Categories
Advent Sermons

Advent 1A

Text: Matthew 21:1-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel which was read earlier.

Listen to these words: “The day is surely drawing near/ When Jesus, God’s anointed,/ In all His power shall appear/ As judge whom God appointed.” Well, we see that today with Jesus entering Jerusalem. This is Advent, not Lent, and yet we don’t hear about a coming baby Jesus, but rather an adult Jesus beginning His journey to the cross. So here in Advent we’re not just getting ready to celebrate Christmas. At Advent, we’re preparing for the Coming of the Kingdom of God.

Here comes Jesus, into Jerusalem, with a purpose. Jesus is coming from Jericho on his final journey. As a person approaches Jerusalem from the east, the city is not visible, since it is hidden behind the Mount of Olives. Upon reaching the crest of the mount, however, the traveler suddenly finds the whole city spread out before him. It is not hard to imagine bands of weary pilgrims joining in a psalm of joyful thanksgiving at this point.

As Jesus nears Jerusalem, He is in need of something to make His journey complete – a donkey. While a donkey sounds strange, it is in keeping with Scripture: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” This is what is needed because it is in line with the prophecies of the coming Savior.

As the season of Advent begins, we must remember who it is that is coming. A baby is coming, but not just a baby. The baby is the long-promised Savior. This is their King, whether they know it or not, whether they want it to be true or not.

Notice the many double-sided issues in these few verses. Jerusalem is at once the holy city and “the city that kills the prophets.” Jesus sends two disciples to get two animals when He can clearly ride only one. Do events happen by previous planning or divine knowledge? In all of these, Matthew is seeking to convey the two natures of Christ—fully human and fully divine. Both aspects must be held in mind together if Jesus is to be comprehended in full. Jesus is “the Crucified Messiah, the Modest King, the Lowly Lord, the Human God.”

Once the animals are secured, the two disciples put their cloaks on both donkey and colt and Jesus sits on the garments. Some of those coming to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration join the procession as Jesus descends from the Mount of Olives. Though He rides on a donkey rather than a warhorse, thereby symbolizing peace rather than militarism, the crowd seems to catch the royal symbolism of the act and carpets His path with their cloaks and branches cut from trees. The donkey Jesus rides is a beast of the people, a working beast that identifies Jesus as being in solidarity with those familiar with the animal. It is humble and stubborn in the burden it is bearing, even as the one who rides it this day is humble and determined to fulfill His calling.

They people are seeing something occur that they don’t fully understand, but yet recognize as important. The people shout out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” This underscores Jesus’ identity as being in accord with the great king whose city He is entering. The “Hosanna” can be understood as both a prayer and as an acclamation of praise. The shouts are nothing more than “save us” from the people. But save us from what? Do they have any idea why Jesus has come? Do they even care?

Is that not what you and I cry out on a daily basis – Hosanna, save us? That should be our daily cry because we need saving, but we don’t want to cry out because we don’t think we need saving? We don’t think we’re as bad as what people want to say we are or what the Church wants to say about us. But the fact of the matter is we are as bad as what people and the Church wants to say about us. That’s why God sends Jesus to us, because we do need God to save us, and save us He does.

He comes in Advent in order to be the sacrifice that is needed on Palm Sunday to be the answer to the people’s cries on Good Friday. But it wasn’t as simple as that. Matthew records, “the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?”” The “whole city” in its ignorance stands in contrast to “the crowds” who knew Jesus to be at least a prophet “from Nazareth in Galilee.” Both groups will be presented with the opportunity to learn that Jesus is more than a human prophet or human king in days to come. They will quickly find out on Good Friday, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

The people looked for a deliverer based on their trust in God’s promises borne to them by their prophetic sacred writings. But the given Messiah does not, as is often noted, fulfill popular expectations. Not only was that true then, it is true now. “Who is the Christ?” is the question behind this text, and the answer is of the both/and variety: both human and divine, both militant and nonviolent, both crucified and resurrected, both obedient and triumphant, both royal and humble, both empowering and not overpowering.

“Behold, your king is coming to you…” The humble King who rode into Jerusalem in humility comes to us. In a manner of true repentance, we meet our Savior. He comes into Jerusalem, the city of the temple – the place of sacrifice – to suffer and to die as God’s ultimate Passover Lamb. His sacrifice interrupts the monotonous routines of sin and death. Here is a King like no other, for this King comes not in royal splendor or with military might, but in the humility of the Servant who embraces the cross for you.

All of this, He did for you. He is the Blessed One, for in His saving death, He brings all the blessings of heaven – forgiveness of sins and peace with God – down to earth, down to you. It is no wonder that during the season of Advent, we especially hear that Jesus is indeed Immanuel, God with us. Even as God lives with us, He still comes to us. He comes to us as we read and hear His Word. He also continues to come to us in His flesh and blood as we eat and drink the bread and the wine of His Table.

There’s never been anything especially impressive about the ways that Jesus comes to His people, at least not by our worldly standards. But He never had our impressions in mind. He came to His people under the most humble circumstances and in the most humble ways to save them. He comes to you through His humble, chosen means. And He promises to be with you according to His humble grace and mercy until He comes again, only then it will be in power and might.

And we keep faith with the people of God throughout the ages and wait and watch for the advent of our King, a coming promised so long ago. But we wait with true faith, for we know who is coming, and what He has done, and we know what He has promised to do when He comes to bring us to eternal life, and destroy sin and death forever. And so, we watch and pray and wait faithfully, observing the promise of Advent all the year long: “Behold, your king is coming to you.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Categories
Pentecost Sermons

Last Sunday of the Church Year

Text: Luke 23:27-43

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel which was read earlier.

As we come to another close of the Church Year, we are presented with what is to come. Today’s Gospel reading from St. Luke puts us squarely at the crucifixion of Jesus. This reading is heard during Holy Week in preparation for our Lord’s death, and yet it appears at the end of the Church Year. Hearing these verses at the end of the Church Year gives a different impact to these words. In Lent, the focus is on the passive obedience of Christ as He is seized, mocked, blasphemed, and crucified on the altar of the cross. At the end of the Church Year, the focus may well be on Jesus the King in control of what is happening, though it does not appear so. He is not the one for whom we are to weep. He is forgiving. He, not those who crucified Him, is the one who at the end of the day will be victorious and who opens Paradise again. On this Last Sunday of the Church Year, we consider the end through the lens of the cross—and our life leading up to the end through the lens of the cross. For Jesus’ death and life has something to say about our life and death.

