Monthly Archives: November 2015

First Sunday in Advent – Romans 13:11-14

What time is it? Don’t look at your watch or your phone. What time is it? Do you know the time? Saint Paul says you know the time, even the hour. He says the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.

This is not a game. This is real life stuff. The Greek language uses different words to describe time. “χρόνος” is clock time. You might know this word from “chronometer” or “chronology”. “ὥρα” is a unit of time, an hour. Kind of sounds like the word “hour”, doesn’t it? Then there’s the vocable “καιρός”, a word that is translated here as “time”, but it perhaps better translated as “the right time” or “a limited period of time”. That’s the time Paul writes about when he says you know the time.

We live in the right time, certainly a limited period of time. This right time is more than a season of the Church Year, although Advent is a little picture of a bigger picture of time. Four weeks isn’t much time to prepare for Christmas, but it’s the right amount of time within the time that the Church lives.

Confused yet? Let’s take some time and work through what’s happening here. The end times, the fulfillment of the promise of the final coming of Jesus Christ, begins when our Lord takes on flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Christ’s incarnation starts the countdown to the end of “the right time” in which we Christians live. The clock of καιρός time continues to pass. Only our heavenly Father knows when that countdown reaches zero. Nevertheless, we live as if that countdown will end at any second, even though over two-thousand years have passed since the clock started.

Waiting so long causes us to think that Jesus has forgotten about us. We can go about our business as if there is no Father or no Son. There’ll be plenty of time to settle accounts before Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead. After all, God’s chosen race, the Israelites, waited thousands of years for the coming of Messiah.

While they waited, the Old Testament people of the promise also fell asleep countless times. They cast off the armor of light and put on the works of darkness. We heard about one particular time last weekend in the account of making and worshiping a golden calf. The Israelites had broken the commandment of God not to have any other god before their God and call it god. Moses threw down the tablets written by the finger of God to show they had broken the Word God wrote for them.

We also fall asleep, casting off the armor of light and putting on the works of darkness. Mom and Dad told us, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” Yet we live as if midnight is high noon. Our sins are laid bare before the world as we no longer want to wear the full armor of God, giving attention to protection from the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. Instead, we let that evil trio run our life with reckless abandon. After all, there’s plenty of time to spare before Jesus shows up for the final time.

Paul reminds us that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. Understood from the χρόνος perspective, this is a true statement. But this is not χρόνος time. This is καιρός time, the right time, the decisive hour. Advent is the decisive hour before the fullness of time breaks forth in our midst. This is the time to shake off everything that gets in the way of receiving Jesus Christ’s forgiveness and salvation in His gifts. This is the time to prepare yourself for Jesus’ birth as well as Jesus’ return.

When Paul says salvation is near, he is not necessarily talking from a directional perspective. Salvation is near. Salvation is on the way, just as salvation was on the way in the promise of the birth of Messiah. Messiah will be here soon enough, perhaps before the end of this sermon. The fullness of time came to Bethlehem. The fullness of time will be seen by all, even by those who wish Jesus would never show up. Their indifference will be shown to be foolishness. What looked to be foolishness to many will be seen as prudent waiting and expectation.

While we wait, Paul says to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Advent is a penitential season, but not as penitential as Lent. We’re getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth according to the flesh. It is appropriate to reflect on why God’s only-begotten Son takes on flesh. He is born to die for you. He is born to suffer great affliction for you. He is born to fulfill the Law for you. He makes no provision for the flesh for you. So much joy at such great cost, yet all of it is for you.

Note again the subjunctive mood of Paul’s exhortation. Let us walk properly as in the daytime. As a baptized child of God receiving the Gifts Jesus gives you, you walk properly before God and your neighbor. It’s a given this is going to happen. You will stumble in this walk because you are a sinner. Your nature is corrupt and shattered. You will succumb to the many temptations that daily gnaw at your heels.

Christ has been put on you. His Word convicts you of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. You are repented in His Word of judgment. Yet this Word of judgment also quickens you in Jesus’ blood and righteousness. You are judged not guilty of sin. That guilt goes on Jesus, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. The hour of judgment, the perfect time to settle the debt, happens on that black Friday afternoon at Golgotha. The hour of judgment, the perfect time to announce the end of Satan’s power over you, happens on that bright Sunday morning at the tomb.

The saying is true: Timing is everything. It’s time for a new church year. It’s time to wake from the sleep of sin and unbelief. It’s time to put on the armor of light and play defense against the old evil foe. It’s time to walk in the light of Christ. This is the καιρός of Jesus Christ. Soon it will end and you will always be with the Lord. Until then, salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. Salvation is in this pulpit, on that altar, and in that font, for you. Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.

