Monthly Archives: September 2016

What Must I Do to Be Saved?

The doctrine of justification is intended to formulate an answer to the question: “What must I do to be saved?” Justification’s answer, “nothing”, is startling, and it reframes the question itself by asserting that God is not in the salvaging business. Instead, what God does in saving us is to recreate us, that is, to make us to be creatures who have faith at the core of their being, and humble and contrite hearts (Psalm 51:10-12). God’s salvation is a recommitment to his original and continuing work of creating out of nothing (creation ex nihilo) (1 Cor. 1:27-30; 2 Cor. 5:17-18). God not only re-creates us out of the nothingness of sin and death, but also providentially sustains our lives, together with those of all creatures (samt allen kreaturen), from moment to moment, out of nothingness.

Rev. Dr. Mark Mattes, “The History, Shape, and Significance of Justification for Preaching”

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Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 22:34-46

It’s ironic the Pharisees ask Jesus a question right after He had silenced the Sadducees. The Sadducees are really a dead bunch of guys because they don’t believe in the resurrection from the dead. So after silencing them Jesus now has to face a scribe from the Pharisees who comes with a good question: Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?

Jesus answers their question. The great commandment in the Law is LOVE. Love is the one thing the Pharisees lack. Love is the one thing that slips from our mind as well when it comes to the Law of God.

Had Jesus not given you the answer to the Pharisees’ question, how would you have answered Him? I ask this question every time I teach Luther’s Small Catechism to young and old: Summarize the Ten Commandments in one word. The answers I get are always interesting. They show what people are thinking concerning God’s holy Law. Perhaps the number one wrong answer is “obedience” or “obey”. That answer plays right into the Pharisees’ question.

Love in the way of the Pharisee is “do as I say and as I do”. Pay no attention to what the Scriptures actually say, just let me explain it to you. Then you do exactly as I tell you, perhaps go a little overboard on that doing, and maybe you’ll qualify for eternal life. Love is replaced by do. There is no need for love when you are busy doing everything, and more, that is necessary for salvation.

So we do. And we do. Then we do some more. There’s no time to love. There is only time to do. Doing is obedience. Make sure, while you’re obeying and doing, that you do a little bit more than the Pharisee does. Put some extra relish on that hot dog, so to speak. Forget your neighbor. Forget about God. Keep doing. Keep trying. One day you’ll get the hang of it, or you’ll die trying.

The Pharisees know nothing about love, especially love toward God and toward their neighbor. That is why Jesus answers their question. He is trying to refocus who they are and what they do. He’s tried many times over the course of the Gospels to get them to see that Messiah is right before their eyes. All their doing is about to end in Christ’s doing what He is sent to do. Yet they won’t believe it. It’s not as if they can’t believe it. They won’t believe it.

That leads to Jesus’ question to the Pharisees: What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he? That’s another question that could have been asked to you along with summarizing the Law in one word. The Pharisees know that how they answer this question will tip their hand. If they say he is David’s son, as they do, Jesus comes right back with His response in today’s Gospel. If they say the Christ is David’s Lord, as they should, then they admit He is Messiah. The Pharisees are unwilling to admit that Jesus Christ, Son of Mary, Son of David, is also the very Son of God.

How would you answer the question? Jesus gives you some help by quoting King David’s words in Psalm 110: The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son? There’s the heart of the matter. Jesus Christ is David’s Son and David’s Lord. The Christ is both human and divine. Only He Who is human and divine can do what Messiah comes to do: save His people from tyranny.

For a Pharisee it is impossible to believe that the Christ suffers death and rises from the dead to atone for sins. That is foolishness. The Son of God would never stoop to become man. The Son of God would never allow Himself to go through agony, even to be forsaken by His Father. The enemy is Rome and the Gentiles. The objective is a heavenly kingdom on earth where everything is done just right. The good old days of the Old Testament need to be restored.

What the Pharisee forgets, and we often forget as well, is that what is concealed in the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament. God has worked in time, using His chosen people, to prepare the world, Jew and Gentile, for the coming of the Christ, His only-begotten Son. God’s love for His creation becomes man, born of a woman, born under the Law, to fulfill the Law. Jesus’ perfect love, Jesus’ perfect obedience is credited to you. You are free. You live. You get to love both God and your neighbor.

Jesus has good news for the Pharisees and for you as well. All the “do” of the Pharisees, all their misunderstanding, adding, subtracting, and distorting of the Scriptures will not stop the Christ from the Father’s mandate of love. Our heavenly Father gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

In Christ, “do” becomes “done”. All is accomplished. Everything necessary for reconciling sinners to the Father is fulfilled. Jesus pays your debt in full in His blood and righteousness. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The Pharisees couldn’t believe it. By God’s grace you believe it. You are a child of God, washed, fed, and clothed in Christ’s righteousness. The long awaited peace between God and man is yours in Jesus. Believe it for His sake.

