Monthly Archives: November 2017

First Sunday in Advent – Matthew 21:1-9

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” A new church year arises from the end of an old church year. But nothing has changed. The Lord Jesus Christ remains Lord of His Church. His gifts are given again, just like last week and previous weeks. Yet there is something exhilarating about a new church year.

Perhaps it is because we get to hear the greatest story ever told all over again. My children love to hear the same stories all over again. They beg Becky and me to read them the same library books. We get them different ones every two weeks, yet a couple of months later and those same books reappear in the library bag. We have some of them memorized. We might even be tired of hearing them.

We say the same thing about how we are saved from death and given life and forgiveness of sins in Christ. We get bored with it. After all, I heard it in Sunday School. I heard it from my parents or my grandparent or another family member. I heard it last year. Now I hear it again this year. Why not another story? Aren’t there any other good stories that need to be told? Let’s hear something fresh; something I’ve not heard before.

There are great stories that haven’t been told. This story, your story in Jesus Christ, is the story’s story. It will find a way to be told whether or not you want to hear it. The Gospel finds its own way to speak, especially when you try to silence it. The thing about the Gospel, though, is that, like Jesus, it doesn’t demand to be heard. It doesn’t come banging on your door in the middle of the night expecting you to pay attention. The Gospel of Jesus Christ demands nothing. It offers. The Gospel offers something you can’t get anywhere else.

What is more, the Gospel, like Jesus, comes to you. You don’t get to come to it on your own accord. The Gospel finds you. When the Gospel finds you, it comes to you in a humble way, just like Jesus enters Jerusalem. The way we think, the Gospel needs a fiery chariot with brassy horns announcing its presence. People will pay attention to the Good News if you spiff it up a bit. You gotta let ’em know something special is coming. How will people know the message of Jesus Christ if you don’t show ’em just how important the message is?

The Gospel doesn’t work like that. Jesus Christ doesn’t demand fiery chariots and brassy horns. He has what He has: humility, a colt, the foal of a beast of burden. Jesus comes into Jerusalem in a humble way, a way that doesn’t befit a king. Yet that’s the way Jesus enters Jerusalem to suffer, die, and rise from the dead.

You have to admit it’s not the strongest of plots from a human standpoint. We might write the story in a different way. Jesus sends ten thousand legions of angels to wipe out the plot against His life. His disciples prepare a throne for Him in the temple. Even the Pharisees and Sadducees finally repent and join everyone else in honoring the King of Kings as He takes His rightful throne in Jerusalem, the center of the everlasting theocracy.

But what about the atonement for sin? What about Isaiah’s Suffering Servant? What about the promise in the Garden to the serpent? What about the ram caught in a thicket as a substitute for Isaac? If we wrote the story, then let these all be gone. We have our King! But we don’t really have our King. We have a king, but not the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Jesus enters Jerusalem to begin, as the chief hymn says, “His heroic course”. The first entrance of His heroic course is that night in Bethlehem when a star announced Christ’s birth to shepherds abiding with their flocks. Even wise men from afar ascertained something special was happening and rode to Jerusalem to see this King promised by prophets.

His heroic course turns to Calvary and the shedding of blood that covers your sin. There will be no fancy throne and no grand theocracy for Jesus Christ. The Lamb of God reigns on a throne made of two pieces of wood crossed to form a torture device. Jesus reigns on the cross to give you forgiveness at the cost of your sin. Jesus is placed in a tomb where He rises victorious over our greatest enemy: death. As He rises, so you, too, shall rise with Him on Judgment Day.

His heroic course continues among us today where His gifts of forgiveness and life are given. He comes among us in the Word, in water, and in bread and wine. Here is where sins are taken away. Here is where life is given. Here is where you hear Christ will come again to raise the dead and usher in the new and everlasting creation.

Jesus’ heroic course begins again today from the end of another round of hearing the old, old story of Jesus and His love for you. His story is one no one minds hearing again. The deeper you study it, the better acquainted you become with it, the more you marvel at God’s love for sinners in His only-begotten Son. The more you may have questions, too. The more you hear, the more you seek for answers. Those answers may not ever come, for some questions have no answers this side of Paradise. Yet in seeking you find your heart’s desire: a clear conscience, a hope for life amid death, and freedom to be who you are given to be and to do what is given you to do in Christ.

Yesterday’s old news is today’s new news, for Jesus comes to you again to save you.

