Monthly Archives: May 2013

Feast of the Holy Trinity – John 3:1-15

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

            The Feast of the Holy Trinity differs from the other three high festivals of the Church Year. Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost all celebrate the mighty acts of God for the salvation of mankind. Today’s festival, on the other hand, celebrates an important and mysterious article of the Christian faith, namely, that the true God is one in unity and triune in persons. The three articles about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the distinct symbol of the Christian Church. Redemption and salvation of mankind rests in the true knowledge of the Triune God; not in the mere knowledge that there is a triune God, but in the actual knowledge of how Triune God has revealed Himself in the work of our redemption. The true knowledge of the Triune God is the foundation of our salvation.

We recognize God the Father in the Holy Trinity in the sending of His dear Son. Outside of Christianity, God the Father is seen as a mere creator and sustainer of the world, if those outside of Christianity even recognize a prime mover in the universe. The Father is seen as an affectionate sort of fellow, but a weak father of His naughty children. He cannot but look at His children’s sins as an earthly dad looks at the misdeeds of his own children. He shrugs his shoulders and gives a sourpuss face at what they say and do.

Christians even get caught up in this false understanding of our heavenly Father. Consider Nicodemus. He tells Jesus: Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him. God the Father is a wise man. He’s done a lot of good for people. He’s blessed our nation. He’s even given us prophets and wise men like Jesus Christ.

True knowledge of the Father sees Him as a holy and righteous God, to Whom all sin is an abomination. Nevertheless, the Father is full of love for sinners. He sent His Son for their salvation, just as Jesus says in perhaps the most familiar verse in all the Gospels: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. God sent His Son Jesus to reconcile sinners to the Father. God accepted you as His child and has declared Himself as your Father for the sake of Jesus Christ. Every family in heaven and on earth is named in the heavenly Father.

We recognize God the Son in the Holy Trinity in His acquiring of our salvation on our behalf. Again, consider Nicodemus’ misplaced confession of Who Jesus is: you are a teacher come from God. As Nicodemus reckons it, Jesus is another teacher in a long line of great teachers sent by God, along with Moses and Elijah. He does not recognize Jesus as the true Son of God Who is conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.

Jesus is still held by some as a great moral teacher. Oh, sure, He is also God’s Son and Savior, but He is merely a man. The way to heaven is through Christ, but only if you follow and do everything He tells you. The way Jesus saves becomes a matter of obedience of His example.

True knowledge of Jesus Christ is more than acknowledging He is a good man Who says good things and gives you a good way to eternal life. Jesus Christ is God Himself in the flesh. He says so to Nicodemus in today’s Gospel: No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. So does Saint Paul in Romans chapter nine when He calls Jesus the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. So does Saint John: we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. So does the author of the epistle to the Hebrews: [the Son] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

Jesus is the Son of God because of what He comes to do for us. He redeems us by His life, suffering, and death for sin. He alone has earned our salvation. Jesus tells Nicodemus: as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. When you believe this to be true, you are able to say with Thomas: My Lord and my God!

We also recognize God the Holy Spirit in the Holy Trinity in how He appropriates the salvation earned for us by the Son of God, Jesus Christ. The verb “to appropriate” is one we don’t use much these days. “To appropriate” means, “to take to or for oneself; take possession of”. You might think that means the Holy Spirit should receive partial credit in making salvation our own. Not so. We confess with Luther’s Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” Many modern-day Christians deal with this inability to believe in Jesus by reason or strength by leaving the power of God alone. They pretend it doesn’t exist, or pretend that it comes upon people in some sort of personal, mysterious way.

The true knowledge of the Holy Spirit is to confess Him as true God with the Father and Son. He is the third Person of the Triune God, co-eternal, majestic and glorious, Who with the Father and the Son actively engages in the salvation of men. He also works powerfully in the hearts of men through the Gifts Christ gives His Church, through Word and Sacrament. He enlightens them and regenerates them into children of God by faith.

Jesus tells Nicodemus: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God…. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. This is a dark mystery to children of the world. They can’t get their mind around it. The reason why this is easily misunderstood or not understood at all is because it is a matter of faith. Either you believe it or you don’t. Faith is caught, not taught. Only the Holy Spirit teaches you to say in firm faith: Abba, Father.

