Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reformation Day

Reformation Day
October 31, 2010
Text: Rom. 3:19-28

Reformation Day, the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences to the castle Church door in Wittenberg, on the eve of All Saints’ Day, 1517. This act came to symbolize the whole movement Luther would spark, a reformation of the Church catholic, restoring the central article of the Christian faith, justification of the sinner by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to its proper place. The Lutheran Reformation was not the creation of a new church, but the restoration of the catholic and apostolic Church. For in addition to the three solas, grace alone, faith alone, and Christ alone, there was Scripture alone, the sole rule and norm of all Christian faith and life. These were the gifts restored to the Church in the Reformation led by Martin Luther. And so also did Luther restore a very important emphasis of the Apostle Paul, one that Paul unpacks for us in the Epistle lesson this morning, an emphasis by which we understand the truth of justification by grace. That emphasis is the proper distinction between Law and Gospel.

There are two doctrines contained in both the Old and New Testaments, and these two doctrines differ fundamentally from each other: There is the doctrine of the Law, and there is the doctrine of the Gospel.[1] Both are the Word of God, both are contained in both testaments, and both work together toward the goal of our salvation, but their function is fundamentally different. To use the pneumonic device many of you learned as children in Catechism class, S.O.S.: The Law Shows Our Sin and the Gospel Shows Our Savior. The Law tells us what to do and what not to do if we are to please God. The Law of God is the Ten Commandments. The Law shows us how we are to be and how we are to act as Christians. But the problem is, the Law gives us no power to live up to its standards. In fact, the Law only exposes our utter inability to keep God’s commandments. And so the Law always accuses. It always condemns. It always kills. When we examine ourselves in the mirror of the Law, we find that we never measure up, that rather we are, as we confess, “poor, miserable sinners.” Not only do we sin, committing actual sins, but we are sinners, infected with original sin. God’s Word proclaims the Law to us so that we might know our true condition, our great need for a Savior, that we cannot save ourselves, that we have no merit or worthiness in us before God. Salvation must come from outside of us, from God, in Christ. For unless God saves us, we are condemned. Otherwise we are bound. We cannot save ourselves. The Law shows us that we are trapped by sin and sin’s wages, death. “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin… For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:20, 22-23; ESV).

The Gospel, by contrast, does not tell us what we must do, but what God in Christ has done to save us. The Gospel conveys Christ to us. The Gospel tells us that God is already pleased with us, not because of anything we are or have done, but because of His Son Jesus Christ, who took on our flesh and fulfilled the Law for us, suffered the punishment for our sins in our place by His blood and death on the cross, and is risen that we might have eternal life. The Gospel announces to us the forgiveness of all our sins in Christ. The Gospel is that forgiveness. The Gospel is God’s verdict of justification on account of Christ. Justification: it’s a courtroom term. It means that God pronounces us righteous with the righteousness of Another, with the righteousness of Christ His Son. There is a handy pneumonic device for this term as well… When I’m justified, it’s JUST as IF I’D never sinned. For Christ has wiped my sin away by His blood. Thus the Gospel always forgives, always makes righteous, always gives life. And because it is life-giving, with the very life of the living Christ, it gives us strength to live a new life now in obedience to God, an ardent desire to live God-pleasing lives, to combat sin in our flesh, and to fulfill the commandments. What the Law could not do, namely, give life and obedience, the Gospel does! We are forgiven, set free from sin, death, and the devil by our Lord Jesus Christ. “But now the righteousness of God,” the righteousness of Christ by which He pronounces us righteous, justified, “has been manifested apart from the law…” We “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (vv. 21, 24).

This means that in no way do we earn our salvation. Nor can we. The Law shows us that. Christ has done it all. He has earned our salvation. The Gospel shows us that. Christ Jesus won our forgiveness and salvation on the cross of Calvary. But we must ask, since we cannot go to the cross for such forgiveness, since the cross no longer exists, and since the events of our salvation took place so far away and so many years ago: How is this forgiveness and salvation given to us, and how do we receive it? Beloved, you know the answer. This forgiveness and salvation is conveyed to you in the Gospel, in the precious Word of God in the Scriptures and the preaching and the absolution, and in the visible Word of the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And this forgiveness and salvation is received by faith. Faith is the receiving hands of the helpless beggar. Faith is simply trust. It is trust that this glorious good news (for that is what the word “Gospel” means… “good news”) is for you! Faith is not intellectual knowledge. Faith is not the ability to confess articles of doctrine. Faith is simply trust in Jesus Christ for this forgiveness and salvation. And this faith in Christ is given by the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (v. 28).

The Reformation came about because this truth had been obscured, clouded over by the doctrines and traditions of men. The powers that be in the Church thought that the biblical way of salvation was too easy. It made salvation seem so cheap, at least to human wisdom. Surely man must do something to make up for sin, to earn his salvation. Thus the devil introduced a horrendous lie into the Church, a lie that many Christians, even many Lutherans, still believe today. Of course, salvation is easy for us. We do nothing. Christ does everything. But that is also what makes it so hard. It is hard to believe. In fact, it is impossible to believe without the Holy Spirit. Paul writes elsewhere, “the natural” unconverted “person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). We must be converted by the Spirit, our minds transformed by Him, if we are to understand and believe these things. The Spirit alone grants faith. And by that same Spirit we understand that there is nothing cheap about this salvation. For though it is absolutely free to us, it cost the Father His Son. It cost the Son His blood, His life. It cost the Son all hell on the cross. You have been bought with a price. You have been redeemed, “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). In the Reformation, God used His servant Martin Luther to remind the Church of this chief article of the Christian faith.

