Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, November 30, 2008

First Sunday in Advent

First Sunday in Advent (B)
November 30, 2008
Text: Mark 11:1-10

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down” cries the Prophet Isaiah (64:1; ESV). And such is the cry of every Christian. For only if the Savior of the nations comes, only if He stoops down to us, only if He takes on our flesh and becomes one with us, will we be saved. Come, Lord Jesus, we pray. Amen. Come quickly. Come and deliver us. For we have destroyed ourselves with our sin. “Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities” (vv. 5-7). O Lord, reveal Yourself to us as a gracious Savior. Come to us and deliver us. For without You, we perish.

The people of God long for the coming of Jesus. The people of God in the Old Testament longed for the coming of Jesus for several thousand years. Ever since Adam and Eve committed the original sin and so plunged creation into the fall, the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth, groaning for deliverance from sin, from death, from the devil, from hell. Ever since God promised our first parents that He would send the Seed of the woman to crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15), the people of God have waited, and prayed, and cried out to their God for the fulfillment of the prophecy. “Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people” (Is. 64:9). “Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved” (Ps. 80: 7). Have mercy, O Lord. Send the promised Messiah, the Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. And then, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4). He came as a little baby, the Word becoming flesh and making His dwelling among us, that we might behold the glory of God, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). He was born of the Virgin Mary in a little stable in Bethlehem, and the angels lauded His coming. He grew in wisdom and stature. He lived a holy life before God, without sin, perfectly fulfilling the Law of God, all as Paul says, to redeem those who were under the Law, to redeem sinners, to redeem you and me. For His righteousness was to be given away. The Lord had heard the cries of His people. He had answered their prayers. The Lord God had rent the heavens and come down to bestow His righteousness, His justification, His salvation on the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. The Seed of the woman, the Seed of Mary, had come to crush the serpent’s head. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he” (Zech. 9:9b).

So it is that Jesus is greeted with shouts of “Hosanna!” as He enters the holy city of Jerusalem. Hosanna, a cry of exultation, but with a meaning: “Save us!” There’s that cry of the Prophet Isaiah again. There’s that longing of God’s people for His deliverance. And here is Jesus, riding into Jerusalem, just as God through the Prophet Zechariah said the Messiah would: “behold, your king is coming to you… humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The people of Jerusalem recognize the triumphal entry of their King, the Son of David, into the royal city. They spread their palm branches and their cloaks on the road before Him, a royal highway. It is a plea that Jesus would stop and come down from the donkey and bestow His salvation upon them here and now. And all the while the people are shouting their praise and their prayer, “Hosanna! Save us, Lord.” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

The Lord rends the heavens wide and comes down to His people. He meets them in their sin and wretchedness. He heals their diseases. He gives sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf. The lame walk and the poor have the Good News preached to them. Jesus raises the dead. And He forgives sins. Only God can forgive sins. Here God in the flesh has come for this very purpose. He has come to forgive, to save. When Jesus rides into the city in our text, He is riding to His death. He knows what will happen this holy week. Yet He goes willingly, in love, for you. He takes the sins of the people upon Himself. He bears those sins all the way to Calvary. As heavy as the Roman cross may have been upon His back, it was nothing in comparison with the weight of our sin. Jesus of Nazareth, the Seed of the woman, the promised Christ, bears all the weight of all the sins of all people of all time and all places in His body on the tree of the cross. He is nailed to the cross to suffer the punishment we deserve. He suffers hell itself in our place. He bears the wrath of God so that you and I don’t have to. Beloved, Advent, which means “coming,” is all about the coming of God in the flesh to suffer and die on Good Friday. God has heard our cry, “Hosanna! Save us!” Your King has come, to be crowned with thorns, to be enthroned on the cross, to die. And in His death He has purchased you to be His people, His beloved subjects. The price on your head was God’s blood. And God so loved you that He sent His Son to pay the price of your ransom in full.

But beloved in the Lord, the death of Jesus on the cross is not the end of the story, as you know full well. Christ is risen. And here is the Good News for you, the Promise beyond all expectation: Your Lord still comes to you. He comes to you continually. He has not left you as orphans. He comes to you now, today, here, in this place. He comes in His blessed Word and Sacraments. What grace! For you still need Him. You still cry Hosanna. For even though the war has been won, sin has been conquered, hell has been defeated, Satan’s head crushed, and death mortally wounded… even though Jesus has conquered these, your greatest enemies, you still battle in the flesh. You still suffer. You still suffer from sickness and disease. You still sin, and you still suffer the consequences of sin. The devil still tempts you and accuses you and seeks to devour you. Your loved ones still die, and unless the Lord hastens His second coming, you will have to die, too. Yes, even though Jesus has come as Savior, you still pray Hosanna. You still pray for your salvation. You still pray that Jesus would come to you. And He does. He comes in the way He has promised, in His holy Word preached and read, in the absolution, in your Baptism, in the Supper of His body and blood. In all of these ways Jesus bestows on you all the benefits of His life, His death, His resurrection. He makes you God’s own child. He pours out His Holy Spirit upon you. He gives you His righteousness. He forgives your sins. Through these means of grace, Christ comes to you and dwells with you.

