Monthly Archives: June 2014

Jesus Christ: Good Man AND Good Lord

Christ is confessed [in Matthew 16] in two ways. First he is confessed according to His life. The disciples say to the Lord, “Some say You are John the Baptizer, others that You are Elijah. Some that You are Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” That is not yet a sure and rightly fashioned confession of Christ. It hangs only onto His outer appearance and the kind of life that Christ led. Many Jews confessed Him that way. So where there is only flesh and reason, people can grasp nothing more of Christ than that He is only a holy, good man who gives us a fine example which we should follow. Even if Christ were now walking here on earth, reason could still not confess anything more of Him than that. Now heaven is still closed to whoever takes Him as a holy man, as an example to be followed for a good life. He has not rightly grasped or confessed Christ. He only regards Him as a holy man, as also Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah and other good saints had been. So take note of this rule. Where just plain reason appraises Christ He will only be regarded as a teacher and a holy man. But that is because it is not the Father, but one’s own reason, who is teaching his heart.

The other understanding of Christ is the one Peter has when he says here, “You are Christ, the Son of the living God.” He is saying, “You are a different kind of man. You are not like Elijah, nor John, nor Jeremiah nor anyone else who has come before. There is something greater about You. You are Christ, Son of the living God. You are beyond comparison to any saint, not to John nor to Elijah, nor to Jeremiah.” For if Christ is regarded only as a good man, then reason is in control tossing you to and fro, flitting from one to another, from Elijah to Jeremiah. But here He is singled out and regarded as something different than all the other saints. By this He is made sure. For if I have a dubious Christ then my conscience can never be settled. It can never find security.

So here a distinction is made between faith and works. Christ Himself makes it clear that He must not be grasped by works. You cannot receive Him by works for works follow after faith. First I must walk in His kindness, that He is mine and I am His. That can only happen by the working of the Word, where Peter says, “You are Christ, the Son of the living God.” Now blessed is he who has this confession of Christ. Reason cannot come this far. This is made known by Christ Himself when He answers Peter and says, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of John. Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father in Heaven.” And He says further, “You are Peter (that is, a rock) and upon this rock I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

– Martin Luther, Church Postil for the Feast of SS Peter and Paul

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The Rock Way Is the Cross Way

The rock way is the cross way. That is the way of victory and liberation. The giving way of love. Anyone who tries to serve oneself, make oneself big and secure, is done for. The way of life is only the Christ-given life. No matter how much money we may make, no matter how big we may make ourselves or defend ourselves against God in the God spot we have taken over, we are lost, for we have blocked and destroyed our lives in which the living flow is outward, the giving way, the longing way, all the way, always on, forward, without termination. Sin offers terminations. “At this level, this size, you will be able to say, ‘I have made it. I have what I want.'” The offer is a lie, the opposite of life, the termination is death. Jesus rescues us from termination, from the mortal terminations, the levels, the size of self or achievement by which we would secure ourselves against every threat – even the threat of God, for this is deception, the no to life, with termination death.

As Jesus entered Peter’s home and work and brought with Him opportunities to serve, so He enters Peter’s death, the death of us all that we determine with our no to love, to live, to God. The prison of our mortal constructions, our ways of figuring things out, our ways of making ourselves big, defensed, and secure, our termination, our death. He enters them all. Jesus dies our death for us, the death that terminates the loving, giving life that flows from generous God. He bears our separation from God. Jesus suffers our hell, but hell and death cannot hold Him, for He never said yes to them. He did not sin. The sinless one takes what was coming to us by our sin. Jesus takes sin’s claim on us and suffers it through. For on Him sin had no claim. Because of Jesus’ taking it, sin can no more make claim on us. We are liberated from its claim and dominion, its death that we willed with our sin.

The smile that Jesus shared with Peter over the little kingdoms of this world He shares with us over all that would destroy us: sin, death, Satan, and hell. From their dominion we are free, kings, priests, a holy nation, God’s own people in the life that is always onward and more, without end. The rock of certainty is Christ. Even in our last glimpse of Peter, we see him still getting things wrong. He wanted to check out what our Lord had in store for John. Jesus gives him a friend’s straight answer, “That is not your business. Your business is discipleship. Follow Me.” Peter followed. Jesus had told him of the death with which he would glorify God.

