Cruce Tectum

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

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lenten Midweek V

Lenten Midweek V: “Teach Me to Do Your Will, For You Are My God”[1]

March 28, 2012

Text: Psalm 143; Catechism: Which [sins] are these?

Christians should confess their sins to God and be absolved, forgiven on account of the blood and death of Jesus Christ. That has been the point of our Lenten midweek series dealing with God’s gift of forgiveness. As we noted, this happens in a general way at the beginning of each Divine Service. But we also have this wonderful gift of Individual Confession and Absolution wherein we can confess our specific sins to God and hear from our pastor that those sins we have just confessed, along with every other sin, are forgiven in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. As I said, you can look at this rite for yourself on p. 292 of your hymnal, and you can come to me to make use of this gift any time.

Such confession of sins necessarily requires a little bit of self-examination. Because there is built right into the script of Individual Confession and Absolution an opportunity for you to confess the sins you know and feel in your heart, whatever sins particularly trouble you. There are a few words in this liturgy that you have to come up with on your own, namely, the sins you desire to name before God. So Luther asks in the Small Catechism, “Which [sins] are these?” Again, I invite you to turn to the inside front cover of your bulletin and recite this with me… “Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?”[2]

Notice that in the tool Dr. Luther gives us here to examine our lives, he doesn’t list what we might consider particularly “big sins.” Of course, those we would want to confess, too. But here he lists the sins we all commit in our daily lives and vocations. Consider your place in life. Consider the relationships God has placed you in to love and serve others. Consider the tasks your Lord has given you to do. How have you been unfaithful in those relationships? How have you been negligent or lazy in those tasks? Have you spoken sharply to your spouse? Have you gone looking for a quarrel? Have you been rude? Have you disrespected your parents? “Have you picked a verbal fight with a co-worker or friend because you didn’t get your way? Have you hurt others by your words or deeds? Have you stolen from your employer by not working as you should? Have you wasted the gifts God has given you? Have you stolen from God by not giving to the Church?”[3] Repent. Confess those sins. And believe the Word God speaks to you through your pastor, that all your sins have been forgiven in Christ Jesus, your Savior.

The devil would love to convince you that the sins we’re talking about here aren’t really sins, or at least that they’re small potatoes compared to the really big sins of other sinners. Or, if he can’t convince you of that, then he’ll try to convince you that your sins are SO big that they can’t possibly be forgiven, that Jesus’ blood cannot cover them. Either way, it’s a lie. And the devil uses such lies against you so that he can rob you of your faith in Jesus Christ and your longing for forgiveness by His death and resurrection. King David understood this. King David writes of the devil in our Psalm this evening, Psalm 143, “For the enemy has pursued my soul” (v. 3; ESV). He pursues your soul by these lies. And the last thing he wants is for you to confess your sins and be forgiven in Holy Absolution. He hates that. Because that means that not only are you aware of the seriousness of your sin, that it separates you from God and damns you, but you also know that you have a Savior, Jesus Christ, who died for you and is risen from the dead for you and pronounces your forgiveness through the lips of your pastor. David prays that in spite of the devil, God would make him know the way he should go, that God would teach him to do His will: “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!” (v. 10). What is the will of God? Jesus says: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40).

The will of God is that you look upon the Son, crucified and risen for you, and believe in Him. And in this way, you have eternal life. Your sins are forgiven, you have peace with God, and you have the sure and certain promise that you will be raised from the dead on the Last Day. You pray with King David, “Teach me to do your will,” and the Lord answers, “Yes, I will teach you. Look to my Son. That is my will. Trust Him. He was pierced for your transgressions. The punishment that brings you peace was upon Him. Look to Him, and you have eternal life.” And that is what you do in Confession and Absolution. You spit in the devil’s eye, and cast yourself on Christ. And the Lord preserves your life. In His righteousness, the righteousness of Christ, He brings your soul out of trouble (Ps. 143:11). And in His steadfast love, He cuts off your enemies, the devil, the world, your own sinful flesh. He destroys all the adversaries of your soul (v. 12). For you are His servant, indeed, His own dear child, purchased by the blood of His only-begotten Son. Nothing can separate you from His love. He will never let you go.

So consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments, and then tell the truth to God about who you are and what you’ve done. It’s not as though He doesn’t already know. You’re confessing for your sake, so that you face the truth. And then know this: God will deal truly with you. He will speak the truth to you. Your sins have been blotted out. They have been erased by Jesus’ blood. You are absolved. You are free. Believe it. It is yours. God cannot lie. The big sins, the small sins, all your sins, the very corruption of your nature, dear sinner, all forgiven for Jesus’ sake. And what this does is it frees you to go love and serve your neighbor in your vocations without the threats of the Law and the accusations of the devil. Just go love and serve for the joy of it. For God has declared you righteous for the sake of His Son. And His Word is final. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The theme and many of the points made in this year's Lenten series are from God's Gift of Forgiveness (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011).
[2] Luther's Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).
[3] Quotation from the sample sermon in God's Gift of Forgiveness.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Fifth Sunday in Lent (B)

March 25, 2012

Text: Mark 10:32-45

James and John don’t get it, or at least they don’t want to get it. Jesus is eagerly going up to Jerusalem to accomplish the salvation of the world, to atone for sin, to die. He is leading the way, urging His disciples on, His disciples who are amazed and afraid, because they know the danger that awaits their Master there in the Holy City. He speaks of it plainly: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise” (Mark 10:33-34; ESV). Here He is speaking of His death and resurrection, and all James and John can think about is their desire for positions of honor and influence, at the right hand and the left of Jesus when He comes into His Kingdom. The other Ten are no better. They are indignant with the two brothers, not because they have asked for such a great honor, but because they beat them to the punch.