And He will not leave you to suffer forever. He will come to you in yet another way. He will come again, visibly, on the Last Day, to deliver you and the fallen creation. On that Day He will raise all the dead from the grave, and He will judge. Those who believe in Him will receive eternal life in a new heaven and a new earth. Those who do not believe in Him will receive eternal punishment in hell. But beloved, because Christ has come as your Savior, and because He comes to you continually in His Word and Sacrament to give you His gifts, you need not fear this Judgment. There is only one possible verdict for those in whom Christ dwells and who dwell in Christ. That verdict is innocent, more than that, righteous. Not account of your works. No, you have no righteousness of your own, nothing remotely righteous within you. But on account of Christ. You are righteous with His righteousness. This will be a day of great rejoicing for you. When the Lord Jesus returns in the glory of His Father with the holy angels, you will rejoice greatly, for you will know that God has come to restore you, to deliver you from sin and death once and for all, to make all that is wrong in the world right again. You will know that the Lord is rending the heavens to come down and save you, and that the salvation Jesus won for you on the cross in His first coming, the salvation that He has continually given you in Word and Sacrament throughout your earthly life, will finally be revealed in all its fullness, fulfilled in all its glory. So you continue to pray, “Hosanna!” You continue to pray that the Lord would rend the heavens and come down. You continue to cry with God’s people of all ages, “Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!” And in the meantime you trust. You trust Him, and you listen to His Word, and you come to His Table. You live each day confidently in your Baptism. You wait in hopeful and joyful expectation. And you prepare to celebrate another Christmas, knowing that the King born in Bethlehem “will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Last Sunday in the Church Year

Last Sunday in the Church Year (A)
November 23, 2008
Text: Matt. 25:31-46

As confused as many people are about the final Judgment, what it will be like, what will precede it and what will follow it, many even denying that there will be such a Judgment, the holy Scriptures describe the Judgment quite simply: Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. On a day known only to God, Jesus will suddenly appear with His holy angels, all the dead will be raised, and all people of all times and all places will be gathered before Him to be judged. That means you will be there, too. And in our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus describes how this judgment will take place. Christ Himself will divide the sheep from the goats, the righteous from the unrighteous, the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. And then He will bring the sheep into His Kingdom to enjoy eternal life with Him. But the goats He will cast into hell.

But if we don’t read this Gospel lesson very carefully, we might be confused as to what makes a sheep a sheep, and what makes a goat a goat. For it sounds as though Jesus is saying that the sheep have earned heaven by their good works, and that the goats have earned hell by their failure to do good works. And such a reading of our text, beloved, would be precisely wrong. It is true that when Jesus invites the sheep to inherit the Kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world, He points out their good works, good works done to the neighbor, which were really good works done to Christ Himself. And it is true that when Jesus sends the goats to hell, He points out their lack of good works, their failure to love and serve their neighbor, and so their failure to love and serve Christ Himself. But note one thing very carefully: The division of sheep and goats takes place before any works are mentioned. The Judgment has already taken place before Jesus hands out rewards and punishments, before the sheep are rewarded for their good works and the goats punished for the lack thereof. There is something far deeper than good works that accounts for the essential difference between the sheep and the goats. And that difference is Christ.

The sheep have Christ. The goats have rejected Christ. During their earthly life, the sheep had the Holy Spirit and faith in Christ. They received the gifts of Christ. The goats did not. And it is on this basis that our Lord Jesus Christ divides between the sheep and the goats. The Good Shepherd knows His own. He calls them with His voice. He bids them enter His sheepfold. But the goats do not belong to Him. They do not listen to His voice. So they are thrown out of the fold. Christ makes all the difference. If you have Christ, you are a sheep. If you do not have Christ, you are a goat. And woe to you!

