St. Michael and All Angels
St. Michael and All
Sept. 29, 2013
Text: Dan. 10:10-14, 12:1-3; Rev. 12:7-12; Matt.
Prophet Elisha and his servant are holed up in Dothan. The King of Syria is in hot pursuit. Elisha must be captured and put to death, for
by the word of the Prophet, God has been protecting the nation of Israel from
Syrian assault. The Syrian army
surrounds Dothan. “ When
the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold,
an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said,
‘Alas, my master! What shall we do?’ He said, ‘Do not be afraid, for those who
are with us are more than those who are with them.’ Then Elisha prayed and
said, ‘O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the LORD opened the eyes
of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and
chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:15-17; ESV).
is for the people of God. The enemies
arrayed against us are colossal. There
is the devil and his evil angels (more on them in a moment). There is the world, which is hostile to
Christ and His people, the Church. There
is your own sinful nature, which believes the lies of the devil and the world
and is all too willing to capitulate to their temptations. These surround the holy city, the Church of
God, and to all appearances, guarantee our defeat and ultimately our
destruction. But if the Lord would open
our eyes to see the spiritual reality that surrounds us, we would not only see
the demonic hoards that seek to do us harm, but the holy angels gathered around
us for our defense. And we would realize
that those who are with us are more than those who are against us. Christ Himself fights for us and has already
conquered our enemies by His death and resurrection. And now He has given us the protection of the
angel host, so that we need not fear. We
are safe and can rest secure. Though the
battle rages between the forces of good and evil, holiness and wickedness, the
war is won in the blood of the Crucified.
And His angels have been dispatched to guard us in all our ways, to bear
us up lest we strike our foot against a stone (Ps. 91:12).
are these majestic beings, the holy angels?
Well, they are not the souls of the dead. They are not smiling naked babies with wings
as we so often represent the Cherubim.
Nor are they the serene feminine beings we place on top of our Christmas
trees. They are fearsome creatures,
mighty warriors who do the bidding of God, fight against the devil and the evil
angels, and aid us in our Christian life.
Angels are spirits. They are
personal beings that do not have a physical body. They are described in various ways in Holy
Scripture, so that an exact description of them is beyond our ability. Isaiah describes the Seraphim, one particular
order of angels, as having six wings: with two they cover their faces, with two
they cover their feet, and with two they fly (Is. 6:2). The Cherubim, another order of angels, were
charged with guarding the door to Paradise with a flaming sword (Gen.
3:24). Likenesses of Cherubim were set
over the Ark of the Covenant, where God dwelt with the people of Israel (Ex.
25:18-22). Ezekiel describes these
strange and wonderful creatures in his 10th Chapter: “as for their appearance, the four had the same likeness, as if a wheel
were within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions
without turning as they went… And their
whole body, their rims, and their spokes, their wings, and the wheels were full
of eyes all around… And every one had four faces: the first face was the face
of the cherub, and the second face was a human face, and the third the face of
a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle” (vv. 10-12, 14; ESV). So much for our Christmas angels!
angels are neither male nor female, though they are most often described in
masculine terms. They were created
sometime during the six days of creation, and sometime before the fall of Adam
and Eve in the Garden, there was a rebellion among the angels. Since this rebellion, the holy angels have
been confirmed in their holiness, they cannot fall; the evil angels have been
confirmed in their wickedness and condemnation, they cannot repent. Originally created as holy angels, Lucifer
(Light Bearer) and the angels that followed him in his rebellion were cast out
of heaven to spend eternity separated from God.
Our Lord Jesus says, “I saw Satan
fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). In his vision, St. John sees the evil dragon
sweep a third of the stars of heaven out of the sky with his tail, the dragon
being the devil and the stars being the angels that fell (Rev. 12:4). The name “Satan” is Hebrew for
“adversary.” The name “devil” is Greek
for “accuser.” His name indicates his
nature. He is our adversary, “a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”
(1 Peter 5:8). He seeks to lead us with
him into eternal damnation. He accuses
us before God and before our own conscience, seeking to lead us into despair. He tempts us to sin and unbelief and causes
untold damage spiritually and physically.
St. Paul calls him the “prince of
the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), and Jesus calls him the “ruler of this world” who is “cast out” by the redeeming work of
Christ (John 12:31; cf. John 14:30, 16:11).