So it goes with the disciples of Jesus. They are always arguing about who is the greatest, and missing the point of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, missing the point of Jesus Himself. Jesus must give them a lesson in humility. More importantly, Jesus must give them a lesson about His own person and work. Jesus must direct the attention and faith of the disciples away from themselves, and to Him as their Savior and Lord. You already know the way it works in the world. Those who seem to be in control, the elite, the rulers, lord it over their subjects and exercise authority over them. Kings demand the service of their subjects. It is so even today. The irony is not lost on us when we call our self-serving politicians “public servants.” It is not to be so among you, says Jesus. “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (vv. 43-44). Jesus turns the paradigm on its head. The greatest in the Kingdom of heaven is the least of all. You become great by serving, by becoming a slave to your neighbor. You become rich by giving everything for the sake of the other. And of course, by this definition, the greatest is not any one of the Twelve, nor any one of us. It is Jesus Himself. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 45).

Ponder for a moment the profundity of that statement, and the depth of God’s grace to us in His Son. This is the mystery of our faith, that God’s own Son should willingly, and out of great love for us poor sinners, lay aside His divine majesty, and become one of us. He who is Almighty God makes Himself nothing, takes on the form of a servant, becoming flesh, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, humbling Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. For us. For you. For me. For all people. That He might ransom us, buy us back from sin, from death, from hell and the power of the devil, for God. Today we also commemorate the Annunciation of Our Lord, the day angel Gabriel was sent by God to announce to Mary that she would conceive and bear a Son (Luke 1:26-38), the Son of God, who would save His people from their sins. And in the moment the angel spoke the Word of the Lord, the Holy Spirit came upon the Virgin Mary, and she conceived. The Word became flesh. God became a man. The little embryo in Mary’s womb was no less than Almighty God, who had humbled Himself for His people’s salvation. No earthly king would do that. Earthly kings exalt themselves before their people. Jesus, the King of heaven and earth and all that is in them, does just the opposite. He humbles Himself and serves His subjects. And then He dies for them. He is not simply our example in this, although He is that. We should humble ourselves, as Jesus did, having this same mind among ourselves, as Paul tells the Philippians (2:5ff.), though we’ll never do it perfectly in this life. But more importantly, behold what your Lord here does for you. He dies for you. He dies for the forgiveness of all of your sins. He dies so that you may have eternal life in Him. He dies so that you may be reconciled with the Father. He dies so that you can be freed from your self-promotion and self-seeking, freed from your desire to be the greatest, forgiven for your sinful pride, and give yourself, into death if necessary, for your neighbor, with love in Christ Jesus. He dies, and He is raised from the dead on the third day, so that you may die in Him, and be raised to new life, all of which is accomplished in Holy Baptism.

It is often true that we, like James and John in our text, don’t get it, or at least don’t want to, what it means to be Jesus’ disciple, what it means that Jesus Himself came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. Because by nature, in our fallen flesh, we seek to avoid the cross and suffering. We are by nature theologians of glory, who despise the theology of the cross. We want glory and majesty and power, not humility and suffering and weakness. That is why we prefer Easter to Holy Week and Good Friday. We fail to understand that Jesus’ power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9), that His death is the salvation of the whole world, our own salvation, and that the way of humble service is the definition of true greatness in the Kingdom of God. Repent, beloved. Humble yourself. Believe the Word of the Lord. Know that you are a sinner, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. There is no greatness in you. He is your greatness. And He has redeemed you for Himself, to be His own and live under Him in His Kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, to love and serve your neighbor, and to suffer, if necessary, for your Savior and for His Word and His Church. It is a great honor to suffer for His Name’s sake. Because again, in the Kingdom of God, the world’s definition of honor and greatness is turned on its head.

What ever came of James and John’s request? Jesus said that to sit on His right and His left when He comes into His Kingdom is not His to give. It is for those for whom it has been prepared (Mark 10:40). So when Jesus came into His Kingdom, when He was lifted up on the cross, as it turns out, it was a thief on His right, and another thief on His left. James and John did not know what they were asking. They certainly didn’t have in mind to be crucified with Him on Good Friday. Jesus comes into His Kingdom on the cross, as He is giving His life as a ransom for His subjects. There is even a sign above His head that says so, an official Roman proclamation, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). James and John do not receive the honor of being crucified on His right and His left that day. But Jesus does promise them they will suffer. They will be baptized with Jesus’ blood and drink the cup of His suffering. And they will be martyrs. It will be a great honor. James will be the first of the Apostles to die for the faith. John will suffer intense persecution throughout his life, a living martyr. And they will finally get it. They will finally understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, the crucified, what it means that Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for them, and for all people. And they will finally understand that Jesus is great in His giving His life, the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate act of service, and that they are great when they serve and suffer in Him.

