Monthly Archives: May 2014

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

The first word of today’s Introit is hear. The word from Psalm 27 is a plea to God to hear our cry for help. Your face, Lord, do I seek; hide not your face from me. Standing in between Jesus’ Ascension this past Thursday and next weekend’s coming of the Holy Spirit, the Helper promised by Jesus in today’s Gospel, the cry for our Lord to hear is a timely cry. To our reckoning, it seems as if we are alone for a while. Yet we are not alone, for Jesus promises to be with us until the end of the age.

The word hear can also be understood as a command from God. He implores us to hear His Son when Jesus is baptized and when Jesus is transfigured. On this last Sunday in Easter, this in-between time between the Ascension and Pentecost, it is good that we are reminded to hear, to hearken to the Lord, for the Collect tells us that He will “send us the Spirit of truth whom You promised from the Father.”

The Spirit of Truth, the Helper sent from the Father, will bear witness about [Jesus]. The word for bear witness in the original language of the New Testament is the same word for one who dies for the sake of the Gospel: martyr. Eleven men leave the upper room to follow Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane after Jesus instituted His Supper and spoke these words to those men. Of those eleven men, later to include Matthias, church history tells us that ten of the eleven, eleven of the twelve including Matthias, would die a martyr’s death. Only Saint John died a natural death. The rest were killed, martyred, for their confession of faith.

We don’t know if these men knew what they were getting into when Jesus told them they would be put out of the synagogues. Or maybe we do know, for Jesus also told them that whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. Put another way, Jesus warns them that those who martyr them will think that their death is an act of worship to God. Imagine it! An apostle, one sent by Jesus as an eyewitness of the resurrection, killed for preaching the death and resurrection of Jesus, and his death considered a service performed to God for His glory.

Then Jesus has the audacity to tell them that I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. So you leave the room with Jesus that night knowing that you are going to be kicked out of the synagogue for the sake of Christ’s name. You are also told you will more than likely die for the sake of Christ’s name. Your comfort in knowing these things is that the Helper is coming from the Father and that they will do these things because they have not know the Father, nor Me.

As a person with a sinful human nature, there’s not really a lot of comfort here. A bunch of religious people, zealous for the worship of God, will find a way to throw you out of the church and kill you, yet the Helper will be there with you. Where the Helper is, there is Jesus with Him, just as He promised. It would be nice to have some more security and safety from Jesus, but there it is. You’re going to die, but you will have help.

No wonder the first word of the Introit is hear. What Jesus says to His disciples, and to you today, is hard to fathom. You will need help to make it through the difficult days when Satan wants to sift you like wheat. You will need help to deal with those who want you to renounce your confession of Jesus as Lord. Earthly weapons are not going to help you in this battle. All you have is the Word that is near you, even in your heart, and the Helper Who brings that Word to your remembrance.

Remember. There’s another watchword for today. Remember that Jesus told you these things will happen. Unlike the disciples, who had Jesus with them, you haven’t had the privilege of being in the intimate presence of Jesus for three years. However, you have the Helper, the Spirit of truth, Who brings to your remembrance not only our Lord’s promise that you will bear witness of Him, but that you will also receive comfort from the Helper. The Holy Spirit does not help by whispering in your ear what you are to say or do for Jesus’ sake. He’s not a life coach or a trail guide. He is the Helper promised by the Savior Who points you to Jesus as the One Who hears your cry for help and answers your cry with His Gifts of forgiveness and life.

The Helper “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” He runs the verbs. The Helper does the hard work of keeping you connected to Jesus. In this connection to Jesus, you have everything you need for sustenance against the devil, the world, and the sinful nature.

“In this Christian Church [the Helper] daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.” There’s the help you cry for the Lord to hear. You cry for forgiveness. The Lord answers with forgiveness. He puts this forgiveness in your ears. He splashes forgiveness with baptismal water over your head. He feeds you forgiveness in His true Body and true Blood. He brings to mind the reality that you have a good conscience before the Father in heaven because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on your behalf. Your debt of sin is paid in full because of Jesus’ death for you. Whether you die a natural death like Saint John or a martyr’s death like the other apostles, you live. You live because Jesus lives. Because Jesus lives, you have a future, because the Church has a future.

