Monthly Archives: February 2017

Quinquagesima – Luke 18:31-43

There are a lot of Bible stories that are irrational. Take Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis chapter 22. We’ll hear that one, God willing, in a few weeks. God tested Abraham by telling him, Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you. Abraham does as he is told. Isaac wonders what’s going to happen. Abraham replies, God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.

The whole event is foolish and ridiculous to reason. The eye of faith opened by God, however, sees in it an example of what’s going to happen to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Our heavenly Father has not spared His beloved Son for our sake. What is more, Jesus is willing to be slaughtered on the altar of the cross for our sake. That’s what Jesus is getting at in today’s Gospel. See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.

How did His disciples react? They understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. Like Abraham’s servants then, the disciples didn’t have a clue what was going to happen. So it remains today. Jesus is a dark mystery for so many. He’s a man of charity and patience, yet He is willing to let Himself die at the hands of His own people. He loves all, yet at the same time speaks so harshly to some.

No wonder so many people want nothing to do with Jesus unless our Lord surrenders Himself to their terms. Those terms usually include reasonable, rational things like condemning those we don’t like while affirming those things we like. Those terms even include telling Jesus it’s not important that we visit His house, let alone rejoice in our baptism or receive His Supper. Just be there when I call on you in those bad times, Jesus. Otherwise cool out, have a drink by the pool, and I’ll fold my hands, bow my head, and close my eyes when I’m ready for You.

Let Jesus again today open your blind eyes so you are able to see what He does for you. Note that Jesus says we are going up to Jerusalem. He’s including you. The trip to Jerusalem does not mean that you’ll have a jasper throne and marble footstool to sit in alongside Him. Jesus going to Jerusalem does not include setting up a theocracy or showing the Roman Empire Who’s boss. Jesus is going to suffer and die for your sins. God’s own chosen people will hand Him over to the Gentiles to do their dirty work.

Yet the benefits of His death and resurrection will be for both the Jews and the Gentiles. Once Jesus opens the disciples’ eyes they see everything fall into place. Let Jesus open your eyes again today in order that you see everything fall into place. He knows what awaits Him there. He can see in His mind how everything will happen. He intended it to be that way for you and for them, too.

See how Jesus willingly suffers everything. He could have escaped it had He not set His face for Jerusalem. He could have heeded the words of those who stood there beneath His cross. He could have come down from the cross to show them He was Messiah. If He did so, then our redemption is forsaken. We remain forever in our sins with no hope for salvation. Jesus stays on the cross. Jesus gets flogged. Jesus wears a crown of thorns. Jesus carries His cross. Jesus remains silent before His accusers. Jesus does all these things for your sake.

What God had decided from eternity and predicted in the Old Testament through the prophets was completed in Jesus’ suffering. Jesus has authority to lay down His life, and has authority to take it up again. This charge He received from His Father. Peter, after having His eyes open by Jesus and being enlightened by the procession of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, says this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

Don’t get too upset as you see Jesus suffer for your sake. By nature you have the same fleshly minded heart that is hostile to God as those men who tortured Christ. It’s as if His Father allows everything including the kitchen sink to be thrown at His Son. All this He does for our transgressions, as Isaiah prophesied. Jesus was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.

You are bought at a price. Isaiah also prophesied, You have not bought me sweet cane with money, or satisfied me with the fat of your sacrifices. Saint Paul confirms Isaiah’s words. God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Think of it. You are the righteousness of God because of Jesus Christ. That’s an eye-opening thing. Jesus becomes sin for you. You become Jesus’ righteousness in His becoming sin.

Lent begins again this Wednesday. Keep your eyes open as we walk through the Old Testament book of Job these Wednesdays in Lent. Hear again the familiar Scripture readings of Lent. Everything points toward the body on the cross, and the lack of a body in the tomb. Let Jesus open your eyes to see His great love for you that makes Him willing to do the Father’s will, to carry out the eternal counsel of the redemption of the sins of the world.

The Necessary Distinguishing Between Law and Gospel

We must know what the law is, and what the gospel is. The law commands and requires us to do certain things. The law is thus directed solely to our behavior and consists in making requirements. For God speaks through the law, saying, “Do this, avoid that, this is what I expect of you.” The gospel, however, does not preach what we are to do or to avoid. It sets up no requirements but reverses the approach of the law, does the very opposite, and says, “This is what God has done for you; he has let his Son be made flesh for you, has let him be put to death for your sake.” So, then, there are two kinds of doctrine and two kinds of works, those of God and those of men. Just as we and God are separated from one another, so also these two doctrines are widely separated from one another. For the gospel teaches exclusively what has been given us by God, and not—as in the case of the law—what we are to do and give to God.

