Salt, Light, Discipleship, and Good Works

The call of Jesus had been a call to ministry: “I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). The Beatitudes picture the disciple both as receiving from God in pure passivity and as caught up into the motion of the God who acts and the Messiah who gives. The beggar can only receive, but he does receive; and the mercy which he receives makes him merciful. The peace which God gives him makes him a peacemaker. Men molded by the Messiah act in the world, so vigorously and so decisively that the world persecutes them for it.

In the metaphor of salt and light Jesus makes plain to His disciples how inseparable discipleship and activity are, how impossible any thought of a quietistic and contemplative discipleship is (Matthew 5:13-16). The disciples are salt and light by virtue of what the call of Jesus has given them and what the word of Jesus is giving them. They need not trouble themselves about how they may become salt and light, any more than a city set on a hilltop need concern itself about becoming conspicuous. Where they are and what they are, the fact that they are with Jesus and in communion with the Messiah, gives them inevitably a function which is as universal as the authority of the Messiah; they are the salt of the whole earth and the light of the whole world.

Both salt and light are, of course, thought of as having a salutary effect upon their surroundings. Salt seasons and preserves, and light dispels darkness and makes a man’s goings and comings certain and secure. But what Jesus is stressing in the metaphors is the fact that in salt and light nature and function are one; salt salts because it is salt, and light illumines because it is light. Salt which no longer salts has ceased to be salt. the disciple who ceases to minister has forfeited his existence as disciple and has destroyed himself. He has, by forgoing activity, disrupted his communion with the Christ; and there is no second way to saltness. A man can be light only by his communion with the Christ, and he can remain light only by shining.

The disciple is salt and light by faith; and faith is not chemical process but a personal relationship and therefore involves responsibility and obedience. The disciple cannot make himself light, but he can obscure his light. He cannot make himself salt, but he can in irresponsible disobedience frustrate his saltness. Jesus therefore implants with faith that holy fear which makes a man work in awe and trembling, lest he should have received the grace of God to no purpose. Again Jesus centers the disciple’s life squarely in God and puts it under the tension of the approaching end of days. The disciples live and work as sons of God, and they so live and work that God may at the last, when all false works are judged and all false glories have been erased, be glorified by all – be known as God, acknowledged as God, adored as God by His redeemed creation. (Matthew 5:16; cf. Philippians 2:11)

Martin Franzmann, “Follow Me: Discipleship According to Matthew”, pages 41-42

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Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 17:11-19

“One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do / Two can be as bad as one / It’s the loneliest number since the number one.” The loneliest number is the number of cleansed lepers who returned to Jesus to praise and thank Him for healing. All ten should return to Him, but nine of them are busy doing as they were told: Go, show yourselves to the priests. One man, a Samaritan, returns to the Priest…the Great High Priest…to show himself cleansed.

One is indeed a lonely number. It can be an embarrassing number. You’ve invited a number of people to a party, but all of them save one send their regrets. What was supposed to be a big event now becomes an intimate, and maybe lonely, affair. The number one in the Christian Church, though, is just another number. If there’s even one other person here besides me, the Lord’s Supper may be offered. There is someone to say “Amen” to the prayers and liturgical text. One is better than none.

Or is it? One, we are told, can always be better. Of course everything can always be better. One more person in worship each weekend is nice. One more person for Sunday morning Bible study means an opportunity to learn something new. Even a newborn child being baptized adds one to our numbers.

Yet one is never enough according to earthly ways. You can always do better. Why have one when you could have many more? District and Synod officials sometimes ask if we are trying hard to reach people with the Gospel in our community. Good intentions are behind that question. Yet that question often turns into a contest. Who can bring in more people to the great banquet feast? How many new things must we start to bring in new believers? Sure, one new believer is great, but, next time, let’s shoot for more than one, OK. The pressure is on.

Now you see how one is never enough according to worldly standards. One cleansed leper returning to Jesus to worship Him and give Him thanks is pitiful. What is more, the cleansed leper who returns is a Samaritan. That’s two weeks in a row a Jew’s most bitter enemy appears in a positive way in the Holy Gospel reading. Talk about adding insult to injury! The poor Jews can’t get a break.