Tradition tells that Peter never heard a cock crow without tears and that when they came to crucify him he asked for the upside down way of doing it, for he was not worthy to be crucified as his Lord in His crucifixion, the rock, the Calvary rock against which little Nero, nor sin nor death, nor the gates of hell can prevail. Peter confessed the Rock. He often slipped from the Rock, but the Rock carried him through. Lord Jesus, rock us too. Amen.

Norman Nagel, “Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel”, pages 276-277

First Sunday after Trinity – Luke 16:19-31

Wise King Solomon once said, My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. The rich man had everything he wanted, yet he lacked one thing: hearing.

The rich man lacks something else: a name. Jesus doesn’t give him a name because his name is meaningless. The excess of abundance he had might have meant something to him while he was alive, but now that he is in torment in Hades, they mean nothing. All he has is an eternity of anguish in the flame of hell.

Lazarus has a name. That’s about all he has. He desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs came to lick Lazarus’s sores. The rich man perhaps had fine ointment that could have been used to ease the pain and heal the sores. But there was never an offer from the rich man. Lazarus had to be content with dog spit and the company of man’s best friend.

Lazarus has a name. He also has a place in Abraham’s bosom. Abraham has a name, too. First it was Abram, “the father is exalted”. Later God changed it to Abraham, “father of many nations”. God led Abram outside and said, Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them…. So shall your offspring be. In that many nations is one Lazarus, who received nothing but bad things in his life. Now Lazarus has comfort. He is reckoned as one of the stars in the sky that Abram saw.

The ones hearing the parable, the Pharisees, were lovers of money. They heard all these things, and they ridiculed [Jesus]. One of these things they heard we will hear, Lord willing, in a couple of months: the parable of the shrewd steward. Jesus tells the Pharisees, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. This is exactly what the rich man did not do. He could have used his abundant wealth to help Lazarus. He kept it to himself. He even ate better than any man could ever eat. He had more than what he needed, and he kept it to himself. He even passed by Lazarus every day at his gates, yet did nothing to help him.

The rich man has no name because had another god. The god of mammon was his identity. This doesn’t mean that being rich is a sin. What it means is what you do with your riches that shows who, or what, is your god. Martin Luther explains it this way in the Large Catechism: whoever trusts and boasts that he possesses great skill, prudence, power, favor, friendship, and honor also has a god. But it is not the true and only God. This truth reappears when you notice how arrogant, secure, and proud people are because of such possessions, and how despondent when the possessions no longer exist or are withdrawn. Therefore, I repeat that the chief explanation of this point is to “have a god” is to have something in which the heart entirely trusts.

The rich man’s heart trusted in a god that cannot save. Lazarus’s heart trusted in the God who saves. Lazarus trusted in the God who promised Abraham that a Savior would come from his family. He also promised Abraham that his house would not remain childless. Abraham believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Another way to say counted it is to say he reckoned it to him as righteousness. The Father thinks a different way about Abraham not because of anything Abraham does, but because Abraham believed that God would do what He said He would do.

God’s promises go against everything we observe. You can be dirt poor with no money or possessions to your name and you will be spared everlasting death. You can be rich with an excess of abundance, and you also will be spared everlasting death. You can be poor or rich, and yet receive everlasting death. The difference is the name, not your name, but the Name of God put into you in through hearing and believing the Word made flesh that rescues you from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

Lazarus had the Name of God put into him. He had nothing else, yet he lives. The rich man could have been a name collector, knowing all sorts of people. He had everything except the Name of God. He dies and is in eternal torment. You can’t buy yourself out of hell. You can’t send someone back from the dead to warn unbelieving family and friends about hell. Father Abraham even says If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.

The most important possession you have is the resurrected Christ, triumphant over death and hell for you. Without this possession, you have nothing, even though you think you have everything. When the Name of the Triune God is on you in your baptism, you have the richest possession in the universe. Consider these words from King Louis the Ninth of France: “I think more of the place where I was baptized than of Rheims Cathedral where I was crowned. It is a greater thing to be a child of God than to be the ruler of a Kingdom. This last I shall lose at death but the other will be my passport to an everlasting glory.”