It is after the division of the sheep and the goats that Jesus mentions works. And here again, whether or not you have Christ, whether or not you are in Christ and He in you, whether or not you possess Him by faith, makes all the difference in what Christ says about your works. When Jesus addresses the sheep, He only mentions the good things they have done, for the least of these, and so for Jesus Himself. Now you and I know that even the strongest Christians, even the greatest saints, are guilty of sin, born with original sin, and having committed all manner of actual sins. And you and I know from experience that no Christian perfectly fulfills his responsibility to the least of these, gives enough time and money and possessions for their aid, prays enough for them, or loves them as he should. We know that even aside from our sins of commission, we are full of sins of omission, that we are wholly deficient in good works. But Jesus doesn’t mention any of this when He addresses His sheep. He only mentions the good. Why is that? It is because when you are in Christ, all of your actual sins of commission and omission, and the very disease of original sin with which all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve are infected, all of this is covered by the blood of Jesus Christ. All of this was nailed to the cross of Christ in His body. He is the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And in exchange for this sin, which our Lord Jesus freely takes upon Himself, we get His righteousness. So when the sheep stand to be judged by our crucified and risen Lord Jesus, when you and I stand before the throne of God, the only thing the Judge will see is His own righteousness. And then He will praise us. We’ll be shocked when He does so, for we remember all the sin and all the failures to love and serve. But He will only point out the good, the good that He Himself has done in us by the power of His Spirit, the good works He uses us to do for our neighbor. We won’t remember those. We already don’t recognize them. But dear mothers, whenever you diaper and feed and clothe your child, you are doing it for Christ. Dear husbands, whenever you love and serve your wife and family, take out the trash, and clean the gutters, you are doing it for Christ. Dear children, whenever you honor your father and your mother and do your homework and your chores, you are doing it for Christ. And whenever you help someone in need, whenever you work faithfully at your job, whenever you serve your fellowman as a citizen of your community, state, country, and world, you are doing so for Christ. You don’t do this to earn anything before God. You’re already a sheep! This is just what sheep do! And Christ will say to you on that Day of Judgment, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me… Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:34-36, 40; ESV).

But what about the goats? Don’t they do the same works we do here on earth? Don’t they diaper and feed and clothe their babies? Don’t they love and serve their wives, honor their fathers and mothers, work faithfully in their jobs, give to charity, work in soup kitchens? Don’t unbelievers do just as many good works as we Christians do? It is true that unbelievers outwardly do wonderful, virtuous good works that benefit many people. An unbeliever may be above reproach and full of good works in the eyes of men, perhaps even excelling beyond most Christians. But remember, an unbeliever does not have Jesus. An unbeliever is not united to Jesus by faith. An unbeliever has refused to be clothed with Christ’s righteousness. And no secrets are hidden before God. On Judgment Day, all will be exposed. So when that unbeliever tries to plead his good works before Jesus on that Day, Jesus will tell him that his works are nothing but sin. Filthy rags. Abominable works done selfishly, to make the unbeliever feel good about himself, to gain the honor of others and perhaps even to earn merit before God. Without Christ there is no such thing as a good work. So when Jesus addresses the goats, He doesn’t mention any of the good. He only mentions the failure of the goats. “For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me… Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (vv. 42-43, 45). Then Jesus casts the goats into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his evil angels (v. 41). Notice how tragic this is. The eternal fire is not prepared for the goats, but only the devil and his angels. God would have all be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. How Jesus longs to make sheep out of goats, believers out of unbelievers. But if, in the end, you are without Christ, if you have rejected Christ and His righteousness, then you will be cast into the eternal fire. You will be raised from the dead to be sure, but raised only for everlasting punishment in hell, eternal death without hope and without the relief of a conclusion, without an end to your suffering.

But the sheep, those who are in Christ on the Last Day, are taken into eternal life, paradise, a new heaven and a new earth, made perfect, without sin, without pain and suffering, without sickness and disease, without death, to live with Christ forever. This is an inheritance prepared from the foundation of the world for all the elect of the Father. Beloved, this inheritance is for you. You cannot earn an inheritance, not even by the best of works. An inheritance, by definition, is given. It is given to you by Christ. It is given to you as He feeds you and gives you to drink of His own body and blood in the Sacrament. It is given to you as He welcomes you into His holy Church, clothes you with the garments of His righteousness in Holy Baptism, visits you with His Word of life. And this is your confidence on Judgment Day: He who serves as your Judge is the same Lord Jesus who so loves you that He gave Himself into death for you on the cross. He is the same Lord Jesus who is risen and has conquered sin and death. He is the same Lord Jesus who has made you a child of the Father and bestows on you His good Spirit. On Judgment Day you will not plead your good works. You will plead Jesus’ blood and righteousness. And Jesus Himself will say to you on that Day, “Come! Come, for you are blessed by my Father. Come, and inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Twenty-seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-seventh Sunday after Pentecost (A)
Nov. 16, 2008
Text: Matt. 25:14-30

Beloved in the Lord, this morning’s Gospel lesson ought to lead us to examine ourselves, for once again, as was true last week with the parable of the ten virgins, there are no obvious, crass unbelievers in our text this morning. In the parable of the talents, the Master clearly represents Jesus who, upon His ascension into heaven, has entrusted the work of His kingdom to His servants, His Church, His Christians, until the Day He visibly returns. The three servants in the text represent Christians to whom our Lord has entrusted certain gifts to be used for His glory. A talent was a great sum of money in the ancient world, by some estimates about 15 years worth of wages for a common laborer. So all three servants are given vast sums of money. Even the servant who is only entrusted with one talent has a great amount over which he is responsible. And the Master entrusts these three servants with different amounts according to their ability, to the first five talents, to the second two talents, and to the third one talent. The Master knows His servants and He knows their capabilities. He knows just the right amount for each one, not so much that the servant will be overwhelmed, and not so little that the servant will not be utilized to his full potential. But one thing each of these three servants have in common: They are to be faithful to their master with what they have been given. It isn’t the amount of the gift that is important, it is rather whether the servant is faithful with that gift.