Though the devil is a powerful angel, we need not fear him, for by His
death and resurrection our Lord Jesus has “disarmed
the rulers and authorities [demonic beings] and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col.
word “angel” comes from the Greek “angelos,”
meaning “messenger.” The holy angels are
God’s messengers. They are His special
agents dispatched for our physical and spiritual protection. “Are
they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who
are to inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14).
And yet, at the same time they are guarding and protecting us, they are
ever in the presence of God. Jesus says
in our Gospel, “See that you do not
despise one of these little ones,” meaning certainly the children, but also
all of God’s children, all Christians… “For
I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is
in heaven” (Matt. 18:10). That means
that even as they are present with you, they are present with God, have direct
access to Him, and do His bidding for your good. What a comfort! Their job is to help you, to protect you
physically and spiritually for the sake of your salvation. Some of them may even appear visibly among us
in human form, as the writer to the Hebrews says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have
entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2).
And these angels, they are a countless host. As they serve and help you, they
simultaneously sing praise to God in heaven.
St. John saw a vision of this in the Revelation: “Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures
and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and
thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was
slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and
blessing!’” (Rev. 5:11-12). And what
is amazing is that we join them in this reality when we gather around the altar
to laud and magnify the glorious Name of God “with angels and archangels and
all the company of heaven.”
angels help us in our worship, and as God’s messengers, they are always
directing us to Christ and His saving Gospel.
So the angels announced the coming of the Lord Jesus to Mary and Joseph
(Luke 1:26-38; Matt. 1:18-25). They
hailed His birth to the shepherds tending their flocks by night (Luke
2:8-15). An angel rolled back the stone
of Jesus’ tomb and was the first preacher of the Resurrection (Matt. 28:1-7;
John 20:12). It is the angels who will
announce with trumpet sound our Lord’s coming again to judge the living and the
dead (Matt. 24:31; 1 Thess. 4:16). And
if we only had eyes to see, we would marvel at the many and various ways they
direct our ears to the hearing of God’s Word in Scripture and preaching. Angels, messengers of God, indeed.
what good news they bring. Here you are
surrounded on all sides by your three main enemies: the devil, the world, and
your own sinful flesh. The yawning jaws
of death and hell are eager to swallow you whole. But you are of good courage. You do not lose heart. Because by faith you know that what was true
for Elisha is true for you. Those who
are with you are more than those who are against you. He who gave His Son into death, washing away
your sins by the holy and precious blood of Christ, will not betray you into
the hands of the enemy. He has
surrounded you with His holy angels, horses and chariots of fire, to protect
you, body and soul. And when your last
hour comes and you take your last breath, the holy angels will carry you to
heaven to be with the Savior (Luke 16:22).
You see, you are never alone. Not
even in death. Christ is with you. And His holy angels are an impregnable wall
of defense around you, mighty warriors who fight for you. And they and you have conquered Satan and his
hoard by the blood of the Lamb and by His holy Word (Rev. 12:11). Thanks be to God for the holy angels. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son
(+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
after Pentecost (C—Proper 20)
September 22, 2013
Text: Luke 16:1-15
“What do you have that you did not receive?”
(1 Cor. 4:7; ESV). St. Paul asks this
piercing question of the Corinthians with regard to their gifts, material and
spiritual. And the answer, of course, is
patently obvious to Christians.
Nothing. There is nothing we have
that has not been given to us as a gift.
Everything we have has been given to us by our gracious God. But patently obvious as this answer might be,
Christians have a tendency to forget. So
St. Paul stingingly reminds the Corinthians and us with his very next breath: “If then you received it, why do you boast
as if you did not receive it?” If
what you possess is a gift from God, then it was given to you wholly apart from
your merit or worthiness. It is by
grace. You didn’t earn it. God gave it to you. And He gave it to you for a reason, that in possessing
it you might be a blessing to your neighbor.
that every good you possess is a gift from God changes your perspective
concerning what belongs to you. Whether
it be money, physical possessions, skills and abilities, time, or spiritual
gifts, it has all been given to you by God.
And understand, God doesn’t give you these things so that you can hoard
them up for yourself. This is something
we prosperous Americans seem to have trouble with. First of all, we tend to think we’ve earned
these gifts, effectively removing God from the equation… “Look what I’ve done! Look what I’ve
accomplished!” And second, we have
been deceived by the evil one to believe that the more we possess, the more
money and stuff we can add to our collection, the happier and more fulfilled
we’ll be. And yet isn’t it amazing that
you can work your whole life in order to acquire wealth and possessions, live
like kings and queens (as most of us do here in the United States, even many of
our poor), and yet feel unfulfilled, unhappy even, and believe that you need
even more stuff in order to fill the void?