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

We’ve come to the end of another church year. Next week, Lord willing, we’ll begin the season of Advent and prepare ourselves for the coming of the Christ Child. Before we bid farewell to the old and welcome the new, Jesus shows us that He is with us even to the end. He is with us as He has always been this church year and every church year. Jesus proves Himself as our faithful and merciful Savior.

Jesus never separates Himself from His people. He is there among them. Granted the Twelve were His intimate followers, yet Jesus is always available to help when there is a need. Today a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples.

Note first of all how the ruler greets Jesus. He knelt before him. This man knows that Jesus is more than a man. He is the very Son of God in flesh. He believes Jesus is able to heal his daughter. Elsewhere we see Jesus healing by speaking a word. He need not be bodily present to heal. All it takes is a spoken word. Here, though, our Lord goes with the ruler to heal his daughter.

As Jesus is among the people and is willing to go to the ruler’s house, so He is among us not only in this house in the preached Word and in the gifts of Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. He is also among us in our own homes every time we open the Scriptures to read God’s Word. Christ is in every word of Scripture. He is the Living Word made flesh. Every word in Scripture proclaims Jesus for your forgiveness and your eternal life. We, like the ruler in today’s Gospel, greet our Lord with respect fitting the King of Kings. We bow our heads to pray. We focus our ears and eyes to hear His Word proclaimed. We might even make the sign of the cross to remind us of our baptism at appropriate times in the liturgy. Jesus is present among us in His gifts, giving life and bringing joy.

Jesus is among us even when our Bibles are closed and we are living our callings in life. In illness He is our Great Physician. He hears our prayers, consoles us in His Word, and gives patience and hope for healing, even ultimate healing in the resurrection of the body. When loved ones died this past year, Jesus was there to bring comfort and hope. He dries our tears and scares away the horror of death in His sweet consolation. He was with us as we tended to our daily tasks at home, at school, and everywhere.

But do we believe that Jesus has been our faithful and merciful Savior this past church year? There are times when we have been angry with God. His goodness to us sometimes looks like frustration and setbacks. We think He puts roadblocks in our life to punish us. Maybe we think He enjoys watching us suffer. Our tongues are quick to speak evil of Him. We’re convinced He only wants to do us harm and never good.

The woman with a flow of blood for twelve years had every right to think that way. Yet she found a way to approach our Lord for healing. She says to herself, If I only touch his garment, I will be made well. She does, and she receives what she desires, even when our Lord’s back is turned to her.

That’s when Jesus loves to help. With the eyes of faith we see His back turned to us. We think He has no time for us. Still we reach out to Him in prayer. Still we come here to receive His loving care. Jesus doesn’t disappoint. Even when it seems like He is busy with someone else, Jesus has time for us. He turns to us as He did to the woman and says, Take heart; your faith has made you well.

Don’t think for a moment that your faith is your doing. Saint Paul reminds us faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. The Word implanted in you through the preaching of the Gospel creates trust in God for all things. Whether faith is as small as a mustard seed or as tall as a mountain, you have your heart’s desire in Christ. Sin is covered in Christ’s blood. His righteousness is your white garment of holiness and peace. You do not receive what you deserve. You receive instead the best of what God has for you: everlasting life because of Christ’s death and resurrection for you.

Jesus brings the dead back to life. Today we see it in the raising of the ruler’s daughter. The girl is not dead but sleeping. The crowd laughed at Jesus for saying such a foolish thing. Yet Jesus speaks the truth. Death is a nap. Jesus wakes her up from the nap. As He wakes her up, so He will do the same for you on Judgment Day. Your confidence lies in the certain hope that the dead in Christ shall rise, be changed, and live forever before the face of God. Our ultimate confidence lies in that joyful fact. You will live in the presence of God for eternity without sin, without pain, and without death.

The old church year ends and a new church year dawns. As it was in the past, so shall it be again this time. Jesus is with us as our faithful and merciful Savior. His ear is always open to our prayer. His comfort is always near. He’ll be here again next week, Lord willing, to forgive your sin and restore the joy of His salvation. He’ll be with you everywhere you go as His holy angels watch over you, protecting you from the evil foe. You can run, but you can’t hide from God. His love for you in Christ never fails. His forgiveness for you in Christ is always ready. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

Christianity and Piety

Other doctrines outside of the Gospel, like the books of the heathen masters, insist that the people should through them become good; again, the legends of the saints especially insist that the people are to live as the saints lived. To make good people does not belong to the Gospel, for it only makes Christians. It takes much more to be a Christian than to be pious. A person can easily be pious, but not a Christian. A Christian knows nothing to say about his piety, for he finds in himself nothing good or pious. If he is to be pious, he must look for a different piety, a piety in some one else.