Looking at the beginning of our text, it would seem as if the people are mourning over Jesus, over what is soon to happen to Him. But Jesus turns the weeping around. He says, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” Jesus is the one who is going to die and yet His focus is not on Himself, but rather, the people. And why wouldn’t His focus be on the people since that is the whole purpose of His pending death, to redeem the people?

All of this is brought to a head when Christ is on the cross, surrounded on either side by criminals. Jesus cries out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Usually when we hear that, we focus on what great love Jesus has that He could pray such words! And that’s not wrong. We hear Jesus praying for the forgiveness of those who put Him on the cross. Those who drove the nails through His hands and feet. Those who mocked Him even as He prayed for them. Those whose appetites would not be satisfied until they had taken His life. This forgiveness that Jesus prays for is no small thing. For you know how hard forgiveness is, and for much lesser things than that of crucifying Him. How great and wondrous these words, how precious for us sinners still today!

Despite what the people were doing on that fateful day, Jesus died for them and for their sins. Did He need to die? Absolutely not. There was no reason for Jesus to die, in and of itself. He is the Son of God, present from the very beginning. What sin did He commit that would require His death upon the cross? Should He have died for those who put Him to death? That’s the real question. The answer to that one is a resounding yes. God had made the promise of the Savior to Adam and Eve. The promise of an undoing of sin had been made. Now, the promise made was the promise fulfilled. By His death upon the cross, Jesus, the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, was right where He needed to be in order to fulfill the Father’s promise.

But Jesus was more right than what the people knew. Truly, they did not know what they were doing. They didn’t know that the hands they were driving nails through were the hands that had created all things and had even knit them together in their mother’s wombs. They didn’t know that the feet they had fastened to the cross were the feet that had walked in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day and would soon make the earth their footstool. They didn’t know that the head into which they pressed that crown of thorns was the head of the One who knows all things. They didn’t know. They didn’t know that in this death was their life. They didn’t know.

But you know that, right? You know that the man nailed to the cross wasn’t just a man, right? You know that that man was the Word incarnate, sent to redeem you from all of your sins? You know that because of His shed blood, you have been made white by His crimson blood washing over you? You know all of this, right? Then why are you so surprised when Jesus makes the comment, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not week for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” Jesus makes that statement because they didn’t know. For the Pharisees and the like, they knew they were getting rid of a problem, a troublemaker, a blasphemer. They mocked all the more, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” But that’s not what He does. He doesn’t come to save Himself; He comes to save you.

You see, those who were persecuting for the last three years and those crucifying Jesus truly didn’t know what they were doing. Jesus had come in order to redeem them, to save them, to make them a part of God’s family once again. Criminal #1 didn’t get it. He yells out, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” He knew what was in store for him; he was going to die. If Jesus were truly the One who He claimed to be, then this criminal wouldn’t need to die because Jesus could pluck him right off the cross. But criminal #2 got it: “…but this man has done nothing wrong.” He recognized Jesus for who He was – the Son of God. He did not deserve to be on the cross, He didn’t need to be on the cross, and yet, there was Jesus, there was God, doing as His name says – the Lord saves. There’s more going on than meets the eye. And especially is that true of the cross. For, yes, contrary to what the eye can see, this is no criminal! This man is the very Son of God, the Lamb of God, the atonement for your sins and mine and the sin of the whole world.

Hanging upon the cross, there is only one thing that criminal #2 can say to Jesus: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus did not look like any kind of king, much less the King God promised to the world. He looked like a defeated man laughed at by His enemies. He looked like a criminal who was being put to death. Yet this other criminal believed that He was the Messiah, the Savior, the King. He did not believe what his eyes and human reason told him. He believed and clung to the word of God alone. He believed the prophecies of the Old Testament which said that the Messiah would suffer.

Jesus tells criminal #2 the purpose for His being on the cross: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus is there for the criminal, for those who had faith in God’s promise in the days of the Old Testament. Jesus is there for the disciples and all who faith in God’s promise revealed in the days of the New Testament. Jesus is there for you and for all who confess that Jesus is Lord.

While this is appropriate for Holy Week, this text is especially fitting for today, the Last Sunday of the Church, Christ the King Sunday. We see the lengths that Jesus goes to in order to redeem us, that He suffers and dies in order to make us a part of His kingdom. The words of Jesus are indeed the words and promise of a King, a promise meant for you and me. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Categories
Pentecost Sermons

Pentecost 23

Text: Luke 21:5-28

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel which was read earlier.

The month of November has a certain feeling when it comes to the Church Year. Instead of nice, sweet parables of Jesus that everyone likes to hear, we turn to deeper questions by the people with even deeper answers by Jesus. Today is no different. Again, the focus is on the end times, namely, when is it and what are the signs going to be when it comes.

Our Gospel account today begins with people speaking about the temple, “noting how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings.” The temple was a great icon to God’s people. It was where sacrifices were made on behalf of the people. It was the place where God dwelt among the people. But while they were admiring the temple, Jesus changes the tone of the people: “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” Did Jesus just really say that the temple, the house of God, would be destroyed? The temple was a massive architectural achievement. The idea of the temple being destroyed was unfathomable, but that’s what Jesus just said would happen.

It would appear that Jesus has gotten the people’s attention, and so they ask, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” These disciples of Jesus, believers in Him and in His teaching, seem clueless to what Jesus says will happen to their beloved temple. But Jesus knows that soon—and for much of the rest of their lives—they will face dangers, catastrophes, and most of them, agonizing death. The majesty of the temple, the security of Jesus’ visible presence, even the stability of the world itself, would be torn down, ripped away, crumbled. Then how would they feel? Then where would they find comfort?

That is the question, isn’t it? Where is God to be found when life is difficult and we have trouble feeling and finding His presence in our lives? When we look at the world around us, God often seems absent. Where is God when we see so many natural and man-made disasters? Where is God when the world is full of wars and violence? Where is God when all around us we smell the moral decay of society? God is still to be found working in the world. Even if we fail to see God in this world, He still is there. God is present in the world even when all these things make us feel He is absent. Jesus’ whole reason for coming into the world was to reconcile it to God. Sin had driven a wedge between God and creation, but Jesus’ death on a cross has removed that separation.

