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The Small Catechism, Part V: Confession

 

Audio of sermon here on podcast.

 

First Reading: 2 Samuel 12:1-13

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

Second Reading: John 20:19-23

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

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

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

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

First, what confession is…

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

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

This is what many consider confession to mean.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God declares,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are at God’s mercy!

Concerning the confession of sins, Luther writes,

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

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

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

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

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

The very First Commandment condemns us all.

Writes Luther,

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

Luther also says,

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

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

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

Lastly, Luther states,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God is right and true in His judgments.

We are not blameless before Him.

Yet, He does not forsake us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We call this private confession, private absolution.

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

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

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

These words mean something.

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

Thus, do we also confess,

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

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

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

 

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

 

Audio of the sermon here on podcast.

 

 

“Eyes Opened,” John 9:1-41

 

John 9:1-41

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Jesus-healing manIn today’s text from the ninth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, there was a man born blind to whom our Lord Jesus gave sight.

There was a common belief, then, as now, that if one was born blind, lame, deaf, mute, with a birth defect, or had another noticeable mark, there was a reason for it.

That reason was either that one or both of parents had sinned, or that somehow the child born with the condition had done something to deserve such a condition.

When the disciples of our Lord asked Jesus who had sinned, the blind man or his parents, that he was born blind, they assumed that the blindness was some kind of punishment.

It is true in general that we receive the consequences for the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden and for our own sin, including sickness, pandemics, and death.

Also, for the things that we do or don’t do in caring for the bod, there can be consequences.

But to say that a sin committed by the parents or a sin committed by the son resulted in the punishment of blindness is something that we cannot say.

To the disciples who had asked the question, Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3).

Jesus didn’t mean by this that neither the man who was born blind nor his parents were sinless.

What Jesus meant was that the blindness was not a punishment for a specific sin, the very thing that the disciples were thinking.

The man’s blindness, Jesus says, was not because he or his parents committed anything to bring it about, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.

And revealed in him they indeed were.

Jesus healed the man of His blindness.

But even more than that, the Lord Jesus opened the man’s eyes to see Him for who He really was, the Son of Man, God’s Son and Savior of the world.

First, Jesus worked the work of God in giving the blind man the ability to physically see, then He worked the work of God in giving the blind man the “eyes” of faith to believe in Jesus.

Jesus had done, and does similarly, for you.

The works of God are revealed today in you.

You still bear the effects and consequences of sin in your bodies and in the world.

This we can see clearly today, also as we see the spread of that for which we have little control.

It is only by God’s abounding grace that the Lord continues to provide for all our bodily needs, even through medical advances, doctors, nurses, hospitals, medications, treatments, and vaccines, as He wills.

Of greater value than these things, your Lord gives you the gift of sight that you see His promises.

Our Lord, by means of His Word, works the miracle of faith in your hearts by which He gives you faith to believe Jesus to be your Savior, your Savior from that same sin which brings forth physical, spiritual, and eternal death, your Savior from that same sin which Adam and Eve brought into the world.

Because Jesus died on the cross and was raised on the third day, you have no need to fear physical death.

You have no need to fear physical death because you know, on account of Christ’s resurrection, that you too will not remain in the grave.

Jesus Himself said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”

He also said, “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25).

Because it is Jesus who said these words, you have no reason to doubt them.

You have no reason to doubt them because Jesus is who He claimed to be.

Jesus is He through whom you have the precious forgiveness of sins; He through whom you have no need to fear eternal death.

The things of this life are only temporary.  And though they certainly are real, they will not last.  Nor do they define who you are as baptized children of God.  God does.

By His Word, our Lord gives you faith to continue believing what He says to be so, that you not think of yourselves higher than you ought to think, but that you humbly look to Him for help and hope (Romans 12:3).

In Him is where you find such things, for such is His promise, now, and when He returns.

All that you rightfully deserved because of your sin Christ Jesus suffered and bore on the cross.

St. Paul says it this way, that “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Romans 5:19). There too does he also say that “Through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation” (Romans 5:18).

As that man born blind from birth could not bring about his own sight, so you too are helpless in your own condition to get yourselves out of it.

The Bible says that “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).

By nature, our fallen condition, we don’t believe in the Lord Jesus because we are spiritually dead.

Unless God breathes into us the breath of life, His Spirit, in our sin we will remain.

Natural man can give himself life as much as a baby in or outside of the womb can give itself life.

The baby doesn’t give itself life.  Its mother does.

Natural man doesn’t give himself life.  God does.

