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Preachers and Hearers-Listen up!

“He who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully…”

Jeremiah 23:28

In the Name of Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Amen.

God would have His Word preached rightly.  He would have His Word preached truthfully.  Where such is taking place, there ought you to be to hear, to receive, and to believe.  However, where the Word of God is not preached according to His Word, there you are not to be.  There, where God’s Word is not preached in its truth and purity, the church preaches and teaches in error.

St. Paul says it this way, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.  Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)

A little error mixed with the truth is a dangerous thing.  Yet, how many have apathy towards any distinctions whatsoever, even in today’s church!  Add a Bible verse here and a Bible verse there, and there you have what sounds to be right and true.

Many in Christendom give such an evaluation of the preaching and teaching that they hear without properly discerning whether or not the Bible is being used according to its sense, and therefore, according to its meaning.  We give more attention to the preacher than to the preaching itself (and here, I mean content, not delivery, style, or anything else that can be improved upon).  We give more heed to how the preacher preaches or teaches rather than what he actually says. Thus, the teacher or preacher, though he might sound orthodox, is actually heterodox, interpreting Scriptures according to his way and not according to God’s way, and therefore, preaching false doctrine and contrary to the Lord’s Word.

And many seem to care but little!  The hard work of testing the words preached is becoming a lost art.  Many readily will accept what they hear (and read) without giving second thought to comparing it with what God says.  Thus, you have the popular books such as Heaven is for Real, The Purpose Driven Life, and Every Day a Friday, which many Christians “eat up” and claim to be Gospel, but do nothing but lead away from the truth.

But the Lord teaches differently.  Concerning preachers, specifically, He says, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).

And to those who hear, He says, “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:6-8).

Again, our Lord says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me” (John 14:23-24).

Thus, keeping the Lord’s Word, His people will hear His voice, for as our Lord also says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me (John 10:27).

Luther

“No one likes to say that the church is in error; and yet, if the church teaches anything in addition or contrary to the Word of God, one must say that it is in error…Thus, I will not listen to the church or the fathers or the apostles unless they bring and teach the pure Word of God.” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p66-67).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Your Name be hallowed among us.  Send us preachers who preach only Your divine and life saving truth.  Keep us from giving in to the temptation of looking more at the preacher than to hearing what he says, and comparing that with Your Holy Word.  Deliver us from succumbing to the false teachings of the evil one and give us discernment, that we ever and always abide by Your Word.  Amen.

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The word of faith which we preach

 

“ ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’

(that is, the word of faith which we preach)”

Romans 10:8

 

Commenting on 2 Corinthians 11, verse two,[1] Luther writes some penetrating words (see below).  In the context, St. Paul writes, “I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.  For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted — you may well put up with it!” (2 Corinthians 2:3-4).

Paul indicates that there is only one genuine Jesus.  All others are other Jesus’.  In other words, only One Jesus is the Savior from sin.  All other Jesus’ are counterfeits.  So does Paul also indicate this where he distinguishes gospels, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.  For do I now persuade men, or God?  Or do I seek to please men?  For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.  But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-12).

According to God’s inspired Word through His servant Paul, one who seeks to please men cannot also at the same time be a “bondservant of Christ.”  Those preachers who do seek to please men preach a different gospel and not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Here we must say that just as there are preachers who seek to please men, there are also hearers who seek to please, not God, but themselves, for they do not seek out the genuine Gospel of Jesus Christ, but another.  They look for that which God has not promised.  They seek to have their “itching ears” scratched.  They do not seek to repent at the hearing of God’s Word, but they seek another Jesus.

Thus, when they hear things they don’t like to hear or how they like to hear it, they turn the power button off and refuse to further listen.  Rather than test the preaching they hear with the Holy Scriptures, they test it according to what they would like to hear or how they would like the message to be delivered.

Essentially, however, doing these things only demonstrates the characteristic of so many who are Christians in name only—the refusal to listen to the Word and the despising of the very Office of preaching which God has established.

Here, the question arises, “How does God come to us?” “How does Christ give us the forgiveness we so desperately need?”  Another way of asking the question is this, “by what means does God give His forgiveness of our sins that we know with certainty that it is ours?”

