Monthly Archives: November 2016

Judgment Day Is Not Far Off…. It Cannot Come Too Soon For Me.

All indications today, therefore, are that Judgment Day is not far off. For the world has certainly made a very good start in that direction, beckoning it more and more. The mad chase after material things is beyond calculating. Among the common masses the smug self-security is so strong that they laugh contemptuously at preachers. And this overconfident level will grow even worse. People will become so secure that they will refuse to tolerate any preaching at all but will chuck it completely and say with contempt, “You are a fool, why do you care a straw for still more preaching?” Already this thinking is widespread among our burghers and peasants. Whoever lives to see that day will understand these words well.

For this reason Christ says to his disciples and Christians, “Be on your guard so that I do not find you in this rowdy crowd.” When they say, “Nothing to worry about”, at that very moment they will by lying flat on their faces. That’s what happened when Lot warned his sons-in-law; they laughed at him contemptuously. Their thinking, you see, went like this: “Oh, this city has stood for such a long time; it will stay standing for a while yet.” However, the next day before they ever got up, they were dead and engulfed in fire. That’s the way the world wants it. Christ, of course, is vindicated. He faithfully warned the world and still today has the message preached. But to no avail. Really, people ought to be terrified and realize, this man who has preached these things to us will not lie to us. But they continue feeling secure and say, “For the time being I’ll go on drinking my beer.” “All right! It will serve you right. You did not want to listen; I have warned you; therefore I shall suddenly smite you.” Whereupon they will have to say that they got what they had coming. Now they don’t trouble themselves at all about it. But the Lord says, “The day will come, like lightning, let us be forewarned!”

Such are the conditions prior to Judgment Day. We need to learn from this and not fret because we see these things happening, but say: “Christ predicted beforehand that the world would become so savage, coarse, greedy, and so on. Well then! That’s the way it is, and it is even going to get worse.” That’s the way it was with Sodom in Lot’s day and worldwide at Noah’s time. All these things are told us for our comfort, warning, and learning, that we understand what it all means. The ill-bred masses do not know what it is all about; but we are to know and be on guard so that we do not fall in with them! Eat and drink we must, but in such a way that we do not encumber the heart, for all is contingent on the Lord’s coming and knowing that the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting lie in the future. If I am aware of that, then I can peacefully fall asleep, awaken, study, eat, or drink; and let Judgment Day come when it will, it cannot come too soon for me.

Martin Luther, First House Postil for the Second Sunday in Advent (Luke 21:25-36)

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First Sunday in Advent – Matthew 21:1-9

The old has gone. Behold, the new has come. A new church year has arrived. Today we begin the “festival half” of the church year, where we follow the story of salvation in Jesus Christ from His promised arrival according to the flesh to His promised sending of the Holy Spirit upon His disciples on the Day of Pentecost. Last weekend we hear the parable of the sheep and the goats, where the Son of Man says to the sheep, Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. As we enter a new church year and prepare to welcome the Savior in His birth, what must happen in order that Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and the entire church year becomes a blessing for us?

The prophet Zechariah says Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Jerusalem festively decorated herself as that Passover drew near. Yet Jerusalem also brought tears to our Savior as He drew near. Jesus laments over Jerusalem, Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Hidden from their eyes is Messiah, long promised, now present, entering into Jerusalem not as conquering king, but as suffering servant.

The Jesus you hear in today’s Gospel isn’t merely a human teacher of virtue. Where that Jesus is preached the loud curse of the Law remains. Jesus isn’t your life coach helping you to improve your spiritual game up the ladder of perfection. There is no blessing from a Savior who doesn’t come to save you. There is only encouragement to level up, not level down. Where Jesus comes, the Jesus proclaimed by patriarchs and prophets from of old, there is the true Savior of both Jew and Gentile. Salvation, abundance of blessings, forgiveness of sins, peace with God, hope for time and eternity, and the beginning of the foretaste of heavenly joy come with Him as well. All these come to you humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Advent isn’t four weeks in late November through late December. Advent happens every day as we live ready for the Savior’s second coming. Advent happens every time the words of the prophets, evangelists, and apostles are read and preached again and again. Advent, like Easter, is the way we live. We’re always ready for the coming of Jesus to bring us from this vale of tears into the life of the world to come. While many blessings await us in the new creation, we also receive His joy right now as we believe sins are forgiven, new life is bestowed, and salvation is ours as the King of Kings enters Jerusalem to suffer, die, and rise for us…as He enters our lives in Word, water, bread, and wine to bestow His righteousness on us.