Martin Luther, “How Christians Should Regard Moses”, LW 35:162.

 

…it is so important to distinguish the two words [Law and Gospel] properly and not mingle them together. Otherwise you will not be able to have or hold on to a correct understanding of either of them. Instead, just when you think you have them both, you will have neither.

Martin Luther, Sermon for the Circumcision of Our Lord, 1532, WA 36:9:28ff. Translated by Willard L. Bruce in Concordia Journal, April, 1992, p. 153.

 

A few times—when I did not bear this principal teaching in mind—the devil caught up with me and plagued me with Scripture passages until heaven and earth became too small for me. Then all the works and laws of man were right, and not an error was to be found in the whole papacy. In short, the only one who had ever erred was Luther. All my best works, teaching, sermons, and books had to be condemned. The abominable Mohammed almost became my prophet, and both Turks and Jews were on the way to pure sainthood…. If by choice or of necessity you must deal with matters concerning the law, works, sayings, and examples of the fathers, then remember first of all to keep this principal teaching before you, and do not be caught without it, so that the dear sun of Christ will shine in your heart. Then you can freely and safely discuss and discriminate in all laws, examples, sayings, and works.

Martin Luther, “Exposition of Psalm 117”, LW 14:37-38.

 

I admit, of course, that there are many texts in the Scriptures that are obscure and abstruse, not because of the majesty of their subject matter, but because of our ignorance of their vocabulary and grammar; but these texts in no way hinder a knowledge of all the subject matter of Scripture. For what still sublimer thing can remain hidden in the Scriptures, now that the seals have been broken, the stone rolled from the door of the sepulcher [Matthew 27:66; 28:2], and the supreme mystery brought to light, namely, that Christ the Son of God has been made man, that God is three and one, that Christ has suffered for us and is to reign eternally? Are not these things known and sung even in the highways and byways? Take Christ out of the Scriptures, and what will you find left in them?

Martin Luther, “The Bondage of the Will”, LW 33:25-26.

Safe and Sound in the Arms of Jesus

[E]very Christian who has received the Gospel can well rejoice that he is under this Christ. He does not let his sins bother him if he has grasped the Gospel and Christ under whom he is placed. Come what may, the devil will afflict him with this or that charge, with adultery, hypocrisy, thievery, murder, greed, hate, wrath, and whatever the sins may be called. But it is not a problem. For he has a strong mighty king who will keep him secure. It will come against you terribly and it will make you bitter. You can ask and others can pray for you so that you might have a strong courage and lively heart. But it is sure that you will not be lost. Christ will surely save you. Only do not fall from His kingdom.

Martin Luther, Sermon for St. Matthias Day, from “Festival Sermons of Martin Luther: The Church Postils”, translated by Rev. Joel Baseley, page 266

Sexagesima – Luke 8:4-15

The seed is the word of God. Saint Paul says concerning this seed, I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Why, then, are so many hearers of the Word ashamed of the Gospel? Why are many who hear the Word not saved? Jesus leaves us hanging in the parable of the soils on which the sower sows the seed. He doesn’t solve the mystery. He says His piece and lets it be. He does give His disciples, and us, the cast of characters, so to speak. Yet there is no answer. There are only reasons.

Many hear the Word. Saint Luke tells us so in a back-handed way when he writes a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to [Jesus]. Those who hear the Word hear what others hear. The sower only has one kind of seed: His seed, the Word of God. Don’t blame the seed. Don’t blame God. The Lord says through the prophet Isaiah, my word… shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Perhaps you think you’ve found the loophole. If the seed is the Word, then the purpose for the seed in some soils is for the seed to fail. Therefore God’s purpose is to let His Word fail. Again, you can’t blame the seed. The seed always accomplishes its goal or the Lord is a liar. The seed never returns empty. There it lays on several different types of soil, ready to die, yet in dying it lives and thrives, or is supposed to thrive.