No, our redemption is not cheap. But it is free to us in the Gospel, received by faith. The Law of God is good and wise, showing us our need for this salvation. The Law keeps our flesh in check. The Law shows us our sinfulness as in a mirror. And the Law shows us what we should do and not do to lead a God-pleasing life. But no one is ever justified by the Law. No one can fulfill it. We are sinners. But in the Gospel, the Law is already fulfilled by Christ. We are forgiven of all our sins. We are free. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The Reformation is not about Martin Luther. It is about Christ. It is about Christ and Him crucified; Christ, the Word made flesh, who shed His blood; Christ, who speaks the Word of life, the Holy Gospel, and so justifies you. This Reformation Day we rightly celebrate as heirs of Martin Luther. But the reason for our celebration is the doctrine he preached. He preached Christ. And to this day Christ crucified and risen is preached into our ears and hearts. May Law and Gospel properly divided always be proclaimed from this pulpit, that we hear the very voice of Christ, that we be killed and made alive by His Word, that we be forgiven, justified, and receive eternal life. May nothing else ever resound from this pulpit, save Christ, Christ, and only Christ. For there is salvation in no other. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Cf. Thesis I in C. F. W. Walther, Law & Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible (A Reader’s Edition) (St. Louis: Concordia, 2010) p. 2.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Why So Many Christian Denominations?

Pastor’s Window for November 2010
Why So Many Christian Denominations?

Jesus prays for the unity of His Church. He prays for those who believe in Him, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21; ESV). The will of Jesus for His Church is that it be united in such a way that it reflects the unity of the Father and the Son, that it give a united confession of faith to the world, that the world may come to faith. There is no question that the divisions in Christendom are sinful. Jesus does not will that there be so many denominations. So why can’t Christians get it together? Why are there so many denominations? And how do we get Christians to unite?

It is tempting to sweep all the differences between Christian denominations under the rug, as if they don’t matter. After all, we all believe in Jesus, and since we all believe in Jesus, we will all be saved. Of course it is true, whoever believes in Jesus will be saved. This is the basic truth of John 3:16. But does this mean differences in doctrine don’t matter? If we say that, we are saying doctrine itself doesn’t matter. You can believe anything you want as long as you believe in Jesus. But Jesus never said such a thing. Instead, in the same prayer as the verse quoted at the beginning of this article, Jesus prays for His disciples that the Father would “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Doctrine simply means teaching. Christian doctrine is the teaching of God’s Word, which is, as Jesus here says, the truth. To say doctrine is unimportant is to say the truth is unimportant, which is to say the teaching of Jesus is unimportant. Clearly the way to Christian unity cannot be to sweep our doctrinal differences under the rug as if they don’t matter. Christians must deal honestly and openly with doctrinal differences.

And here two very important truths come to light: First, the disunity of the Christian Church is man’s fault, and it is sinful; it is due to the teaching of false doctrine! Second, the unity of the Church is all God’s work, the work of the Holy Spirit uniting God’s holy people around His Word and Sacraments. This is a gift of God’s grace. When man tries to create unity by his own efforts and works, he only further divides the Church. But when man prays to God for unity, the Spirit works through God’s pure Word to create a true communion. Christians should pray fervently for this unity. They should seek the pure proclamation of Christ’s doctrine and make frequent use of the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, which unites us as members of the body of Christ, the Communion of Saints. God unites His people around the means of grace. Our Lutheran forefathers recognized this. They confessed, and we confess, in the Augsburg Confession: “For it is sufficient for the true unity of the Christian church that the Gospel be preached in conformity with a pure understanding of it and that the sacraments be administered in accordance with the divine Word” (AC VII:2; Tappert).

The unity of the Church depends on unity in the Word. The Bible is the one source, rule, and norm of Christian doctrine and life. Anything that comes from any other source is a false teaching, and must be rejected. And so in discussions with other Christian denominations, the Word must take the central place. Unity is always the goal. And you should know that the Missouri Synod is in doctrinal talks with many other church bodies. But we must not compromise the Word. We must not compromise doctrine. Any unity that is not the result of biblical, doctrinal clarity and agreement, is not really unity at all.

But don’t get the false impression that we’re saying only Lutherans will be in heaven (why do people always jump to that conclusion?). Of course, heaven will be filled by many Christians from many denominations, everyone who believes in Jesus. We’re simply saying that doctrine is important. It is so important, that false doctrine divides the Church. It is so important, that Jesus prays that His Church will be united in doctrine: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” In heaven, we will all believe the same doctrine. In heaven, we will all believe the right doctrine. Thanks be to God for His doctrine, His teaching, in His Word. God grant us all faithfulness to the true doctrine of Jesus Christ.

Pastor Krenz

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 25)
October 24, 2010
Text: Luke 18:9-17

The Pharisee is full of himself. We recognize right away that this is the problem. He’s arrogant and self-righteous. He trusts in himself and treats others with contempt. He thanks God that he is not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even his fellow-worshiper, this tax collector. Like Cain, the Pharisee brings an offering to the Lord. He brings himself and his good works, his fasting and tithes, his meticulous keeping of the Law, his better-than-the-rest-ness. And the Lord has no regard for such an offering. For here is the problem: The Pharisee comes full of himself. He is already full. And so there is no more room to be filled by the Lord, filled with the Lord Himself. Because the Pharisee comes full, there is no room for divine mercy, no room for Christ.