Is one actually a lonely, bad, and sad number after all? Jesus seems to take this all in stride. Were not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give glory to God except this foreigner? The answer to all the questions is “YES”. What’s wrong with that? Nothing is wrong with that. One is better than none. That’s the way it is in the Christian Church. One is better than none, but you can’t prove that by the higher-ups. There’s always room for more.

The need for more gives small congregations in small towns like ours a big complex. We see how population shifts over time. We see how generations shift over time. The “good old days” that we seem to remember never were the “good old days” after all. There was more than one person here then. There is still more than one person here today. There’s nothing wrong with one. There’s nothing wrong with small numbers.

At least one returned. That’s good news! One person that day recognized in Jesus Christ the Savior of the Nations. One person that day stopped dead in his tracks, saw that the Word of Christ made him clean, and turned him around to run back to Christ’s feet in gratitude. The number could have been zero. So one isn’t all that lonely after all.

So often we look at this miracle and wag our fingers at all those who aren’t here to hear it. If only they could hear their ingratitude. If only these words would turn their hearts. What about you? What about your ingratitude? What about the condition of your heart? You, like the nine running men in Luke chapter 17, keep running at times. You received from the Lord what you came to receive. You followed His orders. Mission accomplished. Or perhaps you keep running because you have no idea why you are here in the first place. You know something is going on here but it never makes sense. So you run. You’ll find what you’re looking for someplace else, maybe where there are more people.

There’s nothing wrong with one. That one may be you. Jesus will turn your heart to His mercy when and where it pleases Him. We are, after all, in His Church. His Spirit works in His Word to bring both physical and spiritual healing as it pleases Him. Sometimes it’s a feast. Sometimes it’s seemingly a famine. To our eyes and ears, one returning in thanksgiving to our Lord is a famine. Looking through the eyes of faith, however, we see a feast. What joy we have when one returns, giving praise to God for what He has done!

What joy we have when that one is me. All week, all month, all through the years, perhaps, you’ve run. You’ve run to Jesus before and seemingly nothing happens. So you run. Our Lord finds you, brings you back with Him, and for a time you’re satisfied until it’s time to run again. The Word of Christ that dwells in you richly shows you what Jesus has done for you. It may not be physical healing, but it could be an unexpected answered prayer or even restoring the joy of your salvation once again. So you run, but this time you run to Him in joy, just as the Samaritan did. Jesus shouldn’t be His Savior, but He is His Savior. Jesus is also your Savior, the only One you have.

One isn’t a lonely number. It’s enough. It’s as if Jesus finds the irony of one returning to be the way it is in His kingdom. Yes, they all should have come back. Yes, there’s always room for more in His house. Yes, His children could always do more to welcome more into His house. For now, though, one is enough. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, seeking, saving, and welcoming the lost, one person at a time.

Trinity 13 – Luke 10:23-37

A generation or so after Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, Saint Paul writes these words to the church in Galatia: Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. If only the expert in the Law could have heard St. Paul’s words! He did, actually. He heard them put another way from the Messiah’s mouth.

The Law that gives life first comes from the expert’s mouth. Love the Lord your God…love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the summary of the Ten Commandments. Do this, and you will live Jesus tells him. The Law, however, not only shows what you are to be doing, it also shows you that you can’t do it. Not only that, but the Law also gives you no power to do love God and love your neighbor. So that’s where you look to punt to something else. Even though the Law blocks your punt every time you try, it didn’t stop the expert in the Law from asking who is my neighbor.

The expert in the Law tries to trap Jesus. Jesus, in return, traps the lawyer by telling a parable about a man who falls into a trap. The trap the man in the parable falls into is a band of robbers who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Half dead, you say. Sounds like the man laying there on the way to Jericho still has a chance to help himself. Half dead is better than full dead.

There’s nothing he can do. The robbers have done their work. The robbers are much like the devil. He throws the book at you, so to speak, to see how you’ll recover. You won’t recover from the devil’s attacks. He comes to steal your soul. He delivers both temporal and eternal death. Who will save you from this miserable state of being half dead?