So how shall we meet our Lord? How shall we rightly welcome Him? Perhaps our greeting could be for Him to turn around and come back once this world gets its act in gear. Imagine if that was what Jesus decided before entering Jerusalem. What if He decided to wait until everyone understood what was about to happen? What if He instead sent His disciples to preach against the deplorable character of the city, then wait for moral improvement and better manners so that the Christ could enter Jerusalem? No, Jesus enters Jerusalem in spite of her unbelief, knowing full well what will happen to Him.

Many hearers of the Word deprive themselves of the blessing of the Gospel for the sake of getting their act together. Perhaps you have thought the same thing. Perhaps you have thought Jesus can’t stand messy lives. Or, perhaps, you have thought your life to be in such good order that you don’t need the Savior or His saving Gospel. So you seek your salvation in the riches and pleasures of this world. Then there are those who just don’t want any sort of Jesus talk near them. It’s all a farce to them. It’s unacceptable for God to become man in order to suffer so many things at the hands of His own people in order to pay the ransom for sin. They will take the good feelings, Christmas carols, even the presents around the tree, but leave Christ behind.

We can’t really prepare ourselves in the right way for the Savior’s entrance among us. He prepares us. He serves us, just as He did then in Jerusalem. He still serves us today, using His errand boys, His servants of the Word, to make hearts cheerful in hearing that your salvation draws near. Perhaps those who said, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord meant well in thinking Jesus would finally restore the kingdom of Israel. But what they actually proclaim is that Jesus is blessed to come to suffer death for their sakes.

What joy, then, to sing in the Sanctus: Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth! Heaven and earth are full of Your glory! Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest! Jesus makes His entrance among us in His Word that proclaims bread and wine to be the very Body and Blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. There’s your Advent every weekend! There’s your salvation under simple earthly things that bestow unearthly joy! There’s your blessing that goes beyond Advent and Christmas and into the entire church year.

Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Come eat, drink, listen, sing, receive, give, and go with God’s name and forgiveness on you and in you. Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving the whole year round.

Not So Secretly and All Too Often

The apostle [Paul] says: “Persist with reading!” (1 Timothy 4:13) Therefore it is necessary to read, and diligently, regularly read [Scripture], and read everything that is written, all the Scriptures from beginning to end, and read what is read again and again so that one, when one is finished with the Bible, immediately goes back to the beginning. Joshua, the leader of Israel who was at the same time to teach the people the ways of the Lord, had the command of God: “Let the Book of the Law not depart from your mouth, but contemplate it day and night!” (Joshua 1:8) This is also said to us. It is not enough when a pastor lets himself be satisfied with the daily lectionary, with which he as head of the household edifies his family in morning and evening prayers. No, servants of the Word, theologians, have the special command of God: “Persist with reading!” And if a preacher also is occupied from morning to evening for the work of the [preaching] office, then he should just not forget that reading, persistent reading is also an duty of the [preaching] office. Lack of time is no excuse. We should simply make the best use of our time. Even longer or shorter offical travels absolutely should not hinder “persistent” reading. Just as every Roman [Catholic] priest takes his Brevarium, so every evangelical preacher can take his New Testament with him on his travels. Every theologian should be versed in Scripture and be at home anywhere in it. About Luther it is praised that he has been a more excellent Localis, i.e., every saying in Scripture could be found immediately. Whoever diligently reads in many cases saves the trouble of pouring over concordances. A famous theologian of this [19th] century has testified about himself that he had not gained his knowledge of Scripture from many books and commentaries, but chiefly from the Scriptures themselves, from lectio continua.