Three types of soil where the seed lands gets in the way of the Word accomplishing the reason why it is sown. The soil hinders the Word through reluctance on entering and working on us. Some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. The world and the devil are given room to allow God’s work to be frustrated so that they may not believe and be saved. They instead hear the Word and remain obdurate. The Word is sown for their judgment and greater condemnation, so that “seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand”.

The seed is good. The Word is powerful. Yet as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture…. These have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. Remaining faithful to God’s promise of salvation in Jesus Christ is hard to believe when you suffer so much pressure from friends and family who want no part of the kingdom of heaven. The pressure points of life are exactly where the Lord seeks to strengthen you in His Word. Consider those in ancient times who were persecuted for their faith. Consider those even today halfway around the world who are ready to die rather than forsake the Lord. They gladly give their head to the Islamic State or other persecutors than bow the knee to a false god.

What is worse perhaps is a divided heart. You want to be a Christian on Saturday night or Sunday morning. Yet you also want to live alongside those who think this life is the only life you have. So you fill your life with earthly cares, yet set them aside for an hour or so on the weekend and let God have some time before you set God aside for the rest of the week. Jesus says as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.

The purpose for which the seed is sown is accomplished in only a few. This doesn’t mean that only our precious flock in Momence or other precious flocks in other communities are the only ones to be saved. Compared to the billions of people on the planet, a precious few will be saved. That is a hard saying. Many cannot receive it. What of the millions of Buddhists, Hindu, or other religions? They do nice things for other people. They are ardent in what they believe. They might even be nicer than most Christians you know. Yet they will not be saved? It can’t be!

This is a hard saying. Again, many cannot receive it. Where the seed falls and is not hindered by hard soil, by rocky soil, or by thorny soil, it accomplishes that for which it was sent. It grows and yields a hundredfold. If you farmed ground and knew the seed that you planted would give a hundredfold yield for every seed, you would practically dance around your barn. The same can be said for the Word that is sown. It will accomplish great things if only the soil it is planted in would get out of the way and let the seed do what it does.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear. The best way to let the seed accomplish what the Lord wants to accomplish is to get out of the way. There are those who won’t get out of the way and think they can do something either to help or to hinder the seed. We can’t help the seed along. It doesn’t need our help. The Savior accomplishes what He is sent to do by Himself. Every attempt to stop Him or to help Him ends up embarrassing those who try it. Consider Peter telling Jesus He shouldn’t suffer, die, and rise from the dead for the sins of the world. Get behind me, Satan is how Jesus responds to Peter. People heckle our Lord on the cross, yelling at Him to come down so they might believe. Jesus remains steadfast to the end, even in great agony.

The mystery doesn’t take much to solve, yet it also remains unsolved. The seed of the Word works when and where He wills, not when and where we will. The seed is sown everywhere. Some places it doesn’t take root. Others it does. Where the seed does take root, it bears fruit a hundredfold. That’s where our joy is found. Even when it seems that the soil remains perpetually hard, rocky, or thorny, there is always a patch of ground somewhere where we can rejoice in the seed bearing fruit. After all, it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Get Out of the Way of the Seed

[The parable of the Sower] does indeed call for a response from us; but that response is to be one that is appropriate not to the accomplishing of a work but to the bearing of fruit. The goal it sets for us is not the amassing of deeds, good or bad, but simply the unimpeded experiencing of our own life as the Word abundantly bestows it upon us. And that, as I said, is entirely fitting; because the parable is told to us by none other than the Word himself, whose final concern is nothing less than the reconciled you and me that he longs to offer his heavenly Father. He did not become flesh to display his own virtuosity; he did so to bring us home to his Father’s house and sit us down as his bride at the supper of the Lamb. He wills us whole and happy, you see; and the parable of the Sower says he will unfailingly have us so, if only we don’t get in the way.

Robert Farrar Capon, “Kingdom, Grace, Judgment”, page 74.

We Are God’s Beloved Enemies

Justification by faith makes us realize that we are loved sinners, that we are God’s beloved enemies. In short, we are lost people under God’s grace. So is the world as a while. Whatever we see, achieve, possess, or try to do is lost; even the tanks of the dictators or the riches of the bankers are doomed to decay. And whatever good deeds I myself do cannot set aside this predicament; they may truly be good deeds or they may only seem so. For this is not the point. The point is this: Who am I in God’s eyes? And he responds, “You are my enemy whom I love and therefore lead to salvation. So leave yourself in my hands; my will is known and found in Jesus Christ. Then you will be my child and my friend and will not have to sustain yourself. As my child and my friend you need not be concerned about your own person. Thus you are free to look around and to concentrate on others and things outside your own person and its interest.”