You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

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Christ is the Fulfillment of the Law

61. For if the law is eliminated [weggenommen wird], one does not know what Christ is or did by fulfilling the law for us.

62. For if I want to understand the fullness of the law [die Erfüllung des Gesetzes], that is, Christ, it is necessary to know what the law and its fullness are.

63. This cannot be taught unless it is taught that the law is not fulfilled in us and that we therefore are guilty of sin and death.

64. When this is taught, then we learn that we all are debtors of the law and sons of wrath.

65. The impious are this simply in flesh and spirit or totally; the pious, however, insofar as they are and live in the flesh.

66. Therefore, the teaching of the law is necessary in the church and is to be retained by all means; without the law Christ cannot be retained.

67. For, the law which he fulfilled being removed, what do you retain of Christ as long as you do not know what he fulfilled?

68. Generally speaking, the law is fulfilled in Christ in such a way that you cannot teach it in this way unless you also teach that the law is not fulfilled in us.

Martin Luther, Fifth Set of Theses Against the Antinomians, St. Louis Ed. 20:1646; ET: Only the Decalogue Is Eternal, pages 136-137, translated by Dr. Holger Sonntag.

Good Works Flow from Gospel Preaching, Not Law Preaching

A teacher of the Law enforces his restraints through threats and punishments. A preacher of grace persuades and incites by calling attention to the goodness and mercy of God. The latter does not desire works prompted by an unwilling spirit, or service that is not the expression of a cheerful heart. He desires that a joyous, willing spirit shall incite to the service of God. He who cannot, by the gracious and lovely message of God’s mercy so lavishly bestowed upon us in Christ, be persuaded in a spirit of love and delight to contribute to the honor of God and the benefit of his neighbor, is worthless to Christianity, and all effort is lost on him. How can one whom the fire of heavenly love and grace cannot melt, be rendered cheerfully obedient by laws and threats? Not human mercy is offered us, but divine mercy, and Paul would have us perceive it and be moved thereby.

– Martin Luther, Church Postil on the Epistle for the First Sunday after Epiphany (Romans 12:1-5)

The Holy Spirit Will Bear Witness OF ME

Christ says very definitely, “The Holy Spirit will witness of Me,” of Me and not of someone else. Beyond this witness of the Holy Spirit about Christ there is no sure and abiding comfort. That is why one should write the words “OF ME” with capital letters and diligently remember them. For of this we may be certain, that the Holy Spirit promotes no other doctrine, preaches neither Moses nor other laws whereby to comfort the conscience. If the conscience is to be comforted, it can only be by the preaching of Christ’s death and resurrection – this alone comforts. In contrast, all other preaching of law, good works, holy living, whether commanded by God or men, in incapable of comforting a person in times of need and death; instead it leaves him uncertain and in despair, frightened and tormented. If we consider God without Christ, we find no comfort by only righteous wrath and displeasure. But whoever preaches Christ proclaims and brings true comfort, so that it will be impossible for hearts not to be joyous and of good cheer.

– Martin Luther, House Postil for the Seventh Sunday after Easter (John 15:26-16:4)

Sixth Sunday of Easter – John 16:23b-30

Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

So, Father, where’s my stuff? I’ve been praying for financial security, but still live paycheck to paycheck. I’ve been praying for good health for my friends, but another one was diagnosed with cancer this week. I’ve been praying for my children to return to church, but they still won’t come with me.

There is nothing more frustrating than prayer. Communication is the backbone of a good relationship. If you want a relationship to fail, then stop talking to someone. The same goes for prayer. A good way to ruin the relationship between a loving, merciful God Who waits to hear you talk to Him is to stop talking to Him.

Then there’s the old end-around play. Get someone else to pray on your behalf, especially if that someone has had some success in having prayers heard. I recall one of my uncles always telling my mom when she went to church while he visited, “Say a prayer for me.” He had long since given up attending church. I don’t know if he prayed, but he certainly wanted my mom to pray for him. Maybe he thought her prayers on his behalf would do something for him? Nevertheless, when we think we can shunt our prayers to someone else and hope God will hear them on their behalf, it says a lot about what we think about prayer. We don’t think much about it because we believe God is a liar.