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Trinity 25 – Matthew 24:15-28

Those hearing Jesus’ words at that time were given a sign when to leave Jerusalem. Our Lord says in Luke chapter 21, when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. History shows this happened in the summer of 70 A.D. Jerusalem was destroyed by Roman armies. There was time for the faithful to flee before, literally, all hell broke loose on the holy city.

Those hearing Jesus’ words today are given a sign of when to flee. This time the fleeing that must happen is not a physical fleeing. The sign of something yet to come is in verse 27: For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus suddenly comes. Nothing should get in the way of your preparations to flee everything that gets in the way of Jesus and His coming…His coming now and His ultimate coming on Judgment Day.

What is often forgotten in any consideration of the end times is the fact that the end times have already begun. Saint John writes in his first epistle, Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. Many antichrists have come because Jesus first has come. The closer to the time of Christ’s final appearing, the more antichrists will appear to fool, if possible, even the elect.

History shows over the last 2,000 years that violence against Christians becomes greater and more violent as Judgment Day draws near. We’re blessed in our country not to have to undergo persecution for what we believe, but consider our fellow Christians in other countries, especially those countries where Christianity is a distinct minority, and how much they suffer for the sake of the Gospel. The harrowing pictures on television and the Internet of Christians willingly giving their heads rather than deny Christ stick too well in our mind’s eye. Unbelief is never shy. Psalm Two says, The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”

The threat of persecution may not seem like a reality among us here and now, but the abundance of false prophets and false teaching is certainly a reality among us even now. One of the joys of being a confessing Lutheran is the knowledge that what you hear from this pulpit is the pure Word of God without the injection of man’s opinions and thoughts into the Word. Yet not every pulpit is pure, and not all who write or speak in the media are pure preachers and teachers of Jesus Christ.

A portion of Lutherans in the world this past week came to agreement with the Roman Catholic Church on matters of church and ministry. This agreement reminds us of the sham agreement on how we are saved by God’s grace in Christ that was announced in 1999. It was an agreement that was understood two different ways by two different parties. What was important was the word “agreement”. That would be like one person saying “pancakes” while another hears it as “French toast”, yet both parties agree they said the same thing. No wonder Jesus exhorts you to WATCH. You watch not only for His appearing, but also for those who preach the Word, to see whether or not what they preach is pure and true against the pure, clear fountain of Israel that is Holy Scripture.

Knowing what to flee is one thing. Knowing where to flee is another matter. Our heavenly Father always provides a refuge for His children. For Noah and his family it was an ark. For Lot and his family fleeing Sodom it was Zoar. For those fleeing Jerusalem in 70 A.D. it was Pella in the region of the Decapolis in modern-day Jordan.

Where is your ark, your Zoar, and your Pella? The Lord God Himself is your refuge, as the Psalmist writes in Psalm 46: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains are moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. The Lord in His Word, in His Body and Blood, in baptismal water, and in the comfort of absolution…these places are your refuge from the abomination of desolation. These are your mountains, your cities of refuge, where your confidence is found. On these mountains you find your cleft in the rock, the wounds of Jesus Christ that bleed forgiveness and life for you, as it is written in the Song of Solomon: O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.

Granted you are not given to flee every earthly relationship and set up your own personal monastery of one. But you are given to flee from the world’s attractions and allurements and find your refuge in Christ and His gifts. These words of the day of wrath and woe yet to come serve as an excellent way to end one church year and begin another. The watching for the end of days flows directly into the beginning of watching for the beginning of the life of Jesus Christ according to the flesh. In Christ and His wounds you find your final confidence to stand before the many antichrists. You have hope because you have Christ, and Christ has you. Behold, He comes soon. Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.

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Trinity 24 – Matthew 9:18-26

No one likes to say “The D Word”. It doesn’t stand for divorce or even Dallas, Texas. “The D Word” is DEATH. No one likes to say that word, whether in polite company or even in private. We use kind euphemisms like “pass away” or “fall asleep”. And let’s not forget “he or she is now an angel”, even though you can’t prove that to be true from Holy Scripture.

A theologian of the cross calls a thing what it actually is. “The D Word” is DEATH. People die. Momence had a rash of deaths last week that hit home for many. When death happens in your family, there is a grieving process you go through to process the loss of a loved one. That grieving process is a good thing. Death leaves a profound hole in your life. In time, with the help of the Lord, you process the death, accept it as a part of life in a sinful world, and move forward toward your own death.

