Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, June 29, 2014
The Severity of the Law, the Sweetness of the Gospel - June 29, 2014 - Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 08) - Text: Romans 7:1-13
We are encouraged in our homiletics classes, and let me say, homiletics means preaching, anyway, we are encouraged in our homiletics classes to preach the law in all its severity, meaning to preach that we are all conceived and born in sin, we are daily sin much in thought, word and deed, we sin sins of omission and commission, every intention of our hearts is evil all the time, we are lost and condemned persons, on our own there is no hope or help for us indeed we are condemned to die eternal spiritual death. That is preaching the law in its severity. And we are also taught to preach the Gospel in all its sweetness, meaning we never need to fear the law because Jesus has taken care of all the requirements of the law, obeying all God’s commands and living a perfect life for us in our place. We are never to preach the law one week and the Gospel the next week. That would, indeed, be devastating. Suppose you come to church this week and hear me preach about how we are lost and condemned sinners fit only for the fires of hell and not preach to you the good news and the hope and certainty of the Gospel. And then suppose you did not come back next week when I will preach only the Gospel, that is the hope and certainty of heaven. I do not like even to think about the sorrow and heart ache that might cause. And so, following the example of the great Lutheran theologian, Paul, this morning we will hear, again, as we do every Sunday, the Law and the Gospel.
Paul beings by explaining the tenure of the law. The law, that is the law of God, just like the law of any country, is binding only as long as a person is alive. We hear Paul speak beginning at verses one, “1Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. 3Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress” (v. 1-3). So, in the same way as when we pass away from this world and we are no longer under the law of the land, so we are no longer under the law of God. The law will have fulfilled its purpose with us while in this world and will no longer be of any concern for us.
Paul then moves to the logical conclusion for us as Christians, even while we are alive in this world, that is that even while we are alive in this world as Christians, we are dead to the law. We continue reading at verse four, “4Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit” (v. 4-6). As Christians, because Jesus lived for us, because Jesus took our sins upon Himself, because Jesus died for us, because Jesus rose for us, so we are one with Him and since He has fulfilled the law, so we have fulfilled the law. The logic then is that we, as Christians, have died to the law even while we are alive in this world.
The result then is that we have the freedom of the Gospel. Christ has fulfilled the law. Christ has fulfilled all the prophecies. Christ has taken care of everything for us, in our place so there is nothing left for us to do except live under the freedom of the Gospel.
So, what is the purpose of the law? Paul spells out the purpose of the law picking up at verse seven, “7What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good”(v. 7-12). One of the purposes of the law is that the law shows us our sins. The law tells us what we should do and thus reminds us of what we have not done. The law says we should do good to others and we see how we have failed, time and again, to do good to others, except possibly for selfish reasons. The law tells us what we should not do and thus reminds us of what we have done. The law says we should not covet and yet time and again we do covet. We tend to be like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we tend to be like children, when we hear the words, “Don’t do this” or “Don’t do that,” “this” or “that” is exactly what we want to do.
Paul reminds us that sin deceives us into breaking the law. How often it is that each and every day temptations arise and with temptation comes sin because we are unable to resist. It is no wonder we hear said from time to time, “ignorance is bliss,” because we believe if we do not know we are sinning, then perhaps we believe we are not sinning. Or maybe you have heard the phrase, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” and this is true. Just because we do not know that one thing or another is sin does not mean it is not sin. And so, it is not the law that causes us to sin, but it is that we sin and the law points out the fact that we have sinned. Let me say that again so we understand, it is not that the law causes us to sin, it does not. Rather it is that we sin and then the law points out the fact that what we have done or not done is sin.
And so, Paul reminds us that the law is good. In verse thirteen he says, “13Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure”(v. 13). And so it is important that we have the law, because if we did not have the law then we would not know we sinned and if we did not know we sinned then we would not know we needed forgiveness and if we did not get forgiveness then we would still be in our sins and we would be barred eternally from heaven. So, although we may not like the law, the law is good and serves a good purpose. To sum it up, the fact of the matter is we do not like to know our sins because we like to think we are good people. We do like to think we are good people. How often do you hear someone tell you, “Well, I am a lot worse than my neighbor, you should see how good they are.” No, rather we usually hear, “Well, I am not as bad as ‘so-n-so’.” The bottom line is, we are sinners, each one of us and in and of ourselves we are and would be eternally condemned. There is really no way around it, no matter how good we might think we are.