You have a name. You also have the Name above all names put in you through the preached Word, poured over you in your baptism, and put in your mouth in the Lord’s Supper. What that Name means, Jesus, “the Lord saves”, is your possession. Believe it, and you have it. Turn to it in every time of trouble, and you will receive a fair hearing. Trust it, and you have a good conscience, for every sin is forgiven in that Name. The words of that Name are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.

It’s the Word, Not the Man

Devout believers, therefore, need to cling to the truth of God’s Word as proclaimed in the church by faithful pastors. Were Paul, Peter, yes, Christ himself, to proclaim the Word, it would be to no avail if meanwhile we despised it. If we love and believe the Word, whether preached by Paul or Peter, Christ or John the Baptist, pastor or chaplain, it does not make any difference who the person is, for it is the Word that counts. If we base our baptism’s worth on the fact that it was performed by the bishop of Mainz, by a cardinal, or the pope, then we are grounding it upon the person and not on baptism itself. It will not then endure. If we, however, esteem our baptism highly because it is God’s sacrament, ordained and commanded by him, then we stand on sure and firm ground. The person of man does not make baptism better, whether done by the pope or some bishop, parish preacher or chaplain, than the baptism done by a midwife in time of emergency. Similarly, the Word preached by a parish preacher is not better than that of a chaplain. In short, it’s a matter of the Word, not of the person.

– Martin Luther, House Postil for Trinity 1 (Luke 16:19-31)

Capon on The Rich Man and Lazarus

One of the fun things about moving into the non-festival portion of the Church Year is that I get to read more Robert Farrar Capon. The “green season” features more parables than the festival season, and Capon always gives food for thought on the parables. You might not agree with everything he says about them, but his comments are provocative and stimulating.

Here’s a taste of what he has to say about the parable for this coming Sunday in the One Year cycle (Luke 16:19-31):

For those convinced that living is the instrument of salvation, death is such an unacceptable device that they will not be convinced, even by resurrection. From the point of view of those who object to the left-handedness of the Gospel, you see, Jesus’ mistake was not his rising in an insufficiently clear way and then sailing off into the clouds. That, if anything, was only a tactical error. His great, strategic miscalculation was dying in the first place: after such a grievous capitulation to lastness and loss, no self-respecting winner could even think of doing business with him.

 

Contrary to the misreading of the spiritual advice of earlier centuries, we are not to go searching for loathsome diseases and rotten breaks. Life in this vale of tears will provide an ungenteel sufficiency of such things. The truth, rather, is that the crosses that will inexorably come – and the death that will inevitably result from them – are, if accepted, all we need. For Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to reward the rewardable, improve the improvable, or correct the correctable; he came simply to be the resurrection and the life of those who will take their stand on a death he can use instead of on a life he cannot.

Both quotes are from “Kingdom, Grace, Judgment“, pages 316-317

Feast of the Holy Trinity – John 3:1-17

Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night to have a little rabbi-to-rabbi conversation. He even offers Jesus the highest of complements: 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.

Jesus seems not to have even heard what Nicodemus said, but goes off in another direction. A heavenly direction. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God. Poor Nicodemus cannot believe his ears. How can this be? Can a man enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born again? But Jesus didn’t say born again but born from above. Nicodemus took it in the former sense; Jesus meant it in the latter. So much for all the “born-again” talk one hears in Christianity. The question is not “Are you born again?” but “Are you born from above?”

How does that work? Jesus explains, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of Spirit is spirit. To be born from above is to be born of the Spirit which is to be born of the water and Spirit in Holy Baptism. Flesh gives birth to flesh. That’s your birth from below from father Adam in which you inherited Adam’s condition of Sin. Spirit gives birth to spirit. That’s your birth from above in which you were born a child of God. Not only Jesus, but you in Jesus through Baptism, just as John says in the prologue to his gospel: To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. To be born from above of water and Spirit is to be born of God.

Nicodemus is in over his head, tossed into the depths of the wisdom and knowledge of God, and he can barely swim without his religious water wings. He doesn’t have a clue and can’t seem to connect the water and Spirit dots from Genesis 1. Water and Spirit go together. Combine water, Word and Spirit and you have light and life and new creation. But really, who can blame Nicodemus for missing the point? Many Christians miss the point too and think the new birth from above is dry, waterless, and “spiritual” in all the wrong senses of the word. You and I wouldn’t get it either on our own. These things are, as the apostle Paul said, spiritually discerned. They are taught by the Spirit who imparts spiritual wisdom that is not of this world, the Holy Spirit speaking to our spirit by way of water and the Word.

