking specifically about the Day when He will return. Rather, He is talking about the coming destruction of Jerusalem, of which Jesus spoke of earlier when He wept over it and said,If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:42-44).

The destruction of Jerusalem was in 70 A.D.. It was a foreshadowing of the destruction of the world to come.

The words of Jesus, “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves,” are words also for our years.

We comfort in the ways of the world than in the ways of God. We seek help and remedy from men and not exclusively from God. We look to the here and now and neglect that which is to come according to the very promises of God in Christ. We sorrow over what could be and rejoice little in what is. Yes—indeed—we are sinners.

On these words of our Lord, Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves,” Luther writes…

confession-cross1Such admonition we should accept as addressed to us. For we must all confess that we, on account of sin, are like an unfruitful, dry tree, in which there is nothing good, nor can any good come out therefrom. What will it, then, behoove us to do? Nothing but to weep and to cry to God for forgiveness, and to resist the evil, sinful nature earnestly, and not to give it free reign. For there the sentence stands: Since the fruitful tree is thus treated and God permits such severe sufferings to come upon His dear Son, we should certainly not feel secure, but acknowledge our sin, fear the wrath of God, and pray for forgiveness.1

When it comes to Christ’s death on the cross, many pity the Lord and His suffering, but go no further. They only hear of a man in pain and dying a slow death. But if that’s all that Christ is, Jesus is not Savior.

To pity and to be sorry for Jesus on the cross is not yet to recognize the why of His suffering and of His dying. Jesus willingly chose to go to death on Calvary for you…to pay the penalty for your sins…to suffer in your stead…and to die your death. You deserved all that He received. Willingly He suffered His passion and death, in order to save you from you sins.

Second, The Cross

Second, the cross. St. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Later, he wrote, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

It is through Christ and Him crucified by which your sin is no more held against you, Jesus having put to death that which is rightfully yours, that is, death and hell. Because of Christ, you no longer bear the curse of the Law. Christ did that for you.

3crossesThe curse of the law is that curse which says that unless you keep the law’s demands entirely and perfectly, you are judged a sinner and deserve nothing but God’s wrath and punishment.

Paul says again, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them” (Galatians 3:10).

On account of God’s law, you all fall short, for “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). None is righteous, perfect, or holy (Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3; 143:2; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10).

This none, the all who have sinned, includes you. You have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. You are not righteous. You are not perfect. You are not holy.

Jesus went to the cross that you not die in your sin, but that you live, no longer bearing the curse of the Law because of Adam’s sin and your own. On the cross, Christ took that curse upon Himself, and there, He did away with it.

Jesus died as a criminal—as a sinner—yet He had no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). Indeed, Jesus “Was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12)

As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:19-21).

Christ crucified means that your sins are no more held against you, nor can they remain to be. They cannot condemn you before the Holy God because they were already put to death when Christ died. “By the blood of His cross” you have peace with God (Colossians 1:20; Romans 5:1).

Third: Jesus’ Word to the Criminal

Lastly, in today’s Gospel text, is conversation between the two criminals and Jesus while on the cross. The one mocks and blasphemes our Lord. The other defends Him, and says to Him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Then, Jesus says to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

By those words, “Remember me,” that one criminal wasn’t asking Jesus to simply not forget him. He was placing himself into the mercy of the Lord Jesus, whom he had come to recognize as One Who did not deserve to be lifted up on a tree, but Who did have the honor of God’s very Son. The man was confessing His faith in the Lord Jesus, and his desire to be with Him. And to him, Jesus promised eternal life.

kingdom-of-god2As you, too, call upon the Lord to remember you, placing yourselves into the Lord’s hands, trusting in Him for deliverance from this body of death, so too does He promise you paradise. When He comes again, this is where all who believe in His Name will be. This is the certain hope that all Christians possess, because God is faithful in all that He declares through His Son.

This is a present hope, but a future reality. It is not a question of “if” you have eternal life. The question is when. And that question is answered even for you, as it was for that thief on the cross, TODAY.

Kretzmann writes, “For all sinners in the whole world the Lord has opened the doors of paradise by His life, suffering, and death, and whosever believeth on Him has complete salvation as soon as he dies. That is the glorious fruit of the Passion of Christ: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.”2

Said another way, “Do not receive the grace of God in vain. Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:1, 2).

