Author Archives: pastorjuhl

Second Sunday in Advent – Luke 21:25-36

When will these things that Jesus says to His disciples take place? These things are signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.

When will the end happen? That’s what is on many of our minds when we consider the end times. A date would be nice. We could plan for it. We could get all our ducks in a row. Cancel the cable and internet. Visit all our family and friends one last time. We could even tell those who do not believe in Jesus as Lord that it’s time to repent and believe the Gospel.

That last one is one big reason why Jesus doesn’t give us an exact date of the end. As Christians we live as if Jesus will return at any moment. There are those who are ready and those who aren’t ready. That’s the way it is. When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

The events of the last year or so make us wonder if we are sitting straight with heads raised. There are so many unanswered questions concerning violence. It seems like our nation hasn’t been this divided on political issues since the Watergate affair or even since the days of the Vietnam conflict. Many of you remember those days. Perhaps you hoped you would never have to live through something like that again. Yet here we are, living through uneasy times once again.

Uneasy times never really left us. That’s why Jesus says watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. We get so caught up in cares of this life that we forget the big picture. Everything as we know it has a definite end. Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. Our Lord’s kingdom has no end. This world has an end. It is pre-determined by our heavenly Father…and He isn’t telling.

Now that knowing the date of the big event is out of your control, you get to focus on what’s given you to do. Stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. Remember that the original language of the New Testament has a couple of different words for “time”. One word is more familiar to us: chronos. You hear the fancy word for a watch in that word: chronograph. Chronos time is clock time. How long will the preacher preach? How many more days until Christmas?

The other word for “time” is kairos. Kairos time is not so much about boundaries as it is about the fullness of something or, to use our Lord’s example, something becoming ripe, like a fig tree. Jesus uses the fig tree, and all trees, to explain kairos time. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. The budding of trees is kairos time. When the weather turns warm and the ground thaws, everything builds toward a tree starting to bud. When the leaves appear, you know it’s time for warm weather. The tree has its kairos.

The heavens and the earth have its kairos. The time is coming, and is becoming full, when everything old becomes new in God. All the signs are there for your observation. The problem is when we don’t want to notice the signs. God fearfully and wonderfully makes everything, especially human beings. Yet we don’t want to see it because we’d rather focus on what we know rather than what we don’t know. We don’t know when Jesus is returning in the flesh. So let’s instead live as if there’s nothing after the end to everything. Someone is going to drop the big bomb or we’re going to find a way to destroy Earth sometime soon. After that, turn out the lights, the party’s over.

For those of us in Christ, however, the party has only started when the powers of the heavens will be shaken. The party will never end. The Son of Man comes in a cloud with power and great glory. For many there will be joy. For others, well, let’s say they will be sorry they didn’t pay attention when it mattered. That is why Jesus tells us to stay awake at all times. The time of which He speaks is kairos time. Pay attention! Look up and lift up your heads! Notice the signs! They have been around you all your life!

Jesus also says to pray that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. Take the Collect for today for instance. We ask our heavenly Father to stir up our hearts “to make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son”. How are our hearts stirred up to make ready our Lord’s appearing? They are stirred up not only by the testimony of the heavens and the earth, but chiefly by the testimony of Holy Scripture. Malachi prophecies the day of the Lord is coming. He also prophecies the coming of Elijah, John the Baptist, who prepares the way of Messiah.

Your strength is in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. He prepares you for His coming in the proclamation of His promise to give you everlasting life. He prepares you for His coming by uniting your life with His in your Baptism. He prepares you for His coming by feeding you His true Body and Blood to forgive your sins and keep you steadfast in the true faith to life everlasting.

The Lord has His way with you in these gifts. He prepares you for His ultimate coming, when the dead in Christ shall rise and receive the crown of life that never fades away. Those of us who are alive then will be changed and also receive that crown of life. Thus we shall always be with the Lord, even when fire and smoke destroys this world. These things will take place. You will be safe in Christ when it all goes down. He is your salvation. Believe it for His sake.