Georg Stöckhardt, “On the Theologian’s Study of Scripture” (Vom Schriftstudium der Theologen). Translated by DMJ

Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Trinity – 2 Peter 3:3-14

I learned a new phrase this week: “immanentizing the Eschaton”. The penny explanation of this million dollar phrase is “trying to create heaven on earth”. In politics, those who perhaps believe there is no life everlasting, no Judgment Day, and no God, try hard to make the world a better place through dreaming big dreams and doing whatever it takes to make those dreams come true. In theology, the phrase means to prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ for his so-called thousand year reign of peace on earth.

When it comes to the end of the world, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. The end of all things is at hand. The unbelieving world wants no part of a world turned to ashes by fire. They doubt there was a flood that deluged the world, while Noah and seven others survived in an ark with all sorts of animals. Since there is no Noah, no ark, and no flood, it’s convenient to try to create some sort of perfect society on earth. This is not to say we should go out of our way to make the world a better place in a civil way. You’re never going to get heaven on earth, no matter what Congress or any other legislative body makes into law.

When the world seems to be at the height of its striving and ability, here comes the end of days. We know from God’s Word that everything we see will have an end. Saint Peter gives us a good picture of the end of the world in today’s Epistle. Simply put, There will be an end to this world where everything we see will perish. Believing there is an end to this world should lead us to be prepared for the end.

Immanentizing the Eschaton perhaps has its beginning in the sarcastic words Peter puts in the mouth of scoffers: Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation. Everything seems to go along as it has for centuries. Seed and harvest, summer and winter, frost and heat, and all other natural events continue. Therefore there will be no end because that’s the way it is. Those saints of the Old Testament who died in the faith of the future promise of Jesus Christ never saw Him. Isn’t that enough evidence to show Christians their clinging to the promise of the coming of Jesus is silly?

What scoffers inconveniently forget is that judgment has already happened once in this world. The same earth that came out of water in the speaking of the creative Word was flooded by water from above and below in the flood. The wickedness of man set the washing away of the world into motion. The flood is the prelude and certain sign of the second and final judgment. The first judgment came through water. The final judgment comes in fire.

This final judgment is not a matter of “if”, but “when”. Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. Centuries come and go. For us it is one hundred years. For the Lord it is barely the blink of an eye. He is above time and space.

Nevertheless, God is patient with the unbeliveing world. The Word of repentance and forgiveness in the blood of Jesus Christ still goes out into the world. There comes a day, however, when our heavenly Father’s patience will be exhausted. Then the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

It’s hard to picture in our mind’s eye the destruction of heaven and earth. Perhaps you heard last week about the man who literally dissolved in one of the boiling hot geysers at Yellowstone National Park. Think of how everything you see, even this church building, even your home, will disappear. All the elements, the raw materials of heaven and earth will melt with fervent heat. The glory of earth will be dust and ashes. Most of all, in the judgment and condemnation of godless people, those who scoff at any notion of the Christian faith will be cast into the burning lake of fire, where their worm will not die nor will their fire be extinguished.

Our heavenly Father has made arrangements for you to miss that burning lake of fire. We wait for a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. The existence of this world is coming to an end. In its place comes a new world from which all traces of sin and death have been removed, from which the godless are excluded. Saint John received a glimpse of what this new creation is like in Revelation, where the New Jerusalem has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

Still our heavenly Father has patience. Still His Word of reconciliation in Jesus Christ goes forth into the world. There is a wrath to come that no immanentizing the Eschaton is able to fix. The Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, soon calls us to the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom that has no end. We wait in patient endurance for His coming. When He comes, the dead in Christ will rise to meet Him with those of us still living. Together we go into the New Creation, free from sin, free from death, free to be who we are meant to be in Jesus Christ. Be at peace, beloved. The end is near, thanks be to God!

Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 9:18-26

“For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” The familiar words of the question “What is the benefit of this eating and drinking” in Luther’s Small Catechism on the Sacrament of the Altar is also appropriate for the two healings Jesus performs in Matthew chapter nine.