The tax collector, on the other hand, comes empty. He brings only his sin and emptiness before God. He beats his breast and prays, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13; ESV). The tax collector is empty in himself. He trusts not himself, but God, who alone is merciful. The tax collector knows that he is just like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, the worst of sinners. Like Abel, the tax collector brings an offering to the Lord. He brings himself and his emptiness, his greed and covetousness, his lust and contempt, and he lays them at the Lord’s feet. And the Lord has regard for his offering. Because the tax collector presents himself as an empty vessel to be filled by the mercy of the Lord, with the Lord Himself. The tax collector comes trusting the Word of the Lord, the promise of mercy, knowing that “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17). Indeed, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Is. 42:3; Matt. 12:20).

Our Lord declares, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other” (Luke 18:14). The verdict doesn’t surprise us, but only because we know the story so well. It surprised the Pharisees. You see, when they heard Jesus speak this parable for the first time, they were rooting for the Pharisee. They saw nothing wrong with the Pharisee’s behavior. They had prayed this prayer themselves, many times, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” (v. 11). They had bragged to God of their good works and expected God to reward them for these. And the tax collectors and sinners? They agreed with the Pharisees! They admired the Pharisees! They wished they could be like the Pharisees! We lose some of the shock value of the surprise ending of this parable because we are so familiar with the story. It is shocking when Jesus declares the tax collector justified, righteous, and the Pharisee unjustified, unrighteous.

But consider this: Two people come to church on Sunday morning. One of them never misses a Sunday. He always gives generously to the offering. He serves on boards and tithes his time, talent, and treasure. He is noted for his great piety, his fervent prayers, his spiritual maturity. But if we could see into his heart, hear his inner-thoughts, we would be horrified. For in himself, he thanks God that he is not like the others in the congregation, those who don’t come faithfully, those who don’t give generously, those who never volunteer their time and leave him with all the work. But that’s okay. He knows deep down that God will reward him for his holy life and good works. He knows he will be saved, because, well, just look at his life! Everyone admires him. Everyone wishes they could be like him. He’s a great guy, a good Christian, and he knows it! And God should know it! God should admire him! Sure, he has a few bad habits—nobody’s perfect!—but he does his best, and overall, he’s basically a good person.

On the other hand, there is this other person who sneaks into church five minutes late so she won’t be seen. She hasn’t been here for awhile. She sits in the back. She has made many mistakes in her life. She has sinned, and everyone knows it. For she is pregnant, and she is not married. She’s almost ashamed to be here. She feels the piercing judgmental stares. She knows the inaudible whispers of those around her are about her. And she knows she deserves it. She has sinned. She is a sinner. But she comes, because she is empty. And she knows only Jesus can fill her. She needs help. She needs a Savior. And she has come to the right place. She has no money to put into the offering plate. She can only offer up her sin and her shame. She comes praying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” And the Lord has regard for her offering. He takes her offering into Himself and nails it in His body upon the cross. And He fills her with Himself. He has mercy. He answers her prayer, “Yes, dear child, though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow. Though they are like crimson, they shall become like wool (Is. 1:18). I have taken your scarlet letter away and marked you with another symbol, the blood-red sign of the holy cross. You are engraved on the palms of my pierced hands (Is. 49:16). I have redeemed you and placed my Name upon you. You are mine! (Is. 43:1).”

I tell you, this unwed mother came to the Lord’s Supper worthily, and the man who trusted his own righteousness communed to his judgment. For the unwed mother came in repentance, broken by sin, clinging to the forgiving Word of Christ. The self-righteous man came because this was another good work he could do for Jesus. The unwed mother came empty, and was filled with the mercy and righteousness of Christ. The self-righteous man came full of himself, and there was no room for Christ’s mercy. We always identify ourselves with the tax collector in Jesus’ parable, because we don’t want to be arrogant like the Pharisee. But when the mirror of the perfect and holy Law of God is held before us, we see how full of ourselves we are. Our eyes have stared at the sinner in condemnation. Our mouths have whispered gossip about our neighbor. We have not done our duty to love our neighbor as ourselves. And if the others in the congregation could see the secrets of our black hearts… God help us! In the mirror of God’s Law we see the poverty of our fullness. Being full of ourselves, we are really empty. Repent, beloved. For you are right to see yourself as the tax collector. Only you must realize this and know how empty you are. You must not be a Pharisee piously pretending to be a tax collector. You are the tax collector. You are the extortioner, the unjust, the adulterer. You are the unwed mother. The Law must have its way with you. It must empty you of yourself. It must break you, condemn you, kill you, if you are to be filled with Christ and raised to new life. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). The self-righteous are smashed to pieces by the hammer of the Law (Jer. 23:29). But the repentant sinners are raised to new life by the Lord of life, and exalted to be called children of God.

The Lord Jesus desires to fill you with Himself, with His mercy, with His forgiveness. If you are already full of yourself, He will not force Himself upon you. But when you come to Him empty, when you confess your emptiness, confess your sins, such confession itself being an act of His Spirit in you, He fills you. He forgives you. He justifies you, declares you righteous on the basis of His own righteousness, death on the cross, and resurrection. We must be empty to be filled. The Lord empties us by His Word of Law. And He fills us with Himself in His Word of Gospel.

An infant is the perfect picture of how the Lord works. For infants always come empty. They have nothing to offer. They cannot give anything, but always need to be given to. They cannot fill themselves. They must be filled by someone else. And what is true of them physically is also true of them spiritually. They cannot fill themselves with Jesus and His mercy. They cannot decide to believe. This is why decision theologians oppose infant Baptism. The infant must be brought to Baptism by someone else. There is no cooperation of the infant’s will in the act. The infant is saved by grace alone! But this is how God works, not only on infants, but on all of us. Without any merit, worthiness, or decision on our part, He washes away our sins and places His Name upon us. He fills us, who are empty, with Himself. It is all by grace! This is why Jesus says the Kingdom of God belongs to little children (Luke 18:16). We must all be little children before God, empty, receiving, helpless, but helped by Him in His mercy.