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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.

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

To Love Is To Help It Become What It Is

To love the Church, then, is to help it become what it is. The first axiom of classical Greek wisdom is “Know yourself.” The second is, “Become what you are.” When St. Paul speaks of a Church without spot or wrinkle, therefore, he is not speaking of a different Church than the one with which we are so restlessly dissatisfied. No, he is speaking of this Church becoming what in reality it is. This does not mean that the whole of past and present Christianity will finally be vindicated and presented as the Bride of Christ, “holy and without blemish.” We know there are tares among the wheat, but we are also warned by our Lord not to embark upon a premature and presumptuous effort to sort out the one from the other. That will be done in due time. For now, and until he comes in glory, our task is to love. And to love means to assist in the actualizing of possibilities perceived by faith.

…..

Too often movements for change fail not for lack of analysis, nor for lack of commitment, but for lack of love. And when movements that are without love do succeed, their success is often a greater wrong than the wrong they set out to correct. Whom you would change – lastingly, and for the good – you must first love.

Richard John Neuhaus, Freedom for Ministry, pages 15-16

RJN

Reformation Day Observed and Confirmation Day – Revelation 14:6-7

A.J. Horn, Lilli Horn, Catherine Juhl, Keith Morellas, and Trey Sandstrom are confirmed and receive the Lord’s Supper for the first time this Sunday.

The word “angel” means “messenger”. There are angels, the crown of God’s unseen created beings who watch over God’s children. Then there are angels who aren’t so much spiritual beings but are messengers. These messengers spread the Gospel: Good News for those who dwell on earth. Saint John writes about seeing one of these messengers in his vision on the island of Patmos. The angel flying overhead has a message for us even today: Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.

Five young people today are before us who have heard the Good News of the eternal Gospel over a long period of time. It began for them when they first heard the Good News from a pastor’s mouth and from a family member’s mouth. They heard that Jesus has taken away their sin. They heard Jesus has given them eternal life. They heard there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. They have a good conscience. The seed of the Gospel that was planted in them in hearing the Word, the seed that was watered in their baptism, has been nurtured over a period of time in being taught the Christian faith.

These young people, as well as you and me, have heard through our lives to fear God and give Him glory. This fear that the angel proclaims is a holy awe of what God has done for us. Not only does He provide earthly things for us, He also takes care of every spiritual need. He saves us from sin, death, and the devil’s power. All this He does from Fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.

The devil demands you fear him and give him honor. Kings and princes demand the same thing when they make themselves as gods. Even our own human hearts demand that we bow down and worship ourselves as our own false god. Satan sets every obstacle in the way of letting God’s judgment over the world have place in our lives. Yet this judgment breaks through in spite of every obstacle.

The history of the Church shows how the Gospel, God’s judgment over the world in Jesus Christ, breaks through even when those inside and outside the Church try to stop it. In spite of the Israelites’ disobedience, even Moses’ disobedience, the Promise of a land and a Savior remains steadfast among them. In spite of kings who demand idolatry, even exile into a foreign land, the Promise of the Savior and a spiritual Israel remains. In spite of Herod slaughtering innocent male children under two years old in order to rid his kingdom of the so-called interloper named Jesus, the Promise remains alive. In spite of every human leader who makes himself a savior, in spite of every attempt to snuff out the Light no darkness can overcome, the Promise of forgiveness and new life continues to be proclaimed today.

The hour of judgment has come. In Jesus Christ, in Him alone, you are judged worthy of eternal life. His blood and His righteousness speak freedom from slavery to sin better than the blood of bulls and goats on the temple’s altar. Satan has been judged and found wanting. His head is crushed. The Savior’s heel is bruised. In that bruise, in His blood, you have sure and certain hope of salvation. Saint Paul says it best in Romans chapter three: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

Now you see why the angel says worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water. The Lord God has done everything to save you. He acted in time, in real life, letting His Son become flesh to suffer and die for your sins and rise from the dead for your justification. Nothing else matters. Jesus Christ lived and died for you. That’s all that is necessary for eternity.