As we confessed in the Athanasian Creed a bit ago: “This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved.” No one can give this faith to himself. It is an incomprehensible mystery to man, even to Nicodemus: How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? You can no more contribute something to yourself when it comes to faith as you can to your physical birth. You are born flesh of flesh. Only God works this miracle by grace. God wants to work this miracle in everyone, so He lets His Word be preached to the ends of the earth.

So today, we bid farewell to the Festival Half of the Church Year and welcome once again the Church’s Half of the Church Year. Over the next several months, we will focus on the work of the Triune God on the Christian life. The Word of the Lord grows both outwardly and inwardly when we get out of the way and let God do what He does best: make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching. He gives this marvelous mandate to His Church, both pastors and people who work together to strengthen one another and bring others into the ark of the Church. “Blessèd be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us.”

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

Stöckhardt: Not By Works!

We must also convince those who hear us why no flesh can ever be justified before God by works of the Law. Scripture demonstrates this with the words: “They are altogether sinners and lack the glory that they should have in God.” The works of mankind are evil and cannot please God. Man does precisely nothing that God commands of him in the Law. Even the apparent good works of men, the children of this world, are an abomination before God. Because they come from hearts that are estranged from God and enemies of God. And the truly good works that a Christian does are still so weak and frail and imperfect and not enough in God’s eyes. Because God demands perfect righteousness. And without this even Christians indeed still plentifully sin every day. And what good they do, this wrong and evil they do cannot possibly be compensated and render them harmless. Yes, God looks at the heart. But also evil thoughts still arise without ceasing from the hearts of Christians, of which they must be ashamed before God. Particularly in the critical moment when God again lets us feel His hard hand and obliges us to reflect on ourselves, in the hour of trial, in the hour of death, because we know that all our own work is a lost thing, because it falls on our conscience how much we fail, how little we have taken advantage of our lifetime for eternity, because we feel poor, bare, blind and miserable before God. It is then a welcome message to us, a sweet Gospel, when we hear: Not by works! You may dispense with all your works. Even God wants to dispense with them. Your works determine and influence nothing in the least of the opinion that God has of you, the judgment of God upon your person.

– Georg Stöckhardt, “The Practical Treatment of the Doctrine of Justification”, translated by DMJ

Stöckhardt: So You Wanna Teach Justification “By Grace”?

We are justified “by His”, that is God’s “grace”, τῇ αὐτοῦ χάριτι.[1] The apostle repeatedly thinks of the grace of God where he speaks about righteousness that avails before God.[2] Grace is the reason that God determines to consider us and accept us as righteous. Grace is favor and kindness. The grace of God is the supreme proof of God’s love. The goodness and kindness of God extends over all creatures, the mercy of God over the poor and miserable, the grace of God benefits poor sinners. Grace is God’s love of sinners. Grace belongs to the unworthy, as Luther so often emphasizes.

Everyone can now perhaps easily understand if one says to him that God loves sinners and accepts the poor sinner into favor. But it is important that poor sinners also get a deep, lasting impression of this unique love of God that we call grace, that they see and taste some from it, how gracious is the Lord, that they heartily rejoice and learn to take comfort over the grace of God. Therefore, we must continue to pay attention to how the Apostle explains and interprets the expression, “By grace”. He writes “and are justified without merit by His grace”. “Without merit”, δωρεάν, free, for nothing, or what is the same, “without help of the law”[3], or “without works of the Law[4], that is a more full explanation of the term, “By grace”. Grace is the counterpart of works of the Law. It says in Romans 4:4: “But to the one who deals with the Law, the reward is imputed not by grace, but by obligation.” Two instances are conceivable. Either God gives something to someone by obligation and duty, namely when he has earned something with his works. Or He gives something to someone by grace, namely when he can present absolutely no work and merit. The one instances excludes the other. We read in Romans 11:6: “And if it is by grace, then it is not by merit of works; otherwise grace would not be grace. But if it is by merit of works, then grace is nothing; otherwise merit would not be merit.” It thus serves for defining the term “By grace” when we show that we are justified without merit of works. In the previously quoted sayings the phrase “not by works of the law” stands out. “Not by works” or “Not by works of the Law” is inculcated probably about fifty times in the writings of the apostles. For this reason the Holy Spirit has strongly involved the interpreters of Scripture to inculcate this word well to their hearers. When we have made quite distinct and clear to our Christians what “Not by works” wants to say, and when we have convinced them of the fact that no flesh is justified by works of the Law, then we have taught them what grace is.