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 14:1-11

We love to be humble, and we hate to be humble. If you sit toward the back of the nave, you’re taking a lesser spot than sitting up front. But you’re also farther away from the chancel, where you get a close-up look at what happens in the Divine Service. Yet when someone makes that invited move up higher, whether at church, the ball game, or at a wedding reception, we bristle at their impudence.

How do we reconcile Jesus’ two sentences: sit in the lowest place and friend, move up higher? The Old Adam in all of us hates to sit in the lowest place. You’ll never admit it out loud, but sitting in the back, off to the side, or at the kids’ table is not always the best place to be. Take the Pharisees. They are arrogant men who expect the best seat in the house. They elevate themselves over everyone else. Consider the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke chapter eighteen. The Pharisee makes sure to stand where he can be seen by everyone. His actions, his piety, even his words, must be seen and heard. It’s as if he hopes you’re watching him and learning how to do it right, or better than right.

Even worse, the Pharisees elevate themselves over Christ and sit in judgment over Him. Saint Luke says they were watching him carefully. The stress of the word watching is to watch someone to see what He is going to do. It’s as if the man before Jesus who has dropsy was a setup to see how Jesus would deal with him. If Jesus heals him, they got Him. If Jesus doesn’t heal him, then our Lord is branded as merciless and lacks compassion. It’s a trap with no way out. Even when Jesus asks them, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not? they remain silent. Let’s watch what happens so we can grab Him in a gotcha situation.

We love to watch people to see how they will react to a gotcha situation. What we don’t realize is that we’re already in a gotcha situation. The same nature of the Pharisee, and all humanity, also sticks to us. That is why God’s Law is proclaimed, to show us who we really are before the perfect God. The gotcha comes back on us because we cannot be holy as God is holy. We cannot be humble as God is humble, especially God in flesh in Jesus Christ.

Jesus does not come to lord His perfect humility over us. If it were so, then He comes not as Savior, but as an arrogant taunter, Who expects us to follow His example without bestowing anything on us in order to follow His example, and that following is weak and imperfect. Jesus takes the lowest place in our place. He submits Himself to become man. He takes on our imperfections and flaws, bearing them in His own body with all our sins, and perfectly keeps God’s commandments. He does so not externally, but according to its proper, spiritual understanding.

Jesus took [the man with dropsy] and healed him and sent him away. Rather than fuss about what is and what is not right or wrong to do on the Sabbath, Jesus heals him and sends him away. Done. Rather than fuss with the Pharisees about what is right or wrong to do on the Sabbath, Jesus perfectly keeps the Sabbath for Jew, for Pharisee, for Gentile, for you, and for me. Done. His rest in the tomb that Passover Sabbath is our rest in the tomb. Jesus keeps the Sabbath for us, dotting every “i” and crossing every “t”.

Our spiritual dropsy, so to speak, of pride and arrogance is paid in full in Jesus Christ’s blood. Jesus alone has worked perfect healing for us. Jesus alone has acquired a righteousness that avails before God. When the Father looks at us He sees us perfect in Christ’s blood and righteousness. Satan, the accuser, and all other accusers, have nothing to say. They remain silent as the Pharisees remain silent even after Jesus heals the man from dropsy.

So what does this have to do with taking the lowest place and moving up higher? Humility’s source is in Jesus Christ. His humility is your humility. As He took the lowest place among us, so we too consider ourselves as rubbish for Jesus’ sake. There is nothing good in us outside of Christ. Everything good in us is Christ in us, the hope of glory. Healed from our spiritual dropsy of arrogance and pride, Jesus carries us to the best seat in the house: a place with Him in the New Creation, along with all those who have placed their trust for eternal life in Jesus Christ.

Wherever God puts us to be a little Christ to our neighbor, we do what is given us to do to show God’s love to our neighbor. As we are brought higher, so we bring others higher in our various callings in life. Granted it may be the little things, like changing a diaper or simply being a friend to someone having a bad day. We do them not to earn extra points with our Father in heaven. Eternity is ours in Christ, not in what we do. Yet what we do reflects the One in Whom we trust, for Jesus first did His good work in us, just as He works today in Word, bread, wine, and water. The Righteous One carries you to His righteous Gifts. His righteous Gift of life goes into the world in all you say and do, proclaiming Jesus as the Humble One Who heals the sick and raises the dead.

Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 7:11-17

There is a giant mosaic on the wall of the south classroom building at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The mosaic pictures Christ the King, triumphant on His heavenly throne as ruler over His Father’s creation. A German theologian visiting the campus a few years ago was shown the mosaic. He was taken aback by one prominent thing missing in the mosaic: Jesus’ wounds. How can Jesus be King of Kings and Lord of Lords without His wounds? When Jesus returns, as the Advent hymn “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending” proclaims, all, especially those who despise Him, shall “gaze…on His glorious scars”.