The Son is really the centerpiece of the Trinity, the One on whom the spotlight is focused. No one has ever seen God, John says, but the only-begotten God, the Word Incarnate, the second Person of the undivided Holy Trinity, He has made God known. This is where Martin Luther is particularly helpful for us. He refused to engage in philosophical speculations about God, though he was quite capable of doing so. He refused to deal with what he called the “hidden God” and stayed entirely with God come to us as the Son of the Virgin and the Man of the Cross. This is God in terms we can comprehend, who embraces us, who is born and suffers and dies, who is bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh.

We take the doctrine of the Trinity seriously because we take Jesus seriously. He is the One who reveals the Father, who sends the Spirit, who said, Baptize in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He is the One who said, No one comes to the Father except by me and I will send you another Comforter who will be with you forever, the Spirit of Truth. Were it not for Jesus, we wouldn’t have a doctrine of the Trinity or have anything to say about the Father and Holy Spirit.

You won’t get the Trinity right if you don’t get Jesus right. You won’t get Jesus right unless you also get the Trinity right. The Father sends the Son to die and rise who sends the Spirit who leads us to the Son who brings us back to the Father. This is what it means to be born of God, born from above, and born of the Spirit. The Father is our Father. The Son is our Brother. The Spirit is our Guardian, Guide, and Friend. We are caught up in a mystery that defies our reason and our senses, and reminds us, as Job was reminded, that God is God and we are not God.

The prophet Isaiah had the privilege of seeing the Lord sitting upon His throne, exalted and lifted up in great majesty. Yet words utterly fail him. He can’t describe God. He can describe the “negative space” around God, the train of His robe, the fire angels with their six pairs of wings, but he can’t describe God. There are no words. All you can do is fall on your face, confess your Sin, be absolved, and join the angels in singing, Holy, holy, holy. God is holy. He is completely set apart from us, so utterly transcendent that we cannot look at Him and live much less describe the experience. Yet He has deigned to dwell with us as the Son incarnate.

Luther once remarked that the human heart is an idol factory, grinding out one idol after another for us to pursue. All those idols we invent for ourselves are gods made in our image, gods who look like us, think like us, do what we want them to do, and affirm us. They are gods that make sense to us, gods we can manipulate, bribe, and cajole to do our will. They are gods who are at our beck and call.

Not so the only true God. He makes no sense at all. Is He three or is He one? And the answer “yes” is somehow not satisfying to the mind that is closed tight by sin. We would never in a million years invent the God revealed by Jesus and taught in the Scriptures. We would never in a million years invent a God that called for something like the Athanasian Creed to confess. He is the God who defies our notions of both respectability and reasonableness.

There is not a single theologian who can honestly say he understand the Holy Trinity. Don’t trust one who says that he does. I certainly don’t. But God is not for us to understand, explain, or rationalize but to believe and to receive all He intends to give us. It begins with our baptismal birth, our birth from above by water and Spirit. It continues forever with eternal life in the Triune God.

You don’t have to understand God to receive His gifts, to be forgiven, justified, sanctified, glorified, to pray, praise and give thanks. The Athanasian Creed doesn’t say, “we understand” but “we believe” and “we worship” the Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity, neither confusing the Persons nor dividing the Substance or Essence of God. Or to put it in the terms of the angels: Holy, holy, holy. That says it all right there. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of his glory.

Blessed be the Father. Blessed be the Son. Blessed be the Holy Spirit. And blessed are you.

Feast of Pentecost – Acts 2:1-21

Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech. And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? [W]e hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.

What was done at Babel was undone in Jerusalem, even if for a moment. Even though there was no common language, there was a common thread running through what was spoken after the descent of the Holy Spirit among them. The men speaking were understood by all who were there, no matter where they came from. Unlike Babel, this is a great work of God. Yet the question persists, What does this mean? The question persists today. What does Pentecost mean? Do charismatic Christians have the answer when they speak in tongues and claim miraculous healings? Has the Holy Spirit departed from the Lutheran Church around the world? Has the Holy Spirit even left this building, leaving us orphans? Where are the mighty works of God today?

