Monthly Archives: December 2013

Christmas 1 – Luke 2:33-40

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

Christmas according to Saint Luke begins in Bethlehem and ends in the temple. The baby Jesus was brought there for the Service of Presentation forty days after His birth. Lord willing, we will celebrate that festival on February 2, which happens to fall on a Sunday in 2014. Today, however, we ponder the prophetic words of Simeon that point forward to what lies ahead for this child: Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed … so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.

In the Bible, a sign often means something that contains and conveys what God is doing and giving. At the same time, a sign hides under what appears to be its opposite. The disclosure of a sign is by a word of God, which requires hearing and receiving, in other words, faith. God’s dealing with us in this way reduces us to the point at which we are nothing but receivers. The shepherds received the words of the angel that Christmas night and embraced the baby in the manger as the Savior who is Christ the Lord.

Simeon received a word from God, too. He would not die until he saw the Messiah. Each day Simeon grew older and older, yet he clung to God’s word. When the sign of Mary’s baby came to the temple, Simeon rejoiced. The messages contained in that sign were “now you will die” and “this is the Savior.” A baby of the poor is the sign of Simeon’s death and salvation. Simeon looked at his life and his death through this sign and departed in peace. For Simeon, this child was set for his falling and rising.

Simeon’s prophecy was spoken to Mary. Her child was also a sign of her falling and rising. Mary had to learn that she had a son, yet she did not have Him – He really had her. Sometimes, when Mary made the ordinary claims of a mother or misunderstood, she was pushed back by her son. To receive the sign of her son meant that Mary suffered loss. Simeon told her of a sword that would pierce her, and our hearts turn to the mother fallen at the foot of the cross of her son. Remember, a sign appears as the opposite of what it contains and conveys. The sign hidden under its opposite on the arms of the cross and in the arms of Simeon was God’s salvation. God’s way of giving this sign can only be received in the same lowly way. In that lowliness there is great mercy. We are not required to pull ourselves up to a level at which we become worthy of being dealt with by God. There is no point below this lowliness where we can fall beneath His reach. People are lost by refusing this lowliness, thinking it is an insult to their pride and insisting on ways of being dealt with that do them honor. These people want a god who will serve their purposes and meet their specifications.

Perhaps you are familiar with the recent Christmas song “Mary, Did You Know?” The song lists all sorts of miracles that Jesus will perform and who Jesus is even as a baby. It’s a touching song, but there’s one thing missing. Everything Simeon says about baby Jesus is not mentioned in the song. The song says nothing about the rising and falling of many in Israel. The song says nothing about Mary’s soul being pierced by a sword. The song says nothing about Jesus being the stone the builders rejected that has become the cornerstone. The song does highlight all the positive things Jesus does, and those are wonderful, true things that should be remembered. The best construction one could make is that perhaps the songwriter did not want to focus on the negative at Christmas time.

We need to hear the “negative” at Christmas time, because what seems to unbelievers, even to faithful Christians, as “negative” is actually positive. The closest the song “Mary, Did You Know” gets to mentioning what Jesus comes to do for Mary, for Joseph, for Simeon, for Anna, for you, and for me is, “Did you know that your baby boy/Has come to make you new?/This child that you’ve delivered/Will soon deliver you.”

Mary cried for her son in the stable. She cried for Him at Calvary with tears that washed away any demand and insistence of hers. When all of Mary was crumpled, when a sword went through her soul, she was raised up. Jesus will deliver sinners from death to life. Satan’s downfall will be our upraising. Jesus will suffer much at the hands of His own people, who refuse to recognize Him as Messiah, and in His suffering they will be saved, even when they refuse to believe it. His suffering and death also saves Gentiles, even when Gentiles oppose this sign with demands of rational thinking and factual evidence. Jesus is the stumbling block of mankind. You can’t straddle the cornerstone and hedge your bet. Either you stand with Jesus, the solid rock, or you stumble over Him to your own detriment.

When God deals with us, we are shown for what we are. When God deals with us, the thoughts of our hearts are revealed. If we cling to our thoughts, to our insistences about God and what He must produce for us, we are undone and remain under judgment. If we are shown what we are and come clean in repentance, we receive the gifts of salvation that raise us up. These gifts come in the unlikely sign of the whining infant on Simeon’s arms, the sign of the man dying on the cross, the sign of the bread and wine. We fall in repentance; we are raised by forgiveness and become alive. We receive the body and blood of Christ hidden in the lowly sign of bread and wine. This is not a sign as in a picture. This is a sign that contains and conveys the body and blood of Christ as His words disclose, whether or not you believe it, whether you fall and rise or only fall.