If I ask you, “Are you wiser than God?” you will say no, at least I hope you will say no. But if we examine our prayer life, we will see how often we speak to God as if we know better than He. We become impatient and grumble when God doesn’t do as we tell Him. Then there’s the objection, “Hasn’t God promised to hear our prayer and give us everything for which we ask?” That is true, so long as it is asked in Jesus’ name. That’s the catch. This is not a loophole for God. He would not be our loving heavenly Father if He gave us everything that we wanted, just as parents who give their children everything they want are poor parents.

God loves us too much to give us everything we want. He draws a fence around the things that He promises to give us in answer to our prayer. That fence is His love. God’s curse often is His letting people have just what they want. That is the way people get to hell. God says, “Well, if you insist on cutting yourself off from Me and going straight to hell, have it your way.” If we deliberately shut God out of our life, God finally says, “Alright, you get your wish.”

Because God is our loving heavenly Father, He restricts His promise to those things that are for our good, which draw us close to our Savior, in whose name alone we rightly pray. As our mind and wishes come more and more into line with our Father’s mind and wishes, we more fully pray in the name of Jesus. As we learn to pray in the manner of Christ, we learn from Him to say, “Not my will, but Your will be done.”

Did you ever notice in the Lord’s Prayer that there is one petition asking for earthly goods, while the rest deal with spiritual matters? If you only knew the war raging for your soul in the heavenly realms. If you only knew how hard the devil works to take your eyes off Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith. If you could only see how the angels fight for your protection from every evil thing. These reasons, and many others, would draw you away from praying for wealth and health and toward praying for the one thing needful in this life: the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ that cleanses you from all sin.

But what about those “unanswered” prayers? It’s best not to consider them “unanswered”, but answered prayers in the way that is best for us. Take the old example of a little child asking Mom for a sharp knife. The heart of the child’s request is that he may have fun playing with the knife. Mom refuses to give the child the knife, yet by doing that, she grants the heart of his prayer. He thought he would be happier playing with the knife. Mom knew he would be happier not playing with it. His happiness has been granted, though he may pout for an hour and think his mother unloving and cruel. So also our Father in heaven deals with us as His children, who so often ask for foolish and hurtful things.

Yet we should still ask for particular things. We should have no desire about which we are ashamed to tell our Father. He is pleased with us when we speak to him as dear children speak to their dear Father, even if it is about a new pair of shoes or the garden, but always with the confession, “Lord, You know what a foolish person I am and how apt I am to ask for hurtful and selfish things. To me it would seem that these things would be good for me and my neighbor, but I will leave it all up to You.” Not my will, but Yours be done.

Blessed be the LORD who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise. When we pray for our salvation for Jesus’ sake, God has to give it to us. When we pray for earthly things, we tell our Father what we would like and are confident that He will give it to us. If it is for our good and He does not grant it just when and how we like, we know that He gives us what is better for us. The heart of our prayer, our sure good, is always granted.

Lord, teach us to pray. And He does. Not only for what you need, but for others as well. When you pray, having been taught by the Lord and His Word how to pray, you are like a warrior on the field of battle with weapons drawn, helping to guard and protect the Christian church against the devil and the world. You are a soldier engaged in battle with the devil. As firmly as pastors do battle through preaching and teaching, so firmly ought you fight alongside us by prayer. This is how we must contend and fight at every turn; for we Christians are mighty warriors, some of us preaching, and you also by praying. These two things, diligently preaching and earnestly praying, pierce the devil’s heart.

Still looking for your stuff? Here it is before your eyes again today. You have the word of forgiveness in absolution. You have the preaching of the Gospel that declares you not guilty of sin because of Jesus. You are baptized. All is now ready for you to receive the Sacrament. And, as you go through your days in His peace, you pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.

Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

So, God, Where’s My Stuff?

Can we always know what is good or not good for building us up in stature for our salvation? Of course not. The confession that our heavenly Father knows better than we is basic to all rightful prayer. If you ask Christians, “Are you wiser than God?” they will, of course, say no, but if each of us will examine our prayer life, we will surely see how often we speak to God as if we know better than He. We become impatient and grumble when God doesn’t jump to it and do as we tell Him. But someone will object, “Hasn’t God promised to hear our prayer and give us everything for which we ask?” That is true, so long as it is asked in Jesus’ name. As we might say, that is the catch. Is that just a loophole for God? Not so! God would not be our loving heavenly Father if He gave us everything that we wanted, just as those are pretty poor parents who give their children everything they want.