[1] Romans 3:24.
[2] Cf. Romans 5:17, 20; Galatians 2:21.
[3] Romans 3:21.
[4] Romans 3:28.

– Georg Stöckhardt, “The Practical Treatment of the Doctrine of Justification”, translated by DMJ

Stöckhardt: Stick with Scripture When You Deal with Justification

What the apostle presents in the passages cited, and similarly in short, almost stereotypical form, is presented in more detail in other places of Scripture. The locus classicus for the doctrine of justification is Rom. 3:21 ff: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” etc. As we lay the basis for further discussion this τύπος παιδείας, we look first to the order of the terms that come into consideration here. The well known sentence of the Augsburg Confession, that we are justified and saved before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, is the form, as taken from the content according to Paul’s words. In the first place is “by grace”. The grace of God is the moving cause of δικαιοῦσθαι. In the second  place belongs “for Christ’s sake”. Paul makes redemption, as is done through Christ Jesus, or more accurately, which is available in Christ Jesus, as the designated means of justification. We are redeemed by Christ from our sins, our sin is atoned for by Christ (ἱλαστήριον). And faith appears in this context as means and organ, by which man applies to himself Christ and redemption, the atonement, the righteousness which is available in Christ Jesus. Therefore, faith is the final link in this affair. Whoever believes this has a share in the grace of God, in the merit and righteousness of Christ and therefore also has everything he needs. The modernists pervert this order usually by putting faith first in their doctrinal books and preaching books and superimpose what God does to the sinner on faith and thus already betray that they understand something completely different about faith and justification by grace than what Scripture reveals about this. We should, as often as we speak, preach, teach about justification always maintain the train of thought that Scripture provides us: by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith. We then remain factually on the right track. This disposition is based on the preaching of Luther and other orthodox fathers, and is also formally expressed, e.g., in Walther’s sermons on justification.

As we now set about further to examine the aforementioned concepts with Scripture, and watch how we bring our Christian people to the best understanding of it, it should be noted only in advance that every time we touch this material it should not be necessary that we treat all parts of the doctrine in extenso.[1] The preaching of righteousness that avails before God indeed passes through all preaching, if they are the right kind [of preaching]. One time we talk about this topic in detail, another time less, another time we only indicate it. What we say about it, be it much or little, will always bring to remembrance the entire article and shed new light on it. We thus only speak and teach truly and clearly along the lines of Scripture. If we praise the grace of God one time, another time speak about Christ’s redemptive work, another time about faith, then that would also go a long way to secure the hearts and consciences of Christians in the truth of the Gospel, provided we concern ourselves only within the confines of Scripture.


[1] at full length.

Georg Stöckhardt, “The Practical Treatment of the Doctrine of Justification”, translated by DMJ

The Feast of Pentecost – John 14:23-31

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

            Acts chapter two describes the great act of God in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. John chapter 14 shows a more pleasant picture of the workshop of the Holy Spirit. As we learned in the Small Catechism, the Holy Spirit has “called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith…. He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers [in this Christian Church]. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.”

Jesus, Who has gone to the Father for us, still wants to have His Church on earth. He wants a dwelling place for His Father among us. He wants His Spirit to be the preacher of Good News. He wants to bless believers with His peace and prepare them for glory.

The Christian Church is a habitation of God in the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is the Cornerstone in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

The Church consists of those who love God. Those who love God know how wretched they are because of sin. They also recognize Christ from the Gospel and the high, holy benefits of His grace and have received these benefits by faith. In Christ alone we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Jesus became for us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption. The Good Shepherd has laid down His life for the sheep.

The Church consists of those who keep His Word. In this Word is everything that makes for peace and salvation. Outside of the Word of Christ, there is no Christ; there is no hope for eternal life. The Church cannot let go of the Word, chiefly the external Word of baptism, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. She clings to these gifts rather than to foolish thoughts of the world.

The Church is loved by the Father. God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us…. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

The Church is a temple and dwelling place of the Triune God. The prophet Isaiah says For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” But today, here, now, the One Who dwells in the high and holy place dwells among men by the Holy Spirit working in the Word of Christ that dwells in us richly! Granted the great signs of the book of Acts are no longer a part of the Church. But the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.