Which brings us to the Gospel and the purpose of the Gospel. The law shows our sins. The Gospel shows our Savior. The Gospel tells us about Jesus. The Gospel reminds us that Jesus was born for us, that He was baptized for us, that He lived for us, that He resisted all temptation for us, that He took our sins upon Himself, that He suffered and that He died for us. And that He rose for us. All Jesus did, He did for us, in our place, as our substitute, because we are unable to do so. The Gospel shows us Jesus, true God and true man. The Gospel shows us Jesus, triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, undivided. The Gospel shows us that there is one and only one way to eternal life. The Gospel reminds us that Jesus claims the exclusive way to eternal life.
The Gospel shows us forgiveness. When God’s Word speaks, that is when we read it or hear it, it does what it says. When we hear or read that we have faith or that faith is given to us, then, we have faith. When God’s Word tells us that we are forgiven, then we are forgiven. Every Sunday morning when you hear me say, “As a called and ordained servant of the Word, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” then you know what, your sins are forgiven. When the Word of God says you have eternal life, then you can know for certain that you have eternal life.
Finally, the Gospel moves us to repent. It is not the law that moves us to anything. You know how it is, when you were young and someone would yell at you for doing something wrong, that was not what motivated you to do what was right. It was their love and care for you which motivated you to do what was right. The law does not move us to repent. It is the Gospel that moves us to repent. When we hear the message of what Jesus did for us, while we were sinners, how He gave His life for us, that is what motivates us to repent, because we understand that failure to repent is gift refusal which would mean no forgiveness, but repentance means forgiveness means eternal life.
So, again, in good Lutheran fashion we ask, “What does this mean?” And we answer that this means that we need to hear the law in all its severity. We need to be reminded of our sins, great and small. We need to be reminded that even to think something sinful in our hearts and minds is sin and that all sins are equal and equally damnable in God’s eyes. We need to be reminded, no matter how good we might think we are and even how good we might present ourselves to be in this world, that without Christ we are lost and condemned creatures.
we need to hear the Gospel in all its sweetness. We need even more to hear of the fact of God’s love for us, a love shown in His taking on flesh and blood in order to pay the price for our sins. And He did what He did, not by coercion, not because He had to, but because of His great love for us, a Father’s love for His children, a Creator’s love for His creation. He paid the price for our sins so that we have forgiveness of sins and with forgiveness we know that we have life and salvation. And even when we continue to mess up, He continues to forgive us. What a great God we have.
Again, then we are reminded that Christ gives, works in us, strengthens us and keeps us in faith. No matter what we do, no matter how we act, no matter how much we sin or think we do not sin, God continues to do everything for us, because we cannot. God gives, God gives, God gives, and we are given to and we say, thanks be to God.
The law is good and just and holy because it brings me knowledge of my sin. It is important that I know my sin so that I might repent so that I might have forgiveness and eternal life. The Gospel is good because it tells me of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ who gave His all and daily gives His all for me. The Gospel reminds me that I am given faith, forgiveness, life and salvation and because of all that the Lord does for me, gives to me, works in and through me, the more I am motivated by the Holy Spirit to repent and to, with His help, live a life that is pleasing to Him in His sight. And certainly the Gospel moves me to say, “To God be the glory,” for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, June 22, 2014
Today we begin our Pentecost season. For the next twenty-three Sundays the primary liturgical color, the color of our paraments, will be green, the color of life and growth. During the Pentecost season of the church year, what we otherwise call the non-festival portion of the church year, not only will we continue each and every Sunday to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection but, Lord willing, we will grow in our faith and in our faith life.
