Author Archives: pastorjuhl

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.

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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.

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 14:1-11

What does our Lord’s encounter with the Pharisees give us to consider regarding relations with a world hostile to Jesus Christ? Consider first of all that we should beware the hypocritical love from those outside of Christ. The Pharisees invited Jesus to eat bread with them. Yet they also watched Him closely. They were looking for something to accuse Him of so they could get rid of Him. Jesus, however, perceived their shenanigans and showed true prudence in all His words and works.

It’s as if the Pharisees and experts in the Law had planned everything perfectly. A man who was suffering from swelling of the body was right in front of our Lord. Jesus asked them one question: Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? No answer. All eyes are on Him. So He took hold of the man, healed him, and let him go.

People of the world also invite us to eat bread with them, so to speak. They do so not out of love, but out of spite. They, too, look for opportunities to trap us and bring us down. They, too, look to prove our hope for eternal life and forgiveness of sins to be a farce. Everything in the world will pass away, even their false opinions about salvation.

This doesn’t mean we walk away from the world and retreat to some sort of monastic way of life. We instead walk in love over against the world. Jesus never voluntarily withdrew from the Pharisees. He seized the opportunity to draw closer to them. He accepted their invitation to eat bread with them. Jesus sought to draw the Pharisees and experts in the Law closer to Him. Sometimes it took harsh words. Sometimes it took a parable. Sometimes it took a miracle. He left the matter in their lap to deal with His words and actions. They knew what He said and did was true. They saw everything as an inconvenient truth.

We, too, seize every opportunity to engage the world with the Truth of Holy Scripture. Jesus Christ has taken care of sin and death in His perfect life, His all-atoning death, and His life-giving resurrection from the dead. Over the last couple of years, however, it seems as if some Christians would rather pick up their marbles and only play among other like-minded Christians. Some well-known Christians have written that it’s hopeless to deal with those whose minds are set on the world. So let’s just deal with those who are like-minded with us and leave the world alone.

That’s not the way Jesus dealt with sinners. Jesus dwells among sinners. He doesn’t exclusively talk to His disciples. He eats with tax collectors instead of shooing them away. He has compassion on harlots and even Samaritans. As our Lord Christ put Himself in the midst of sinners, so we also are in the midst of sinful people, both within and without the Christian faith. We deal with others in love, not in hate. We show concern in word and deed instead of turning our backs on “those people out there”. Always, always, we show forth the love of God in Christ Jesus in order that they may join us in the great feast of the Gospel.

We are also fearless over against the enemies of the Truth. Christians have shown a lot of fear before the world over the last couple of years. Ever since the Supreme Court gave homosexual couples the right to marry, Christians have looked more like fear mongerers than fearless disciples of Jesus Christ. Consider our Lord’s conduct in today’s Holy Gospel. He does not avoid provocation, but fearlessly responds by healing the man and teaching the Pharisees and experts in the Law what the Sabbath is really about.

We Christians look intimidated these days against the world. It seems as if there can be no middle ground when it comes to hot-button topics. Instead of listening to our neighbor, we quickly react against them in order to be right. The shoe often is on the other foot, too. Saint Peter has good advice on how to deal with our neighbor: in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

The key words there are gentleness and respect. You win few people over with venom. You win a willing ear with gentleness and respect. You also win the respect of others not merely by speaking the Truth, but also living the Truth. Jesus shows His adversaries the true meaning of the Sabbath by healing a man. The Sabbath is not so much about strict rest as it is about attending to the Word of God and prayer. If you must work to save a life, then do it. Refusing to act because it is the Sabbath harms both God and your neighbor.

Consider your conduct before your neighbor. Do you say and do everything with gentleness and respect? Or are you always looking to win a fight by any means necessary? Our conduct before the world is not about winning as it is about speaking the Truth in love without sacrificing either the Truth or love. That’s what Jesus is driving at with His audience by speaking the parable about places of honor at a banquet. Speaking truth with humility shows that Christ dwells among us and that we dwell in Christ. When we raise our voice to speak the Truth, we do so as representatives of Jesus Christ, not as a talking head spewing talking points on a cable TV talk show.