The Christian Church is the tabernacle of peace in the midst of this vale of tears. We are, by nature, empty of true peace. So is the world. We have restless hearts. The Holy Spirit has built in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death a spiritual tabernacle of peace, the holy Christian Church of which we confess each week in the Creed. The one word that summarizes all the good things that the Church is given to enjoy is PEACE. This peace comes from the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, Whose instruction in the words of Christ is so powerful and salutary that we also truly learn in our hearts the fulfillment of the precious and great promise of God. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Children of God justified by faith in Christ enjoy the peace of Christ: peace with God, peace in conscience, dearly purchased by Jesus Himself by His departure to the Father. This peace is a real, noble, and blessed peace that devours terror and fear in the heart. It is also a lasting peace that protects and shields against all wickedness that would disturb us.

The Christian Church is the gate of heaven. It is, so to speak, the porch that stands before the fair city of the New Jerusalem on high. Our greatest joy as pilgrims and sojourners on earth is that we may lift up our hearts, heads, eyes, and hands to the tabernacle of peace that is in this vale of tears. Here our salvation draws near. Here we stand before the gate of heaven. Here we stand on the right course that brings us into eternal life.

When we lie on our deathbed, or when we have a sleepless night or restless day because of Satan’s accusations against us, we recall Jesus saying that the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on Me. We remember these words because Jesus says the Helper brings to our remembrance everything that our Lord promises.

Perhaps this is the most unsung duty of the Holy Spirit. He brings to our remembrance all the great and precious promises of God. He brings to our remembrance the many times God could have turned His back on the Israelites. No matter how many times God’s children failed to remember their Lord, God never forget them because He never forgot His promise to them. When we remain with Christ’s Church, true consolation of death also remains with us. Death is merely slumber, for life everlasting is ours because of Christ’s resurrection.

Our hope of the promised blessed perfection rests not on our piety and faithfulness. It does not rest on what we have done, suffered, and fought. Our hope rests on the great work of redemption that Jesus Christ has directed and completed from His boundless love in voluntary obedience to His Father. Jesus says, I do as the Father has commanded Me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.

We have a share of this in faith, because the entire world should indeed know it according to His good pleasure. Christ’s most holy merit on our behalf remains our refuge until we have blissfully overcome this life. It remains a constant encouragement to the fact that we remain faithful to Him Who has purchased us with His blood as the price. This is the joy of Pentecost. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. This is most certainly true.

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

Stöckhardt: Little Sheep Avert Their Eyes from the Goal of Life

The apostle says in Romans chapter four how one gains eternal life where he deals with the doctrine of justification, from verse 13 on about the inheritance. He emphasizes in Romans 5:9 that the ones being justified, someday are kept from wrath, and Romans 5:17 that those who have received the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness someday will reign in life. In other words: Where there is righteousness, where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. The critical question is then expressed fully: how are we justified and saved before God. And who, then, would not like to be saved? Every shepherd of souls has the experience that his little sheep avert their eyes all too easily from the actual purpose and goal of life and want to lose themselves in earthly matters in their thoughts, questions, concerns, that honor and respect among men, temporal goods and happiness is still far too much among them. Now he thus puts the question in the foreground, in the center, again and again in public preaching, as well as in private, when he deals with individuals: How will you be justified before God? How will you get along with God? No one can escape from the length of the hand and the judgment of God. Each one must come to grips with God. How? Should this not be your main concern: that you may obtain a merciful verdict where men may not have a say, where men can no longer help you; that you may inherit eternal life when this temporal life with all its goods and pleasures has vanished?

– Georg Stöckhardt, “The Practical Treatment of the Doctrine of Justification”

Missouri’s “Death by Degrees”

On the other hand I confessed intense misgivings regarding the entire matter of university degrees or their equivalent. We are not only teachers in Concordia Seminary but are to be examples of efficient and consecrated workers in Christ’s vineyard. Let the students once conceive the opinion that the university is the avenue to larger success in the church, and a number of things will follow: 1) The more ambitious and gifted students will turn to the university. 2) Of these some will lose their faith. 3) Some will become warped in their religious views and will find the ministry or professorship in our Synod uncongenial and will drop out of active service (Five or six cases on record now.) 4) Some will absorb Modernism and instead of dropping out will remain with us. 5) Working from within, such unfaithful professors or ministers will first of all destroy the personal standing, if possible, of those who oppose them. They will do this by belittleing [sic] their scholarship, taking advantage of their faults, and otherwise ruining their influence. 6) They will certainly in the end gather disciples about them and thus make Modernism an issue also in the Missouri Synod.