Some would, of course, answer the question with the word “faith.”  But is it upon your faith that you have absolute certainty of God’s grace and favor?  If the answer here were yes, then certainty is really upon you. And any certainty upon you is really nothing but uncertainty.

On the other hand, if the answer to the question of means is not on my/our/your faith, but on that which is sure and true, that which God does and gives, there can be no uncertainty in it at all, except that which we add to it of ourselves, if it were possible for us to do so.

Faith has been defined by some as “certainty.”  Such a faith, though, does not have foundation in itself.  We do not trust our faith to be certain because of or on account of our faith.  Rather than trust in one’s own faith or in one’s own certainty, the Christian trusts in nothing less and nothing more than the Word of God that establishes that faith.

And where is that Word preached and heard?  In the Lord’s house.  And by whom?  The pastor.  And what is the pastor to be preaching in the Lord’s house?  Only the Word—only Christ.  Where the pastor is doing this, there you can be sure that God is forgiving sins.  There, you can be sure that God is giving you salvation, because of the Word that is preached.

Also in the Lord’s house, God established the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.  For what purpose?  For the purpose of bringing to you that salvation won by Christ’s cross.  Thanks be to God for such gifts!  And instead of murmuring and grumbling about the way God brings these gifts (i.e. through human voice, water, and bread and wine), we rejoice all the more in them (see 1 Corinthians 1:27-31), trusting God’s Word and sure of His goodness, not because we “see,” but because of His blessed promises.

Luther

“Christ has instituted this (apostolic) office as if to say, ‘I send you that you should claim and fetch me my bride who was previously prepared or was washed from sins and became pure and holy.’  Now this happens daily in Christianity through the preaching office, in which one proclaims and preaches that Christ has given himself for you, as St. Paul says.  This was done when he suffered and died on the cross and on the third day was raised again.  For through that he has earned grace and the forgiveness of sins for us.  But if that were left there, it would not yet help us.  For even if he earned the treasure for us and has done all, we would not yet receive it.  But how does this same salvation which he has bestowed finally come to us?   For has he now gone up to heaven and left us behind?  He says it must go to us through the Word and Baptism which he has mandated the apostles to bring to us, to bring us home.  Namely, that through them they should bring us  forgiveness of sins, in his name.” (Geo. Link, Luther’s Family Devotions, 648-649)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant that my faith not be founded on anything in me, but only upon You and Your Holy Word.  Keep me from doubting the way You work and the means by which you give me life and salvation through Jesus Christ.  Rather, lead me to give thanks and to rejoice all the more in Your blessed kindness and favor in coming to me in what is esteemed as humble and lowly in the eyes of the world, that Your Holy Name be exalted continually.  Amen.


[1] “For I have betrothed you to a man so that I present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

 

Preaching and Hearing the Word of God

The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat?” says the LORD.

Jeremiah 23:28

Faithfulness to the Lord in preaching is a hard thing!  It is a hard thing because many will grumble.  Many will complain.  Many will grow tired and turn away from that which gives life.  The many do this because the Word of God does not “fit” them.  The Word of the Lord does not “do” for them what they think it should.  The Word of the Lord, essentially, is not to their own liking, independent of the outer dressing in which it is delivered.  It does not scratch the itchy conscience as it wants to be scratched.  It does not tell one troubled by sin that things are not that bad, that things will only get better, and that happiness is just around the corner.

The Word of the Lord preached faithfully speaks the reality of how things really are.  The Law of God does not mince words.  It does not pull back the punches.  Like the doctor who speaks the truth about one’s condition, so the Law reveals the hopelessness of our situation.  The Law says that you are a poor miserable sinner, deserving nothing but death and eternal condemnation.

Such a message does not sit well with one who wants to be his/her own savior.  Such a message does not parallel the false hope preached so often today, that all you have to do is try harder, or “give your life to Jesus.”  The Word of God contrasts the “it is not so bad” mentality of today’s church, for faithful preaching consists in addressing the condition and not only the symptoms of sinners.  Only by doing so is the true proclamation of the Gospel clearly heard and believed.

Jesus came to save real sinners, not partial sinners (Luke 5:32; 1 Timothy 1:15)! Jesus died in order to save real sinners from real condemnation and hell.  And this is just what Jesus did, not to make the world a better place, but to give eternal life.