It’s not easy to live as a Christian these days. It’s never been easy to live as a Christian. Ever. There were never any “good old days” for Christians on earth. Yet when it is our place when we must and ought to speak, we pray that the Lord give us courage to speak in boldness and confidence, yet with tenderness and peace in our hearts and in our consciences. We aren’t in it to win it. We are in it to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and to win our neighbor from the devil’s clutches into the Lord’s merciful arms.

Jesus Christ has triumphed over Satan. In Christ you have ultimate victory. Live in the world in peace. You will have many opportunities to speak about your hope in Jesus. Your hope is built on the solid rock of Christ. Don’t be afraid.

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise.

Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 7:11-17

Death is the king of terrors. Death knows neither class nor age of people. Death has wiped out entire races, even nations. Death strikes when you least expect it, and even when you do expect it. Consider the recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, not to mention elsewhere. Death always catches its prey. It waits for you at your door.

Wherever death moves, countless tears flow. Death extinguishes every joyful light. It snatches away the breadwinner of the family. It comes for the caring mother of children. Death even seeks out children of all ages.

There is an antidote to death. Today’s Gospel from Luke chapter seven shows the antidote to death at work. Jesus Christ raises a widow’s only son as the funeral procession takes the body out of Nain to his resting place. Christ is victorious over the king of terrors: death.

Not only has the mother of the deceased lost her husband, now she loses her only son. Death has struck twice. She has suffered a full measure of misery. Yet the Lord arrives at the perfect time. When He arrives at the gate of Nain, the funeral procession is on its way. When Jesus sees the weeping mother, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not cry.” Jesus has authority to raise the dead. Though she has lost her husband, she will not lose her son. Jesus went up to the open coffin, touched it, and the pallbearers stopped. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up.” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

What a sight! Jesus is victorious over death. The scene at Nain brings us comfort as we remember our loved ones who have gone before us in the faith. Perhaps at the funeral or the committal we thought, “If only Jesus was here to do what He did to the widow’s son at Nain.” Then we would not have to suffer the death of a loved one.

What we forget in times like those is that Jesus is there. His presence never leaves us, even when He is not bodily present and standing before us. Jesus’ presence is in His preached Word, a Word that declares death cannot hold a beliver in Christ for long. St. Paul tells the church in Corinth that the body sown incorruptible is raised incorruptible. Jesus comes at the right time, both in His Word and again on Judgment Day, to bring comfort and resurrection.

Jesus comes at the right time when we say goodbye to a loved one. Pastors like me stand at the bedside of the faithful departed to bring the comfort of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. We won’t stop you from crying, but we also will remind you not to cry as those who have no hope. You will see your loved one again. Your sorrow will be turned into joy. We stand in the pulpit at the funeral to, as it were, give Satan a good kick in the rear end by declaring Christ’s triumph over death in His resurrection from the dead. We also stand beside the grave, commending the body to sleep in Jesus and rise on the Last Day.

Jesus also comes at the right time to take His children home to the New Jerusalem. Only our Father in heaven knows that time. So we wait in hope, always ready for Christ’s return, especially on those days when it looks like Jesus will never return. This world has an appointed limit. Soon everything will decay and burn away. We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. There Christ is the Light. There shall we stand in the presence of the Father for all eternity. There shall we be free from all sin and death forever.

But what about my death? What will it be like? Will I go with a bang or with a whimper? We shudder to think about it. We shudder because death is the separation of the body and the soul. Your highest earthly good is your life. Yet your life will decompose in the ground. We may complement a funeral director on his or her expertise at preserving a corpse, but that preservation won’t last long.

When we stand before the corpse of a loved one, we see our own mortality. Here is the punishment for sin. For those who believe there is no punishment for sin because there is no sin, no God, and no eternity, all that is left is eternal death and eternal condemnation. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews makes it plain: it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.