Theodore Gräbner to Martin Gräbner, December 10, 1927. Quoted in “Log Cabin to Luther Tower”, page 110

 

I regard the action of you [P.E. Kretzmann] and Prof. [J.T.] Mueller as the beginning of the end of our orthodoxy. When the future church historian will trace the downfall of Missouri Lutheranism he will point to you two. You are breaking down the dividing line between truth and error. It is not possible for you consistently to tell your students, that all false doctrine is an abomination before the Lord, a thing they should avoid even to the extent of never attending a Sectarian church service. Our young men will get the impression, that the St. Louis Seminary is all right [sic] in its way, but that for real efficiency one must attend other schools of theology. Even now many of our young ministers are gathering much of their sermon material from other sources than our own, and the St. Louis faculty at this time has no more important work than to combat this tendency by precept and example.

– Letter from Martin Gräbner to P.E. Kretzmann, December 28, 1927. Quoted in “Log Cabin to Luther Tower”, page 192

Seventh Sunday of Easter – John 15:26-16:4

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

            It has been said that this Sunday is the saddest of the entire church year. Christ has ascended into heaven, but the Holy Spirit is not yet here. The disciples thought otherwise as Saint Luke writes they worshiped Jesus and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. Christ is as near to us now as He was then. He prays for His Church as He is seated at the right hand of His Father. In today’s Gospel He promises the Holy Spirit before His departure to the Father. Why should we be sad? The Sun of the Divine Word still appears to us as usual. We are in the midst of two bright lights: the light of Ascension this past Thursday and the light of Pentecost this coming weekend, as the Lord wills. Our faithful Savior does not abandon His children on earth even as He is in heaven.

Jesus proclaims the Truth as long as He was in the world. Now that He has ascended to heaven, He gives the mandate to His disciples to proclaim the Truth. He tells them, you also will bear witness. They are eyewitnesses and, as it were, ear-witnesses to His resurrection. They bear witness that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God Who dies for sins and rises for our justification. His death and resurrection is for the entire world.

What is even more amazing about the mandate is the men to whom the mandate was given. These men are timid and even deceptive. They are sinners. A hateful world was against them, Jesus tells them: If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. These men need courage. They receive courage from the Savior in the Helper Whom Jesus sends from the Father. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, removes all obstacles in proclaiming the Gospel. He ensures success, but not as the world counts success. The world looks at numbers. The Church doesn’t care about numbers. All who hear the Good News are saved. That’s success, no matter if it is a handful in a modest building or an arena full of people.

Jesus calls the Helper the Spirit of Truth. He makes us sure and certain of the Truth that we may not doubt anything concerning our salvation. He makes us fighters for the faith. He brings us the victory. He also guides us to see what is true or not true concerning the Christian faith. The Helper does these things because He bears witness about [Jesus]. The disciples were not left to fend for themselves, and neither are we. The Holy Spirit Himself bears witness in them and in us as well. When we bear witness of Christ in our God-given vocations, we recall our Lord’s words in Matthew chapter ten: it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

The disciples’ witness not only happened in preaching and teaching the Word, but also in their manner of life, even in suffering for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As the disciples suffered, so also we sometimes suffer for the sake of the Gospel. Thanks be to God that we still remain free in our country to witness Jesus Christ to those who know Him not. However, the time may come when that freedom may be taken from us. We may be given to suffer persecution. In fact, Saint Paul says that all those who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. We will not suffer alone, for the Helper is with us as Jesus promises. He brings us comfort in the Word that forgives sins and strengthens faith in Christ to life everlasting.

Consider the fact that a good friend always warns another good friend about bad things that might happen. Jesus does this with His disciples, and with us, in today’s Gospel. When we are prepared for evil times, it is much more bearable when those times come because we have been warned beforehand.

