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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 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.”

“He is Risen, as He Said”

1Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 8So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” [Matthew 28:1-10 (ESV)]

Jesus is risen, as He said.  These words bring joy to the ear this morning.  These we cannot pass over.  He is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

The joy of those women who heard the words of God’s messenger that morning and saw not our Lord in the tomb is also our own.  By God’s inspired Word, we know that our Redeemer lives.  Christ is victorious over the grave.  He who had authority to lay down His life also had authority to take it up again (John 10: 15, 17, 18).  This Jesus did on the Third day, the very day that He rose bodily from the dead.

We are not here speaking of some spirit who now lives, as if the body of Christ remained in decay.  Christ in His body is living.  Neither are we speaking of an event without significance.  As it is written, If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up — if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. (1 Corinthians 15:14-17).

Sin is real.  It is doing what God does not command and not doing what He does command.   Death too is real.  It is a consequence of sin.  Sin brings about physical death, of which we all must face, sooner or later.  It also brings about eternal death, unless there be salvation from another who has overcome death.  This is what Christ did by His resurrection.  His resurrection testifies to the truth that death is powerless against the Lord Christ.  So too is eternal death powerless against the Lord’s brethren, of whom we are, through faith in His blessed Word.

Now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)

The death of Christ was real.  On the cross Jesus did die.  His resurrection is just as real and true.  This is how we know that Jesus truly keeps His Word.  Believe not this, and faith will be lacking.

The Lord’s resurrection also means our resurrection.  Christ being raised from the dead means our rising from the dead, not only from the deadness of our sin to new life now by faith, but also when our Lord returns.  His resurrection means the same for us.

Christ says through the Apostle Paul, 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. 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.  (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

In another place, Paul writes, We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).

Jesus Himself says, The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28-29).

Here, our Lord makes distinction.  Scripture teaches that all will rise from the dead, both believers in Christ and nonbelievers.  But only those who have done good, only those who have faith in Christ’s goodness, forsaking their own, only these will be with the Father unto all eternity.

On the other hand, those who have done evil, those who do evil by not taking Christ’s Word and work as their own, these will rise to eternal death.  Having not believed the promises of the Lord while in the world, these receive the due reward of their unbelief.  But those who do believe the promises of God, though they not see them fulfilled in the now time, these Will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him (James 1:12).

As to the spiritual rising only, Jesus ate and drank after being raised.  As it is reported in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence. (Luke 24:36-43)

A spirit does not eat or drink.  But this Jesus did.  The eyes don’t tell the whole story.  When it comes to God and His Word, do not accept what your mind tells you.  Leave reason and human understanding aside.  If you don’t, you will not rightly believe what God truly declares to be so.  From the virgin birth to His bodily resurrection, and from the creation of the world to the Lord’s glorious return on judgement day, trust not what you think or what you believe to be so.  Trust in the Lord and in what He has said.  Only here will you find Jesus living and dying, and rising and ascending, for you.

Here is the difference between judgement and forgiveness, death and life, and hell and heaven.  What God declares to be so in His Word is for your salvation.  It is not just for anyone and everyone.  It is for you.  Believing that the Bible is true is a good thing.  Believing that there is a god is good thing.  But ‘a god’ doesn’t save.  The God of salvation is not unknowable.  Unless the God of Scripture, even Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is your God, all the believing in the world will not help you.  Christ did die and He did rise from the dead.  But His death and resurrection will not save you unless it is also yours.

You carry your sin no more.  It was crucified with Christ.  He died and rose again.  Jesus left your sin for dead on Mt. Calvary, but on the third day, His body was not in the tomb.    If you wish to carry your own sin and have it your way, Christ’s death and resurrection will profit you none.  You will bear your own load and come the judgment, the penalty for your sin will be yours and yours alone.

On Christ, your sin is gone forever and God does not count your daily sins against you.  In Christ, your sin is forgiven.  Lay your sins on Him, therefore, and receive His forgiveness.  Believe the heavenly Word of grace, mercy, and peace.  Through the death of His Son, God demonstrated these.  Through resurrection does Christ testify of them.

Our Lord does not lie.  Nor will He speak deception into your ears.  What He says will come to pass.  This was so before His death and His coming back to life, and this is so now.  Christ’s resurrection bears witness and sure testimony that His Word He will fulfill.  Though we see the fulfillment, this matters none.

Just as Christ had said, He rose from the dead.  Before that Friday that we call Good, Jesus declared to His disciples, Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again (Matthew 20:18-19).  A few other times, too, did Jesus speak of what would soon come to pass.  And it did.

Jesus Christ, alive from the dead forevermore, is our surety and guarantee of what is to come, not only later, but even now, as we hear Christ’s Word preached, eat and drink His body and blood, and receive His blessing.  For your good does our Lord speak and for your good does our Lord give.  The joy of His gifts are yours.  Christ is risen, just as He said.  Our Redeemer lives.  Jesus Christ is risen today.  Alleluia!  Amen.

Meal of Salvation

17Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.

      20When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. 21And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

      26Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

      30And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matthew 26:17–30)

These Words of Christ in which He instituted the sacred meal are the very Words of our Lord on the night that He was betrayed.  On that night, Jesus held what is called the ‘Last Supper’ with His disciples.  But that ‘Last Supper’ is not ‘Last’ for us.  Our Lord says, As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes (1 Corinthians 11:26).

The meal in which we partake of Christ’s very body and blood is a proclamation of the Lord’s death till He comes again in His glory.  It is a meal of remembrance.  It is also a meal in which the Lord Himself distributes what only He Himself gives.  Though the eyes see one thing, the ears hear another.  We see bread and wine, but the Lord says that more is going on than meets the eye.  The Lord would have us believe what He says.  This is how one eats and drinks the true body and blood of our Lord worthily, by faith in the very Words that the Lord speaks.

Though your eyes and reason say something different, believe what God speaks in His Word, and His promises are yours, even the forgiveness of all your sins.   You might not understand it, but that’s ok.  The Lord would not have you to understand it.  He would have you believe it, not according to your eyes, but according to His Word.  This is where true confidence and lasting peace are found.  This is where we hear the words, given and shed FOR YOU for the forgiveness of sins.

In the Lord’s Supper, in the meal offered for your salvation, our Lord Jesus gives His body and blood.  By these, God really remits all your sins.  Think not, ‘how can this be’?  Believe rather that because the Lord says it, it must be so.  What He offers and what He gives is your salvation.

As one before has said, “That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words ‘for you’ require all hearts to believe.” (Luther’s Small Catechism, The Sacrament of the Altar, ‘Who, then, receives such Sacrament worthily?’)

We partake of the Lord’s Supper on the basis of God’s Holy Word, having faith in that and not in ourselves.  True faith is not just going through the motions.  It is not simply doing things because everyone else is doing them.  True faith is of the heart and takes God at His Word, seeing there His Son, for us, not only in Word, but in bread and wine and body and blood.  To not believe the Words of the Lord as they are is unbelief.  To believe is belief.  To those who do believe, God offers the promise of life and salvation.

It is for this reason that the Lord’s Supper is offered in our churches, offered and not forced.  We cannot coerce anyone to believe.  We do not force anyone to receive the Sacrament of the Altar.  The Lord does not give it to burden consciences.  He gives it to comfort and to gladden the heart.  He gives it that you know that you are forgiven according to His Word.

Jesus says, Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).  Even as the Lord gives rest in His Gospel, so also does our Lord give rest in the Lord’s Supper.  In the Lord’s Supper, the Lord gives you this rest for your weary soul.  Here, He provides and nourishes you unto eternal life.  Here, He strengthens and preserves you to life everlasting.  He forgives your sin and gives Himself FOR YOU.

If you feel or think that you are not worthy to receive the holy things of God, know that true worthiness does not consist in you.  Your sincerity of confession or the sorrow of your heart is not the basis for going to the Lord’s Supper.  What is the basis for eating and drinking at the Lord’s Table is not you, but the Lord’s Word.

If you are waiting to feel worthy, you never will.  Believe His Word.  Though you know yourself to be unworthy, this supper is prepared for you, not because of your own righteousness, but because here the Lord gives you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, “For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation” (Luther’s Small Catechism, The Sacrament of the Altar, ‘What is the benefit of such eating and drinking?’).