What are we to make of all of this? Beloved in the Lord, you don’t need to push and shove your way in front of others, to jostle for first place, to climb to positions of honor and influence on the backs of others. That is not true greatness, in spite of what the world says. Repent of all that. You are called to be great in service. You are called to be great, if necessary, in suffering. You are called to receive the service and suffering of your Savior, Jesus Christ. He who died for you has baptized you into His death and resurrection. He has pronounced you righteous. He speaks His tender Word of consolation to you. He teaches you. He nourishes you with the holy Supper of His Body and Blood. All your sins are forgiven. You are God’s own child. You have eternal life. There is no greater honor. There is no greater greatness. You don’t achieve these things by climbing over others. Your Savior achieves these things for you by giving His back to those who scourge Him, by giving His hands and His feet to those who pierce Him with nails, by giving Himself for you. He is the greatest, who became the least. You, the least, are great in Him. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lenten Midweek IV

Lenten Midweek IV: “But You, O Lord, Are Enthroned Forever”[1]

March 21, 2012

Text: Psalm 102; Catechism: What sins should we confess?

Confession can be a scary thing. Confessing your sins makes you vulnerable. You may even find it embarrassing. You admit to God, to yourself, to you pastor, what all of the above already know about you: You are not perfect. Far from it. You don’t have it all together. You are not righteous. You’re a mess. You are a sinner, full of actual sins, sins that are very real. To confess your sins is to speak them aloud, to stare them in the face, and to give them all up to God to be dealt with in Christ.

This is so important, because sin separates you from God. Just as your sins against other people separate you from them, driving a wedge between friends and family, breaking relationships, so your sin separates your from God. And that is the definition of hell. It is separation from God. It is separation from the One who alone is good and is the source of all good. Sin separates you from God, and only God can do something about that. That is why He sent His Son to die for you. For God cannot simply overlook sin. Not if He is just. God cannot simply sweep sin under the rug. The holy Law of God is clear. Sin must be dealt with. Sin must be punished. Out of great love for you, at just the right time, God sent forth His Son, to be born of a woman, born under the Law to redeem those who are under the Law (Gal. 4:4-5) by His innocent suffering and death. He was punished for you. He was separated from God for you, in your place, when He cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34; ESV). There, in the sinless Son of God, your debt for sin was paid in full. And now you have the invitation: Confess your sins and be forgiven as God, in Holy Absolution, applies all the benefits of our Lord Jesus Christ’s suffering and death to you, covering your sin with His blood, and raising you to new life in Him.

The Psalmist prays: “Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call” (Ps. 102:2). When you repent of your sins, when you confess them and ask for forgiveness, your God does not hide His face. He assuredly inclines His ear. And just to make sure you understand that He is listening, He has ordained your pastor’s ear to be the receptacle of your confession. Your pastor’s ear is the tomb of your sins. Though Christ is risen, and you, too, will rise on the Last Day, your sins can never be resurrected from that grave. Your pastor is never to speak of those sins to anyone. You haven’t told them to your pastor, you’ve told them to your God. Nor will even God bring up those sins on Judgment Day. He has buried them forever, separated them from you as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). Because He doesn’t just listen to you. He speaks. He speaks His Almighty Word, which always accomplishes what it says. He has ordained your pastor’s mouth to speak His Word: “I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.” He is not silent. He answers you speedily in the day when you call. By His Word, your God obliterates your sin and guilt.

So, when your sins trouble you, run to Confession beloved, to be absolved by the power of God’s Almighty Word. What sins should we confess? Luther answers this in the Small Catechism, and again I invite you to recite this with me as printed on the inside front cover of your bulletin: “Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer; but before the pastor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts.”[2] It is impossible to enumerate every sin you’ve ever committed. Nowhere does Scripture require this of you. Otherwise Confession would be a torture. Before God you should plead guilty of all sins, even those you are not aware of. You do this each day as you pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses.” You also do this in the general Confession at the beginning of each Divine Service. You know that because you daily sin much, you are not aware of most of your sins. So you confess that to God. He knows every little sin of which you are guilty. And He forgives you those sins on account of Christ. Individual Confession and Absolution is not about the enumeration of every sin you’ve committed since you last confessed. Individual Confession and Absolution is about confessing those sins that particularly trouble you. The Psalmist prays in our Psalm tonight about sins that trouble him deeply. “I forget to eat my bread,” he says (Ps. 102:4). “I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop” (v. 7). The Psalmist is keenly aware of his guilt before God. He knows that his sins have separated him from God. His heart is troubled. He has lost his appetite. He can’t sleep. He repents: “For I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink” (v. 9). But then he remembers: God is still God! He is gracious and merciful! “But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever… you will arise and have pity on Zion” (vv. 12, 13). He runs to God for forgiveness and life. He confesses his sins and is absolved.