With great joy we begin our Pentecost season talking about grace and getting grace right. Too often, when you listen to your friends of other religions and even other denominations they tend to confuse grace or better said, they tend to confuse Gospel and Law. We understand the importance of making sure these are not confused so that we are better able to understand God’s rich grace toward us. Getting to our text Paul says, “14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (v. 14). How is it that we who are conceived and born in sin, who daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness are no longer under the dominion of sin and the law? We are no longer under sin and the law because of God’s grace which is a gift given to us by God. And so we get our first glimpse of what grace is, that is grace is gift. Grace is not me, but God, as we say who is running the verbs. Grace is God’s gift to me. And we might add right off, to say something is gift means there is nothing attached, as in, “We are saved by grace, but/and all you have to do is something.” Gift is gift. We all know when someone gives us a gift and when know when someone is merely trying to exchange a present they give for one we will give them in return, which is not gift and not grace.
Grace, that is Godly grace, the grace of God toward us, is the fact that our sins have been forgiven, that is the price for our sins, eternal spiritual death, has been paid by Jesus. We did nothing and we do nothing to earn nor deserve this grace, it is pure gift given to us by God, earned by Jesus. We do nothing to make it ours. We do nothing to get it. It has been purchased and won for us and is given to us. Actually, our only response would be to refuse and reject His gift, which too many people do each and every Sunday morning by absenting themselves from being where this gift is given out.
To better understand this grace and gift from God, let us go back to the first two verses of our text and hear what Paul says about our nature. Paul says, “12Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (v. 12-13). As we have heard time and again, we are conceived and born in sin. This sin is what we call original sin. The original sin of Adam and Eve has been genetically passed on from generation to generation so that we are all conceived and born in sin. There is no way we can get away from sin or be born in any other way, the only exception being Jesus who was conceived of God.
Not only are we conceived and born in sin, we also daily sin much. This daily sinning is what we call actual sin, that is these are the sins we actually sin on our own and we also recognize two types of actual sin. There are sins of commission, that is there are the sins that we commit by doing something we should not be doing and there are sins of omission, that is we sin by omitting or not doing the things we should be doing. And we can add to this fact that we also sin in thought, word and deed, that is we sin in our thoughts, we sin in our speaking and we sin in our actions. Indeed, we are sinful people. Indeed, sin is our greatest problem and as I have said time and again, our greatest problem is spiritual.
Paul goes so far as to say that we are slaves, picking up at verse fifteen, “15What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (v. 15-19). Although we may not like it and we may deny it, the fact is that we must be slaves to someone or something, at least according to our spiritual nature.
Paul tells us that one choice is that we are either slaves to sin, which is the easy and natural choice, after all, we are conceived and born in sin. God tells us that our natural inclination is sin, as He says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). And actually, according to our sin tainted will, the fact that we have lost free will, our will really and truly is only to sin.
And yet, Paul gives us a second option, that is we can be slaves to God. Yet in saying this, Paul says this in such a way that we understand that the only way we can “choose” if you will and if you want to use that word, is that this is something that is done for us, in other words, indeed, truly we cannot in and of ourselves, according to our sin tainted will, choose to be slaves to God. We are slaves to God only as Jesus has paid the price for our sin and only as the Holy Spirit has given us faith so that truly it is not we who are choosing to be slaves to God, but God who is working in and though us to make us His slaves, or said a little more nicely, His children
Finally, Paul outlines what he calls the fruits of our faith, that is the result of the faith that God has given to us. Picking up at verse twenty, “20When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 20-23).
Paul writes to help us better understand grace and the gifts God gives. When we were slaves to sin, we were free from righteousness, in other words we were unrighteous, yet, God does not leave us in this state of unrighteousness. Because of His great love for us, God gives to us. He gives us His Son and His Son’s life. Remember, the fullness of the Gospel is this fact that Jesus lived for us in our place. We are conceived and born in sin. Jesus was conceived and born without sin, because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Thus, Jesus was able to live perfectly and He did live perfectly, for us in our place as our substitute because we cannot.
