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The Hope and the Comfort of the Resurrection

13 I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

Dear Family, friends, and loved ones.

The words of the Lord that draw our attention this day are those from 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, read just a few moments ago, where Paul, an apostle of the Lord Jesus, writes of those who have died in the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, of those who have fallen asleep. Here, he encourages Christians of their hope, even in the midst of sorrow and grief, that they do not sorrow and grieve as others do who have no hope. Christians have such hope on account of Christ’s death and resurrection. Because Jesus rose from the dead, so too do those who sorrow have confidence that the deceased in the Lord will also, with Christ, rise from the dead when Jesus comes again.

I was able to share these encouraging words from Thessalonians with the V. before he went into the hospital. We were talking about All Saints’ Day and how the word “saint” includes believers in Christ who continue to struggle with their sin, as well as those whose race has been won, who now rest from their labors, and enjoy God’s presence apart from sin.

On that day, V. was missing G. greatly. He was grieving her death and longed for her presence.

Even as he grieved, sorrowed, and perhaps felt lonely, it is just in that place that the news of Christ’s resurrection, that death does not have the last word, also for us, takes root and gives comfort. Like rays of light breaking through the darkness, not a “quick fix,” here the moment, gone the next, but a sure Word from the Lord, the resurrection sustains and strengthens. It gives the certainty of God’s favor. Through the good days and the days of trouble, which both come, Jesus is our hope and our peace.

V.’s struggle is now over. No more visits to the doctor. No more disappointments about possible remedies. No more contending with his own sins or the sins of others.

V. is at peace. We can be sure of this, not because of how good V. was in life, but because of the promises of God in Christ, which V. believed.

V. confessed and did not deny what Christians everywhere confess and do not deny, that he was a sinner, a sinner before a just God, a sinner who does not deserve God’s kindness, but rather, his condemnation. V. confessed this, as all Christians will do.

The Bible teaches that we are not as God wants us to be. V. understood this. He also believed that our keeping of the Law doesn’t save. Jesus does, Jesus, and Jesus alone.

There is salvation in no other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NKJ).

Though we are not perfect and holy, Jesus was. He had not come “To destroy the Law or the Prophets” but “to fulfill” them (Matt. 5:17, NKJ). He did not do these things because He needed to do them for Himself. He fulfilled them for us, as our proxy, our substitute, in order that we not be judged as guilty, but innocent before our Creator.

And this we are, Jesus Christ having died our death on the cross and being raised on the third day.

In addition to confessing Himself to be a sinner, V. confessed Jesus Christ to be His Savior. He heard the words of God’s absolution, God’s forgiveness of his sins, and declared this to be his own by the words, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the T life everlasting.”

V. believed these words, confessing them to be so. This is what Christians do. Words have meaning. It is with confidence that the Christian can say and does say, “I am Christ’s and He is mine.” Even in the midst of death, the Christian is sure and certain of the resurrection to come.

Before us is V.’s body in the casket. His death we cannot deny. It is a consequence of the Fall (Genesis 3). Before the first sin, all was good, “very good” and there was no death, only life (Genesis 1:31). Now, there is death.

The troubles that we face in the world, the unrest, the struggles, sicknesses, death—all these are the effects of sin. They show us that the world is not as it’s supposed to be, that something is not right.

As much as we might try to “fix” it or find ways to avoid the inevitable, we will always fall short. Salvation doesn’t rest with us. It comes from God through His Son. Try to go another way and you will only deceive yourself.

The Psalmist says, “What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his life from the power of the grave?” (Ps. 89:48 NKJ). The answer to the first question is “none,” and “no” to the second.

Today reminds us of our own mortality, a truth that we are not able to escape. You can run, but you can’t hide. We have our limits, and running from the truth is one of them. We can only do so for so long. It will catch up with us.

This is why today is not a “celebration of” V.’s “life.” For V. and his 94 years , we do indeed give thanks. These are blessed gifts of God, not at all to be despised or taken for granted.

Today is, though, the recognition that life in this world has an end. We might not want it to be so, but such is the way that it is.

But as Paul the apostle reminds us, this day is not only one of grief and sorrow. It is also a day of hope and confidence, not in the life that V. had lived, but in the life that Christ Jesus had lived, for V. and for you, and the death that He died, for V. and for you, and the resurrection on the third day, for V. and for you.