Simeon embraced the Savior in the sign of the baby that brought him his death and his salvation. You embrace the Savior in the sign of this Sacrament where the thoughts of your heart come clear. This sign means death to you in your self-affirmation and specifying of God. It means your rising, for you are joined more closely with Christ and share His life, which no sword through your soul or anything can destroy. There is a new song. Beloved in the Lord, did you know that this baby will die for your sins? Beloved in the Lord, did you know that this baby will rise from the dead? Beloved in the Lord, did you know that your life is in His life? Your eyes have seen His salvation prepared before the sight of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of His people Israel.

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

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My First Christmas…Alone

Thirteen years ago this night, December 24, 2000, was my first Christmas spent apart from my family. I was serving my vicar (internship) year in Tullahoma, Tennessee at Faith Lutheran Church. It would be the first of a string of many Christmases (save for 2001) that I would spend apart from my family. Such is the life of a pastor.

My vicarage congregation’s custom was (and is) to hold two “candlelight” Christmas services on Christmas Eve and no Christmas Day service. That was thought to be a “family” day or “travel” day. Attendance would be sparse, so there was no need to have a service that day. I know it’s hard to fathom, but you must remember that this is a different culture than most Lutherans are accustomed.

So that night I preached at one service and my supervising pastor preached at the other. I went home and, as I recall, went straight to bed. I was single at the time and wanted to get back to my home to get a good night’s sleep. My supervising pastor gave me some time off to go home and visit my family…and that’s what I did.

I woke up far too early the next morning and drove the 4 3/4 hours to my hometown, where I celebrated the birth of Jesus according to the flesh with my family at my home congregation. I had to savor those days because the time was coming where I wouldn’t be able to do that anymore.

That time has come, and here I am some five hours away from my parents and siblings. Not only am I not able to join them on Christmas Eve (our big family Christmas) but also on Christmas Day. A phone call will be made and well-wishes given over the phone. Now I have my own family. We celebrate the day in church and at home with another pastor’s family who have family far away whom they do not see.

So you see, I am not alone. I was never alone in the first place. Wherever my family members kneel or stand to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, I am there with them. On another shore and in another light (I LOVE those words from the bidding prayer of The Nine Lessons and Carols) my family members who have died in the faith are remembered. One day soon we will be together again for all eternity.

I visited a homebound member yesterday. This person has never married and has one sibling living. This person does have other relatives, but they will celebrate Christmas with their families. The two siblings might get together for the day. Otherwise, this person will be alone…but won’t actually be alone. No one should be alone for Christmas. For our Lord Jesus Christ is with my homebound member, with me, with all my family wherever they may be. Jesus Christ, the Infant-King, brings people together, even if distance separates them, to rejoice. Emmanuel has come to Israel. God is with us.

You are not alone. Merry Christmas.

Advent 4 – John 1:19-28

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

Haul out the holly! Put up the tree before my spirit falls again. Fill up the stockings. I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again NOW.

The rush has been on since November 1, or even earlier. We need a little Christmas this time of year. Actually, we need a whole lot of Christmas. But come about 3:00 Christmas afternoon we will be ready to shove the decorations and carols and all the Christmas claptrap back in boxes until next year. We’ve had enough of Christmas, right this very minute.

Perhaps one reason why we’ve had enough of Christmas is that we haven’t taken the time to prepare for the big day. You may think I’m crazy for saying that because you’ve been baking, decorating, and getting ready for weeks now. Christmas is all about preparation! That’s true, but what kind of preparation is necessary for December 25?

Children of the world aren’t expecting a Redeemer. They know of no reason why they should prepare for His coming. Christmas has no other meaning for so many people than a mere external, ceremonial meaning. It’s an end of the year custom to deck the halls with hundreds, if not thousands, of twinkling lights and tinsel. Oh, sure, there will be the customary nativity scene, too. But look at that tree! Look at the dozens of cookies and candy in the freezer just waiting for the big day!

How about we put the brakes on baking, decorating, and listening to Christmas songs on the radio for a few minutes? How about we take a trip to the Judean wilderness, to the banks of the Jordan River and hear how John, the forerunner of the Lord, preaches to the entire world about the right preparation for the Lord’s coming.

It was a blessed time in Israel as the Lord gave His bodily Advent. John the Baptist was His forerunner, His “angel”, so to speak. As we heard Jesus say in last week’s Gospel reading: This is he of whom it is written, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.” Four hundred plus years before, the prophet Malachi proclaimed, Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. John faithfully carried out his calling as messenger. He took all eyes off himself and directed them solely to the Lord.

John confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.””Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” Sounds like a lot of denials and not much confessing. In all the denials is a confession of who John is and, more importantly, who Jesus is. John is not the Messiah. Jesus is the Messiah, the One among them the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.

It’s easy to get caught up in celebrating Christmas for all the wrong reasons. That is why it is good to get away from the busy activities of this season and listen to John the Baptist confess who he is by confessing who he is not. John puts everything into perspective. It is the Lord’s advent among us according to the flesh that we’ve spent these last few weeks considering. This is our greatest desire as Christians. By all means, haul out the holly and put up the tree. But take some time to examine yourself and discover anew why there is a season of Advent and Christmas.

Take some time to hear the message of John: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Cast away the works of darkness, as we sang last week in “Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding”. The greatest desire of this season is not getting everything you want on your Christmas list. It is receiving the Lord Jesus among us as a living, breathing, crying, fussing, smiling, strapping Baby Boy. As Saint Paul told us three weeks ago, the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

What does it mean to put on the Lord Jesus Christ? Putting on Christ means to stop walking in the way of death and walk instead in the way of life. The high mountains must be made low and the crooked way made plain. Consider John the Baptist as the prime example of putting on Christ. He is humble before God and man. A fruit of repentance is humility. He knows he is sinful. He knows he deserves nothing but everlasting death and torment. Nevertheless, he trusts in Jesus alone as his Savior from everlasting death and torment.

With repentance comes true faith in Jesus Christ and an ardent desire for His gracious presence. Consider the account of John’s mother Elisabeth and Mary the Mother of God. When Elisabeth heard Mary’s greeting, John leapt in his mother’s womb. He leapt because he was in the presence of the Most High God, now gestating in His earthly mother’s womb. Years later, John confesses His Savior in a dispute between his disciples and a Jewish man. Everyone was starting to flock to Jesus over John. Didn’t this make John upset? Not so. John responds, The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.

There’s the secret not only of Advent and Christmas, but every day of the year. The Lord Christ must increase, and I must decrease. The Lord Christ increases in you when you remain steadfast in the teaching and preaching of Jesus Christ. You trust His Word when everything else points against it. You cling to Jesus alone when others helpers fail and comforts flee. Jesus has come to shed His blood for you in order that you are ransomed, bought back, from the powers of hell. He calls you to follow Him, to die to this world and live in His gracious presence in the preaching of His Word and the giving of His Gifts under water, Word, bread, and wine. Christ now dwells in you and you in Him. You cannot help but show His love in all you say and do.

When do we not need a little Christmas? The answer is “never.” There’s always a need for Christmas, just as there’s always a need for Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and all ecclesiastical seasons. It’s good to prepare for the big day, but don’t forget the most important preparation: your preparation to receive Jesus the Savior-King according to the flesh. He comes to take your sin and give you His righteousness. Believe it for His sake.

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

Carl Fickenscher: Watch Your Language!

[P]roperly divided law and Gospel uses the Gospel alone to motivate. Earlier was cited the error of trying to motivate by the Law. While the Law can instruct as to what good works are, only the Gospel can motivate people to do them.

Law motivation is characterized by the imperative mood. Similarly, a sermon dominated by ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ and ‘let us’ seeks to motivate by the Law. The indicative mood is generally more appropriate to the Gospel. Declaring what Christ has done to redeem the sinner moves his heart to respond in sincere good works.

Special care is necessary to avoid turning narratives rich in Gospel into motivations of Law. Narratives recounting the actions of great Bible figures, including Christ, can easily be mispreached as mere examples for today’s people to follow. The stories become implied or expressed imperatives (‘Be like Daniel!’), rather than illustrations of how God enables his people to accomplish great things. Particularly in preaching the events of Jesus’ life, his vicarious acts for mankind are too easily reduced to examples to emulate. Properly divided Law and Gospel will emphasize God’s gracious work so that hearers will be motivated to Christ-like living by faith.”

Dr. Carl C. Fickenscher, “The Relationship of Sermon Form to the Communication of the Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel in Lutheran Preaching”

CCF

Advent 3 – Matthew 11:2-11

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

It would be easy to be a Christian if it wasn’t for Jesus Christ. Think about it. All you would have to do is follow a code written on two tablets of stone. The code is further explained by a series of political and moral codes. Your diet would be set. The way you live would be set. It’s an easy life. Just follow the book.

The problem is that the book, the Bible, proclaims how God’s only-begotten Son takes on human flesh and blood in order to die for the sins of the world and rise from the dead for the world’s justification. Only Jesus fulfills the Ten Commandments in the way God demands. Only Jesus fulfills all the dietary restrictions and all the other codes of the first five books of the Old Testament. The life you live is by faith in Jesus Christ, not by trying to keep the Law to earn your salvation.