What happens after the tongues of fire and rushing wind gives a clue to where the mighty works of God are found today. It all starts with the smart aleck comment, they are filled with new wine. New wine is rather sweet and strong. When you drink a lot of it, you tend to say and do things you ought not to do. Yes, the Scriptures say we should take a little wine for the stomach’s sake, but the comment means that Peter and the other apostles are drunk. They are showing off as some drunk people tend to do. They have lost their filter and let their mouths run wild. It just so happens that foreigners are able to understand them. Or so some wish to think.

That smart aleck comment actually leads into Peter’s bold Law-Gospel sermon that converted over three-thousand people that day. It wasn’t new wine that brought repentance and the forgiveness of sins, as well as baptisms. The mighty work of God that day was the preaching of the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus Christ atones, makes, is a sin offering, for the sins of the world. He dies for Jews and Gentiles. The Gentiles come into the story later in the book of Acts. For now, the Gospel is for the Jews.

Saint Peter did not have the Evangelists’ memoirs before him. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had not yet written their gospel accounts. So how do you preach Jesus Christ if you don’t have the material to read and from which to preach? You draw your hearers into the Old Testament. You speak the words of the prophet Joel, where over nine-hundred years before he prophesied this day would happen. He goes on to quote King David as well. Everything points to the descent of the Holy Spirit and to the death of Jesus Christ, Whose blood cleanses from all sin. Everything points to Christ’s resurrection from the dead, a fresh memory among those gathered that day. What man thought was good and expedient for them turned out to be true, but not in the way they expected.

Peter clobbers his hearers with stern and heavy Law: this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. You did it. You gave Him up for dead to be done with Him. But you are not done with Him. Peter goes on: God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it…. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing…. Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

You are not done with Him. Jesus’ ascension to His Father and our Father, His God and our God, does not close the book on the mighty acts of God, leaving us to fend for ourselves without His help or comfort. Your sin sent Him to the cross, yet He rises from the dead triumphant over death, even your death. You deserve eternal punishment, yet Jesus takes that punishment upon Himself for your sake. The Lord God will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below in order to prove His Word is true.

For a time those wonders included miraculous healings and amazing earthly signs. They are scattered over the Acts of the Apostles. People wanted to get in Peter’s shadow believing they would be healed! Now in these latter days, the healings and signs have faded away. What is left is the mighty acts of God written by men under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

God’s Word for us that our debt has been paid in full in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son, is the mighty work of God among us today. Wherever that Word is proclaimed, there is the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus promised, convicting the world according to sin, righteousness, and judgment. Wherever that Word is proclaimed, there is the Holy Spirit, cutting hearers to the heart with stern and unrelenting Law, showing sin and calling it what it is, a falling short of the mark of perfection the heavenly Father expects. The Law preaches repentance.

When repentance comes, then comes the Gospel that declares you free from sin and death for Jesus’ sake. Three-thousand people that day repented, believed in Jesus Christ, and were baptized for the forgiveness of sins. They became partakers of God’s righteousness in Jesus, just as you became a partaker of His divine righteousness. Sins are washed away. New life is yours, as it was theirs.

Saint Luke says later in Acts chapter two that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Here we see how the Church was in those early days after Pentecost. Apostolic teaching, a common life together around the Lord’s altar, receiving the Lord’s Supper, as well as corporate prayer (the liturgy) and individual prayer shaped the Church’s life. These mighty works of God remain with us even today. Behind it all is the Word of Christ that richly dwells in you, the Word that kills and makes alive. Pentecost means that the Holy Spirit has come, just as Jesus promised. The Spirit’s entry into the world brings the Good News of Jesus for you in a personal way. The mighty acts of God are heard in your language and applied to you in His Gifts of forgiveness and life.

Though languages remain scrambled, languages cannot bind the content of the words. First in Jerusalem, later in Judea, and finally all the world hears the mighty acts of God. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

Baptismal Identity and Sin

Go here first and read this article. Then come back to here.

I see why a person could misunderstand this article. You might think the article gives the ring of “Once baptized, always saved.” No matter what you do or how you live, don’t worry. You’re saved.