So it is that the Master leaves on a long journey. He does not say when he will return, but one thing the servants know for certain, He will return and expect a full accounting of His gifts. The servant with five talents wastes no time. He goes out immediately and puts the Master’s talents to work. He trades with them, and makes five talents more. His investment yields 100% return. So also he who has two talents puts those talents to work for the Master, making two talents more. Again, his investment yields 100% return. These two servants take their responsibility to the Master seriously. They know He will come back and demand an accounting of their use of His gifts. They are faithful with what He has given them. They understand that the gifts entrusted to them are not theirs to squander. They belong to the Master, who has graciously bestowed them on His servants. They use the Master’s talents in the way He intends, for His purpose, for His glory. These two faithful servants bear much fruit.

But the servant with only one talent believes the Master to be a hard man. He has no love for the Master. He has served Him outwardly these many years, enough that the Master entrusted Him with a talent, a great sum of money, remember. But he does not serve his Master from his heart. And this shows in his treatment of the talent. He does not put it to work for the Master. He does not even deposit the talent in the bank so it can draw interest. Instead, he buries it in the ground, so that when the Master returns, he can give back exactly what he was entrusted with, nothing more, and nothing less.

After a long time, the Master comes back to settle accounts with His servants. The two faithful servants greet Him with joy. For them, the Master’s return is reason for great rejoicing. For the one with five talents is able to produce for his Master five talents more. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” says the Master. “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21; ESV). He is made a partner in his Master’s business. So also, the one with two talents is able to produce for his Master two more talents. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” says the Master. “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (v. 23). He, too, is made a partner in his Master’s business. But then the servant with one talent slinks forward. The Master’s return is not cause for rejoicing for this servant, for he is able to produce for his Master one, and only one talent, the talent with which the Master had entrusted him. “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours” (vv. 24-25). It is as if this unfaithful servant said, “Because I do not love you, but only work for you to fill my belly and keep warm, I have done the very least, the bare minimum required. I just want to squeak past your wrath. I don’t need to be a super-servant like these other two. Here is what you gave me. I kept it safe for you, just as you commanded.”

Now the Master is incensed! “You wicked and slothful servant! What do you mean I am a hard man? What on earth would give you such a notion? I graciously entrusted you with a talent, 15 years worth of wages, and I gave you full license to invest it in any way you saw fit! If you really believed I was such a hard man, you should have at least taken it to the bank to draw interest. That would have required virtually no effort on your part. But since you have proven your lack of faith and love for your Master, I am going to take your talent and give it to the one who has ten. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. If you are unfaithful with what I have given you, don’t think that you will be allowed to keep it.” So the Master turns to another servant and says, “You there, take this worthless servant and cast him into the outer darkness. The time of mercy has ended. Throw him out where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!”

Now don’t misunderstand the parable, dear brothers and sisters. Under no circumstances are we saved because of our faithful use of God’s gifts. There is a deeper difference between the faithful servants and the unfaithful servant in the parable. The faithful servants want the best for their Master’s fortune. They want to bring Him glory. They want to do well with what He has entrusted to them. And this desire, this love for their Master, can only be the result of faith. But the unfaithful servant, by definition, has no faith. Though he goes through the motions of servanthood, he does not love his Master. He does not trust his Master. He believes his Master to be a hard man. And the point is this: Faith will always be active in using the gifts of God for His glory. Unbelief will always be concerned only with self-preservation. Outwardly all three servants look the same. But inwardly, in the heart, two of the servants fear, love, and trust their Master, but one only fears His wrath.

As I said, this parable should lead us to examine ourselves, to look deep down in our hearts, and to repent. We are all here in church this morning. We all look like faithful servants outwardly. There is no question about that. And God has bestowed on us all manner of gifts, different gifts to each one, different spiritual gifts, different temporal gifts, different abilities, different vocations, and all these gifts in different quantities. But all have been given gifts, and all have been charged to use them faithfully for the glory of God and for the expansion of His kingdom. It behooves us, then, to pause and examine ourselves. Are we being faithful? Where do we need to repent? Do father and mother faithfully bring their children to church to hear the Word of life? Does the child faithfully honor his father and mother? Do husband and wife faithfully love and serve their spouse? Does the employer faithfully compensate his employees, and does the employee faithfully serve his employer? Does the Christian faithfully hear the Word of God and keep it, and does he faithfully support his church and his pastor? And is all of this done in faith? Or are we just going through the motions? Are we trying to squeak by performing the bare minimum of God’s Law, to avoid His wrath and enjoy the honor of our fellow servants? Because that is not Christianity. That is a religion of legalism, not of grace. But if you know how your Master loves you… If you know that He humbled Himself to become one with your flesh, to become a Man for us men and for our salvation, if you know that He died for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins, that He conquered death for you in His resurrection, if you know that He even now sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for you, prays for you, sustains you with His Word and Spirit, feeds you with His Supper, gives you His gifts… if you know this love of the Master, and trust that all these things are for you, you will undoubtedly love Him, repent of your unfaithfulness, and seek to use the gifts He has given you for His glory, and to bring other servants into His kingdom.