We, though, who believe that Christ has triumphed over death know that isn’t the end. The author to the Hebrews continues: so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Note the adverb: eagerly. We don’t get too fond of earthly affairs. They will pass away. It’s nice to enjoy the good things God gives us right now. They will pass away. The one good thing given us, everlasting life, is the gift that gives to all eternity.

Listen again to these comforting words of triumph. Jesus says to Martha: I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. He tells John in Revelation chapter one: I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Again the author to the Hebrews writes: Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.

Your death in Christ means redemption from all evil and entrance into eternal salvation. He will rescue you from every evil deed and bring you safely into His heavenly kingdom. We rejoice with the funeral party at Nain, with Jesus and His disciples, and with all fellow Christians who have suffered the loss of loved ones and soon will join them in rest. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The king of terrors is dead. The emperor of evil has no clothes. Christ has triumphed. He is living. Because He lives, you live with Him. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity – Matthew 6:24-34

What’s your worry? You worry about the past. You ponder every past decision. You replay in our minds everything we said to people or did for people. All of us have an itty bitty committee that tells us how bad our past was, our present is, and our future will be.

You worry about today. You have more than enough, but it isn’t enough. You have fifteen shirts in your closet. If you give five away to charity, you still have ten shirts. But that’s one-third less than you have? How can you live with one-third less shirts?

You worry about the future. A surgery is pending. Will you survive? What’s going to happen? Children grow up. What sort of future will they have? Will they have to live with us until they are 40? Will they be employable? Will I have enough to make ends meet when I am old? Will I have to live in a “granny pod” behind one of my children’s home? What about my congregation? We’re old. There are few children. People just don’t seem to care about practicing the Christian faith.

Jesus asks, which of you can add a single moment to his lifespan by worrying? You may not add a single moment to our lifespan, but you sure spend a lot of time worrying. Something could change and I’m not ready for it. I’m not in control. I have to know everything before it happens. I can’t merely abide in something or someone.

There it is! I can’t merely abide in someone. I can’t merely believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord. There must be something else alongside Him. I can’t merely cling to objective grace given to me in the preaching of His Word, in my baptism, in eating and drinking Christ’s very Body and Blood. What is more, I treat these things as a given in my life. They’ll always be there for me. I know where I can go when other helpers fail and comforts flee. For now, though, other helpers and comforts will do just fine.

Perhaps it’s retail therapy. You buy five more shirts to replace the other five you gave away. Perhaps it’s clinging to another god besides the only true God. It wouldn’t hurt to have some good old fashioned idolatry in your life. Whatever you look to as your hope for salvation is your god. Maybe a dead relative will work through your thoughts to calm your worry. Maybe something else will show up to get you through these worrisome days.

In one of the last letters Martin Luther wrote before his death in 1546, he tells his wife, “Pray, and let God worry.” Prayer seems to be our last resort when it should be the first thing we do when we worry. Our heavenly Father, for the sake of His Son Jesus Christ, is all ears. He wants to hear you ask Him what’s on your mind. Yet you see prayer as a last resort. I’ll try anything once and, if all else fails, I’ll pray. Instead of casting our burdens on the Lord, Who cares for us, we cast lots to find what will be the quick fix for worries.

What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? The unbelievers chase after all these things. Certainly your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of god and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. When Jesus says to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, he’s not asking you to go on a quest for something that isn’t yours. The kingdom of God is among you.

God’s kingdom is the universe, is His Church, and it extends over the angels and saints. You’re in His kingdom because Jesus put you there when you heard His Word of reconciliation grab a hold of you. He washed you clean of sin in your baptism. He set you among your fellow reconciled Christians, and even those who don’t know Him. He has done everything necessary for you to miss hell. You seek His kingdom when you abide in His kingdom.

This side of Paradise there will be doubt. Yet amid doubt the main thing remains the main thing: Jesus bled and died for you. He has put His salvation in your ear, in your heart, and has watered it in your Baptism. The struggle between doubt and certainty continues until you stop breathing. That’s why you abide in Christ where He is found. Your feelings can lie. Your thoughts can waver. Christ never lies nor wavers. He is your strength and stay, even when you worry.