Now go back and read the article again. Consider this paragraph:

For those who are gay or struggle with some gender issue. You are baptized! God has not abandoned you. You are not less in His sight because of your struggles against sin. He has beaten sin for you. All of the guilt, doubt and despair you may feel has been answered for on Calvary. The struggle you face to live a “sexually pure and decent life” is the Spirit’s work in you. Your failings to do so are covered by Jesus’ blood and left buried in His tomb. Your victory over these very real and very bitter struggles is the baptism which the sign of the cross remembers, the absolution your pastor speaks, and the Body and Blood of Jesus He gives you.

The key word in the paragraph is struggle. There is not one Christian who does not struggle with any sin. Not one. I have my struggles. You have yours. When you struggle with sin, the Law is at work in you. The Holy Spirit is using God’s Word to show you your sin. The Holy Spirit is using the Law to show how you don’t measure up to the exacting demand God expects of His people. Sometimes the Spirit uses the Mirror. Sometimes He uses the Guide. He’s in control of what use of the Law He uses.

Yet you are baptized. This is your identity, no matter what sin is your struggle. You are forgiven. That’s a state of being. The Law preaches repentance. That’s the struggle the author mentions. Then:

Homosexuality, promiscuity, divorce, adultery, fornication—anything that is against marriage or denies marriage—denies the truth of Jesus and His church. But it is precisely in the truth of what Christ has done for His church that all sins are forgiven. 
All of them. Without exception. None greater or less than another. All of them are covered by Christ’s blood. And every struggle, and every failing, and every transgression, is covered by the promise of your baptism. This is why the whole Christian life, whatever you struggle with, is nothing other than a life in the Divine Service, hearing over and over the promise that Christ does not abandon us in our sins but forgives and gives us life.

The church does not accept the world’s view that “anything goes.” But neither does it seek to judge certain sins more than others. Rather, the church lives by Christ’s gifts. By His forgiveness. By His Word, water, body and blood. There is nothing else by which the Spirit works in us to rescue us from the world’s way of thinking and the darkness of sin.

Sinful human beings want to see progress and results. How do I know you are really repentant? How do I know whether or not the Law and Gospel you preach, Pastor, is truly working in your flock’s life? I need to see it to believe it. You won’t see it. You will, instead, let the Holy Spirit work in the Word. Let Him do what He is given to do, when and where He wills.

If there’s any sin that demands repentance on our part, it’s the sin of controlling the Holy Spirit. I confess I try to control Him all the time. Every day. Nevertheless, I am baptized. I am forgiven. I struggle with this sin and pray the Spirit to call to mind my Baptism. In that lavish washing of sin I am forgiven and free. Do I have a license to do as I please? No. The Law will do its work again, showing me my sin. I will repent. I am forgiven. It’s who I am in Christ.

What does such baptizing with water signify?–Answer.

It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Where is this written?–Answer.

St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

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Mo’ Bo on Galatians

The common understanding – both among Jews and among modern people – is that we’re at peace with God when we keep His Commandments. That’s right, Paul answers – if there really was a law that could impart life. He means a law that could unite us with God so His life would flow in us. But now it’s just the opposite: The law is death. It ruthlessly exposes us as lawbreakers, helplessly separated from God. The law finds something wrong with everything we try to do because it lacks the most important thing: the love of God and the love of our neighbor. “The whole world is a prisoner of sin” (Galatians 3:22). No distinction is made. None of us is justified – none of us is righteous enough – when judged by the standards of the Law (which is the correct standard!). We can never honestly say: Lord I have done all that You commanded.

Therefore the Law forces us to Christ. We come to Him not in righteousness, but as exposed sinners, unsuccessful disciples, poor in the Spirit. And He meets us with the incomprehensible message that because of Christ we are blessed and that the heavenly kingdom belongs to us and we may be God’s children.

– Bo Giertz, To Live With Christ, pages 363-364

Luther on Pentecost

This message [of Pentecost] does not instill fear, does not kill, but rather instills joy and boldness. It does just what Christ has promised his disciples, that he would send to them the Holy Spirit, who would not be a terrifying spook but rather one who comforts, one who would fill them with joy, boldness, and courage in the face of every kind of fear. For on this day, at the moment when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven, every one of the apostles steps forward in turn, filled with a courage ready to take on the whole world, when just a short time before, no one could cheer them up. Right after his ascension, it was all that Christ could do to gather them together like timid, scattered chicks and soothe their fears. Despite all his admonitions and encouragements, he could not instill in them any boldness or courage. But on this day when the Holy Spirit comes along in a roaring wind and breathes on them, he makes their hearts so joyful and eager to speak, that every one of them steps up before a mob of strangers and starts preaching to hem. They are totally unconcerned about what others may think, and are ready to engage the whole world.