That should tell us there’s a problem.
The problem is that we have the wrong god. We worship our money. We worship our stuff. We worship ourselves. And we worship this unholy trinity by
hoarding it all up, keeping it all (or at least most of it) for the self,
failing to help our neighbor in need and trust that God is a never-failing
fountain of good who will continue to provide for all our needs that we might be
a blessing to our neighbor.
isn’t commending dishonesty or cheating in the parable He tells us this
morning. His point is simply this: Even
the children of the world (that is to say, unbelievers) know how to use
unrighteous wealth to make friends. A
little generosity goes a long way. But,
Jesus says, the children of light (that’s the believers, that’s you and me), we
tend to forget this. If even the
dishonest manager knows that his generosity will work for his benefit, surely
you Christians ought to know that giving generously results in God’s abundant
blessing not only upon the receiver of your generosity, but also, and perhaps
even more so, upon you. As you empty
yourself for the sake of the other, God fills you ever more abundantly, that
you might give even more. He’s never
going to stop giving to you. He will not
suddenly begin to withhold His goodness from you. Now, I’m not saying that if you give an extra
$100 today, you’ll receive a check in the mail for $150 tomorrow. Some so-called Christian teachers (they’re
really false teachers!) say silly things like this, and their teaching is
dangerous. We call them theologians of
glory. The idea is that if you just
serve God enough and believe hard enough, then He’ll give you a break. He’ll pour out His blessings upon you. You’ll be rich and healthy, living the good
life. No, it doesn’t work that way. But if God is your God, you can trust that He’ll give you everything you need for
this body and life and for you to be a blessing to your neighbor. Notice I didn’t say He’ll give you everything
you want (and we Americans have trouble distinguishing between our wants and
needs). But He will give you what you
need. And He will give it to you so that
you can be faithful with it, which is to say, so that you can help your
neighbor with it. Remember that you are
just a steward of all the things God gives you, all of which really belongs to
Him. He will bless you so that you can
be a blessing.
if wealth is your god (we’ll use the biblical name here for this idol: Mammon)…
if Mammon is your god, then you won’t want to use what you’ve been given for
the good of your neighbor. Because
you’ll be afraid that it will run out.
You’ll be afraid there is not enough for you if you share. And in fact there won’t be enough for you, because the thing about Mammon worship is,
it always holds forth the promise that if you just had a little more it would
be enough, but then there’s never enough because you always want just a little
bit more. But if God is your God, then
your whole perspective changes. Then you
have enough, whatever your circumstances, because you have God. You have Christ. You have before you this God who has given
Himself into death and hell for your eternal life and salvation. “For
you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for
your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2
Cor. 8:9). What is St. Paul saying
here? That Almighty God took on flesh in
the womb of the Virgin to become one with you, to take your sin upon Himself
and pay for it in His death on the cross.
Again, St. Paul to the Romans: “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). Don’t you think for a moment that God is
going to forsake you! Not now, not in
your time of need! He will provide. And, by the way, do you know how He will provide
for you? Probably not through some
spectacular miracle like unfailing jars of oil or the multiplication of loaves
and fishes. He could do that, and He has.
But mostly He provides for you through your neighbor. And you’ve been on the receiving end of that
charity. Now, some of you might say,
“What?! I can’t remember a time I’ve
ever had to take charity from anyone!”
Yes, you have. You were born
naked and screaming, and everything in the world had to be done for you and
provided for you by your mother and father or someone else who stepped into
that role. You had to be fed, clothed,
sheltered, taught, and your parents had to do all sorts of things for you that
grossed them out. And do you know why
they did it? Because God called them to
do it in the office of parent. God did all
of this for you through the hands of your parents. Their parents did it for them. They did it for you. Perhaps you’ve done it, or are doing it now,
or will do it for your own children.
They are the neighbor nearest to you, whom you are called to help. God cares for you through the vocation of
your neighbor. And God cares for your
neighbor through your vocation. Your
family, the neighbors who literally live next door, your church family, those
you work with or go to school with, your friends, everyone with whom God places
you in relationship. You are called to
serve them. To be a blessing to
them. And they are called to serve you. To be a blessing for you. And in this way God provides for your
needs. The model is Jesus Himself, who
emptied Himself of His glory and of His very life for you. So you now empty yourself for your neighbor,
in trust that God will fill you, even as He raised Jesus Christ from the
dead. You can be a living sacrifice for
your neighbor, or even a dead one, because you know that in the end Jesus
Christ will raise you.
reality is that God has given you everything you have. Sure you’ve had to work. That’s one of the ways God provides. Sometimes He provides you with a cross, such
as lack of work or lack of money, or an illness, or some other suffering, so
that you’ll realize you’re entirely dependent upon Him for everything. It all comes from Him. Every penny.