He covers you with His righteousness, a righteousness that avails before the Father’s heavenly throne. The garment of incorruption placed upon you at your baptism means you are covered in Christ’s blood; dripping wet in blood, water, and the Holy Spirit. What worries you now? Jesus is your only hope for eternity.

Yet day-to-day worries linger. What about clothing and food, house and home, family and friends? Our Lord not only has your salvation covered, He also provides all you need for body and life. That is why He has you consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Worry neither about food nor clothing. Our heavenly Father provides them. So it is for you and me as well. Food and clothing will be there. Everything necessary for life will be there. It may not be a lifestyle of the rich and famous, but it will be enough for the day.

Children of the world worry. They think everything must be earned, even eternal life. Children of the heavenly Father haven’t a care for things of the world. They are given to by a God Who cares for them. He gives them life and salvation. If that isn’t enough, He gives them material goods in His providential care. Even the work that is done to earn material goods is a gift from our heavenly Father. You will have many things to worry about over time. Have no care for them, for Jesus cares for you. His Father, our Father in heaven, will see that you neither starve nor are homeless. Live, love, and rejoice in the moment. Even if it is all gone tomorrow, Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Salt, Light, Discipleship, and Good Works

The call of Jesus had been a call to ministry: “I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). The Beatitudes picture the disciple both as receiving from God in pure passivity and as caught up into the motion of the God who acts and the Messiah who gives. The beggar can only receive, but he does receive; and the mercy which he receives makes him merciful. The peace which God gives him makes him a peacemaker. Men molded by the Messiah act in the world, so vigorously and so decisively that the world persecutes them for it.

In the metaphor of salt and light Jesus makes plain to His disciples how inseparable discipleship and activity are, how impossible any thought of a quietistic and contemplative discipleship is (Matthew 5:13-16). The disciples are salt and light by virtue of what the call of Jesus has given them and what the word of Jesus is giving them. They need not trouble themselves about how they may become salt and light, any more than a city set on a hilltop need concern itself about becoming conspicuous. Where they are and what they are, the fact that they are with Jesus and in communion with the Messiah, gives them inevitably a function which is as universal as the authority of the Messiah; they are the salt of the whole earth and the light of the whole world.

Both salt and light are, of course, thought of as having a salutary effect upon their surroundings. Salt seasons and preserves, and light dispels darkness and makes a man’s goings and comings certain and secure. But what Jesus is stressing in the metaphors is the fact that in salt and light nature and function are one; salt salts because it is salt, and light illumines because it is light. Salt which no longer salts has ceased to be salt. the disciple who ceases to minister has forfeited his existence as disciple and has destroyed himself. He has, by forgoing activity, disrupted his communion with the Christ; and there is no second way to saltness. A man can be light only by his communion with the Christ, and he can remain light only by shining.

The disciple is salt and light by faith; and faith is not chemical process but a personal relationship and therefore involves responsibility and obedience. The disciple cannot make himself light, but he can obscure his light. He cannot make himself salt, but he can in irresponsible disobedience frustrate his saltness. Jesus therefore implants with faith that holy fear which makes a man work in awe and trembling, lest he should have received the grace of God to no purpose. Again Jesus centers the disciple’s life squarely in God and puts it under the tension of the approaching end of days. The disciples live and work as sons of God, and they so live and work that God may at the last, when all false works are judged and all false glories have been erased, be glorified by all – be known as God, acknowledged as God, adored as God by His redeemed creation. (Matthew 5:16; cf. Philippians 2:11)

Martin Franzmann, “Follow Me: Discipleship According to Matthew”, pages 41-42

Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Luke 17:11-19

“One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do / Two can be as bad as one / It’s the loneliest number since the number one.” The loneliest number is the number of cleansed lepers who returned to Jesus to praise and thank Him for healing. All ten should return to Him, but nine of them are busy doing as they were told: Go, show yourselves to the priests. One man, a Samaritan, returns to the Priest…the Great High Priest…to show himself cleansed.