While many go on proclaiming a false gospel of earthly hope and worldly utopia, true preachers of Christ preach the sure and certain hope of heaven.  They teach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), for the very purpose of leading the hearers to Christ and to heaven.  They call sinners to turn from their evil ways and to believe the Good News of sins forgiven through faith in Christ Jesus.

Not all who hear this message appreciate it.  Many turn away from it.  Most reject it.  Such is the world in which we live.  But by God’s grace, there are also most certainly those who do hear, who do believe, and who do confess Jesus Christ to be Savior.  They know God’s Word when they hear it, for they are of God (John 8:47).  They hear Christ’s voice and follow Him (John 10:16, 27).  And they seek none other than the true doctrine, for in this true doctrine is true and everlasting life.  And of this doctrine they are not ashamed, for it is not their own, but God’s.  Thus do they boldly declare it, and of it are most sure!

Luther

“With Paul, therefore, we boldly and confidently pronounce a curse upon any doctrine that does not agree with ours.  We, too, seek by our preaching, not the praise of men or the favor of princes or of bishops but only the favor of God.  We preach His grace and gift alone, treading underfoot and condemning whatever is our own.  Therefore anyone who teaches something different or something contrary – we confidently declare that he was sent from the devil.” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p59).

Prayer: Gracious Father, you have given us Your holy Word that we believe it and boldly confess it.  Grant us not to be ashamed of what you say, nor to depart from it all of our days.  Forgive us our weaknesses, and bring us to firm confidence in Your doctrine and eternal life.  Amen.

Faithful Pastors Preach Christ and His Word

 

Dr. C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the church body now know as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, in an 1848 presidential address, addressed the synod in convention, which included these words concerning the relationship between pastor and congregation:

“Only such a preacher is a servant of men as does not serve Christ faithfully because of fear of men or because of desire to please men, departs from God’s Word in doctrine or practice, and preaches for the itching ears of his audience.  But where the pastor is given only the power of the Word, but its full power, where the congregation, as often as it hears Chris’s Word from the mouth of the preacher, receives it as the Word of God, there the proper relationship between pastor and congregation exists; he stands in their midst not as a hired mercenary but as an ambassador of the Most High God; not as a servant of men but as a servant of Christ, who in Christ’s stead teaches, admonishes, and reproves…The more a congregation sees that he who has the rule over them in the Lord desires nothing but that the congregation be subject to Christ and His Word; the more it sees that he does not desire to dominate them, yes, indeed, that he himself with a jealous eye guards the liberty of the congregation, the more willing the congregation will become to hear his salutary recommendations also in matters which God has not prescribed; it will follow him in these matters not as a taskmaster because it must, but as their father in Christ, because they wish to do it for their own advantage.”[1]

These words of Walther are nearly forgotten in many an LCMS congregation today, both by pastor and people.  Pastors lord over the people, and people lord over the pastor, contrary to the words of our Lord where He admonishes His disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.  And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).

The rule or authority of the pastor is none other than the Word of God itself.  In this way the pastor is to serve the congregation—preaching and teaching the very Word of Christ in all its truth and purity.  Where a pastor neglects doing so, he is doing nothing but neglecting His calling by God through the congregation.  The pastor is not to add to or subtract from the Word.[2]  Nor is he a people pleaser, compromising for the sake of peace.  If he is to stand and remain a faithful preacher, he must “abide in Christ.”[3]

All pastors who do not do this do not serve the Lord Jesus Christ, but another.[4]  These are false preachers and teachers, who teach what men want to hear or how men want to hear it.  But to be a servant of God, the pastor preaches according to Holy Scripture—nothing more and nothing less.  This is what God gives pastors to do.  Therefore, the congregation is to help and support them in doing so, even encouraging them with the Word and by praying for them in their solemn servitude.

Whereas the responsibility of the pastor is to be a faithful servant of God and a faithful servant to God’s people, “rightly dividing the Word of truth,” (2 Timothy 2:15) the responsibility of the congregation is to hear the pastor and honor him as one whom God has sent, for so God has.  Not doing so, that is, refusing to hear the pastor, is as not hearing God, just as Jesus says to His disciples, “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16).