God loves us too much to give us everything we want. He draws a boundary around the things that He promises to give us in answer to our prayer. That boundary is His love. So often God’s curse is His letting people have just what they want. That is the way people get to hell. God says, “Well, if you insist on cutting yourself off from Me and going full speed to hell, you shall have it your way.” If we deliberately shut God our of our life, God finally says, “All right, you shall have it as you want it.” Because God is our loving heavenly Father, He restricts His promise to those things that are for our good, which draw us close to our Savior, in whose name alone we pray aright. As our mind and wishes come more and more into line with our Father’s mind and wishes, we shall more fully pray in the name of Jesus. As we learn to pray in the manner of Christ, we shall learn of Him to say, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

Yet even when our Father, out of love, refuses to give us that particular thing for which we may be foolishly asking, our prayer is not unanswered. The heart of our prayer is always granted us. Take the old example of little William asking Mother for a sharp knife. The heart of the child’s request is that he may have fun playing with the knife. Mother refuses to give little William the knife, yet by doing that, she grants the heart of little William’s prayer. Young William thought he would be happier playing with the knife. Mother knew he would be happier not playing with it. The happiness of William has been granted, though he may pout for an hour and think his mother most hard and unloving. So also our Father in heaven deals with us as His children, who so often ask for foolish and hurtful things.

It does not follow from this that we ought not to ask for particular things. We should have no desire about which we are ashamed to tell our Father. He is pleased with us when we speak to him as dear children speak to their dear Father, even if it is about a new pair of shoes or the tomato plants, but always with the confession, “Lord, You know only too well what a foolish person I am and how apt I am to ask for hurtful and selfish things. To me it would seem that these things would be good for me and my neighbor, but I will leave it all up to You.” Not my will, but Thine be done. We will learn to pray, “Lord, teach me to serve Thee with all I am and have” instead of a prayer that goes no further than “Lord, give me more money.” In the perfect prayer our Savior taught us, there is only one petition for earthly things. We need them for a while and are glad and grateful for them, but the whole weight of prayer is in the things that last for good, that work our salvation, the things our Savior came to accomplish.

For these we can ask without condition. God has to grant them to us. He has promised, and God is faithful. Claiming Jesus’ blood and merit, God has to forgive us our sins. that certainty is “in Jesus’ name.” We can hold God to His promise. That, however, means that we trust His promise. We may never complain of our prayer not being heard if we pray with a hit-or-miss attitude that says, “I don’t know whether it will do any good, but I don’t suppose it can do any harm either, so I may as well give it a go.” this is insulting to God because not taking God at His word entertains the possibility that God is a liar. Thus all our prayers must be with confidence. We must take god at His word: “There hath not failed one word of all His good promise” (1 Kings 8:56). When we pray for our salvation for Jesus’ sake, God has to give it to us. When we pray for earthly things, we tell our Father what we would like and are confident that He will give it to us. If it is for our good and He does not grant it just when and how we like, we know that He gives us what is better for us. The heart of our prayer, our sure good, is always granted. We confess, “Lord, Thou knowest best, and we trust Thy promise to hear our prayer.”

– Norman Nagel, Sermon for Easter 6

Fifth Sunday of Easter – John 16:5-15

In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. What comfort this sweet sentence of Saint Paul gives. The same for Saint John: Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. The whole world is made partakers of Christ’s acquired salvation through the office of the Holy Spirit, that is, through men sent to proclaim the forgiveness of sin. Their word is the Holy Spirit’s word. That’s what Jesus is driving at in today’s Gospel.

At the core of our Lord’s words is how the Holy Spirit makes known the main point of the preaching of the Holy Spirit in the world. The preaching of sin, righteousness, and judgment is not only for the world, but also for the Christian Church.

Jesus says the Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me. Unbelief is the granddaddy of all sins. All other sins naturally flow from unbelief. Mankind is not condemned to hell because of a lack of redemption. Jesus Christ redeems the entire world in His death and resurrection. Whether or not you believe it, Jesus died and rose again for you. That is an undeniable fact. What condemns mankind is unbelief. Jesus says before His ascension to His Father: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. Rejecting Christ’s redemption is like a patient refusing to take healing medicine. The patient doesn’t die because of his illness, but because of his contempt for the drug.