That is what you do when you are troubled by your sins. You run to God. You confess those sins that you know and feel in your heart. And you hear God’s Word of Absolution and cling to it in faith, for God cannot lie. He gave His Son into death to win that Absolution for you. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32), including the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

So don’t be scared, beloved. Don’t be embarrassed. You, your pastor, and God all already know that you are sinful. And there is no condemnation for those who confess. There is only forgiveness. For God has promised it. And He cannot break His promises. Rejoice! The LORD hears your pleas for mercy. He sent His Son. He sends His Word. You will not die, but live. Because you are forgiven. And God loves you with an everlasting love. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The theme and many of the points made in this year’s Lenten series are from God’s Gift of Forgiveness (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011).

[1] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986). 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lenten Midweek III

Lenten Midweek III: “Against You and For Me”[1]

March 14, 2012
Text: Psalm 51; Catechism: What is Confession?

King David had sinned grievously. He is described in Holy Scripture as a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14). Now, however, he has committed adultery and murder. He has taken Bathsheba, the wife of his faithful servant and soldier Uriah the Hitite, to himself and conceived a child with her. And he has commanded that Uriah be placed where the battle is fierce and that his fellow soldiers draw back from him so that he dies. What’s more, King David looks really good in all of this. It appears to the public as though good King David has taken in the poor widow of his slain soldier. What a gracious King we have, the people would say. Now the prophet Nathan has an unenviable task. The LORD sends him to confront David with his sin (2 Sam. 12). Pastors are to speak God’s Word in season and out of season, even when that means speaking the Law of God to an impenitent sinner, even when that means speaking that Law of God at the peril of the pastor’s own life. Nathan tells the parable of the lamb to David. And it works. Upon hearing the parable, David is enraged. The king pronounces his own judgment. Whoever has done this deserves to die! And then Nathan let’s the other shoe drop. He proclaims the most pointed Law in all of Holy Scripture: “You are the man!” (v. 7). David is cut to the heart. He knows immediately that Nathan speaks the truth. The Law of God slays King David, that man after God’s own heart. And the Law has its desired effect. David repents. He confesses his sin to his pastor, Nathan the Prophet. “I have sinned against the LORD” (v. 13). And upon that confession, Nathan immediately pronounces Absolution: “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”

What is Confession? Luther asks in the Small Catechism. Again, I invite you to recite the words with me, as printed on the inside front cover of your bulletin: “Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.”[2] David confesses his sin, and Nathan absolves him in God’s name. That’s it. David is free. God no longer counts David’s sin against him. That is how it works in Christian Confession and Absolution. You confess your sins to God. The pastor then absolves you. He forgives you all your sins in the Name of our living Triune God, Father, Son (+), and Holy Spirit. There are no conditions to be met. There are no satisfactions to be made. Believe God’s Word. Your sins are forgiven. They have been paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ, your Savior. Depart in peace. Go and sin no more.

Now it is true that David had to suffer the temporal consequences of his sin. The baby he had sinfully conceived with Bathsheba died. It was very sad. The same can be true for us. Sometimes we have to face temporal consequences for our sins. For example, sometimes the sin of adultery can ruin a marriage, even when the guilty party has confessed and been absolved. Or, even when a murderer confesses his sin to his pastor and receives absolution, he still has to face the civil penalty for his crime… prison, and in some cases, death. These temporal consequences don’t void God’s forgiveness in Absolution. As sure as Christ died for your sins, and is raised from the dead, you are forgiven before God. This doesn’t always free you from temporal consequences, but it does free you from eternal punishment in hell.

And that is the point of Confession, to free you from the wages of your sin, namely, eternal death in hell. To confess your sins to God is to acknowledge that you are a sinner, that you have sinned, and that you deserve eternal punishment in hell. But then you hear and believe the Absolution, that you are forgiven because of what Christ has done for you in His life, death, and resurrection. You don’t confess your sins to God for His sake. He already knows what you’ve done. You confess for your sake, so that you come to grips with the reality that you are a poor, miserable sinner, and that you need a Savior. You confess that you have sinned against God, because it is good for you so to confess. And this is good for you, not because God wants you to feel guilty or have bad self-esteem. This is good for you because when you have been put to death by the Law of God, He can raise you up again to new life with the Gospel. It is good for you to confess your sins so that God can forgive your sins through Christ, your Savior.

The fact is, God doesn’t desire great sacrifices from you, as if you could ever give Him anything He doesn’t already have. What He wants from you is a contrite heart, a heart that is sorry for your sins and commends them to God for forgiveness in Christ. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17). King David wrote Psalm 51 as a prayer of repentance over his sin with Bathsheba. We pray with him, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (v. 4), because ultimately all sin, even when perpetrated against another person, is a sin against God. It is a sin against the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” It makes the self a god. But we confess that sin. We name it before God. So that He can deal with it. And He does. He nails it to the cross of His Son Jesus. He buries it in the tomb. All that is left is the new life that Jesus gives us by His resurrection from the dead, by the power of His Spirit, in His Word and holy Sacraments. “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” we pray, “and renew a right spirit within me” (v. 10). Forgive my sins and give me strength to live according to Your will. He hears, beloved, and He answers. He does not despise your broken and contrite heart. The same Word Nathan proclaimed to King David I also proclaim to you this evening: “The LORD also has put away your sin.” He has put it away in Christ.

