November 28, 2016

First Sunday in Advent + Matthew 21:1-9 + November 27, 2016

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn # 68 The Advent of Our King
Hymn # 57 O Bride of Christ, Rejoice
Hymn # 613 Jerusalem the Golden 
Introit
To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in You;
Let me not be ashamed; Let not my enemies triumph over me.
Let no one who waits on You be ashamed. (Psalm 25:1-3a)

Show me Your ways, O Lord; Teach me Your paths.
For You are the God of my salvation; On You I wait all the day.
Let integrity and uprightness preserve me,
For I wait for You. Redeem Israel, O God, Out of all their troubles. (Psalm 25:4, 5b, 21-22)

Readings
Jeremiah 33:14-18
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 21:1-9

Collect for the First Sunday in Advent
Stir up, we beseech Thee, Thy power, O Lord, and come, that by Thy protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Thy mighty deliverance; Who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.

Collect for Beginning of the Church Year
Almighty Lord God, Who by Thy grace hast this day permitted us to enter into a new church year, we beseech Thee to pour upon Thy church Thy Holy Spirit and the wisdom that comes down from above, that Thy Word, as becometh it, may not be bound, but have free course and be preached to the joy and edification of Christ’s holy people, that in steadfast faith we may serve Thee and in the confession of Thy name abide unto the end; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth, with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.
 
Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent 

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         The church year, and Advent along with it, opens with the arrival of Jesus. We may ask why Advent begins with the same Gospel lesson as Holy Week. It’s because the message of Advent, Holy Week, and the ancient church calendar are all the same. Jesus is coming. That is why it is called “Advent,” which is Latin for “coming” or “arrival.” Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem shows us how the Lord comes to us. This pericope shows us first the manner in which Christ comes to us, second, this reading shows us the gifts He brings when He arrives, and thirdly, by this pericope the Holy Ghost teaches us how we are to receive the coming Messiah. By the grace of God we will meditate upon these three things as another church year begins.

2)         How does the Lord arrive at His first coming? It is not with great pomp, majesty and splendor. Christ does not come as Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, or any of the rulers this world calls “Great.” He does not arrive with army to conquer. Nor does He arrive with great political promises, posturing, and polling and public relation campaign. He rides an donkey into the Holy city. Not only does He ride a beast of burden into Jerusalem, He rides a borrowed donkey. No warhorse. No chariot. No limousine with chauffer. And so that we do not misunderstand what is meant by this, the Holy Ghost gives us the interpretive lens through which we are to view this arrival. He writes, “”All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, lowly and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” This had always been the plan. Jesus was not to arrive as an earthly king because He is not an earthly king. He is not to come as a politician because He is not a politician. He is not to arrive with military might and the conqueror’s wreath because these are not His tools nor are they His prize. Instead He comes gently. He arrives meekly. He comes humbly. For this is the same Savior who beckons all men, weary with the burden of their sin, with these words, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29). He does not come to conquer or demand praise. He comes not in arrogance or self-absorption. He comes on a borrowed donkey, lowly, gentle, humble, and merciful. This is the manner in which the Messiah of the world advents.

3)         This text also teaches us what Jesus comes to bring to humanity. If St. Matthew gives us the lens through which to see this blessed event, then we should look more carefully at the prophecy from the prophet Zechariah. The words are taken from the ninth chapter of the prophet Zechariah. Here is what the Lord put on that man’s lips. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey”(Zechariah 9:9). The King comes righteous and having salvation. This is why the Lord Jesus comes to us, to bring us these things. He brings us righteousness and salvation because we, by nature, do not possess either of these necessary things. We are unrighteous. We are by nature sinful and unclean because we are born of Adam’s race. That means that we don’t, and that we can’t, fear, love, and trust in God above things. We fear the future. We fear our employer. We fear the great unseen force called the economy. We fear death. We fear poverty. But we do not fear God in and of ourselves. Nor do we love God with our whole heart, mind, strength and vitality. We love our spouse. We love our hobbies. We love our houses. We love our possessions. We love our free time. But we do not truly love God. So it is impossible that we trust God above all things because we cannot trust someone whom we do not fear or love. This is unrighteousness. This is what we see in the world around us. This is what we see in ourselves when we are honest with ourselves. This is unrighteousness. And it cannot be overcome by us.

4)         So Jesus brings it to us. He IS our righteousness. He earns our righteousness by assuming human flesh and adventing as fully God and fully man. He lives your live under the Law of Moses. He does it all. He doesn’t do Moses like the Judaizing protestants do Moses when they pick and choose their Laws, like Sabbath-observance, abstention from shellfish, or not wearing clothes of mixed fibers. Jesus does all that and more. He does the hard stuff, the impossible stuff. He loves God with His whole heart. He loves His neighbor as He loves Himself and He does that ALL THE TIME. He dies your death. He bears up under your deserved wrath from God the Father because of your unrighteousness. He lies in your tomb. And He does it all in perfect righteousness, holiness, innocence and blessedness. That’s why He says, “It is finished” (John 19:30), because the Law stands fulfilled by man in the person of Jesus Christ.  Upon the cross, what started at His conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary culminates with a final ragged breath. He procures your salvation. He walked in righteousness in your stead. He atoned for the sins of the world as the true Lamb of God which every slain Passover lamb pointed toward. He acquires salvation for the world, not just a class of people, for every individual in the world by His life, suffering, and death.