But know this: You are saved by His faithfulness, not your own. Jesus never squandered any of the gifts of God. He used them all for your benefit, for the salvation of His servants. He took all your unfaithfulness upon Himself on the cross. He pours out all His faithfulness upon you, credits it to your account, in the Word and in the Sacraments. So now you are free, free to serve Him faithfully, free to use the gifts He has given you without a care for self-preservation, for He has already saved you and preserved you. You are free to use His gifts in the way He has prescribed in His Word, trusting that because the gift is from Him, the investment will yield 100% return, and that the Master will be pleased with you when He comes again. He will come “like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2). But you can rejoice on that Day. For on that Day He will say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Treasury of Daily Prayer

Granted I'm a little behind the times, but I just received my copy of Treasury of Daily Prayer and used it for the first time this morning. What a gift! Many thanks to CPH and those who put the prayer book together. Many of the members here at Epiphany also ordered a copy. I can only imagine how God will give us strength as together, both as congregation and Synod, we read the same Scripture passages and devotions, and hopefully also the suggested Book of Concord readings, and pray the same prayers each day. All thanks and praise be to God.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
November 9, 2008
Text: Matt. 25:1-13

Beloved in the Lord, these final three Sundays of the Church Year we turn our attention to the coming of the Lord as Judge, to the Last things, and to the need of the disciples of Jesus Christ to watch. “Watch therefore,” says Jesus, “for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13; ESV). The Son of Man will return when we least expect Him, “like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2). Therefore Christians take heed. Watch. Be sober and alert. And let not the Lord’s delay, a delay of grace for the sake of those who will yet come to faith in Him, let not that delay lull you into a false sense of security. For be assured, He will return. And you don’t want to be caught without faith on that day. You don’t want to be caught having thought, “Oh, there is still time to believe later. I will repent later. I will make time for the Word of God and His holy Sacraments later. For now, I will enjoy myself and take time for the pleasures and cares of this world.” For if you go on thinking like that, the Lord’s coming will take you unawares. And then there will not be time to repent. There will not be time for coming to faith. The Word and the Sacraments will have been fulfilled. There will be no more chances. The end will have come. Watch therefore, dear Christians, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

For this reason, Jesus tells the Parable of the Ten Virgins. And Christians need to take particular warning from this parable, for the whole parable is about the Baptized. There are no obvious unbelievers in this parable. We often mistakenly take the five foolish virgins to be rank unbelievers. But notice that all ten are virgins. That is to say, all ten are outwardly righteous. They are undoubtedly, all ten of them, members of the Christian congregation, in good standing. They have good works, at least before the eyes of men. They appear to believe. All ten go out with their lamps burning to meet the coming Bridegroom, which is to say, all ten appear to be awaiting the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. And undoubtedly, at least at one time or another, all ten had genuine Christian faith. At this point there is no recognizable difference between the five foolish virgins and the five wise virgins. They all appear to be zealous for the Lord.

And there is yet one more important similarity between the five foolish virgins and the five wise virgins. When the Bridegroom delays, all ten virgins, wise and foolish alike, fall asleep. So whatever the distinction between wise and foolish may be, it is not that the wise are better than the foolish, more vigilant, less sinful. For they all fall into the sleep of sin. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The parable just goes to prove it. The Bridegroom has promised to come soon. Where is He? Why does He delay? Maybe He isn’t coming as soon as He said He would. Maybe He isn’t really coming at all. So the virgins are lulled into a false sense of security. He hasn’t come for the last four hours. Surely He will not come this hour either. All ten virgins begin to get sleepy. They yawn. They stretch. Their eyelids become heavy. And before you know it, all ten are asleep. Isn’t this a picture of you and of me? Do you live your life with the honest expectation that Jesus may return at any moment? Admit it, His delay causes you to lower your guard, as well. You really don’t expect Him. Not today. Maybe not even in your lifetime. You are lulled into a false sense of security. There is always time to repent later, you think. I will set my spiritual affairs in order later. You fail to watch. You get spiritually sleepy, and before you know it, you are right there with the ten virgins, snoring away in your false security.