The world is stuck in this sin. What’s worse, the world has no idea about this sin. Saint Paul calls the preaching of sin a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. He says further: The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. You see it every day in your various stations in life. What is right is wrong, and what is wrong is right. The world doesn’t care a whit about sin because it knows nothing about sin. This is why the Holy Spirit convicts not only the world, but also the Church concerning sin. This is why your sins are put before you each week not only when you confess your sins and receive absolution, but also when God’s Word is preached. No matter how you try to wriggle out of it, you are still to blame for your unbelief in God in thought, word, and deed.

Jesus says the Holy Spirit proclaims righteousness because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer. When we hear about someone “going home”, especially a Christian, we think of death. Jesus will die. He will go to His Father through Golgotha in a vicarious atoning death through which Christ pays the ransom for the sins of the world. You apprehend His suffering and death through believing His Word of promise. For our sake [God the Father] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. You are able to stand before the Father without guilt or shame because Jesus is your righteousness, your royal robe washed white in the blood of the innocent Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Again, the world doesn’t know or care about this righteousness. When the world looks for righteousness, it looks at itself. The world cannot be bothered with religious matters. Reason find is foolish that we are reckoned righteous for the sake of an alien righteousness, a righteousness outside of us. Nevertheless, you are justified and saved only through this righteousness that is in Christ’s going away to the Father. Because our heavenly Father wills the salvation of the world, the Holy Spirit transfers this righteousness to the world. The Holy Spirit proclaims your righteousness is injustice before God. On the other hand, Christ’s accomplished righteousness establishes confidence and a good conscience before the Father.

The Holy Spirit’s preaches judgment because the ruler of this world is judged. Jesus Himself says earlier in John’s Gospel: Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. The devil exercises tyranny over mankind through sin. If sin is wiped out through Christ’s going away to the Father, then the scepter of the devil’s kingdom is crushed. The judgment of condemnation is pronounced over him instead of you. Satan alone is the author of sin. He is expelled to the place of torment, the burning lake of fire mentioned in the book of Revelation. This will happen on Judgment Day, just as Scripture proclaims. We wait with great anticipation for this day, for all things promised by Christ and His Word will come to pass.

When we hear the word “judgment” in the Church, we think of judgment that condemns. We worry whether or not we will be judged to our condemnation. We wonder whether we are good enough for God. Will I qualify for everlasting life? Yes, in Jesus Christ, you qualify for everlasting life. Yes, in Jesus Christ, you are good enough for God, but not just you, for it is Christ’s death and resurrection for you that makes you good enough for God.

Because of Jesus Christ, because you believe that He is your only hope for missing the burning lake of fire, you will receive judgment. Your judgment, however, is a judgment of righteousness. The prince of this world is written off, for you have been purchased and won from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, as you learned in the Small Catechism, but with the holy, precious blood of Jesus Christ, and with His innocent suffering and death, that you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

The preaching of the Holy Spirit is a preaching of sin, righteousness, and judgment. These are not static categories, but freely flow through every activity of the Holy Spirit in the Church. He uses them when and where He wills to show you your sin, but also to show you Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of your sins. Among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, as Thomas Cranmer translated the Collect for the Fifth Sunday in Easter, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found. Today you sing again the New Song Who is Jesus Christ, the One Who has done marvelous things, even your salvation.

Luther: Preaching and Praying and Doing Battle Against the Devil

Everyone who loves the Christian church and the gospel, and is concerned about their well-being, ought to remember that he must help sustain them. We can do this best of all through prayer, praying that the name of our God in heaven be hallowed, his kingdom come, and his will be done; on the other hand, that the name of the devil be reviled, his kingdom overthrown, and his will and designs repulsed. When you do this, then you and every Christian are like warriors on the field of battle with weapons drawn, helping to guard and protect the Christian church against the devil and the world. For every Christian is a soldier who is engaged in battle with the devil. As firmly as other pastors and I do battle through our preaching and teaching, so firmly ought you contend with us by prayer. This is how we must contend and fight at every turn; for we Christians are mighty warriors, some of us preaching, and you also by praying. These two things, diligently preaching and earnestly praying, pierce the devil’s heart. If he is to be defeated and overthrown, it must be done by these two weapons. For the one who rules in heaven does not lie.