That’s the reason God gathers His people in places like this one each week. What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me asks the Psalmist. You render Him thanks and praise in your presence. You speak and sing the words of Scripture. Almost every word spoken in the Divine Service is drawn from Scripture. Even the events in the Creed are drawn from the Bible. In our time together in instruction we walked through the story of salvation. It’s an amazing story to hear. Sin befell the world like a bottle of ink spilled over a pristine piece of paper. God acts among His people. He makes a Promise to Satan in the presence of Adam and Eve that a Redeemer is coming Who will undo everything done in the Garden. He makes the same Promise to Abraham and gives him a family to carry on the Promise. Through time and every seeming setback God prepares His people for their salvation.

Then comes the birth of the Savior according to the flesh. The Promise has skin. The Promise lives the perfect live for you. He dies. He rises. He ascends into heaven to fulfill all things. One day the Promise returns to raise the dead and bring the living and dead who are in Christ with Him into eternal life.

The impossible is possible in Jesus. We deserve death. Jesus gives life. We deserve hell. Jesus gives us heaven. Jesus becomes sin. We receive Jesus’ righteousness. This is the message of the eternal Gospel proclaimed by the messenger in Revelation chapter fourteen. It’s a message for you, no matter how old you are. It’s a message once covered in darkness for centuries, yet renewed time and again by messengers, angels if you will, whom God raises up to proclaim His story anew.

A.J., Lilli, Catherine, Keith, and Trey: This is your story, too. It’s the story you live in as Christians. Everything Jesus does, He does for you. You see your name, your life, and your everything tied up in the Savior. If there’s nothing else you learned in instruction, you learned that much. That much is enough, for Jesus is enough for eternity. You are free in Christ. Believe it for His sake.

Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 9:1-8

You’ve heard a string of bad news. Cancer. Surgery. Death. Loss of your job. The hits just keep on coming. Then someone has a new message for you: Take heart! Your sins are forgiven. Is it the truth? Is this truth going to comfort me? Is it for me in the first place? Then there’s the bigger question: Are there strings attached to this message?

Jesus spoke the message: Take heart! Your sins are forgiven to a paralytic. These words not only apply to him, but to you and me as well. They apply to every poor sinner. So let’s put these words to the test and see how well they apply to us some two-thousand years later.

Every poor sinner is confident when they hear their sins are forgiven because the words are certain truth as much as they are comforting truth. Jesus knows the thoughts of the experts in the Law who say Christ is blaspheming. After all, no man may say that someone’s sins are forgiven. Only God can forgive sins. They don’t, or won’t, know that Jesus is God and man in one person. Not only is He able to forgive sins, He is also able to heal the man.

The greater miracle among the two performed in Matthew chapter nine is forgiving sins. That is not to downplay the healing of the paralytic. The word spoken by our Savior does what He said it does. The man stands up, takes his stretcher, and goes home. Yet the words Jesus speaks about forgiveness also do what He says they do. Jesus Himself satisfies divine righteousness for sinners. That’s why Jesus takes on flesh: to earn and to deliver the forgiveness of sins. To show He’s not a liar, He adds the healing of the paralytic. It’s the extra whipped cream on top of the delicious ice cream sundae that is the forgiveness of sins.

You are like the paralytic in the fact that sin paralyzes you. There’s no way for you to delight in forgiveness of sins if you are in charge of your own forgiveness. Your righteousness outside of Christ is nothing. It’s a farce, a joke. It’s actually offensive and, worst of all, usurps authority from Jesus. The afflicted conscience needs a foreign righteousness; one that is outside himself. Christ’s righteousness is that resurrecting balm and consolation for the anxious conscience.