As Jesus foretells of war and persecution, of what would be, the picture is not pretty. Jesus makes it clear that the important thing is not when. The important thing is the spiritual safety of the disciples. “See that you are not led astray.” False teachers and impostors will come, and the temptation will be to follow them. When wars and revolutions occur, the believers will be tempted to think that God has forgotten them. When earthquakes and other natural disasters happen, the believers may be deceived into thinking that God is not in control any longer. Jesus gives His disciples and us the encouragement we need for these last days. Jesus tells us how the story will end. He has already told us about all of the things we see happening around us. There is no reason to be deceived any longer by false teachers. There is no reason to be frightened any longer by the signs of the end. Our Lord has saved us from our sins by his blood shed on the cross.

The more Jesus continues to talk, the more everything sounds pretty dark and dismal. But there is no reason for us to look at this as dark and dismal. Jesus’ words invite us to see past the troubles, see past the sorrow and evil in the world, to the day when He will return to judge the living and the dead, and to remove all sin from our lives and make all things right! This is a time of rejoicing! Because it is Jesus who says these things, we can be confident that God is going to rescue and redeem all His Christian people. No matter how bad it gets, a world still in rebellion against God cannot thwart His plans.

As hard as it may be to understand or comprehend, God is still to be found present among His creation and within His Church. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” The world tries to entice us with many things, but they shall all pass away. Just as the Roman army reduced the temple to rubble, so also shall everything else in this world be reduced to nothing: our cars, homes, bank accounts, this building; it will all be gone and only the promises of God will remain.

The promises of God focus on the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. He has promised, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” With these words, He has promised that those who believe in Him will receive eternal life.

So, the Messiah comes, born of Mary. He comes to His temple, declaring that He has come to save them by His work—save both Jew and Gentile, save them from death and give them eternal life in heaven. Jesus reminded the disciples that the temple was not permanent. The Temple, the sacrifices, the festivals, and all the other requirements of the ceremonial law were only preparation for the day when God would dwell among His people as one of them. They were shadows pointing to a future reality as the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write, “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” The continuous blood and smoke that came from the sacrifices of sheep, goats, cattle, and birds at the altar in Jerusalem was only a reminder that one day Immanuel, God with us, would come and God would dwell with His people.

When the Son of God took up our human flesh in order to endure the wrath of God in our place, the temple’s days were numbered. When Jesus offered Himself up as the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world, there was no longer any need for the temple. Its purpose was fulfilled. As Jesus died on the cross to take away your sin, the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.

The Lord is still present in His temple for you: that’s why this world is not forsaken. It’s just that, rather than a temple made of large stones, He now dwells in the temple of His means of grace—but He just as surely, fully there as He was in the temple in our text. It’s little wonder that the means of grace are held in such low esteem today, for Christ was treated the same way in Jerusalem. But He is present, and He will not forsake you. Whatever distress you see in this world, the Lord is as near to you as His Word and Sacraments. You will not be put to shame on Judgment Day. You will straighten up and raise your head in the presence of your glorious risen Lord, because you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Categories
Pentecost Sermons

Pentecost 22

Text: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8, 13-17

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle which was read earlier.

What Paul writes to the Thessalonians is most certainly true: “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him…” End times theology is very apparent in our culture today. Christ’s return has been predicted for ages, with none of those ever coming true. When people think about the end of the world, it often seems they are ready to believe any rumor that comes along. This happens especially when people have not carefully studied what God says about that day. It seems that some of the Thessalonians were no different. A false notion about the end of the world was circulating in their congregation. The result was that some of the Thessalonians were becoming “shaken in mind or alarmed.”

This false idea circulating among the Thessalonians had to do with Christ’s return. There were those who were preaching that Christ had come the first time and died; because He is dead, He won’t be coming a second time. Paul makes it clear that Christ will come a second time and we will be gathered to Him.

The Christians at Thessalonica heard the Word of God, but they were hearing lots of other things as well. They believed the word of false prophets that the end was coming very soon. They had given up all activity and waited for the Lord to come. They fell for a false prophet’s lies. For this reason Paul wrote, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in our text: “Let no one deceive you in any way.”

The problem the Thessalonians faced from the false preachers of the day were the signs that they interpreted, signs that supposedly pointed to Jesus’ return. However, these signs were false signs and their preaching was false as well. What they failed to point to, what they failed to utilize were the Scriptures which God had given His people. They had the Word of God and yet, for some in the Thessalonian church, it wasn’t good enough.

You and I have that same Word of God given to us, and yet we find that it isn’t good enough. People find it to be old, rigid, out of date, no longer applicable to today, or even worse, just downright wrong. God’s Word means absolutely nothing to some and that’s where the problem lies.

Regardless of how you and I see the Word of God, it is what it is, it says what it says, it means what it means. If you don’t like what it says, tough. If you don’t agree with what it says, tough. But that wasn’t the consensus with the Thessalonians. They forgot the true meaning of the Scriptures. They forgot the message of Jesus and instead adopted a message of false teaching. The problem that the Thessalonians had with regards to the false teaching is that it was damning. There was no salvation in that teaching, but only the proper teaching of Jesus Christ and who He is and what it was that He came to do, and what He will do in the Second Coming.

What’s the problem with this thinking? It led the Thessalonians away from the truth. It leads us away from the truth. We reject the true Gospel that comes from God’s Holy Word. We despise preaching and God’s Word, and we do not gladly hear and learn it. Our minds are made up; we do not want to be confused by the facts. But the fact of the matter is that if we confess a truth other than that which is proclaimed in Holy Scripture, we will surely be damned to hell.

This is indeed tragic to the Church. This wreaks great havoc upon the Church. It fills the people of God with doctrine that sounds good to our itching ears but damning in the process. What is the Church to do in the face of such false doctrine? Buying into it, we sacrifice our eternal life with God our heavenly Father. Paul tells the Thessalonians to stand firm in the faith that they have been given. They are the chosen ones of God. God chose them “as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” While the Thessalonians may be misguided by the false teaching present in Thessalonica, they are still sheep, loved by the Lord and therefore to be loved and cared for by Paul, a servant of the Lord. Paul thanks God for them because they are “brothers” in the one true faith. Paul thanks God for them because God chose them before time began, elected them to be His adopted children, blessed them with the gift of His Spirit, and by the sanctifying work of that same Spirit set them apart from the rest of an unbelieving world to believe the truth of the Gospel and be saved.