Christ’s words are to be taken as they are.  Many add to them or take away from them.  But this is not the right way.  What we cannot understand, we leave in God’s hands.  There, we are safe.  Anything else is going too far.  Sticking to the words of our Lord, we are on solid ground.

Christ gave bread and said, This is My body.  Christ gave wine and said, This is My blood.  He could not be more clear than that, saying what He means and meaning what He says.  If this Word is not enough, St. Paul also says, The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)

What the Bible gives in one place will also be supported in another.  All interpretations of Holy Scripture therefore that contradict what Scripture says are against Scripture and not Christian.  The inconsistencies that abound in Christendom are the result of not everyone being faithful to the Lord’s Word.  True unity doesn’t consist in ‘agreeing to disagree’ or in ‘tolerating different opinions’ when it comes to the things of God.  It consists in this, believing what God says and confessing the same.  Because all churches do not say the same thing concerning the things of God, there is not true unity.

Because we are not united in the faith, we are not able to express true unity.  If we were, then we could commune at the Lord’s table with others, and they with us.  As it is, all do not agree with reference to what God says in His Word.  This is the problem.  We cannot express Christian fellowship where there is none.  To do so would be to deny Christ and His Word.

For this reason, our churches and the Christian church throughout her history has practiced ‘close or closed communion’.  This is not the unloving practicing of welcoming all to the table, regardless of creed and confession.  It is the loving practice of clearly proclaiming Christ and Him crucified to a confused world, declaring that Christ and His Word does matter, and that Christ’s body and blood, truly and really present with the bread and wine, are given for life and salvation.

This we believe and this we confess.  The Lord offers the Sacrament of the Altar for our salvation.  Here, God gives the forgiveness of sins.  It is not the bodily eating and drinking that does this, but the words here written, “‘Given and shed for you for the remission of sins’; which words, besides the bodily eating and drinking, are the chief thing in the Sacrament; and he that believes these words has what they say and express, namely, the forgiveness of sins” (Luther’s Small Catechism, The Sacrament of the Altar, ‘How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?’).

To the Lord’s Words we cling.  It is here and in what He gives that you find rest for your soul and the promise of eternal life.  Hear it often.  Receive it plenty.  Amen.

The Authority of Jesus’ Word, even over death

1Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

5Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

28When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus wept. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

38Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. (John 11:1-53)

The words of Caiaphas, who was high priest at the time he said them, were prophetic.  When He said to the others, It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish, he was speaking the truth, even the truth of our salvation, though he knew it not.  Caiaphas was saying these words to the Sanhedrin in order to direct them on how to save themselves from the Romans coming in taking their place and their nation.  What He didn’t realize, though, was that he was also speaking of God’s love, not only for the Jews, but for all people, that Jesus die for the sins of all, though He Himself had none.

The background for all of this discussion of the Sanhedrin, the council, the chief priests and the Pharisees, concerning Christ Jesus was none other than what we heard in the Gospel account of St. John, even the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

The man Lazarus had been dead for four days, four days, when the Lord cried out with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth (John 11:43).  Here was a man who had no breath and no life, but Jesus raised him who was dead from the grave.  Here, Jesus demonstrates His authority over death.  He shows His power over the tomb.  The stone did not prevent Lazarus from coming out and neither would death itself keep him from approaching at the Lord’s call.

The Lord’s call to Lazarus did not go unheeded.  Nor does the Lord’s call today go unheeded.

Jesus indeed had said, Truly, truly I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live (John 5:25).

Christ speaks to you the very Words of life.  He raises you up from the deadness of our sins to new life in Him.  Because His Words are spirit and are life, they give what they say and say what they give (John 6:63).  He speaks forgiveness.  You are forgiven.  He speaks life.  You live.

The power of God’s Word does this.  Jesus Christ is that Word incarnate, through whom life, even eternal life, is given.  In the deadness of your sins, there is nothing awaiting you but death, even eternal death, but because of Christ, eternal death is no more a threat.  Even temporary death, the last trial of life, does not defeat.  When the Lord returns in glory, you shall meet as He is in our resurrected bodies.

As Jesus had said to Martha, the sister of Lazarus, 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 (John 11:25-26).  Of Himself Jesus speaks.  Right in front of her was THE resurrection and THE life.  Though He Himself would die, even as Caiaphas had said, It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish, so He would also rise again on the third day.  Death would not hold Him.  The grave would not keep Him.