So also, with the new birth of water and word in Holy Baptism.

One doesn’t choose or decide to be born again.  It is a gift of God.

Because of this new life given to us, we desire this new life to also be given to others.

We thus desire to speak the truth in love and pray our Lord to give boldness that we not compromise our witness by what we say or don’t say or do or don’t do.

We pray that we not be ashamed of our Lord, even as that man born blind in our text who was given to see did not back down when questioned about how he came to see.

He stood his ground and gave testimony to what had happened to him and how Jesus had healed him.

How much greater it is that Jesus brought that same man to faith!

Not only did Jesus give him the sight to see worldly things.  Jesus gave Him eternal life, and the faith to believe it.

So, to you, too, does our Lord reveal your salvation.

On you, God shows mercy.

“Through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life” (Romans 5:18).

 “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8).

Through the preaching of this Good News, God gives faith.

God gives faith to take hold of what God has done for you, that you know and believe that what Jesus has done He has done for you.

God gives faith that you know and believe that what Jesus still does He does for you.

God gives faith that you continue to have life in His Name, that you see His goodness to you, and rejoice, give thanks, and follow Him, praising is Name.

God gives faith that your eyes be opened to His mercy and His grace, given and declared to you in Jesus, now and always.  Amen.

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasHeavenly Father, give me eyes to believe Your Son, always, and to confess Him alone to be my Savior. Amen.

 

 

Luther’s Small Catechism: The Lord’s Prayer

 

First Reading–James 5:15-18

15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.” (NKJ)

 

Second Reading–Matthew 6:9-13

9 “In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. 13 And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (NKJ)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen

PrayingHands&Cross1Tonight, we come to the Third Chief Part of the Small Catechism.

Luther’s Small Catechism, along with the hymnal, and the Holy Bible, are and have been the primary devotional resources of Lutherans through the years.

They should remain so.

The Holy Bible is God’s Word “Written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4 NKJ), and given “That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31 NKJ).

The hymnal, the book containing hymns, prayers, and liturgies of our church, confess Christ.

The words therein give expression of and direction to Christ our Savior, and life lived by faith in God’s Son.

The Small Catechism of Luther is sometimes referred to as “the layman’s Bible,” as the text clearly states what is necessary for the Christian faith and life.

For review, the First Chief Part of the Catechism concerns the 10 Commandments, how God’s people are to live, how we are to be, to God and neighbor.

The Second Chief Part concerns the Creed, who God is, what He has done, and what He continues to do for His creation, temporally, and eternally.

While the Commandments serve as curb, show us our sins, and serve as rule/guide, the Creed testifies of God’s Word in Christ, His doing, Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, for our preservation in the faith and for our salvation.

The Third Chief Part directs our attention to the response of faith to having God as God, Jesus as Savior, and the Holy Spirit as Creator and sustainer of that which saves unto eternal life and delivers from eternal death.

In the words of Luther:

1 We have now heard what we must do (i.e. The Commandments) and believe (i.e. The Creed), in what things the best and happiest life consists. Now follows the third part, how we ought to pray. 2 For we are in a situation where no person can perfectly keep the Ten Commandments, even though he has begun to believe. The devil with all his power, together with the world and our own flesh, resists our efforts. Therefore, nothing is more necessary than that we should continually turn towards God’s ear, call upon Him, and pray to Him. We must pray that He would give, preserve, and increase faith in us and the fulfillment of the Ten Commandments [2 Thessalonians 1:3]. We pray that He would remove everything that is in our way and that opposes us in these matters. 3 So that we might know what and how to pray, our Lord Christ has Himself taught us both the way and the words [Luke 11:1–4]. (The Lutheran Confessions, 1-3)

In the second reading, we hear the words of Jesus according to St. Matthew.

Directly, Jesus to His disciples says, “In this manner, therefore, pray…”

Jesus gives the very words to pray.

In St. Luke’s account, the disciples of Jesus themselves inquire about prayer.

St. Luke tells it this way, “Now it came to pass, as He (Jesus) was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” 2 So He said to them, “When you pray, say,” and then the words of the Lord’s Prayer (Lk. 11:1-2 NKJ).

In both accounts, that of Jesus directly giving the words to pray, according to St. Matthew, or according to St. Luke, where the disciples first ask the “how” of prayer, Jesus in both instructs his disciples with the very words of praying, beginning with, “Our Father…”

Such words of Jesus are not to be taken lightly.

When Jesus says, “In this way pray,” or “When you pray, say,” He means what He says.