So, depart in peace. Live in the joy of forgiveness and life and the Holy Spirit. The Lord has restored to you the joy of your salvation. He has delivered you from bloodguiltiness. He has opened your lips, that your mouth may declare His praise. He gives you here His gifts in His Absolution and Word and Supper. The LORD has put away your sin. You shall not die. Rather, you will live eternally, through Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[1] The theme and many of the points made in this year’s Lenten series are from God’s Gift of Forgiveness (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011).
[2] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Third Sunday in Lent

Third Sunday in Lent (B)

March 11, 2012
Text: Ex. 20:1-17; John 2:13-25

One thing we should clear up right away. Jesus is not against church bake sales, youth group fundraisers, or LWML craft fairs. What He is against is confusing those things with Word and Sacraments, with prayer to the one true God, with the things that are of the essence of the holy Christian Church. He wants us to keep first things first, and everything else in its proper place. You have to understand where all this buying and selling and money changing was going on when Jesus entered the Temple. This is the court of the Gentiles, the only place in the Temple precincts where non-Jewish believers could worship and pray to God. But as they attempted to commune with their heavenly Father and receive His gifts, they had to contend with the sale of noisy animals for sacrifice (big business, that!), and the exchange of secular money for the Temple currency, the only money accepted in the confines of this place of worship. The sanctuary had become a market square. Imagine if you came to church, and at the door we made you exchange all your American currency for LCMS currency, for a price of course. You walk into the nave, the sanctuary, to pray and to receive the gifts of God in Word and Sacrament, and that is indeed going on here, but simultaneously the bake sale, the soup cook-off, the craft fair, and the second best sale are taking place right here in the sanctuary. You’d be a little distracted, to say the least. It would be extremely difficult to hear the Scripture readings and the preaching. Your attention would be drawn to the other activities going on around you. And you’d get the impression that these things that are noisier and more profitable are on a par with, if not more important than, our Lord’s Word and Supper. On your way out, you’d have to exchange your currency again, LCMS money being no good out in the world. The ushers would gladly take care of the exchange for you, for a price of course. Can you imagine? How would such worship edify you? Would you leave such a church believing your sins are forgiven on account of Christ? Would you leave such a church knowing Christ at all?

What do you suppose Jesus would do if He walked into such a church? We know what He’d do, because He did it in our text. He’d fashion a whip of cords and drive the crooks out. He’d overturn the tables. He’d say, “do not make my Father’s house a house of trade” (John 2:16; ESV). For zeal for God’s house consumes Him (v. 17). Jesus comes into the Temple in our text and cleans house. His Father’s house is to be a house of prayer, not a den of thieves. It’s not that Jesus is against business. Business has its place. But it is not to contend with God’s Word. The whole first Table of the Law, the first three commandments dealing with our relationship to God are being broken here in the Temple in one fell swoop. It is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob being worshiped here in the court of the Gentiles. It is the false god, Mammon. The Gentiles are given no room to fear and love God in such a way that they call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. Rather, God’s Name is misused for profiteering. And His Word is despised. That which is supposed to be the heart of the Temple worship, the Word of the Lord, is edged out by the chaos of the buying and selling. The Word is not held sacred, and one can hardly hear it or learn it. Here it is, the Passover, the most sacred of Jewish festivals, and just like our holidays, the whole thing has been sold out to commercialism. So Jesus comes to clean it up. He’s angry. Righteously so. He’s violent, cracking a whip and overturning tables. The Temple has been defiled. It would take God’s blood to cleanse the stain.

Well, we would never do all those silly things here in our sanctuary. That’s not where the Law hits us in this text. Jesus doesn’t have to turn over any tables in our sanctuary. No, what He has to do among us is even more violent. He has to turn over the tables in our hearts. He has to up-end the altars in our hearts that are dedicated to false gods. Money, power, influence, pleasure, whatever we fear, love, and trust the most. Jesus has to rid us of our idols so that we have no other gods before Him. He’s violent when He comes through to cleanse our hearts. He has to rip out our hearts of stone and give us new and clean hearts that beat with faith and prayer. He does that by His Spirit in His Word and in Baptism and in the Supper. He calls us to repentance by exposing our sin and idolatry in the preaching of His holy Law. He kills us with that Law. And then He calls us to faith, to new life by the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in His blood. It’s a death and resurrection that He performs on us. Jesus cleanses our hearts, just as He cleanses the Temple in our text.