Christ, our Lord, our Word-made-flesh, has dwelt among His people to give us hope in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came to give us life, eternal life in heaven, that we would dine at the marriage Feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end.  Last week we gave thanks to God for those who have gone before us in the faith, who became baptized into Christ, whose sins were forgiven in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, who heard the Word of God and kept it, who feasted on the Lord’s body and blood at His Table—the foretaste of the Feast to come for us and has come for them. This Holy Spirit that we have received calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies, and keeps us in the one true faith. The Holy Spirit calls us with the Gospel, which tells us that Christ died for our sins, and all who believe in Him have eternal life, for He Himself rose to life after dying on the cross, having bled and died to take away our sin.

This is our Gospel as well. It is ours because God has given it to us time and time again. He gave it to us when He removed us from the Garden and gave to us a promise. He gave it to us in a Baby. He gave it to us on the cross. He gave it to us at our Baptism. He gives it to us in the words of absolution. He gives it to us in the Lord’s Supper. He has given to us the Gospel of His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ “so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He has given us the Gospel so that we may believe and not be led astray by Satan and all of his temptuous ways. He has given us that Gospel so that we may remain steadfast in His Word until the second coming of His Son, who will gather all Christians to be with God forever.

Having this promise of eternal life in heaven given to us now and fulfilled there, we rejoice, and we look forward with eager anticipation to the Last Day, for the Holy Spirit gives us the strength to endure these last days on earth until THE Last Day, whenever that will be. St. Paul exhorts us, saying, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” Until then, we remain steadfast in His Word, trusting in the promises which He has given to us, never doubting that His Word will do what it says it will: give to all believers forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Categories
All Saints' Sermons

All Saints’ Day

Texts: Revelation 7:9-17; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The texts for the sermon are the readings for All Saints’ Day read earlier.

When we come to today in the Church Year, All Saint’s Day, it can be a sad day for some, especially for those who have lost loved ones recently. But the theme for All Saints’ Day isn’t one of sadness, but rather, one of celebration.

Thanks be to God, we have been made saints. I didn’t say that you will be made a saint at some point down the road if you do this or that. No, I said that you have been made a saint already. That is made clear to us from what we hear in our Epistle for today: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” You see, it doesn’t say that you will be made a saint. He makes it clear that you are a saint because you are a child of God. What a wonderful thing to hear for all of us because we need to hear that. We need to hear that God is our Father. We need to hear that God loves us enough to make us His child. We need to hear to what extent God goes to restore things to the way they were meant to be. Again, now, not later. John goes on to say, “Beloved, we are God’s children now….”

Today is indeed one of celebration, and yet it is one of sadness for some. We who believe in Jesus areGod’s saints, but we are not immune to sorrows. Quite the contrary. Yet, on this All Saints’ Day, we rejoice, because, yes, life in this world is often a “vale of tears,” but the day is coming when God will wipe away our tears forever.

This world truly is a vale of tears. Even though pop psychology tells us such a view is unhealthy, and advertisers and marketers tell us it’s unnecessary, it remains true. There are so many sources of tears: physical pain, grief over death, injustice, mistreatment, persecution, loneliness or rejection, even our own sin and guilt. Even in our happiest of moments, there is often some sort of sorrow. That is because we live in a sinful and fallen world, filled with sinful and fallen people, including you and I. And yet, there is an end to our tears.

Turning to the Revelation to St. John, we see a glimpse of the Church Triumphant, those who have died in the faith and now rest fully in the arms of God. As John recounts what he sees, those gathered shout out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” The end to our tears comes in what God has done for us through Jesus. This is made clear at the end of our text: “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” This vale of tears in which we find ourselves is merely temporary, for we have a God who is not content with the status quo. We have a God who desires to restore a relationship broken by sin. We have a God who sends His Son to be the sacrificial Lamb, that His shed blood would wash over and cleanse creation, forgiving them of their sins, once and for all.

In true fatherly compassion, God sends Jesus into our vale of tears to end all weeping. You see, we don’t have some God who sits aloof, watching from the outer fringes, content with letting us go about our lives, doing our own thing. No, we have a God who has seen our tears and heard our weeping. But God has done more than just notice our tears and weeping. In Christ, He has entered our valley of sorrows. During His earthly ministry, even Jesus weeps alongside creation: weeping with Mary and Martha at the death of Lazarus, weeping over Jerusalem and its coming divine judgement, crying out in sorrow over the bitter path of betrayal, abandonment, and death that lied before Him.

But Jesus comes to do more than just weep over creation. He comes to redeem creation. He comes to take away their tears, once and for all. He does this by dying on the cross for you. He does this by His blood running over you, clothing you in His righteousness so that you may stand before God reflecting Jesus’ holiness.

The tears you cry are but temporary. This is God’s promise to you. What John sees in his revelation is what has happened because of Jesus. A huge multitude from every nation, all in white, with palm branches and song worshiping Christ the Lamb. No hunger! No thirst! And no tears! The blood of the Lamb will have made all the difference. It’s only the blood of the Lamb that makes this vale of tears pass away.

As Jesus delivers the Beatitudes in our Gospel, He tells us what we should look forward to: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” It is Christ who does the Beatitudes perfectly because it is Christ who perfectly embodies the holy will and Law of God. The Law, even though it was given through Moses, points to Christ as its fulfillment. Jesus is the righteous Son of Adam and the One who will come to judge the quick and the dead on that great and terrible Day of the Lord. However, Christ is greater than even the Law. Jesus is not simply the commands of God in human flesh; he is the whole Word of God incar­nate, “founder and perfecter of our faith.” His justice serves his mercy; his holiness serves his loving kindness and compassion for a wayward, turned-into-itself humanity.

For all the saints, both in the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant, we shout one thing: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” The victory is there because God has saved the saints. He has saved them through the Lamb, for in Christ are they saved from their sins. He has saved them from their enemies, for nothing can separate them from God, not even death.

We receive this calling as saints by God Himself. It’s not because we are so brave or so strong. It’s not because we’ve done great things in our lives; it’s because of Jesus that you belong to God. You have received the white garment washed in the blood of the lamb: “Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness / My beauty are, my glorious dress.”

Cherish your Baptism. God has said that He loves you and that you are His own, and His Word stands. We would be wise to heed the words of Luther: “We must think this way about Baptism and make it profitable for ourselves. So when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say, ‘Nevertheless, I am baptized. And if I am baptized, it is promised to me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body’”

Rejoice, dear saints, for your name has been written in the Lamb’s book of Life. You have been washed in His blood and made white as snow. You have sins forgiven. You have God’s name placed upon you. Blessed are you, for you have the Good News of Jesus preached to you. All of Christ and his perfect life and sacrificial death in our place is ours the hour we are washed and made his own. All the baptized—on earth and in heaven—are the Lord’s precious, bought-with-his-blood saints. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Categories
Reformation Sermons

Reformation

Text: John 8:31-36

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel which was read earlier.