To say that we cannot or should not pray the very words that Jesus gives to say is hypocrisy if one claims to be Christian, for Christians believe Jesus and His Word.

In our circles, this is not an issue, but it has been in others, simply because they do not take God at His Word.

Yet, taking God at His Word is just what Christians do, because Christians are of Christ.

As the Lord Jesus gives the very words of prayer to pray, no better prayer can be prayed than that which the Lord Himself has given to pray.

Again, Luther writes,

22 …We should be moved and drawn to prayer. In addition to this commandment (to pray) and promise (that God will hear and answer), God expects us and He Himself arranges the words and form of prayer for us. He places them on our lips for how and what we should pray [Psalm 51:15], so that we may see how heartily He pities us in our distress [Psalm 4:1], and we may never doubt that such prayer is pleasing to Him and shall certainly be answered. 23 This ‹the Lord’s Prayer› is a great advantage indeed over all other prayers that we might compose ourselves. For in our own prayers the conscience would ever be in doubt and say, “I have prayed, but who knows if it pleases Him or whether I have hit upon the right proportions and form?” Therefore, there is no nobler prayer to be found upon earth than the Lord’s Prayer. We pray it daily [Matthew 6:11], because it has this excellent testimony, that God loves to hear it. We ought not to surrender this for all the riches of the world. (The Lutheran confessions ¶ 22-23)

God both commands prayer and He promises to hear the petitions directed to Him through His Son.

In His Word is our confidence, both in praying and for God’s response.

We commend ourselves into God’s keeping.

The answer is His.

Into God’s hands we commend ourselves.

In this, too, is our confidence.

Not only does God place on our lips the very words to pray.

He gives the faith that says, “Amen” to His Word and will.

Briefly, the Lord’s Prayer is set into seven petitions, beginning with an Introduction and ending with a Conclusion.

Throughout the seven petitions, we pray the very petitions that our Lord would have us pray.

We request from God the very things for which He would have us request.

We pray that His Name be hallowed among us and by us, by our word and deed.

We pray that His kingdom come, that He give His Holy Spirit, that “we believe His Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”

We pray that His will be done, that “the plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature” be thwarted and that God “keep us firm in His Word and faith until we die.”

We pray that God give us what we need—daily—that “God would lead us to realize” that God is the Giver of our daily bread, all that we need for this body and life, “even to all evil people,” and that we “receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”

We pray for forgiveness, also our continual prayer, “That our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them.  We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing by punishment.”

We pray “That God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice,” but “that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”

We also pray that “Our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.”

To these seven petitions we give an unapologetic and sure “Amen,” certain that these petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven, and are therefore, heard by Him, for Christ’s sake.

As Jesus gives the very words to pray, and as the Father gives the very faith to pray such petitions as the Lord Jesus gives, so God’s people pray as the Lord teaches.

In the Lord’s Prayer is all that the Lord would have you pray and petition.

All genuine prayer and petitions given to the Lord can thus be said to reflect the Prayer that our Lord teaches us so to pray.

Confidently, therefore, do we “draw near…to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16 ESV), certain of God’s Word, confident of His promise.

The One Who gives the Words of the Lord’s Prayer is the Lord Jesus Himself, Who alone pleases the Father. His resurrection confirms this truth, and through Jesus alone, the Father is also pleased with you, and hears your prayers prayed in faith through the One Whom the Father sent.  Amen.

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasDearest Jesus, teach me continually to pray according to Your Holy Word. Give me confidence in Your command and promises, that I petition You in certainty. Amen.

 

 

“God So Loved the World,” John 3:1-17

1There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, JesusOnCrossOverWorldunless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

      9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

      16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (ESV)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Perhaps the most “well-known” words of today’s Gospel reading are those of v16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Rightly so.

But such words, as truly expressive as they are of God’s love in Christ, can be easily misunderstood and misapplied, as if to suggest that man has to do something to keep from perishing, to suggest that man has to believe, and that such believing is within his own power to do so, or else he does not have eternal life.

Other errors applied to this text, though apart from the words of the text, include the idea that believing is only the beginning part or that faith in Christ alone is insufficient for salvation.  Something else is still needed other than simple faith. Something remains dependent upon us—what we do, how we live, for eternal life to be and remain ours.