Conclusion

Though at first, a Lenten text having to do with Christ’s crucifixion might not seem to ‘fit’ very well as a reading for the Last Sunday of the Church Year, there is plenty there for us to consider with reference to the Lord’s Second Coming.

With His precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death”, Jesus “purchased and won you from all sins, death, and the power of the devil” (Explanation to 2nd Article). Rather than weep and sorrow for He who through suffering and death delivered you from hell, sorrow over your own sin. Find comfort in Christ, who died in your stead. Take Jesus’ words of forgiveness, peace, and eternal life to heart, for in and through Him, these are yours. Amen.

1 Paul Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, New Testament, Vol 1, (St. Louis: CPH), 393.

2 Ibid., 395.

 

God’s Work in the Church and in the World

15Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle [Jesus] in his talk. 16And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:15–22)

In the world, but not of the world (John 17:11; 14-16).  This is the reality of the Christian.  The Christian is both physical and spiritual in one person.  We are flesh and blood, but as flesh and blood we also have a soul.  God promises us, right now, eternal life through Jesus Christ.  But right now, we seem Him not except by faith.  His Word gives what it says, but the world says something different.

When the pastor baptizes with water, the naked eye would tell us that water is applied, and that’s it, added is nothing more and nothing less.  Reason would say that the one baptized adds to the meaning or the significance of Baptism by choosing it and that if not, it is meaningless and futile.  Just by ourselves watching and seeing what’s going on in a Baptism, everything would tell us that nothing extraordinary is going on.  But God here speaks differently.  He says that one is to be baptized into the Name of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not any ordinary Name.  St. Paul the Apostle, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes that, As many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death (Romans 6:3).  Christ Himself says, Truly, Truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God and Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:5-6).  St. Peter, one of the twelve disciples of our Lord, also writes, There is also an antitype which now saves us — baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21).

It is true that because of what God does, because of what He works and gives through Baptism, all who are baptized and believe God’s promise of forgiveness in Baptism have a clear conscience before God.  God’s Word cannot here fail.  His promise is sure and true.  Where God forgives, sin is forgiven.  Where He promises, that promise will be fulfilled.  Our conscience might tell us, even after hearing the words of absolution from the pastor, that our sins remain, that we’re not sorry enough, or that we don’t deserve God’s forgiveness.  But here, we are to heed the Lord’s Word and not our own.  Even the devil, though he continue to plant doubt within the mind, and though He try to condemn, he can judge us none.  God is the One who justifies us.  No one, not even Satan, can be against us if God is for us (Romans 8:33, 31).

God’s promises are as good as done, but heaven, where our true citizenship is, we do not fully enjoy at the present (Philippians 3:20).  In the world we have tribulation.  There is suffering, burden, and enmity, even within one’s household.  We are God’s people and eagerly await our Lord’s return, for He will come again, a second time, apart from sin, for salvation (Hebrews 9:28).  But the Lord, as long as He prolongs His coming, says, “Wait”, that is, believe in me. “While you are here, your flesh will be tried.  You will be tested. Troubles will come, but fear not, I have overcome the world.  Your sin troubles you, but from your sin you are forgiven.  Live not for yourselves, but believe in me and love one another, your neighbor, and help them in their need.

To our eyes, things look as they appear.  But truly the phrase, ‘there is more here than meets the eye,’ is surely valid.  This especially holds true for the church, for it is a man speaking that you hear, words you speak in the liturgies, bread and wine that you eat and drink in the sacrament.  But what does God say?  St. Paul writes, These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:13).

In another place He says, And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

In Church, a man does speak and a man does preach, pages from a book are read, and bread and wine are consumed.  But more is going on here than meets the eye.  Though man speak the Word of God, it is God’s Word, no ordinary Word.  Though bread and wine be consumed, given also is the body and the blood of Christ for the remission of sins.  These things then are no ordinary things, nor is church just an ordinary place where ordinary things happen.  God is here, giving life through His Word and Sacraments.  Here is where He forgives sinners and gives eternal life.  Here is where He strengthens and increases faith, that we live out our lives in the world as His Holy people.

In this place is where God works by means of His Word.  He forces none to believe.  His Word goes out and those who believe will hear and believe and those who don’t, don’t.  God in this Kingdom of His, this Right Hand Kingdom, the Church, rules by His Word alone.  Here we have Christ, forgiveness, grace, and mercy.  Faith is the means whereby we apprehend God’s goodness and His gifts as our very own.  The one who disbelieves does not have God’s promise of help and comfort, but God’s judgement and condemnation remain upon Him.  This too may not be seen in the now time, but in the hereafter, it will be his reality.