What is joy to our ears and our lives is an offense and a stumbling block to most of the world. Many are offended at Jesus Christ, particularly as we draw close to Christmas and again at Easter. This sad fact is prophesied in the Old Testament: [The Lord of hosts] will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.

People took offense at Jesus in the New Testament as well. Jesus said to those in Nazareth, A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household. Saint Paul tells the Church in Corinth, we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles. Saint Peter writes in his first epistle: The honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

What does it mean to be offended at Jesus Christ? Consider John the Baptist sending two of his disciples to Jesus with the question, Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? Preachers often debate as to whether or not John the Baptist doubted Jesus was the Christ. It wasn’t John who doubted but the disciples whom he sends to Jesus. Note the first person plural we. Does this include John? It doesn’t matter, for we are dealing with these two men, not John. These two men had not yet recognized the promised Messiah in Jesus because they were offended at Christ. This is why Jesus tells them, blessed is the one who is not offended by me.

Among the many stumbling blocks in believing Jesus is the Messiah are these three: First, they cannot reconcile the external lowliness of the person Jesus with the prophesied glory of the Messiah. Jesus tells the men, the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. These are not magic tricks. Jesus is not an apparition. He has flesh and blood, yet says and does things that no mortal man is able to say and do.

Another stumbling block to believing Jesus as Messiah is the fact that Jesus doesn’t act like you expect a Messiah to act. These two men sent from John thought the great king, the One Whom John could not untie His sandals, would enter in such splendor that everything would be gold and other priceless ornaments. The streets would be filled with pearls and silks. As they looked so high for the Messiah, Jesus turns their gaze downward and holds before them the blind, lame, deaf, dumb, poor, and everything that conflicts with such splendor.

The final stumbling block is that Jesus teaches that a man is justified, declared not guilty of sin by God, by faith alone. This is perhaps the greatest of all stumbling blocks. Who would want to believe that a person is declared innocent of all sin by believing in a man born of woman, born under the Law, Who keeps the Law in our place, and suffers the punishment we deserve, even death, for our sake? How can the doctrine be right that an abominable sinner, when he merely repents and believes in Christ, immediately is spoken justified and saved? Even we Christians are caught up in thinking this way! When we hear Saint Paul declare that the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily in Jesus, we are inclined to think Paul a fool.

Fleshly reason always remains an annoyance to faith, especially when it comes to Christ’s humiliation in the days of His flesh. We wonder whether there are enough external signs to believe Jesus is Who He says He is. Or we think that if Christ is so good and Christianity so true, why are so many Christians under much contempt, sin, weakness, and many crosses? Even the very foundation of the Christian faith, “We are saved by God’s grace through faith in His Son Jesus Christ” is an offensive to us over and over again.

It is a dangerous thing to be offended at Jesus Christ. John the Baptist, even in prison, sends these men to Jesus to ease their unbelief. Jesus takes the time to show these men what His Messianic mission is all about: lastness, leastness, littleness, lostness, and being dead. Jesus also speaks to those around Him about this same thing, even using John the Baptist as an example of how Jesus works among us. John was no ordinary prophet, yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

When you do not hear the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, you lose salvation. Hear our Lord again: blessed is the one who is not offended by Me. After Jesus fed five thousand men with five loaves of bread and two fish, after He preached about being the Bread of Life and the Living Bread that comes down from heaven, He asked His disciples, Do you take offense at this? Five verses later, many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.

The way of the Lord is not an easy way. If it were easy, He would have left us to follow the code and work our way to eternal life. As Jesus asks the Twelve, so He asks you today: Do you want to go away as well? Saint Peter’s response is yours: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.

We are blind in spiritual things without the Word and the Spirit to show us Jesus is the long-promised Messiah. When we see with spiritual eyes behind the external lowliness and leastness of Jesus, we see a Savior who knows we cannot save ourselves. Jesus becomes man for you. Jesus perfectly keeps the Law for you. Jesus suffers for you. Jesus dies for you. Jesus lives for you. Jesus gives you sonship by believing He is your Savior from sin, death, and hell. Blessed are you, for your offense is washed in baptismal water and forgiven in the blood and righteousness of Jesus. Doubt is turned to faith. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

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

Luther: The Christian Is In Two Realms

Kept under restraint until faith should be revealed (Galatians 3:23).