I suppose you could put the best construction on the matter and say the lack of wounds on Christ is an artistic choice. Yet as long as death is in the world, attempts are made to scare away its terrors. Death doesn’t care how or when it takes its victims. Death cannot be warded off by piety and virtue. You can try to prop up a death by thinking about all the nice things the deceased did. Yet when judgment comes, all human righteousness will be like filthy rags. The only righteousness that matters in judgment is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, the Conqueror of death.

Jesus is shown as the Conqueror of death when He raises the widow’s only son at Nain. You can see this moment coming when you look elsewhere in the Gospels. Jesus says to Martha about Lazarus’ death: I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. He tells the Jews who are ready to stone Him: Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death. He also says in the “bread of life” discourse: Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

Jesus not only talks the talk, He walks the walk. Consider not only Lazarus, but also Jairus’ daughter, and today the widow’s son at Nain. The account of the miracle at Nain is a picture of Judgment Day. A large contingent with the widow and with Jesus meets at the town gate. The procession of death and the procession of life come face to face.

Jesus says two things. First He says to the widow, do not weep. Our Lord’s words sound like a funeral faux pas. You want someone to cry. Grieving is good. Yes, a grieving Christian believes death is slumber. Yet the sting of sin remains. Death is the wage sin pays out. You can’t help but grieve at not being able to see or hear or hug or kiss the dead person like you did when he or she was alive. You wish you could move heaven and earth to have one more day with that person.

It looks as if Jesus is adding insult to injury with His words. No man has ever spoken and dealt with death as Jesus speaks and deals with death. Saint Paul explains how Jesus deals with death when he quotes Isaiah and Hosea to the Corinthians: He will swallow up death forever and O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Even the hymn writer Otto von Schwerin gets it in his hymn, “Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense” when we sing in stanza seven: “Laugh to scorn the gloomy grave/And at death no longer tremble;/He, the Lord, who came to save/Will at last His own assemble,/They will go their Lord to meet,/Treading death beneath their feet.”

What an image! Death blinks first. You see it play out at Nain. Jesus has His entourage. Death has its entourage. A widow, already knowing the scorn of the gloomy grave with the loss of her husband, now has the double indignity of losing her only son. No wonder there’s a tremendous crowd that goes with her, following those who bear the body of her son. What sounds like an insult, do not weep, is actually a proclamation of how we look at death. Yes, there are tears at a loss, but the grave has no power over a Christian.

The grave has no power over the widow’s son. Jesus came up and touched the bier (another funeral faux pas that will really anger the Jews), and the bearers stood still. And He said, “Young man, I sat to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, God and man, the One Who blots out sin, is our Savior from sin, hell, and death. What happens to the widow’s son will happen to you. Your name belongs where Jesus says young man. Put your name there. Jesus made it possible for you to have your name go there. Everyone who believes in Him certainly will rise from the dead. It may not be according to Miss Manners for us to laugh to scorn the gloomy grave, but that’s the sentiment behind what Jesus does for you in His death and resurrection.

Christ’s death redeems you from sin. He becomes sin for you. He puts His righteousness on you. He becomes what He was not. You become what you were not. The price for your redemption is the blood of the innocent Lamb of God. Christ’s resurrection is your resurrection. He will speak your name and you will come bounding forth from the tomb as from a nap. You will receive a glorious body, free from sin and every imperfection seen in this life. “Now no more can death appall,/Now no more the grave enthrall;/You have opened paradise,/And Your saints in You shall rise./Alleluia!”

My Uncle Loren never liked to say goodbye. When it was time to go, he would say, “Meeting adjourned. See you at the next meeting.” The last time I saw him alive, his last words to me were, “See you at the next meeting.” That’s a great confession of how we look at death.

For a Christian, there is another meeting. That meeting is when Jesus meets the world on Judgment Day. Death and life will contend one last time like it did outside the gates of Nain. Though the accuser is busy flinging your sins in your face, his attempts ultimately fail. Your only plea is to the blood and righteousness of Jesus, the Firstborn from the dead. He is your life, your death, and your gain. Jesus alone has taken on death and brought immortality to life. The widow and her son saw it that day. You believe it now. You will see it with your own eyes soon.

Six Days for Earthly Education, One Hour for Eternal Preparation

There was lament even in 1898 over the lack of preparing young people for eternal life. Consider these words from a sermon outline for Luke 7:11-17.

At home their thoughts and senses are directed only to earthly things. What they hear is only on daily bread, on money and possessions, on lust and pleasure of the flesh, honor and reputation before men, etc. They learn in school only worldly knowledge, etc. (Free [public] school) Education for eternity soon enough, when the time of confirmation closes in. But how do you know if your children are ever to reach the age of confirmation? Sunday School adequate for education for eternity? So, six days of thorough instruction for this short time on earth, an hour a week of inadequate Sunday School instruction sufficient as preparation for the long eternity?! O, consider this, you parents! What are you doing! Overestimation of the body, underestimation of the soul!