Every breath. Every beat of your
fragile heart. But He is faithful. He provides.
Luther gives us pure Gospel in his explanation of the 1st
Article of the Creed. It’s worth hearing
again in full: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and
earth. What does this mean? I
believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body
and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and
still takes care of them. He also gives
me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land,
animals, and all I have. He richly and
daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards
and protects me from all evil. All this
He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or
worthiness in me” (Luther’s Small
Catechism [St. Louis: Concordia, 1986]).
Now, after all that Gospel, all these things that God freely gives us
(and by the way, what isn’t included in that list?), we are reminded of our
Christian duty: “For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey
Him.” And that means loving and serving
my neighbor. Because God doesn’t need my
good works, but my neighbor does. My
neighbor needs my prayers. He needs my
hands to help, my food to be full, my clothing to be covered, my money to
purchase the things that are necessary for this body and life, as well as my
support for the preaching of the Gospel so that he may hear of Christ. And I can help him freely and joyfully because
Mammon is not my God. My God is the God who made heaven and earth
and from whom every good and perfect gift flows. He is the God who gave His Son Jesus to die
for the forgiveness of all of my sins, including my stinginess and selfishness,
my failure to help my neighbor and love him as myself, the God who raised my
Savior Jesus from the dead, that I might have new life. And so recognizing that everything I have is
a gift from God, and that God will never fail to provide for me, I can give. I can give generously. I can give sacrificially. Because God will never forsake me. My sins are covered by the blood of Christ,
who loved His neighbor, loved me, to death… His own death on the cross. And because of that, my brothers and sisters
in Christ will receive me when I die into the eternal dwellings. And so you.
You can give your all because Christ Jesus gave His all for you. And in Him you have eternal life. This is most certainly true. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son
(+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
after Pentecost (C—Proper 19)
September 15, 2013
Text: Luke 15:1-10
sinners doth receive” (LSB 609:1). This
fact is maddening to Pharisees, but the greatest comfort to us who believe what
we have just said of ourselves: that we are by nature sinful and unclean; that
we have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and
by what we have left undone; that we justly deserve God’s present punishment
now, in this earthly life, and His eternal punishment in hell. Jesus receives even you and me. And that’s grace. That is God freely bestowing upon us His
undeserved kindness and love on account of the suffering and death of our Lord
Jesus Christ, who is now risen from the dead, lives, and reigns to all eternity. Jesus took our sin and death upon
Himself. He became a man, became flesh,
born of the Virgin Mary, that He might do this very thing. He takes it all upon Himself and bears it to
Golgotha, where He suffers our condemnation and dies our death. God’s justice must be satisfied. If our God is to be a just God, He cannot
simply sweep our sin under the rug and pretend it never happened. He must punish sin. Otherwise He hasn’t really done anything
about it. And so He does punish our sin. On the cross.
God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son. He sent His Son to take our place. That is grace. And now our God, our Jesus, receives sinners,
receives you, receives me, in His Kingdom, at His Table. And the angels and archangels and all the
company of heaven rejoice.
great scandal of all this is you didn’t do a thing to deserve it. In fact, you did anything and everything
possible to NOT deserve it. That’s what
you did. And so all the doing that
merits the forgiveness of sins and a seat at the Table is accomplished by Jesus
alone. For you. He does it all. “Well, there’s got to be more to it than
that,” we object. “Surely we have to do something. At least we have to choose to be Jesus’
disciple, dedicate our lives and our hearts to Him, clean up our act, stop
cussing, be better spouses and parents or children.” Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for cleaning up our language and our
behavior, and I’m certainly all for family values. But here’s the scandal: If you did all that…
If you dedicated your life and heart to living for Jesus, if nothing but
pristine pious language came from your mouth, you were the nicest and kindest
person anyone had ever met, generous with time and money, a fantastic husband
and father, wife and mother, son or daughter, the kind of person every one of
us wants to be… If you did all that and brought it before the throne of God for
His approval… you would be a Pharisee.
