Monthly Archives: March 2013

Good Friday – Isaiah 53:4-6

A condensed and revised version of a Good Friday Sermon by Georg Stöckhardt

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:4-6 ESV).

When Saint Paul says in First Corinthians chapter 15: Christ died for our sins according to Scripture, he means Jesus died for sins. Paul does not wish to say that Christ should be our example in our lives. No. Christ died for sins, full stop. He has redeemed us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil with His innocent, bitter suffering and death. We preach Christ crucified, we preach the redemption that happened through Christ Jesus.

When we recognize that Christ is our Guarantor, our Substitute, then this godly mystery about our salvation is accessible to us by faith. We can only rejoice and receive true comfort about Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. Christ died for us. Christ rendered perfect obedience to His Father in our stead. We are sinners. But because Christ died the death of a sinner in our place we are free. When we read Scripture, we find witnesses everywhere that Jesus took our place in suffering and death. That is what Isaiah chapter 53 is all about as well. Christ died for our sins.

Jesus took the place of us sinners. Isaiah says: Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. He stands in our place, for all we like sheep have gone astray. Christ is the Substitute for men. Martin Luther called this the “blessed exchange”. Jesus became what He was not, a sinner, in order that we might become what we are not, sinless.

Christ came in the likeness of men and has fulfilled the destiny of mankind on earth. He died in a human way; He gave us the Spirit. He had foreseen His death even in His incarnation. But what good is Christ’s life for us if not for His death? The Gospel testifies that Christ suffered and died as our Guarantor, in our place. Even the high priest Caiaphas, who wanted rid of Jesus, confesses in John’s Gospel: It is better for us that one man should die for the people than that the whole nation should perish.

Jesus paid our penalty. Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace. Jesus has borne the chastisement. He suffered and atoned for our sins. We are free from eternal punishment, for God cannot pay the penalty twice. One died for all; in the One all have died.

Consider the griefs and sorrows Jesus bears. Sin has not brought happiness to men, as the serpent pretended to Adam and Eve, but misery and heartache. Men have tied this burden behind their back with their sins. An innocent Man is found on the earth, and now He must suffer this misery and heartache as well. Jesus Christ in the days of His flesh went hungry, thirsty, grieved, cried, and sighed. He felt deeply the distresses of life. He lamented: Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere that He can lay His head. As He healed the sick and demon possessed, Saint Matthew quotes Isaiah in saying, He has taken upon Himself our infirmities and He has borne our diseases.

Whoever looks at the agony of Christ with natural eyes must think, “He was still a sinner. God found His sins, unmasked Him as a phony, tied Him to the whipping post and put Him on display.” Even those who witnessed His death thought He was the One Who would be stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He was the One Who was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace.

This is outrageous among men. Maybe someone is willing to redeem His friends from any repentance of guilt. But no courtroom accepts this if a criminal has forfeited his life. No courtroom kills the innocent and lets free the guilty party who deserves to die. Nevertheless, the chastisement is on Him, so we have peace. By His wounds we are healed. We were sick to death, but by the fatal wound that has struck Jesus, our Guarantor, we are healed, we are cured. Sickness, pain, and death are still there, but that is no longer chastisement for Christians. His cross was a wood of curse, but your cross and suffering is no punishment, but a blessed cross. Death was chastisement for Christ, but for you death is no chastisement, rather redemption from all evil.

Jesus has atoned for our guilt. The Lord cast all our sin on Him. Christ died for our sin in order that He would take away our sins. When we sin, the deed is usually quickly done. But the matter is not over. We could not so quickly forget what we did contrary to the commandment and will of God. We perhaps must confess with King David: My sin is always before me. The Law of God speaks: “You are the man, you have sinned, you are the guilty party.” We must admit this judgment of the Law is right. The pain and fear of an evil conscience is the greatest torment and pain on earth.

The Lord cast all our sin on Him. Isaiah says later in chapter 53: He shall bear their sins. He bore the sins of many. John the Baptist confesses: Behold the Lamb of God who bears the sins of the world. God has made Him to be sin Who knew no sin. Jesus has taken our sin and transgressions on His soul and on His conscience. Jesus cries out on the cross: My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me? There He feels the judgment of His Father poured out on Him instead of us. When Psalm 40 says: My sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head it is Jesus, as it were, saying these words in our place. The same thing can be said when God speaks to King David about the Son of David: When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men. Jesus Christ, as it were, sins in our place. We have sinned. But Christ takes the guilt, the responsibility for sin, on Himself.

Now we know how we can stand before God’s judgment. If our sins would offend us, if God again enters into judgment with us and says to us: What have you done? Give an account of your stewardship!, we must surely confess: “I have sinned and disobeyed.” But this is not our last word. We talk further with God and say: “My Father, look on Christ, Who has done enough for me. This is my Guarantor and Advocate. Demand from Him what you have to seek from me. He may fight out the matter. Yes, I know nothing more about my sins. My sins are His sins. He is the sinner and transgressor. He has sinned. I was not at fault. I am pure and righteous before God through Christ’s blood. Chastisement, sin, guilt, everything lies on Him.”