Suddenly, you are awoken by the sound of a festive procession. The Bridegroom is coming. He is here. Get up! Light your lamps! The time you thought would never come, has come! “‘Wake, awake, for night is flying,’ The watchmen on the heights are crying; ‘Awake, Jerusalem, arise!’” (LSB 516:1). When the Bridegroom arrives in the parable, the lamps of all ten virgins are dead or dying. And here, finally, is the difference between the wise and foolish virgins. The wise have brought extra oil. Somehow, by grace, they didn’t lose faith in the long night of expectation. Somehow, by grace, they believed that though He delay, the Bridegroom really would come. Even though they fell asleep, even though they sinned, they knew that the Bridegroom would come and wake them and take them to the wedding feast. He would do this, though they did not deserve it. He would do it by grace. He would forgive them. He would deliver them out of the darkness of night. The wise virgins were well supplied with the oil of faith. But the five foolish virgins brought no extra oil. They didn’t really believe the Bridegroom would come. They foolishly left their lamps burning through the night, having no oil to spare. They thought there would be plenty of time to go into the city and buy oil later, in the day time, that for now they could sleep. And when the Bridegroom finally appeared, they were caught without oil, without faith. “Give us some of your oil,” they said to the wise virgins, “for our lamps are going out” (Matt. 25:8). But the oil cannot be shared. There is only enough oil for the one who brought it. Each must believe for himself. The foolish virgins must go and buy oil for themselves. But while they are gone, the Bridegroom takes the five wise virgins into the wedding feast and shuts the door. This door, once shut, is never again opened. Cry as they might, “Lord, lord, open to us” (v. 11), the foolish virgins are left out in the cold. Even though they had been outwardly righteous, even though they had been members of the visible Church in good standing, they had no faith, and the Bridegroom pronounces the chilling judgment, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you” (v. 12). Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Beloved, repent. Wake up. Arise. Wipe the sleep out of your eyes. Trim your lamps. For your Lord is coming. He is coming soon. Whether it be a thousand years from now, or ten minutes from now, the Lord is coming very soon. And even if He does not come in your lifetime, no man knows when or how his life will end. Whether the Lord returns in your lifetime or not, you must be ready now. Repent now. Believe now. Don’t expect that there is time later. Take warning from the foolish virgins. But also take comfort from the wise virgins. For they, too, were sinful. They, too, fell asleep. They are just like you. But they believed, anyway, that the Bridegroom is gracious. And gracious He is. He loves you. He died for you. He died for you on the cross for the forgiveness of all your sins, even the sin of spiritual sleepiness. He is risen, and gives you His very own righteousness. He Himself grants you oil. He pours out His Holy Spirit, His grace, His faith upon you. He names you with His Name in Baptism, washes away your sins, and makes you God’s own child. He gives you the food of His own righteousness in the Supper of His body and blood. He sustains you with His holy Word. By means of these gifts He keeps you for the Day of His coming.

And what a Day it will be. St. Paul describes it in our epistle lesson (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18). Since Jesus died and rose again, He will raise those who have died, who have fallen asleep in Him, to eternal life. On that Day the Lord Himself will descend from heaven as the apostles saw Him go, on a cloud, with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, with the sound of the trumpet of God. The dead in Christ will rise first. And then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. What a joyful reunion it will be. And so we will always be with the Lord.

So we see it is vanity to live this earthly life as if this is all that matters. So also it is vanity to live this earthly life as if there is an endless amount of time to repent and believe the Gospel. For the time is short, and in truth, the greater reality is that which will be revealed on the Last Day when our Lord Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom appears. Beloved, “What a glorious future you have! What joy awaits you. Be eager in Christ for the end is drawing near. Watch in prayer, with His Body and Blood upon your lips and His holy Word ringing in your ears. Stand innocent in His death, full of repentant joy and expectation. The Lord returns. He beckons you to the company of saints. His Word is true.”[1] You do not know the day or hour. But you know He is coming. And that is enough for you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The Rev. David H. Petersen, Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, IN, http://redeemer-fortwayne.org/displaySermon.php?sermon=115.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Trust Not In Princes

Pastor’s Window for November 2008

Trust Not In Princes

Beloved in the Lord,

Depending on when you receive this newsletter, Election Day will either be a couple days away or will already have taken place. As Christians, we have the privilege of serving as God’s priests to the world, the priesthood of the Baptized, which means that we serve as God’s hands in the world to love and serve our neighbor. Our Lord Jesus has “made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 1:6; ESV). We serve as priests in this way through our various vocations or callings. A vocation is any relationship in which God has placed you. So one of your vocations is to serve as a citizen of this nation, this state, and whatever city or township in which you reside. This includes a responsibility to vote.

There are many important issues involved in this election cycle, many of them moral issues to which the Scriptures speak directly. It is the Church’s responsibility to teach on these issues, as we have with proposal 2 regarding embryonic stem cell research. I certainly will never tell you who to vote for, but contrary to what you have been told by the politically correct media machine that determines so much of popular opinion, your Christian convictions can and should inform your voting, especially when it comes to these moral issues and where the candidates fall in relationship to these issues.