We also have confidence and hope this day concerning V.’s body. In time to come, just as God has said, so it will be, “The dead in Christ will rise” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Even as the Holy Scriptures reveal that Jesus rose from the dead on day three following His death by crucifixion on Good Friday, so too will those who have died in Christ also rise from the dead, dead no more.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (Jn. 11:25 NKJ).

The “die” in “never die” that Jesus speaks about is eternal death, hell. Like the resurrection, many deny this teaching, too. Jesus didn’t. He speaks the truth, because He is the Truth, the Truth through whom one comes to the Heavenly Father and lives (John 14:6).

Whoever lives and believes in Me”, Jesus says, will never suffer eternal death. “Though he may” physically “die, he shall live.” These are the very promises of God’s Son, Savior, and these are for you.

V. believed these words, too. He believed that death does not have the last word. Christ has conquered death. Jesus has overcome the grave. The last word is not death and hell, but life and heaven.

In the resurrection, “When this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54-57 NKJ).

Baptized “in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19), V.’s identity was as a child of God. Feeding on Christ’s body and blood in the Supper of our Lord, V. regularly received the forgiveness of sins. He did not sustain his own life. It was God that did. And now, V. awaits the resurrection of His body, but even “today,” He is with the Lord, “in paradise” (Luke 23:43)

Even as you did so much for V. in caring for him to the end, so the Lord took care of his greatest need—“Peace with God” (Romans 5:1). And this peace, V. had, in Christ.

This peace is also yours, in Christ, resting on and in Him who “was crucified, died, and buried,” who rose from the dead, and who lives and reigns to all eternity. Because of Him, your death, too, will not have the last word. You have no need to fear it, because the death of Jesus means that your sin no longer has the final say.

If God is for us, who can be against us? 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? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (Romans 8:31-35) And the answer—No one and nothing! (Romans 8:38-39).

Do not grieve as those who have no hope. The hope of the world is fading and will not last. Lasting hope and true comfort that remains is that which God promises through His Son. Amen.

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Jesus Alone Gives Life

1[Jesus said:] “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

7So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:1-10 (ESV)

Jesus here makes a distinction. It is a distinction worth noting. It is a distinction worth paying attention to. It’s not for little reason that Jesus says of Himself that He came that they have life and have it abundantly, and that the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.

In context, Jesus is talking about sheep, sheepfolds, doors, and doorkeepers. He here illustrates for us the difference between true preachers and false preachers, and the center of all true preaching, Christ. Jesus and Jesus alone gives life, and abundant life at that. He is the door through whom heaven is opened (John 14:6). It is through Christ, without your works, that you stand righteous before the living God. Though works are indeed necessary, though not for your salvation, your works don’t make you a Christian.

Here is a truth that stands quite forsaken today, but a truth that is true just the same. No one is a Christian because of what he does. You are not a Christian because of what you do. You are a Christian because of what another has done. You are not a Christian because you do this or that, or because you don’t do this or that. You are a Christian because Christ has cleansed you from your sin, because God has made you a Christian through the waters of Holy Baptism. You are holy child of the living God because Christ shed His blood for you. It is God that pronounces you righteous through His beloved Son. You therefore do the right thing because you are a Christian.

But you are not a Christian because you do the right thing. This would make you a Christian based on what you do, not on Him who shows mercy and bestows grace. If it were true that you were Christians because of what you do, you would have to say that if you did good, then you must be a Christian. If you did bad, then you must not be a Christian.

Here, the confidence is placed on you and what you do, not on God and what He done. The truth is, all of you, myself included, have to say that we have not done good enough and that even the ‘good things’ we have done are tainted with wrong motives, improper attitudes, and selfish reasons. We are not t perfect as God demands.

God says, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16; Leviticus 11:44, 45; 20:7). And we are not. If you were to base Christianity on you, you could not be certain of being in God’s favor. In fact, you would be nothing but uncertain of being in God’s favor.

Doubt is not of faith. Nor is it of God. Surety and confidence before God does not rest on you, but on Christ. And on Him, it is nothing but certain.

Therefore, does St. Paul write, “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1), a peace, by the way, which no one can take away from you.