You may be tempted to ask, as the Jews do in our Gospel, just who Jesus thinks He is to come in cracking whips and overturning tables and upsetting the whole business. The Jews said to Him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” (v. 18). In other words, who gave you the authority to do this? “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’” (v. 19). The Jews scoff. The Temple had taken forty-six years and great resources to build. It was King Herod’s special project to gain the favor of his subjects. And here Jesus is claiming He can rebuild it in three days? But of course He isn’t talking about the building He had just cleansed. He is talking about His body. His body is the true Temple. His body is the dwelling place of God with men. For He is God in the flesh. That is what gives Him the right, the authority to cleanse the Temple building. He is God. And this is what He will do for the cleansing of the whole world from sin, the cleansing of the Jews, the cleansing of the Gentiles, the cleansing of your hearts, beloved. He will die. The Temple of His body will be destroyed by Jews and Gentiles alike, by you and your sin. He will be crucified. Because it takes God’s blood to cleanse the stain of your sin. And on the third day He will rise. After three days He will raise up the Temple that is His body. And then God will dwell eternally with His people in that Temple of Jesus’ flesh. The Temple building would be destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. That is the judgment for the Jews’ unbelief and rejection of Jesus. To this day, the Temple has not been rebuilt. But the true Temple of God sits at the right hand of the Father. The true Temple is Jesus, in the flesh, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. The true Temple is Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Mary, Son of God, because in His flesh God dwells with us really and substantially, in the Word He speaks in Scripture and preaching and Absolution, in your Baptism where you put on Christ and His death and resurrection become your own, and in the Supper where the bread you eat is His true body, and the wine you drink it His true blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins.

This is your God, this flesh and blood Man, Jesus. You are to have no others. He cleansed the Temple of the god Mammon, and now He comes to cleanse your heart of your idols. Because He wants you to fear, love, and trust in Him alone. And of course, when you fear, love, and trust in Jesus alone, you are fearing, loving, and trusting the Father and the Holy Spirit as well, because the three Persons of the Holy Trinity are one God. Luther sings of Jesus in “A Mighty Fortress,” “And there’s none other God,” (LSB 656:2), because the Father and the Holy Spirit are one God with the Son, who is Jesus Christ. And the point is, if you have Jesus, you have God, the Holy Trinity. If you don’t have Jesus, you don’t have God. You have an idol.

Lent is the season of repentance. Beloved, repent. Sweep the idols out of your heart. There is no room in your heart for God to share you with them. Like the Temple, you need to be cleansed. Jesus comes to you today in His Word and blessed Sacrament to do just that. He comes to take possession of you whole. Repent and believe the good news. Jesus died for your sins. He is raised for your justification and eternal life. He is your God. Though you are a sinner and an idolater, He has not rejected you. He has won your eternal salvation. So rejoice. Fear Him. Love Him. Trust Him. Alone. Live each day in Him. Have your bake sales and soup cook-offs and craft fairs and everything else. Go about your daily business with great joy. But when you come here, into the sanctuary, before the altar of God where He distributes to you nothing less than Himself, the very body and blood of Jesus Christ, understand this: Those things are not your gods. Jesus reigns supreme here. We behave reverently because Jesus is here. For us. And if we can possibly help it, we don’t miss it. Not for those other, secondary things. Those things are not to be our idols. Jesus is our God. We shall have no other gods before Him. Nor would we want to. We call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks to Him. And we hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Because in Him alone there is forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. In the name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Lenten Midweek II

Lenten Midweek II: “Make Haste to Help Me”[1]

March 7, 2012
Text: Ps. 38; Catechism: What do you believe according to these words?

The Law of God is like an arrow that pierces your very heart. The Law hurts. The Law kills. The Law damns. Because the Law of God exposes sin, your sin, your sinful nature, your actual sins of omission and commission. The Law of God exposes your sin and passes sentence: The wages of sin is death. King David, in our Psalm, as he examines himself in the mirror of God’s holy and righteous law, cries out: “O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath! For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me” (Ps. 38:1-2; ESV). The Law of God leaves no survivors. When the Law of God has its way with you, you die. The Law of God is good and wise. In fact, it is perfect. But it is deadly to sinners. “Sinner,” that is the description of every one of us, as we heard in the First Reading this evening (Rom. 3:9-26). “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (vv. 10-12). Therefore, every mouth is stopped in its boasting. The whole world is held accountable to God (v. 19). By works of the Law no human being is justified in God’s sight, “since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (v. 20). Rather, the sinner is condemned. God’s deadly arrows, the Law.

God wants you good and dead, He kills you with His Law, so that He can bring about a resurrection. And that is what happens in the Gospel. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law… the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (vv. 21-22). This is the perfect righteousness of our Lord’s life, death, and resurrection, given and applied to you in the Word and the Sacraments, received by faith in Christ. This righteousness raises the dead. It raises you out of spiritual death. It will raise you physically from the dead on the Last Day. And because of this righteousness of the Christ who suffered hell in your place, you have eternal life rather than eternal death in hell.