God rules His Right Hand Kingdom, the Church, according to the Word.  By His Word He forgives sin and by His Word, He retains sin.  But in the world that our Lord rules, He rules not only according to His Word in the Church.  He rules another way, too.  He rules by means of force and with the use of authorities for the keeping of peace and order.  This is called the Left Hand Kingdom.  The Lord works through governments to bring about justice, order, and civility among its citizens.

Evidence for this Biblical teaching is given in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans where He writes, Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor (Romans 13:1-7).

St. Peter writes similarly where He says, Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men — as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king (1 Peter 2:13-17).

So also in Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and Herodians to the question of taxes do we have evidence for such a thing as paying taxes and giving honor to whom honor is due.  They had asked Jesus the question, Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? in order to trap Him with His own words, but it was they who were silenced, not Christ.  Jesus answered their question with neither a ‘no’ or a ‘yes’.  Instead, He said what is right and true, and also the very thing that they themselves were not able to deny, Give the things of Caesar to Caesar, and the things of God to God.

The taxes that Caesar demanded were Caesar’s due.  Taxes that the American government demands are also their due.  This is because the government is established according to God’s order.  This does not mean that every government will be good.  Nor does this truth mandate that every government will be godly.  What it does mean is that whether good or bad, that their goodness or badness is not the final answer as to how you are to view it.

Parents can be either good or bad.  But being one or the other doesn’t change what God commands in the Fourth Commandment where He says, Honor Father and Mother (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:2).  Fathers and mothers bear the responsibility of care, love, and discipline.  That is their lot.  But the one who is in their charge has the command to honor them who have that responsibility, whether they carry it out or not.  God doesn’t judge you based on what another is supposed to do.  He judges you based on what you are to do.  And thus you have Christ, judged for you that you not be condemned eternally.

Concerning the government, you aren’t judged based on what the government does with its God given authority.  Nor are you condemned because of any misuse or abuse of that authority, unless you are the one’s bearing it.  What you are accountable for is what God gives you in His Word.  Is it lawful to pay taxes?  If the government is due taxes, yes.  Not doing so is in direct contrast to what the Lord says.  The only time when it is permissible to not do as the government demands is when the government demands to be done what God forbids to be done.  Should the government try to keep the church from proclaiming Jesus Christ, We ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).  Should the church suffer for being faithful to our Lord, then let it be, for as Christ suffered, so will His church in the world.  But Christ’s church is His blessed Bride.  Though she look unimpressive and ordinary before the world, she is the bride of Christ, washed in His blood, precious and holy, awaiting union with her Christ.

God’s kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).  Your citizenship is in heaven.  But in the meantime, you live in the world.  Christians are not hermits, nor do you live in communes as if to separate ourselves from the world.  You live in the world as God’s people.  It is true that you abide by man’s rules, giving honor here where it is due.  But it is also true that God is the ruler of all things, that He rules in the one kingdom using even physical means to bring about order, working through the established authorities to serve justice and providing help and sustenance to all people.  This is why police officers carry guns, batons, and other means of protection, not only for themselves, but also for others.  This is also why parents discipline, teachers correct, and judges judge.  Through these, our Lord works in His Left Hand Kingdom.

But through the Right Hand Kingdom, God works and rules through different means than force.  He works through words, Words declaring forgiveness to penitent sinners, sinners who are sorry for their sin; and words declaring no forgiveness to impenitent sinners, sinners who are not sorry for their sin.  Here in this Kingdom, God works through preaching and proclamation, through absolution and Sacrament.  Those who deny these deny also our Lord.  But those who hear and believe, these are given the very things that the Lord declares: sins forgiven, eternal life, and peace with God.

Honor is given God through believing His Word and living in the world through your respective callings, your vocations given by God, serving one another in love, and giving to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, as well as giving to God the things of God, hearing His Word, believing His promises, and receiving His blessing in the Sacrament of the Altar.  God’s Word, His promises, and the Lord’s Supper point to Christ, who truly and fully gave to God His Father that which we could not.  Jesus Christ was perfectly obedient and completely kept God’s command to love God and love neighbor for you, not so that you don’t do what God says, but that you do, rightly, through faith in Him who did.  Jesus was obedient, not for the reason that He needed it, but for the reason that you did.  Christ fulfilled the law for your sake.  For your sake He died and rose again, that you live forever with Him, even now, in your bodies, in the world, but through faith in God’s Son.  Amen.