God gives us His Son and God gives us faith. By faith in Jesus, faith given to us by the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace, Holy Baptism and the very Word of God, we have all the gifts and blessings God gives. When our last hour arrives, either at our own passing or at the Lord’s return and when we stand before our Lord for judgement, by faith in Jesus, given to us, God will look at us and instead of seeing our sinful nature He will see us as perfect and holy, because what He will actually be seeing is Jesus, who is our substitute. God will look at us and He will see Jesus’ perfect life for us in our place and He will judge us as righteous.
God gives His Son, God gives us faith and God works in us our sanctification. Sanctification is that big fancy word we use to describe our faith life, especially our faith life of growing in our faith and with His help being better persons. Indeed, as we attribute our being made just and right and holy in God’s eyes by Jesus’ work alone, so in our life of becoming more and more holy, we attribute our sanctification to God alone as well. We tend to mess up and back slide. We tend to continue, this side of heaven, to sin and yet we know that with Jesus there is forgiveness. It is the Holy Spirit who works in and through us to make good “choices”, to use that word, according to our sanctification.
So, what does this mean? And how do we understand grace and gift differently from others. As you have heard me say time and again, it comes down to who is doing what? Who is running the verbs, or who is running the show. When we put ourselves in the driver’s seat, so to speak, like we like to do, we are getting it wrong. Remember, every intention of our heart is sin. When Jesus is running the show, when Jesus is running the verbs, when Jesus is in the driver’s seat, we are getting it right.
And so grace is the fact that God gives. God gives to us all things. As a matter of fact, the very reason God created the world and us is to love us. Yes, God created us to love us. He did not create us because He needed anything from us. What kind of God would need something from us. As parents we do not have children so they might serve us, we have children because we love them and want to love them. God created us to love us. He created us and specifically He has given each of us life at our conception. At our conception we were given a soul and a body. He has given us life at conception and new life, even eternal life at our baptism. At our baptism, through the hands of the pastor, God put water and His name on us. He washed us with forgiveness. He put His name on us. He wrote our names in the book of heaven. God gives life, faith, forgiveness and He even gives us gifts, talents and abilities, even work to do in order that we might be able to respond to all He has given to us by loving and serving Him as we serve others.
God gives and we are given to. Our only option would be to refuse the gifts God has to give and indeed, our nature is to refuse the gifts of God. Week in and week out, Sunday after Sunday we see people refuse and reject the gifts God has to give. We refuse and reject God’s gifts when we refuse to acknowledge and confess our sin and our greatest spiritual need of forgiveness. We refuse the gifts of God when we attempt to impose some restriction or some qualification on our part or on our thinking we have to have a part in gaining the gifts of God and in so doing, we also confuse law and Gospel, even justification and sanctification. God gives with no help or acting on our part. We are given to with no help or acting on our part. We are simply passively being given to.
The price for sin, original sin and actual sin, is death, eternal spiritual death. Because we are conceived and born in sin, because we begin life in sin, there is nothing we can do to reconcile our debt with our Creator. Jesus, God in flesh, who created us to love us and who shows His great love for us, was conceived and born sinless and holy and lived a sinless life so that He was able and He did trade His perfect life for our imperfect life. And God sends His Holy Spirit to give us the gifts Jesus earned for us, faith, forgiveness, life and salvation, and He even stirs in us to do the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do, not that we are doing anything active in all that is being done, rather we are simply passively being done to and given to. Thus, even though we struggle, we point not to ourselves, but we point continually, always and only to Jesus. To Him be the glory, for His name sake. Amen.
Sunday, June 15, 2014
This morning we have a guest preacher. As the first verse of our text tells us, “Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed the them...” With these words Luke, the writer of the Acts of the Apostles, draws our attention to who is speaking in our text. Thus, this morning we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday by hearing Peter preach his Easter sermon.