Take this comfort to heart so that you can stand before God in time and eternity. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ!


Maundy Thursday – 1 Corinthians 11:23-32

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            Every family has their traditions. Some have been handed down for many generations. Other traditions unexpectedly begin and seem to linger through the years. Christmas might be the holiday with the most traditions surrounding it, but Easter isn’t far behind. It isn’t Easter without a big breakfast, ham or lamb for dinner or supper, and an Easter egg hunt for children. There may even be a visit from the Easter Bunny.

Christians have their traditions too. Some people think Christian traditions are a bit stuffy and formal. Some Christians are caught up worshiping their traditions and forgetting to Whom the traditions point. Nevertheless, traditions are good for celebrating Christian holy days.

Perhaps the best-known tradition among us is the Words of Institution of the Lord’s Supper. You may be surprised to consider these well-known words a tradition. Saint Paul calls them a tradition when he says in tonight’s Epistle: I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you. Receiving something and delivering it to someone else is a tradition according to Sacred Scripture. It is the passing down of information from one person to another. In the case of the Lord’s Supper, Saint Paul had the Lord’s Words “traditioned” to Him directly from Jesus. Paul in turn “traditions” the Words to his hearers; he passes the mandate of Christ to eat and drink His very Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus first spoke these Words on the night when He was betrayed. It was the night when He went to His death according to the will of the Father in order to redeem humanity. You might say His death is also a tradition, for it was handed down from our Father through the prophets over thousands of years. Even kings spoke of His salvation, as Hezekiah does in Isaiah chapter 38: I calmed myself until morning; like a lion he breaks all my bones; from day to night you bring me to an end. Like a swallow or a crane I chirp; I moan like a dove. My eyes are weary with looking upward. O Lord, I am oppressed; be my pledge of safety!

These traditional words show us that bread is His Body, given into death for our sins, and that wine is His Blood, shed for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus’ very Body and Blood is our pledge of safety. When we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we confess in this eating and drinking that the unspeakable sufferings under which Jesus sank into death in this body had suffered for us and has repaid all our sins and chastisements. We are heirs in the eternal Testament of grace; heirs who receive everything that satisfies the grace of God’s promises to the people of God for time and eternity.

When our Lord gave this tradition to His disciples, He said they were to do this. Notice He doesn’t say how often. He tells them to eat and drink His Body and Blood often. Saint Paul says the same thing in the Epistle reading. As this tradition was handed down to Him by Jesus, so He hands it down to us. We hand it down to the next generation. Those of you who have been members here many years can recall the many pastors who stood in this chancel distributing the Lord’s Supper. Pastors come and go, but one constant remains: hearing the Word and receiving the Sacrament. Those are our traditions and we guard them.

We guard these traditions not to be spiteful or resentful. We guard the tradition of eating and drinking the Lord’s Supper in order that those who despise His Gospel or those who are not properly instructed in the Christian faith may not receive this precious gift to their detriment. It’s never a “no” to them. It is “not yet”. Let us teach you why we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ. Let us teach you what it means to be united in fellowship with us. Once you learn what we believe, you have the opportunity to make this confession your own and receive the Supper with us.

This is why it is good for us to examine ourselves as Saint Paul directs us in order to be well prepared to receive the Sacrament. Martin Luther makes it easy for us by providing twenty Christian Questions with Their Answers in the Small Catechism. These Questions are on pages 329-330 of the Service Book. Luther drew up these questions and answers as a sort of “confirmation examination”. If only our confirmation examination was this easy! However, these are not easy questions to ask or to answer. “These questions and answers are not child’s play, but are drawn up with great earnestness of purpose by the venerable and devout Dr. Luther for both young and old.”

Consider also the question in the Small Catechism, “Who receives the Sacrament worthily?” It is good to fast or engage in other preparations for receiving the Sacrament. However, fasting and bodily preparation are not the only right way to prepare. The best preparation is faith in the Words of Christ Jesus: Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Here is the essence, the heart and soul, of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus gives His Body and Blood for us Christians to eat and drink. We take seriously His Words about bread and wine being His Body and Blood. We don’t explain it away. We don’t over-explain it. We believe it. It’s a matter of faith. In believing and in eating, we receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

What joy we have in this tradition! Jesus feeds us with exactly what we need to sustain us in the journey through the valley of the shadow of death. He prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies. On that table, on His altar, is His very Body and Blood. As often as we eat His Body and drink His blood, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Tonight we once again proclaim the mystery of faith in eating and drinking the medicine of immortality. It’s a tradition unlike any other.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