5)         That is how He advented and what gifts He wins for men, but there is still more. For Jesus still advents. He still comes. He still has His arrival amongst His people every day and every Lord’s Day. He does not come on a borrowed donkey. But He still arrives in very lowly and humble means, the means of salvation He has appointed. He comes to you through the preaching of His Word. Johann Gerhard called the Word of God “the Holy Spirit’s workshop.” That’s where He does His saving work. It is through good, honest, and pure preaching that the Holy Ghost works faith in your heart. That’s why you ought to do your best and go out of your way, even driving many miles if necessary, to hear pure preaching. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,” St. Paul says (Romans 10:17). Jesus approaches you in His word and convicts you of your sin, your unrighteous thoughts, your lack of fear, love, and trust in Him. He brings you to repentance through His word of Law and condemnation so that you may be brought low, humbled, and confess your sins and sinfulness. Then He approaches the broken and contrite spirit with the Holy Gospel, that sweet word of righteousness earned and salvation acquired for you on the cross. That message creates what it needs. The Gospel creates faith in your heart and faith grabs onto that righteousness brought and salvation acquired. Faith applies to you what Christ acquired for you in His perfect obedience, passion, and death. Jesus still advents among us in His Word.  

6)         He advents yet again, coming to you in His Blessed Sacrament, true body and true blood, the very same body crucified for you, the very same blood spilt in death for you. No symbolism here. No shadows of spiritual realities that have already happened. Symbols and shadows are for people who only have symbolic sin or who are ignorant of their iniquity. Jesus attaches His real body and blood to the lowly, gentle, and humble means of natural bread and natural wine. Again, nothing showy, nothing glamorous, nothing with pizazz. He comes as did before. Bringing with Him the same gifts He brings in the preaching of His Word: the forgiveness of all of your sins, eternal life which cannot die in spite of what happens to the body, and salvation earned for you which no one can take away from you if you hold to it in faith. Jesus arrived in humility during the days of the Romans and He shows us that this is still how He advents among His people: in humility and gentleness, so that He may lavish the repentant and contrite with His gifts.

7)         In the final verses of the text appointed for the beginning of a new church year, the Holy Ghost teaches us how we are to meet Christ when He comes to us in these holy means of grace. “A very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road” (Matthew 21:8). So are we to do when Christ comes to us? We are to remove the soiled garments of sin which we wear and cast them down so that Jesus may trample on them. We are to, as St. Paul says in the appointed Epistle, “cast off the works of darkness,” which are “revelry and drunkenness and lewdness and lust and strife and envy” (Romans 13:12-13). We are to cast off the Old Adam like a garment and lay it down at Jesus feet, begging forgiveness for the severity of our smallest sin. We are also to cut down braches from the trees of our hearts, that is, we are to humble ourselves before Christ’s gracious presence. We are to cut down the lofty thoughts of our hearts and our vain imaginations, which lead us to think that we have no sin to confess, or that we have only small and petty annoyances to confess to Jesus. We to cut down the high branches which grow in our hearts which desire that Christ come to us in more glamorous, spectacular, and worldly ways. The sinful flesh never wants what Jesus comes to bring and so tempts us to neglect Jesus true gifts as “not good enough,” and tempts us to look for God in places He hasn’t promised to be. We must, like the crowd, follow Him and cry out to Him in praise as the true Son of David, the One who comes in the name of the Lord. So we are to meet Him in true repentance of our sins, true faith in our hearts which desires God’s gifts, and true praise and thankfulness on our lips. This is how we are to meet Jesus who advents, who comes to us, who arrives not as we might expect, but gently, humbly, meekly, being righteous and hold our salvation in His outstretched hand. Amen.

May the peace of God, which far surpasses all human wisdom and understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

November 21, 2016

Trinity 27 + Matthew 25:1-13 + November 20, 2016

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn # 67 The Bridegroom Soon Will Call Us
Hymn # 609 Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying
Hymn #446 Rise, My Soul, to Watch and Pray

Introit - Pg. 82 

Readings
Isaiah 65:17-19
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:1-13 

Collect for Trinity XXVII
Absolve, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy people from their offenses, that from the bonds of our sins which by reason of our frailty we have brought upon us we may be delivered by Thy bountiful goodness; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.  

Collect for the End of the Church Year
We thank Thee, Lord God, Heavenly Father, that in the past Church Year Thou hast preserved Thy Word among us in purity and by it effectively enlivened our souls; and we beseech Thee, that Thou wouldst graciously forgive us all our neglect, unbelief, and disobedience with respect to Thy Word, and continue to give us this precious treasure with Thy blessing forevermore; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.   

Sermon on the Gospel Lesson: Matthew 25:1-13

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         “And the door was shut.” What a terrible sound to hear. What an awful sight to see. Combine the shut door with the terrible words of the Bridegroom, “Assuredly I say to you, I do not know you,” and the meaning of the shut door becomes clear. The shut door is a sign of condemnation for the foolish virgins. It is their judgment. What they had hoped to attain, and expected to attain, the wedding feast, is now forever lost to them because of their unpreparedness and unfaithfulness. They took their lamps to wait for the Bridegroom but took no oil for their lamps. The lamp is the outward works and look of the Christian life. The lamp in the parable is a symbol of a Christian’s outward good works, their church attendance, their personal reading of the Holy Scripture. The lamp symbolizes all the things about a Christian that are visible to the eyes of flesh. But these virgins carry with them no oil for their lamps. That is, they do not fill their good works, their church attendance, and their personal reading of the Holy Scripture with faith, true belief, and confidence in Christ Jesus. They are numbered, outwardly so, with the wedding party. They wait, outwardly, for the arrival of the Bridegroom. But they are hypocrites, phonies, and false Christians who go through the motions but have no faith in Christ, no oil for their lamps. They are those who hear the Word of God with interest and with joy but do not believe it and take it heart for whatever reason. Instead they invent their own version of the Christian faith, one that is more palpable for their tastes, one that does not require repentance from their pet sins, one that does not require faith to be saved, but a mushy thought that God will save all souls in the end regardless of faith. The foolish virgins are false Christians who have piles and piles of outward good works but have not true faith in their hearts.