Before we get to Peter’s sermon, and because today we are celebrating Holy Trinity Sunday, we want to first, for a moment, look at the trinity of God as revealed in Holy Scripture. In our Old Testament reading for this morning we have the account of the creation of the world. In this account we will make note that the term God, “el” is in the Hebrew a plural “elohim” in other words, in Genesis we are given that we worship a plural God. Now understand, we do not worship many gods, plural, that is we are not polytheistic, but we worship one God, that is we are monotheistic. We worship one God who has a plural identity. Also, note from Genesis that the “Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the earth.” So, at the very creation of the world we understand that God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were all present. In our Gospel reading for today we have Jesus giving what we call the Great Commission, or what I would better describe as the great giving of authority and the great promise. In His words Jesus explains to us more of the nature of God, that is He tells us that God is “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” God is one God and three persons. And, as we confessed in the Athanasian Creed this morning, the three persons of our one God are undivided and unconfused, even if we may not completely understand him. If you listened closely to the children’s message, I believe the little book I read is one of the best illustrations to help even us adults in understanding the trinity of our God.
Now, moving to our text, Peter addresses the congregation, not with the words that we are used to hearing, “grace, mercy and peace be multiplied unto you from God our Father. . .,” but with the words “men of Israel.” Might I remind you that by faith in Jesus we are children of Abraham, thus we are a part of the children of Israel and rightly we would imagine that Peter is addressing us this morning. Peter begins with Jesus, His life and death. Jesus was a human being and He was God. And we might well add that Jesus is still a human being and He is still God. Jesus did signs, wonders, and miracles as “proof” of His divinity or His God-ness. In his Gospel, John continually points to Jesus’ signs and works of might, His wonders and miracles as “proof” of His divinity. Continually we hear of Jesus forgiving sins and healing. The Pharisees would always balk at Jesus’ announcement of forgiveness saying that only God can forgive sins. Then to show that He was God, Jesus would heal the person, because they also believed that only God could heal. Thus, if Jesus could heal, then He was God and if He was God, then He could also forgive sins. We might get bogged down in their logic, but we have the advantage of being able to look back at these events and as we have witnessed Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and we know that He is the Messiah.
Peter reminds us that Jesus was born according to God’s set purpose and foreknowledge. Jesus was born just as God told us in the promises of the Bible. Immediately after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God promised to send a Savior. In Hebrew the word is a Messiah and in Greek the word is a Christ, thus we have the beginning of the Holy Christian Church. God reiterated that promise to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Moses and to many more throughout the history of the children of Israel, not as a new covenant, but narrowing the family line through which the Christ would be born. Jesus was born in order that He might fulfill all of the promises of God in Holy Scripture. The fullness of the Gospel is this fact that Jesus lived perfectly for us in our place.
And now Peter gets personal. You know how it is, you do not mind if I, as your pastor, preach about sin, as long as I do not preach about your sin because when I preach about your sin then I am getting personal and I am getting nosey, or I am meddling. But it is okay if I preach about the sin of the person sitting next to you. Peter gets personal. He points the finger and his finger is pointing through time to us. About Jesus he says, “you crucified and killed [Him] by the hands of lawless men” (v. 23b). Jesus was put to death by human hands, the human hands of the listeners, our human hands. It was because of our sins that Jesus had to give His life. It was because of our sins of greed, envy, selfishness, gluttony, idolatry, cursing, swearing, irregular worship and devotion life, refusal of God’s gifts, name calling, lust, begrudging others, gossip, coveting and the like.
But the good news is that Jesus did not stay dead. I remember talking to a group of children one morning during chapel service, not here, but elsewhere. We were talking about Jesus dying on the cross. Of course, I never like to leave the children, or anyone for that matter, with Jesus being dead. I always like to end on the good news. And so I said, “but Jesus did not stay dead, He rose from the dead.” And one of the children, whom I would guess had never heard the story, said, “Nuh uh!” And of course I answered, “Uh huh!” Eight weeks ago we came to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Last week we came and celebrated the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. Today is Holy Trinity Sunday and for the next twenty-four Sundays we will be in the Pentecost Season, yet we will not stop celebrating. We will continue to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. That is why we worship on Sunday, because each Sunday is a mini Easter celebration. We come to worship, not a dead God, but a living God. Jesus did rise from the dead, just as God promised. Jesus resurrection’ was not something that should have been a surprise to the children of Israel and it should not be a surprise to us. His resurrection was predicted by King David as Peter points out by quoting from Psalm 16.