More Stöckhardt for Good Friday

The greatest evil is not the punishment that follows the sin, but sin itself. What the trespass rankles and hurts the most is the awareness of his sin, his guilt, that he must say to himself: “I have transgressed, I have sinned, I am the guilty party.” Sin is done quickly, a command of God is easily transgressed. But the matter is not thereby dismissed. We could not so quickly forget what we did contrary to the commandment and will of God. We must perhaps confess with David: My sin is always before me. Sin perhaps sleeps for a while, we succeed beforehand, we overrule sin. But sooner or later, at some occasion, sin is alive again and accuses our conscience, accuses us before God. God Himself, God’s Word holds the sinner under sin. The Law of God speaks to the transgressor: “You are the man, you have sinned, you are the guilty party.” And we must fall silent, yes, must admit this judgment of the Law is right. This is the greatest torment and pain on earth, the pain and fear of an evil conscience. But behold, now we hear in God’s Word in the Gospel: The Lord cast all our sin on him. Or, as Isaiah later says in chapter 53: He shall bear their sins. He bore the sins of many.[1] Behold the Lamb of God who bears the sins of the world.[2] Christ has taken away from us and took upon Himself the unbearable burden of our sins. Sins, guilt, is on Him. God Has made him to be sin who knew no sin.[3] He knew no sin, He had an immaculate soul, a conscience without offense. But He has now taken our sin and transgression on His soul and His conscience. He, He alone now bears the responsibility. And so because He has been in anxiety and judgment, as the prophet later writes. God went with Him into judgment for what we have done wrong, has demanded of Him what we have sinned. He stands in God’s judgment as a poor sinner and wrongdoer. There He became fearful toward Him. There His heart left Him. When He was in bitterness, trembling, and apprehension in Gethsemane, He offered strong crying and tears, shed bloody sweat, as He cried on the cross: My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me? – there it has been felt by Him, as it is felt by a poor sinner who is able to know nothing against the amount and severity of his sins. The Lord cast all our sin on him. God has done it. God has made Him who knew no sin, sin for us. And what God does has power and validity. And so our sins are in reality no longer our sins, but His sins. He is the sinner and wrongdoer. Christ Himself appears in Psalm 40, as it were, with an admission of guilt before God and says: My sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head.[4] God Himself speaks to David about the Son of David, about the Messiah with the words: When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men.[5] Thus says God, thus says the Scriptures about Christ, that He sins, that He commits iniquity. He sins in our place. We have sinned. But He takes the guilt, the responsibility upon Himself. Such a thing is impossible with men. If a guarantor has made fraudulent bankruptcy for his friend who has made some frivolous debt, and pays the penalty, then nevertheless he is the one, before the eyes of the world, who cheated and henceforth yet as the real sinner and wrongdoer who retains the guilt and shame. It is different in this deal of which we speak. Christ, our Guarantor, takes not only our chastisement, but also guilt and shame on Himself. We speak not only about the torment of Christ, but also about the humiliation of Christ. The suffering Christ says: Reproaches have broken my heart.[6] We have sinned, but He has the disadvantage of it, yes, He even has the guilt of it and the shame of it. He has borne the guilt and has atoned for it. The blood of Christ, the Son of God, counts more than the sins of the world. This is the depth of divine mercy. And we cry out, “O depth of love, to me revealing / The sea where my sins disappear!”[7]

[1] Isaiah 53:11-12.
[2] John 1:29.
[3] 2 Corinthians 5:21.
[4] Psalm 40:12 (v. 13 in German).
[5] 2 Samuel 7:14.
[6] Psalm 69:20.
[7] TLH 385:4.

No Finger Pointin’ or Pious Quotin’

…the sermon, as expression of the confessionally determined religious life of the Church, dare never degenerate into the weapon of a bigoted and heretic-baiting confessionalism. In this way, too, it would become a disturbing factor in the service. The Church cannot live by negations, however great a necessity “sound doctrine” may be. Least of all dare she foster in her midst a censorious and judging temper. The clear and positive presentation of the truth must be the rule, and this will accomplish more than all polemics or apologetics.

Where it becomes a duty to oppose an erroneous position, this should not be done with a view to condemning those who hold that position or of pillorying them as disobedient to God’s Word and enemies of the truth, — in short, not with a view to diverting attention from the matter under discussion to the representatives of opposing views, — but in order, by way of contrast, to bring the congregation to a fuller apprehension of the truth itself.

On the other hand, the habit of constantly alluding to Luther and the fondness for boasting of the mighty past, the splendid present and the still more glorious future of the Lutheran Church, so prevalent in certain quarters, are by no means in themselves the hallmarks of a genuinely Lutheran sermon. They conduce to a smug superficiality, rather than to that true inwardness that must go hand in hand with a soundly confessional sermon and life.