One is indeed a lonely number. It can be an embarrassing number. You’ve invited a number of people to a party, but all of them save one send their regrets. What was supposed to be a big event now becomes an intimate, and maybe lonely, affair. The number one in the Christian Church, though, is just another number. If there’s even one other person here besides me, the Lord’s Supper may be offered. There is someone to say “Amen” to the prayers and liturgical text. One is better than none.

Or is it? One, we are told, can always be better. Of course everything can always be better. One more person in worship each weekend is nice. One more person for Sunday morning Bible study means an opportunity to learn something new. Even a newborn child being baptized adds one to our numbers.

Yet one is never enough according to earthly ways. You can always do better. Why have one when you could have many more? District and Synod officials sometimes ask if we are trying hard to reach people with the Gospel in our community. Good intentions are behind that question. Yet that question often turns into a contest. Who can bring in more people to the great banquet feast? How many new things must we start to bring in new believers? Sure, one new believer is great, but, next time, let’s shoot for more than one, OK. The pressure is on.

Now you see how one is never enough according to worldly standards. One cleansed leper returning to Jesus to worship Him and give Him thanks is pitiful. What is more, the cleansed leper who returns is a Samaritan. That’s two weeks in a row a Jew’s most bitter enemy appears in a positive way in the Holy Gospel reading. Talk about adding insult to injury! The poor Jews can’t get a break.

Is one actually a lonely, bad, and sad number after all? Jesus seems to take this all in stride. Were not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give glory to God except this foreigner? The answer to all the questions is “YES”. What’s wrong with that? Nothing is wrong with that. One is better than none. That’s the way it is in the Christian Church. One is better than none, but you can’t prove that by the higher-ups. There’s always room for more.

The need for more gives small congregations in small towns like ours a big complex. We see how population shifts over time. We see how generations shift over time. The “good old days” that we seem to remember never were the “good old days” after all. There was more than one person here then. There is still more than one person here today. There’s nothing wrong with one. There’s nothing wrong with small numbers.

At least one returned. That’s good news! One person that day recognized in Jesus Christ the Savior of the Nations. One person that day stopped dead in his tracks, saw that the Word of Christ made him clean, and turned him around to run back to Christ’s feet in gratitude. The number could have been zero. So one isn’t all that lonely after all.

So often we look at this miracle and wag our fingers at all those who aren’t here to hear it. If only they could hear their ingratitude. If only these words would turn their hearts. What about you? What about your ingratitude? What about the condition of your heart? You, like the nine running men in Luke chapter 17, keep running at times. You received from the Lord what you came to receive. You followed His orders. Mission accomplished. Or perhaps you keep running because you have no idea why you are here in the first place. You know something is going on here but it never makes sense. So you run. You’ll find what you’re looking for someplace else, maybe where there are more people.

There’s nothing wrong with one. That one may be you. Jesus will turn your heart to His mercy when and where it pleases Him. We are, after all, in His Church. His Spirit works in His Word to bring both physical and spiritual healing as it pleases Him. Sometimes it’s a feast. Sometimes it’s seemingly a famine. To our eyes and ears, one returning in thanksgiving to our Lord is a famine. Looking through the eyes of faith, however, we see a feast. What joy we have when one returns, giving praise to God for what He has done!

What joy we have when that one is me. All week, all month, all through the years, perhaps, you’ve run. You’ve run to Jesus before and seemingly nothing happens. So you run. Our Lord finds you, brings you back with Him, and for a time you’re satisfied until it’s time to run again. The Word of Christ that dwells in you richly shows you what Jesus has done for you. It may not be physical healing, but it could be an unexpected answered prayer or even restoring the joy of your salvation once again. So you run, but this time you run to Him in joy, just as the Samaritan did. Jesus shouldn’t be His Savior, but He is His Savior. Jesus is also your Savior, the only One you have.