And it is with this posture that we come to the Lord’s altar this morning to receive the body and blood of Christ. We come as tax collectors, extortioners, unjust, adulterers. We come as sinners. For in the words of the Catechism, “he is truly worthy and well prepared [for the Supper] who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.’” Come, O sinner, and be forgiven. Come, you who hunger and thirst after righteousness, and be satisfied with the body and blood of Jesus. Come, you who are empty, and be filled by Your Lord. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Why You Need the Sacrament

‎"If you could see how many knives, darts, and arrows are every moment aimed at you [Ephesians 6:16], you would be glad to come to the Sacrament as often as possible. But there is no reason why we walk about so securely and carelessly, except that we neither think nor believe we are in the flesh and in this wicked world or in the devil's kingdom."

--LC V:82 (McCain).

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 24)
October 17, 2010
Text: Luke 18:1-8

Prayer is one habit that dies easy. Because all-too-often we pray, and we don’t get what we pray for, at least not in the way we prescribed it, or in the time we wanted it. It is tempting at such a time to ask, “What good is prayer? It doesn’t seem to do anything!” And when that attitude sets in, we stop praying. Which, by the way, is the worst thing we could do. You must know, beloved, the source of these thoughts and temptations. These come from the devil. They are demonic, and our fallen flesh, especially when it is exhausted from grief or suffering or hardship, is all too willing to listen to the tempter. The devil never lets a crisis go to waste. He always seeks to capitalize on your misfortune, to introduce doubt into your mind concerning God’s love and mercy, to speak a different word into your ear and heart than that which you have heard God speak, to lead you away from the Church and God’s gifts, to avert your gaze from Christ and Him crucified, so that you look for help in others or in other things. The devil seeks to silence your prayers.

The disciples didn’t know it yet, but they were about to endure the most difficult time of their life. They were about to endure the time of our Lord’s Passion, His suffering and death. And the devil would seek to capitalize on that crisis. In the case of Judas, he would be successful. Peter he would lead to the brink. Jesus even predicts it in the upper room: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail, and when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32; ESV). It is a happy ending for Peter, as we know. But not before Peter suffers. Peter denies knowing the Lord. The cock crows and the Lord looks at Peter who has denied him, and Peter goes out and weeps bitterly. And Peter, along with the rest of the disciples, cannot make sense of the events of our Lord’s suffering and death. Though Jesus had told them on numerous occasions that it is necessary for the Son of Man to be betrayed into the hands of sinners, to suffer and be killed, and on the third day rise again, their hard hearts could not understand these things. In the midst of tragedy, the devil led them all to the brink of despair. They doubted. They did not trust the Word of God, the Word that the Savior had spoken to them. They took their eyes off of Jesus. They didn’t know where to look. It was the most difficult time of their life. The One they had hoped was the Messiah had given Himself, willingly, into the hands of His enemies. And they put Him to death like a common criminal. Their hopes were dashed. How could He possibly be the Messiah now? Jesus was dead, buried in a tomb.

Of course we know this is not the end of the story, but the disciples did not know this. And Jesus knew they wouldn’t know it. So He prepared them by teaching them. Jesus “told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Even when prayer seems ineffectual, like a waste of breath. Even when prayer seems to go unanswered. Even when you don’t feel like praying. Even when all seems to be a loss. In fact, in those times especially, Jesus says to His disciples and He says to us, we should turn to the Lord in prayer. Because prayer is the breath of faith. In prayer, we ask God for the help we need. And God is the only One who can help. Faith is driven to prayer. St. Augustine writes, “Faith pours out prayer, and prayer obtains the strengthening of faith. …So far temptation advances as faith gives way: and so far temptation gives way, as faith advances.”[1] In prayer, we breathe in the Word of God, and breathe out our inmost desires and needs as the children of God. Thus faith gives birth to prayer, and prayer asks for the strengthening of faith, which is given abundantly by the Spirit of God in the Word and Sacraments. Prayer is this two-way conversation where God speaks and we listen, and then we speak back to God what He has said to us. We speak to Him on the basis of His Word and His promise to hear and answer in the Name of Jesus Christ our Savior. And because this is all based on God’s promise and not on our feelings or our expectations, we can be sure and certain that even when it seems otherwise, God hears and God answers.

Jesus tells us we should be persistent in our prayers, and He illustrates this by means of a parable. There was this unrighteous judge. By unrighteous, Jesus says, we mean one who has no fear of God, no care to follow His commandments, no concern for justice and integrity, and also one who does not respect men, apparently is appointed for life, and so in every case rules according to his own selfish agenda. But there is this widow will give him no rest. She keeps coming to him, demanding justice against her adversary. The Greek here actually says, “Give me justification against my anti-justifier” (v. 3). More on that in a minute. Now, the unrighteous judge is not moved with compassion for the woman. He does not pity the woman because God commands His people to provide for widows. Nor is he concerned about what the people think. Remember, he isn’t up for reelection, so it doesn’t matter how he looks in the eyes of others. But what he is concerned about is getting this widow off his back. She keeps demanding justice, he keeps refusing. She keeps coming back. He’s afraid this widow is going to beat him down, literally blacken his eye (v. 5), so he agrees to give her justice. And of course the point is that if even this unrighteous judge responds to the persistence of the widow, surely God, who is righteousness in Himself, will hear and answer the persistent prayers of His beloved children.