But what if the tide this election cycle is against your Christian convictions? What if the pro-abortion crowd wins all the victories? What if embryonic stem cell research is given unrestricted license in the Michigan State Constitution? What if the sanctity of marriage is compromised by states allowing same-sex marriage? What if our politicians on both sides of the isle fail to honor and uphold God’s natural Law? What if they fail to foster a culture of life? What if they fail to foster a culture that honors and upholds marriage and the family as the foundation of our society? These questions have come up several times in Bible Class over the last couple of weeks. The underlying question is, “Is our situation hopeless?”

No, our situation is not hopeless. The Psalmist writes, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (Psalm 146:3). Likewise the Psalmist writes, “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes” (Psalm 118:8-9). It is very easy to forget that our hope for salvation and every blessing is in the Lord God alone. Barak Obama is not our Savior. John McCain is not our Savior. Jesus Christ alone is our Savior. And here is the plain and simple truth. Regardless of who wins the election and which propositions pass or are defeated, there will still be sin in the world and in our society and in the powers that be in government. But so also, regardless of who wins the election and which propositions pass or fail, Jesus Christ will still be our only Savior. And even if our leaders are unfaithful, Jesus Christ is ever faithful. Jesus Christ is still present to forgive us and renew us and lead us so that we may delight in His will and walk in His ways to the glory of His holy Name. Our trust is in Him alone. He alone can deliver us. This election, like every election before it, and every election that will come after it, is a reminder to us to put not our trust in princes, but to trust alone in the Lord our God. Our help is in the Name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

So in addition to trusting in the Lord alone for help and salvation, what should we do as faithful Christians regardless of the outcome of the election? Well, first we should pray. St. Paul writes, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Secondly, we should repent. There is such a thing as collective guilt, and we should repent for our national sins against the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family, our greed, gluttony, and overindulgence at the expense of our neighbor, and any other sin we have committed as a nation. Thirdly, we should continue to live as priests of God in our vocation as citizens. We should obey the laws of the land, pay our taxes, participate in society, vote, run for office if we have the abilities and talents required, protest abuse, speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, continue to fight for the unborn and the vulnerable, etc. We do this recognizing that God has established civil government for our good, that our government is actually His servant. Make sure to read Romans 13:1-7! And as always, we should remember that we are in the world, but not of the world. Our citizenship is in heaven. And we look forward to that Day when our Lord returns to make all wrongs right again. For He is our true King. Our trust is not in princes, but in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Pastor Krenz

Sunday, November 02, 2008

All Saints' Day

All Saints’ Day (Observed)
November 2, 2008
Text: Matt. 5:1-12

Beloved in the Lord, you are God’s children now. You have been made God’s children now in the water and Word of Holy Baptism. Our Lord Jesus Christ has bought you with His own blood to be God’s own dear child. And what you will be in the future, in your resurrection glory, when Christ returns to call you forth from the grave, that has yet to be revealed. But we know that when our Lord Jesus appears, all who are in Christ will be like Him. You will be like Him, for you will see Him as He is (cf. 1 John 3:2). To know that you will be like Him, that is enough for you. That is enough to sustain you in this world with all of its trials and tribulations. For even though you are God’s children now, appearances would indicate otherwise. Even though divine sonship is your reality now, you appear to be poor. You mourn. You hunger and thirst for righteousness. You are reviled and persecuted and all kinds of evil things are uttered against you falsely because of Jesus Christ. And that is the “already/not yet” of the Christian baptismal life. You are already blessed, saints of God, co-heirs with Christ, kings and queens in His Kingdom. But this is not yet manifest. In this world, you are like the apostle Paul, “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:8-11; ESV).

So it is that Jesus describes His saints, describes you in the Beatitudes this morning. Jesus begins His famous sermon on the mount with these words, describing all who find their life in Him, as blessed in spite of all earthly appearances. Our Lord opens His mouth and pronounces the reality: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). Now don’t misunderstand Jesus the way He is so often misunderstood when it comes to the Beatitudes. Jesus is not commanding you to be poor in spirit. This is not an “if/then” conditional statement. This is simply an announcement of the reality of those who are in Christ Jesus. Those who are poor in spirit are blessed. Why? Because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. So who are the poor in spirit? The poor in spirit are those who recognize their slavery to sin, recognize that they have no righteousness of their own, recognize that they are helpless and unable to save themselves from their sinful predicament. To be poor in spirit is to realize that you need the help and salvation of Another, namely, of Jesus Christ, who alone can save you by His perfect keeping of the Law in your place, by His sin-atoning death in your place, by His conquering of death in His glorious resurrection, that you, too, might finally rise from the dead. To recognize that you bring nothing to the table in matters of salvation, except for sin and death, and that Jesus brings everything to the table in matters of salvation, including the forgiveness of sins and eternal life… to recognize this and trust that it is for you, that your Lord Jesus brings all of this for you, that is to be poor in spirit. And in so being poor, you are blessed. You are blessed, for Jesus gives you the very kingdom of heaven. It is all His free gift, given without any merit or worthiness in you, purchased for you not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death.