– Johann Michael Reu, Homiletics

More Stöckhardt for Good Friday

The chastisement is on Him, so we have peace, so we are free. We have nothing more to do with the chastisement that is atoned and abolished. By his wounds we are healed. We were sick to death, but by the fatal wound that has struck Him, our guarantor, we are healed, we are cured. But is that true also with reality and experience? Do we not have daily chastisement in mind when Christ came and has borne the chastisement? Even these cling to Christ as their guarantor and substitute, even believers have in this life much nuisance and must eventually die. But what is written remains: The chastisement is on him, in order that we would be free. Sickness, pain, death is still there, but that is no more chastisement for us Christians. The bitter reproach, the poison is removed. You offend God, my Christian, if you ever still say: “God is now punishing me.” If painful illness stoops down even on you, then know this is not punishment. If want, sorrow, worry bear down on you, then you should know this is not punishment. The chastisement is on Him. Sickness, pain, suffering was chastisement for Christ, His cross was a wood of curse, but your cross and suffering is no punishment, no curse, but a blessed cross, a proof of the love of your God. And when death draws near and horror fills you, then know this is no punishment. Death was chastisement for Christ, but for you death is no chastisement, not an evil, rather redemption from all evil. Sickness, pain, death, this is for us henceforth only the passage to a life where there is no more sorrow, crying, and pain, where death will be no more. Yes, my Christian, avert your gaze from what is before your eyes and look at Christ the Crucified, and give glory to Him, and say: “The chastisement is on Him, so I am cured.”

1893 Good Friday Sermon, translated by DMJ

Lent 6 (Palm Sunday) – Matthew 21:1-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            The processional Gospel from Matthew chapter 21 is read twice in the Church Year. It is first read on the First Sunday in Advent and again as we begin Holy Week. When we hear this reading in Advent, it has a general relationship to the arrival of the Lord. The specific focus is on His coming not only in the Gifts, but also in judgment on the Last Day. When we hear this reading today, it has a special relationship to Christ’s suffering and death. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is the beginning of His Passion. Nevertheless, it is quite odd because the Lord, Who otherwise carefully avoids all royal honors, now seems not to mind the exultant shouts of thousands of people as a King.

Why did Christ hold a royal entry when He set Himself toward His Passion in Jerusalem? He wanted to express Himself as the promised King of Israel and as Lord. Jesus no longer hides His divine attributes. Jesus tells two of His disciples go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. Jesus shows He is omniscient, all knowing. Jesus also shows He is omnipotent when He further says if anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away. No one is able to stand in the way of our Lord’s Passion.

Jesus must fulfill the words of the prophet Zechariah from today’s Old Testament reading: Say to the Daughter of Zion, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” He enters Jerusalem to shouts of joy, but not as a conquering hero or as a revolutionary about to begin a new earthly government. He enters Jerusalem as a King ready to die for His people. He dies to pay for their sins, even the sin of not knowing the hour of His visitation.

Our Lord also wanted to show great willingness to suffer. He knew in all His earthly circumstances that He became man in order to atone for the sin of the world. The Omniscient, Omnipotent Son of God Who knew the thoughts and words of people had prophesied many times that the events of this coming week would take place.

Here we recall the many time Jesus foretells His passion to His disciples in Saint Luke’s Gospel: The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men. See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise. Even though Jesus knew what was coming, He still enters Jerusalem in triumph, as it were. The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them.

Our Lord also wanted to be recognized publicly and received by His people as their King. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

As the disciples and the crowds followed Him to His Passion, so should you accompany the King of Kings and Lord of Lords with devotion as He suffers and dies for your sins. Jesus willingly took upon Himself great love for your sake. Do not fret the mocking, the whipping, the blasphemies, the lies, the agonizing way of sorrows through the streets of Jerusalem, and His bitter hours upon the cross. Hidden in the Passion of Christ is the joy of forgiveness of sins.

The palm frond in your hand is a reminder of that joyous day in Jerusalem when Jesus begins His Passion for your sake. King Christ enters Jerusalem as the unblemished Passover Lamb Whose blood redeems you. He enters the Most Holy Place once for all to make the ultimate sacrifice for sin. We cannot help but sing “Ride on, ride on in majesty! / In lowly pomp ride on to die. / Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain, / Then take, O God, Thy power and reign.”

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Stöckhardt Good Friday Sermon Translation Project

A little something for Good Friday from Stöckhardt. Here’s the introduction.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:4-6 ESV).

St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15: “I remind you, dear brothers, of the Gospel that I have proclaimed to you…that Christ died for our sins according to Scripture.” This is a major component of the Gospel which is still proclaimed today, that Christ died for us, for our sins. We Christians are reminded of this especially today on the day of death of our Lord. If one has read and learned the history of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, knows exactly all the individual circumstances, then he does not know anything right about Christ if he did not realize that Christ served all of us with what He did, He has done everything for us. If one completely holds the history of the passion and death of Jesus Christ, is stirred and gripped by this great, solemn history, then he does not know Jesus the Crucified if he has not learned that Christ suffered for us, died for us. We must add to everything what Christ lived, did, suffered: For us! For me! Everything for us Christians is located in this “Christ for us”.