There’s a very real, terrifying statement that appears in our Epistle reading for today, one that is not something we want to hear, and yet it is needed for us to hear: “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” There it is. I said it, but I don’t like it: I’m a sinner. But at least I find myself in good company because all of you are there along with me. That’s about as Law as Law can get. If there was only a way to turn that negative into a positive. Fortunately for all of us, there is. That positive comes in our Gospel from John 8 for this Reformation Day: “So if the Son set you free, you will be free indeed.”

Once you have heard the Law, you need to hear the Gospel. Once you have been assaulted with the truth of your sinfulness, you need to hear what happens to that sin. Unfortunately, there are different responses to what happens to that sin or what could happen. 500 years ago, the prominent teaching of the Church was that sin could be forgiven by Jesus. But it could also be forgiven by indulgences, praying to saints or relics, or just downright paying to have your sins forgiven. But that’s not what Paul says in Romans. He says, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

Whatever you do or try to do to earn your salvation, it’s man’s work. That means that man is in the driver’s seat and that never works because man is sinful. That’s a problem for you because you can’t save yourself. But in reality, that’s a not a problem for you; rather, it’s a blessing! Paul goes on to say, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law….” So, God has made it clear that the Law won’t save you. He also makes it clear who does save you: “[we] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”

You see, the work of salvation is solely that of God through Jesus. Where are you in this equation? You’ve already done your part in this – you’ve sinned. And because you have sinned, that means that you are excluded from the work of salvation. And so, your salvation comes from outside of you through Jesus.

Why is this teaching so important? Because it’s the true Gospel that leads to salvation. It was that Gospel that was hidden from the people 500 years ago. That’s why it’s all the more important for us to hear our Gospel today: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” That is the Gospel my friends. The Gospel is Jesus. The Gospel is Jesus for you. That’s what was missing when the Reformation began.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we are indeed slaves to our sin. Those at the time of Jesus didn’t think they were slaves. They even tell Jesus, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.” Despite all the times God’s people were made slaves, they missed the greater point that they were slaves to their sin. Prior to our text, Jesus tells them, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” He then follows up by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” The only one who can set you free from sin is Jesus; the only problem was that they didn’t believe it.

At first, even Luther failed to believe it. He knew that he was trapped, but he thought it was the fact that he was sinful that was causing his slavery. He could never find freedom from that. And in a way, no one, Christian or non-Christian, ever can. We remain sinful even today. And nothing can change that fact. Nothing can redeem us from our sins except Jesus, and that was what the Jews needed to hear from Jesus, that’s what Luther needed to hear from Jesus, and that’s what you need to hear from Jesus.

You need the truth in order to be set free from sin and forgiven. The truth is only found in Jesus Christ and what He has done. The truth is that you “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Because you have sinned, there is no way that you could keep the Law. Because you have sinned, there is no way that you could do any good work to earn your salvation. Instead, you “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus….”

Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have been shown the truth. It is through that truth that God sets His people free, for it reveals Jesus and His work of salvation; through the Gospel He comes to a person and makes that person a believer in Him, Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. When a person believes in Christ, he is freed from being a slave to spiritual falsehoods, freed from believing in all that deceives and gives false salvation.

Paul writes a profound truth to the Galatians, one that is a profound truth to us all: “For freedom Christ has set us free.” The message of the Scriptures uncovered by the Reformation is that by faith in Christ, before God we are free, saved by God’s grace alone, for the sake of Christ alone, through faith alone. And this is the true freedom. In Jesus, we are free from the guilt of our sin, free from the power of death to destroy us, and free to live for Jesus and for others.

But now Jesus adds, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” Abide: It means remain, sit down in, rely on, live in my teaching. You see, the Word of God is what works faith in a person. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” Scripture says. But faith not only originates in the Word; the Word of God is also what keeps faith alive. Faith always comes from the outside in. So, for faith to stay alive, not just strong or growing, but to stay alive, we must abide in the Word of God and the Word of God abide in us.

The truth will set you free. The truth is all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are all slaves to sin. What a comfort it is then to hear the words that end today’s Gospel. “The son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The Son of God Himself is the truth that sets us free. To know that truth, then, is to be set free from slavery.

There is nothing that any of us can do to gain heaven. Salvation is entirely a gift of God. A gift is something freely given, which the giver expects no payment in return. The Roman Catholic Church wanted to put a price tag on that salvation by indulgences and works. As we read the Scriptures, there is only one price tag for our salvation and that is the blood of Christ. It is the price that was to be paid for a gift that was to be freely given.

When one hears the teaching of the Church at Luther’s time, how could one accept it? How could you accept that God sent His very Son to take on human form, to live a sinless life, to die for your sinful life so that you may receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, but in order to receive all of this, you have to do something to earn it! That is not a gift! That is something that which you earn yourself. That’s not what the Scriptures teach.

Salvation, by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone, as found in Scripture alone, is the basis of our daily Christian life because that is what the Word of God teaches. The Reformation and the work of Luther was nothing more than opening the eyes of God’s people to His holy Word so we may see that this wonderful gift of faith is ours, not because of what you and I do, but it is ours solely because of what our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has done for us. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

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Pentecost Sermons

Pentecost 19

Text: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle which was read earlier.

To continue from St. Paul’s letter to the young pastor Timothy, he encourages Timothy to do something, something that should be common sense to him and to everyone for that matter: “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed….” In other words, don’t deviate from what you have already learned. That makes perfect sense when you think about it. Why would you take something that you already know, ideally something that you are quite confident in and turn it upside down and start believing in something else? When you think about it, it doesn’t make any sense to Paul, and so it shouldn’t make any sense to Timothy either. And in turn, it shouldn’t make any sense to the Ephesians either.

As we look at young Timothy, we see how he has been raised in the faith. Although his father was a Greek who did not allow his son to be circumcised, Timothy was blessed with a mother and grandmother who nurtured him in spiritual things. He was convinced by the Gospel before Paul’s second visit to Lystra, his hometown. From there, he was Paul’s co-worker and fellow missionary, constantly learning from the second-best teacher there ever was.