Paul is referring to the time of fulfillment, when Christ came. But you should apply it not only to the time but also to feelings; for what happened historically and temporally when Christ came—namely, that He abrogated the Law and brought liberty and eternal life to light—this happens personally and spiritually every day in any Christian, in whom there are found the time of Law and the time of grace in constant alternation. The Christian has a body, in whose members, as Paul says (Rom. 7:23), the Law and sin are at war. By sin I understand not only lust but all of sin, as Paul usually speaks about sin, saying that it not only still clings to a flesh that is Christian and baptized, but that it battles against it and captures it, producing at least a powerful urge, if not actual assent or action. Even though a Christian does not fall into coarse sins like murder, adultery, or theft, he still is not free of impatience, grumbling, hatred, and blasphemy against God—sins that are completely unknown to the human reason. They force him against his will to despise the Law; they force him to flee from the countenance of God; they force him to hate and blaspheme God. For just as sexual desire is powerful in the body of the young man, and just as the ambition to gain glory and possessions is powerful in the mature man, and just as greed is powerful in the old man, so in the saintly man impatience, grumbling, hate, and blasphemy against God are powerful. There are examples of this throughout the Psalms, Job, Jeremiah, and all Scripture. Therefore when Paul describes this spiritual struggle, he uses very emphatic and meaningful terms like “being at war,” “fighting back,” and “making captive.”

In the experience of the Christian, therefore, both are found, the time of Law and the time of grace. The time of Law is when the Law disciplines, vexes, and saddens me, when it brings me to a knowledge of sin and increases this. Then the Law is being employed in its true use, which a Christian experiences constantly as long as he lives. Thus Paul was given “a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass him” (2 Cor. 12:7). He wished that he could feel, for a single moment, the joy of the conscience, the happiness of the heart, and a foretaste of eternal life. He also wished that he could be rid of the disturbance of the spirit. Therefore he requested that this trial be taken away from him. This did not happen, but he heard from the Lord (2 Cor. 12:9): “Paul, My grace is sufficient for you; for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Every Christian experiences the same struggle. There are many hours in which I dispute with God and fight back at Him impatiently. The wrath and judgment of God are displeasing to me. On the other hand, my impatience and grumbling are displeasing to Him. This is the time of Law, under which a Christian always exists according to the flesh. “For the desires of the flesh are always against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other,” as chapter five says below (Gal. 5:17).

The time of grace is when the heart is encouraged again by the promise of the free mercy of God and says (Ps. 42:5): “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Do you not see anything except Law, sin, terror, sadness, despair, death, hell, and the devil? Are there not also grace, the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, comfort, joy, peace, life, heaven, God, and Christ? Stop troubling me, O my soul. What are Law, sin, and all evils in comparison with these? Hope in God, who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up to the death of the cross for your sins (Rom. 8:32).” This, then, is what it means to be confined under the Law according to the flesh, not forever but until the coming of Christ. When you are terrified by the Law, therefore, say: “Lady Law, you are not the only thing, and you are not everything! Besides you there is something greater and better, namely, grace, faith, blessing. These do not accuse me; they do not terrify or condemn me. But they comfort me, command me to have hope, and promise me sure victory and salvation in Christ. Therefore there is no reason for me to despair.”

Anyone who would know this art well would deserve to be called a theologian. The fanatics of our day, who are always boasting about the Spirit, as well as their disciples, seem to themselves to know it superbly. But I and others like me hardly know the basic elements of this art, and yet we are studious pupils in the school where this art is being taught. It is indeed being taught, but so long as the flesh and sin remain, it cannot be learned thoroughly.

Therefore the Christian is divided this way into two times. To the extent that he is flesh, he is under the Law; to the extent that he is spirit, he is under the Gospel. To his flesh there always cling lust, greed, ambition, pride, etc. So do ignorance and contempt of God, impatience, grumbling, and wrath against God because He obstructs our plans and efforts and because He does not immediately punish the wicked who despise Him. These sins cling to the flesh of the saints. Therefore if you do not look at anything beyond the flesh, you will remain permanently under the time of the Law. But those days have to be shortened, for otherwise no human being would be saved (Matt. 24:22). An end has to be set for the Law, where it will come to a stop. Therefore the time of Law is not forever; but it has an end, which is Christ. But the time of grace is forever; for Christ, having died once for all, will never die again (Rom. 6:9–10). He is eternal; therefore the time of grace is eternal also.

We should not run through such outstanding declarations in Paul so sluggishly, as the papists and the sectarians usually do; for these declarations contain words of life that wonderfully comfort and strengthen afflicted consciences. Those who understand them correctly can judge rightly what faith is and what false and true fear are; they can also judge all their feelings and discern all the spirits. The fear of God is something holy and precious, but it should not be eternal. It must always be present in a Christian, because sin is always present in him. But it must not be alone; for then it is the fear of Cain, Saul, and Judas, that is, a servile and despairing fear. By faith in the Word of grace, therefore, the Christian should conquer fear, turn his eyes away from the time of Law, and gaze at Christ Himself and at the faith to come. Then fear becomes sweet and is mixed with nectar, so that he begins not only to fear God but also to love Him. Otherwise, if a man gazes only at the Law and at sin, to the exclusion of faith, he cannot drive out his fear but will finally despair.