Being a Christian is not based on what you do, but on Christ and what He has done for you. Though you are not holy, Jesus is. His holiness, His righteousness, His goodness is counted as yours through faith in Him. Like Abraham whose faith God counted to him as righteousness as Abraham believed the promise of God when God promised him a son to be born of his own body, though he was old and his wife Sarai was past the age of child bearing, so our faith too is counted as righteousness, as we believe in Christ who died and rose again for our salvation (Genesis 15:1-7).

You cannot escape the truth of your sinfulness. But God has taken care of our sin with His Son’s death on the cross. And Jesus did not stay dead! “The third day He rose again according the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father” (Nicene Creed).

To be Christian means to have Christ as your own, and to have Christ’s righteousness counted as your own. This doesn’t mean that you now don’t have to do the things that you should, or that you can now neglect the needs of your neighbor. God’s grace and mercy toward you doesn’t mean that now there’s nothing for you to do. With regard to your salvation, yes, this is true. Jesus Christ died your death. And as Paul rightly says, “You are complete in Him” (Colossians 2:10). Thus, having Christ, you have everything.

And as He has everything and gives to you, so you, having everything, give to others. God doesn’t need your help. Nor does He need your good works. But your neighbor does. As Christ came, “not to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many,” so you too are not here to be served, but to serve, to serve others in their need and to help as you are able with the gifts that God has given us (Matthew 20:28).

It is not the things that you do or don’t do that make you a Christian, but God who makes you a Christian. Though it is right to say that a Christian lives this way or that way, it is not right to say that those things make one a Christian. They don’t. Your works, as good as they might be, do not make you who you are. It is Christ that sanctifies and cleanses your works that they be pleasing to our heavenly Father, and this through faith.

Your true identity is in Christ, the One who makes you whole and acceptable to God. It is what God has done, what He pronounces, that makes you who you are—a saint; forgiven and not condemned; redeemed and not forsaken; a child of the living God, baptized, cleansed, and holy.

Through faith you take hold of these declarations of God and say Amen to what God has said. Though you know yourselves to be prideful, selfish, and corrupt according to the flesh, God speaks His Word. He reveals to you your Savior. He calls you to believe what He says.

“Even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

In another place, it is written, “God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7).

In still yet another passage, God inspired St. John to write, “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 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 John 4:9-10).

This is all good news. God has not left you in your sin. Nor does He leave the decision to you. If He did, you would all be lost. None who are dead in their sins can rightly choose Christ. Just as Adam was lifeless apart from the breath of God breathed into Him, so are you lifeless when it comes to the things of God unless God first give you life (Genesis 2:7).

It is as St. Paul writes, “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them” (1 Corinthians 2:14). “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). God, in His grace, has revealed His Son, Jesus Christ, to you, not as judge and lawgiver, but as Savior and author of eternal salvation (Hebrews 5:9).

Therefore do we say that ‘we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, and kept us in the true faith.’ (Meaning to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed).

Jesus comes to you in Word and in His very body and blood. What you receive here are the gracious gifts of a loving God. This is the blessing of the abundant life promised by the Lord Jesus Christ. This is why He comes, to give you everlasting life. He comes not to destroy, but to save a people for Himself. He comes, not to steal, kill, and destroy, but to protect, to make alive, and to preserve for all eternity.

The abundant life Jesus speaks of is more than anything this world could ever offer. He Himself said it this way, “What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). The answer to both questions is ‘nothing’.

On the one hand, a man might have everything in this life, yet really have nothing at all. All the riches of the world amount to nothing in eternity.

On the other hand, a man might have nothing in this life, yet in reality, have everything, and all the riches of heaven. The difference is not in the quantity of things that you posses. It is a matter of who has you.

If God has you in Christ and you are His, you have everything, though you don’t see the fullness of all that is yours. Your true treasure is in heaven, where both moth and rust cannot ever destroy. If God doesn’t have you, if you don’t believe in Christ according to His Word, you really have nothing, though you might think that you have everything.