“Well, Pastor, then why hasn’t He answered my prayer?” Why does it seem like God is silent? Where is God when we call upon Him? One of the things we learn about God from Scripture and from daily experience is that He hides Himself. He hides Himself in suffering and the cross. He uses all things, even great evil, to accomplish His will. Not that the evil is His will, or any less evil, but He works through the evil to accomplish His divine and perfect will. Remember the disciples, cowering in fear after Jesus’ suffering and death, locked away in the upper room for fear of the Jews, fear of the future, fear of death? They didn’t see that God’s saving will was hidden behind the events of Good Friday. They didn’t see that in the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ the very salvation of the world was accomplished, the salvation of the disciples, your salvation, and mine. They didn’t see that behind Good Friday was hidden Easter and our Lord’s victorious resurrection from the dead! You see, in these evil events, the greatest evil in all the world when the sinless Son of God suffered the punishment for all sinners, in the place of sinners, and at the hands of sinners… in these events, the disciples’ prayers were answered. So were your prayers. So were mine. For in these events we are justified against our adversary, our anti-justifier. We are justified against Satan, who accuses us, directs us away from Christ, seeks to lead us to despair. In the suffering and death of Christ, and in His resurrection, we are pronounced righteous. That’s what justification means. It means we are pronounced righteous on account of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, on account of His paying for our sins on the cross. The accusations of the devil can no longer harm us. The verdict is in. We are innocent, righteous, perfect with the perfection of Christ. As a result, everything else for which we pray will fall into place. There will be a happy ending. There will be an end to all suffering, to all temptation, to every trial. Knowing the end, we can live now even in the midst of suffering and temptation and trial as if God has already delivered us, because He will and He has in Christ Jesus.

But it is true, sometimes it seems like He takes His own sweet time. Of course, we must recognize that God works in His own way and at His own time. We dare not prescribe to God the manner and the hour in which He should answer our prayers. Jesus promises here, though, that God will give justice to His people speedily, that He will not delay (vv. 7-8). From our perspective as finite humans, still living in the fallen and time-bound flesh, it seems like He does delay. It seems like it takes God forever to deliver on His promises. But really, from the perspective of eternity, from God’s perspective, for whom “one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day” (2 Peter 3:8), our deliverance really is speedy. It is coming. If nothing else, it will come at your death, when the angels carry you to heaven, or when Jesus comes again, whichever comes first. For that is when all that is wrong will be made right again. Nevertheless, we wait on the Lord. We wait on His deliverance in this earthly life, and in heaven. We wait more than watchmen wait for the morning, and we put our hope in His sure Word (Ps. 130:5-6). We wait with eager anticipation, with a living hope even in the midst of various trials, knowing that through this suffering our faith, more precious than gold that perishes, will be found to result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7). We know that through these trials God is working His will for our good (Rom. 8:28). So we wait, and we pray with the Church, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20). Come quickly. He will. In the meantime, we wait, and we pray, and we do not lose heart. We hold God to His promises. We petition Him for justification and everything that comes with it. And we trust that He hears and answers whenever a child of God prays, “Our Father…” For we are His children in Baptism, and are named with His Name: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Quoted in The Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009), note on Luke 18:1.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 23)
October 10, 2010
Text: Luke 17:11-19

“Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19; ESV). Actually, that’s a mistranslation. The text should read: “your faith has saved you,” for there is so much more than physical healing going on here. It is true, the Samaritan leper is healed from his leprosy. But more importantly, this Samaritan is healed from the leprosy of sin. Sin is not just the bad things we do, or the good things we fail to do. It is a disease that is passed down from generation to generation. It began with our first parents, Adam and Eve, who ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, and it has been passed down from parents to children ever since. It is a deadly disease, sin. In every case, it leads to death. St. Paul writes, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). So you see, it is no small thing that here Jesus says that the Samaritan’s faith has saved him. The Samaritan has not only been cured of leprosy. The other nine were cured of leprosy as well. By faith, the Samaritan’s sins have been forgiven.

Notice again what saves him: Faith! He is saved by faith, and not by his returning to give thanks to Jesus. So often this text is misused in such a way that it becomes a moralistic lesson in giving thanks. Of course, you should give thanks to God, not just when He does spectacular things like cure leprosy, but at all times, in all circumstances. You should give thanks for all the blessings He showers down upon you, including when He blesses you by laying a cross upon you. Thanksgiving is one component of prayer that we often neglect, and so we should make it a habit always to give thanks. But that’s not the point of the text. The point of the text is faith in Jesus Christ. The Samaritan has it. The other nine don’t. The evidence of the Samaritan’s faith in Jesus Christ is that he returns and gives thanks.

The Samaritan’s faith saves him. But what is faith and how does it save? Faith is trust. Faith is trust in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. This definition of faith is very important if we are to understand how faith saves. You see, faith is NOT the one good work I get to do to earn my salvation. Faith does not earn salvation any more than any other good work. Christ has earned your salvation by His sin atoning work, His fulfillment of the Law on your behalf, His suffering, death, and resurrection. Faith does not earn your salvation. Faith receives your salvation. Faith receives the salvation earned for you by your Lord Jesus Christ. Faith is the receiving hands of the beggar who has done nothing to merit the gift of his benefactor. Faith is simply trust in the benefactor, Jesus Christ. Faith is not intellectual knowledge. Faith is not the ability to confess, to speak Christian doctrine. Faith is simply trust. It is trust in Christ. And so even infants can have faith. You can even have faith when you are sleeping or incapacitated. Even those suffering with Alzheimer’s or dementia can have faith, because again, faith is simply trust.