Confession and Absolution is Law and Gospel in concrete form. You examine your life according to the Ten Commandments, and you confess, you name your transgressions against God’s Law. It kills you to do so. The Law always does. But then you hear the Absolution: I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. And all at once you have new and eternal life in Christ. Because the righteousness of Jesus Christ has been applied to you. We heard our Lord’s promise about this last week: “The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’ [John 20:22-23].”[2] The Lord has given an office, the Office of the Holy Ministry, the business of which is the forgiveness of sins. Tonight with Dr. Luther we ask the catechetical question: “What do you believe according to these words?” I ask you once again to recite the answer with me as printed on the inside front cover of your bulletin: “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.” Because Christ, our dear Lord, does deal with us Himself in Absolution. He gives His Church pastors to be His mouthpiece. When you hear the Absolution, you can believe it and cling to it as the very Word of God, as the bloody Word of your Savior as He applies His crucifixion and resurrection to you.

And since this is the case, you need not fear the discipline of God. You do have to undergo discipline. There are still earthly consequences of your sin to be borne with patience and faith. There are still hurts and pains and sicknesses to be suffered, and of course, there is still death in this fallen world. King David speaks of this in the Psalm. He says there is no soundness in his flesh, or health in his bones (Ps. 38:3). “For my sides are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart” (vv. 7-8). Not only do David’s enemies seek his hurt and ruin (v. 12), even his friends, his companions, his nearest kin stand far off (v. 11). Sin causes pain in your flesh. Sin causes pain in your heart. Sin makes enemies, and sin breaks relationships. Lord, have mercy. But these consequences of sin are not punishments. Jesus bore your punishment for sin, all of it, on the holy cross. No, these consequences are discipline. Because you are a disciple of Jesus. Disciples are disciplined, they are taught. God teaches you by these afflictions that before the Law you stand condemned. You are a sinner. But in Christ, and in Christ alone, you have life and freedom from sin. In Christ, and Christ alone, you are forgiven and set free, and there will be an end to discipline and affliction, in heaven, and in the resurrection of the dead.

So, with King David, we commend the whole mess to God. He’ll take care of it. We bear whatever cross He places upon us in the knowledge that He is with us and has given us these afflictions for our good. “But for you, O LORD, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer” (v. 15). We wait for the Lord’s deliverance, and we confess our sins. “I confess my iniquity,” we pray with David. “I am sorry for my sin” (v. 18). And then we hear the Absolution and cling to it for our eternal life. We hold God to His Word. “Do not forsake me, O LORD! O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!” (vv. 21-22). And He does. And He will. He makes haste to help us. He helps us through the cross of His Son. He helps us through His Word and Sacraments. He is not far from us. He is with us. With us even to the end of the age. The Law of God kills us precisely for the purpose of raising us to new life again in Christ. That is what happens every time you confess your sins and are forgiven. It is God who does this. It is Christ, your dear Lord, Himself. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The theme and many of the points made in this year’s Lenten series are from God’s Gift of Forgiveness (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011).
[2] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Second Sunday in Lent

Second Sunday in Lent (B)

March 4, 2012
Text: Mark 8:27-38

The problem for Peter, the problem for you and I, is a false understanding of who Jesus is, what that means, and what it means for us to be Christians, those who follow Jesus. Peter believed in Jesus. He believed Jesus to be the Christ, God’s anointed sent to save Israel. But he didn’t understand that Jesus came not to be a political Savior of Israel from Roman tyranny, but the Savior of all people from sin, death, and the devil. Peter didn’t understand that Jesus came to save, not by some glorious display of power or a military revolution, but by submitting to sinners, submitting to death, submitting to hell itself. Jesus is indeed the Christ. That part Peter got right. But He is the Christ in this way: He dies for our sins. He takes our place on the cross. He suffers condemnation, hell, in our place. He is our substitute. “(T)he Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31; ESV). Any other Jesus, a Jesus who saves in any other way, is, in reality, no Savior at all. Such a Jesus is a false god. Such a Jesus is an illusion of Satan, the father of lies.

There are many opinions out there about who Jesus is. Some say He is a great teacher. Others say He is a political revolutionary. Still others would make Him a champion of human rights. Some preach Jesus as a stern Lawgiver. Others proclaim Him a permissive enabler who affirms whatever choices you make in life. Some believe Jesus is a Republican. Others claim that He is a staunch Democrat. Some accuse Jesus of misogyny, of being a woman-hater. Others say He is a radical feminist. It is always helpful, at least here in the United States, to claim Jesus for your cause. But whatever the cause, even if it’s noble, understand this: You cannot put Jesus in a box. You cannot dictate to Jesus what He is to teach and what He is to do for you. You cannot bend Jesus into whatever shape is convenient for you at the time. A designer Jesus is not the Jesus of the Bible. A designer Jesus is not the living Savior, who was crucified for your sins and is raised from the dead, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Again, a designer Jesus is an idol, a satanic illusion.