2)         Their judgment is severe. The door was shut, barring them from the heavenly riches of the wedding feast. Their condemnation fits their unpreparedness and hypocrisy, for what they claimed to be for so long is shown to be a sham and they are revealed as the false Christians they truly are. This is not the first time the door has been shut, barring the unfaithful and unprepared from salvation and the blessings of the Triune God. That phrase, “and the door was shut” calls to mind another door being shut in judgment of sin. On the day rain began to pelt the earth and the wells of the deep burst opened, Noah, his family, and all the animals the Lord had commanded for the Ark entered. Moses writes, “So those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the LORD shut him in.” (Genesis 7:16) As the rain fell and the water gathered in valleys, the Lord once again shuts the door so that the wicked remain outside. At Noah’s time the false church, phony and pseudo-Christians ruled the earth. The church of Cain had blossomed as his descendants multiplied. Even most of the sons of Seth had turned from the true faith in the Promised Seed of Genesis 3:15 and wandered into the apostasy of the false church which made its own God and its own gospel apart from the Promised Seed of Christ. The world was filled with foolish virgins who had all the trappings of church and had outward good works to fill up treasure houses, but who had not true faith in the promises of God. When God’s just judgment finally arrived, the Lord shuts the door to the Ark. Their condemnation was complete. Their judgment was at hand. The door was shut.

3)         These pictures in Jesus’ parable and from the days of Noah teach us to take God’s Word seriously while we have it among us. Our Lord teaches us that it is not enough to have a lamp, good works and an outwardly good, Christian, life. We must possess oil for that lamp. A candle without a flame is useless. A lamp without oil is no better. All the good works and Christian piety in the world is worth less than a pile of dung without faith one’s heart. This is the point of Jesus’ parable. Be prepared. We are to watch for the Bridegroom’s coming, that is the second coming of Christ Jesus. But the true purpose of the parable is to remind us to be prepared. We may slumber from time to time. Even the wise virgins, the true believers, fell asleep as the Bridegroom seemed to tarry longer and later.  Jesus says, “But while the Bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.” We are not to spend our days sitting on a hilltop, staring into the heavens, watching for His return. We have God-given callings that we need to attend to. We may, from time to time slumber, but that slumber ought not cause our lamps to burn low or go out entirely.

4)         We are to prepare for the bridegroom’s arrival by stocking up on oil, that is, faith. This is done by hearing the Word of God as we have opportunity. This means if there is Divine Service and you are physical able to make it here, you need to be here, not letting excuses dictate your actions, for excuses are the mask of unbelief. It is here in the Divine Service where your faith is nourished by the preaching of the Word, for “faith comes by hearing.” (Romans 10:17) It is in the Divine Service where your faith is strengthen by confessing the Words of Scripture in the Holy Liturgy, since it is the words of Scripture. It is in the Divine Service where you exercise your faith by praying with the congregation for the needs of the church and world, for this corporate prayer teaches you how you ought to pray privately and forms your own life of prayer. It is in the Divine Service that the Lord fortifies your faith by giving you His true physical body and true physical blood, in, with, and under the forms of bread and wine, in the Lord’s Supper. These are His means for bringing you to faith and strengthening your faith. These means are how He pours the oil of gladness into your hearts so that you may hear the Word of Jesus and cling to it in faith.

5)         Right now the door into the kingdom of heaven is still unlocked. Jesus tells the Philadelphian Christians in Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” St. Paul quotes Isaiah 49 when he writes in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you." Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Now is the day of salvation. The Word of God is preached once again that sinners are justified by faith in Christ, and that that faith is gift from the Holy Ghost working through the means of grace. Faith in the forgiveness of sins won by Christ Jesus goes forth as long as the Bridegroom is delayed and tarries in returning, so that more and more may repent and believe the Gospel that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, so that in that repentance and faith they might be baptized and clothed with Christ, prepared for the wedding feast of eternity with the Triune God. The Gospel goes forth, so let all of us be mindful of how are hearing the Word of God lest we forsake faith in Christ. May the Lord preserve us from becoming foolish virgins, chasing after a faith of our imagination or a delusion of our heart which is from the devil, the ways of the world, or our own sinful flesh. Once the door is shut, it is shut. For Christ says to the Philadelphian Christians that it is “He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens” (Revelation 3:7).

6)         But all this business about shutting doors isn’t all law, judgment, wrath, and condemnation. The shutting of the door to the kingdom of God is also great Gospel for those who believe. Just as Noah and his family was saved by the shutting of the Ark door from the water and the masses who would trample anything and everything to save themselves, so at the end of the world, when the door is shut, those who believe in Christ Jesus, those who are prepared for His return with true faith in Him and true trust in His Work on their behalf, will enter the heavenly wedding feast. With the door shut, evil and falsehood must remain outside where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. The door is shut so that we may enjoy the blessings of eternal fellowship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. It is important to note that to the believer, the Lord will return not only to be Judge. Last week, the Judge and King Jesus separated sheep from goats. This shows us that He will return not only as Judge and King but also as our Good Shepherd. He says, “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep.” (John 10:14) In today’s parable He does not arrive as judge and King, but as bridegroom because He comes to usher His faithful into the wedding feast which has no end, the wedding celebrates the union of Christ with His Bride, the church. St. John sees this in Revelation 19:7-9. He hears a great multitude shout, “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready." And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!'” This is the culmination of our salvation, that for which every Christian hopes, yearns, watches, and waits.

7)         Let us therefore be careful how we live, that we have our lamps. But let us be even more mindful of possessing oil for our lamps, that is faith in Christ Jesus. Faith clings to Jesus and His works and merits. Faith takes Jesus’s perfect life as our own, saying that what He did, He did for me. Faith appropriates and grabs hold of Jesus’ atonement for the sins of the world and applies it to the individual. Faith clings to every word of Jesus as the absolute truth of God and lives its life according to that precious word. Faith holds tightly to baptism, to preaching, and to the Lord’s Supper since those are the Bridegroom’s means for preserving faith in our hearts and adding to it. Let be ever mindful of this, lest we find ourselves numbered among the foolish virgins, shut out of the marriage feast, out of salvation, and out of eternal life. To this end, may God be gracious to us. Amen.