As an example of this are the words of this “testimony” found in a Thrivent magazine article, without qualification and without correction:

“Even though I had been a Christian for many years, it was on a mission trip…that a friend reminded me that if I was a believer but didn’t include ‘service’ in that belief system, I wasn’t really living the way God wanted me to!…I know that simply believing in God isn’t enough.  We must be His servants…” (Thrivent, March 2017, p3).

Within Christianity, these and similar words are accepted as true, the idea that “believing” is not enough.

But “enough” for what?

That service to others is necessary, we wholeheartedly agree, as does Holy Scripture.

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus says (Matthew 19:19||Leviticus 19:18).

St. Paul the apostle writes, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10, NKJ).

Service to neighbor, however, is not the main thing of the Christian faith and life, though it is not excluded from the life of the Christian.

Our Lord directs our attention to His Word, in which He says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, NKJ).

If you want to do what God says, hear and believe Word.

But if such belief is in a god, generically, and not in God’s Son, Jesus, who died on the cross, that faith is not at all sufficient, because such a faith is a false faith and not at all that which saves.

If belief in God is such a faith that looks to something other than God’s mercy in Christ alone for help and salvation, even to one’s own service as completing faith, then, again, that faith is not godly faith through which is eternal life.

The faith that saves is that faith which does not at all believe in self or any other, but rests all hope in Jesus alone for forgiveness and only upon God’s mercy.

It is not our service to others that completes faith by which we are then saved, nor is it our love that makes faith sufficient for salvation.

It is God’s love in Christ alone by which you have your sins forgiven, God’s mercy, and heaven itself as your promised inheritance.

Only in God sending His Son and the Son being sent and lifted on the tree of death in crucifixion is your salvation.

God did, and does, so love the world.

God’s love is unconditional.

God’s love is not conditioned by the response to that love with which God so loves the world.

God’s love is not only for the believer and those who will believe.

For the worst of sinners and for the ungodly did God send His Son into the world.

“When we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6 NKJ).

“To him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5 NKJ).

God’s love extends to all people, none excluded.

Such words, however, don’t make sense to sinful reason. They seem utter nonsense.

Who would give something for nothing in return?

Who would freely give a gift to someone only to have it rejected?

God’s kind of love for us sinners cannot be understood by sinful man.

“O love, how deep, how broad, how high, Beyond all thought and fantasy,

 That God, the Son of God, should take – Our mortal form for mortals’ sake.”

“For us by wickedness betrayed, For us, in crown of thorns arrayed,

He bore the shameful cross and death; For us He gave His dying breath.”

(LSB 544 “O Love, How Deep,” v1)

What is sin before God is not only that which others can see.

Sin before God includes also what others cannot see.

Sin before God includes not only the “big” sins, as we define them, but the “little” sins, too, those sins which perhaps we have little concern about, yet are still condemned by God, regardless of how we think of them.

Sin includes not only that which is known, but also that which remains hidden, even to ourselves.

Sin is not only an action.  It is a condition, which all people since the Fall have inherited.

God shows no partiality (i.e. Acts 10:34).

Before God, one sinner is just as guilty as the next.

The sin might look bigger when compared to another.

But before God, sin is sin. Even eating a forbidden fruit brings about eternal death, not because of the size of the violation (as we see it), but because of who the violation is against.

Adam and Eve were not cast out of Paradise for simply eating fruit.

They were cast out of Paradise for eating fruit that God had forbidden them to eat.

It was not the fruit that got them into trouble.

It was their disobedience God, their disbelief in His Word.

In addition to their being cast out, their disobedience, their unbelief, brought death and destruction into the world.

The consequences of their sin we, too, receive.

“Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12 NKJ).

“All mankind fell in Adam’s fall; One common sin infects us all.

From one to all the curse descends, And over all God’s wrath impends.

(LSB 562 “All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall, v1)

Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, and because of our own sin, we are all lumped together before God as sinners.

Some sins might be more obvious than others; other sins are more concealed and hidden (1 Timothy 5:24).

But for this world full of open and secret sinners, God sent His Son, because He so loved the world.

Because He so loved you!

What encouraging words these are!

You are in the world.

Therefore, has God sent His Son for you.

Because of Jesus, you know that the God who made heaven and earth loves you with an enduring love, an unconditional love, an everlasting love.

God’s love is yours, for Christ was lifted in death.

Your belief or unbelief cannot and does not change what Jesus has already done.

Christ already died and lives forevermore.

Lest there be those who hear this as license to sin, St. Paul writes, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”  “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2, NKJ)

Rather, it means all the more that you try to resist temptation, are earnest in prayer, and seek all the more to do what pleases the Lord.