You see this firsthand when you are sick, or when a family member or your neighbor is hurting. Trusting in the foreign righteousness of Jesus Christ, a righteousness that comes from the outside in, brings either recovery from God’s hand or a blessed end under God’s guiding love. Both are welcome. Either you’ll recover from sickness and live a while, bringing joy to all who know you, or you’ll die a Christian death and fall asleep in the Savior. Though there is weeping for a time, joy comes sooner than later, for all who live in Christ shall die in Christ. Dying in Christ is slumber. We wait in joyful expectation for the certain hope of the resurrection.

Poor sinners are confident when hearing their sins are forgiven because no one who hears this forgiveness is excluded. Jesus never pulls a bait and switch with forgiveness. When He speaks this word of forgiveness to the paralytic, He also intends it to be heard by the experts in the Law, even everyone who was there that day, even us today. Jesus is certainly the very Son of God, yet He calls Himself the Son of Man here because He has become a genuine member of the human race in order to acquire forgiveness for all mankind. His life is a salvation for many, that is, for all, as He says elsewhere: the Son of Man came to save the lost.

Little do we realize that we are lost outside of Christ. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say, “If I came to your church, I know, for a fact, that the walls would fall in and the roof will collapse. I’m such a so-called ‘sinner’ that the building couldn’t stand me being there.” Well, here we are. The walls remain. So does the roof. They remain not because we’re the righteous and the holy and have no need for a Savior. The opposite is true. The unrighteous and the profane gather here every week. Jesus alone is righteous and holy. Here’s where He gives those gifts that declare us righteous and holy: our Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Absolution, and even the Sermon.

Who would think that Jesus leaves forgiveness of sins in the hands of sinful men? He does. He confers this authority to the Church and to her ministers. They are given to forgive sins in His name, to preach the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins to all creatures. Whoever you are, wherever you are, even if you aren’t here, even if you can’t or won’t believe Jesus as Lord, take heart! Your sins are forgiven. That’s the message of the Christian Church even today.

The problem remains, even for the most faithful of Christians, that there’s strings attached to that message. Your sins are forgiven if…. Your sins are forgiven when…. Your sins are forgiven, but now…. Worse yet, Your sins are forgiven, give your offering to make sure it sticks. The Gospel is not for sale here. We Christians are in the business of giving something for nothing.

Jesus never asks the paralytic for anything in return. He never asks for anything from the people who bring the paralytic. His forgiveness is free, just as the healing was free. He made him well. He saw their faith, yet the experts in the Law go home empty because they would not believe. The only thing that excludes from salvation is unbelief. The Gospel makes no demands. The Gospel seeks and finds believing hearts that appropriate the Good News.

When the Gospel seeks and finds believing hearts, it also changes those hearts from stone into flesh. You are a new person when the Good News of forgiveness hits you. The paralytic became healthy. He stood up and walked. So you also walk in a new life in Christ. Clinging to Christ not only means rejoicing in forgiveness, but also rejoicing in the many ways you get to serve your neighbor. There are no strings attached. You don’t sigh as if you must do it because God is watching you. Faith in Christ can’t help but get busy looking for opportunities to serve. In all things throughout life, in how we live before God and neighbor, all glory belongs to God for His undeserved love. He gives us consolation in believing that we are in Christ, and Christ is in us.

Take heart! Your sins are forgiven. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 22:34-46

Holy Scripture plainly says there is life after temporal death. Jesus tells the Jews who were seeking to kill Him in John chapter five: whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Yet not everyone who seeks to enter eternal life will not be able to do it. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Are you certain that you will attain eternal life? That’s the big question we face as human beings, especially when we are tempted or are afraid because of our sins. A question we ask ourselves in suffering is: Do I actually have reason for the hope to be God’s own child? On our death bed we might wonder if we can joyfully die in the certain expectation of eternal life. As sin clings to our human nature, it is natural to ask these questions.

So where is your hope based? My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Your hope is not based on the requirements of the Law. An expert in the Law asks Jesus a question: which is the greatest commandment of the Law? You wonder if this was a disputed question among them. You also wonder if this is a question meant to trip up Jesus. Our Lord answers according to the Law: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…. Love your neighbor as yourself. He adds: all the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.