 

But what did they preach about? This is what they said: Listen, dear friends, we want to bring you a new and wondrous message, a truly remarkable story such as you’ve never heard before. You know that this past Easter a man by the name of Jesus of Nazareth was crucified at Jerusalem as if he were a criminal, a villain, and a traitor. He was mocked, spit upon, scorned, cursed, and killed, as everyone knows. Would you like to know who this man really is? He’s the Lord of heaven and earth, yes, he’s the Son of God. That is what the apostles and disciples proclaimed to all the various nations represented there, not just to those who spoke their own native tongue learned in their childhood. No, they also spoke in foreign languages they had never learned! It struck the people as a genuine wonder, that this Jesus of Nazareth, dragged out of the city seven weeks earlier, legally condemned as a criminal, and publicly executed, was not being publicly proclaimed to be the Lord and God who rules the whole world.

 

The New Testament and the kingdom of Christ being with seemingly no power at all, but in fact they have an almighty power that no one can resist. It seems like folly for Christ to begin the New Testament in this way, with the message of the apostles on Pentecost Day. What is their message? This is it: We apostles proclaim that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, who was condemned and publicly executed seven weeks ago, is the Lord, of whom all the prophets prophesied. Whoever wishes to be rid of his sins and to have eternal life, let him repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. All of this seems insignificant and unimportant, both so far as the message and so far as the messengers are concerned. The message seems to be unimportant. The messengers, namely, the apostles and disciples whom Christ used as instruments of this message, seem to be even more unimportant. And yet, as a result of this unimportant message and its seemingly incompetent messengers, the New Testament and the kingdom of Christ are established.

 

So Christianity begins as nothing but powerless foolishness. It is as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:23: ” We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness.” And yet there is hidden under this foolishness and weakness the greatest wisdom and power, which no one can resist. For regardless of how great the power of the high priests and Pilate, they can’t do anything to stop it. God strikes them with fear, so that they are afraid of the people who might stone them. It does indeed seem like rebellion against both spiritual and political rulers for the apostles to come along and preach about the crucified Jesus of Nazareth. but in spit of that, both the high priests and Pilate are filled with fear. Of course, they fully deserve to be afraid, though there is nothing to fear, so that God can demonstrate his power through those who are powerless. That is why I say, Christianity is established in obvious weakness, and yet in that same impotence there is so great a power and might, that all the high and mighty stand in awe of it and are fearful of it.

 

You see, it is in the nature and character of the gospel to be a foolish, offensive message, and almost universally rejected and condemned. If the gospel didn’t upset citizens and peasants, bishops and princes, it would be a nice, sweet message, easy to proclaim, and the public would gladly accept it. But because it is a message that offends people, especially the high and mighty, therefore it takes great courage and the help of the Holy Spirit to proclaim it. The fact is that the poor beggars and fishermen come forward and preach in such a way that they rouse and bring down upon themselves the anger of the whole council and Jerusalem, the wrath of the whole government, the ire of the spiritual rulers, and, on top of that, also the hatred of the Roman emperor. What’s more, they dare to accuse all of the above of being traitors and murderers, fully expecting to get their teeth knocked out. None of this could have happened without the Holy Spirit. That is why the Holy Spirit’s Pentecost message is our comfort and joy, because we, too, can ignore the anger and slander of the world. It is this same message that produces such joy-filled people in Christ, people who are willing to undertake anything in behalf of Christ, willing also to suffer anything for his sake.

 

The sum and substance of all their sermons was: God has fulfilled for his people all the promises he made to their fathers; he did this by letting Jesus be born as a descendant of David and as the Saviour of his people Israel. From the time this same God led his people Israel out of Egypt, he performed one miracle after another. In one stroke he has now confirmed all his miracles by raising Jesus from the dead and by proclaiming forgiveness of sins in his name, so that whoever believes in him will be righteous and filled with joy.