For absolute confidence of God’s love, however, look only to Christ, who says, “Whoever believes—Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

It is not in or by your progress, or lack thereof, that is either your encouragement or reason to despair.

Only see Christ, for in Him is your true and only hope and certainty before God.

There are many who say that God is a “God of love,” for so He is (1 John 4:8, 16).

But many of these do not believe in Jesus Christ.

They believe God to be a god who allows everything and anything, a god who is open to all kinds of different lifestyles, a god who allows all kinds of sins to continue, a god who is  tolerant of the worst kinds of sins, a god who does not condemn sin, a god who simply looks the other way, a god who pats on the back and says, “keep trying” and “just do your best, for that is all that I expect” (as you determine what that “best” is and what that “trying” means).

Such a god is a god of one’s own making and not the God of the Bible.

The God of the Bible says “no” to sin and condemns it.

The God of the Bible does not tolerate godlessness.

Rather does He promise sure punishment upon all who do not turn from their sinful ways and seek mercy, the mercy that is found only in the One whom the Father sent.

God gives you to believe His Son, His Son who gave Himself freely in sacrifice for the debt of your sin, the punishment for which you are not able to pay but by eternal death.

Jesus has truly paid that debt, by means of His death on the cross.

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

Such is God’s love.

It is not by what you do or how good you are that have the certainty of God’s love for you in Christ.

True joy and peace does not come from you or from what you do, but from God, from God in and through Jesus Christ.

This Good News is not made known by the work of man.

It is not gotten to by man’s reason.

It is not rational according to human logic.

It is not deserved or merited.

The Good News of sins forgiven in Christ is the gift of God, revealed by Him through His Son.

By nature, we do not know this Good News of Jesus Christ.

We were born of the flesh, and being born of the flesh, we could not know, 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 Cor. 2:14, NKJ).

But thanks be to God! “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).

In the waters of Holy Baptism, God birthed you anew in the spirit.  Now, you are born from above, born-again, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:13, NKJ).

“When the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:4-7, NKJ).

You are heirs of the kingdom—through faith in God’s Son.

You believe this, not because of you or because of your own choice, decision, or work, but because such faith is from the very God who gives it.

“Flesh and blood” neither reveal the wonderful works of God, nor the Savior (Matthew 16:17; 1 Corinthians 15:50).

It is the Giver, the “Father…who is in heaven,” that does (Matthew 16:17). Amen.

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasHeavenly Father, because You so loved the world, because You so loved me, You sent Your 0nly-Begotten Son to die my death and to be my Savior. Give me faith to believe, for I am not able to believe without You creating the faith within me and sustaining that faith so given that I remain Yours. Amen.

 

 

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

The Apostles’ Creed

The First Article

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

The Second Article

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

The Third Article

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

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

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

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

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

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

The Apostles’ Creed consists of three articles.

Each article acknowledges the Person and work of the Godhead.

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

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

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

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

There is one God, and one God only.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what faith does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very simply, such positions deny God as God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God freely gives that for which we do not ask.

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

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

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

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

There, Jesus died.

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

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

You don’t go there.

Christ Jesus comes to you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

By these, the Lord creates faith and sustains faith.

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

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

These things we confess in the Creed.

It is not we who provide and do for ourselves.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

“Temptation,” Matthew 4:1-11

1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  2And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  JesusTempted74But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

5Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”  7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  9And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  10Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan!  For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”  11Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.  (Matthew 4:1-11, ESV)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

St. James, in his epistle, writes, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12)

The life of the Christian is a life lived under the cross, under the cross in faith to Christ, under the cross bearing what we are given to bear as Christians, as God’s people who are baptized into God’s Holy Name, as God’s people who look to Christ’s Second Coming and our eternal home.

While here on earth, we are on a pilgrimage, our final resting place being that of heaven, the place which awaits all who endure to the end in the true faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The faith of which we speak is not a blind faith or a faith which simply says that things will get better.

The Christian faith is not faith which looks for peace on earth or hopes to change the world.

Neither is the Christian faith a faith which seeks to escape all kinds of sufferings in the world.

The Christian faith is that faith which places trust in the Lord Jesus alone for help and salvation.

God does not promise that the world will get better.

Nor does He promise that the struggles and the challenges we face as Christians will lessen or lighten.

In truth, as the day of our Lord’s return draws closer, our Lord says, “In latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).