But what does “Christ died for us” mean? This does not only mean that Christ, when He suffered and died, has given us an example, stimulated and enticed us willingly to bear our suffering. No, Christ died for our sins. That is the main thing. Christ has redeemed us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil with His innocent, bitter suffering and death. We preach Christ the Crucified, i.e., we preach about the redemption that happened through Christ Jesus.

            On the other hand, this godly mystery about our salvation is accessible only to us, we can only rejoice and console ourselves rightly about the heart of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, if we have recognized in Christ our Guarantor and Substitute. Christ died for us, i.e., not limited to our benefit, but above all, in our stead. Christ rendered obedience in our stead. We are sinners. But because Christ died the death of the sinner in our stead, because of that and only because of that we are free, redeemed from our sins. Thus St. Paul writes Christ died for our sins “according to Scripture”. And if we look into Scripture, in the writings of the apostles and prophets, then we find witnesses everywhere that Christ took our place in suffering and death. Even the selected words of Scripture declares more specifically what “Christ died for our sins” means. We thus confess according to the Scriptures, even on the basis of the selected text: Christ died for our sins.

God and the Public School

Concerning this, there is this:

It has also been referred this to us as un-American, that we are not satisfied with public schools, but build and maintain our own schools alongside them, namely congregational schools. Even German political newspapers have kept their eyes on us during the recently conducted “school struggle”, in which the “state” was actually asked to prohibit the establishing and maintaining of church schools alongside the state schools, on the grounds that church schools are dangerous to the welfare of the state. These remarks first came from the radical unbelieving side and therefore have not particularly astonished us. The hatred against Christianity proved to be stronger than a certain amount of love for the German language. But not only the spokesmen for professional unbelief demanded the suppression of congregational schools. Ecclesiastical sectarian papers designated them “as contradictory to the institutions of the country” and entered the fierce struggle against our schools. This must appear strange in the highest degree to all sober Christians.

We are an anomaly here in America, for which we scarcely find an example in other countries. Wherever the Christian Church is also merely a small force, there it also presses for Christian schools. Everywhere you can see where there is still a somewhat Christian understanding that the Christian school belongs to the Christian church. If Christian missions wish to assert themselves and gain a foothold in a country, then they set their attention from the outset on the establishing and maintaining of Christian schools. Americans missions are no exception. They maintain in Africa, Asia, and wherever they work especially the Christian school with particular zeal.

But things are different in America itself. Although the Christian Church is a power in this country, yes, although there is almost no country on Earth where the Christian Church exerts such an influence on public life as in the United States of America, we believe that we are still faced with the astonishing fact that the vast majority of Protestant Christians have no religious schools and will know nothing of Christian Schools. Even the greatest number of sectarian fellowships, Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians, with their approximately 100,000 congregations have no Christian schools. People who would be earnest Christians still entrust their uneducated children year after year throughout the week to the non-religious state schools, in order to remember that only on Sundays Christian children are in Christian schools. One is satisfied with “Sunday Schools”. And this is considered in general not as an emergency – for where should a state of emergency also come with the full freedom of the Church and with rich earthly means, over which these fellowships mostly have? – but regarded as the right state of things. Among the Protestant sects only the Episcopalians and the German Unionists are a partial exception. Also not all who would be Lutherans have Christians schools. In the General Synod and the General Council, with the exception of the Swedish Augustana Synod, one usually has no Christian school, although it is recognized that there are more exceptions to the rule in the Council than in the General Synod.

How could it come to this miserable condition? Generally speaking: the great mass of Christians in America has fared as some pagan peoples of ancient and modern times. If certain gross sins were public and in fashion a long time among the heathen, then the natural conscience ultimately was drowned out and one lost the feeling for sin. So also in Christian America the Christian conscience has been dulled by long practice regarding the lack of the Christian school. By the long, evil practice it has reached the point that only very rarely stimulates the feeling that the non-religious school may be an impertinence to the Christian Church. We inquire further into the sources that lie behind this abnormal condition as no doubt several factors here work together.

First of all, sectarian Christianity in this country almost without exception is the Arminian type. The very essence of Christianity, the Gospel, the doctrine of justification of a sinner by faith in the Gospel, retrogresses; however, an externally legalistic way, “to keep the commandments”, is pushed to the foreground as the real essence of Christianity. The specific distinction between nature and grace is blurred. Christianity often is regarded only as a higher morality that develops under a certain care of natural morality. So one can be satisfied with the non-religious public schools as long as “to do right” in inculcated in them. A chapter from the Bible is now read in the public schools even at the beginning of class, so one is easily persuaded that the public schools are still even a kind of Christian schools.