Along comes a priest. Let’s consider the priest as the Law of God. The Law can only show you what you’re supposed to do and not to do. The Law, again, has no power to save you or help you. The Law is like the sparrows in the story of Peter Rabbit. Peter Rabbit is caught in a gooseberry net. All the sparrows can do is urge Peter Rabbit to free himself. Peter wriggles out just in time. You won’t wriggle out just in time because you’re half dead and the Law can’t help you. You’re stuck.

Along comes a Levite. Let’s consider the Levite as the words of the prophets. The prophets preach the coming of a Savior, but they also preach condemning Law. They can only point you to someone who is coming. They have no power to save you. They are only delivering a message. Granted some prophets were given the ability to perform miracles, but there’s no miracle today. Like the priest, the Levite passes by on the other side.

The story so far: you’re half dead, beaten by robbers, and a priest and a Levite have avoided you. How’s that who is my neighbor thing working out for you now? How’s your love for God going to get you out of this mess? Someone must rescue you. Someone must be a neighbor for you. Someone must come and not urge you to help yourself or point you to someone else for help. Someone must be that Helper for you.

That someone is a Samaritan. Granted our Savior is a Jew, yet He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. To the expert in the Law, to those who come to test Jesus and trap Him in His own words, even to His own people, even in our own eyes, Jesus is a Samaritan. Some from His own people even go as far as to say Jesus has a demon. A Samaritan helping anyone, especially a Jew, is unprecedented. It is practically impossible and, even if it would happen, you would be inclined to think that at some point the Samaritan will finish off the half dead man and leave him fully dead.

Not this Samaritan. He came to where the man was. The man could not come to him. He comes to the man. He doesn’t plunge a spear into his side to finish him off, though. He felt sorry for the man. He has compassion for him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He put him on his own animal, took him to an inn, and took care of him. A Samaritan, the least-likeliest person to help a Jew, or for that matter anyone else, comes to the man and takes care of him. The Samaritan loves his neighbor. In loving his neighbor, he also loves God.

There’s more. The next day, when he left, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him. Whatever extra you spend, I will repay you when I return.” Again, the Samaritan loves his neighbor and in so doing also loves God. A Jew hearing this parable would have to question what God the Samaritan loves. After all, they turned their backs on the one true God and are half-Assyrian, half-Jew. If there’s any race among the nations who should have no love for God and neighbor, it’s the Samaritans.

Jesus turns everything on its head in this parable. A Samaritan showing mercy? A priest and Levite, the two obvious choices to show mercy, finding a way to escape from showing mercy? The best part is about to happen. Which of these three do you think acted like a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers? Don’t look now, but the trap is set. Only this time Jesus isn’t in the trap. The expert in the Law is about to have the jaws of the trap dig into his flesh. Not only is he embarrassed to say the word “Samaritan”, he’s also about to get caught in the trap of the Law. Four words are all it takes: Go and do likewise.

These four words hit us in every direction. The Old Adam hears these words and gnashes his teeth. The harder you try to go and do likewise, the more you see you can’t go and do likewise. Actually you won’t go and do likewise unless you get to pick your neighbor. You can’t pick your neighbor. He or she is all around you. Yet the New Man hears these words and rejoices that there is another opportunity to show forth the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. You are His workmanship. Every day the Lord sets before you ample opportunities to show that as Christ has had compassion on you by carrying you to His cross and to His empty tomb, where you see what He has done for your spiritual death.

What is more, our Lord also carries you through the font in your baptism, puts His Body and Blood in your mouth, and mounts you up on eagles’ wings as you take comfort in His undeserved love for you. Only as you cling to His wings are you able to show mercy to your neighbor in His need. You need not go looking for opportunities. They will come looking for you, even in your own household.

You are free from the trap of death that the Law springs. Jesus takes your place in that trap, carrying you to safety. In your place there stands Jesus in the trap, showing compassion upon His children. The expert in the Law is set in that trap as well, and so are you when you, like him, think there is another way to punt out of loving God and loving your neighbor. There is only one way out: Jesus Christ. His love for you has set you free to love others, for we love because He first loved us. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

What Does It Mean to Preach Christ?