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

November 13, 2016

26th Sunday after Trinity + Matthew 25:21-46 + November 13, 2016

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn #91 Let the Earth Now Praise the Lord
Hymn #611 The Day Is Surely Drawing Near
Hymn #53 Abide, O Dearest Jesus 

Introit - 83 

Readings
Isaiah 40:9-11
2 Peter 3:3-14
Matthew 25:31-46 

Collect for Trinity XXVI
O God, so rule and govern our hearts and minds by Thy Holy Spirit that, being ever mindful of the end of all things and the day of Thy just judgment, we may be stirred up to holiness of living here and dwell with Thee forever hereafter; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.  

Sermon on the Holy Gospel

Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         When Christ returns on the Last Day, then we will experience what we confess each week in the Creed, that, “He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and dead.” All nations will be gathered before Him, living and dead, a multitude innumerable. Jesus describes this in John 5:28-29 when He says, “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out-- those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” St. John, prophetically seeing this event, writes in Revelation 20:12-13, “I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.” There at the judgment seat of Christ will stand every person who has ever lived throughout the course of human history. It is interesting that whenever the Scriptures speak about the final judgment it speaks of the judgment in terms of one’s works and deeds. The parable before us today is no different. The sheep and goats seem to be separated into their respective groups because of what they have done and what they have left undone in their lives. But if we imagine that our final judgment is based upon our good works then we have misheard not only the parable itself but the very gospel of Christ.

2)         When the Son of Man comes in all His glory and the holy angels gather all the nations, Christ will then “separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” The first words out of Jesus’ mouth show us that this separation has nothing to do with works at all. He says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance.” The life of the world to come, the eternal bliss of paradise is called an “inheritance.” An inheritance is not something which is earned, but something earned by another and then freely bequeathed to the next of kin. In the Old Testament, the Lord gave the Promised Land to Israel out of sheer grace. He tells them in Leviticus 20:24, “You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.” The Promised Land of Canaan was a prototype of the sweet and blessed country of heaven. That inheritance is Christ’s because He is the Only-Begotten Son of the Father. But in mercy, God the Father makes this eternal inheritance available to all who believe the gospel. As St. Paul teaches us in Galatians 3:26, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” When Christ tells those on His right hand side that they are to take their inheritance, He is giving them what He promised them at their baptisms. He is fulfilling every promise of gospel that remained unfulfilled during their earthly life. Eternal life, paradise with the Triune God, is not something that is earned, it is an inheritance that is freely given.

3)         He also calls this blessed inheritance “the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” By this Christ refers to the election of believers to eternal life that happened in eternity, before the foundation of the world. The doctrine of election is summarized by St. Paul in Ephesians 1:4-5, that God the Father “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.” The doctrine of election teaches us that God, from eternity, predestined believers for everlasting life. The entire point of this doctrine is to show us that our salvation is from eternity. And if it is from eternity, then we have not had a part it in, for we were chosen before the foundation of the world and before we could any good work of love for our neighbor. This Kingdom, this inheritance, has been prepared for all who believe the gospel, all who do not reject the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. And this doctrine is given to us that we may firmly believe that our salvation is in God’s hands “and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). This doctrine shows us that God only predestines believers to eternal life so that we may not doubt our salvation. As St. Paul writes in Romans 8:30, “Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” It shows us that we do not earn this call, this justification, and this glory, but receive it by sheer grace.

4)         Only after Christ calls it an inheritance and “the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” does He get to their good works. The works they have done are not flashy. They are not what the world thinks of as good works. They are simple acts that help one’s neighbor in the most regular of needs. These sheep at the right hand of Christ gave food to Christ when He was hungry, drink when He was thirsty, shelter to Him when He was exposed, and clothes to Him when He was naked. These sheep at Christ’s right hand visited Christ when He was sick and imprisoned. Christ says that all these works were done for Him personally. And here’s the kicker. The sheep at Christ’s right hand had no clue they were doing good works for Christ. Shocked, they ask, “When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” They had no idea they were helping Christ. They had no idea their works of love for neighbor had such a heavenly impact. They simply did good works for the neighbor, without any thought of reward. They did these works not to earn their heavenly inheritance, but because Christ had promised them a heavenly inheritance. These works were not the cause and source of their salvation, they were the fruit it. This is the same reason why the goats also have no idea that their works were for Christ. If they had of known that they would have most certainly done those works for their neighbors. The point is that neither the sheep nor the goats knew they would be judged by their works.

5)         Frankly, the sheep did these works because they were sheep and the goats didn’t do these works because they were goats. Or, to use an analogy that Christ uses in Matthew 12:33, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.” All men, women, and children, everyone born in the natural way is born a bad tree because everyone is born in sin. But Christ makes bad trees into good trees through the gospel, for “it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Paul says that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Faith in Christ is what declares sinners to be righteous in God’s sight. Faith in the gospel is what makes you into a good tree. And a good tree bears good fruit naturally, spontaneously, and without thinking. To mix metaphors, the goats were bad trees, they had no faith. They had pushed faith away from themselves by rejecting the gospel. As bad trees, it was impossible for them to bear good fruit. “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit” (Luke 6:43). Thus the sheep and goats are not separated and judged by their works alone, for good works only flow from faith in Christ. No faith? Your works aren’t any good before God, no matter how good they look in the eyes of the world, for as St. Paul says, “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23) and “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrew 11:6).

6)         We don’t even have to use the analogy of good trees and bad trees. There is one built into the parable itself, right at the beginning. “When the Son of Man comes in glory” and all the nations are gathered before Him by the holy angels, “He will separate them one from another, as a Shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.” We must not lose sight of the fact the King who sits on the throne, the Judge of the living and the dead, is also the Good Shepherd. Did He not say, “I am the good shepherd; and I know my sheep, and am known by my own? (John 10:14). He knows those who are His sheep. And His sheep hear His voice. They hear the voice of their Good Shepherd in His word purely preached, in His visible Words of the Sacraments. So all true Christians take the opportunity to hear the Word properly preached and study the Word since it is the very Word of God, the living voice of the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep upon the tree of the cross. Because they are sheep, belonging to the Good Shepherd, they hear His voice and live lives according to it. It’s not one’s works that make a man into a lamb of Christ. It is faith that makes us into the lambs of Christ. Good works will follow because of what we are.