Because God gives us His Word, gives us His Son, there is nothing for you to be in doubt about. Through the waters of Holy Baptism, God worked faith within our hearts and continues to grow that faith through His Word preached and the Holy Supper received. Because He is doing the doing, there can be no doubt that God effects what He will for your good and keeps you in the true faith according to and through His Holy Word. As the Psalmist says, “God is my helper. I will trust in Him and not be afraid.” (Psalm 54:4; 56:11; Isaiah 12:2)

But if doubts ever should arise, know that these do not come from God. Though uncertainty raise its head, don’t listen to it. Don’t entertain such thoughts. Fight against them. Turn away from them, and hold tight to God’s sure Word in Christ. You’re not alone. And when you become tired and weary in your struggle, remember that words of Jesus where He says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

God would have you trust in Him. He would have you deny yourself, and cling alone to Him in hope. His Word does not and will not fail (Joshua 21:45; 23:14). His mercy endures forever (Psalm 118:1, 2, 3, 4, 29; 136:1-26). This is so because God has revealed it by means of His One and only Son. God gives you His Word, that you hang on to Jesus as for dear life and listen to none other, that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, we have life in His Name (John 20:31).

Only Christ gives you abundant life. There is none other that does. Only Christ gives you a conscience free from blame. Go anywhere else and you won’t have a clear conscience. Only Christ gives you the sure confidence of God’s mercy, and the promise of eternity with Him. Trust in something else, and God’s promise to you is not sure.

God gives to you His Word that you distinguish between what is true from that which is not. Only Jesus leads to life and the green pastures of heaven. All others lead to barren land and eternal death. All who are of Jesus’ flock follow Jesus, for they know His voice. Those who are not of Christ’s sheepfold follow another, and not Christ.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. To all that follow Him and hear His voice, He gives life that has no end, not a life that is trouble-free and without challenge, but one where Christ is, preserving, sustaining, and saving, now and forevermore.

True preachers preach Jesus according to what the Bible says. All others preach something different. And those who follow Christ as His beloved sheep hear only those who preach Him aright. They won’t listen to strangers, that is, false teachers, for they don’t know his voice. They will only listen to Christ and to His Word, for they love the Lord. And because they do, they seek to be faithful to Him who gives it.   Amen.

Music & Theology-Jewel’s “Intuition”

Reading the words of a song, even analyzing it for its content, is a good thing to do.  However, it might be a heavy dose of reality, a wake up call of sorts.  Many a popular song has moving melodies, but the words greatly lack genuine substance, let alone the truth, and often contain many a falsehood.

 

Take for example Jewel’s, “Intuition” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rraYK1QgMn0).  I like the melody, though I might here be illiterate when it comes to ‘good’ music in general.  I’m of the populists in this area.

But when it comes to theology, this is a different story.  I admit that I often gloss over the words of the songs that I listen to on the radio.  The music often drowns them out.  But I have to give this kind of practice of ‘not listening’ second thought.  Taking the words of songs for granted and even singing along with them may be more telling than not.

In “Intuition” by Jewel, she sings in part:

“…Follow your heart

Your intuition

It will lead you in the right direction

Let go of your mind

Your intuition is easy to find

Just follow your heart”

Granted, this is a ‘love’ song…but following your heart is a dangerous thing.  In reality, your heart does not “lead you in the right direction.”

Jesus says, for example, “Those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man…” (Matthew 15:18-20).

From these words alone, we have reason not to follow our hearts, but the Word of God, and the Word alone.  “The Holy Scriptures…are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 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 Timothy 3:15-17).

Even when it comes to love, the Word of the Lord is not deficient.  Led by our sinful hearts, we go by what we want in the moment and not by what God says.  It’s not always genuine love that we seek, but gratification.

We are to keep watch over our hearts, that our sinful desires not come to fruition, as St. Paul writes, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).

And in another place he says, “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).

Note also these words from St. James, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (James 1:13-18).

Rather than “follow your heart,” follow what the Lord says.  Hear the preached Word.  Deny yourself.  And hold fast to Christ.

Increase our faith, O Lord

The writer to the Hebrews writes in the 11th chapter, Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.

Just a later, he writes Without faith it is impossible to please Him (that is, God), for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:1-2, 6)

St. James writes in his epistle, the first chapter, If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:5-8).

Not least of all, our Lord Jesus says, Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die (John 11:26).

To a woman who came to Jesus with her sin and sought His mercy, He says, Your faith has saved you. Go in peace (Luke 7:50).

In today’s text, Jesus says, If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed,you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Lk17.1-10. Pentecost 19, 2010C.pdf

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