To this end Christ is presented to us as an inexhaustible fountain, who at all times overflows with pure goodness and grace. And for such goodness and kindness he accepts nothing, except that the good people, who acknowledge such kindness and grace, thank him for it, praise and love him, although others despise him for it. This is what he reaps from it. So one is not called a Christian because he does much, but because he receives something from Christ, draws from him and lets Christ only give to him. If one no longer receives anything from Christ, he is no longer a Christian, so that the name Christian continues to be based only on receiving, and not on giving and doing, and he receives nothing from any one except from Christ alone. If you look at what you do, you have already lost the Christian name. It is indeed true, that we are to do good works, help, advise and give to others; but no one is called a Christian by reason of that, nor is he on that account a Christian.

Therefore, if you wish to consider the word in its true meaning, you must identify a Christian by the fact that he only receives something from Christ, and has Christ within him; for this is what the word properly means. Just as a person is called “white,” because of his white color, black because of his dark color, large because of his size. So also one is called a “Christian” because of Christ, who dwells in him and from whom he receives his blessings. So, if one is called a Christian because of Christ, he is certainly then not called a Christian because of his works. From this it also follows that no one is called a Christian by reason of his good works. If this be true, as it undoubtedly is, then it must follow that our orders and sects do not belong under the Christian name, and they do not develop Christians.

Therefore they are deceivers, who preach or teach in the church, and occupy themselves with commandments, works and statutes, that accomplish nothing. Although they pretend to be Christians, nevertheless they still, under this name, attempt to burden and torment us with their commands and works. By reason of my works I may well be called one who fasts, one who prays, or a pilgrim, but not a Christian. If you were to weave all your works together, and add to them all the works of others, you would still not have Christ, and from these things you could not be called a Christian. Christ is something different and higher than law and the commandments of men. He is the Son of God, who is ready alone to give and not to receive. If I am so wise as to take what he offers, I have him, and if I have him I am then justly called a Christian. Thus you have the distinction as to what a Christian is and what Christ is.

Martin Luther, First Church Postil for Trinity 24 (Matthew 9:18-26)

Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 22:15-22

When you see a politician in a church pulpit during worship time, alarm bells should ring in your head. When you hear a preacher preach politics instead of the Gospel, those same alarm bells should ring in your head. Both are abominations before God and mankind. State and Church each have their own lane with distinct principles and goals. Yet we Christians do not stop being Christians in our civic life. God’s Word continues to be our guiding star even as citizens of God’s left-hand kingdom.

The disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians correctly state our belief concerning Church and State issues: Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully. What was meant for hypocrisy and evil intentions ends up being the right thing to say to our Lord. The Psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 119: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path also applies to our way of life as citizens under Caesar, or in our case, under a federal republic. You are a faithful Christian and a good citizen when you learn what part of your life as a citizen and a follower of Jesus Christ belongs in what particular lane.

Jesus gives the guiding principle in Matthew chapter 22 when He says: render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. Christ confirms Roman government in Judea. He reminds the Jews to give the ruling authorities what is entitled to them for the sake of good divine order, recognition, and honor.

Worldly authority is a good gift from God. No matter whom you vote for, no matter what political party you identify with, everyone might agree that sounds wrong. If worldly authority was a good gift from God, shouldn’t it agree with everything I agree with, especially as a Christian? Stay in your own lane! Don’t cross lanes and make earthly authority into some sort of theocracy. Jesus confirms worldly authority no matter how it came to authority and what kind of authority the state has. Saint Peter confirms our Lord’s words when he says in his first epistle: Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

We citizens of the United States of America recognize and honor the authority elected by the people as God’s order even though the authorities are not exactly our personal choice. The last twelve months have shown us how important this principle is. Some Episcopalian priests have stated they refuse to pray for President Trump. Other Christians believe President Trump is God’s personal choice for President of our country and uses him as His hand-picked servant to do good things for us. Both ideas are wrong. They have gone out of their lanes.

Worse yet is when we go out of our lanes by hurling insults at our authorities. Whether or not you voted for the officeholder, he or she is your public servant. He or she is a gift, even if their conduct is less than honorable.

The Jews in our Lord’s day used Caesar’s money. They stood under his protection. They were to pay taxes in order to help fund the government so they could be protected from enemies and so government could run smoothly. This is why Christ says render to Caesar.