Peter quotes David who was glad that, although he would die, he knew he had eternal life. He knew that although he would die, his body would be resurrected. And He predicted that Jesus’ own body would not see decay, because He would rise on the third day. Of course there are many other passages of Holy Scripture that Peter could have quoted, but this is the one he quotes for us this morning. Jesus’ resurrection was not something about which it was not known that it would happen. God said it would happen, He promised it would happen. He reiterated His promise time and again through the prophets of the Bible. Unfortunately, many people missed it. Many people were like the Pharisees and teacher of the law and even Jesus’ own disciples who had misinterpreted the promises of old and who had come to look for and believe that the Messiah would be an earthly King. Peter quotes the words of King David, given to Him by God, which are a clear testimony and promise that the Messiah would come and die, yet His body would not see decay, because God would not allow that to happen and because He did not stay dead, but rose from the dead. David is certain and we can be certain that because Jesus rose, bodily rose, we too will rise again. Death and the grave have no power over us.
Peter’s sermon are words that remind us that he was a witness to these events. He was with Jesus throughout His three years of ministry, His perfect life and His death. He was one of the chosen twelve who were Jesus’ apostles. Just as David died and was buried and his tomb is “here today” as Peter says, so he was a witness of Jesus’ death on the cross and he was a witness of Jesus’ resurrection. Peter says they are the same, he has witnessed David’s tomb, it is a real thing and he witnessed Jesus’ life, His ministry and preaching, His death, and His resurrection. And it was not just once that Peter saw Jesus alive after His resurrection, but several times. Between His resurrection and His ascension, forty days after Easter, Jesus showed Himself many times to His disciples and to many others.
Peter is preaching to a crowd of people who know what he is talking about because they were a part of these events. They saw Jesus, they heard Him preach, they were healed by Him, they saw Him suffer and die on the cross, it may be that some of them were the ones in the crowd who praised Him as He came triumphantly into Jerusalem and even some who shouted for His crucifixion at His trial. And it could be that some of them had even seen Jesus after His resurrection.
Peter preaches succinctly, these are the facts! Peter comes to us this morning and preaches just as succinctly, these are the facts.
What does this mean for us today? It means that we can have confidence in our faith in Jesus. We rest assured that Jesus is who He says He is and that He is who the Bible says He is, that is, He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the world, your Savior and mine. We make use of the Bible just as Peter did. We go back to the promises of the Old Testament and see how they have all been fulfilled in Jesus, in His life, in His death, and in His resurrection.
We have confidence in our certainty of forgiveness. Because Jesus gave His life for ours, because Jesus died the eternal spiritual death penalty for us in our place, because of all that Jesus has done, we have forgiveness of sins. The price of our sins which is death, eternal spiritual death (the wages of sin is death), has been paid. Our sins have been forgiven, cast away as far as the east is from the west, so far have they been removed from us.
We have confidence in our certainty of eternal life. Heaven is ours, now. It is a present reality. Heaven is a gift, given to us by Jesus who earned it for us. Because Jesus rose from the dead we know that we too will rise again.
This morning we want to thank Peter for his words of confidence and assurance to us. We thank Peter for reminding us that Jesus fulfilled all things. We might summarize the message we heard this morning with the words of the explanation to the second article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.” To God be the glory. Amen.
Sunday, June 8, 2014
Not too long after the flood waters had subsided, Noah and his family, his three sons and their wives began repopulating the earth. By the time we get to the chapter eleven of Genesis, just two chapters after the flood, the world has already begun crumbling back to its old sinful self. And then we get to the account of the tower of Babel. Remember the Tower of Babel? The people of the world were working to make a name for themselves, that is a nice way of saying they were perceiving themselves as being their own gods and goddesses. Instead of spreading out and filling the world, as the Lord had commanded, they stayed in one place, looking to make a name for themselves. The Lord’s response was quick and sure. He came down and He confused their languages and from there the people were scattered, as He told them to do in the first place, and from there we have the initiation of the various cultures which are present in our world today. And understand, these are not races as proposed by the religion of evolution, but cultures and people groups. Cultures which came about as the people of each language took certain dominate genetics with them to the various countries of the world.