Again, He says, “Know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

In certainty does our Lord Jesus say to his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation.” But He also continues, “But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Like unto His disciples, the Lord draws attention, not to ourselves or to our own strengths, but to Him, to Him who has overcome the world, to Him who has overcome death by His death and who by that same death destroyed Him who had the power of death, that is, the devil (Hebrews 2:14).

True faith looks to Christ for help and aid.

In the Jesus who overcame the world, so you also overcome the world, as St. John writes in his first epistle, “Whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith” (1 John 5:4).

Through the waters of Holy Baptism, you were born of God, even as John writes in his Gospel concerning Jesus Christ, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

As children of the Almighty God, baptized into Christ, you have His promise of faithfulness.

Living by faith in Christ Jesus, you know and believe that where there is sin, there is also forgiveness.

Where there is struggle, there is also God’s Word and promise.

Where there is temptation, there is also the Lord providing help.

We pray to our heavenly Father in the 6th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation,” and in the 7th, “But deliver us from evil.”

Help our Lord does indeed provide.

But our Lord does not always take the temptation away.

Instead, He draws you to Himself, that you call upon Him in prayer and trust in His Word.

God’s grace is sufficient for you that you endure that which is called temptation.

By temptation is meant that which would lead to sin, that which would lead away from God and His Word, that which would lead to forsake Christ.

Temptations to sin abounds, as you yourselves know from experience.

Not a day goes by that you don’t encounter the temptation to break the Commandments of God, to doubt the Lord’s faithfulness to His Word, to place confidence in self and not in Christ.

So easily we get distracted from the One thing needful—Christ!

Jesus Himself says, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

Temptations often come when and where we least expect them and even where we might think that we are the strongest.

And even should God seem far away or doesn’t seem to be paying attention, God’s Word still stands—His Word that He does not deny, retract, or forget.

He says, “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (Jeremiah 31:4).

He says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Again, He says, “‘For a mere moment I have forsaken you, But with great mercies I will gather you. With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,’ Says the LORD, your Redeemer” (Isaiah 54:7-8).

The Psalmist says, “His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

By yourself, enduring temptation and lasting at all to the end would certainly be impossible.

But you are not alone.

Given in Hebrews chapter 2 are these words:

“Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:14-18 NKJ).

And in chapter 4:

“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:14-15 NKJ).

Christ has indeed overcome death, the grave, and Satan and His wiles, even by His own death.

Also, Christ Jesus has indeed endured temptation—for you.

Three times, Saints Mathew and Luke tell us, Jesus was tempted by the devil, immediately after His baptism.

With every temptation, Jesus wielded the sword of the Spirit.

Through the Word of the living God, through His Word, He remained steadfast, faithful, and true.

When tempted to turn stone into bread, quoting from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, Jesus said, “It is written, Man shall not live be bread alone” (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4—Deuteronomy 8:3).

When tempted to listen to Satan, who twisted Scripture to make it say what he wanted it to say, Jesus answered, “Again, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matthew 4:7; Luke 4:12—Deuteronomy 6:16).

When tempted to worship the devil, Jesus answered, “It is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (Luke 4:8; Matthew 4:10—Deuteronomy 6:13).

Jesus is THE example for overcoming temptation, and for using Scriptural rightly against the attacks of Satan.

But Jesus is more than example.

If Jesus is only an example, He’s still not your Savior.

The Christian faith is not about what Jesus would do.

The Christian faith is not about doing what Jesus did.

The Christian faith is about believing Jesus according to His Word, believing what He has done—for you.

He is your Savior and your Deliverer.

Jesus was tempted in every way as you are, the Bible says, but without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

He overcame temptation, sin, and death, overcoming what you could not, for He is your salvation.

Though it is true that you can’t avoid temptation, temptation doesn’t have the last word.

Our Lord says in 1 Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Though you do and will face temptations for as long as you live because you bear Christ’s Name as a Christian, this doesn’t mean that something is wrong with you or that you’re somehow not of God, or that you’re a bad Christian.

These struggles mean that you still live in the world and wrestle with your sin, the world, and the devil, just as all of God’s people have and continue to do as they continue to breath on this earth.

Such struggles also may mean that you are more aware of your condition as a sinner and your greater need for God’s help.

Dr. Luther takes note of this in The Large Catechism where he writes:

107 To feel temptation is quite a different thing from consenting and yielding to it. We must all feel it, though not all to the same degree; some have more frequent and severe temptations than others. Youths, for example, are tempted chiefly by the flesh; older people are tempted by the world. Others, who are concerned with spiritual matters (that is, strong Christians) are tempted by the devil. 108 But we cannot be harmed by the mere feeling of temptation as long as it is contrary to our will and we would prefer to be rid of it. If we did not feel it, it could not be called a temptation. But to consent to it is to give it free rein and neither resist it nor pray for help against it. (Luther’s Large Catechism, 6th Petition, Lead us not into temptation)

When temptations do come, and they will, do not think that God has left you.