The peace that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

Mt22.15-22, Pentecost 18, 2011A, Sermon Outline & Notes

Many are Called, Few are 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 Dr. Luther’s explanation to the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, he writes, “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”

By means of God’s Word and Sacrament, God’s Kingdom comes among us as His blessed Word is received and believed.  It is here, where God creates faith via His means (not ours), that God’s people gather and are to be certain of His Kingdom coming.  It is also here where God’s people are certain that Christ is truly present.

God’s Kingdom, synonymous with Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven, does not only refer to the time when our Lord Jesus returns in all of His glory.  God’s Kingdom also refers to the here and the now, present tense; not only the Word which is to come, but the Word that comes now, as St. Paul says, “We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says: ‘In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.’  Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)

 Now is not the time to delay, wait, or sluggishly ponder concerning the Lord’s Word and His Christ.  Nor is it the time to make excuses concerning the God’s Kingdom here on earth where Word and Sacrament are freely given for the sake of God’s people.

All too often, people stay away from where God would have them be for the most insignificant of reasons.  But there is no significant reason to keep away from God’s Holy Word, even that which condemns (The Law) and that which saves (The Gospel).

Some might not like the preacher or the preaching, but even this is no reason to abandon God’s Kingdom where God’s Word is rightly divided (2 Timothy 2:15).

The calling of repentance goes out to the many.  All is ready.  The meal is prepared.  Yet few do come, for they reject God’s Christ and His forgiveness, believing that they need it not.

Sadly, those who reject the preaching of God’s messengers (Called and ordained servants of the Word) also are rejecting Christ and His Word of forgiveness and eternal life (See Luke 10:16).  Because the Jews rejected Christ, they received their due punishment and the Gospel was taken away from them.

Beware, lest the Gospel be taken from you!  Do not give in to the popular notion that it does not matter from whom you hear the preached Word.  Nor follow the examples of the invitees in the text, who for the love of the world and their own life refused the invitation of the King himself, condemning themselves to the punishment to come.  Instead, heed the Word of the Lord.  Believe His promises.  Deny yourselves.  Wear what the Lord gives, even Christ’s robe of righteousness, in which you are clothed through faith, for only in that are you acceptable among the guests in the King’s court.  Amen.

Mt22.1-14, Pentecost 17, 2011A, Outline & Notes

The Greatest in the Kingdom

1At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

      5“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

      7“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! 8And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. 

      10“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

      15“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”  Matthew 18:1-20

 

The greatest in the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ…It is not who you think it is.  It is not who you expect it to be.  Like the disciples who had at other times debated who the greatest was (i.e. Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48), we too have certain ideas of who the greatest is—the most popular, the most generous, the most powerful, the most appreciated, the most recognized, the one who most meets the requirements that we believe makes one to be the greatest.

In truth, all of our ideas, all of our expectations, all of our ‘requirements’, all of our qualifications, and all of our conditions of who the greatest is run quite contrary and opposed to the revelation of our Lord.  Jesus clearly displays this in today’s text.

Here, the disciples asked Jesus who the greatest was.  You might think that they were not at all listening to what our Lord had been saying.  Just a bit before (Matthew 17:22), Jesus had again told the disciples what was soon to be coming—His betrayal, His death, and His resurrection.  You would think that instead of asking, “Jesus, whose the greatest?” they might have been wondering what Jesus was talking about with regard to the weightier matters of death and resurrection.

Before jumping the gun and attacking the disciples for their lack of attention, we too must confess that we often have our minds on other things than what the Lord is saying.  His Word, throughout the week, and even on Sunday in the Divine Service, is not always our top priority.  And when we do hear it, we don’t always take it as it is.

Yet Jesus does not jump on His distracted disciple.  Instead, He amazingly gives answer to their self-centered question.  He answers them in a way that also causes us to stop and consider.

The greatest in the kingdom is not the ‘king of the hill’ or the ‘A student.’  The greatest in the kingdom is not the highest paid or the one who is most well known and praised for their personality, for their compassion, or for their ability to give everyone a sense of fulfillment.  It is not the one who gets everyone motivated and going that is considered great in God’s eyes.  No—the one who is the greatest in God’s Kingdom is the one who, as Jesus says, “turns and becomes like a child.