So you who are poor in spirit are really blessed. You are blessed in the Lord. But in this life, as a result of your sinful condition, you mourn. You mourn over all that sin has wrought in this fallen world, all the pain and affliction that sin has caused. You mourn over broken relationships. You mourn over sickness and disease. You mourn over broken promises. You mourn over the lack of justice in this world and over a government that fails no matter who is in control, fails to protect life, fails to uphold marriage, fails to be the servant God has called it to be. You mourn over your own sin. For the good you want to do, you do not do. The evil you do not want to do, this you keep on doing. You mourn over death, the deaths of loved ones, and your own looming death. You mourn, but you are blessed. You are blessed, for you shall be comforted, comforted by our Lord Jesus Christ who has come to save you from sin, save you from death, and make right all that has gone wrong in this fallen creation.

All that is good comes from God, not from yourself. So you are meek, lowly. There is no place for boasting, save in the cross of Christ Jesus, our Lord. You know you have no righteousness of your own. Your righteousness comes from Jesus. And His righteousness is sufficient. You hunger and thirst after true righteousness in this life. What you do not find in yourself, what you do not find in presidential candidates, what you do not find in any other human being, you find in Jesus Christ. He alone is righteous. And you are blessed, for He gives you His righteousness. When you hunger and thirst, He fills you. He satisfies you. For He alone is able to satisfy. And as a result of all that you have received from your Lord Jesus, something begins to happen in you. The Holy Spirit has His way with you, to sanctify you. As one bought by the blood of Christ, washed clean in Holy Baptism, fed and nourished by the Word and the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, you begin to look like Jesus. You become merciful, as He is merciful, not perfectly by any means, not in this life anyway. But you make a beginning of mercy. And you are blessed, for you are shown mercy. You become pure in heart, as He is pure in heart, a worshiper of the one true God, not perfectly by any means, not in this life anyway. But you make a beginning of being pure in heart. And you are blessed, for you shall see God. You become a peacemaker. As He has made peace for you with God, so now you make peace between your neighbors living in this fallen world, certainly not perfectly, not in this life. But you make a beginning of peace. And you are blessed, for you shall be called sons of God.

And in each of these Beatitudes, you see that these are a true description of you who are in Christ because they are first a true description of Christ Himself. He is THE poor man. He who is very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, He became man and emptied Himself, taking on the form of a servant, and humbling Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. Oh how He mourned for fallen humanity, seeking to gather all men together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but men would not. Oh how He hungered and thirsted for righteousness, and when He found none among men, He Himself became the righteousness of all men in His suffering and death. Oh how merciful and pure in heart is our Lord Jesus, and since we have been justified by faith in Him, we have peace with God through our ultimate peacemaker, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1). The reality Jesus describes for His saints is a reality that first of all describes Himself. And it describes us because we are baptized into Him. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4).

But so also there is another reality for the one baptized into Christ. Jesus describes it this morning in our text. As they persecuted Jesus, they will persecute you. No one wants to be persecuted. And certainly you should not seek persecution. But persecution will seek you. Be it more subtle, as it is here in the United States, or more explicit, as it is in many places throughout the world, particularly in Islamic countries, and especially in India over the past few weeks, persecution will find Christians. But when you are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for Jesus’ sake, you are blessed. For yours is the kingdom of heaven. You are blessed when others revile you and persecute you and speak all manner of evil against you falsely. Jesus even tells you to rejoice and be glad in that day. For you are receiving a Christian’s reward. So they did to the prophets who were before you. So they did to the apostles. So they did to the martyrs of the Christian Church throughout the ages. Rejoice and be glad. For here you have no abiding city. Your citizenship is in heaven. Therefore you are blessed. You are blessed in Christ to be numbered among His saints, and counted worthy to suffer for His Name’s sake. You may have to suffer here, now, for a little while. But there is an end to suffering. Your reward is in heaven, kept there for you to be enjoyed eternally on the day God calls you out of this vale of tears to Himself.

On this All Saints’ Day we are encouraged as we live in the “already/not yet” of this world. For the saints who have gone before us… Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, Peter, James, and John, St. Paul, St. Mary, Augustine, Luther, Walther, Lissy VanderBaan, Bob Pueschel… the saints who have gone before us likewise suffered, likewise were poor in spirit, mourned, were meek, hungered and thirsted for righteousness, were persecuted for the Name of Jesus Christ, but they endured, they persevered, and now their rest is won. They are in heaven with Jesus, awaiting the resurrection from the dead. “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. ‘Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 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’” (Rev. 7:14-17). Beloved in the Lord, the reality of the saints in heaven is also the reality of every saint on earth, every member of the Body of Christ who is poor in spirit. This is your reality in Christ. You are blessed. What is not yet manifest is already yours in Christ, to be believed until it is seen. God will wipe away every tear from your eyes. For on that Day there will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away. Therefore comfort one another with these words. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.