The basics which Paul had learned from Jesus, the basics which Timothy had learned, and the basics which you and I have learned come from God Himself through the Scriptures. As Paul says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Paul is not speaking about pagan or philosophical resources. He is attesting the divine origin of the Old Testament, as Peter also does: “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Unlike other writings, these Holy Scriptures are emphatically “useful,” useful for the spiritual growth of those who know them and believe them. They are useful because they tell our story: the story of how God created us in His own image – perfect and without sin. They tell the story of how we sinned and death became a part of our lives. They tell the story of how God promised to send a Savior to redeem us from death. They tell the story of what Jesus did to redeem us sinners – how He lived, died, and rose again on our behalf to restore us as God’s children.

For the Christian, we are charged with one thing: be faithful to the Word of God. Unfortunately, that is something that is rather difficult in today’s day and age. We have the world telling us things that run complete opposite to that of the Word of God. We have the world telling us that the Word of God is archaic and no longer applies to us so it must be changed. We have the world telling us that the God of the Scriptures is the same as other gods, and that even though we call them different names, it really is the same god.

We must as Christians, remain faithful to the Word of God as recorded for us in the Bible. It means holding steadfast to God and the promises that He makes for us through Jesus Christ. That means looking only to Jesus for our forgiveness and salvation, for salvation cannot be found in anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ. However, that is not what the world would have us hear. They would have us hear that one can be saved apart from Jesus Christ, that one can be saved through their own merits and that there does not need to be a reliance on a man who lived and died and stayed dead. If you haven’t figured it out yet, the world lies to you, deceiving you by passing off salvation that isn’t really salvation. Something must be true, but where do we turn? We turn to the Word of God.

How is this done? Martin Luther explains just how to do this in the explanation of the Third Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Luther writes in the Small Catechism, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” There isn’t much to it: don’t despise the Word of God, but gladly desire to hear it. It sounds simple, but like much of the Christian’s work, they are very hard words to live by. They mean always coming to church, willingly; anxious and eager to hear God’s Word, through the sermon or through Bible studies. It is a tough task for everyone. There have been those Sundays where, in my youth, going to church was the last thing that I wanted to do. There have been those times where even when I was sitting in the pews, I mentally “checked out” during the sermon, because it was the same thing that I hear in every sermon – that Jesus lived and died for my sins.

This was the same sermon I heard from my pastor, Sunday in and Sunday out for 52 weeks straight! I already knew all of this; surely my pastor had something else he could have preached! But this was the sermon that he preached, every single Sunday. As much as I wanted to hear something different, the central focus of the sermon never changed. This was the message that I needed to hear!  This is the message that you need to hear, every single Sunday. That’s the message I pray that I preach every Sunday because that’s what you need to hear, for it is the power unto salvation.

Luther expounds upon this in much greater detail in the Large Catechism. He writes, “Let me tell you this, even though you know God’s Word perfectly and are already a master in all things: you are daily in the devil’s kingdom. He ceases neither day nor night to sneak up on you and to kindle in your heart unbelief and wicked thoughts against these three commandments and all the commandments. Therefore, you must always have God’s Word in your heart, upon your lips, and in your ears.” 

We as the Church need to know one thing: the Word of God is not popular. It wasn’t popular in the time of the Old Testament, it wasn’t popular in the time of the New Testament, and it’s not popular today. There will always be something more poplar. There will always be a new fad when it comes to religion. But none of that, absolutely none of that, will do anything to save you. The only thing that will save you is what has been revealed to us through God’s holy Word.

Since 1942, that is exactly what the LWML has been doing – spreading the Word of God, one mite project at a time, bringing that Word of God to places that have never heard it, strengthening ongoing ministries in their proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. By their work, their mites, and their dedication to the Gospel, they have continued in what they have learned and have firmly believed.

For that reason, the sake of the Gospel, that is why Paul impresses upon Timothy the need to remain steadfast in the faith. For that reason, it is impressed upon the Church today to remain steadfast in the faith. St. Peter writes, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith….” What is at stake is not mere child’s play; it is your eternal salvation. Because of this saving message of Jesus Christ and what it means for all who believe, we are left with one thing to do: be faithful to the Word. We are faithful to the Word that promises forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. We are faithful to the Word because it does what it says it does. We are faithful to the Word because it “is breathed out by God.” We are faithful to the Word because God is and always will be faithful to us, declaring us forgiven for Jesus’ sake. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Categories
Pentecost Sermons

Pentecost 18

Text: 2 Timothy 2:1-13

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for our sermon is our Epistle which was read earlier.

Children need a lot of help, especially in their younger years. They are unable to adequately care for themselves or provide the basics which they need to live and thrive. Thus, they need help from outside of them to nurture them and help them grow. The same thing can be said about the Christian. In our child-like faith, we need help, we need to be cared for. St. Paul, when writing to young Timothy, tells him something that all Christians need to hear: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

All of us are indeed children in the faith. I say that because not a single one of us has all the answers of faith. There are questions that are left unanswered this side of heaven, and that’s okay. We are not called to have all of the answers, but rather, to believe that which Christ our Lord has done for us with regards to our salvation. We aren’t able to explain everything in the most eloquent of ways, and yet we still believe and hold this faith as true.

The encouragement that all Christians need to hear is the same thing that Paul told Timothy: “be strengthened.” But Paul just doesn’t tell them to be strengthened. He doesn’t leave it to their own interpretation of what to be strengthened in. And all as you all know, the world has plenty that it will put forward to you as truth, as a way or means of salvation. But all of those things are fleeting at best; here today and gone tomorrow. While they may promise quick and easy results now, those results will not last. That is why Paul gives them the object of which to be strengthened in: “the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

Nothing you can find in this world will give you that peace and comfort that Christ can give. You can look high and low and you will not find that which Paul speaks of outside of the Church. And so what Paul tells Timothy is the same thing that you need to hear: “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus….” That is the message that every pastor of the Gospel needs to be preaching and that is the message that every hearer of the Gospel needs to hear, not just today, not just on Sundays, but every single day of their life. It is not a matter of wanting to hear, but needing to hear of the grace of God shown to us in Christ.

From the instant man fell to sin, God made a promise, a promise that He would extend His grace to us through a promised heir. That promised heir did everything that you could not do. He kept God’s Law when you would continually break it. He remained faithful to God when you would turn away from Him. Jesus, earned life for you through His death. Jesus gave to you a resurrection unto life by His resurrection from the dead. He does and fulfills everything that you and I could not do, thus earning for us God’s grace.