God is faithful, faithful to His Word, and faithful to help.

Remember Jesus, your Help and Your salvation. So He is. So, He will. Amen.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasHeavenly Father, forgive me  for giving into temptation.  Help me to resist the temptation to sin against you and to disbelieve your Word. Make me confidently yours in Christ Jesus, who was tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), that I be found in Him alone and so endure what befalls me, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

 

 

Sermon for Ash Wednesday–Luther’s Small Catechism, Part 1: The Ten Commandments

 

The Ten Commandments

You shall have no other gods.

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

Honor your father and your mother.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

 

Readings–Joel 2:12–19; 2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10; Matthew 6:1–6, 16–21

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

As we begin this penitential season called Lent, this year we reflect on the six chief parts of LutherTwoTablets’s Small Catechism.  These six chief parts, learned by heart by catechumens, those being instructed in the Christian faith, include all a Christian should know and believe to be and to remain Christian.

These six chief parts are: The Ten Commandments, The (Apostles’) Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, Holy Baptism, Confession, and The Sacrament of the Altar.

Tonight, we reflect on the first chief part, The Ten Commandments.

By way of introduction, hear the Word of the Lord according to St. Matthew, Chapter 22.

34 When the Pharisees heard that He (Jesus) had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37 Jesus said to him, “`You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 “This is the first and great commandment. 39 “And the second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”” (Matthew 22:34-40, NKJ)

Quoting from the Old Testament Scriptures, Jesus reveals the summary of God’s Holy Law, the Ten Commandments.

The word Jesus uses to summarize the Law of God, the Ten Commandments, is Love: 1 Love God, 2 Love neighbor.

As Jesus expresses it, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40).

If we go by our own judgment, love to God and love for neighbor is determined, not by what God says and means, but by what we deem as acceptable to ourselves.

In other words, instead of God setting the bar for the meaning of love, we ourselves set the bar—higher or lower—dependent on our agreement with it.

The problem with , our doing, is just this—It puts us in the leading role and gives the backseat to God.

Altering God’s commands to make them acceptable to us is what it means to play God.

This is idolatry, first commandment stuff.

Yet, even we are not immune from the temptation to make God and His Word more comfortable where we find it to be of discomfort.

We may even see ourselves as better, more righteous, and holier than our neighbor, who does all those things that we would never do.

But reflecting on these words of Dr. Luther from his Large Catechism in the section entitled, “Conclusion of the Ten Commandments,” we find that we, too, are in the same boat as others when it comes to making up ways to please God.

311 Now we have the Ten Commandments, a summary of divine teaching about what we are to do in order that our whole life may be pleasing to God. Everything that is to be a good work must arise and flow from and in this true fountain and channel. So apart from the Ten Commandments no work or thing can be good or pleasing to God, no matter how great or precious it is in the world’s eyes. 312 Let us see now what our great saints can boast of their spiritual orders and their great and mighty works. They have invented and set these things up, while they let these commandments go, as though they were far too insignificant or had long ago been perfectly fulfilled.

313 I am of the opinion, indeed, that here one will find his hands full ‹and will have enough› to do to keep these commandments: meekness, patience, love towards enemies, chastity, kindness, and other such virtues and their implications [Galatians 5:22–23]. But such works are not of value and make no display in the world’s eyes. For these are not peculiar and proud works. They are not restricted to particular times, places, rites, and customs. They are common, everyday, household works that one neighbor can do for another. Therefore, they are not highly regarded.

314 But the other works cause people to open their eyes and ears wide. Men aid this effect by the great display, expense, and magnificent buildings with which they adorn such works, so that everything shines and glitters. There they waft incense, they sing and ring bells, they light tapers and candles, so that nothing else can be seen or heard. For when a priest stands there in a surplice garment embroidered with gold thread, or a layman continues all day upon his knees in Church, that is regarded as a most precious work, which no one can praise enough. But when a poor girl tends a little child and faithfully does what she is told, that is considered nothing. For what else should monks and nuns seek in their cloisters?