Truly, I say to you, Jesus says, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Becoming like children, however, does not mean in the sense of blindly trusting in anything, becoming gullible, or becoming immature.  Nor does Jesus here mean becoming like children in the sense of serving one another.

When Jesus talks about turning, He is talking about turning from one’s independence from God to complete and total dependence on God.  He’s talking about becoming what you by nature are not—fully loving, trusting, and fearing God above everything else.  First Commandment stuff.

When Jesus talks about becoming like children, He is talking about becoming entirely dependent and fully trusting of God and His goodness.  He means denying oneself the honor of self-reliance to holding on to God’s help in Christ alone.

When Jesus talks about becoming like children, He means abandoning the belief that we only need God a little bit or maybe even a little more, and instead, treasuring Christ and His Word and His promises.

It is they who do these things, who acknowledge that they have no goodness or merit in themselves, who look to God alone for help, who wait only on Him whom God considers great in His kingdom.  And it His determination and Word that counts, not our own—neither yours nor mine, but God’s.

This might strike us as unsympathetic to our American upbringing and do-it-yourself I-can-do attitude.  It is supposed to.  Just as the disciples had argued about who the greatest was, thinking that it was a position to strive for and a title to possess, so we too want to achieve and become great in the sight of others.  We want to be recognized for what we do.  We want others to notice what we do, to complement us, and to make us feel good about ourselves.

The way of the Lord is different.  He puts us in our place: not as independent, but as dependent upon Him; not as self-sufficient, but as reliant upon Him; not as looking down upon others, but as caring for others and showing compassion to those that the world neglects, judges, and casts aside.

The greatest in the kingdom are those who trust alone in the Lord Jesus for salvation.  These are looked down upon and despised by the world, but loved by God.  The greatest in God’s kingdom are they who humble themselves before God and receive His mercy and compassion, the very thing that they do not receive from the world.

These are the greatest in God’s kingdom, however, because they take God at His Word and repent of their sin.  They do not despise preaching and His Word, but gladly hear and learn it.  They look to Christ and find in Him means of salvation.

Through Isaiah the prophet, God says it this way, On this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word  (Isaiah 66:2).

The one who is the greatest in the Kingdom, Jesus says, is the one who confesses his sin, who recognizes his own ability to save himself, and who takes God at His Word.

In the eyes of the world, such a one would not be considered great.  In the eyes of the world, greatness has to do with ability, fame, prominence, popularity, and reputation.  It has to do with how we in the world look at you and how we look at ourselves through the world’s glasses.

In the eyes of God, things are different.  In the eyes of God, greatness does not have to do with how others see you, how others define you, or how others characterize you.  In the eyes of God, greatness has everything to do with how God sees you, and believing the way that God sees you, according to His Word.  In this is true greatness, not because you have anything to contribute or add to your status before God, but because of what God, of His kindness, freely gives and declares to you, in Christ.

Just as the child is dependent on his or her parent for food, clothing, shelter, nurture, so are you dependent on God for your everything.  And just as the child receives what is given, so you also receive what God gives to you.  Of course, this does not meant that you will always be satisfied or content with what the Lord gives, just like the child who complains about not having this food or that toy.  You still struggle with your selfishness and greediness.  And on this side of heaven, with these you will continue to struggle.

As long as you are in the flesh, you will continue to fight against the tendency to want things your own way rather than God’s way.  You will continue to wrestle with the will of God that is not your own.  You will continue to wage war against your members that seek to usurp God’s Word and ways.

As God’s child, however, you will also recognize that these your tendencies to want things your own way and not God’s are not the way of the Lord.  From these you will turn, and in turning, you will again become as children, waiting upon the Lord, depending on Him for life, trusting in Him for strength, and believing His Word.  Then you will rejoice in having God’s favor in Christ.  You will not continue to despise the promises of God.  You will not continue to neglect His Word.  You will not continue to look down and despise others.  Instead, you will give thanks for the Word that the Lord speaks to you.  You will praise Him for His forgiveness.  And  you will seek to please Him according to His own Word, in the way that He desires you to do, not comparing yourself to others, but seeing others the way that God sees them.

First, you will see yourself as God sees you, a poor miserable sinner, forgiven in Christ.  And then, you will see others the way that God sees them.  You will begin to see that it is not what I or the world say about another that really matters, but what God says.  And what God says is the truth.

Therefore, if the one who turns from his self-centeredness and idolatry and humbles himself as a child is who God considers greatest in His kingdom, so will I also consider that one to be greatest.   And if one of those little ones who believe in Him are so precious in God’s sight, so will they be precious in my sight.