Love is the fulfilling of the Law. Both love toward God and love toward neighbor are what the Ten Commandments deal with. Even the love of your neighbor finds its ultimate goal in the love of God. Christ’s answer to the question leaves no doubt that all commandments are equally important. You can’t fulfill one part without fulfilling the other part. Even keeping the moral law falls under love of God. You love God by honoring marriage and the privileges of marriage. You honor God by not harming your neighbor even to death with your actions, words, and thoughts. Remember what Saint James says: whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. You stop loving God, you stop loving your neighbor, and then you are guilty of breaking all of the Law of God.

The Law, with its demands, cannot be the bedrock of our salvation. If it were so, then there’s no need of Jesus except to look at Him as your example of how to get the job done. Even His death becomes an example of what you must do to fulfill the Law. Yet your blood and your righteousness avails nothing before the Father in heaven. The Pharisees thought they would be righteous before God. They placed Sabbath laws or sacrifices or circumcision on top of the Law of God. Everything depended upon external observance of these commandments.

Note, though, that Jesus emphasizes the commandment of love over external observances. Merely going through the motions earns nothing. The attitude of the heart is the main thing. Love the Lord your God…. Love your neighbor as yourself. A quick look at Matthew chapter 23, where Jesus pronounces seven woes over the Pharisees and experts in the Law, shows that there is no love among those folks. What do you see when you examine yourself? Saint Paul explains it in Romans chapter seven: we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.

Your hope is based solely on the promises of the Good News from God in Jesus Christ. Jesus returns the volley of the experts in the Law with his own question. He asks What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he? He asks these questions not in order to tempt them but in order to make them aware of what is the end of the Law; what makes the sinner righteous. Again Saint Paul has the answer in Romans chapter ten: Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Jesus asks these questions to redirect their attention where it should be directed: to Messiah, to Himself. Yet the Jews made misconceptions about His person and His office. They lost sight of the Gospel promises given through the prophets. That is what our Lord asks the Pharisees about Whom is Messiah. They get the genealogy right when they answer the son of David. That answer is all over the Old Testament. They heard that answer with their own ears a few days earlier when our Lord entered Jerusalem to suffer and die for sins and rise from the dead. Remember that this conversation takes place mere days before our Lord’s Passion.

The Pharisees did not deny the human nature of Christ. They had no knowledge, or purposely wanted no knowledge, of His divine nature. Jesus then quotes the opening words of Psalm 110 to answer their question. The One Who is David’s Son is also David’s Lord. He is more than an earthly son of a king many generations later. He is the Son of the King Who dwells in heaven. The prophet Jeremiah says: the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

What the Pharisees didn’t, or wouldn’t, know is that Christ is David’s Son and David’s Lord wrapped up in one person. This also answers the question about His office, about what He comes to do. If Christ, about Whom this prophecy deals, only assumes divine rule, how can He then be eternal God? He humbles Himself, according to His human nature, unto death upon the cross and then is raised to the right hand of His Father. Yet His divine nature and His human nature are together in one person. Jesus alone not only suffers and dies, but also overcomes our enemies: sin, death, devil, and hell. He alone is Messiah, the Redeemer of the world.

It is a teachable moment for the Pharisees and experts in the Law. What they didn’t, or wouldn’t, know, we now know. Matthew tells us from that day on no one dared to ask Him any more questions, not to mention that no one was able to answer Him a word concerning Christ’s own questions. Jesus alone is the branch from the root of Jesse and the only Child of the everlasting Father. He suffers and enters into His glory. He is seated at the right hand of God with royal power. He reigns as Victor over His enemies until at last they lie beneath His feet as a footstool. All this He does for our own good…for our own good and not for His own good. Jesus Christ alone is our brother and our substitute. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. “When every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my hope and stay. On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” This hope never disappoints.