Today we celebrate the Day of Pentecost. The day of Pentecost was fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection and ten days after His ascension. Also, in the year of Jesus’ death and resurrection, this day coincided with the Jewish festival of Pentecost which was not unlike our Thanksgiving celebration. This day, that is the day of the giving of the Holy Spirit, is called, by some, the undoing of the day of the confusing of the tongues at the tower of Babel. The day of Pentecost was celebrated by the children of Israel as the harvest festival. This was the second great Jewish festival.
Because this was an important festival, Jews came to Jerusalem on pilgrimage from around the world to celebrate. I certainly believe that this, too, was a part of God’s plan, that His death and resurrection corresponded to this day, which He has now given to us as a day of celebration of the sending of the Holy Spirit. Because this was an important Israelite holiday, there were many Jews in Jerusalem and many who spoke different languages.
So, what happened at the giving of the Holy Spirit? Luke outlines the visible phenomena. He says that they heard a great wind. I guess that makes sense, because you cannot see wind, but we certainly know how, when a big storm arises, we can hear the wind and we can see the branches and bushes as the wind blows them. Luke describes the wind as a “mighty rush of wind.” And he says, “it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” So, this was not some natural phenomena that was occurring outside, but this was a supernatural phenomena that was happening in the house where they had gathered.
Next Luke tells us that “divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.” This fire is an image of divine presence, thus they knew that this was something from the Lord. The tongues appeared, certainly as a metaphor, symbolizing what was about to happen next, namely the speaking in tongues, or the languages of the people who had gathered and were present in Jerusalem from the various parts of the world.
Which brings us to Luke telling us that they “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” This gift of tongues was not simply a babbling as some would think of speaking in tongues in our modern world. This gift of tongues was indeed the gift of languages, that is these disciples, these uneducated men were now, without any formal training, able to speak in languages or literally in the dialects of which they were not able to speak in before. Thus, at the tower of Babel the languages of the people were confused, so now the Lord gives the ability to speak in the languages of all the people, indeed an undoing of the tower of Babel.
Luke outlines the visible phenomena and then he explains the invisible phenomena. How is all this happening? All of this is happening as a gift of the Holy Spirit. God is directing these doings. God is giving the gifts and the disciples and the people are being given to. This is what Jesus promised to His disciples just ten days earlier at His ascension when He told them to wait in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Why is this day and the giving of the Holy Spirit important? Why is the ability to speak in other languages important? Because all these pilgrims to Jerusalem would be able to hear the Gospel message, the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection and then they would be able to take that message back to the people of their homes and share the message with them. It is the same in our churches each and every Sunday. It is so important that we regularly and rightly hear the message of law, of our sins, our sins of thought, word and deed, our sins of omission, not doing what we are supposed to be doing and our sins of commission, doing what we are supposed to be doing. It is so important that we understand our role, our part in putting Jesus on the cross, that is that He died for you and for me. It is so important that we hear the law so that we might hear the Gospel, the Good news of Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection for us, in our place so that we are assured of our own forgiveness and our eternal salvation. The sending of the Holy Spirit today is just as important as at the first Pentecost.
Again, the first Pentecost is what some refer to as the reversal of the tower of Babel. At the tower of Babel the languages were confused and people moved to the various places around the world. Unfortunately many of the fathers failed to share the message with their children and so, many were lost because they no longer had the message or heard the message. Now, there is a new opportunity for the message to be heard.
The day of Pentecost is also important, especially for the Apostles and disciples of Jesus, because at the giving of the Holy Spirit, God now gives a complete understanding of the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Remember, before Jesus’ death, whenever Jesus spoke about death and dying, His disciples did not understand. Now they have a complete understanding.