7)         While it is tempting to look at this parable, and all the passages that deal with the final judgment, and divorce it from the rest of Scripture and make the final judgment rest solely upon our deeds, we mustn’t. When we do this we do not rightly divine the Scriptures, nor do receive any comfort. If we want to stand at the judgment seat and plead our case based on our works, we will find ourselves eternally lacking, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But if we want to appear before the judgment seat and plead instead the merits of Christ that He earned for us and gives to all who believe the gospel, then we will find that the righteous Judge is also Good Shepherd who has laid His life down for us. Do not fear the final judgment, for the Judge you will meet is your Good Shepherd who said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24). Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard you hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

November 11, 2016

25th Sunday after Trinity + Matthew 24:15-28 + November 6, 2016


Introit - pg. 83 

Collect for Trinity XXV
Almighty God, we beseech Thee, show Thy mercy unto Thy humble servants, that we who put no trust in our own merits may not be dealt with after the severity of Thy judgment, but according to Thy mercy; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Readings
Isaiah 49:12-17
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 24:25-28

Sermon on the Holy Gospel

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1)         As we approach the end of the church year our focus shifts to the end times. Jesus teaches us what is in store for us by first teaching us about the fall of Jerusalem. Most of the today’s text deals with that event which happened around 70 AD when the Roman general Titus, laid siege to Jerusalem, killing countless Jews through famine and finally sword. It is only at the end of today’s gospel less that Jesus teaches about the coming of the Son of Man. He isn’t teaching that He will return immediately after the fall of Jerusalem. But He is putting the two events together. He is inviting us to view the end of the age through the filter of the fall of Jerusalem because the fall of Jerusalem is a prototype for the end of the world. As it went for Jerusalem, it will go for the world. This means we should first consider what Jesus teaches His disciples about Jerusalem’s fall.

2)         He tells the disciples that when they see the “Abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place, then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” The abomination which Daniel foretold found one fulfillment in the idol which Antiochus Epiphanies placed on the temple altar in 165 BC. 1 Maccabees 1:54 tells us that Antiochus’ men “set up the abomination of desolation upon the altar, and builded idol altars throughout the cities of Juda on every side.” That defilement of the temple lasted only four years until it was cleansed and rededicated by Judas Maccabeus and his brothers. Daniel’s words find their full fulfillment in the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Prior to the siege, a band of Jewish nationalists forcibly entered the temple and slayed thousands within its gates, polluting the sanctuary with innocent blood. This was the abomination of desolation Jesus warns His disciples about. “When there is an abomination in the temple that causes it to be desolate of worshipers, flee to the mountains. The one who is on his housetop is to leave all his possessions behind. That one is not to stop and collect his valuables from his home. The one who labors in the field under the heat of the day is not to go get his outer garment he left under the shade tree. Jesus tells them that when they see this abomination, their only option is to run because it is a sure sign that God’s just judgment against Jerusalem is near.

3)         Consider what Eusebius of Caesarea, the first church historian, wrote. “But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella. And when those that believed in Christ had come thither from Jerusalem, then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgment of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men.”[1] Jerusalem’s fall was the result of her rejection and murder of Christ and her rejection and martyring of His apostles. The Lord had been patient with Jerusalem, given them forty years to repent of their unbelief and rejection of Christ. Because the Romans were the instrument in God’s hand by which He executed judgment on the Jews, Christians were not to dilly-dally, they were not to cling to their earthly possessions, nor were they to look back on Jerusalem with desire, as Lot’s wife looked back on Sodom and was turned into a pillar of salt. They were simply to flee, leaving everything behind, because the same Lord that told them to flee the coming wrath would also provide for all their needs of the body. He also showed great mercy to His faithful by shortening those wretched days, for if that disaster had been left uncheck by the Lord, it would have devoured everyone.

4)         Christ also taught them that in those days false Christs would appear and false prophets would arise. They always do during times of calamity and the days of Jerusalem’s fall would be no different. These false christs and false prophets would even do signs and wonders that would be so convincing that, if it were possible, they could even deceive God’s elect. They were not to chase after anyone and everyone who claimed divine inspiration or direct revelations from God. Instead they were to cling to the words of Christ and the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures. Their faith was to be grounded and rooted in the revealed Word of God, not in ramblings and babblings that claimed divine authority but spoke differently than Christ and His apostles. Jesus is effectively reminding them of what He taught them in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” St. John would teach the same thing when he wrote by God’s inspiration, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Jesus teaches them to expect false christs and false teachers so that they are not scandalized by it, but rather accept it as reality and pray all the more fervently that the Lord would keep them steadfast in His revealed Word of the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Gospel. Jesus teaches them these things to save their physical lives from the Romans and apostate Jews and also to save their souls from the false teachers would devour their souls with false beliefs about Christ.

5)         After all this, Jesus says, “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.” By combining His return and the Last Day with the fall of Jerusalem, He is teaching us to prepare for that day as His first disciples were to prepare for the fall of Jerusalem. It should come as a shock to no one that we are living in the last days. We have been living in the end times ever since Christ ascended into heaven. The Christian is to take note of the abomination of desolation which stands in the Holy Place. This is no longer the temple of Jerusalem but the Christian Church. By this Christ wants us to identify Antichrist, and flee from him. Paul write in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 that this man “opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” In this we see the Roman Papacy, for the Bishop of Rome sets himself up in the church as the head of Christ’s church, claiming authority by Christ’s command. He opposes the Lord by demanding worship and works that have never been divinely commanded. Yet he sits “in the temple of God” and obscures the true mercy seat, Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and salvation by grace through faith alone by his false teachings. But the Roman Papacy is not the only spirit of antichrist, for St. John warns his flock that “even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). The Christian is to be ever-vigilant against such false teachers, for “they are clouds without water” (Jude 12) and can only lead men astray from the truth of the gospel and lead them toward themselves and their own merits and works.