– House Postil for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (1534)

Fourth Sunday of Easter – John 16:16-23a

Saint Peter writes in his first epistle, In this [salvation] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials. We forget to remember what God’s Word says about tribulation. We grumble and are impatient, especially in suffering. We grumble about how long we must suffer. We are impatient about suffering in general. We gripe about having to carry the cross five more steps than we thought.

Even Christ’s disciples are confused about His kingdom and His suffering. They say to each other, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” How quickly they, and we, forget why Jesus suffers and dies. Jesus suffers because of our sins. He suffers and dies because we are born sinners, by nature enemies of God with a very corrupt heart.

Reflect on the terrible insult committed on God’s only Son. He showers us with grace and mercy, yet endures the unfruitful tree of the cross for so long. Consider the fact that we load God’s wrath upon us through ingratitude, obstinate hearts, and disobedience. God pours out His wrath over all those sins on His Son, Jesus Christ. After His death and resurrection, Jesus returns to His Father to complete His saving work on behalf of mankind.

We gripe about a 40-hour workweek, or a 12-hour day. Jesus had to bear the burden of His suffering and death all His earthly life. If it wasn’t for Lent, if it wasn’t for the preaching of the Law, we would not know we need a Savior Who vicariously suffers for our sins. Hebrews chapter 12 reminds us to consider Him Who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. What is the cross compared with slight momentary affliction?

Though Jesus startles His disciples with talk of His imminent ascension to His Father, He is quick to comfort them with the prospect that they would see Him again in a little while. Christian suffering is a little while. Nothing stops disaster. Nothing stands in the way of emergencies. Sometimes a standstill occurs. Life comes crashing to a halt because of certain tribulations. The Lord knows our weaknesses. He is far too faithful and compassionate to let us be tempted beyond our ability.

There’s one of those places in Scripture where misunderstanding often takes place. You’ve heard someone tell you, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” That’s not true, because that phrase is not in Scripture. It’s a misquoting of 1 Corinthians 10:13. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. If only you could find that way of escape a lot sooner than God lets you find it! Nevertheless, God often completely diminishes our burden and turns our sorrow to joy, like a woman in labor pains or like recovering from a deadly illness. When distress passes, you forget the pain. If you suffer further, the faithful God still gives you times of relief. The crushed heart is raised up. The spirit is refreshed.

This is why we sang all 12 stanzas of today’s Chief Hymn. Granted the hymn is in Lutheran Service Book, but only five stanzas appear there. Today’s Holy Gospel begs us to sing all 12 stanzas as Paul Gerhardt wrote the hymn in 1653. His words are not those of a pie in the sky, bye and bye, oblivious optimist. This man intimately knows sorrow and joy.

Gerhardt doesn’t give you an exit strategy to leave Jesus behind in tragedy and triumph. Cross and trial have an end. His name is Jesus Christ. He knows your sorrow, for He is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Our sufferings are shortened by this change of good and bad days or hours. The bitter cup of suffering is sweetened. Even in the worst of all suffering on earth, this appears as a short time compared to eternity.

What is our life, even the longest life, compared to eternity? It is like a droplet of water compared to the Pacific Ocean. So it goes even with our tribulation here in time. It is “temporal”, from the Latin word “tempus”, meaning “time”. Time has an end in Christ, for He is eternal, the Alpha and Omega. As Saint Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4: For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. Eternal bliss for a short suffering in time. This sure and certain hope gives us confidence to bear all things, even pain and suffering, even depression and despair. This confidence in Christ is ours in Baptism, where we were clothed in Christ’s righteousness. This confidence in Christ is ours again today in His Supper, where He feeds us with His true Body and true Blood. A day comes when we will see with our eyes what we rejoice in hearing from the Spirit-inspired pen of Saint Paul: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.

Third Sunday of Easter – John 10:11-16

The Lord is my Shepherd…. I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out…. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls…. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me…and I lay down my life for the sheep.