Public Prayers Belong to the Church’s Witness

The demands of serving a public responsibility, for example in worship leadership, will not allow us to display our prejudices or opinions in the public prayers of the church. Personal opinion and witness is altogether fitting and proper in the context of the sermon – provided it still remains within the rubric…of belonging to the church’s witness….

In the public prayers of the liturgy the mood is much more discreet, much more unassuming and restrained. The prayers you pray aloud as worship leader are to be endorsed and appropriated by all worshipers, remember – even by those who do not share your views. You are serving as their voice in prayer – that is the public role and responsibility every pastor assumes. If you are uncomfortable with that kind of advocacy, you’ll want to spend some time rethinking your vocational choice. The pastor – indeed the Christian! – is called upon to represent all people, even those we may not prefer to represent. We have the example of Christ in that!

Rev. Paul F. Bosch, “The Sermon As Part of the Liturgy”, p. 27-28

Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 6:24-34

No one can serve two masters. If you have worked in a situation where you have two supervisors, you know how true Christ’s saying is here. You are, as it were, torn between two lovers. You go mad trying to make one happy, only to see the other tell you something different. You end up pleasing no one, including yourself.

So it is with the two masters of God and mammon. This particular translation says money, but mammon is more than money. Mammon is everything you have, and more. The problem with mammon is that there is never enough more. Why buy a six-pack when a case will do just fine. Besides, you get a better deal when you buy more. You may not need 24 cans of pop, but you’re confident you got a better bang for your buck.

You’ll go crazy trying to serve the two masters called God and mammon. One master created the other. Your sinful self has a hard time figuring out which came first. God created all things good. He gives you all you need to support your body and your life. If that wasn’t enough, He promises always to be with you even when you have nothing else. Nevertheless, by your every action, every word, and every though, you’re sure mammon came first. After all, you can see it. You can’t see God except as He puts Himself in created things like water, bread, wine, and words.

Do not be anxious about your life. It’s too late. You’ve been anxious about your life all your life. Birds of the air and lilies of the field have no choice. They are not sentient human beings. Granted birds can think, but they always seem to be able to provide for themselves and their little ones. Lilies, well, are flowers. They are who they are. They have what they have. There’s no need to sweat lilies of the field.

You can’t get around the fact that you’ve never seen a bird or a wayside lily fret about food, clothing, or shelter. You, on the other hand, have made a habit of anxiety about all these things and more. You are of more value than a bird. Jesus Christ did not die for birds. He died for your sin and was raised for your justification. You are worth something to your Father in heaven. God clothes lilies of the field, and other flowers, in such a way that they are pleasing to the eye. They don’t fret about looks or whether or not they’ll be picked. That’s the way God made them. That’s the way they adapt to where they live.

O you of little faith. You believe it, but not really. You’re looking for the inevitable backstop. So you turn to mammon. More of something makes you confident. More of something also takes your eyes off the One Who gives you more of something. What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we wear? When will I be loved? When will my children listen to me? What will happen after I die? Mammon doesn’t have the answer to these questions. Mammon just sits there, collecting dust, mutely suggesting you may need more.

Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. Before you ask He is aware of what you need. Your Father in heaven loves to hear you ask. He loves to hear you ask because He loves His dear children. He knows His dear children love their dear Father. Earthly fathers love to hear children ask for things even when they don’t want to be bothered by the asking. At least there is communication between child and parent.

Your heavenly Father directs you to seek something more than food, shelter, or clothing. Jesus says, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. You don’t have very far to go to seek the kingdom of God. It’s not a quest for the Holy Grail or another impossible dream. Seek what you seek: joy, forgiveness, sonship with God, resurrection, a good conscience, and a sure and certain hope of eternity without sin, pain, death, and hell.

You know where to find the kingdom of God. When you pray Thy kingdom come, you pray your heavenly Father give you His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace you believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity. You have been given His Holy Spirit in the Word that enters your ear and creates faith like a seed entering the ground. The seed of the Word breaks open and takes root, being nourished by baptismal water and fed by Christ’s true Body and true Blood. From these holy things given out in this holy place, you lead a godly life. You can’t help but lead a godly life when Christ dwells among you.

As God’s kingdom continues to come among you, everything else follows the kingdom. Food, clothing, shelter, family, friends, and all other material gifts are pressed down, shaken together, and running over in your lap. Your last name may not be Rockefeller and you may have never shopped at Neiman-Marcus. You have the one thing needful: God’s mercy upon you in Jesus Christ. Everything else is gravy.

You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious; turn to me and be gracious to me; give Your strength to Your servant, and save the son of Your maidservant.