What does it mean to “preach Christ”? Some believe that Christ is preached when presented as a model in a holy manner of life and in good works; the sum of Christian doctrine is proclaimed when people are told, “Walk in the way that Christ has walked, then you come to heaven.” But to preach Christ is to say something entirely different. To preach Christ is to teach and to inculcate that salvation in Him alone and in such a way that human works are not considered. Paul preaches Christ in this way. He says: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”[1] And he calls out a warning to the Galatians: “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”[2] Thus one only preaches Christ who teaches that we are justified and saved by grace for Christ’s sake through faith, and that salvation is not placed in a thousandth part on the works of man, nor on the works through which we follow Christ. As soon as someone teaches that one attains salvation through his own works, Christ is no longer preached but denied and blasphemed. Luther comes to this point when he defends his translation of Romans 3:28 against the upset Papists. He says: “Are we to deny Paul’s word on account of such ‘offense,’ or stop speaking out freely about faith? Land, St. Paul and I want to give such offense; we preach so strongly against works and insist on faith alone, for no other reason than that the people may be offended, stumble, and fall, in order that they may learn to know that they are not saved by their good works but only by Christ’s death and resurrection… What a fine, constructive, and inoffensive doctrine that would be, if people were taught that they could be saved by works, as well as faith! That would be as much as to say that it is not Christ’s death alone that takes away our sins, but that our works too have something to do with it. That would be a fine honoring of Christ’s death, to say that it is helped by our works, and that whatever it does our works can do too—so that we are his equal in strength and goodness! This is the very devil; he can never quit abusing the blood of Christ.” (“On Translating: An Open Letter”, Luther’s Works 35:196-197)

Franz Pieper, “The Practical Importance of the Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel”, 1895 Kansas District Convention Address

[1] Romans 3:28.
[2] Galatians 5:4.

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity – Mark 7:31-37

When it comes to Christ, it’s good to be deaf and have a speech impediment. Frankly, it’s good to have any impediment that hinders you from thinking you must do something to bring yourself into fellowship with the Son of God.

The explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed confesses “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him”. Take out the prepositional phrase and the sentence is also correct. “I believe that I cannot believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him”. Refine the sentence even more and it still remains correct: “I believe that I cannot believe”.

To our ears that sounds like a statement against believing in Jesus Christ. Even someone who refuses to believe in Jesus Christ could confess it. “I cannot believe in Jesus Christ”. Consider, though, that it is a different sentence than “I will not believe in Jesus Christ”. An atheist has no problem confessing that sentence. To confess you “cannot” believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him is a matter of lack of ability.

You are spiritually deaf and mute, not to mention blind, before God. To believe in Jesus Christ you need help. You can’t come to Him as if walking up to a door, knocking on it, and letting yourself inside. Try that with someone spiritually deaf, mute, and blind. You might be able to communicate by sign language or Braille. Yet if the person has no one to take them there, it is impossible for them to accomplish the task.

Take the deaf-mute man in today’s Gospel. They brought a man to Jesus who was deaf and had a speech impediment. The man didn’t walk up to Jesus. They brought Him. The people are provided everything good in Christ. They aren’t mistaken. The Lord has never pushed away someone who gave Him his trust. The people here give Jesus their trust. It’s not as if they had no trust beforehand. They have heard He is able to help. They want this man to have what they have.

There it is! The people bringing the deaf-mute man to Jesus in Mark chapter seven want him to have what they have: forgiveness, peace, joy, eternal life, and hope for their remaining days on earth. But doesn’t his impediment stand in the way of it? No. Jesus takes care of that impediment as He took care of yours. He takes care of it through means, stuff.

In Mark chapter seven Jesus uses words, spit, and fingers. They pleaded with Jesus to place His hand on him. Jesus goes one step farther. He put His fingers into the man’s ears. Then He spit and touched the man’s tongue. After He looked up to heaven, He sighed and said, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”) Immediately the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was set free, and he began to speak plainly.

The entire crowd wanted was His hand laid on the man. Jesus lays words, spit, and fingers on him. The divine Word brings things into existence from nothing. God speaks, and the earth is created from nothing. God acts, and a sea parts, a donkey speaks, fleece becomes wet when there’s no water near, and a virgin conceives and bears a Son named Immanuel. Here’s a man who has neither heard nor spoken anything. Jesus brings Him hearing and speech from seemingly nothing. Yet Christ speaks to Him Ephphatha. The Word does what it says. The man’s ears are opened and his tongue loosed.