One isn’t a lonely number. It’s enough. It’s as if Jesus finds the irony of one returning to be the way it is in His kingdom. Yes, they all should have come back. Yes, there’s always room for more in His house. Yes, His children could always do more to welcome more into His house. For now, though, one is enough. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, seeking, saving, and welcoming the lost, one person at a time.

Trinity 13 – Luke 10:23-37

A generation or so after Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, Saint Paul writes these words to the church in Galatia: Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. If only the expert in the Law could have heard St. Paul’s words! He did, actually. He heard them put another way from the Messiah’s mouth.

The Law that gives life first comes from the expert’s mouth. Love the Lord your God…love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the summary of the Ten Commandments. Do this, and you will live Jesus tells him. The Law, however, not only shows what you are to be doing, it also shows you that you can’t do it. Not only that, but the Law also gives you no power to do love God and love your neighbor. So that’s where you look to punt to something else. Even though the Law blocks your punt every time you try, it didn’t stop the expert in the Law from asking who is my neighbor.

The expert in the Law tries to trap Jesus. Jesus, in return, traps the lawyer by telling a parable about a man who falls into a trap. The trap the man in the parable falls into is a band of robbers who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Half dead, you say. Sounds like the man laying there on the way to Jericho still has a chance to help himself. Half dead is better than full dead.

There’s nothing he can do. The robbers have done their work. The robbers are much like the devil. He throws the book at you, so to speak, to see how you’ll recover. You won’t recover from the devil’s attacks. He comes to steal your soul. He delivers both temporal and eternal death. Who will save you from this miserable state of being half dead?

Along comes a priest. Let’s consider the priest as the Law of God. The Law can only show you what you’re supposed to do and not to do. The Law, again, has no power to save you or help you. The Law is like the sparrows in the story of Peter Rabbit. Peter Rabbit is caught in a gooseberry net. All the sparrows can do is urge Peter Rabbit to free himself. Peter wriggles out just in time. You won’t wriggle out just in time because you’re half dead and the Law can’t help you. You’re stuck.

Along comes a Levite. Let’s consider the Levite as the words of the prophets. The prophets preach the coming of a Savior, but they also preach condemning Law. They can only point you to someone who is coming. They have no power to save you. They are only delivering a message. Granted some prophets were given the ability to perform miracles, but there’s no miracle today. Like the priest, the Levite passes by on the other side.

The story so far: you’re half dead, beaten by robbers, and a priest and a Levite have avoided you. How’s that who is my neighbor thing working out for you now? How’s your love for God going to get you out of this mess? Someone must rescue you. Someone must be a neighbor for you. Someone must come and not urge you to help yourself or point you to someone else for help. Someone must be that Helper for you.

That someone is a Samaritan. Granted our Savior is a Jew, yet He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. To the expert in the Law, to those who come to test Jesus and trap Him in His own words, even to His own people, even in our own eyes, Jesus is a Samaritan. Some from His own people even go as far as to say Jesus has a demon. A Samaritan helping anyone, especially a Jew, is unprecedented. It is practically impossible and, even if it would happen, you would be inclined to think that at some point the Samaritan will finish off the half dead man and leave him fully dead.

Not this Samaritan. He came to where the man was. The man could not come to him. He comes to the man. He doesn’t plunge a spear into his side to finish him off, though. He felt sorry for the man. He has compassion for him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He put him on his own animal, took him to an inn, and took care of him. A Samaritan, the least-likeliest person to help a Jew, or for that matter anyone else, comes to the man and takes care of him. The Samaritan loves his neighbor. In loving his neighbor, he also loves God.

There’s more. The next day, when he left, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him. Whatever extra you spend, I will repay you when I return.” Again, the Samaritan loves his neighbor and in so doing also loves God. A Jew hearing this parable would have to question what God the Samaritan loves. After all, they turned their backs on the one true God and are half-Assyrian, half-Jew. If there’s any race among the nations who should have no love for God and neighbor, it’s the Samaritans.