And such faith is not something you drum up within yourself by your own powers. Oh no, you cannot by your own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him. Faith is God’s gift. Faith is God’s action in you. It is all by grace. The Holy Spirit calls you to faith. He calls you by the Gospel. He enlightens you with His gifts in Word and Sacrament. He ties Himself to means so that you always know where to find Him, and where to find Christ and the Father. He ties Himself to the Word and the Sacraments. That is where He gives and strengthens faith. And that is where He sanctifies you and keeps you in the one true faith of Jesus Christ, so that you may have eternal life. Outside of Christ and the Spirit’s work in bringing you to faith, your will is bound. You have no ability to make a decision for Jesus. You cannot choose to believe. So you see, faith is all God’s work. Just as the Father has given you hands to receive His material blessings, hands that you did not earn, hands that you did not choose to grow on your body, hands that God gave you by His grace, so God gives you the spiritual hands of faith to receive His spiritual gifts in Jesus Christ: forgiveness, life, and salvation. Again, it is all by grace.

Faith receives. Faith is the receiving hands. And faith cries for mercy. Faith is that which cries to the Lord for mercy and help in every time of need. Of course, even unbelievers can cry for mercy. And the Lord gives great mercy to unbelievers in this life. All ten lepers cried out to Jesus for mercy. And Jesus cleansed all ten lepers. So what is the difference between the nine unbelievers, and this Samaritan believer? By faith, the Samaritan understands that he has done nothing to earn Jesus’ healing and salvation. The other nine think it is good and right that Jesus should heal them. After all, what did they do to deserve this leprosy? They are good Jews. They follow the Law of Moses. They aren’t like this Samaritan fellow, the odd man out. So upon Jesus’ command, they go and show themselves to the priests. The priests examine them and declare them clean. End of story for those nine. But by faith, the Samaritan understands that he must go not to the Jewish priests, but to Jesus, the great High Priest who will make the once-for-all sacrifice of atonement for his sins. By faith, the Samaritan comes to Jesus and prostrates himself before God in the flesh, giving thanks and praise to his Lord and Savior. And Jesus pronounces him clean, not just of leprosy, but of the vilest and deadliest of all diseases. Jesus pronounces the Samaritan clean from sin!

Faith receives the mercy of God, and gives thanks to the God of mercy incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. Beloved in the Lord, you have done nothing to earn the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. You are just like the Samaritan. By faith, you understand that you have not earned your healing from sin. You have no merit or worthiness within yourself by which you are saved. You are a sinner. You have no good works to bring to God in payment for your salvation. You can only bring Him your sin. By faith, you look to Another for mercy, even Jesus Christ. By faith, like the Samaritan before you, you prostrate yourself before the Author of life, the Great Physician, Jesus Christ. You come empty. He fills you. You have nothing to offer but your disease and sin. He heals you and forgives you. Your faith has made you well, nay; your faith has saved you! You have healing from sin. You have peace with God. You are made whole again. “Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together. I sought the LORD and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears… Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God!” (Ps. 34:3-4; 48:1 [Introit]).

Faith gives thanks! Faith praises! For though faith passively receives forgiveness and salvation, nonetheless, faith is always active. From faith flow good works and the giving of thanks and praise. To give thanks to someone is to say back to them the good thing that they’ve done for you. It is to acknowledge that they are responsible for the good that you’ve experienced. To praise someone is to speak highly of him, to exalt him, and such praise is directed both to the one you are praising as well as to others. And so beloved, by faith we give thanks to God. We acknowledge that not just some of the good we enjoy, but all of the good we enjoy comes from God. We thank Him for all the great and wonderful things He bestows upon us, for His undeserved mercy, and especially for the gifts of life and salvation He bestows upon us in Christ Jesus. And we praise Him. We not only sing our praises to Him, we also sing His praises to others as we confess Christ in our daily lives and vocations. And we live for Him. We live lives of thanksgiving and praise. We seek to fulfill His commandments. We daily crucify our sinful flesh, and walk in the newness of life given us in Christ Jesus, always trusting in the forgiveness of sins that we have in Christ. We make our whole life a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the God who has saved us by grace alone, and given us this salvation by faith alone, without works.

Faith alone without works. That is how we are saved. But faith is never alone. Faith is always active in good works. The apostle Paul writes: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10). Notice again, this is the gift of God. It is all the gift of God in Christ Jesus. Justification. Sanctification. It is the gift of God! By faith, the Samaritan understands this. By faith, you understand this. And so you also come this morning to the High Priest who has made the once-for-all sacrifice for your sins on the altar of the cross. You come to your High Priest Jesus Christ, and He pronounces you clean. You have been cleansed by His very blood. Thus being clean, you come to His house, to His feast. You come into the very presence of God and fall before His feet in thanksgiving. And Jesus says to you, “Rise. Rise out of the death of sin. Your faith has saved you. You are whole again.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Only Two Religions

Pastor’s Window for October 2010
Only Two Religions

Beloved in the Lord,

There are only two religions in the world! Really? I can name more than that: Christianity (of course!), Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Shinto, and the list goes on and on. Still, in spite of the plurality of religious movements, there are really only two religions: the one true religion, Christianity, and the false religion of man, which includes all the rest. In other words, there is the religion of the Gospel, and there is the religion of the Law.

All the religions of the world, with the exception of Christianity, have one basic fundamental principle in common: They are about salvation by good works. However they define “salvation,” be it heaven or nirvana or liberation or something else, every religion with the exception of Christianity maintains that you are saved or condemned by your own merits. In each of these religions, you are weighed on a divine scale. If your good works outweigh your evil deeds, you are saved. If your evil deeds outweigh your good works, you are condemned, be it to hell or to a lower life form or simply annihilation.