Dr. Klaus Schwarzwäller (1935-2012), “Justification and Reality”, in Justification Is For Preaching

schwarzwaller

Septuagesima – Matthew 20:1-16

You might think there are a large number of different religions in the world. There are actually only two: the religion of the Law and the religion of the Gospel. The religion of the Law is the endeavor to reconcile God through man’s own works. The religion of the Gospel, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, is belief wrought through the Gospel by the Holy Spirit that we have a gracious God through the reconciliation already effected by Christ, and not by our own works.

In order to get around the extremes of two religions, we often mix both and create a third religion that is actually the religion of the Law. We believe God is gracious, except when we don’t want God to be gracious. Take those who worked for twelve hours in the master’s vineyard. When it comes to receiving their agreed upon wage, they think perhaps they will receive more because they worked all day. Upon receiving one denarius, they murmur: These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.

They insist on their merit. Their eyes are evil. They begrudge others the gift of the good master. The master, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with those who grumble about his goodness. He does not deal according to merit. So he tells those who worked all day: Go! You might say he told them to scram.

Be careful what you wish for when you wish there was a way you could have a say in the religion of the Gospel. You might be the one told to scram. You can’t have it both ways in the kingdom of God. You can’t believe in a gracious, loving, giving God and also want God not to be gracious to those who haven’t borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat. Put another way, you can’t rejoice in God saving the worst of sinners, and then put the worst of sinners back under the burden of making a moral change before they can really apprehend Jesus’ merit. You can’t add more commandments than those given by God and expect that Jesus saves by grace alone AND by good, clean living.

You can’t work for the Gospel and bask in grace. You can’t just show up and expect God to bless you with forgiveness of sins and eternal life because you deserve it by your persistent church attendance or by keeping the property looking nice or by believing in pure doctrine. Grace and reward are two opposing terms. When you believe grace and reward work together, no wonder you look askance at God’s goodness to the worst of sinners, even sinners like you and me. You can’t do the work God prescribes in the Law. You can’t perfectly love God. You can’t perfectly love your neighbor as yourself. You can’t do justice to God by shedding your blood. As Saint Paul says in Philippians chapter three: Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Aha! There’s the loophole! I press on to make it my own. I get to do something at last! What you get to do is stand still and let God work His favor on you by sparing you from everlasting death. Whether you labor all your life in the vineyard or whether you labor mere minutes, the Master is gracious to all whom He calls. He alone is good. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or is your eye evil because I am good?

Jesus’ parable of the vineyard in Matthew chapter twenty is a picture of the heavenly kingdom. We are called by God into this spiritual vineyard. Though we Christians work, bear the burden and heat of the day, serve our neighbor, even if that service is hard, we don’t fear cross and tribulation. The way of delighting God, the way of salvation, is not how hard you work or how much you work or how nice you are to others. The way of salvation is the way of grace and favor of God on you. It is gift, pure gift, for Christ’s sake. You’re in because of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, the Gracious Giver.

By grace God sent His only-begotten Son into the world for redemption of sinners. By Grace He lets the tidings of this redemption, the Gospel, be preached to all creation. By grace He awakens us from spiritual death by the power of the preached Word. This Word works in us true faith and a new life. By grace He forgives our sins. By grace He continually works in us a deep hatred for sins and zeal to love and serve our neighbor as God loves and serves us so that we work in His vineyard not for merit, but for love. By grace God gives us salvation.

God makes from grace and favor a Timothy, who from infancy was acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, and a thief who seeks forgiveness in the eleventh hour. Saint Paul cannot be saved than the penitent murder led to his execution can be saved. This is the only way that stands open to all sinners.

This is the way Adam and Eve are saved, who brought all sin and misery into the world by their fall. This is the way Moses is saved, who doubted God’s promise. This is the way David is saved, who laid murder and adultery on his conscience. This is the way Peter is saved, who denied His Lord Jesus Christ. This is the way you are saved, even if you have despised your Baptism and returned to the Lord in your dying breath.

“No sentence now reproves me, No guilt destroys my peace; For Christ, my Savior, loves me And shields me with His grace.”