6)         Like the first disciples, when we witness such abominations in the church and world we are to flee to the mountains. By this He means that Christians are to escape from “the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 2:20). We are to “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). We flee to the Holy Mountain, not to the worldly Jerusalem, but to the Holy Mountain of our Savior Christ Jesus, where there is forgiveness of every sin and new life through faith. Like the first Christians, we lift up our eyes to the hills since “our help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2). We are to daily flee to Christ through repentance of our sins and faith in His gracious promise to forgive all who repent and believe the gospel. As we daily flee from false teachers and from the abominations of this world, we are to “not go down and take anything out of our house,” meaning that we ought not to value our earthly possessions more than our inheritance awaiting us in heaven. We are not treasure earthly things and creature comforts to the point that we look to them for every good thing in this life and thus lose sight of faith in Christ. Fleeing the abominations of this world and our own sinful flesh which daily tempts us, we are not to “go back to get our clothes” having been working in the field. By this Christ teaches us to daily lay aside our sins as a garment, to put off the Old Adam in us through daily contrition and repentance, so that we are not overcome by sin and led into complacency and carnal security.

7)         In this way, the fall of Jerusalem is the prototype for the end times, and Christ’s teaching to His disciples is good for us as well. In this He’s really teaching us nothing that He hasn’t taught us elsewhere in the gospel. We are, as citizens of heaven, to flee the idolatries, sensualities, and sins of the world. As children of God, clothed with Christ’s righteousness through Holy Baptism, we are to daily live in that baptism by putting off the Old Self and putting on Christ as our daily dress. As those who look for the life of the world to come, we strive, with the aid of the Holy Ghost, so that we do not conform to the pattern of this world but rather to live as living sacrifices to our gracious Triune God. Since Christ has called us by the gospel and enlightened us with His gifts, we strive to “make our calling and election sure” by remaining steadfast in His Word and Sacrament in their truth and purity. This is how our Lord wants us to endure: avoiding what is false, treasuring and keeping close to what is true, and daily fleeing to Christ and His pure gospel. Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


[1] Eusebius of Caesarea. Ecclesiastical History. Book III.5

October 30, 2016

Festival of the Reformation + Matthew 11:12-15 + October 30, 2016

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn #262 A Mighty Fortress is Our God
Hymn #260 O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold
Hymn #292 Lord Jesus Christ, With Us Abide

Introit - Pg. 84 
Readings
2 Chronicles 29:12-19
Revelation 14:6-7
Matthew 11:12-15 
Collect for the Festival of the Reformation
O Lord God, Heavenly Father, pour out, we beseech Thee, Thy Holy Spirit upon Thy faithful people, keep them steadfast in Thy grace and truth, protect and comfort them in all temptations, defend them against all enemies of Thy Word, and bestow upon Christ’s Church Militant Thy saving peace; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. 

Sermon on the Epistle Lesson

Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         The text for this morning’s sermon is the epistle text read moments ago from the fourteenth chapter of Revelation. It might strike you as a bit odd or misplaced to have such a text to celebrate the blessings of the Reformation. The reason this text was selected for this Festival is because the angel, or messenger, “flying in the midst of heaven, having the eternal gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth.” Many of Luther’s contemporaries, and many who came after the reformer of the church, saw this prophecy that throughout the New Testament era, there would be faithful preachers of the eternal gospel. They saw Luther as a fulfillment of that prophesy, for Luther was a faithful preacher of the everlasting gospel against all the attacks of the devil, the world, and the false church of Rome. In our time this seems a bit over the top. It is unfashionable in our day to take pride in one’s denomination, to stand up for one’s confession of the Christian faith. Today ecumenism is in everyone’s blood so that Christians are taught to downplay distinctive confessions of faith. Today Christianity has been contaminated with the idea that all churches teach “basically the same thing,” so that if one takes pride in Luther or being Lutheran then he is seen an old fogey holding onto his Northern European heritage. Our Lutheran forefathers chose this text so that we might not be enchanted by such a spell. Those men selected this text so that every year at Reformation we might remember that Luther was God’s instrument for reforming His church, cleansing her from the filth of false doctrine, and turning her eyes to the simplicity of the eternal gospel.

2)         That is what this messenger preaches in the text, the everlasting gospel. It is called everlasting because it does not change. It is the same from age to age because the gospel is the message of Jesus Christ who “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). It is called eternal because it no messenger, neither Pope nor council, individual or institution, has authority, to alter it in any way, as Paul wrote in Galatians 1:8, “Even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” The gospel Luther preached was not a flavor of the week. Nor was it his private interpretation. When one confesses that he is Lutheran he is not saying that he believes the gospel of Luther. He is confessing that he believes the everlasting gospel of Christ crucified for sinners, which Luther brought to light in a time of great darkness. Luther grew up in a world in which the gospel had been corrupted so that the church taught salvation was to be found in “doing what was in you.” Sinners were not taught to trust in Christ’s merits for their salvation. They were taught to trust in their own merits and worthiness. Sinners were pointed to man-made works in order to please God and displace His wrath. If you wanted to live the holiest, most God-pleasing life possible, you joined the monastery or convent so that you could forsake your neighbor and your earthly responsibilities and pray all day. If you wanted to please God you attended Mass and partook of the Lord’s Supper as if obeying strict demands. The more a sinner chased after certainty of salvation, the more works he given to do: Masses, pilgrimages, relics, indulgences, penances, rosaries and on and on. This is not the eternal gospel. This is not the gospel taught by Christ, proclaimed by Apostles, and passed on to the Bishops and Pastors. Luther was God’s instrument for tearing down the false and holding up the true for all to see, for it is a everlasting gospel “to preach to those who dwell on the earth.”