Christianity is fundamentally different. It is the only religion of its kind. Christianity is not a religion of the Law, but a religion of the Gospel. This means that, unlike every other religion on earth, you are not saved by your good deeds, but by something completely outside of you. You are saved by Jesus Christ, by His fulfillment of the Law in your place, by His suffering and death in your place, by His victorious resurrection from the dead, the pledge of your own resurrection from the dead. You did not earn this salvation. You are saved by grace alone, which means that this is God’s undeserved kindness to you in Christ Jesus. And you receive the benefits of this salvation by faith alone. Faith is simply trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins and salvation. None of this is your work. It is all God’s work for you.

This is not to say that Christianity doesn’t preach God’s Law. The Law is preached so that we may know our sin and our need for the Savior. The Law is preached to drive us to Christ and His Gospel. It is also preached so that we may learn to crucify our sinful flesh and begin to do works that please God. But we do not do these things in order to be saved. We do them because we already have been saved. Jesus Christ is our salvation.

How different are the other religions of the world, which teach that we must be reconciled to the deity (or deities) by our acts of devotion and worship, our good conduct, our sacrifices, our abiding by a strict moral and ceremonial code, by punishing ourselves, or living the ascetic lifestyle. Humanity instinctively knows that God must exist. Creation itself, along with our conscience, teaches us that there must be a god, or gods (Rom. 1:18-20; 2:14-15). This is called “the natural knowledge of God.” But without the revelation that God Himself gives to us in the Bible, we do not understand who this God is, or that He is determined to be gracious to us by the sacrifice of His Son. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14; ESV). Christ crucified is a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:23). By nature, sinful man believes he must earn God’s favor, appease God by works. Thus every man-made religion is a religion of works, a religion of the Law.

But thanks be to God, He has revealed to us another way, the only way, in fact: Jesus Christ and the salvation that comes to us in Him alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, without works. Jesus Christ is the only way to be reconciled to God, as He Himself says: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Thus Christianity is the only true religion. This is not a politically correct statement, because this means that every other religion is false and leads only to damnation. But the truth is never politically correct. And in the end, even the false religion of political correctness (with its dogma of tolerance of all things except Christianity) will not save us either. Only Jesus Christ will save us. He has earned our salvation by His blood and death. He bestows this salvation to us in His Word and blessed Sacraments. We receive this salvation by faith.

There are only two religions. There is the religion of the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And there is everything else. Jesus Christ alone is the way, the truth, and the life.

Pastor Krenz

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 22)
October 3, 2010
Text: Luke 17:1-10

It’s not that we don’t have faith, it’s that our faith is so weak. That is why it is so difficult to stand up under the various trials and tribulations that accompany the changes and chances of this earthly life. That is why it is so difficult to remain steadfast in the face of pressure from the world to succumb to worldliness. That is why it is so difficult to resist the devil’s temptations. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41). We believe. Lord, help our unbelief (Mark 9:24). Or, as the apostles say to our Lord in our text this morning, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5; ESV).

Lord, increase our faith. It is the prayer of every Christian. Because life in this fallen world is not easy, and being a Christian, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t make it any easier. Jesus says that “Temptations,” literally scandals, stumbling blocks, “are sure to come” (v. 1). Jesus promises that we will be tempted in this life. And the temptation He speaks of here is not only temptation to commit this or that particular sin, but includes especially the temptation to forsake the faith. Here the stumbling block causes to you to fall away from the faith. It scandalizes you away from Jesus. Jesus promises such temptations will come. And they will come especially to Christians who are the particular targets of Satan’s attacks. Well, that doesn’t sound like a very nice promise. This is not a promise of the Gospel. This is a warning promise. The temptations are coming. Watch out. “Pay attention to yourselves!” (v. 3). Be on your guard. Know that these temptations are coming, and know what to do when they come. And whatever you do, don’t be the cause of such temptations. Woe to you if you cause one of these little ones, meaning a fellow believer, to sin, to be scandalized, to fall from the faith. For such a one who makes shipwreck of another’s faith, “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea” (v. 2). Watch, lest when you fall into temptation, you lead others with you and cause them to stumble and fall away. Lord, help us, lest we fall in the face of temptation. Lord, help us, lest we lead one of these little ones to be scandalized. Lord, help us, and increase our faith.

This morning our Lord tells us that the chief cause of stumbling is failure to confront the reality of sin. Hear again what He says: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (v. 3). Failure to confront the reality of sin causes little ones to fall away from the faith. That is to say, the most sure-fire way to cause a fellow believer to fall from faith is to allow him to go on in his sin, unhindered, and to fail to pronounce forgiveness when he repents. It is to pretend that there is no sin to rebuke or forgive. It is to refuse to rebuke him, as Jesus says, when he continues on the dangerous path of living for the self. And it is to refuse to forgive him when he has been wounded by his sin, confronted with the righteous Law of God, and left in despair.

Rebuking sin is very difficult for us, because to rebuke sin will cause conflict. It may very well cause our brother or sister to become angry with us, to revile us, to hate us. It is much easier, and more natural for our fallen flesh, to pretend that there is no sin to be rebuked. Then there will be no conflict. It happens often in Christian families. We do it all the time. “Sis has brought home her live-in boyfriend for Christmas and we all played along. We all suspect he'll be gone by Valentine's day but we act like he is her husband. Mom was sure to treat him just like she treats the in-laws. We give him gifts and hang a stocking precisely because he is violating our sister! We are sure that he will break her heart and run away and we'll be glad when he does. But for the time being we don't want a scene. Anything but a scene. Anything but the Truth. Numb, drugged, afraid - we enable and engage in the worst sins of men. Silent when the truth needs to be spoken, more concerned with the moment than with the future, more worried about publicity than the fate of our souls, more desirous of esteem and popularity with men than the love of God.”[1] So we leave the sin un-rebuked, un-dealt-with. We remain silent when we should speak. Beloved in the Lord, repent. Lord, increase our faith.