But ask yourself if you deserve God’s grace. What is so good about you that you deserve what Jesus has done on your behalf? What great accomplishment have you achieved that would cause the Creator of all things to send His only begotten Son into this fallen creation so that He would die for the likes of sinners like us?  That’s where grace comes in. Nothing about us is redeemable. We are sinners. We have broken God’s commandments time and time again. We turn away from Him when we desperately need Him the most, and yet God still sends Jesus for us.

Paul tells Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead…” Isn’t it taken for granted that Christians remember Jesus Christ? Paul knows, however, that in the stress of life on earth and even in the noise of religious work it is all too easy to forget Jesus Christ. Christians need to be encouraged to have Jesus and His saving work in mind continually. We need to remember at all times and in all places that Jesus Christ is indeed risen from the dead. It is a constant remembrance of who Jesus Christ is and what it is that Jesus Christ has done: that He is the very Son of God and that “he has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.” These words that Martin Luther wrote are not just mere words. These are words that every Christian needs to hear because they say exactly what it is that Jesus Christ has done for us. Words that sound so simple to us were words that meant a great deal to Luther and are words that should mean a great deal to all of us, for they say exactly what Christ has done for us.

How easy it is for us to forget that our strength relies upon Jesus Christ and not ourselves. However, that’s not what the world would have us hear. The world tells us that it’s not Jesus that saves but it’s everything but Jesus that saves. Best case is that we hear that Jesus is just one of many means of salvation. If that were the case, then why does Jesus go to such great lengths to assert that He and He alone is the sole means of salvation? Why is it that Jesus is the only one who gives His life in order to save us if we can be saved by other means?

Heaven is yours because Jesus has done all the work of living for you, dying for you, rising for you and ascending for you. He’s done all the work of giving you forgiveness and faith in Baptism, and continues to forgive you and strengthen you in His Word and Supper. That’s the Gospel. It’s all His doing.

For Paul, he knew what was at stake: the salvation of the Church. He risked his own life, time and time again to preach the Gospel. However, he doesn’t care. He reminds Timothy why he has done what he has done: “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” Concern for the salvation of these elect is for Paul another motive for perseverance in Christian ministry. He has the eyes of Jesus toward the lost. He has a love for the lost that moves him to be a slave to everyone and to become all things to all men. He is more concerned with evangelizing the world than with his own personal comfort, safety or wealth. He truly has the Christ-like concern for those who have come to faith in Christ and for those who have not.

We persevere in our faith, just as Christ Jesus persevered in His. We persevere because of the final words of St. Paul: “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him…” We have the faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord, given to us by the Holy Spirit at our Baptism. Let this be the focus of our lives, for now and for all eternity. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Categories
Pentecost Sermons

Pentecost 17

Text: Luke 17:1-10

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

In the 1960s and 70s, a comedian named Flip Wilson had a character named Geraldine Jones. One of her popular catch phrases that was introduced into popular culture was, “The Devil made me do it.” Strangely enough, Geraldine is right. Our Gospel begins with Jesus saying to the disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” God does not cause temptations to come; that is the result of the devil. God does not cause sin to come; that too is the result of the devil, and God merely allows it. The devil brought sin and temptation into the world and we have paid the price for it ever since the Fall.

The emphasis that Jesus makes in this verse is, “…woe to the one through whom they come!” That is exactly what happened to devil, one of God’s created beings. Thinking he was on par or better than the Creator, he revolted and ultimately lost against God and was cast out. That’s good news for us, but the damage had already been done. Temptation and sin entered into the world and there was no going back. Because human beings are sinful, they will at times disturb the faith of others or mislead them into sin. Their example, whether it is in words or in acts, can cause others to be trapped by unbelief or sin. But Jesus doesn’t want His disciples or believers of the present day to take a careless attitude toward giving offense simply because everybody is doing it.

Since giving offense has such serious consequences, Jesus says, “Pay attention to yourselves!” Don’t do anything that could cause people to sin or which would disturb their faith. He mentions “these little ones” in particular. Jesus spoke similar words of warning when He called a little child and had him stand among them. Little children as a rule trust their elders and expect them to be wiser than they are. But it isn’t only children who can be led astray. It can happen to any believer and especially to believers who are still just beginning in their life as Christians and thus are like little children. Jesus wants us to be very careful not to cause anyone to sin. But that is difficult to do.

Jesus continues with a very difficult concept for many to put into practice in the way that Jesus teaches and commands us: forgiveness. Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” He gives the example of a brother, a fellow believer. This brother sins. He is my brother, and his sin puts his soul into danger. I want him to repent and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. If he accepts our rebuke and repents, we are to forgive him and let him know that we are only doing what the Lord has done first. We forgive, because God first forgave us. This is what John says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

If someone’s sin troubles us, it is never easy to forgive. But Jesus wants us to forgive and to do so even when it is difficult to do. This is what Jesus said in verse 3. But now in verse 4 He speaks of a brother who sins directly against us. We have been hurt, but we should still be ready to forgive him if he repents. Are we going to say, “Once is enough”? Jesus mentions what might be the hardest case of all. A brother sins against me not only once, not only twice, but seven times, and he does this all in the same day at that. What are we called to do? Our sinful nature says I’ll forgive you once, but that’s it. If you commit the same sin against me multiple times, eventually, I’ll reach the limit of forgiveness shown to you. But that’s not what Jesus says to do. He says, “and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” That does not mean that Jesus wants us to keep a record of each time someone sins. He wants us to be ready to forgive no matter how often our brother sins against us.

So, what do we do when we fall prey to temptation? What do we do when we lead people astray? We do the only thing we can do: repent. We repent of our sin and we receive the forgiveness of God as won for us by Jesus Christ.

There is only one faith that saves, and it is not faith in this world. There is only one faith in which we are redeemed, and it doesn’t come by ordinary means. It comes from the death of an innocent. It comes from blood that was shed and washes over you. It comes from Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone.

There is something that is necessary in all of this: “The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” With more faith, they’ll be up to the task. They’ll be able to live without offense. They’ll be able to forgive. They just need more faith. The Lord replied with an answer that indicates it is not the size of the faith, but the object of the faith that is important. With the image of the tiny mustard seed, Jesus taught that even the smallest faith accomplishes remarkable things. That is because it is not the faith in and of itself that accomplishes these things. It is the almighty power of God in whom even the smallest faith believes that accomplishes these things.