So why does Jesus throw us a curve ball by saying Jairus’ daughter is sleeping? Shouldn’t He call a thing what it actually is and say she’s dead? Instead Jesus sounds like He’s talking to polite company about “The D Word”. Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.

The response to Jesus’ words about death as sleep today would probably bring Him a pat on the back for sympathy at best or a stern look from others at worst. The reaction of those hearing Jesus say the girl is only sleeping then is laughter.

Behind the polite euphemisms of today is the sharp reality of life experience dealing with death. Death is the end for those of the world. It’s the last station on life’s railroad. There’s no way that body is coming back to life the way it is right now. The idea of a resurrection of the body and life everlasting is foolishness to the world. That’s why the crowd laughs when Jesus says the girl is not dead but sleeping.

What is a polite euphemism to the world is a true statement worthy of every Christian’s attention. These words are comfort. You notice there’s one man not laughing at the idea that the girl is not dead by sleeping. That man is Jairus. He believes what Jesus says is not a lie. The heavenly wisdom of God is so sublime that human reason has no choice but consider it nonsense. Not Jairus. Not Jesus. Not you and me.

Christians laugh at death and mock the grave. What you experience in life and see in others runs against the truth that death and the grave hold no power over you. The short bus with men in white coats will probably come looking for you if you walked through a cemetery laughing at the graves of those who rest there. Don’t you realize dead is dead? That’s over now. Time to move on with your life. It’s been nice knowing them, but you won’t be seeing them anytime soon.

What is nonsense to the world is joy to the Christian. Those who lie dead and buried in a cemetery, whether next to a church building or in a public cemetery, sleep more lightly than we do in our beds. They await a summons from the Lord Jesus on Judgment Day. Before God death is but a slumber, and a very light sleep at that. One voice, the voice of Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, will wake them from their nap.

That’s what happens with Jairus’ daughter. Jesus went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. Jesus didn’t need to say anything to her! He took her by the hand. What is fascinating about how Jesus raises her from the dead is how He offers her His hand. The way Matthew phrases it is in the way of a judgment. Perhaps the closest we understand this today is the well-worn phrase of “Talk to the hand!” You put up your hand as if to say you don’t want to hear what will be said. You’ll have to say it to the hand, who won’t respond. You have judged what the other person has said to be not worthy of your attention.

The girl cannot talk to the hand. Jesus offers His hand to her. He touches a dead girl. She cannot accept it, for she is dead, well, sleeping. Just one touch, one grasp of the hand, and she rises from her bed. The hand of judgment brings her from death to life. The nap is over. She lives.

Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead is a picture of Judgment Day. Instead of a physical hand, His voice will call you, and all who are sleeping in their graves, from the bowels of the earth. The dead in Christ, with those alive in Christ at that time, will be changed from an earthly body to a perfect, holy, innocent body. We will then be caught up in the air with Jesus. We shall always be with the Lord.

That’s the hand of judgment at work. You won’t “talk to the hand” in order that someone will ignore you. The hand of judgment, the hand of the only-begotten Son of God Most High, will call you from the grave. In Jesus Christ, the Father judges you worthy of eternal life. Your slumber is turned into everlasting life. You awake refreshed, ready to live without sin, death, and hell in your life. That refreshing life lasts forever. You live with the Lord and with all those who clinged to Christ in life and in death.

Every week you confess you believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. It’s not pie in the sky, bye and bye stuff. This is your reality. Holy Scripture plainly says that death has been swallowed up by death; the death of Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the dead.

The end of the Church Year reminds us about the end of all things, about our end. The night comes when no one can work. When you have had a hard day’s work, you can’t wait to lay down, whether it’s for a nap or for a night’s slumber. You don’t worry so much about whether or not you’ll wake up from the nap or from sleeping overnight. Your own death echoes the lack of worry about not waking up. The prophet Isaiah writes, the righteous man is taken away from calamity; he enters into peace; they rest in their beds who walk in their uprightness.

Teach me to live, that I may dread
the grave as little as my bed.
Teach me to die, that so I may
rise glorious at the awe-full day.

Sleep tight.

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Trinity 23 – Matthew 22:15-22

There’s a delicate balance struck in Jesus’ words, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. You have people who won’t render anything either to Caesar or to God. These people are enemies of all divine and human order. You might call them anarchists. There are those who render to Caesar, but not to God. These are men of the world who worship reason, worldly morality, and civic virtue. Then there are those who render to God, but won’t render to Caesar. They believe Jesus’ kingdom is of this world. They will give nothing to secular authority except the cold shoulder. Even honest, God-fearing Christians are guilty of falling into one of these three erring places.