So also, forgiveness is very difficult for us, because to forgive our brother or sister when they sin, especially when they sin against us personally, is to acknowledge that a real sin has, in fact, been committed. And that makes both the offender and the offended uncomfortable. It is much easier, when your brother or sister sins against you and apologizes, to simply say, “That’s okay.” But of course, that’s silly. It’s not okay. If you do it again, I will be offended again. But the last thing we want to do is admit a sin has been committed. We don’t want to make anyone feel bad. Real repentance is not our goal. Our goal is, again, to avoid conflict. Beloved in the Lord, when your brother sins against you, do not say “That’s okay.” Forgive him. Forgive him in the Name of the Lord. It will hurt. It will hurt him, because he will be confronted with the reality of his sin. It will hurt you, because you will have to confront the reality of sin. But the Word of forgiveness in the Name of the Lord will cover the sin in a real and permanent way. To forgive is to bury the sin forever in the tomb of Christ. So also, beloved, when you sin against your brother or sister, repent, apologize, ask for forgiveness, and do not be content with a simple, “That’s okay.” You need absolution, forgiveness in the Name of the Lord. And if this is important in terms of your relationships with your brothers and sisters in Christ, how much more important is it in terms of your relationship with God. Confess your sins to God. Name the evil. Speak it into Christ’s ear. And receive His absolution. Hear Him speak through the called and ordained servant of the Word standing in His stead and by His command, “I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.” Then, having been forgiven all your trespasses, go and forgive all those who trespass against you. Lord, increase our faith.

But forgiveness is most difficult when a really "big" sin has been perpetrated against you, one that hurts you down to your very core: perhaps physical violence or abuse, perhaps betrayal, perhaps rejection. Whatever the sin, your Lord Jesus calls upon you here to forgive. Again, that means to bury the sin forever in the tomb of Christ. Impossible, you say? You’re right! It is impossible for you to do. But nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37). What you need is an increase of faith. It’s not that you lack faith, but your faith needs to be strengthened. You are under attack. The devil has convinced you that the only right thing to do is to withhold forgiveness. “Bless my enemy? Pray for him? Forget it, Lord!” Only now you know that these are demonic thoughts, demonic words. Repent! Instead pray these words, the words of the apostles: “Increase our faith!” For if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you will be able to do the impossible. You will be able to say to a mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea” (Luke 17:6). And it will do it! It will uproot itself, plant itself in the midst of the sea, and there, deep under the salt water, it will grow and bear fruit. Impossible, you say? That’s just the point! And don’t get sidetracked here with experiments in commanding trees to be uprooted and mountains to move. Obviously you must ask first whether it is the Lord’s will that the tree be uprooted and thus planted, and if not, you should not tempt the Lord your God. No, the point is that faith can do impossible things, because faith, as the gift of God, is invested with the power of God. You do not have God’s command to uproot mulberry trees, but you do have God’s command to forgive. And in reality, this is the greater miracle. Because to forgive means to die to self. It means to take your neighbor’s sin into yourself and bear it as your burden. It means to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus to Calvary. You have no power within yourself to do this. You’re absolutely right, it is impossible for you. But now, baptized into Christ, you have God’s power. The Holy Spirit has called you to faith. Lord, increase our faith.

For this is what your Lord Jesus has done for you. He died to Himself. He died for you. He died on the cross for the forgiveness of yours sins. He bore the burden of your sins, the burden of the cross, all the way to Calvary. He took your sins into Himself and paid the punishment you deserve. All so that you may be forgiven. All so that you may live. He did not do His duty. He did your duty. He fulfilled the Law of God for you. He forgave you, and continues to forgive you. You do not deserve it. Even when you do your duty, you must simply say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10). The truth is, you don’t even do your duty. You are saved by the mercy of the Lord alone. But look what He does for you. Jesus does precisely what He says the earthly master will not do. We come in from the field not even having done our duty, having wasted our time and our Master’s resources, filthy with sin. And Jesus, our Master, draws us a bath, the cleansing waters of Baptism. He bathes us and puts His pure robe of righteousness on us. He speaks lovingly to us. He pronounces us forgiven and righteous and calls us His brothers, sons of His heavenly Father. And He prepares a Table for us and invites us to eat and drink with Him, His own body and blood, the body given and the blood shed for us, for the forgiveness of our sins. We sin against Christ more than seven times in a day. Our sins are beyond number. We don’t even know all our sins. But He always forgives us. He forgives us, because His blood covers all our sins. In Christ Jesus, we are forgiven, set free from sin, and given eternal life and salvation.

What a Savior we have! And this is great comfort to us, because temptations, scandals, stumbling blocks are sure to come. Let them come. We know they are coming. In Christ Jesus, we are safe. So we pray: Lord, increase our faith. And do not let us fall. Do what is impossible for us to do for ourselves. We know that by our own reason and strength we have no power to believe in You or come to You. But You have given us Your Word and Spirit. Keep us, O Lord, in the one true faith. Grant that on that great Day when You come again to judge the living and the dead, we may hear those blessed Words that You will speak to all who have believed in You: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The Rev. David Petersen, http://redeemer-fortwayne.org/displaySermon.php?sermon=32.