Jesus spits and touches the man’s tongue. Have you ever tried to talk when it feels like you’re about to spit cotton balls? You need a moist mouth to make speech. Our Lord’s moist fingers stuck in the man’s ears and on his tongue bring him what he desires.

The people cry out, He has done everything well. Yes, He has. Everything on earth was created good. Everything our Father in heaven has done for His people has been good, even though it seems bad to our eyes. He prepared them for the coming of their Savior. It was many of His own people who rejected Him. Those whose ears and tongues are opened and loosed from spiritual darkness do not see merely a man from Nazareth Who takes on the divine name of God. They see their Savior, Who comes to do all things well for their salvation; things they are not able to do.

There’s no way you can come to Jesus on your own. The Holy Spirit is the one who called you by the Gospel. Again, through earthly stuff like words preached in your ears, water splashed on your head, bread and wine in your mouth as Body and Blood for you. He enlightened you with His gifts: the gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Granted these are gifts of civic righteousness before the world. Yet all these gifts of the Holy Spirit aren’t merely external behaviors. This is how you live as you hear the Word that both condemns and forgives sins. In Christ you no longer hate, despair, become impatient, despise your neighbor, and rage endlessly about your lot in life. Jesus has set you free from all these and even your worst enemy: death. You’re free to show these gifts to your neighbor for Christ’s sake.

Someone brought you to Jesus like these people brought the deaf-mute man to Jesus. Maybe it was Mom and Dad. Maybe it was another relative or a friend. Someone brought you to have your ears opened and your tongue freed. What is more, they brought you to be made dead to sin and to be made alive again in life in Jesus Christ. That’s what His Word does; a Word that doesn’t just show up and do something you can’t explain. His is a Word that creates, liberates, and sustains you in that liberation into everlasting life. It’s good to be spiritually deaf, mute, and blind. That way Jesus works on you and gives you life. He has done all things well, all things for your eternal welfare.

Who Is A Christian?

Who is a Christian? Rationalists describe a Christian like this: A Christian is a man who strives to be virtuous, to live according to his reason, or to live honestly according to the rules of “the great virtuous teacher”. A papist, upon questioning, would define a Christian as follows: A Christian is a man who submits himself to the Pope’s rule and who conforms himself to ecclesiastical arrangement. And there might well be among Lutherans here and there those who describe a Christian this way: A Christian is a man who goes to Church, and from time to time to the sacrament, pays his contributions, and is concerned with an honest manner of life before the world. — These are, however, descriptions which are partly quite false, partly do not give a clearly visible essence of a Christian. We say on the basis of Scripture: A Christian is a man who is convinced through the working of the Holy Spirit of two things: 1. of the fact that he is a sinner worthy of condemnation before God, and 2. of the fact that God forgives all his sins for Christ’s sake; i.e., a Christian is a man who knows to distinguish Law and Gospel. He lets the Law come into play; he lets his sin be revealed by the Law. He does not say: There is no serious intent with the demands and threats of the Law. No, he leaves the demands of the Law as they are. He admits not only with words, but also in his heart: I am a sinner worthy of condemnation. Through the law comes to him knowledge of his sin and worthiness of condemnation. But he lets the Law remain in this area. The question of how he is saved can only be answered by the Gospel. He believes that God absolves him in the Gospel of the sins He has revealed to him by the Law. He recognizes the Law as the Word of God; but he also knows that God has yet another word, the Gospel, and that all poor sinners should hear this other Word and from it gain the confidence that their sins are forgiven them. Thus a Christian is a man who lets both Law and Gospel take effect in themselves, but also knows how to separate both of them. Where this does not happen, then there is also no Christianity.

Franz Pieper, “The Practical Importance of the Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel”, 1895 Kansas District Convention Address

The Gospel > Any Earthly Thing

For when I compare my life with the Law I see and experience always the contrary of what the Law enjoins. I shall entrust to God my body and soul, and love him with my whole heart; yet, I would rather have a dollar in my chest than ten gods in my heart, and I am happier when I know how to make ten dollars, than when I hear the whole Gospel. Let a prince give a person a castle or several thousand dollars, what a jumping and rejoicing it creates! On the other hand, let a person be baptized or receive the communion which is a heavenly, eternal treasure, there is not one-tenth as much rejoicing. Thus we are by nature; there is none who so heartily rejoices over God’s gifts and grace as over money and earthly possessions; what does that mean but that we do not love God as we ought? For if we trusted and loved him, we would rejoice more that he gave us the sense of sight than if we possessed the wold world. And the word of consolation he speaks to me through the Gospel ought to give me higher joy than the favor, money, wealth, and honor of the whole world. But that it is not so and ten thousand dollars can make people happier than all the grace and possessions of God, proves what kind of fruit we are, and what a distressing and horrible fall it is in which we lie. And yet we would not see nor realize it, if it were not revealed to us through the Law, and we would have to remain forever in it and be lost, if we were not again helped out of it through Christ. Therefore the Law and the Gospel are given to the end that we may learn to know both how guilty we are and to what we should again return.

Martin Luther, Second Church Postil for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity (Matthew 22:34-46)

Eleventh Sunday after Trinity – Luke 18:9-14

There is a baptism at the Saturday night Divine Service.

The Pharisee and the tax collector present us with a fascinating look at how our Lord considers people and how we consider ourselves.

Everything the Pharisee says is right. After all, he is the model for imitation among the Jews. He is the interpreter of God’s Word. He’s the man who puts the Law and Prophets into perspective. Following what he says and what he does should mean you’re on the right track when it comes to everlasting salvation.

The Pharisee is not like other people. He’s not a robber, evildoer, or an adulterer. He certainly isn’t like that tax collector over there. All these people are open about their sin. One takes from others. Another does wrong for the sake of doing wrong. Another cheats on his wife. The tax collector is the worst offender of all. He’s always charging more than necessary in order to provide for himself, not to mention for Caesar. Everybody knows he does it. So we agree with the Pharisee. We might even take our stand alongside him. We, too, aren’t like other people; at least as other people see us.

The Pharisee goes above and beyond what God’s Word requires. Instead of fasting once a week, he fasts twice a week. He tithes all of his income. The Pharisee is the example of holiness, at least on the outside. If only we could be just like him.

We are just like him. We put on a good show on the outside. We want everyone to think well of us. King Solomon says in Proverbs chapter 22 that a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. The Pharisee seems to have a good name and favor among the people by what he does and says. Externals are good, but they aren’t the only thing.

Consider how King David was chosen to be king in Saul’s place. Samuel was sent to Jesse’s house to sacrifice to the Lord and select one of his sons as the next king. Jesse brought Eliab before Samuel. The prophet thought surely the Lord‘s anointed is before him. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Samuel saw how the Lord works when he rejected all of Jesse’s sons except the ruddy shepherd boy David whom his family had to call from the pasture. David was probably the last person anyone expected to become king of Israel. Yet he was the Lord’s choice, for He looks on the heart. The same thing can be said about David when he faced Goliath with a sling shot and five smooth stones. How will these items fell a man almost nine feet in height? The Philistines and the Israelites learned that the Lord is not concerned with the size of the boy in the fight, but the size of the fight in the boy. The Lord was with David. He could not lose.

Let’s take another look at the Pharisee, this time from the inside. His heart is black with sin. All the extra external deeds try to cover the fact that he thinks God must accept him because he’s so pious. He doesn’t do bad things. He does think them, though. He does speak them. Merely not acting out sin won’t save him. He goes to his house unjustified, for he has exalted himself.

On the other hand you have the tax collector. He’s as close to the chief of sinners as you’ll get this side of Paradise. Tax collectors usually take more than they should to make sure they are able to live well. Jesus doesn’t tell us if that’s the case with this tax collector in the parable, but knowing how tax collectors operate you wonder if those hearing the parable knew the guy was a cheat. He stands at a distance in the temple. He doesn’t lift his eyes to the heavens. Instead he beats his breast and says God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

The tax collector’s outside matches his inside. He knows what he does is wrong. He is also contrite about his sin. His humility pours out of him. The last person you’d expect to be humble is deeply humble.

Recall again our Lord’s words to Samuel: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. Alarming displays of piety tend to make us uncomfortable. The Pharisee’s display of piety may not make us uncomfortable, but it should. It’s all show. The tax collector looks like he’s putting on a show, but he’s not acting. Here’s a man realizing how evil he is before the Lord. He’s not thanking God for not being like everybody else. He’s begging for mercy, the mercy he will receive from a gracious God Who saves the better class of losers like the tax collector, but despises so-called winners like the Pharisee.

The alarming point of the parable isn’t so much about being more like the tax collector than the Pharisee. Jesus’ point here is to realize that it won’t do to put on airs before our heavenly Father. He alone is holy. He alone is all-powerful. He alone knows the heart of man. Trying to shield your heart from Him through acts of piety or blustery words will get you nowhere.

Take little Alexander in his baptism tonight. The boy is brought to the font with nothing. He is brought to receive everything from a gracious God Who loves this boy in spite of his sin. Using water and His Word, Alexander’s sin is washed away. He is a new creation, robed in Christ’s holy and perfect righteousness. He’s still a boy. He’ll still sin as long as he remains in the flesh. Yet His sin is paid in full because of Jesus Christ. His baptism isn’t a bargaining session. It’s all Jesus, all the time at the font. Jesus gives. Alexander receives.

So it continues for Alexander and for all of us in our lives. The preached Word hits our ears, showing us our sin. We see just how far short we are from His standard for us. Once repentance is worked in us, we are ready to receive the Good News that Christ has died for our sin and has been raised for our justification. We shall not die, but live. We can’t bargain for it. There’s nothing for us to say but Amen. Gift received. The Lord does all the heavy lifting. We receive all the benefits of His heavy lifting on our behalf.

We are all beggars. This is true. But it’s good to be a beggar before the gracious God Who gives. He gives daily bread. What is more, He also gives everlasting life and forgiveness of sins. We go home justified tonight because He has shown us who we truly are: sinners, yes, though forgiven, redeemed sinners in Jesus Christ. The God of Israel, the God of David, the God of the tax collector, He is our salvation.

Kurt Marquart on Preaching Law and Gospel

Lest I be misunderstood, let me make some things very clear. I am not advocating that we as truly evangelical preachers should imitate Calvinism or so-called “Evangelicalism”. The main use of the law is that which shows us our sin. And the Gospel, not the Law in any of its uses, must predominate in our preaching. Like humane physicians we must stress the diagnosis not for its own sake, but for the sake of the cure, and then concentrate on the glorious treasures of the love of God, poured out upon us so superabundantly in His blessed Son! It is our task to preach the love and joy of God into people’s hearts. But then we must also guide them towards God-pleasing expressions of their responding love for God. And in our non-sacramental age, in which all sorts of sacrament-substitutes flourish, such as alleged tongues and miracles, millennialist fantasies about Middle Eastern places and politics, “purpose-driven” psycho-babble, and the like, we must hold high the glory of the Gospel, which is “the power [dynamis] of God for salvation'” (Romans 1:16). Our preaching needs to serve and communicate the three permanent witnesses on earth, the spirit (or the blessed Gospel words which are spirit and life, St. John 6:63), the water of Holy Baptism, and the Blood of the New Testament, 1 John 5:8. It is through these blessed Gospel-channels that the divine life of faith is transmitted to us sinners.

“The Third Use of the Law in the Formula of Concord”, from “You, My People, Shall Be Holy: A Festschrift in Honour of John W. Kleinig”, pages 122-123

MarquartPortrait

Tenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 19:41-48

Everyone has a home. It’s the place where family and friends are. It’s the place you know best. For most of you, home is here in Kankakee County. For me, though Momence is my adopted hometown, most of my family lives downstate around Du Quoin. When I go home, there are many good memories. I drive by my home congregation and remember my confirmation day or when I first preached there as an ordained minister. You have the same memories. They are often tied to a house, a church, or another place.

For the Jews, their home, whether physical or spiritual, was Jerusalem. The temple, the presence of the living God, was there. The Jews may have had a synagogue in their town, but they longed to go home at least for Passover. Their memory is tied to a city, a building, a place on the map that sits on the hill of peace. To hear Jesus say that they will not leave one stone on top of another is impossible. It’s nonsense, just like when He said destroy this temple in three days and I will raise it up, though it took many years to build the physical temple.