However, the main reason why one is content with public schools and basically looks at every congregational school as an “attack on our American institutions”, is yet another. The average American, not just the “natives” but in many cases also the “foreigner”, considers the establishment of “public schools” with the riches thrown out by state funds as the non plus ultra of political-social wisdom. Nevertheless, individual sober men always have warned, even from Anglo-American circles, about the overestimation of public schools, nevertheless the public school over time has become a kind of national idol in the country. The vast majority of American Christians have taken themselves captive to this trend and the obligation to establish and maintain Christian schools is allowed to move entirely out of sight.

We Lutheran Christians, by God’s grace, do not want to be carried away by this trend, but remain mindful of our Christian duty. We are not enemies and opponents of the non-religious state school. We allow them their domain, in all due respect. Non-religious state schools are schools for non-religious people. There are enough non-religious people in America. To be sure, the duty does not rest primarily with the state, but with the parents to ensure instruction of their children. As befits natural law, the parents first feed and clothe their children, so obviously it is also according to natural law that parents first have to provide for the instruction of their children.

However, the state, if experience teaches that many parents otherwise would not meet or could not meet their responsibility, may come to the rescue, that it builds, maintains, and makes available schools to them at its own expense. The state also may tax its citizens for this purpose and Christians among its citizens will refuse least to pay these taxes. The state has an interest in ensuring that its future citizens are equipped with a certain amount of knowledge. So we recognize the relative necessity of public schools and render these schools their value in their field.

We Lutheran Christians will not also attempt to make the state schools Christian. We distinguish ourselves in this respect from both the papal Church as well as the sects. The papal Church in our country works toward the goal to make popish schools into state schools. The Archbishop of Ireland even submitted this plan quite bluntly last year at a meeting of public school teachers. Even most sectarian preachers envision it to this day as ideal to make our public schools Christian in their sense. Only recently prominent sectarian preachers were gathered somewhere in the east in order to cut a deal about a Christian religion which could be introduced in the public schools. It is precisely the character of both the papal sects, as well as the Reformed sects, to mix church and state. However, sober Lutheran Christians distinguish sharply between church and state. The state has nothing to do with the spreading and preserving of the Christian faith. So also schools that the state establishes, maintains, and controls should not teach the Christian faith. When the state tries to establish such schools, it then pushes things that are not commanded to it, and the result will be oppression and tyranny of conscience. Therefore Lutheran Christians advocate for non-religious state schools, if state schools may be necessary.

They themselves certainly cannot be satisfied for their children with the non-religious state schools. Before their eyes is the commandment of God: You fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. The congregational school grows out of this commandment of God. Indeed, the Christian educating of children is also primarily a task of Christian parents, but the Christian congregation also has to take care that they do not interfere in the rights of parents. If individual Christian parents can and want to keep the educating of their children solely in their hands, so the congregation should not want to turn this into a sin for them.

As it is now, as Luther already mentioned, most parents have neither time nor skill for the necessary instruction of their children, so Christian congregational schools become a necessity. The Christian congregational school belongs under existing circumstances to the means by which Christians follow the commandment of God to educate their children in a Christian manner. And since this is a global command, that is, concerning all Christians on the entire earth, it also binds the Christians of America. That currently even Christians in our country call the establishing and preserving of congregational schools “un-American” is a terrible delusion. We do not want to get caught up in this delusion, but seek to remove it for our part through our contrary witness.

In short, we do not wish to make our congregational schools suspect or even let them slip out of our hands because of the accusations made against them. We wish instead, by God’s grace, to cherish congregational schools as one of the finest features of our church. Only then can we fulfill the duty imposed upon us by God under existing circumstances to raise up our children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord. Only then will our children be formed in the pure doctrine of the Word of God, in order that they can defend themselves against unbelief and all sorts of heresy. Only with the help of congregational schools will the Church of the Reformation in this country gain firm footing and healthy growth; because if the sects without a congregational school increase significantly, then it must be remembered that they disregard from the outset the purity and unity in doctrine required in God’s Word. Finally, we also need the congregational schools in order for the Church to evangelize to the ends of the earth. May God bless our congregational schools!

Franz Pieper, Forward to the 1891 Volume of Lehre und Wehre

 Translated by Rev. David M. Juhl and Mr. Kenneth Howes

Franz A.O. Pieper

Lent 5 – John 8:46-59

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            Jesus says in Mark chapter four: With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade. The spread of the kingdom of God is an occasion for praise to God. Sad to say, however, that most people remain unconverted. They do not believe the Word of God. The enemies of Christ draw the false conclusion that Jesus is not the Christ. Everything He says and does is some sort of magic meant to fool “wise” people. Jesus’ response to this false conclusion is If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?