Jesus tells us exactly how persecution will come to witnesses of the Gospel. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. Perhaps you have heard of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in August of 1572 in France. It is thought that the mother of French King Charles the Ninth instigated the massacre four days after the king’s sister Margaret, a Roman Catholic, married the future French King Henry the Third, a Protestant. Many French Protestants, called Huguenots, gathered in Paris for the wedding. Over the next few weeks, spurred on by the attempted assassination of the military and political leader of the Huguenots, anywhere from 5,000 to 30,000 Huguenots were murdered. It was the worst of the 16th century’s religious massacres. Throughout Europe, it printed on Protestant minds the indelible conviction that Catholicism was a bloody and treacherous religion.

What is more, Pope Gregory XIII sent the King of France a Golden Rose, conferred as a token of reverence or affection. The pope also ordered a Te Deum laudamus sung as a special thanksgiving for the slaughter of the Huguenots, a practice that continued on St. Bartholomew’s Day, August 24, for many years. The massacre was interpreted by some as divine retribution against Protestants.

Against this entire travesty, we recall what Jesus says in today’s Gospel: they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. Do not forget these words of Jesus. They bring great comfort. They make you brave, bold, and courageous when those times come…and they will come.

Jesus often speaks of persecution, especially in the Sermon on the Mount. No place else in the Gospels does He speak so clearly on persecution as He does today. When He spoke of persecution before, Jesus was present among His disciples to protect them. He prays in His High Priestly Prayer in John chapter 17: While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. Now, as the Bridegroom is taken from their sight, they need to know what awaits them. We need to know what awaits us.

Joy awaits us. Jesus has promised to provide assistance. The Helper, our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, is coming, and has come to comfort us with the Gospel. He comes to guide us into all Truth in the preaching of the Gospel. He comes to bring to our remembrance our Baptism, where we are united to Christ and washed in the blood of the Lamb of God. He comes to bring us to the altar, where Christ is truly present under bread and wine to feed us with His Body and Blood. The Helper comes to proclaim Christ as conqueror over sin and death. As we sing in the hymn, “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice”: “In trouble He [the Holy Spirit] will comfort you / And teach you always to be true / And into truth shall guide you.” Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

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

Luther: God Says, “Just Listen to Me and Take Hold of Me”

God has given us Baptism, the Sacrament of the Altar, and absolution to bring Christ very close to us, so that we can have Him not only in our heart but also on our tongue, so that we can feel Him, grasp Him, and touch Him. God did all this for the sake of those shameful spirits who seek God according to their own pleasure, with their reason and their own ideas and dreams. To make it possible for us to recognize Him, God presents Himself to us perceptively and clearly in signs. But we do not accept these; nor are we concerned about the divine Word, although Christ the Lord Himself says: “The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own authority, but the Father who dwells in Me does His works” (John 14:10); again: “He who hears you hears Me” (Luke 10:16); and again: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation; he who believes the Word of God and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:15–16). But we utterly disregard such words of the Gospel as well as absolution. Thus we perceive God not only with our hearts but also with our eyes and our hands, for He gives us a tangible and visible sign of Himself. At all times God has so governed His people that He could also be recognized visibly by them, lest they say: “If it were possible to find God, we would roam to the ends of the earth in search of Him.” If you had ears to hear, it would be needless to wander far in search of God. For He wants to come to you, plant Himself before your very eyes, press Himself into your hands, and say: “Just listen to Me and take hold of Me, give Me eye and ear; there you have Baptism  and the Sacrament of the Altar. Open your mouth, let Me place My hand on your head. I give you this water which I sprinkle over your head.”

Luther’s Works, American Edition, Volume 22, pages 420-421

Fifth Sunday of Easter – James 1:16-21

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

            Today’s Collect proclaims God makes the minds of Your faithful to be of one will. The Epistle shows two different wills at war: the will of God and the will of sin. God’s will is for us to receive His gifts, both earthly gifts and spiritual gifts. This is why James says every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

The will of sin works in shadows and variations. Trying to figure out how sin does its evil deeds is like trying to nail gelatin to a wall. It can’t be done. Sin is a changeling, a shape-shifter. First it’s here, then it’s there. Sin wants to cut deals. Sin wants to take all credit for something or partial credit at the least. Sin makes God the enemy and you the hero. Sin looks at God’s gifts and calls them rubbish. God’s gifts are an arrogant figurehead’s way of trying to buy your attention.