What does the Church have if it doesn’t have faith? We receive this wonderful gift of faith by which God has called out the great darkness into His marvelous light. A people once dead raised to new life through faith in God’s Son. We are in the world, but not of the world. To the world, we are complete strangers, speaking with a strange accent and walking to a strange beat. But by faith, we speak the ancient language of Holy Scripture. We are washed clean in our Baptism into Christ and receive faith. Through faith and by faith do we eat the body and drink the blood of God’s Son at our altars. A pastor stands in the place of Christ and forgives all of our sins. In all, faith is the key; a faith given and a faith that is strengthened.

The smallest, weakest faith is faith in Jesus as Savior of the world. So even our small, insignificant faith has great power to save us and lead us through whatever darkness awaits us in the future. For in the smallness of our faith in Christ is concealed God’s great power.

The final verses in today’s Gospel deal with the temptation that can come along when God does great things through our tiny little faith. It is very easy to believe that we deserve some sort of special recognition because God has done such great things in our presence. After Jesus ascended into heaven and poured the Holy Spirit out on these Apostles, they healed the sick, they drove out demons, the lame walked, even the dead lived again. The devil would use these great things to tempt the apostles into thinking how great they were.

At the end of today’s Gospel, we heard Jesus say, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” When God does some great work through us, we should not wait around expecting Him to applaud. Even when our accomplishments are outstanding, we deserve no congratulations. We are merely doing our duty.

Instead of looking to praise for yourself, look to Jesus Christ on the cross. It is there that you will see that God has already given you everything. Baptized into his death and resurrection, you no longer require recognition based on the successes He places in your life. Instead of coveting praise from others, you rest on Jesus’ service for you as He took your sin, your guilt, your death to Himself. He has prepared the eternal clothing of His righteousness for you. Because the Holy Spirit has placed you in Christ, His humble service is the object of your faith. He gives His body and blood to you at the table He sets for you. In this meal He gives you forgiveness, life, salvation, and the strength to go about doing your Christian duty as God’s humble servant, loving God and loving your neighbor, in the various vocations God gives you.

In Jesus Christ, we already have all things. Forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life are already yours in Him, for you receive all this now by faith even if that faith is small. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

Categories
Pentecost Sermons

St. Michael and All Angels

Text: Revelation 12:7-12

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

Angels, they’re always a popular topic to people. We are told as a child that our guardian angels are ever protecting us. We have the erroneous perception that when we die, we become an angel. There have been television shows devoted to angels, such as “Highway to Heaven” and “Touched by an Angel” and their work on earth, at least according to Hollywood. But what is the true role of angel in God’s creation?

Today gives us an opportunity to remember St. Michael and All Angels. We remember the work of the angelic host and how they are God’s servants to His people. Angels are best known for their true purpose: messengers of God. It was an angel who brought good tidings to the saints of God in the Old Testament, as well as to Zechariah, Joseph, and Mary. Besides the role of messenger, we see other roles the angels serve in. For instance, in the Garden of Eden, an angel was placed at the entrance of the Garden following Adam and Eve’s dismissal from the Garden. Angels guard us when we are in peril. The angel of God stopped the mouths of the lions when Daniel was cast into their den. An angel delivered the Apostle Peter from the cruelty of Herod. An angel gave bread and water for Elijah when he sat starving under the broom tree. In working for our protection and benefit, they render perfect service to their Lord and creator.

Angels come as great heralds of God’s Word and they come to minister to people in their times of need. But as we see in our text from Revelation today, angels have another role in which they serve God: as warriors in battle.

Our text begins with a statement that boggles the mind—there was a war in heaven! It sounds strange to us that there could ever be a war in heaven. How could this be? Heaven is eternal bliss in the glorious presence of God. It is peace and everlasting blessedness—how could a war take place here? But St. John records for us the fact that a war occurred.

We have to remember that war has raged in heaven ever since Satan strived to show that he was superior to God. Within the first six days of creation, God created the angelic beings. Also during that time, Lucifer, known better as Satan, sought to assert his superiority over God and was struck down by God.

This war in heaven is truly waged against God and His creation. From Lucifer’s revolt to the Fall into sin, Satan has had it out for God and His creation. This war that John writes about is the war of words that Satan has perpetrated against men since the Fall into sin, for he is the accuser, who accuses us of our sin and iniquity before God in heaven. He tempted Adam and Eve, and because of that, evil triumphantly entered the world and Satan became the prince of this world. Since the Fall, the devil was permitted to retain a certain power over the earth. Satan extended his rule over the whole of humanity, for sin is an ever-present reality to God’s creation.

Satan stands as our accuser to God. Here he makes his case, condemning mankind before the judgment seat of God. Unlike lying and deceiving to Adam and Eve and all of creation, what he tells God is true. We are guilty for we have sinned. Such a war between the deceiver and God’s heavenly angels is a war beyond our comprehension. You and I and all of God’s creation are at stake in this war. For while Satan might lie to us, we cannot say that he lies about us. He might deceive men on earth, but he cannot pull the wool over the eyes of Almighty God. And he doesn’t have to. We are all sinners in need of forgiveness.

Satan takes his war beyond heaven and wages it fully against the Church. This war will rage until the end of time, until the Seconding Coming of Christ. But until then, Satan will unleash all that he has at God’s creation, going back to the number one tool in his bag of tricks: doubt. That is what he used on Eve and it proved successful. That is what he uses against the people of God, hoping to ensnare them in doubting God’s Word, questioning the great love that God has for His creation. The assaults of the devil continue to plague the Church as a whole and the Church individually, for these are assaults that you and I face daily.

We know how this war ends. St. John records for us that Satan and his minions were defeated. He writes: “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb….” The war is finally over and God has prevailed, just as He promised in the Garden of Eden. It ends with the complete overthrow of the devil and his minions. Revelation 20:10 says, “and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

Satan has been forever defeated because of the blood of Christ shed upon the cross. Salvation is now ours; not something that will come at a later time, but a salvation that is yours now because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

St. Michael and all the angels are victorious in their fight against Satan and his minions. Yet they triumphed over him not on account of their own might, but because God Himself sent His only Son to atone for the sins of the world. The power of sin, death, and hell have been destroyed, for Christ Jesus has already defeated their master, the devil.

Therefore rejoice in Christ Jesus, for salvation to us has come. Give thanks to God for His messengers, who brought good tidings of great joy and who serve their Lord in perfect holiness, seeking our benefit and protection. Rejoice in their defeat of Satan and his minions, with Michael leading the charge. But above all, rejoice in knowing that you have the forgiveness of all of your sins, and that your names are written in heaven in the Lamb’s Book of Life, because of the supreme victory of Satan, sin and death on account of Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name, amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.