Transfiguration of Our Lord – Matthew 17:1-9

Like Saint Peter, we should say it is good that we are here. Yet unlike Saint Peter, we say it for a different reason. Peter is ready to pitch tents for all involved. He’d love the moment to last for a while. It cannot last forever. Jesus must be about His Father’s business, not about Peter’s wishes.

It is good for us to say it is good that we are here because of what we hear today. Remember what you hear. You’re going to need it as Lent draws near. Remember that you, like Peter, James, John, and countless Christians before you, are eyewitness of His majesty. You are not direct eyewitnesses of His majesty, yet you have heard what happened on that mountain. Through Peter you have heard this very voice borne from heaven. This very voice from heaven, for you, is now borne through the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place.

Like Peter at that moment, it is easy to get caught up in the experience. Now you see where the phrase “mountaintop experience” comes from. A “mountaintop experience” is one where you are a changed person after seeing and hearing something so exhilarating. The experience changes you, but you aren’t so changed after the experience. The buzz starts to fade. The memories become a twinkle in your eye. You’ll remember your feelings perhaps more than what you heard and saw.

Feelings are good things; a gift from God. Feelings, however, are not the most important gift from God. That is why Saint Peter calls the prophetic word something more sure. What is more sure about what you hear today is the voice that calls from heaven: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him. Those last three words say it all. Listen to Him. Listen to Jesus.

Keep your eyes and ears focused and tuned on the Savior. Hear what He says to you these next few weeks. He speaks words of Spirit and truth. We know His words are from the Holy Spirit because Jesus is the Word incarnate. Peter reminds us no prophecy was ever produced from the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Matthew wrote what He saw Jesus say and do as a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Living Word laid down His life and picked it up again, just as His Father promised through the prophets of old. Their word, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was true.

Keep your ears focused on what Jesus says to you today: rise, and have no fear. The mountaintop experience shook Peter, James, and John to their core. When the disciples heard the voice of God the Father speak, they fell on their faces and were terrified. When we deal with God outside of Jesus Christ, we too must fall on our face and be terrified. He is holy. We are not holy. He is majestic. We are mere mortals. Yet Jesus does not leave them alone to soak in their fear and trembling. Jesus comes to them and touches them, saying rise, and have no fear.

Have no fear. Jesus is born for this moment. From now on He sets His face to Jerusalem in order to suffer and die for the sins of the world. After three days’ darkness in the tomb, Jesus rises from the dead triumphant over Satan and death. The grave cannot hold Him. The grave cannot hold you either. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a cleverly devised myth, to quote Saint Peter. They saw Him. The Holy Spirit guided their thoughts when they wrote their Gospels and Epistles. Their words are our lamp shining in a dark place. They draw us close to Christ, our hope for eternity.

Have no fear. You are baptized into Christ. Satan cannot have you. Deceiver that he is, he will use every trick necessary to get you to doubt your sonship in Christ. He lies. He tells you what you want to hear; especially that Jesus wouldn’t shed His blood for the likes of you. Jesus only dies for the pure in heart. Jesus only cares about people who are able to keep all the commandments. He lies. Jesus sheds His blood for you. Jesus makes your heart pure in His blood and innocent life imputed to you. Jesus keeps all the commandments and gives you His perfect obedience.

Have no fear. The Lord sets a table before you in the presence of your enemies. His Supper is before you, bestowing forgiveness of sins and strengthening your faith. Have no fear. Though your sins stain you, they are white as snow because of the blood of Jesus Christ. That’s the Good News of absolution declared to you each week in His house. The veil of the Law is lifted. No longer are you blinded by the pure light of holiness that is the presence of the Lord. You are worthy to stand in front of the light because of Jesus Christ. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Remember what you hear today inside the cloud on the mountaintop. This same Jesus, Whom you hear transfigured before you, standing with Moses and Elijah, will die. He will rise from the dead. He will ascend into heaven to prepare a place for you with Him. Don’t believe because of the experience. Believe it because you have eyewitnesses of His majesty; men who wrote the prophetic word, carried along in their writing by the Holy Spirit. Pay attention to that Word, for the Truth is there. The Truth of God is that you are free from sin and death in Christ. You are set free to love and serve your neighbor. You are set free to rejoice in your freedom. You are set free to die, and yet you live. Remember what you hear, for Jesus remembers you when He comes into His kingdom upon the cross.