The Pharisees were great people when judged by human standards. The problem is, they trusted in their own
goodness, their own religiosity, their piety, to earn God’s favor. And they were absolutely blind to their
sin. They were outwardly above reproach. But on the inside they were filled with the
same lust and hatred and selfishness as the rest of us poor schmucks. Jesus described them as whitewashed tombs:
beautiful on the outside, but inside full of the rot and stink of dead men’s
bones (Matt. 23:27). Jesus simply wasn’t
impressed by their outward righteousness.
And that’s why they hated Him and sought to put Him to death. I mean, here they had done all this work,
meticulously keeping the Law of Moses and all sorts of man-made regulations
devised to put a hedge around the Law so that there would be no possibility of
transgressing it. And Jesus tells them
that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99
Pharisees and Scribes who need no repentance (Luke 15:7, 10)… or so they think! Jesus, contrary to every social and religious
scruple, goes to the sinners, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the dregs of
society. He receives them, associates
with them, touches them. And He eats
with them. The dishonorable. The dirty.
And this is really good news for us poor miserable sinners. He receives us! We’ve done nothing to deserve Jesus’
reception. And that’s just the
point. You can’t deserve it. You can do nothing to earn it. You cannot acquire it by your own efforts.
You can only have it bestowed upon you by God, in Christ, by grace.
sheep in Jesus’ parable could do nothing about being lost. Even if the sheep resolved within himself to
behave better and be dedicated to the Shepherd, he wouldn’t magically be
transported back to the flock. Actually,
what happens when sheep become lost is that they are completely incapacitated
with fear. They can’t retrace their
steps. They can’t walk. They can’t even stand. That’s why when you see pictures of Jesus as
the Good Shepherd, He’s carrying the sheep, like the guy on the front of your
bulletin who is carrying the sheep on his shoulders. He has to.
The sheep has no ability to come back on his own. Then there’s the coin. What can the coin possibly do about finding
itself? All a lost coin can do is lie
there in the dust and filth of the house until it is found. That’s you, beloved. You’re the incapacitated sheep, the coin
laying in the filth, unable to do anything about it. But the good news is, Jesus is the Good
Shepherd who goes after the lost sheep until He finds it. He comes after you. He seeks you out, comes to you right where
you are, picks you up, and carries you home to His sheepfold. Jesus is the Bridegroom who sends His Bride,
the Church, the woman of the parable, to shine the light of the Holy Gospel
throughout the filthy house, to sweep away the dirt and the grime and find you. “I once was lost, but now am found,” as the
old hymn goes. Notice that the lost one
is purely passive. Who takes all the
initiative? Jesus does. He finds you where you are and He brings you
the definition of repentance, by the way.
To be brought back. Jesus gets
all the credit for your repentance, too.
He repents you, so to
speak. You don’t come back on your own
initiative any more than the sheep comes back to the Shepherd or the coin comes
back to the woman. He comes and gets
you. He brings you. Grace.
And then He throws a Feast for you.
Now, imagine this: Dumb old sheep wanders away. It’s his own stupid fault. The Shepherd has to trudge through the hills
and ravines to find the sheep and then carry the smelly animal back to the
flock. And what does He do when He gets
back? He throws a party in the sheep’s
honor! I mean, it’s absurd. That’s what Jesus does for you. This is the party. This is the Table He has set (the altar). For you.
Because there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents
than over 99 righteous persons who think they need no repentance. Indeed, heaven joins us, quite literally,
here at this Table, at this Meal, with this Host who here gives us His true
Body and Blood for our forgiveness, life, and salvation.
“The saying is trustworthy,” writes St.
Paul, “and deserving of full acceptance,
that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the
foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15; ESV). Paul,
the Pharisee, who stood by giving his approval while Stephen was stoned to
death (Acts 7:58, 8:1), who persecuted the Church of God, arresting Christians
and bringing them bound to Jerusalem, upon this man God bestowed His grace in
Christ Jesus. He forgave Paul all His
sins, called Him to be baptized, to be a Christian, and in fact to be the great
Apostle to the Gentiles. The Chief of
sinners is forgiven all his sins. He is
declared a saint with the righteousness and holiness of Another, of Christ
Himself. Jesus sinners doth receive. And so you.