315 Look, is not this a cursed overconfidence of those desperate saints who dare to invent a higher and better life and estate than the Ten Commandments teach? To pretend (as we have said) that this is an ordinary life for the common man, but theirs is for saints and perfect ones? 316 The miserable blind people do not see that no person can go far enough to keep one of the Ten Commandments as it should be kept. Both the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer must come to our aid (as we shall hear). By them ‹power and strength to keep the commandments› is sought and prayed for and received continually. Therefore, all their boasting amounts to as much as if I boasted and said, “To be sure, I don’t have a penny to make payment with, but I confidently will try to pay ten florins.”

317 All this I say and teach so that people might get rid of the sad misuse that has taken such deep root and still clings to everybody. In all estates upon earth they must get used to looking at these commandments only and to be concerned about these matters. For it will be a long time before they will produce a teaching or estate equal to the Ten Commandments, because they are so high that no one can reach them by human power.” (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 395–396.)

In summary, we can readily note two key things.

The first is this, that the 10 Commandments, given by the Holy and Just God, summarize how His people are to live.

Secondly, we note that man-made/invented works, as good and holy as they might appear before others, are not so before God.

Jesus speaks of this latter thing in the Gospel reading from Matthew 6 about practicing righteousness (ESV), giving to the needy, praying, and fasting.

These things are not to be done before men in order to be seen by them.

God knows the heart.  He sees and knows all.

Before God, not other people, is what matters.

Whether your neighbor sees or knows is not the thing to be concerned about.

“Your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:18).

True and lasting treasure is not found on earth, with praise and recognition by men, or in the things of this side of heaven.

True and lasting treasure is found in the Giver of all that is good, whose very Son is your Treasure, your riches, your “righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

It is not what we think about a thing that ultimately matters.

What God says is what does.

God Himself lays out the summary of His holy will (and purpose) in the Ten Commandments: Love God. Love neighbor.

His first three commandments have just to do with Love to God, namely, having Him alone as God (and no other), using His Name rightly, and holding His Word sacred and gladly hearing and learning it.

These could be considered the positive side of the first three commandments, that which we are to do, in distinction from what we are not to do, as in having another god or gods before the one true God, using God’s Name carelessly and in vain, and despising His Word and its preaching.

Similarly, by Commandments 4-10, “Love neighbor,” God reveals what we are to do and not do in love to neighbor.

Honor Father and mother. “Serve and obey, love and cherish them.” Do not despise or anger them. (4th Commandment)

Be content with what you’re given.  Don’t be discontent with what you don’t have. (Commandments 7, 9, 10)

Speak well of your neighbor, not only of those you like and get along with, but also with those you don’t. Don’t gossip and defame another, “but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way” (8th Commandment)

Help your neighbor.  Help and don’t hurt. (5th Commandment)

Have clean, pure, and holy thoughts, words, and actions.  Do not lust or fantasize about another. (6th Commandment) –

The Commandments of the Lord are all encompassing.

They exclude nothing that God would have us do, how we are to live, and how we are to be.

They reveal God’s will.

They also reveal your sin.

So, St. Paul says, “I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet” (Rom. 7:7 NKJ.

Again, he says, “We know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:19-20 NKJ).

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

The truth of God about His Law and our inability to keep it would certainly mean His righteousness condemnation and His abiding wrath upon us.

But for Christ’s sake alone, this is not so.

God’s wrath and condemnation are not on you because of how good you are or because of how good you try to be, not because of any holiness in you, and not because of any desire of yours to be better.

God’s righteous wrath and just condemnation against sin was met on Another, on Him whose fulfilment of the Law in your stead (Active obedience) and whose receiving God’s judgment for your sin (passive obedience) is Your life and salvation.

The very Law of God expounded and revealed by Jesus, Jesus has fulfilled.

The penalty for your sin Jesus suffered on the cross.

Because of Jesus, through faith in Him, God sees His doing of the Law as your own.

Because of Jesus, through faith in Him, God sees the punishment for your sin met.

Because of Christ, through faith in Him, you seek to abide in Christ and to do according to the Lord’s will, according to His Word.

You do this, not because by doing so you have God’s good pleasure, but becase you already have God’s good pleasure, His favor, His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and salvation, in Christ Jesus the Lord.

You continue to repent of your sin, throughout this Lenten season and beyond.

According to the Law of God, you know that you are not as God would have you be.

According to the grace of God in Jesus Christ, you know and believe that Jesus alone is your help, Savior, and salvation. Amen.

 

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasAlmighty and everlasting God, You despise nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. (Collect for Ash Wednesday)

 

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

 

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