Jesus turns everything on its head in this parable. A Samaritan showing mercy? A priest and Levite, the two obvious choices to show mercy, finding a way to escape from showing mercy? The best part is about to happen. Which of these three do you think acted like a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers? Don’t look now, but the trap is set. Only this time Jesus isn’t in the trap. The expert in the Law is about to have the jaws of the trap dig into his flesh. Not only is he embarrassed to say the word “Samaritan”, he’s also about to get caught in the trap of the Law. Four words are all it takes: Go and do likewise.

These four words hit us in every direction. The Old Adam hears these words and gnashes his teeth. The harder you try to go and do likewise, the more you see you can’t go and do likewise. Actually you won’t go and do likewise unless you get to pick your neighbor. You can’t pick your neighbor. He or she is all around you. Yet the New Man hears these words and rejoices that there is another opportunity to show forth the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. You are His workmanship. Every day the Lord sets before you ample opportunities to show that as Christ has had compassion on you by carrying you to His cross and to His empty tomb, where you see what He has done for your spiritual death.

What is more, our Lord also carries you through the font in your baptism, puts His Body and Blood in your mouth, and mounts you up on eagles’ wings as you take comfort in His undeserved love for you. Only as you cling to His wings are you able to show mercy to your neighbor in His need. You need not go looking for opportunities. They will come looking for you, even in your own household.

You are free from the trap of death that the Law springs. Jesus takes your place in that trap, carrying you to safety. In your place there stands Jesus in the trap, showing compassion upon His children. The expert in the Law is set in that trap as well, and so are you when you, like him, think there is another way to punt out of loving God and loving your neighbor. There is only one way out: Jesus Christ. His love for you has set you free to love others, for we love because He first loved us. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

What Does It Mean to Preach Christ?

What does it mean to “preach Christ”? Some believe that Christ is preached when presented as a model in a holy manner of life and in good works; the sum of Christian doctrine is proclaimed when people are told, “Walk in the way that Christ has walked, then you come to heaven.” But to preach Christ is to say something entirely different. To preach Christ is to teach and to inculcate that salvation in Him alone and in such a way that human works are not considered. Paul preaches Christ in this way. He says: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”[1] And he calls out a warning to the Galatians: “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”[2] Thus one only preaches Christ who teaches that we are justified and saved by grace for Christ’s sake through faith, and that salvation is not placed in a thousandth part on the works of man, nor on the works through which we follow Christ. As soon as someone teaches that one attains salvation through his own works, Christ is no longer preached but denied and blasphemed. Luther comes to this point when he defends his translation of Romans 3:28 against the upset Papists. He says: “Are we to deny Paul’s word on account of such ‘offense,’ or stop speaking out freely about faith? Land, St. Paul and I want to give such offense; we preach so strongly against works and insist on faith alone, for no other reason than that the people may be offended, stumble, and fall, in order that they may learn to know that they are not saved by their good works but only by Christ’s death and resurrection… What a fine, constructive, and inoffensive doctrine that would be, if people were taught that they could be saved by works, as well as faith! That would be as much as to say that it is not Christ’s death alone that takes away our sins, but that our works too have something to do with it. That would be a fine honoring of Christ’s death, to say that it is helped by our works, and that whatever it does our works can do too—so that we are his equal in strength and goodness! This is the very devil; he can never quit abusing the blood of Christ.” (“On Translating: An Open Letter”, Luther’s Works 35:196-197)

Franz Pieper, “The Practical Importance of the Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel”, 1895 Kansas District Convention Address

[1] Romans 3:28.
[2] Galatians 5:4.

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity – Mark 7:31-37

When it comes to Christ, it’s good to be deaf and have a speech impediment. Frankly, it’s good to have any impediment that hinders you from thinking you must do something to bring yourself into fellowship with the Son of God.

The explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed confesses “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him”. Take out the prepositional phrase and the sentence is also correct. “I believe that I cannot believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him”. Refine the sentence even more and it still remains correct: “I believe that I cannot believe”.