The ruler’s twelve-year-old daughter is dead. The man believes Jesus can heal her. All it takes is the Savior’s hand. Off Jesus goes to the man’s house to do as He has been asked. Along the way a woman with a flow of blood for twelve years came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch His garment, I will be saved.” As she touches the hem of His garment, she is saved from the flow of blood.

This particular translation says “made well”. To be made well and to be saved are synonymous. Both the daughter and the woman receive ultimate healing. While one is dead, the other one is better off dead. Having a discharge of blood for so many years means her body has to produce more blood. That takes a lot of energy, leaving a poor quality of life.

Other accounts of the woman touching Jesus’ hem make a big deal about what happened. Jesus asks others about who touched Him. There are so many people there that it is hard for Peter and others to determine who did it. Matthew sticks with the facts. It doesn’t matter who touched Him. What matters is that she touched Him, Jesus realizes what happens, and He tells her, take heart, daughter; your faith has saved you.

There it is again. Salvation. Life. The foundation of both those things is forgiveness. That’s the ultimate healing Jesus provides. When a loved one is dying, we pray for them to be saved from a horrible death and have a peaceful death. The first words of the prayer office of Compline say it best: “The Lord Almighty grant us a quiet night, and peace at the last.”

Unless you have been in the position of being on death’s door, you probably won’t understand what it means to have peace at the last. Perhaps you have wished for a quick and painless death so that those you leave behind won’t have to bear a long and arduous burden of care. Perhaps you have seen a loved one die before your eyes and wondered what is really going on in their mind as they fall asleep in Jesus. Perhaps you yourself have wondered what it must be like to spend your last moments on earth. Will it be peaceful? Will everything you have seen and heard as a Christian really come together and make perfect sense?

It didn’t make sense when Jesus tells the flute players and professional mourners, Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping. It’s presumptuous to say those words, whether or not you are Jesus Christ, God’s only-begotten Son. It’s presumptuous to treat death or any illness in what seems to be a smug way. Yet consider how we treat death and illness. We live in a culture obsessed with death. We wish we could be in the room or in the car or wherever someone dies. We need to see the moment when it happens. Maybe we wish to undergo a near-death experience just to get the rush of being there when a death occurs.

Our adrenaline fix is misplaced. What a rush it must have been when Jesus took her by the hand, and the girl arose. What a rush it must have been when the woman with a flow of blood reached out to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, then heard Jesus tell her she was saved. With their salvation is life. With their salvation is forgiveness of sins. The woman with a flow of blood is told to take heart. Jesus makes a bee-line to the ruler’s house to raise his daughter from the dead. The rush happens when Jesus saves, whether after the nick of time or in a back-handed, garment touching way.

Isaiah foretold our Savior when he says in chapter 51, I, I am He Who comforts you; who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass. Jesus Christ is not a Hebrew superman who considers the human body something useless and not worthy of His occupation. Jesus comes to bring salvation in a body, letting that body suffer and die. He lets Himself be made like grass. He takes on illness, even death, and gives life. Where life is, forgiveness of sins and salvation is right there with them.

You have this salvation as you believe Jesus takes care of your death and the plague of sin that leads to death. Jesus comes running, as it were, to your house to lay His hand on you in the preaching of His Word. There’s no magic wand, no wave of the hand, and no feats of misdirection here. Jesus actually uses actual, physical stuff to bestow salvation for you.

Let’s go back to Luther’s Small Catechism and that bit about “forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation”. Luther points out that Jesus puts these things in words. The words He speaks, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins bestow what He says. He is the Word made flesh. He is the only Son of the Most High God. It is as if God Himself parks Himself before your face and personally shows you bread, wine, water, and Word, and tells you, up close and personal, face-to-face, that your salvation is right here. You don’t have to ascend to heaven. You don’t have to go on a quest. He brings you to them when His Word is spoken, splashed, chewed, and swallowed in earthly things.

I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand, establishing the heavens and laying the foundations of the earth, and saying to Zion, “You are my people.” The Father has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Today Jesus touches you in His Word of salvation. You are forgiven. You have life in His name. Believe it for His sake.