This means that I will seek not to cause other Christians to doubt, despair, become concerned, or question the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ because of what I say or do.  Instead, I will seek to build them up in the true doctrine with my words and by my actions.  I will watch my own life closely and not try to hurt another that they lose sight of Christ and His forgiveness because of me.

Where I have hurt, I will seek forgiveness, first from God, and then from the one I have hurt.  Where I am unsure, I will look to the Lord for certainty.  Where I have fallen, I will seek the Lord’s strength.

All the while, because of God’s forgiveness of my sin and His love for me and for others, I will also seek to show that forgiveness and love that God has for me to others for whom Christ has died.

The greatest in the kingdom is not oneself.  The Christian does not boastfully and unashamedly say, “I am the greatest in the kingdom.”  Rather, in humility, they see themselves as not deserving anything from God, only what He deems to give them.

Yet instead of death, He gives life.  Instead of everlasting fire in hell, He promises heaven. Instead of condemnation for your sins, He forgives you your sins.

Such is God’s compassion for sinners.  Such is God’s compassion for you.

Because of God’s great love and compassion and mercy for you, you, as God’s child, you begin and continue to have the same love, compassion and mercy for others.  The ‘little ones’ that the Lord does not neglect, you too do not neglect.  Your concern will be God’s concern.  Thus will you watch what you say, watch what you do, and seek to help others remain in God’s gracious care.

Should your brother sin, you will seek to warn him of his sin, not once, but continually.  You will talk with him personally and not talk behind his back or damage his reputation.  Because you have his best interest at heart and desire his repentance, you will keep from spreading the news and keep it to yourself.

Far from it being only the pastor’s job to go and speak with the one who is in the wrong, you will go, out of love for the one who is erring, for such things brothers and sisters in Christ do for one another.  God’s family cares for one another.  The one who is erring, the one who is sinning, even the one who doesn’t know that he is doing wrong, is to know that what he’s doing is wrong.  God would have the sinner saved from his sin.  But if that sinner doesn’t recognize his sin, how will he know that he needs saving?

If you don’t tell him, who will?  How can there be repentance, a turning to the Lord, and humbling oneself like a child, unless the word gets out?  And how can you have the same love for the erring brother or sister that God has if you don’t go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone?  Indeed, if you don’t go, you can’t show that same love, because you do not have it.

God’s love goes out, bursting forth from one’s own heart to others.  It does not seek it’s own, but the other’s well being.  It is not self-serving, but sacrificial and self-giving.  God’s people have such love, for they are God’s family, and have love towards one another.  If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Being the greatest in the kingdom is not about independence, boastfulness, or making comparison.  It is not about how we want to define greatness, but how God defines it.  And it is not about becoming great, but recognizing yourself for what you are before God—in need Jesus.

All are in need of this Savior.  No one is excluded from the necessity of God’s forgiveness and salvation.  And yet, it is the neediest who need Him the most.  And the greatest are those who so see themselves, and so see others.  Amen.

 

Mt18.1-20, Pentecost 12, 2011A, SermonNotes

 

The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord

1In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

      4And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

      6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:1-11)

 

On the day of His ascension, Jesus, the Lord of lords and King of kings, ascended on high.  Of this day, St. Paul says in today’s epistle, That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory…seated Christ at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:20-23).

This means that the name of the Lord is above every name, even yours and even mine.  Jesus Christ is not just one Name among many.  His Name is above all.  Nor is He Savior to one, but not to another.  He is the Savior of the entire world.

All of us are sinners.  But God, who is rich in mercy, gave His Son for all people, in order that they believe and so be saved (Ephesians 2:4).  This is the glorious truth that Jesus Himself declared.  He says, He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me.  And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me.  I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.  And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.  He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him — the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.  For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.  And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak (John 12:44-50).

Christ’s ascension means that Christ is head over all things and over His holy church, His church sanctified and cleansed with the washing of His Word, glorious and not having spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish because of Him who gave Himself for her (Ephesians 5).

Christ over all things means that He sees all and knows all.  Nothing passes by His watchful eye.  He knows your weaknesses and your sins, but He also knows how to save and to deliver.  He knows your needs before you even ask Him.  He gives everlasting hope where you see none.  He gives this promise, that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose  (Romans 8:28).  This does not mean that we always know how ‘all things’ work together for good.  But it does mean that all things do, even if you don’t see how it is to be so.