Heavenly Truth alone has a right in this world. This Truth is in the world. Even though our Lord’s Truth is not to be found in and among people, for all men are liars after the fall into sin. Nevertheless, the Truth is a divine seed. God has revealed this seed to the world in His Word. His Word is the foundation and pillar of Truth, even when that Truth is inconvenient for the enemies of the Gospel of Christ. Truth is the Law whose sting you feel in your conscience. Truth is also the Gospel whose comfort enlivens every sinner’s heart and whose power saves him.

When you testify to the Truth, you have a divine, indisputable right that someone is able to hear the Word of Christ and believe what the Word made flesh says. If there is no faith, then our Lord has good reason to ask If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?

When you have the Truth, when the Truth is appropriated through faith in Jesus Christ by hearing His preaching, you have Christ in the highest and best way, for Jesus Christ is Truth Himself. The Lord has pitched His tent among you. He is a faithful and truthful witness, for His mouth is a mouth of eternal Truth. No wonder John’s Gospel features such sayings as For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Even our Savior says about Himself: I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.

Jesus proves that He is Truth in today’s Gospel from the credibility of His person. Only Jesus is sinless, holy, and innocent. This is why He asks the Jews, Which one of you convicts me of sin? No one can convict Him of sin. The prophet Isaiah testifies that there was no deceit in [the Suffering Servant’s] mouth. Jesus is the great High Priest, the innocent and undefiled Passover Lamb. Consider the blasphemies of His enemies who call our Lord a friend of tax collectors and sinners. In today’s Gospel the Jews say about Him are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon? Our Lord responds with gentleness and humility, yet with bite. Our Father in heaven does not honor the devil, but only Christ.

Jesus is also the firstborn Son of God, the eternal God Himself appearing in the flesh. He is the long promised Messiah and Savior Whom even the faithful fathers recognized. Jesus says your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad. Jesus is eternal. He knows His Father and His Father knows Him. Our Lord says, truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am. His Father says at our Lord’s Baptism: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Consider also how many wonderful works our Lord performed among us. Jesus says about these works: If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me.

If His person is not enough evidence to show Jesus speaks the Truth about salvation and eternity, then consider the nature of His teaching. Christ is the eternal Truth for He alone honors God. He responds to the Jews’ claim, I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Consider our Lord’s words two weeks ago. A house divided against itself cannot stand. There is no way Jesus can cast out demons while being the prince of demons. If Christ is the prince of demons, how do you explain the proclamation of the Father’s glorious grace, the plundering of hell, or the building and growing of God’s eternal kingdom? No false teaching does these things. Only the Truth of the Gospel, the Good News of forgiveness of sins and eternal life, does these things.

Then comes the killer phrase for the Jews. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death. The death sentence is pronounced over all sinners. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die. Whoever keeps Christ’s Word, whoever believes the holy, saving Gospel, escapes eternal death. Judgment becomes a gracious absolution. Our Lord says for this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

The faithful witness of Jesus also testifies to His Truth. It is not they who speak, but Christ Who speaks through them. They proclaim His virtues, chiefly the virtue of obedience to the Father on our behalf. Again the prophet Isaiah proclaims He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

The right answer to our Lord’s question is one verse before today’s Holy Gospel: because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Jesus is able to say everything to evil people. But because He tells them the Truth, they do not believe, but instead blaspheme Him. This is because the enemies of Christ are obdurate and ungodly. Jesus says so. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God. Natural man is not of God and therefore deaf to God’s Word. You are spiritually born from above by God. The Holy Spirit has worked on you through the Gospel. You hear His voice. You are from God because you hear God’s Word. You are Jesus’ little lamb because you hear the Shepherd’s voice.

Those who resist the work of grace of the Holy Spirit and remain unrepentant are not of God. They refuse to hear God’s Word. They will not believe it. They hate it, persecute it, and even blaspheme it, just as the Jews do in today’s Gospel. People do these foolish things because they are of the devil’s nature. They believe his lies and soul-murdering ways. They are servants of the devil. They renounce their baptism by their evil thoughts, words, and deeds.

Blessed are you as you walk the way of the Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ. Blessed are you when you renounce all the false truths of the rational world and the irrational devil. Blessed are you because Jesus has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, a light that shines even in dark places, even when family and friends forsake you for what you believe about Jesus. You are saved from condemnation when you steadfastly remain in the Truth of Jesus Christ and His innocent suffering and death for you. Even when bayonets are fixed your way, have no fear, for Christ has redeemed you from death and given you His life.