And so, they are also given boldness. Now that they understand the purpose of Jesus’ life, that is that He lived for them and for us. Now that they understand the purpose of Jesus’ death, that He died for them and for us. Now that they understand His resurrection, that He is and remains a living God, watching over, ruling over, and interceding for them and us. Now that they understand that He has sent the Holy Spirit so that He is with them and us, even to the end of the world. Now they no longer need to fear. They no longer need to be afraid of the Pharisees, or the teachers of the law, or the Romans, or anyone. Now they may freely, with all boldness and confidence, go out and proclaim the message of salvation, by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ alone.
What does this mean for us today? Today we continue to celebrate Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit. We celebrate that the Holy Spirit continues to come to us today. Today He comes to us through means and in particular through the means of grace, the Word, that is the Bible and the Sacraments, that is, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as well as through Confession and Absolution. Through these very means our Lord comes to us to give us the good gifts and blessings He has to give.
And what are those good gifts and blessings our Lord has to give to us? Through these means of grace the Holy Spirit gives, strengthens and keeps in faith. Through these means of grace the Holy Spirit gives forgiveness, life and salvation. Our Lord’s usual way of coming to us today is not to come to us directly. In other words, in Jesus’ day and immediately following His resurrection, ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit, Jesus continued for a short time, coming directly through His apostles and disciples so that His Word through them might be confirmed as just and right and true. As time moved on and the days of the apostles ended, our Lord decreased His immediate activity among us. Even though our Lord may choose to come to us directly today, that is not His usual way of coming to us. Today His usual way of coming to us is to come through means namely through the means of grace. Thus, we see the importance of making regular and diligent use of these means. In other words, to make regular use of the means of grace means to be in worship as often as worship is offered. To be diligent in use of the means of grace means to pay attention to the proclamation of the Gospel. To make regular use of the means of grace means to personally, daily, read the word of God or hear it read, to have personal and family devotions. To be diligent about these means of grace means, again, to pay attention to that Word. To make regular use of the means of grace means to daily remember your baptism and how at your baptism the Lord washed you and put His name on you. He forgave you, He wrote your name in the book of Life. To make regular use of the means of grace means to hunger and thirst for the Lord and to come to His Table to eat and drink His body and blood at His holy supper. For, to absent ourselves from these means takes away the means through which our Lord comes to gives us His good gifts and blessings. To absent ourselves from these means would be like refusing gifts at your birthday or at Christmas. To absent ourselves from these means, to not desire them intimates a lack of or a weak faith indeed. Thus, we certainly see the importance of these means of grace.
But, not only does the Holy Spirit give us individual gifts, faith, forgiveness, earned by Jesus suffering and death on the cross, life and salvation. The Holy Spirit also gives gifts to the Church, that is, the Holy Spirit gives the Church, His Holy Christian Church, all that it needs to be His Church here on this earth.
And finally, the Holy Spirit also continues to give us boldness. Our nature is certainly not the nature of our Lord. Our nature is to sin. Our nature is not to make use of the means of grace. Our nature is not to acknowledge our Lord. And so, our Lord takes care of this weakness in us as well. For the Holy Spirit works in us and through us to, with all boldness and confidence, respond to all our Lord has done, all He does and all He will continue to do for us, by living lives of faith as He would have us to live. And yet, even here we fail and so He must continue working in and through us. Notice again, our focus is always back on our Lord who gives all and does all.
Today we celebrate Pentecost. We celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus continues to send today. We celebrate that the Holy Spirit also points to Christ, who has taken care of everything for us, namely our forgiveness, life and salvation. We celebrate that the Holy Spirit works in us to give us, strengthen us and keep us in faith. We celebrate that the Holy Spirit works in us to respond to the faith given by moving in us, stirring in us, working in and through us to believe the message of Jesus Christ alone for our salvation, to live that message in our lives, and to speak words of thanks and praise to our Lord for all that He does for us. Yes, to Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.