And so it is for all who live and believe in Him.  Such is the promise of the Lord, He shall never die.  What is meant here is not the physical death of the body, where the heart stops beating and the lungs cease.  What is meant here is that one who lives and believes in the Lord will not die eternally.  God grants everlasting blessedness and joy to they who trust in the Lord’s salvation, even Christ Jesus, who died for the people that the whole nation, the whole world, would not perish but have everlasting life.

The fact that the dead man Lazarus was raised from the dead was a work of God that none could deny.  Even the Pharisees, upon hearing the news, could not denounce the testimony of so many witnesses.  They were not able to refute the evidence that Lazarus, the one who was dead, was now alive.  And they say as such when they said, This man Jesus does many signs; signs, by the way, which they themselves were not capable of doing, and signs, too, which they could not disprove nor speak against.

In speaking as they did, and as unbelieving as they were, the true colors of the Pharisees and chief priests showed through. Because they did not believe, they could not but act against the truth that they saw with their own eyes.  Their hearts were hardened and something was to be done.  Where hearts are hardened, the truth of God will not only not be accepted, but fought against.  This we see here.

In their deliberations, meetings, and planning, their disdain for the truth, Christ Himself, and the love that they had for themselves appeared through the words of Caiaphas, words that they all agreed upon.  Jesus must die.  It would be better Him, the scapegoat, than us and our positions of honor and our nation.

The council of the Pharisees and the chief priests agreed to bring about the death of another in order to protect themselves.  They were not concerned about the people nor about peace.  They were concerned about what would come of them.  Their thoughts and motives were turned inward on their own well-being rather than on that of their neighbors.

What a distinction we see between the motives of the self-righteous Sanhedrin to protect their own selfish interests at the expense of another and the motives of the other on whom the Sanhedrin would dish out their death wish.  The Sanhedrin were completely self-centered.  Christ Jesus was completely other centered.  They meant it for their own good, without the thought of any others.  Jesus meant only for the good of all people and not for Himself.

Though the wicked do not believe, and though the wicked act completely for themselves, even if giving the impression of doing things for others, as the Pharisees and chief priests in our text, God works selflessly for the good of others.  This we see going on in Christ.

Jesus had authority to lay down His life down that He take it again (John 10:17).  Jesus Himself says, No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it again. This command I have received from My Father (John 10:18).

The Sanhedrin could take no action against our Lord except it be permitted them to do so.  Here foreshadow the words of the dialogue between Pontius Pilate and Jesus, where Pilate asks Jesus, ‘Where are You from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. Then Pilate said to Him, ‘Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?’ Jesus answered, ‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin’ (John 19:9-11).

Pilate had been given authority from above to carry out the death of Jesus.  So had the Sanhedrin been permitted to arrest Jesus in the garden by the hand of Judas Iscariot.  But the truth remains that they did not have the last word.  Though the wicked have their way, God even works through what we cannot comprehend.  He saves through the death of Jesus that the whole nation and world not perish and to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

This is what Jesus did and does.  The Sanhedrin meant to do Jesus harm.  And they did.  But through that harm that they did to Jesus, even pushing for His death on the cross, Jesus would save the world and draw all men to Himself.

Through Christ’s death, God reconciled Himself to the world (2 Corinthians 5:18).  No longer are you at odds with God and He with you.  Your sin is no longer charged against you.  No longer are the children of God scattered abroad.  They come together in Christ.  He is your Head.  Christ and His truth truly unite.  The reason all are not united is because all do not accept the truth.  This is why there are so many denominations today.  But the Lord alone saves.  All people will not perish.  Christ our Savior has come.

Jesus has taken the full brunt of God’s wrath upon Himself, that wrath that you rightfully deserve because of your selfishness and your self-interests above the interests of others.  What Caiaphas the high priest said was true, more true than He ever knew.  Christ’s death was not only for them, sinners as they were, but for all sinners; and through Him forgiveness, life, and salvation is reality, reality for all who take a hold of His work and Word by faith, not doubting, but believing it as He says, and taking it as He gives.