The Word of the Lord grows in spite of persecution and what seems to be discouraging numbers. Perhaps it’s best to say “Not many, but more”. More in the way of forgiveness, more in the way of being last, lost, least, little, and dead. Where there is death, there is also life; life from the Lord Christ Who recreates you into a new creation in water and the Word. Life from the Lord Christ Who pours His life down your throat in His Supper. Life from the Lord Christ Who renews a right spirit within you in Absolution. Where there is Truth, there is life, eternal life, for Jesus tells the Truth because He is the Truth.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Lent 4 – John 6:1-15

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            The Lord provided manna and quail for the Israelites as they traveled through the wilderness to the Promised Land. God reminded them of how He provided for them in Deuteronomy chapter eight: Remember all the ways that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order that He might humble and test you, that He might know what would be in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commandments. He humbled you and allowed you to hunger and fed you with manna that you and your fathers never knew you had; in order that He would make known to you that man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that goes out from the mouth of the Lord.

Not long after manna and quail appeared from the Lord, Moses said to Aaron: Take a little jar and put an omer of manna in it and lay it before the Lord, that it is kept throughout your generations. Moses made sure that the Israelites never forgot Who provided for them not only in Egypt, but also during their journey through the wilderness as well as in the Promised Land.

Flash forward to John chapter six. Jesus has been teaching His disciples in the wilderness for some time now. The feast of Passover draws near, something so important to today’s Gospel that Saint John mentions it seemingly in passing, but perhaps not so much in passing as in wanting you to know that this feast has direct correlation with what is about to happen. A great crowd follows Jesus because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick. Here we have our Lord’s ministry in the flesh in a nutshell. He teaches, preaches, heals the sick, and on short notice will provide food for those gathered.

There are two amazing things about this miracle. One is that Jesus provides bread and fish for 5,000 men in the wilderness. You couldn’t be farther from a place to purchase food and other supplies than where our Lord is right now. The other amazing thing is that the Twelve forget that Jesus is able to provide for temporal needs. They, like you and me, forget that Jesus not only takes care of sin and death, but also takes care of food, clothing, shelter, and other earthly things.

Being in the wilderness is one thing. Providing in the wilderness is another thing. Jesus knows what is on the hearts and minds of the Twelve. That is why He asks Philip, Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat? Jesus is testing Philip when He asks this question. He knows how Philip will answer. He knows that Philip’s answer is also our answer. Philip replies, Two hundred denarii (almost seven months wages) would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little. Andrew has a solution, but immediately discounts it. There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?

Two things stand out here. First, Philip thinks this is a hopeless case. He is partially right. Left to his own ways, there is no way Philip can provide food for 5,000 men. This is the wilderness. There are no places to buy food. Philip can’t do it. However, standing in front of Philip is the Man Who can provide food for 5,000 men. The question is whether Philip actually believes Jesus Christ can do it.

That’s a good question for you, too. These last few years have taught us that man certainly does not live by bread alone. Having to go without some things like a perennial raise of Social Security teaches that you have to prioritize your life. What is necessary for daily living? What can wait until next year? How much should I set aside for an emergency? These are questions asked also among younger generations. A McMansion is not necessary. Having the best of everything on credit is certainly not necessary. What has been necessary is a redefinition of what it means to be content.

You are content in Jesus Christ alone. That’s the secret to life that unbelievers refuse to believe. God provides for them as He provides for you, but they refuse to recognize or even believe that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Light. Saint Paul tells Saint Timothy, If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. Contentedness is not a race for the most toys in life. Contentedness is trusting in Jesus Christ to provide for temporal and spiritual needs even in the most improbable circumstances.

If our Lord is able to feed 5,000 men with five barley loaves and two fish, if He is able to provide manna and quail, enough only for that particular day, then certainly He is able to provide forgiveness of sins and eternal life in His holy Word. That seems to be the easy part of the Christian faith. You pretty much treat the Gospel as a “given”. Beware this attitude! Count the cost of the Savior’s death and resurrection! He bled and died a horrible, cruel death for you, in your place, that you shall live in Him and with Him forever. Our heavenly Father provided this for you when He promises Eve that her Seed will crush the head of the serpent.

You pretty much also treat God’s providential care as a “given”. As a Christian, I should have everything my heart desires. If I don’t have it, that is proof that God really doesn’t love me. Beware this attitude as well! Remember the explanation to the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Give us this day our daily bread. What does this mean? “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”

Jesus quickly disappears from the scene after the feeding of the 5,000 because He perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king. Believing He is your Savior from sin and death does not mean that He will also give you a constant flow of earthly riches and earthly happiness. Everything that Christ touches provides for your care both here and in eternity. There will be hard times yet to come. You will die, unless our Lord returns soon. You may never purchase anything from Neiman-Marcus or Tiffanys. You will suffer illness. You will have to bear much bad news.

God is there through it all. He is there in His Word to bring to your remembrance that there is hope for His children. That hope is eternal life because of the blood and righteousness of Jesus. He is there in your Baptism, where you were washed clean of sin and made a child of God. He is there in Holy Communion, where Christ’s true Body and true Blood is your Living Bread that comes down from heaven. Where Christ is, there is your contentment, even in the valley of the shadow of death. Believe it for His sake.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit