Author Archives: pastorjuhl

First Sunday after Trinity – Luke 16:19-31

Saint Paul writes in Galatians chapter two: When James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. Christians excel at remembering the poor. Consider all the charitable organizations Christians have started. The first thing that might come to mind are hospitals. Christian hospitals remember the poor in providing health care without worrying about profit. Even our congregation remembers the poor with “Focus Out”, providing a ten dollar Berkot’s card for those seeking charity from us.

Our walk as Christians, however, doesn’t always match our talk. We like nice things. Our affluence sometimes harms our witness. We wish to help the poor, yet only from the comfort of our air-conditioned car with the window cracked about one inch to slip currency or coins through to the one in need. Even I don’t practice what I preach. If I helped every person I see in need, I couldn’t feed my family. We are jaded. We’ve seen too many professional beggars by the side of the road hustling cash, then walking a ways to their car to drive to another intersection.

There is another way to remember the poor besides giving them money or something tangible. Consider poor Lazarus and the rich man. Every day they saw each other at the rich man’s gate. The rich man was in a position to help Lazarus. Lazarus, though, was in a better position to help the rich man. The message Lazarus preaches in a sermon without a word is brought home by the stunning outcome of their deaths.

The first hint that Jesus has upset the apple cart is the rich man…in Hades, being in torment. It’s as if Jesus has led us down the garden path by telling us Lazarus is resting in Abraham’s bosom, then, out of the side of his mouth, mumbles something about the rich man in Hades. That’s not where we expect both men to be, especially if you’re a Jew and you’re listening to this parable. Even today we fall into the trap of thinking the poor go to hell and the rich go to heaven. Jesus loves a good success story and must turn away those who didn’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps and did something about their situation.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The same goes for reversing the situation. Just because you are poor doesn’t mean an automatic trip to Abraham’s bosom, while those greedy rich people fry in the burning lake of fire. There is something else to this parable; something rich that can’t be kept in a bank or dressed in purple linen.

Lazarus is really the rich man. The rich man is really poor. That’s where Jesus upsets the apple cart. What makes both men the opposite of what our eyes see? To answer that question another question is asked: What is counted before God as righteousness? The answer is in today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis chapter fifteen.

God makes a promise to Abraham about an heir to Abraham’s family. Abraham was afraid that, because he was childless, no one would carry on the promise of the Seed of the woman Who comes to stomp the head of the serpent. Not only will Abraham’s very own son be his heir, God the Father promises more. He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Not only will Abraham have an heir, he also will be rich in offspring. By faith we are children of Abraham, too. Why?

Abraham believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. That’s what matters in our heavenly Father’s eyes. Believe what He says about His promises, especially the promise of the Savior, Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, and He reckons it as righteousness. You can’t put a wad of cash before God’s face and ask if that’s enough. You can’t pile up all your good works, even your good intentions to do good works, and ask God if that’s your righteousness. Outside of God’s promise to you, your righteousness is, as Isaiah says, filthy rags. Cling to His promise and you have everything necessary for salvation.

Even clinging to His promise is not your own doing. Saint Paul writes in Ephesians chapter two: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. The riches you have because of Jesus Christ, the Great and Precious Promise of our heavenly Father, are everything. Forgiveness is yours. Life is yours. Salvation is yours. You are an heir of eternity by God’s grace through believing in Jesus Christ.

When you fail at being His workmanship, when you fail in helping the poor, you are forgiven for Christ’s sake. We walk in our good works each day, doing what is given us to do in our callings in life as God gives us light. Sure there’s more to be done. Sure there’s much you’ve left undone. Christ’s blood and righteousness covers every failing. The rich man sees that from Lazarus, but it is now too late. Lazarus lay at his gate every day as a testimony of where true riches are found: Jesus Christ. The rich man couldn’t see that testimony until he needed that cool drink from Lazarus. Too late. What about his father’s house? They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. What if they don’t repent? Not even Jesus rising from the dead will convince them.

Trust not in rich men to clout for you before God’s face. Your riches are in Christ Jesus. His Word with water washes away sin and brings you sonship with God. His Word with bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. His Word of reconciliation brings peace and joy with God and with your neighbor. Where you fail to be Christ’s workmanship, Christ’s blood bespeaks you righteous. The Lord is your riches. He alone has dealt bountifully with you.

Feast of the Holy Trinity – John 3:1-17

The cross. The right arrow. The heart. I saw Professor Richard E. Muller write that simple diagram on the chalkboard so many times in seminary. Guys loved his classes because he was great for visual thinkers. He had a diagram for everything. The diagram of the cross, the right arrow, and the heart was perhaps the closest he could come to showing how God works, but even then a diagram couldn’t explain everything. It was merely a start of an explanation of a mystery as deep as God Himself.

Consider the diagram for a moment. The question lying behind it is “How does God get the benefits of the death of Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, into your life?” Notice the diagram doesn’t ask how you get the cross or how you get Jesus into your life. Neither of these things are any benefit unless you are talking about what Jesus’ death is for you. You can explain it until you are blue in the face. Ultimately, though, it is a mystery that is not explained, but believed.

The Athanasian Creed does speak of thinking about the holy Trinity in one right way. It also speaks of believing the incarnation of Jesus Christ. That’s where everything in the diagram begins. You start at Jesus taking on flesh for your sake. It’s a promise almost as old as the foundation of the heavens and the earth. It’s the foundation of prophecy and proclamation in Scripture. It is so holy that Isaiah needed his lips cleansed with a searing-hot coal as he saw the vision of the mystery of God in order to preach it. It’s a mystery so bottomless that Saint Paul can only step back with us and marvel at its holiness and its beauty.

It’s a mystery that confounds Nicodemus, yet is perfectly clear to Jesus. Of course it is clear to Jesus, for He is the Father’s only-begotten Son. He is the mystery in skin. He comes not only to proclaim the favorable season of the Lord, but also to do that favorable season in the shedding of His blood and in His rising from the dead.

If you’re confused about the whole thing, you’re not alone. Join Nicodemus and the long line of people who scratch their heads when contemplating God’s work for you. You can only being to appreciate it when the Holy Spirit gets you to stand still and receive every good and perfect gift from above. That’s what Jesus tries to do with Nicodemus. Don’t use your noggin so much, Nicodemus. It’s a mystery revealed only through the sacred Word and the preaching of the sacred Word.

The only way to know what way the wind blows is to feel it on your body and hear it with your ears. If you’re hard of hearing, you’ll certainly feel it on your body. The Spirit’s work in the Word preached, heard, and read is the only way you’ll know what way the Spirit works on you. You hear the Word. The Word works not only repentance, but also faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners. When you hear Jesus speak in His Word, you hear what the Father has to say about you. That’s what the Spirit makes sure you hear. The Holy Spirit keeps you close to Jesus, and in so doing, keeps you close to the Father in heaven.

How can these things be? There’s the question that has no explainable answer. Even Professor Muller’s chalkboard diagram can’t answer the question. The closest to a definitive answer is from Christ’s mouth with a twofold oath: Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen. Notice the use of first person plural by our Lord. We speak. We bear witness. What is spoken and borne witness is the mystery of salvation. No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

You were not there that dreadful Friday before the Passover when our Lord died for your sins. Yet by faith you believe that what Christ did that day, He did for you. You heard it spoken to you. You hear it spoken to you right now. A witness has been borne for your sake. The witness chiefly is Holy Scripture, for these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Yet how shall they hear without a preacher? The men who have stood in this pulpit through the years bear witness to Christ. As they speak, the Holy Spirit works in the words they speak to convict you of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Repentance is worked. Faith is created and renewed. You are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You are fed the very Body and Blood of Christ. Your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. A line is drawn straight from Eden through the pilgrimage to the Promised Land, where a bronze snake is lifted up on a pole to save the Israelites as they gazed on that snake, to Calvary, where Christ is raised up for your sins, through the empty tomb, to this church building at this very moment.

The Triune God is at work for you today. They work to bring the benefits of Christ’s death into your ears, your heart, and your life. All these things happen through earthly stuff like words, water, bread, and wine. All these things bear witness that God loves the world by sending His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. How can these things be? King David answers in Psalm 34: Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Don’t be afraid. Listen to the Lord in His Word and hear your salvation in Christ, for He alone has done it for you.

The Bronze Serpent and Jesus

The serpent, which bit and poisoned the Jews is sin, death and an evil conscience. I know that I must die and that I am under the power of death; I cannot free myself and must remain in this state until a dead serpent is set up for me, one which, because it is not alive, can harm no one, but rather benefit, as did the serpent of Moses. Now, this is Christ. I see him hanging on the cross, not beautiful nor greatly honored. If his death upon the cross were in fashion to win for him the plaudits of men, the flesh might say that he deserved his honors and his exaltation by his works. But I see him hanging in disgrace on the cross, like a murderer and malefactor; thus, reason must say that he is cursed before God. The Jews believed that this was true and they could only consider him the most cursed of all men before God and the world, for they remembered this passage in the Law of Moses: “He that is hanged is accursed of God.” (Deuteronomy 21:23)

Moses had to set up a serpent of brass, which looked like the fiery serpents, but did not bite or harm any one, nay, it rather saved the people. Thus, Christ also has the form and the appearance of a sinner, but has become my salvation; his death is my life; he atones for my sin and takes away from me the wrath of the Father. The living, fiery serpent is within me, for I am a sinner, but in him is a dead serpent; he was indeed regarded a sinner, but he never committed any sin.

If, then, man believes that the death of Christ has taken away his sin, he becomes a new man. The carnal, natural man cannot believe that God will gratuitously take away and forgive us all our sins. Reason argues in this manner: You have sinned, you must also atone for your sin. Then it invents one good work after another and endeavors to take away sin by good works. But the Gospel of Christ is: If you have fallen in sin, another must atone for you, if a man believes this, he becomes one with Christ, and has everything that is Christ’s.

(John chapter three), then, signifies that our works are nothing, and that all human power can do is useless, but faith in Christ does it all.

Martin Luther, First Church Postil for the Feast of the Holy Trinity (John 3:1-15)

God Give You A Mouth And Your Audience Ears

If Peter and Paul were here, they would scold you because you wish right off to be as accomplished as they. Crawling is something, even if one is unable to walk. Do your best. If you can’t preach an hour, then preach a half hour or a quarter of an hour. do not try to imitate other people. Center on the shortest and simplest points, which are the very heart of the matter and leave the rest to God. Look solely to His honor and not to applause. Pray that God will give you a mouth and to your audience ears…. You will most certainly find out three things: First you will have prepared your sermon as diligently as you know how, and it will slip through your fingers like water; secondly, you may abandon your outline and God will give you grace, You will preach your very best. The audience will be pleased – but you won’t. And thirdly, when you have been unable in advance to pull anything together, you will preach acceptably both to your hearers and to yourself. So pray to God and leave all the rest to him.

Martin Luther, Tischreden 2:2606-2607

Pentecost Day – John 14:23-31

I am grateful to Rev. Mark Buetow of McHenry, IL for his mnemonic device used in this sermon.

When men tried to make a name for themselves, they ended up scattered and speaking different languages. When Jesus ascends, He sends the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, through the preaching of Jesus’ name brings together people who don’t speak the same language. Those once scattered are now together again through the preaching of Jesus Christ.

That’s the blessing of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit comes with signs and wonders, with rushing wind and tongues of fire. These signs aren’t for their own sake. They focus your attention on the Word preached by preachers like Saint Peter. They preach the pouring out of the Spirit on the nations in order that they may hear and learn the name of Jesus. That’s what Peter preaches in the rest of Acts chapter two: Jesus, the Son of God, crucified for your sin, raised from the dead, and ascended on high. In His name is forgiveness of sins, poured on you in your Baptism. That’s the sermon that caused 3,000 souls to be brought into the church that day.

As it was then, so it is now. The Spirit brings Christ to you and brings you to Christ. How does He do it? Our Lord says how in today’s Gospel. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Pretty simple, eh? It’s hard for us to believe it, though. The Holy Spirit delivers Jesus. He does it in a way that you don’t get to dictate. The Spirit brings Jesus using Jesus’ words.

When you are brought to God’s house and are baptized with water and the Word of God, the Holy Spirit is at work. When you come to church and your pastor forgives your sins, preaches and teaches you God’s Word from Holy Scripture, that is the Spirit at work. When you receive Christ’s true Body and true Blood under bread and wine that are shown for us to be the Body and Blood of Christ, that is the Spirit at work.

A mnemonic device might help plant it home. You use mnemonic devices all the time. How do you know the colors of the rainbow? Roy G. Biv, that’s how. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Roy G. Biv. Here’s a mnemonic device to help you remember how the Holy Spirit works: The Holy Spirit brings God’s Holy people the holy B.A.G.S. I’m not talking about cornhole bags or grocery bags. These are holy B.A.G.S. They are Baptism, Absolution, Gospel preaching and teaching, and the Supper. Where the B.A.G.S. are, there the Spirit is working to forgive you and keep you close to Jesus’ words.

Now that you know where the Spirit is at work, it’s also important to know where the Spirit is not at work. Perhaps you have heard of Christians who believe the Spirit’s work is to manifest Himself through signs like speaking in tongues, so-called holy laughter, running, barking, and other experiences. Those things happened on Pentecost so that people would pay attention to the Apostles. The bigger deal, though, that day was the preaching of Jesus Christ by Saint Peter and the baptism of 3,000 people.

Not just “Pentecostal” Christians speak this way. Other Christians often get captivated by feelings and emotions, mistaking them for the work of the Holy Spirit. We may have heard Christians tell us that, when they came to our church or another church, they just didn’t “feel” anything happening there. Some might go as far as to say the Holy Spirit speaks to them about not only matters of faith, but also what clothes to wear, what car to buy, even what kind of flooring is appropriate for their home.

That’s not how Christians speak about the Spirit’s work. Jesus promises His Spirit comes nowhere else than in the B.A.G.S. If something is said to be the Spirit’s work, yet doesn’t come from the B.A.G.S, rest assured it is not the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes to bring us and keep us close to Jesus. He uses the B.A.G.S. to do it. You have certainty there.

Another difference between the true Holy Spirit in the B.A.G.S. and false spirits who are around us is the peace that the Spirit brings. Jesus tells His disciples: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. The Spirit brings peace that transcends our feelings. Feelings can lie. The peace of God that surpasses everything that our mind can do, even feelings, keeps our hearts and mind in Christ, our Lord.

The peace the Holy Spirit brings is the peace of Baptism that says in Whose family you belong. You are not an orphan. You belong to God’s family. The peace the Holy Spirit brings is the peace of Absolution. No sin stands between you and your heavenly Father. The peace the Holy Spirit brings is the peace of the Good News that Jesus is your Savior from sin, death, and hell. The peace the Spirit brings in under bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.

The Holy Spirit is at work in the B.A.G.S. giving you everything Jesus promises, especially the peace of forgiveness and life. You will not burn in hell. You are with Jesus, and Jesus is with you. He will raise you from the dead. In Him you are a new creation, waiting for the consummation of all things. The life of the world to come is yours because of Jesus, not because of speaking in tongues or interpreting tongues or holy laughter or any other so-called manifestation of a spirit. Your comfort is found in the B.A.G.S., for there is where the Holy Spirit gives you Jesus, and with Jesus, your salvation.

Seventh Sunday after Easter – John 15:26-16:4

Christ’s kingdom is a cross kingdom. Saints Paul and Barnabas were stoned in Lystra for preaching the Gospel in Acts chapter fourteen. In the face of bearing witness to Jesus Christ, Paul encourages the Christians there and elsewhere by saying through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 116: I believed, even when I spoke: “I am greatly afflicted.”

Christians throughout the ages have dealt with persecution by continuing to remain steadfast to Jesus Christ, ready to suffer even death rather than deny Him before men. In the wake of recent societal changes, however, it seems some Christians are ready to take their ball and go home, so to speak. There have been calls to retrench into local Christian communities in order to take care of each other and forsake the world.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, however, does not call us to sound a retreat, circle the wagons, and hide in our homes and church buildings. We shouldn’t become scared or angry that the world thinks it does God a service by barely tolerating Christians among them. Christ has previously said this would happen. Christ has also provided for rich consolation when it does happen.

Jesus tells the apostles before His ascension that you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. There’s more to the word “witness” than merely opening your mouth and telling the Good News about Jesus. “Witness” also means to be ready to shed blood, if necessary, for the sake of confessing Christ. Confessing Jesus as Lord is more than making some sort of testimony about what you believe. You confess whenever you read a Bible story to a child. You’re passing down the ancient confession of the Christian faith by relating the family stories; God’s family’s stories.

The Holy Spirit is with that confessed word you speak, whether to a child or to an adult. Jesus calls Him Comforter and Spirit of truth in today’s Holy Gospel. The Holy Spirit is first called a Comforter because He brings consolation against the evil spirit who rules in the world. You know there’s an evil spirit in the world because of the way people react when Jesus Christ is confessed. Some people tend to recoil in anger. Perhaps they are confused. Perhaps they have had a bad experience among Christians. Perhaps they simply despise any notion of God. No matter what the reason, as Jesus says, they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.

Jesus also calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of truth. The Spirit opposes all lies and false arguments. Jesus gives the Spirit Who makes you sure and convinced of the truth. Granted, though, that very few are argued into Christ’s kingdom. Apologetics, the practice of defending the Christian faith using Scripture to make logical, sound arguments for the Christian faith, has its place. Nevertheless, it is the preached Word of God, the Word of God confessed with the lips, used by the Holy Spirit, that changes the hearts of mankind. The truth in the preached Word sets them free.

Jesus says to His apostles, you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. Of the eleven with Him at that time, ten of them will die a martyr’s death; a death of witness to Jesus Christ.

Bearing witness to Jesus is more than opening your mouth and talking about what you believe. Bearing witness to Jesus also means to suffer. This suffering doesn’t necessarily have to take place on the gridiron, as St. Lawrence the Deacon died, or on an upside down cross, as St. Peter reportedly died. Suffering for Christ’s sake also happens on one’s deathbed, or even in a prolonged sickness. The sick person bears witness that Jesus will bring them comfort in affliction. The truth proclaimed to them that Christ has died, risen, and will come again, is borne in their bodies as they suffer pain.

It’s hard for us to see it when we’re right there next to one who suffers, or are even the one suffering. “What have I done to deserve this?” often comes to our mind. Your witness in suffering is united with the suffering of Jesus Christ. As He bore your griefs and carried your sorrows, so you carry His wounds within you, for you are baptized into His death and resurrection. Whether you die or whether you live, you belong to the Lord. You are a witness in life and in death, in health or in sickness. Where the world sees a pitiable sight, you see a lamb of the Good Shepherd who waits for healing, either temporal healing or ultimate healing in death.

The Holy Spirit also strengthens churches, especially when they suffer. Wherever the Lord sets up a church, the devil sets up a chapel next door, so to speak. You have seen it play out in this congregation, or in another congregation, through the years. You see and hear the divisiveness among God’s people. The wounds remain fresh even as the years go by.

In the midst of the chaos of Satan destroying a congregation, there stands the Comforter of priceless worth, ready to draw God’s people back to the preached Word, back to their baptism, back to the Lord’s Supper, back to forgiveness and salvation. No one congregation on earth is perfect. No one pastor on earth is perfect. The Church is full of 100% sinners and 100% saints. All the more do we cling to the Word of Christ confessed from lectern and pulpit. The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies us in Christ’s church, keeping us connected to the Savior.

Then there’s our life among our neighbors. Satan seems to set up a playground in the home. He seemingly moves mothers, fathers, and children like chess pieces. He sets everyone against each other. He makes everyone look like fools. Most of all, he sets up every obstacle to keep them from hearing the witness of Jesus Christ in the Divine Service. Before long, everyone at home is at war, and the Lord God is an unwelcome presence there. It can happen even in the homes of widows and widowers, even unmarried people. Why does God want me here? I’m worthless. It’s all a mess, and it’s all my fault.

The Holy Spirit must take up the sword of truth, the Word of God, and bear witness with that Word. He might say, “Whoa! Why are you up to talking like that? Can’t you think of anything but sin, death, and damnation? Take your eyes off this frightening sight. Don’t you know the man named Jesus Christ, of Whom it is written: conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, descended into hell, and on the third day rose again, and ascended into heaven?

“Why do you think this happened? Was it not that you might have consolation against death and sin? Stop being frightened and so despondent; you have no reason! If Christ were not with you and upholding you, and had not done these things for you, then you would have reason enough to be frightened. But He says, ‘Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ For that reason He suffered death for you, and for your consolation and safeguarding He is seated now at the right hand of His heavenly Father.”

There’s your comfort. There’s your witness. The Spirit witnesses Jesus Christ in the preaching of His Word and in His sacramental gifts. Jesus does not leave you as an orphan. He comes to you today in this place, in these gifts, and your heart rejoices. Do not be afraid. Do not sound a retreat. You are His witness. He will comfort you and speak His truth. You live, even in death, for Jesus’ sake. That is your confession, and it is good because Jesus is good.

You Have No Reason To Be Frightened and So Despondent

Over against the factious spirits and false preachers, this fact stands sure: When the Holy Spirit comforts, he does so in no other way than to witness of Jesus and picture him in the human heart. In contrast, the evil spirit, by emphasizing sin and death, frightens the conscience. This the Holy Spirit must combat through his witness as he speaks through the Word to our hearts: Hold on, man, what are you up to anyway? Can’t you think of anything but sin, death, and damnation? Take your eyes off this gruesome, frightening sight and look here; don’t you know the man named Jesus Christ, of whom it is written: conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, descended into hell, and on the third day rose again, and ascended into heaven? Who do you think this happened? Was it not that you might have consolation against death and sin? then stop being frightened and so despondent; you have no reason! If Christ were not with you and upholding you, and had not done these things for you, then you would have reason enough to be frightened. But he is with you, around you, and he says, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” For that reason he suffered death for you, and for your consolation and safeguarding he is seated now at the right hand of his heavenly Father.

Martin Luther, House Postil for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (John 15:26-16:4)

OF ME

Christ says very definitely, The Holy Spirit will witness of me, of me and not of someone else. Beyond this witness of the Holy Spirit about Christ there is no sure and abiding comfort. That is why one should write the words “of me” with capital letters and diligently remember them. For of this we may be certain, that the Holy Spirit promotes no other doctrine, preaches neither Moses nor other laws whereby to comfort the conscience. If the conscience is to be comforted, it can only be by the preaching of Christ’s death and resurrection – this alone comforts. In contrast, all other preaching of law, good works, holy living, whether commanded by God or men, is incapable of comforting a person in times of need and death; instead it leaves him uncertain and in despair, frightened and tormented. If we consider God without Christ, we find no comfort but only righteous wrath and displeasure. But whoever preaches Christ proclaims and brings true comfort, so that it will be impossible for hearts not to be joyous and of good cheer.

Martin Luther, House Postil for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (John 15:26-16:4)

The Absolute Thunderbolts Against Free Choice

Notice how simple the words are: “Through the law comes knowledge of sin”; yet they alone are powerful enough to confound and overthrow free choice. For if it is true that when left to itself it does not know what sin and evil are—as he says both here and in Romans 7:7: “I should not have known that covetousness is sin if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet,’ ”—how can it ever know what righteousness and goodness are? And if it does not know what righteousness is, how can it strive toward it? If we are unaware of the sin in which we were born, in which we live, move, and have our being, or rather, which lives, moves, and reigns in us, how should we be aware of the righteousness that reigns outside of us in heaven? These statements make complete and utter nonsense of that wretched thing, free choice.

This being so, Paul speaks with full confidence and authority when he declares: “But now the righteousness of God is manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it; the righteousness of God, I say, through faith in Jesus Christ for all and upon all who believe in him. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood,” etc. [Romans 3:21–25]. Paul’s words here are absolute thunderbolts against free choice.

Martin Luther, “On the Bondage of the Will” (LW 33:262-263)

Sixth Sunday of Easter – John 16:23b-30

“Come, my soul, with every care,/Jesus loves to answer prayer;/He Himself has bid thee pray,/Therefore will not turn away.” Prayer is a blessed privilege of all children of God. Isaac prayed before Rebekah married him. Hannah prayed for a son, and nine months later along came Samuel. Daniel prayed three times a day. Paul and Silas, bound in jail, prayed and sang hymns.

These days, however, Christians often lack confidence for prayer. Even though our blessed Lord will not turn away from your prayer, you are timid. You throw up all sorts of objections. There are temptations that lure you away from prayer. Yet Jesus bids us to pray in today’s Gospel. He even takes it a step further: Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. The joy is in the asking, not to mention the receiving.

There is joy in praying because God has commanded us to pray. “Joy” and “command” usually don’t go together. Who has joy in any command? Yet there is joy in prayer because Jesus promises that our prayers are heard. There can be no joy in prayer because of unworthiness. God is King. We are beggars. God is Lord of heaven and earth. We are dust and ashes, returning to dust and ashes when we die. It is better to hole up in a cave rather than seeking His face and pouring out the heart to Him.

Jesus says, Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. Not only are you allowed to pray, you are also commanded to pray. Again, it’s hard to understand that joy and command go together. It shouldn’t be that hard. A child has something he or she wants to tell you. You tell them to tell you. That’s a command. Please tell me what it is you want to say. You have joy in commanding. The child has joy in telling you, even if what the child says isn’t joyful. At least the child was able to speak without fear of being silenced. The child suppresses unworthiness and pounces upon the opportunity.

If Jesus commanding us one time to pray isn’t enough, consider some other places in Scripture where prayer is commanded. Psalm 50: call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. Psalm 27: you have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” The Sermon on the Mount: Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Saint Paul tells Saint Timothy: I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling. Again and again in His Word God asks us to pray. That gives us courage to pray.

Consider also the sinners, yet saints, who joyfully prayed. David was caught in adultery among other things, but with what joy he prayed. Since his first prayer in Damascus Saint Paul made his prayer with joy, as he tells the Philippian Christians. Command and joy do go together, for in God’s command we find the joy in asking as well as in the hearing.

As important as the command of God is to joyous prayer, there are other reasons to pray with great joy. By nature you are under God’s wrath. Solomon says in Proverbs, If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. Yet Christ has reconciled us to God as He departs to His Father. The Father loves those who love Jesus. If the Father is well pleased with His Son, then He is also well pleased with you. You pray with confidence that the Father gives you a fair hearing for Jesus’ sake.

All the more does this give you gladness for prayer. Satan says your sins ought to frighten you to silence. Jesus takes away your sin and gives you His righteousness. You stand before the Father without spot or blemish. Ask away. Don’t be bashful. Pour out your heart to your Father in heaven. His ears are gracious to the voice of supplication.

Consider Abraham’s request that Sodom not be destroyed as God promised. He enters into a knock-down, drag-out negotiation for Sodom. What if there are fifty righteous people there? Will you destroy it? God says, No, I won’t destroy it. How about forty? No. Thirty? No. Twenty? Still no. Okay, how about ten? For the sake of ten I will not destroy it. We might get testy in a negotiation, especially when someone gets as picky as Abraham. Never once does God get angry at Abraham. He loves to hear Abraham ask, especially when it comes to sparing lives.

Consider also the thief on the cross next to Jesus. Unlike Abraham’s reverse auction, the thief has one simple petition: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. It sounds to our ears like an easy way out of a difficult situation, especially when you are dying. Jesus takes seriously his request. The asking brought the thief joy, for His Savior lay next to him. The answer brought even more joy: Today, you will be with me in paradise. The thief is remembered. There is joy all the way around, for Christ has died and the thief in Christ’s peace-making death.

Despite the command of God to pray, in spite of our blessed sonship with god, we would soon quit praying if we weren’t heard. The Lord will hear. The Lord will answer. He says, Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

So you ask. Nothing happens. You ask again. Nothing happens. You keep asking, just like Jesus tells you in His Word. Nothing happens. So you quit praying because He wouldn’t hear you. Jesus hears you. He answers you, too. The answer you expect and the answer He gives aren’t necessarily the same thing. Yet the answer you get is the answer you desire.

How can this be? You asked for one thing and got another thing that God says is better for you. Consider what lies at the heart of your asking. A little boy asks his mother for a knife. The boy is not afraid to ask for something that mom knows is going to hurt him and perhaps someone else. So the boy doesn’t get the knife. What the boy gets instead is what he actually wanted: something to play. The intent of his heart is to play. The knife would be the instrument of play. So mom makes sure he doesn’t get the instrument, but he does get the joy of playing. Perhaps mom is nice enough to buy him something better than a knife.

Put anything else there besides a knife. You have joy in asking. Jesus has joy in hearing and answering. The answer you get may make you pout for a moment. Yet the answer you get is your heart’s desire. You pray for healing on behalf of someone. The person is healed…by death. You’re angry about the death. You’ll soon be glad that suffering is over. You’ll also soon see that death is swallowed up in Christ’s victory over death and sin. No matter what you ask, He will give it to you. You might not get exactly what you asked, but you will receive something that will gladden your heart.

Our Lord commands prayer. He is gracious to you in Christ in both the hearing and the answering. You pray in faith that what you pray will be heard. Nothing is too big or too heavy. He is not too small or too meager that He can’t hear you or give you what you desire. Come, dear Christian. Come before the Father’s throne of grace with confidence because of Jesus. Ask for all your earthly and spiritual needs. The Father is all ears and full of grace. There’s joy in both the asking and in the receiving. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.