3)         Looking at the content of this angel’s message, it may not seem very much like the gospel at first. “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” But we see in the angel’s words the precious teaching of Law and Gospel, of repentance and faith. First He commands all to “Fear God.” The Scriptures teach us to fear God because He threatens sinners with temporal and eternal punishment for their disobedience. When a person truly fears God, he does his best not to sin and when he does fall into sin, he quickly repents of it and wishes to be rid of it. The Lord “Commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30) and not a worldly repentance which is sorrow and despair, but repentance that confesses one’s sins with the knowledge that God has promised to forgive the sins of all who trust in Christ’s atoning death on the cross. We are to fear God as the one who threatens to punish all who break His commandments. The preaching of the Law must always come before the preaching of the eternal gospel, for without repentance for sins, the gospel rings hollow. If sinners are unwilling to confess their sins, the everlasting gospel makes no sense to them and they will quickly pass it over. So we fear God and repent of sin when our hearts are convicted through God’s Law.

4)         The angel goes on, “Give glory to Him, for the hour of judgment has come.” The Law must condemn sinners so that we repent of our sins and hunger and thirst for the Gospel. The one who believes the Gospel, that Christ has died to atone for his sins, stands justified before God, for faith alone justifies and not works of the Law. All who believe the gospel, all who are justified by faith in Christ, are able to truly give glory to God because they no longer stand in fear of God’s just judgment. Those who want to stand before God on the basis of their own merits and worthiness will be found lacking, for in God’s sight “no one living is righteous” (Psalm 143:2). Anyone who wants to meet God at the Tribunal of the Law and claim that he has met all the Laws demands will be condemned, “for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Galatians 2:16). Faith alone justifies sinners. The gospel invites sinners to flee from the judgment seat of the Law and run towards the judgment seat of Christ and be judged according to His righteousness, His merits, and His worthiness. This is why the Christian has no fear of God’s judgment. The Christian is “in Christ” by faith alone. The Christian, by faith, possess the righteousness of Christ as His own. The Christian, the one who believes in Himis not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). God wants this everlasting gospel preached to all men, so that all might repent of their sins and flee to Christ to be judged there. Receiving the forgiveness of all of our sins, we “Give glory to Him” because He gives us our salvation by sheer grace alone.

5)         The angel then commands that we “worship Him who made the heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” We worship the Triune God not simply because He has created us, but we worship the One who has created us and redeemed us. The One of whom St. John wrote “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3) is the same one who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) to bring us grace and truth. The creation is tied to the redemption because the One by whom all things were created is the One who becomes flesh to die upon the cross for our sins. For this great salvation, being created and redeemed by the God the Word, we worship Him. How? The chief worship we offer Him is faith, for this is what He desires from us. He wants us to take Him at His Word. He wants us to live not by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds from His mouth. He wants us to believe His Words in the pages of Holy Scripture, reading them, marking them, learning them and inwardly digesting them, since He reveals Himself to us by Scripture alone and through no other means. By faith we “continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15). By faith we worship Him so that in “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).

6)         The men who lived after Luther saw Him as a fulfillment of the messenger in in this text. This claim wasn’t born out of a sectarian spirit. Nor was it mere hero-worship. It was not out of misguided sense of pride. It was because God truly raised up Luther for the task of proclaiming the everlasting gospel. In the churches that bear His teaching, not only his name, Luther still teaches the church to “Fear God” by teaching God’s Law in the Ten Commandments. Those are the works God desires from us, not the mad-made works of Rome which cannot please God because they have not been commanded by God. Luther still teaches all who have ears to hear to “Give glory to Him” by teaching the everlasting gospel, the same Gospel as Jesus taught and Peter and Paul preached. Sinners can only truly glorify God when they believe that their sins are forgiven by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone. Any other teaching cannot glorify God. Luther is still very much a heavenly messenger who teaches sinners to flee to Christ for mercy, and there be judged not by their works and merits, but by faith in Christ’s works for us. Four hundred and ninety-nine years later, Luther still teaches us to “worship Him who made the heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water” by teaching us that faith is the chief worship taught in the New Testament, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).

7)         The Reformation is not an exercise in hero-worship, for Luther was a man who put his pants on one leg at a time. Nor is it sectarian to celebrate the Reformation, for it is not the private doctrine of Luther we hold, neither is Luther’s “one kind of Christianity among many.” We hold the everlasting gospel, the unchanging message of the grace of God that caused Him to send His only-begotten Son into the Word to bear our sin and be our savior, so that all who believe in Him will not perish but have the fruit of faith in the everlasting gospel: everlasting life. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

October 23, 2016

23rd Sunday after Trinity + Matthew 22:15-22 + October 23, 2016

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15

 

Introit - pg. 82 

 

Readings

Isaiah 32:1-8

Philippians 3:17-21

Matthew 22:15-22 

 

Collect for Trinity XXIII

Absolve, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy people from their offenses, that from the bonds of our sins which by reason of our frailty we have brought upon us we may be delivered by Thy bountiful goodness; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. 

 

Sermon on the Holy Gospel


Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         It seems providential that this gospel text should occur every fall just days before the presidential election. This time of year politics is on everyone’s mind more so than usual. I have lost track of how many times a person has approached me and asked me what I think of the candidates, the state of our country, and the future of nation. This election cycle seems to be grinding on everyone with a graver intensity than past elections. There seems to be more uncertainty in the air, more worry in people’s hearts, and a general feeling that is approaching a state of panic. At first sight, the gospel text that the ancient church presents to us on this Sunday may not seem to hold any answers to our modern anxieties. Caesar wasn’t elected. Judea and Galilee were not in perilous times as are we. The entire system of government was just plain old different. We must resist any urge to try to cram our modern situation into the text that is before us. Instead, if we hear these words of Jesus as He intends them to be heard, they not only make perfect sense but they offer a great comfort to Christians, no matter who wins the election or what happens in the years to come.