Far from this being a novel invention or “lifting up the pastor” to a godly like status, this is the way of God and His blessed Word for the sake of His beloved people.  Remember, the authority of the pastor is not that of himself, all that he says, or all that he does.  The authority of the pastor is that of the Word.  Where he speaks beyond the Word, there ears can truly be shut.  But as he proclaims and speaks the Word, there the ears are to be nothing but open—because it is not the pastor’s words, but God’s.

Thus does Holy Scripture in many places speak of the relationship, even the duty (and vocation) of pastors to their congregation and congregation to their pastor(s).  The following words are found under “The Table of Duties” in The Small Catechism of sainted Dr. Martin Luther:

To Bishops, Pastors, and Preachers

The overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 1 Tim. 3:2-4

He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 1 Tim. 3:6

He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. Titus 1:9

What the Hearers Owe Their Pastors

The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. 1 Cor. 9:14

Anyone who receives instruction in the Word must share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Gal. 6:6-7

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” 1 Tim. 5:17-18.

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 1 Thess. 5:12-13

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. Heb. 13:17

As you can see, neither pastor or hearer is free to forsake the Word or invent new ways of serving God.  Rather, it is in doing what God has commanded, having faith in Christ, that we rightly please God and rightly serve Him.  For Lutheran pastors and Lutheran congregations, the Word is front and center.  The church is not centered on either pastor or people.  It is centered on Christ.  And where Christ is truly the center, both pastor and people rightly recognize their place and give glory, thanks, and praise to God.  Pastors diligently serve God’s people; and God’s people readily hear the preached Word, and give thanks for it.


[1] Carl S. Meyer (ed.), Moving Frontiers: Readings in the History of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1964), 175-176.

[2] “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.  Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6).

[3] “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples.  And you will know the truth and the truth will free you.” (John 8:31-32)

[4] Deuteronomy 18:20;  Isaiah 5:20; Jeremiah 23:1; Matthew 7:15-23; 15:9; Romans 16:17-18; Colossians 2:6-9, 18-23; 1 Timothy 4:1-6; 2 Timothy 3:13-17; 4:1-4; Hebrews 13:9; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1-6

 

 

The Word of faith which we preach


 

“ ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’

(that is, the word of faith which we preach)”

Romans 10:8

Commenting on 2 Corinthians 11, verse two,[1] Luther writes some penetrating words (see below).  In the context, St. Paul writes, “I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.  For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted — you may well put up with it!” (2 Corinthians 2:3-4).

Paul seems to indicate that there is only genuine Jesus.  All others are other Jesus’.  In other words, only One Jesus is Savior from sin.  All other Jesus’ are counterfeits.  So does Paul also indicate this where he distinguishes gospels, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.  For do I now persuade men, or God?  Or do I seek to please men?  For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.  But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-12).

According to God’s inspired Word through His servant Paul, one who seeks to please men cannot also at the same time be a “bondservant of Christ.”  Those preachers who do seek to please men preach a different gospel and not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Here we must say that just as there are preachers who seek to please men, there are also hearers who seek to please, not God, but themselves, for they do not seek out the genuine Gospel of Jesus Christ, but another.  They look for that which God has not promised.  They seek to have their “itching ears” scratched.  They do not seek to repent at the hearing of God’s Word, but they seek another Jesus.

Thus, when they hear things they don’t like to hear or how they like to hear it, they turn the power button off and refuse to further listen.  Rather than test the preaching they hear with the Holy Scriptures, they test it according to what they would like to hear or how they would like the message to be delivered.

Essentially, however, doing these things only demonstrates the characteristic of so many who are Christians in name only—the refusal to listen to the Word and the despising of the very Office of preaching which God has established.

Here, the question arises, “How does God come to us?” “How does Christ give us the forgiveness we so desperately need?”  Another way of asking the question is this, “by what means does God give His forgiveness of our sins that we know with certainty that it is ours?”

Some would, of course, answer the question with the word “faith.”  But is it upon your faith that you have absolute certainty of God’s grace and favor?  If the answer here were yes, then certainty is really upon you. And any certainty upon you is really nothing but uncertainty.

On the other hand, if the answer to the question of means is not on my/our faith, but on that which is sure and true, that which God does and gives, there can be no uncertainty in it at all, except that which we add to it of ourselves, if it were possible for us to do so.