The relationship between God and His children is like the relationship between shepherd and sheep. Countless books have been written about this relationship. Christian art often portrays this loving relationship. Consider the art glass window above the west doors of our building. Sheep gather around the Good Shepherd waiting for His caring provision.

That’s a great image to have in your mind as you enter and leave the Lord’s house. Like sheep, we gather around the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, to graze in the green pasture of His Gospel, His Good News of victory over sin and death. It’s a comforting image to think about. Nevertheless, perverse and foolish oft I strayed, as we sang in the chief hymn. Sheep are not intelligent creatures. If there is no one to lead them, to guide them to safe places to graze, they are in danger of being devoured by wolves or other predators.

Then there are those shepherds of the Good Shepherd’s flock who don’t care for His flock. Jesus calls them hired hands and not a shepherd. They see the wolf coming, leave the sheep, and flee. That’s when the wolf snatches the sheep and scatters them. The shepherds of the Good Shepherd’s flock of that time had abandoned the flock to teachings of men. Their preaching did not focus the sheep’s eyes on Jesus, but on their external righteousness. The false gospel of the hired hand was making sure you washed your cups and plates just so. Do things just right and you will obtain salvation. Make a mistake or two and, well, may God have mercy on you, maybe.

Hired hands won’t go after straying sheep. They will take care of themselves and their own and leave the rest to fend for themselves. They will proclaim false hope, if they proclaim any hope at all. They are hypocrites because they demand something they cannot obtain themselves. So it is with many shepherds of the Good Shepherd’s flock. They have grown fat and happy feasting on a good portion of the Master’s flock. They know what to preach to comfort everyone and afflict no one. They know when to look the other way to save their skin, yet give the wool of the sheep to the enemy. They want to believe they are the good shepherd and that their flock should follow their words rather than the Word of the Chief Shepherd.

In spite of hired hands and false shepherds, the Good Shepherd still runs the verbs. He still looks for His sheep and returns them to the fold. Consider today’s Old Testament reading from Ezekiel chapter 34. The first person singular “I” is used 15 times. Nowhere does the Lord God say that the sheep must do something in order to get His attention. In fact, God uses a double “I” at the beginning of the reading: I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.

Sheep often put pressure on themselves or on their shepherd to get busy and do something about lost sheep. What are we going to do without more sheep in the fold? What if the wolves devour everyone over time? What if there’s no more place for us to graze? That is the Good Shepherd’s problem, and He attends to it in His own way. Places to graze come and go. What was once a lavish meadow can become a barren patch of ground. Yet the Lord God promises I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel.

The Lord God will take good care of you, whether it is here in this pasture on the corner of Second and Pine or another pasture of His choosing. He says, I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down. The pressure is off. The Lord provides. We rest in Him, waiting for every good thing He has for us. We are content. He feeds. He leads. He forgives. He seeks. He saves. He provides. He protects. We receive. We say Amen.

But what about those other sheep, the ones who have strayed, the ones who are not yet in the fold? The Good Shepherd will find them when and where He wills. Jesus says, they will listen to my voice. How will they hear His voice if there isn’t a voice to speak it? God will provide that voice. This past week He provided for another group of shepherds of the Good Shepherd’s flock from our seminaries in Fort Wayne and Saint Louis. There will never be enough shepherds, yet there will always be enough shepherds. He knows where to send them. He knows who will hear His voice. He will tend to them. Pray to the Lord of the harvest to provide more workers, more shepherds. He will do it.

We’re back again to that art glass window above the west doors. Sheep know the voice of their Shepherd. When they stray, He seeks them out of love. “And on His shoulder gently laid/And home rejoicing brought me.” There’s a double homeward journey described in the hymn. He brings you home to this pasture to receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ in His gifts. He also will bring you home to Him when He returns to judge the living and the dead. This is the hope heard this past week to those who mourn the death of Dorothy Jacobsen. Her body was brought home to His house one last time for a farewell. And she indeed fares well asleep in Jesus.

The Lord is your Good Shepherd. All He wants is you. I who so often turn my back on the fold and its Shepherd? Yes, you. I who have cursed His staff, ignored His call, gone my own way? Yes, you. I who have been more like a wolf than a sheep, angrily tearing away at those around me? Yes, the Good Shepherd only wants you.

Come, for all is now ready. He spreads a table in your sight. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.