All who believe in this Christ, this Jesus who died for all people, none excluded, who gave His life a ransom for all, that none perish but have everlasting life, these have the promises of God as their very own (1 Timothy 2:6; John 3:16).  Though some meant Christ’s death for His harm, God meant it for our good.

This is the truth that surpasses understanding.  Even through what isn’t right and what shouldn’t be, God works out the good pleasure of His will.  This in no way excuses what isn’t right or what shouldn’t be.  God’s good pleasure can and does work through these, but this doesn’t mean the stamp of approval is ever on what is not right.  God’s Word stands against wickedness and evil.  But even through these, God brings about good for His beloved, even us.

Though we don’t always see how these things are so, we don’t need to.  It’s not our concern.  What is our concern is what God has done and what He gives for our salvation.  By means of His Word, and Holy Baptism, and the Sacrament of the Altar, He assures you and gives you His grace and favor.  These are sufficient to give you that peace which the world cannot give, but only that which Christ can and does.  Amen.

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

What Luther Says (Plass)

Resurrection

In his interpretation of 1 Cor. 15:2 Luther points out that here especially one should not consult reason and the senses.

3875 An Article of Faith in the Word, p1215

If you want to judge according to what you see and feel and, when the Word of God is set before you, want to pit your feeling against it and say: You tell me much; but my heart speaks a different language, and if you felt what I feel, you, too, would speak differently – then you do not have the Word of God in the heart but have quenched and extinguished it by your own thoughts, reason, and brooding.  In short, if you will not let the Word mean more to you than all your feeling, eyes, senses, and heart, you must be lost, and there is no further help for you.  For we are concerned with an article of faith, not an article of your reason or wisdom or human power and ability.

Therefore you must judge solely according to the Word in this matter, irrespective of what you feel and see.  I, too, feel my sin and the Law and the devil on my neck.  I feel that I lie under these as under a heavy burden.  But what should I do?  Should I argue according to such feeling and my own ability?  In that case I and all men would have to despair and perish.  If, however, I want to be helped, I must assuredly turn about, look to the Word, and say: I do indeed feel God’s wrath, the devil, death, and hell; but the Word speaks differently to me.  It tells me that I have a gracious God through Christ, who is my Lord over the devil and all creatures.  If feel and see plainly enough that I and all men must sink into the grave and there decay.  But the Word speaks differently to me.  It tells me that I shall rise in great glory and live forever. (W 36, 494f – E 51, 89f – SL 8, 1103)

“Be Perfect?!”

Upon two commandments, Jesus says, hang all the Law and the Prophets. The first is to Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). The first commandment here has to do with faith to God. The second has to do with love for neighbor. It is this second commandment which draws our attention in today’s Gospel reading. It is according to this commandment whereby we demonstrate whose we are in this life, whether we are of our own or whether we are of the Lord.

To be Christian does not mean simply to confess the Christian faith with the mouth. This anyone can do. And truly, there are many who merely say that they are Christian. They speak the Creed. They say that they are sinners. They say that they are Christian. They hold membership in a Christian congregation. Yet they don’t exhibit the very things that Jesus is talking about in our text. They hold grudges. They backbite. They do not forgive. They raise dissention and quarrel any chance they get. Their actions truly do speak louder than their words…

Mt05.38-48, Epiphany 7, 2011A.pdf

“Your Redemption is Drawing Near”

In the Nicene Creed, Christians everywhere confess that the Jesus Christ “will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.” This confession we confess because it is true according to the Holy Scriptures, as heard in today’s Gospel reading. The Lord Jesus will one day return, not in humility as before, being born of the virgin. When He comes again, He will come in glory. Every eye will see Him, the Bible says (Revelation 1:7).

This is good news indeed for all who long to be without sin, for all who desire God’s mercy in Jesus. But for all others, the day of Christ’s return will not be a welcome day. It will be a day of fear and dread. It will be a day of fear and dread because for those who in Christ do not believe, who ignore His calling now to repent and believe the Gospel, they will be called to account. For them, Christ’s return is not for their salvation. It is for their judgment. But for the Christian, for the one who calls upon the Name of the Lord, who seeks God’s favor through the obedience of His Son, Christ comes to bring them to Himself, to take home all who belong to Him…

Lk21.5-36, Pentecost 25, 2010C

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