What the Jews didn’t know is that the temple Jesus was talking about was His body. They also didn’t know what He knew concerning the future. Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem came true less than forty years after He said it. The Roman army laid waste to Jerusalem, killing over a million people as they tore through it. The destruction of Jerusalem is a fact of history written for us by a Jewish man named Josephus.

The reason Jerusalem would be destroyed is because they did not recognize the time when God came to help them. All the signs were in place when Messiah, Jesus Christ, dwelled on the earth. Some recognized them and believed in Him. Others mocked Him, cursed Him, and did whatever it took to silence Him. Jesus’ own people acted like pawns in a game as they handed Him over to Pontius Pilate in order to be crucified. They didn’t believe that His death actually was their atonement. Josephus said the same thing about the Roman army in the year of our Lord 70, when God seemingly used them to destroy Jerusalem, fulfilling Christ’s prophecy.

As then, so it is now. Many do not recognize the time of Christ’s visitation. Even we Christians fail to see our Lord Jesus Christ at work in His Gifts. Like the Jews, we look to some sort of home for our peace and not to the Prince of Peace. Christ’s forgiveness and life dwells in the preaching of the Good News. Yet we look for His forgiveness and life in institutions that proclaim the Gospel.

We often place our love and trust in a building rather than the One Who is proclaimed in that building. We find our salvation in our name being on a church roll, even if we never actually attend the church where our name is attached. We think that as long as there’s a, whatever your last name, on the roster of our congregation, then everything is good with God. We might even go as far as thinking that the Lord sure does need a Lutheran Church in Momence. I mean, what would He do if this church building wasn’t here? What would He do if there wasn’t a Missouri Synod? We’ve got to preserve all these institutions or there won’t be a Gospel without them!

Self-perpetuating an institution for the sake of the institution has nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His Word is preached whether or not there is a church building here, whether or not you are here, or even if I was or wasn’t here. Forgiveness of sins is proclaimed whether or not there’s a Missouri Synod or an Our Savior Lutheran Church in Momence, Illinois. Let these things all be gone if we place our trust in institutions rather than Jesus Christ. Where the Gifts of Christ are given, there you see Christ’s Church, the body of Christ.

That’s hard to believe in a time when numbers mean everything. If we don’t see a lot of cars parked out front, if we don’t see full pews, if we don’t see young children in church, if we don’t see a healthy bank account, then we think there’s a problem. The problem isn’t numbers or children or money. The problem is that we have taken our eyes off Christ and put them on ourselves. What can we do to fix the problem?

What if there wasn’t a problem except sin? Sin always looks to self as the hope for salvation. Sin always plays the numbers game. Sin always curves everything in on our own self. When we look inside us, we see nothing that makes for eternal peace. We see a war for our soul. Jesus’ death ends that war. He alone makes the peace that surpasses all that our mind conjures. He alone is the scapegoat. He alone is the spotless Lamb. He alone is the perfect offering that wipes away sin. He alone is the blessed Peacemaker, the Son of God.

There are times when it’s hard to see or feel the peace Christ brings when you come to this house of prayer. You see sinners like you, yet you may not have a close relationship with them. You see empty pews, pews that once were full. You see a preacher, a sinner like you, who sometimes says and does things you don’t like. Consider the view from here. The feeling sometimes is mutual. We might be led to think not merely this congregation, but all Christian churches, are nothing but a den of robbers.

How did it happen? Sin is how it happened. Forgetting to prefer Christ to everything else happened. Getting my way happened, and that includes pastor. We do not recognize the time when God came to help us. That time is now. Here He is, in the preaching of His Gospel. Here He is, in your baptism. Here He is, in His Body and Blood for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. The time when God comes to help you is now. There comes a time when He comes to bring ultimate help: the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. Until then, here He is, Gifts at the ready, bringing you forgiveness of sins.

Welcome to the place where the things for your peace dwell. Welcome to Christ’s house. Welcome to the place where His glory dwells. Christ is here for you. Though the body of Christ’s believers cannot be seen, we know that where they gather around His Gifts, there His Church is seen. Welcome to your place of refuge. Dearly beloved, welcome home.