Do not be deceived. Don’t be tricked. There are some things you can rely on and some things you can’t. One thing you can never rely on is sin. Sin always deceives. Sin has a willing audience: our lust. We want to be somebody. We want people to envy us. We want to be the real good guy. What we end up doing is playing the fool.

We never learn our lesson. When God gives good things, they look like bad things. When we discover that God only gives good things to His creation, we are duped. Sin should have kept its promise and paid up. We have been cheated. Where does the blame go? Not us. We were only following directions. If you can blame God, then perhaps you have an alibi.

The alibi won’t work. God does not work by trickery. Do not be deceived. God does not work the way sin works. Sin makes big promises, but doesn’t follow through on the big promises. God always follows through on His promises, even when those promises seem to bring us bad tidings. God gives good things. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above. God simply loves to give. We can never change Him into some sort of wheeler-dealer.

What God gives is forgiveness, life, grace, peace, and joy. Of His own will He brought us forth by the Word of Truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. God spoke and the world came into being. Everything He created was good. Nevertheless, we wish to deal with Him, hoping to catch Him when He’s not paying attention. God must have something better for us if only we bargain for it. Maybe there’s a coupon for a better deal. Perhaps God has a secret menu, a list of good things He’s holding back from us. If only I could get something from Him without Him knowing it.

God is not a Chinese restaurant or a fast-food franchise. God is a giver of gifts, good gifts. Among the many changes of this life, He fixes our hearts where true joys are found. Sin and the devil want you to believe there are true joys outside of God’s realm. They want you to believe that Jesus Christ is not a Savior as much as He is only an example for you to follow and do. They want you to believe that the Christian faith is all about following a moral code and what happens to weaklings when they don’t follow the code.

Jesus is not about examples and codes. Jesus is the Good and Perfect Gift given by the giving God. A silent movie of Calvary would be nothing more than footage of a tragic crucifixion. The soundtrack of God’s Word tells us what’s going on there, what is achieved, and gives it to us with the words for you.

The Word of God not only tells what these gifts are but also conveys them. When the word of forgiveness is spoken to you, forgiveness is given to you. This is called performative speech. When the Benediction is spoken to you, the blessing of God is given to you. It’s not a pious wish or hope. There are no strings attached. It is a blessing, whether or not you believe it. In the sacraments, the Word is joined with extra means of conveying the gifts. It is then as if God takes your hand and presses His gift into it with the assurance, “Now you have really got it. Without a shadow of doubt, it is surely yours.” Without the Word of truth, the gifts would neither come to us nor would they be known as gifts.

Consider also the gifts outside the Divine Service. God gives you body and soul, eyes, ears, and all your members, your reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He gives clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all you have. Many receive these earthly gifts as if they are an entitlement. It’s like stake money in a poker game. God hands you $200 as you walk into a casino and pats you on the back, wishing you good luck as you go. Not so. God’s Word tells you these are gifts given to you. He created them and preserves them. You did nothing to earn or deserve your eyesight, let alone your wallet or your pantsuit.

But what about those gifts that seem to be a temptation. The Lord does not tempt or entice us as sin does, but He does test us. He tests whether we are His children, children of the giver God, or whether we have a god we have made up to serve our lusts. Affliction is such a test. When affliction cleanses us of trust in a false god and draws us closer to the living, giving Father God, then affliction is a good gift for which we can thank Him. God cannot not be our Father, for He is bound by His Word.

As we live as the children of the Father of lights, the giver God, He will keep on pouring out His gifts, and they will overwhelm us more and more. The Epistle of James is mostly about what God’s gifts do to us, how they work out in our lives. The gifts shape how you use your tongue, how you treat widows and orphans, the hungry, people with money, people you employ. James points out that if you think your religion is just a good deal you have done with God for yourself, you are in a heap of trouble.

We get the starting point in James chapter one: The giver God, from whom comes every good and every perfect gift, has made us His children with His word of truth. As God pours the gifts, with each fresh gift, He gives us another nudge, “Come on, join in My game. Help Me give My gifts away.” God’s children play the game their Father’s way. To everybody else, to the deal-doers, it looks crazy, but, in fact, it is the best fun in all the world.

With hands held wide to Him for His gifts, we will be moved and shaped by those gifts forward from firstfruits to the final joyful harvest. When we shall sing unto the Lord a new song; for He hath done marvelous things.

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