Chief of sinners though you be, Jesus shed His blood for you. Jesus receives you here today at His
Table. Not because you deserve it. Not because He finds something in you that is
worthy of such a gift. But because He is
gracious and merciful. Because He loves
you. Because He’s given Himself into
death for you. In His death all your
sins are forgiven. And in your Baptism
into His death and resurrection, you are made a member of God’s family. You belong at the family Table. There is always a place for you here where
Jesus receives you, pierced hands outstretched. “Here is hope for all who
grieve: Jesus sinners doth receive.” In
the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
after Pentecost (C—Proper 18)
September 8, 2013
Text: Luke 14:25-35
you have what it takes? Can you do
it? What will it cost? Do you have the resources? What obstacles will you face? When you undertake a project or accept a challenge,
these questions must first be answered.
Not to address them would be foolish.
It would be to invite the criticism and mockery of your neighbors. It would probably lead to failure. It may even lead to death. And what is true of your earthly endeavors in
this sense is also true of your life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Do you have what it takes to be Jesus’
disciple? Can you persevere in the
Christian faith and life? What will it
cost you to follow Him? Do you have the
resources that it takes to be faithful?
And what obstacles will seek to prevent you from being a Christian? Well, to begin with the last question, the
obstacles are tremendous. The whole
world is an obstacle. The unbelieving
world will mock you for your faith. “You
believe what, now? You can’t be
serious. If you really believe in that,
you must be stupid. Oh, and you must be
a hater, because you don’t tolerate all the beliefs and behaviors of everybody
else.” Not only that, the world will try
to entice you with worldly allurements: money, sex, power, fame, anything to
take you away from God, to take your eyes off of Christ. Then there is the devil. Oh, he is a powerful adversary. Do you really think you can win in the battle
against him? He’s a sly one, deceiving
you with his lies that you can be like God, that you can determine for yourself
what is good and what is evil, that you can be faithful to God AND other gods,
that you can be a Christian AND worship yourself. And you believe it, because your biggest obstacle
is your own sinful nature, your flesh, your old Adam, who is by nature an
unbeliever. He’s dead in his trespasses
and sins. That’s who you are outside of
Christ, a walking dead man who only has the freedom to choose sin and death,
who hangs on every word of the devil and the world, stumbling along in
spiritual blindness and hating God. You
don’t believe me? Believe St. Paul: “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)… “remember
that you were at that time separated from Christ… having no hope and without
God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).
that being the case, do you have what it takes?
You most certainly do not. Can
you do it? No, you can’t. What will it cost? Too much.
You’re not willing to give up your idols and die to yourself. Do you have the resources? Remember, you have nothing to bring to the
table but your sin and death and condemnation. And here we are faced with the Scriptural
truth that our will is bound in spiritual matters. We can only choose sin. We can only choose death. We cannot choose Jesus. “I cannot by my own reason or strength
believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him” (Luther’s Small Catechism).
If you are to be saved, Jesus must choose you. And He does.
His Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts,
sanctifies and keeps you in the one true faith of Jesus Christ, the
Savior. You don’t have what it takes,
but Jesus does. You are unable to be
Jesus’ disciple, but He makes you one anyway, in your Baptism, by His Word, in
His Supper. By grace. This is what it means to be saved by grace
alone, through faith alone, apart from works.
If you were able to become Jesus’ disciples on your own, that would be
salvation by works, at least the work of coming to faith. But if Jesus must give you faith, you who
cannot otherwise believe in Him, and if He gives you that faith as a gift, then
it is by grace, apart from works. And
that is what the Bible teaches us about our salvation.
makes sense. I mean, look at the cost of
following Jesus. Counting the cost, none
of us in our right minds would choose to be Jesus’ disciple. “If
anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and
children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my
disciple” (Luke 14:26)? That’s crazy
talk! Well, we should note that this is
a Hebraism, a Jewish way of speaking, and in this context “hate” is not an
emotion or a feeling of animosity, but a matter of preference. We would probably say it this way: “If you
put your family members above and before Jesus, you cannot be His
disciple.” But even this is not something
we would choose. Just think of the times
you failed to confess Jesus and His Word to family members or other people
because you wanted them to like you, or you wanted to keep the peace. Just think of the times you failed to speak
when you should because you were afraid of hurting your relationship with a
loved one. You chose those family
members, those people, over Jesus.
That’s not what a disciple does. So
you see, you can’t do it. But here’s the
good news. Jesus calls you His disciple
anyway. Because He forgives you. He forgives all your sins. He forgives your failure to speak. He forgives your fear. He forgives your idolatry including the
worship of self and your ears that are attuned to the words of the devil and
the world rather than to the Word of God.
He forgives it because He took it all into Himself, took it all the way
to the cross, where He died for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.
now He is risen and lives and reigns and wants you to be His own possession, a
citizen of His Kingdom, a member of His family.