Thus Paul distinguishes beautifully between the time of Law and the time of grace. Let us learn also to distinguish the times of both, not in words but in our feelings, which is the most difficult of all. For although these two are utterly distinct, yet they must be joined completely together in the same heart. Nothing is more closely joined together than fear and trust, Law and Gospel, sin and grace; they are so joined together that each is swallowed up by the other. Therefore there cannot be any mathematical conjunction that is similar to this.

Luther’s Works, Volume 26, pages 340-343

David Scaer on The Gospel and The Command to Love

As long as the commands to love God and the neighbor are classified as demand and threat – that is, the second use of the law – a contradiction exists between the gospel and the fulfillment of the command to love as the chief content of the Scriptures. This contradiction is resolved in the person of Jesus…and also is capable of a trinitarian resolution. Commands to love God and neighbor cannot be isolated from love as the fundamental unity by which the three persons of the Trinity are bound to each other (Jn 15:9-10, 12-13; 17:24). This love in which the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit exist motivates and expresses itself in the incarnation and redemption and gives form to the gospel’s content (Jn 3:16). In loving God we are to have the same attitude which the three divine persons have among themselves and which they have as Trinity toward us. Thus the command to love God or the neighbor is not simply an arbitrary regulation, the most important law, or a summary of all laws with their prohibitions and threats. Love belongs to God’s trinitarian life, and the command to love is an invitation to participate in this love of the Trinity. Jesus’ command to love God is an invitation to believe in Him who Himself is love, and on that account God can be approached only in love rather than with fear over impending wrath for our transgressions. The command to love creates ex nihilo what it demands. This the first two uses of the law cannot do. Our ability to love God is contained in the command itself and so it comes not from within ourselves but from God. Loving God is not something in addition to faith or a superior form of faith but describes faith’s total devotion to God. Jesus’ three questions to Peter about whether he loved Him had to do with faith (Jn 21:17-19). With his affirmative responses, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you,” Peter was following the commands of Jesus to love God by putting his total trust in Him.

“Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics: Law and Gospel and The Means of Grace”, pages 74-75

Sanctification, Being Perfect, and the Greek Vocable τέλειος

When discussing Matthew 5:48 (“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”), τέλειος and the doctrine of sanctification, we are not discussing “true perfection.” Neither are we talking about moral purity. Rather,we are speaking precisely about that which identifies our heavenly Father and sets Him apart from everything and everyone and by which alone He desires to be known: His mercy. We are speaking about mercy in the lives of God’s saints. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God’s mercy. There is no mercy of God toward the world outside of Him. Similarly, there is no mercy in any person save through his union with Christ. Sanctification is the image of God re-imprinted on man by the Holy Spirit and expressed in acts of mercy by the Christian,which acts are indicative of his birth as God’s child through Baptism. Only through this indwelling of the Spirit of Christ, of the Wisdom from above, is the child of God τέλειος, merciful.

Progressive sanctification no more fits the Gospel of Jesus Christ than would “progressive” justification. To believe that one is justified in the moment of one’s Baptism and that justification is complete is not to deny that faith grows and increases. The constant prayer and longing of the Christian is to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth. Who has not cried out with the father of the demon-possessed son, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” (only Mark! (9:24)) In the same way, although sanctification is always complete and always whole, because it is the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ who is never given piecemeal, mercy also increases in the life of a Christian. As one grows in faith, one grows in love and kindness and mercy. The two go hand-in-hand.

In 1990 a group of campus pastors, including several graduates of [Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN], addressed the doctrine of sanctification- whole or in part? – and affirmed what I find the Scriptures to teach:

Sanctification is that indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in each person in whom that same Spirit has begun and preserved a saving faith in Jesus Christ. As such,sanctification is a thing delivered all at once and maintained continually for as long as the Spirit Himself remains within. Consequently, sanctification is not a progressively acquired quality. The perfect Spirit is never only partly present, so all holiness through that Spirit is present at all times in any and every believer. [Article VI.1 of “The Point Loma Theses,” affirmed by a group of campus pastors of the LC-MS for discussion in 1990.]