At the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the people had their own opinions about who Jesus is and what they would like Him to be and do. Some believed He was John the Baptist, raised from the dead after Herod had him beheaded. Some believed He was Elijah, on the basis of a misunderstanding of Malachi’s prophecy (Mal. 4:5) that Elijah would come before the appearing of the Messiah (It was really John the Baptist who fulfilled that prophecy, coming in the spirit and prophetic office of Elijah). Others believed He was another great prophet like Isaiah or Jeremiah. They all got it wrong. Of course, Jesus is the Prophet par excellence. But He is so much more than a prophet. He is the One to whom all the prophets pointed, the One of whom they wrote and spoke. He is the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed of God, the Son of God in human flesh, come to save His people, not from the Romans, but from their sins. By dying. By shedding His holy, precious blood. By His innocent suffering and death. It must be so. It is a divine necessity, the will of God, the only way. Justice must be met for our sin. It is either Him or us. Either He must stand in for us, or we must die and be subject to an eternity in hell. Out of great love for us, the Savior takes our place. He dies that we might live. He suffers hell that we might enjoy eternity in heaven. And on the Last Day, our risen Lord Jesus will come in His glory with the holy angels and raise us from the dead.

Peter does not understand all this death and resurrection stuff, either. Nor does he like it. Peter has just confessed on behalf of all the Apostles that Jesus is no mere prophet, but the Christ, the Savior promised by God in all the Old Testament Scriptures. He gets that part right. But he thinks that Jesus should win the victory over all His enemies by a glorious display of power and might. He believes Jesus should march into Jerusalem and assume the throne of His father David, kick that wicked usurper King Herod out of town, and declare independence from Rome. By a word, Jesus could defeat legion upon legion of Roman soldiers. By a word, Jesus could bring Caesar to his knees. Wouldn’t this be easier than all this crucifixion talk? And now we understand why Jesus rebukes Peter with the sharp and heartbreaking words: “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mark 8:33). Peter was tempting Jesus in the same way the devil tempted Him in the wilderness: You can accomplish all this without the cross and suffering. “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me” (Matt. 4:8-9). Forget the cross. Forget suffering. There’s an easier way. Just bow down and worship me and the whole world will be your oyster. It’s really the same temptation the devil used to trap our first parents in the Garden: You will be like God. Eat the fruit. It’s easier and more enjoyable than obeying God’s commandment. You can be your own god. Peter rebukes Jesus for all this cross talk. There’s an easier way. The way of power. The way of glory. Had our Lord Jesus given in to the temptation, we would still be in our sins. “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus says to Peter. “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33).

What causes us to get the wrong Jesus is that we do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men. We do not understand the divine necessity of Jesus’ suffering and death for our sins. Nor do we like it. There has to be an easier way, a more glorious way, a less grotesque and bloody way. And what Jesus says next is a great offense to our fallen flesh: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (vv. 34-35). You, Peter… You, dear Christian, are called not only to believe in, trust, and follow a suffering Savior who is crucified for your sins. You are also called to suffer for His sake and for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus suffers for your salvation. You suffer because you are saved. You suffer in this fallen flesh and in this fallen world because now that Jesus has saved you, there is conflict between good and evil, conflict between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil, and you are the contested territory. The devil will whisper his same old lie: There’s an easier way. And in some measure, it’s true. You can have peace in this life if you just surrender yourself to the devil. But understand, when this life is over, you will belong to the devil in hell for all eternity.

To follow Jesus, however, is to suffer in this life, because the devil cannot stand it. He will give you no rest. He will always have you in his sights. And you will always have the world and your fallen flesh to contend with. To follow Jesus is go the way of the cross, and to struggle now, in this life, against sin and temptation, knowing that in the end, the war is won by the life, death, and resurrection of your Lord Jesus. In the end, there is eternal life and heaven and the resurrection of the dead. If you want to save yourself now from the struggle, you will ultimately lose your life to an eternity in hell. If you lose your life now in the struggle, lose your life in Christ, you have all the benefits of His cross and suffering. What would it profit you to gain the whole world, yet lose your soul for all eternity? What would you give in exchange for your soul? These are rhetorical questions, of course. It would profit you nothing to gain the whole world for your earthly lifetime, which is a drop in the bucket, a drop in the ocean compared with eternity. And what wouldn’t you give in exchange for your soul? There is nothing you wouldn’t give. Yet it still wouldn’t be enough. That is why Jesus gave His all on the cross for you, for your forgiveness and salvation. That is why it was divinely necessary that He suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and scribes and be killed, and on the third day rise again. It had to be so. For you. You are the reason. God so loved you, and the whole world, that He sent His only begotten Son to die for you and for the whole world, so that you and anyone who believes in Him, may not perish, but have eternal life. Believe it, and take up your cross now and follow Jesus. Confess Him, even if it means the death of you. Struggle against sin and temptation. And know that no matter what, your salvation is assured in Christ Jesus. Set not your mind on the things of men: Earthly glory, health, wealth, prosperity, power. Set your mind on the things of God: Salvation in Christ, His Word, Your Baptism into Christ, the Supper of His body and blood, eternal life through the suffering and death of the Son of God.

And forget all those idols, the designer Jesuses. When anyone tempts you with a designer Jesus, when your own sinful flesh tempts you with a designer Jesus, you say, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men.” And then go and confess your sins to God and cling to the Word He even now pronounces over you: I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. I forgive you, because Jesus died for you. Open your mouth, and receive into it the fruits of His cross, His true body and blood, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of all of your sins. That’s the real Jesus. Right here, right now, in His Word and Supper. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.