Again, you can’t make yourself be those things. But He can, and He does. So now He gives you a vocation, a calling, as
a Christian, as one Baptized into Christ.
You are to take up your cross and follow Him (v. 27). Which is to say, you are to die. What does it cost to follow Jesus? Everything.
You are to renounce all you have.
You are to renounce all you are.
You are to give yourself up. You
are to die. And that’s what happened in
Christ when you were baptized. You died
with Him, that you might live with Him.
He paid the price for you. His
death counts for you. You are buried
with Him by Baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from
the dead by the glory of the Father, you, too, might walk in newness of life
(Rom. 6:4). The cost is impossible for
you to pay. But He paid it. And the return is worth every penny, or I
should say, every drop of blood. For
what do you receive as a disciple of Jesus Christ? Rebirth.
Eternal life. Heaven. The resurrection of your body on the Last
Day. You are made God’s own child, and
so the very Kingdom of God is yours. You
are a fellow heir with Christ. St. Paul
simply says: “all things are yours”
in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 3:21)… “all are
yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (v. 23). That’s amazing! What is not included in the words, “all
things”? Nothing! All things are yours in Christ.
you can die with joy. You can give
yourself up, give away everything joyfully and freely. You can suffer the reproach of the world, and
even of your family and friends, because all things are yours in Christ, to
whom you belong. Does Christ have what
it takes? Absolutely! He’s God!
Can He do it? Yes! He has already done it in His life, death, and
resurrection. What will it cost? The cost of our salvation was great. It cost the blood and death of God in human
flesh. But He did it for you and for all
people, because He loves you and wants you for His own. Does Jesus have the resources? Again, yes!
His perfect fulfillment of the Father’s will on your behalf, His holy,
precious, sin-atoning blood, His victorious resurrection and ascension, all of
which He gives to you in these precious resources we call the means of grace:
Baptism, the holy Word, and the Lord’s Supper.
all the obstacles have been put to shame in the death of Christ. The world mocked and jeered as our Lord was
suspended upon the wood. But now the
tomb is empty, and Jesus lives. The
devil rejoiced as our Lord labored for every breath. But then the Savior gave up His spirit, and
in death conquered death and hell its prince, the devil. The proof is that He is risen. And your sinful flesh? Crucified.
That’s why He took on our flesh.
Your old Adam is dead, crucified with Christ in Baptism, drowned there
at the font. Now, all of these things
still appear to be alive. But don’t let
appearances deceive you. When Jesus
comes again, what you cannot now see will be manifest to all. And you will rejoice.
you do it? No, you can’t. But Jesus can. And He did.
For you. You belong to Him. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son
(+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
after Pentecost (C—Proper 17)
Sept. 1, 2013
Text: Luke 14:1-14
has more in mind for us today than simply a lesson in table etiquette. To be sure, we ought to carry ourselves
humbly before others. But Jesus is not
giving us the secret to gaining honor in the esteem of our peers. He is proclaiming to us our standing before
God and what God has done about it in Christ, His Son. Our standing before God is not only the
lowest seat, it is no seat at the
Table. By virtue of our sinful nature
and our manifest offenses against God’s Law, we have excluded ourselves from
the Kingdom. Yet in our arrogance and
pride, we traipse right up to the seat of greatest honor and belly up to the
bar as though we deserve to be there, as though we have every right to be there
and everyone should know it. Well, maybe
in our great “humility” we don’t take the highest
seat of honor, but we certainly don’t take the lowest. Because in any group, while we may not have
the audacity to claim we’re the best, we’re certainly not the worst. There are always others with whom we compare
ourselves and think that they are lower than us. And here our sinful pride and self-absorption
proves the very point that in and of ourselves we don’t belong at the Table at
all. That’s our standing before
God. We have none. In our sinfulness, we stand condemned to an
eternity forsaken by God.
here is what God has done about it. He
sent His Son. He who from eternity has
occupied the highest seat, God the Son, the only-begotten of the Father, the
Father’s eternal Word, became a man. He
became nothing. He took on the form of a
servant. Born of a poor, unwed Virgin,
Mary of Nazareth. Raised by a carpenter,
Joseph. No room for Him in the inn. Laid in a manger. A God who sleeps, cries, drinks His mother’s
milk, spits it up, and does all the other things babies do. Look what God has done. He took the lowest seat, so low that it led
Him finally to a criminal’s execution, His suffering, death, and
crucifixion. So low, it led Him to the
grave. For you. That’s what God has done about our standing
before Him. The Lord Jesus took the
lowest seat that He might say to us, “Friend,
move up higher” (Luke 14:10; ESV).