Faith has been defined by some as “certainty.”  Such a definition does not have foundation in itself.  We do not trust our faith to be certain because of or on account of our faith.  Rather than trust in one’s own faith or in one’s own certainty, the Christian trusts in nothing less and nothing more than the Word of God that establishes that faith.

And where is that Word preached and heard?  In the Lord’s house.  And by whom?  The pastor.  And what is the pastor to be preaching in the Lord’s house?  Only the Word—only Christ.  Where the pastor is doing this, there you can be sure that God is forgiving sins.  There, you can be sure that God is giving you salvation, because of the Word that is preached.

Also in the Lord’s house, God established the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.  For what purpose?  For the purpose of bringing to you that salvation won by Christ’s cross.  Thanks be to God for such gifts!  And instead of murmuring and grumbling about the way God brings these gifts (i.e. through human voice, water, and bread and wine), we rejoice all the more in them (see 1 Corinthians 1:27-31), trusting God’s Word and sure of His goodness, not because we “see,” but because of His blessed promises.

    Luther

 

“Christ has instituted this (apostolic) office as if to say, ‘I send you that you should claim and fetch me my bride who was previously prepared or was washed from sins and became pure and holy.’  Now this happens daily in Christianity through the preaching office, in which one proclaims and preaches that Christ has given himself for you, as St. Paul says.  This was done when he suffered and died on the cross and on the third day was raised again.  For through that he has earned grace and the forgiveness of sins for us.  But if that were left there, it would not yet help us.  For even if he earned the treasure for us and has done all, we would not yet receive it.  But how does this same salvation which he has bestowed finally come to us?   For has he now gone up to heaven and left us behind?  He says it must go to us through the Word and Baptism which he has mandated the apostles to bring to us, to bring us home.  Namely, that through them they should bring us  forgiveness of sins, in his name.” (Geo. Link, Luther’s Family Devotions, 648-649)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant that my faith not be founded on anything in me, but only upon You and Your Holy Word.  Keep me from doubting the way You work and the means by which you give me life and salvation through Jesus Christ.  Rather, lead me to give thanks and to rejoice all the more in Your blessed kindness and favor in coming to me in what is esteemed as humble and lowly in the eyes of the world, that Your Holy Name be exalted continually.  Amen.


[1] “For I have betrothed you to a man so that I present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

We Confess Christ (John 20:19-31)

The confession of Christ is not self-derived.  It is not self-induced, self-revealed, or self-chosen.  Rather, the confession of Christ is God-given, God established, God revealed, God made known.

No one on this earth would know of Christ crucified and resurrected the third day unless had God had made it known to us.  And this, God, in His mercy, has done.  Through the Holy Scriptures, God makes known your salvation through faith in the crucified and risen Lord.  Therefore, does St. John write,  “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

Also, St. Paul writes, “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

Thus, God gives us His Word, the Bible (and the preaching of that Word), not so you can live a better life or “have a better life now.”  God also does not give you His Word that you might know how to live your life apart from faith in Him.

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) are indeed commands about how God’s people are to live, but the Bible is not a “rule book” or a book of do’s and don’ts.  The Bible is the book of salvation, and speaks of that salvation which is alone by God’s grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

As such, the preaching of the apostles following Christ’s ascension was not, “live this way” or “do these things” to get right with God.   Christ’s preaching was not this way either.  Christ’s preaching, and the apostles’ preaching after Him, and the Church’s proclamation today, is Christ crucified and resurrected for the forgiveness of sins.

If the preaching of the church becomes anything else than this, her preaching is false and not to be heeded (i.e. Rick Warren and trying to find a purpose, Joel Osteen and self-help rhetoric) [See Galatians 1:6-10].  Should the church preach this way, she leads the hearers away from the Gospel and away from eternal life to eternal death and hell.

Because Holy Scripture testifies of Christ, so do Christ’s people confess and bear witness to Him who purchased them with His own blood (Acts 20:28).  This is their confession.  And this is the confession of Christ’s body, the Church.

Therefore, with Thomas who went from unbelief to faith by God’s gracious word and work, we too confess and say of and to Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

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.

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