So when is the conduct of Christians toward authority pleasing to God? When Christians first recognize a certain order of God in authority. Saint Paul gives us the template to follow in Romans chapter thirteen: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

Whether authority is Christian or pagan, pious or impious, just or tyrannical, it does not detract from the dignity and power arranged by God for them. Consider that at the time Jesus said these words, Tiberius Caesar reigned over Israel as the secular authority. Yet Jesus says about him, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.

Pharaoh was a Gentile, yet Jacob with his sons humbled themselves before him in Genesis chapter 47. Many kings of Israel fell away from God and depended upon Baal, yet the prophets did not admonish people away from obedience to their kings. Even Saint Paul appeals to the Roman emperor, a pagan, and wanted to be judged by him: I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.

A Christian’s conduct toward authority pleases God when he renders the duty owed to authority according to Holy Scripture. Jesus does not say, “Let them take.” He says, Render. You willingly give to them what belongs to them. That’s why you pay taxes. Jesus is not that revolutionary to tell you to defy Caesar and pocket your earnings. Render what belongs to Caesar. There is an exception to our Lord’s words. If the authority commands something that conflicts against God’s Word, then we must respond with Saint Peter and the apostles: We must obey God rather than men.

The Jews thought that as God’s own people they were not due to pay tax to the Roman emperor. Yet the Lord finds them guilty of another tribute in the most striking manner. Many still sin in this way today, perhaps even you.

The junior Senator from Nebraska, Ben Sasse, a Lutheran, gave his maiden speech this past Tuesday. After listening to his colleagues and his constituents for one year, he then spoke publicly this week about what he had heard. People no longer trust government for anything. Both parties are to blame, yet both parties don’t want to do anything to earn the peoples’ trust. You may find yourself among those ready to say every politician, from mayor to President of the United States is a crook, a liar, and only motivated by his own personal interest or those of lobbyists and special interest groups. Unless you know for certain that is true, hold your tongue. Why not pray for government rather than run it down with your tongue?

Saint Paul reminds Saint Timothy that prayer for the governing authorities is a good thing. Paul writes, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. In this time of hyper-partisanship and pure fear over our leaders, Paul’s words here ring in our ears as a reminder to pray for our leaders. We don’t pray for their death. We pray for them to govern. We pray for them to do the calling they are given to do. They may not vote the way we want them to vote, but we pray that they fulfill their vocation in governing.

A Christian’s conduct toward authority pleases God when he does everything in obedience to God. Nothing pleases God than what flows from faith in Jesus Christ. All that we say and do is in response for all He has said and done for us, even His bloody death and triumphant resurrection. The psalmist writes in Psalm 116, What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? Render to Him the things that are His, chiefly faith in Jesus Christ, as your hope for eternal life.

As Tiberius Caesar’s inscription appeared on the tribute money, so Christ’s inscription appears on you by virtue of your baptism. You are hidden in Jesus. His Name is your name. His life is your life. His death is your death. His resurrection is your resurrection. His blood covers you. His perfect life is your life. His obedience is your obedience. The Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel to believe that Jesus is your only hope for eternal peace. He sanctifies you with His Gifts of Word, water, bread, and wine. He keeps you connected to Christ in the Church to life everlasting.

No wonder when the people heard what Jesus said, they marveled. It’s a simple statement, yet profound in meaning. Render to those what is rendered. Everything is in its place. One foot is in the secular realm, caring for one another, while the other foot is in the sacred realm, receiving all good things from God through Jesus Christ.

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What A Preacher Sees After the Sermon

As I said, when I preach something [purely grace-focused], I get two reactions. At the end of the sermon, I see smiles. I see faces light up – faces which, in spite of a lifetime’s exposure to the doctrine of grace, seem for the first time to dare to hope that maybe there isn’t a catch to it after all, that even out of the midst of their worst shipwrecks they are still going home free for the pure and simple reason that Jesus calls them. I see barely restrained hilarity at the sudden perception that he really meant it when he said his yoke is easy and his burden light.

But after the sermon, in the time it takes to get downstairs to coffee hour, the smiles have been replaced by frowns. Their fear of the catch has caught up with them again, and they surround the messenger of hope and accuse me of making the world unsafe for morality.

I propose, therefore, that you and I stop our progress at this point and do justice to the frowning, coffee-hour mood that my parable of grace has put you in.

– Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace

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