“Your sins are forgiven. I have
ransomed you from your condemnation by my death, and given you standing before
God in my own righteousness. And the
proof is that the Father has raised me up higher, raised me bodily from the
grave, and seated me at His right hand to rule all things for your good.” As it turns out, the parable Jesus tells this
morning is really about Him and what He has done for us.
also about how God deals with us in His Word.
Jesus is in the house of a Pharisee.
The Pharisees believe that, by virtue of their meticulous observance of
the Law, they deserve the places of honor at God’s Table. Not only that, the other guests at the dinner
party jockey for the best seats. It betrays
their pride and selfishness. Then there
is this man who has dropsy. Well, he
must have done something very sinful to have that affliction. There is no place at the table for him. How does Jesus respond to these people? By His Word, He humbles the Pharisee and
those who choose the places of honor. By
His Word, He heals the man with dropsy.
He exalts the man who occupies the lowest place in the group,
effectively saying to him, “Friend, move
up higher.” To the rest He says, “Give your place to this person” (v.
9). For those who exalt themselves
before God and before one another, God will humble by His Word of Law. Those, however, who have nothing and are
nothing, who are poor and despised in this world, who trust in no supposed
righteousness within themselves and confess that in and of themselves they are
nothing, dead in trespasses and sins, them God exalts by His Word of Gospel to
the place of honor, forgiving their sins, healing their diseases, and giving
them eternal life.
is a Pharisee in every one of us. We
compare ourselves to other people and thank God that we are not like other
sinners. Maybe we’re not the best, but we’re
certainly not the worst, not as bad as that guy over there. Repent.
There is a tendency in every one of us to choose the places of honor at
the dinner table. We want to be first in
line, first to get what is to be gotten, looking out for number one, even if
it’s at the expense of another. Just
watch children at school when they’re told to line up, or when they have to
share limited resources. Adults aren’t
any better. Just observe our behavior on
the highway. Repent. You know who you really are? You’re the man with dropsy. And you look at the other people with dropsy
or whatever affliction (by the way, I’m not really talking about dropsy… I’m
talking about the disease of sin), and you think that you’re better than
that. You’re not as bad as that
guy. Well, there’s no room for that with
Jesus. Jesus will put you in your place
by His Word of Law. Your pride shows you
for who you are. If you’ve ever despised
anyone, for anything… if you’ve ever looked down upon another human being for
any reason, if you’ve ever whispered about someone behind their back, if you’ve
ever rolled your eyes when a certain someone entered the room, you are the
Pharisee. You are the sinner. You don’t belong at the table. Repent.
is taking the lowest place at the table.
Repentance is confessing that you are only in that seat because of God’s
mercy, that you don’t belong at the table at all, that you are nothing in and
of yourself. And you know what Jesus
says to the repentant sinner, to you, beloved?
“Friend, move up higher.” “Your sins are forgiven. You are healed. Go your way in peace and with joy.” You are actually baptized into this pattern
and this way of life. You are baptized
into Jesus’ death. So in Him, you have
taken the lowest seat. You are baptized
into His resurrection. So in Him, God
has exalted you to the highest place, raised you from spiritual death even as
He will raise you bodily on the Last Day, and seated you in the flesh of Christ
at His right hand in glory. So, that
being the case, you are freed from the old competition with others to be first,
greatest, and best. You already have the
place of honor in your standing before God.
You have it in Christ and on account of Christ. So what else is there to achieve? No, now you can die to self and sacrifice for
others. You can serve others. You can have mercy. You can forgive those who sin against
you. You can give others your place in
line. You can give what you have to
someone who does not have it. You can “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame,
the blind” (v. 13) to your table, even though they cannot repay you,
because you know that your reward is in heaven, that God will bless you for it
even now in this life, and that you will be repaid in abundance at the
resurrection of those who have been justified by faith in Christ (v. 14).
wonder if St. Paul had this parable in mind when he penned these words we all
know and love from Philippians 2: “Do
nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more
significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own
interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among
yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of
God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied
himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the
point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and
bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every
tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”
(vv. 3-11). It certainly sounds like a
commentary on our Gospel, doesn’t it? In
any case, the humility of Christ is your exaltation. And now the Table is set. There is a place for you. It is a place of honor, dining with the King. And Christ Himself says to you this morning,
“Friend, move up higher.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son
(+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.