To our ears that sounds like a statement against believing in Jesus Christ. Even someone who refuses to believe in Jesus Christ could confess it. “I cannot believe in Jesus Christ”. Consider, though, that it is a different sentence than “I will not believe in Jesus Christ”. An atheist has no problem confessing that sentence. To confess you “cannot” believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him is a matter of lack of ability.

You are spiritually deaf and mute, not to mention blind, before God. To believe in Jesus Christ you need help. You can’t come to Him as if walking up to a door, knocking on it, and letting yourself inside. Try that with someone spiritually deaf, mute, and blind. You might be able to communicate by sign language or Braille. Yet if the person has no one to take them there, it is impossible for them to accomplish the task.

Take the deaf-mute man in today’s Gospel. They brought a man to Jesus who was deaf and had a speech impediment. The man didn’t walk up to Jesus. They brought Him. The people are provided everything good in Christ. They aren’t mistaken. The Lord has never pushed away someone who gave Him his trust. The people here give Jesus their trust. It’s not as if they had no trust beforehand. They have heard He is able to help. They want this man to have what they have.

There it is! The people bringing the deaf-mute man to Jesus in Mark chapter seven want him to have what they have: forgiveness, peace, joy, eternal life, and hope for their remaining days on earth. But doesn’t his impediment stand in the way of it? No. Jesus takes care of that impediment as He took care of yours. He takes care of it through means, stuff.

In Mark chapter seven Jesus uses words, spit, and fingers. They pleaded with Jesus to place His hand on him. Jesus goes one step farther. He put His fingers into the man’s ears. Then He spit and touched the man’s tongue. After He looked up to heaven, He sighed and said, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”) Immediately the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was set free, and he began to speak plainly.

The entire crowd wanted was His hand laid on the man. Jesus lays words, spit, and fingers on him. The divine Word brings things into existence from nothing. God speaks, and the earth is created from nothing. God acts, and a sea parts, a donkey speaks, fleece becomes wet when there’s no water near, and a virgin conceives and bears a Son named Immanuel. Here’s a man who has neither heard nor spoken anything. Jesus brings Him hearing and speech from seemingly nothing. Yet Christ speaks to Him Ephphatha. The Word does what it says. The man’s ears are opened and his tongue loosed.

Jesus spits and touches the man’s tongue. Have you ever tried to talk when it feels like you’re about to spit cotton balls? You need a moist mouth to make speech. Our Lord’s moist fingers stuck in the man’s ears and on his tongue bring him what he desires.

The people cry out, He has done everything well. Yes, He has. Everything on earth was created good. Everything our Father in heaven has done for His people has been good, even though it seems bad to our eyes. He prepared them for the coming of their Savior. It was many of His own people who rejected Him. Those whose ears and tongues are opened and loosed from spiritual darkness do not see merely a man from Nazareth Who takes on the divine name of God. They see their Savior, Who comes to do all things well for their salvation; things they are not able to do.

There’s no way you can come to Jesus on your own. The Holy Spirit is the one who called you by the Gospel. Again, through earthly stuff like words preached in your ears, water splashed on your head, bread and wine in your mouth as Body and Blood for you. He enlightened you with His gifts: the gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Granted these are gifts of civic righteousness before the world. Yet all these gifts of the Holy Spirit aren’t merely external behaviors. This is how you live as you hear the Word that both condemns and forgives sins. In Christ you no longer hate, despair, become impatient, despise your neighbor, and rage endlessly about your lot in life. Jesus has set you free from all these and even your worst enemy: death. You’re free to show these gifts to your neighbor for Christ’s sake.

Someone brought you to Jesus like these people brought the deaf-mute man to Jesus. Maybe it was Mom and Dad. Maybe it was another relative or a friend. Someone brought you to have your ears opened and your tongue freed. What is more, they brought you to be made dead to sin and to be made alive again in life in Jesus Christ. That’s what His Word does; a Word that doesn’t just show up and do something you can’t explain. His is a Word that creates, liberates, and sustains you in that liberation into everlasting life. It’s good to be spiritually deaf, mute, and blind. That way Jesus works on you and gives you life. He has done all things well, all things for your eternal welfare.