Sanctification is the fruit of justification, which is to assert that sanctification always accompanies justification and follows justification logically. It is proper, therefore, to speak of the gospel as the means of sanctification as well as the means of justification; it accomplishes both. And it is right to conclude that whatever strengthens faith in the merits of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins will also engender and increase mercy in the believer’s heart.

– Rev. Thomas L. Olson, “Matthew 5:48 – A WORD OF GOD. Sanctification: Whole or In Part” from All Theology Is Christology: Essays in Honor of David P. Scaer,pages 94-95

Martin Luther via Franz Pieper on A Righteous Man Sins in All His Good Works

A righteous man sins in all his good works.

This article annoys the great saints of work-righteousness, who place their trust not in God’s mercy, but in their own righteousness, that is, on sand. What happened to the house built on sand in Matt. 7[:26] will also happen to them. But a godly Christian ought to learn and know that all his good works are inadequate and insufficient in the sight of God. In the company of all the dear saints he ought to despair of his own works and rely solely on the mercy of God, putting all confidence and trust in him. Therefore we want to establish this article very firmly and see what the dear saints have to say about it.

Isaiah 64[:6] says, “We are all of us unclean, and all our righteousness is as a filthy stinking rag.” You notice that the prophet makes no exceptions. He says, “We are all of us unclean,” yet he himself was a holy prophet. Again, if our righteousness is unclean and stinking before God, what will our unrighteousness be? Moreover, he says “all righteousness,” making no exception. Now, if there is such a thing as a good work without sin, this prophet lies, which God forbid! Is not this passage from Isaiah sufficiently clear? Why then do they condemn my article, which says nothing but what Isaiah says? But we are glad to be condemned along with this holy prophet.

Again, Solomon says in Eccles. 7[:20], “There is no man on earth so righteous that he does good and sins not.” I trust this passage is clear enough, and it corresponds with my article almost word for word. And now, since Solomon is here condemned, look, his father David must also be condemned. He says in Ps. 143[:2], “Lord, enter not into judgment with me, thy servant, for no man living is righteous before thee.” Now, who is God’s servant but the man who does good works? How, then, does it happen that this very man cannot face God’s judgment? Surely God’s judgment is not unjust. If a work were actually altogether good and without sin, it would not flee God’s just judgment. The defect, then, must of necessity be in the work, which is not pure. It is for this reason that no man living is justified in God’s sight and all men need his mercy, even in their good works. Here you papists have an opportunity to show your learning—not merely by inventing bulls, but by answering such passages of Scripture.

Back in the first two articles I have shown that all the saints struggle against their sinful flesh, and continue to be sinners as long as they live in the flesh which is at war with the spirit. At one and the same time, they serve God according to the spirit, and sin according to the flesh. If, then, a godly man is at the same time justified by reason of the spirit, and sinful by reason of the flesh, his work must certainly be like the person, the fruit like the tree. In so far as the spirit participates in the work, it is good; in so far as the flesh participates in it, it is evil….

But if they say here, as they always do, “Yes, but this impurity is not sin but rather an imperfection, or weakness, or defect,” my reply is that it is indeed a defect and a weakness, but if that is not sin I am prepared to say that murder and adultery are not sins either but only defects and weaknesses. Who has given you papists the power to twist God’s Word and to call the impurity of a good work weakness and not sin? Where is there a single letter of Scripture supporting your side? Must we believe your nightmares, unsubstantiated by Scripture, when you refuse to believe our clear texts?…

If, then, David says that even God’s servants cannot face his judgment and no man living is justified in his sight, then this weakness must certainly be sin, and he who will not allow that any living man is justified in his sight includes most certainly also those who walk in good works. Unless, of course, they are neither “men” nor “living.”

Augustine says in his Confessions IX, “Woe unto every human life, even the most praiseworthy, were it to be judged without mercy.” Look how this great heretic, St. Augustine, speaks brazenly and sacrilegiously against this holy bull. Not only does he attribute sin to a good life, but he condemns even the very best life, which doubtlessly abounds in good works, as though it were nothing but mortal sin, if judged without mercy. O, St. Augustine, are you not afraid of the most holy father pope?

St. Gregory, too, speaks of that holy man Job and says, quoting Job 9[:8], “Job, that holy man, saw that all our good works are nothing but sin, if God should judge them. Therefore he said, ‘If one wished to contend with God, one could not answer him once in a thousand times.’ ” Gregory, how can you say this? How dare you say that all our good works are nothing but sin? Now you are under the pope’s ban, and a heretic far worse than Luther. For he only says that there is sin in all good works; you make them out to be nothing but sin.