2)         Some disciples of the Pharisees, along the some Herodians, approach Jesus in order to entangle Him in precisely this issue of the State and how Christians should interact with the State. No one likes to pay taxes. That is one thing that we have in common with the ancient Judeans. These Pharisees did not care for paying taxes to Caesar because they did not like being ruled by a pagan tyrant. Being a pagan tyrant, I’m sure Caesar would have spent tax revenue on expenditures that the Jews didn’t care for either. No good Jew would joyfully pay taxes to Caesar. Neither, however, could a good Jew, as a citizen who valued their freedom, teach that taxes shouldn’t be paid to Caesar. That would be teaching insurrection against the State! With this great conundrum these disciples of the Pharisees approach Jesus. “Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do you care about anyone, for you do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do you think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Though its flattery, their words are true. Jesus does not regard the person of man. He shows no partiality in His teaching. He does not play favorites with those in power. These men are hoping to exploit that trade of Jesus and get Him to speak against Caesar as if he were a common man. Here we see their play. They want to separate life before God and life in the State and nullify their worldly responsibilities for religious reasons. They set the whole thing up as an either/or.

3)         Of course, Jesus doesn’t bite. Seeing their trap and their false view of church and state, He says, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show me the tax money.” One of them men reaches into his pocket and pulls out a denarius, worth about a day’s wage. Holding it before them Jesus askes, “Whose image and inscription is this?” No one can deny that the image and inscription are those of Caesar’s. Even in the modern area our currency bears the image and inscription of the fathers of our country. It is with this elementary point that Jesus silences His tempters. Holding the coin with Caesar’s image and inscription before them, He says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus is doing much more than telling them to pay their taxes. The Pharisees had wanted to separate the life of faith and the life lived under the government but keep them as equal and parallel entities, so that someone taught it was good to pay taxes to a pagan tyrant, then he would be teaching to value Caesar over God. For the Pharisees, to teach obedience to the State was to teach rebellion against God. Yet if Jesus had of taught the opposite then they would claim He was teaching that the life of faith tore down civil order. The coin with Caesar’s image and inscription teaches that while the life of faith and life lived under the State are separate, they are not equal.

4)         Here is what I mean. As a Christian you live before God and under Caesar simultaneously. You can’t play one off the other, for God has ordained both of them. As much as it may make us cringe at times, civil government is a good gift of God. The Lord calls civil authorities “ministers of his kingdom” in Wisdom 6:4 because God establishes civil government to bring order to countries full of sinners. Solomon reminds them of this when He writes, “Power is given you of the Lord, and sovereignty from the Highest, who shall try your works, and search out your counsels” (Wisdom 6:3). Since the Lord vested them with authority, the Lord will judge them for their use of that authority. This is what Jesus means when He says to Pilate in John 19:11, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above.” All authority comes from the divine fount and source of authority. St. Paul echoes this in Romans 13:1-2, “There is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God.” Civil authority is necessary in this life. It is divinely-instituted. And it is often misused and abused because God places sinners in authority over nations. Even if there were Christian rulers there would still be abuses and scandal because they would be ruling a nation of sinners and unbelievers. Civil government is not something to be despised because it is from God. If it is good government, we give thanks to God. If it is bad government, we accept it as the chastening hand of God to lead us to repentance. No matter if we view it as good or evil, we must submit to it until Caesar demands the Christians violate the doctrine of the Scriptures.

5)         Since Caesar is establish by God’s wisdom and will, and He ordains that we live under Caesar, we “render to Caesar  the things that are Caesar’s.” What are the things of Caesar? The obvious answer is the coin Jesus holds in between His fingers. If Caesar stamps it with his image and inscription, it is his and is due to him. Otherwise we render to Caesar the honor and respect appropriate for his office. We render to Caesar obedience, as long as Caesar does not command us to violate the gospel or natural law. If Caesar demands we forsake the gospel and worship other gods or if he demands we violate the commandments, then we say with the Apostles in Acts 5:29, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” With that as an exception, Paul writes, “For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:6-7). He also commands that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). So we pray for our governing authorities, regardless of how we feel about their person or policy. We do this every week in the General Prayer, and Paul’s words to Timothy may sound familiar to you, for each week we pray for our rulers so that “we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”

6)         But the Christian does not only live under Caesar. The Christian chiefly lives before God. So as we render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, we ought to render to God the things that are God’s. What are those things that belong to God? Jesus answers this question by holding up that denarius with an image and inscription. Things with Caesar’s image and inscription are due to Caesar. Things with the image and inscription of God are due to God. What is it that bears the image of God? You. You bear the image of God, not perfectly, but it is being restored in you. St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that believers “are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” He tells the Colossians to “put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Colossians 3:10). The image of God, in which you were created, and which you lost through Adam’s fall into sin, is being restored in those who are baptized and daily put off the sinful flesh through faith. The image of God was righteousness, and that righteousness is restored through faith in Christ’s atoning death. The same is true for the inscription. What bears the inscription of God? You do, for the Triune God placed His name upon you in Holy Baptism when you were baptized “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” What are the things of God that we are to render unto Him? Ourselves, our whole heart, our fear, our love, and our trust. Caesar can have our money. He can have our liberty if that is God's good pleasure. He can even have our lives if it is the will of the Lord. What God ordains is always good.

7)         But Caesar cannot half our fear, our love, and our trust, for all of these things which make up our faith and trust, do not belong to Him. That’s the answer to the anxiety of this election cycle. That’s the peace that surpasses all human understanding, worry, and doom-and-gloom. You bear the image of God and that image is being restored in you each day through faith in Christ Jesus. You are inscribed with God’s name upon your forehead and heart by virtue of God’s work in Holy Baptism. You are His. And He is worthy of your fear, your love, and your trust above all things in this life, even the Caesar. Do not fret about the future of our nation. Our times are in the Lord’s hands. Do not worry about what will happen on November 4th, our bodies and souls and all things belong to our gracious Triune God. He will protect you. He will provide for you. He will give you what you need when you need it because you are His beloved and precious treasure. You are His baptized. That is only answer to our worries. That is the only comfort we need. Amen.

May the peace of God that passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.