God’s Word is your trust.  His promises – your confidence.  But God’s way is to work through what is foolish and weak in the eyes of the world…

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” 20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence. 30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God — and righteousness and sanctification and redemption — 31 that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

Christ’s cross and the preaching of it is utter foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).  The preached Word might seem empty and powerless, but the Lord Christ says that His Words are Spirit and they are life (John 6:63).

The Sacraments instituted by Christ might seem like they are only works of men, but the Lord Jesus says that they give what He offers, even forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  These are works that only God can do.

God works when and how He wills to work (John 3:8).  His way will remain hidden to those who seek Him outside of His Word, but to them who seek Him according to it, He will reveal Himself.

Of that Word, our Lord says, You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me (John 5:39).  Of Baptism, the Lord says, in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and wherever His Name is, there is He (Matthew 28:19; Numbers 6:27).  Of the Lord’s Supper, Christ says, My body and my blood (Matthew 26:26-28).

Christ is truly in the heavens, but you do not go to the heavens to find Him.  Christ, as God, is everywhere.  He is omnipresent.  There is no place one can go that He is not.  But everywhere is not where you go to find God’ Son, your Savior, speaking life and salvation.  Everywhere and anywhere are not where you go to find God FOR YOU.

It is as St. Paul says, The righteousness of faith speaks in this way, ‘Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ’ (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, ‘ ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).  But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, even in your mouth and in your heart‘ (that is, the word of faith which we preach) (Romans 10:6-7).

You find the Lord Jesus to be your Savior in His Word, in His Word preached and in His Word attached to elements of water and bread and wine. And in this Christ Jesus, your risen and ascended Lord who comes to you by means of Word and Sacrament, you have peace with God.  Having ascended into heaven, Jesus sits at God’s right hand, not for Himself, but for you.  He intercedes for you on your behalf (Romans 8:34).

Because Jesus “continues forever,” He Has an unchangeable priesthood.  Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:24-25).

Jesus is your hope before God and your certainty of life everlasting.  Because of His death, you too have died to sin.  Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but under His grace (Romans 6:14).  Because of Christ’s resurrection, you too will rise from the dead.  Because of the Lord’s ascension, you know that you have a God who is favorable toward you, because Jesus sits at the Father’s right hand for you.

As Priest, Christ intercedes for you.  Once He shed His blood.  In Him, you are forgiven.

As Prophet, He continues preaching His Word into your ears that you believe and so be saved.

As King, He rules over land and sea and ushers in His heavenly kingdom, which is Not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17), whose kingdom you also are members through faith in Him who came into the world, ascended on high.  Amen.

 

Notes

“Ascension Day is the coronation celebration of our Lord as He is proclaimed to be King of the universe.  Jesus’ ascension to the Father is His entrance to the greater existence beyond the confines of time and space, being no longer bound by the limitations of His state of humiliation.  Jesus now sits at the right hand of God, which (Luther correctly taught) is everywhere, having again taken up the power and authority that were His since before time.  Yet our Lord is present with us who remain bound by time and space.  He is with us as true god and true man, exercising His rulership in the Church through the means of grace which He established: His Word and His Sacraments.  We mortals in those means of grace can grasp the King of the universe and receive a foretaste of the feast to come.” [Scott Kinnaman, gen. ed., Treasury of Daily Prayer (St. Louis: CPH, 2008), 302]

  • Where is Christ?  He is in the heaven, but also with us—in a very tangible way! (See Romans 10 above)

John 14:18-19 18 “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. 19 ” A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also.

Matthew 28:18-20 18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

  • Sitting at the right hand of God the Father: “With this expression Scripture teaches that Christ, as true man, is not only present everywhere, but also now fully exercises His divine power over the whole universe.” (SC, 141)

Ephesians 1:20-23 20 [God] worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. 22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

  • Prophet: Christ sends people to proclaim the saving Gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit

Ephesians 4:10-12 10 He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) 11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for a work of service, for the edifying of the body of Christ,

Luke 10:16 “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”

  • Priest: Christ pleads and prays for us before the Father

Romans 8:31-34 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.

1 Timothy 2:5-6 5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time

  • King: Christ rules and protects His church and governs over all the world especially for the benefit of His church.

Christ governs the world by means of the ruling authorities (Kingdom of the left)

Christ govern His church by means of His Word (Kingdom of the Right)

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