If these passages do not help to substantiate my article, then may God help it! I would much rather be condemned with Isaiah, David, Solomon, Paul, Augustine, and Gregory, than praised with the pope and all the bishops and papists, even though all the world were made up of pope, bishops, and papists. Blessed is he who should die for this cause!

LW 32:83-86 (from “Defense and Explanation of All The Articles”, 1521). Quoted in Franz Pieper, “Christian Dogmatics”, 3:35-37

Martin Luther on How Sanctification Looks This Side of Paradise

This extended quote from an untranslated sermon (to the best of my knowledge) of Blessed Martin Luther is prefaced in Pieper’s Dogmatics by these words of Blessed Franz Pieper: “We quote at some length – and we are sure that the student of dogmatics will welcome it – from Luther’s sermon ‘Of Our Blessed Hope’ on Titus 2:13”. I welcome it, too, Dr. Pieper.

We did not learn in the Papacy what constitutes a good work. Before the Gospel came, we were told that the works which we ourselves devised and chose were good works, such as making a pilgrimage to St. James or some other place, giving money to the monks in the cloisters for the reading of many Masses, burning candles, fasting with but bread and water, praying a certain number of rosaries, etc. But now that the Gospel is come, we preach thus: Good works are not those which we choose of ourselves, but those which God has commanded, those which our vocation calls for. A servant does good works when he fears God, believes in Christ, and obeys his master. First he is justified by faith in Christ, then he walks in faith, leads a godly life, is temperate and well-behaved, serves his neighbor, cleanses the stable, feeds the horses, etc. In performing such tasks he does better works than any Carthusian monk. For since he is baptized, believes in Christ, and in assured hope is waiting for eternal life, he goes on and obeys his master and knows that what he does in his calling pleases God. Therefore everything that he does in his occupation is a good and precious work. It does not look like a great, fine work when he rides out on the field, drives to the mill, etc., but since he has God’s command and directive for it, such works, mean as they seem, are nothing else than good works and a service rendered to the Lord. In like manner also a maidservant does good works when she performs her calling in faith, obeys her mistress, sweeps the house, washes and cooks in the kitchen, etc. Though these works are not as glamorous as the works of the Carthusian who hides behind a mask and has people gaping at him, still such works are much better and more precious before God than those of the Carthusian who wears a hair shirt, keeps his vigils, gets up at night and chants for five hours, eats no meat, etc. He does them without God’s command and order; how, then, can they please God? Likewise when a burgher or a farmer helps his neighbor, warns him of the danger threatening his body, wife, child, servant, cattle, and goods, etc., such works do not make a great show, but they are nevertheless good and precious works. When the civil government punishes the wicked and protects the virtuous, and when citizens yield obedience to the government and do so from faith and the hope of eternal life, they are performing good works, though they do not shine and glitter in the sight of reason. . . .

If you ask reason, the works of a servant, a maid, a master, a mistress, a mayor, and a judge are common, lowly works compared with the Carthusian’s keeping his vigil, fasting, praying, abstaining from meat; but if you ask God’s Word, the works of all Carthusians and all monks, melted together in one mass, are not as good as the work of a single poor servantmaid, who by Baptism has been brought into the kingdom of God, believes in Christ, and in faith is looking for the blessed hope. These two articles St. Paul would keep alive among Christians: the knowledge of Jesus Christ our Savior, who has called us by Baptism and the Gospel as heirs of eternal life, waiting for that blessed hope and the glorious appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the knowledge that everything we do in our Christian calling and station by faith is altogether a good and precious work; on which account we should be zealous unto good works; . . . Now, therefore, since we have heard what blessed hope we should look for, we should also learn that the works which we do by faith in our appointed calling according to God’s command and order are good works. Though such works do not glitter in the sight of reason, they are nevertheless precious before God, while the Carthusian and the monk cannot see and understand these things. For example, I am a preacher; that is my office; if now I believe in Christ and look for the blessed hope and then go and tend to my preaching and perform my calling, even though men hold my office in low esteem, I would not trade my office for all the works that all the monks and nuns do in the cloister. — Likewise also that wife is a living saint who believes in Christ, looks for the blessed hope and appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ and in such a faith goes and does what belongs to the calling of a wife. — As reason knows nothing of the blessed hope of eternal life, so, too, it does not understand what constitutes truly good works. It reasons thus: This maid milks the cow, this farmer plows the field, they are performing common, lowly works, which also the heathen perform; how, then, can they be good works? But this man becomes a monk, this woman a nun, they look sour, put on a cowl, wear a rough garment: these are exceptional works, they are not performed by the common people; therefore they must be good. Thus reason argues. Thus reason leads us away from the true knowledge of both the blessed hope and the good works.

– St. Louis Edition, IX:952ff.