Our Lord’s statement remains true today. Saint Paul reminds us in Romans chapter 13: one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

These words of our Lord, not to mention Saints Paul and Peter, are our guiding star when it comes to living in both the secular kingdom as well as the spiritual kingdom. We might hold our nose when we pay taxes, but we do so conscientiously and accurately. We take advantage of tax breaks, but not so that we might forget to pay our taxes. We also, when necessary, submit ourselves to military service if the draft is reinstated. All these things are matters of good order in the secular kingdom.

One of the most important duties in the secular realm is to vote in elections. When a Christian stands for office, he or she doesn’t do so in order to seek advantage. A Christian stands for office in order to serve the country or the state and, in so doing, serves their neighbor as well as God. The same goes for the right to vote. Christians do not seek a bribe in return for voting for one particular candidate, not to mention the candidate making promises they cannot keep to the electorate. When a Christian is elected to an office, he or she serves with faithfulness and conscientiousness as God’s servants.

Then comes the last part of our Lord’s counsel: and to God what is God’s. Here Jesus separates God’s kingdom from the state. The Jews fulfill their civic duties, yet these duties do not interfere with their way of life. The State, in return, does not interfere with the exercise of their faith.

Our founding fathers in this country were clever not to establish a state church, as well as allowing for the “free exercise of religion”. Some politicians see this as merely a freedom to go to church, leaving other matters of faith to be controlled by the government. Yet as of now, the free exercise of religion enjoys a wide berth not only among Christians, but other faiths outside of Christianity.

Simply put, we give to the state what belongs to the state. However, we don’t cast aside the law regarding what belongs to God. There are some things the state has no business settling. Only God’s Word settles matters of the Christian faith. If Congressman Robin Kelly came to our congregation and forbade us to believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life, we must tell her to stay in her lane. The same goes for us if we tell Governor Rauner or even President Trump that Christianity should be the only religion allowed in our country, or even that prayer in school must be mandatory. We must stay in our own lane as well.

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. A simple statement with profound applications. When the state stays in its own lane, we are protected from harm and help maintain good order as citizens. This includes paying our taxes and voting for qualified candidates in elections. When the Church stays in her own lane, we rejoice in receiving forgiveness and salvation from our heavenly Father through His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. We are pilgrim people, traveling through this time and place looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. While we walk here, we hear Christ’s words concerning Church and State, giving to both what is due both while staying in our lanes as citizens of the state and children of the heavenly Father.

Faith in Christ Alone is God’s Thunderclap

“Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.'” (John 6:29 ESV)

All Holy Scripture is in agreement with this true service of God, which is indeed grounded in Holy Scripture. Therefore if you want to serve God, bear in mind that you must believe in Him whom the Father sent. If you want to know how to obtain God’s grace and how to approach God, how to render satisfaction for your sin, and how to escape death, then this is truly God’s will and true service, that you believe in Christ. The text deals with the work that we are to perform, namely, to believe. Faith is a work that man must do, and yet it is also called the work of God; for this is the true existence, work, life, and merit with which God desires to be honored and served. If there is no faith, God accepts nothing as service rendered to Him. Here we have the answer to the question: What is the real service of God? It is the doctrine of faith in Christ. Later Christ tells us about the origin of faith—for no one possesses faith of himself—when He says (John 6:44): “No one can come to Me unless the Father draws him.” And again (John 6:65): “No one can believe in Me unless it is granted him by the Father.” For faith is a divine work which God demands of us; but at the same time He Himself must implant it in us, for we cannot believe by ourselves.

Here we see the glory of this precious verse, which, like a thunderclap, lays low all wisdom and righteousness, every commandment and ordinance, even the very Law of Moses, and all work-righteousness. It spreads another work before us, far beyond us and above us. For Christ, whom the Father sent, is not my fasting, praying, waking, and toiling. No, my fasting is a work which has its source in me. Waking is also a work of my head and my eyes. Likewise the giving of alms, toiling, and whatever man is able to do with his body, his life, and his soul—all this is our work, emanating from us and not from without. But where is Christ to be found in this? Christ is not our mouth, head, belly, eyes, hands, body, or soul; nor is He any other part of man. He is a Being entirely different from us, just as the sun is not my eye, my tongue, or my belly, but an altogether different being. My eyes can wake; but, for all that, I do not feel or perceive Christ. Furthermore, though I see with my eyes, I still do not behold Christ. He does not want to be grasped by our thoughts and reason. Thus faith is not our work; for I am drawn to Christ, whom I neither feel nor see.

Martin Luther, Exposition on the Gospel of St. John, Luther’s Works Vol. 23, page 23

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