March 19, 2017

Oculi, the 3rd Sunday in Lent + Luke 11:14-28 + March 19, 2017

Introit
MY - EYES - || are ever | to- | ward | the | Lord, *
                For He shall pluck my feet | out | of | the | net. -
|| Turn Yourself to me, and have | mer- | cy | on | me, *
                For I am desolate | and | af- | flict- | ed. - (Psalm 25:15–16)
|| To You, O Lord, I | lift | up | my | soul. *
                O my God, I trust in You; let me | not | be | a- | shamed; -
|| The troubles of my | heart | have | en- | larged; *
                Bring me out of | my | dis- | tress- | es! -
|| Look on my afflict- | tion | and | my | pain, *
                And for- | give | all | my | sins. -
|| Keep my soul, and | de- | liv- | er | me; *
Let me not be ashamed, for I put | my | trust | in | You. - (Psalm 25:1–2a, 17–18, and 20)
|| My eyes are ever | to- | ward | the | Lord, *
                For He shall pluck my feet | out | of | the | net. -
|| Turn Yourself to me, and have | mer- | cy | on | me, *
                For I am desolate | and | af- | flict- | ed. - (Psalm 25:15–16) 

Collect for Oculi, the Third Sunday in Lent
We beseech Thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of Thy humble servants and stretch forth the right hand of Thy majesty to be our defense against all our enemies; 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
2 Samuel 22:1-7
Ephesians 2:1-9
Luke 11:14-28 

Sermon

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

1)         In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, two of John’s disciples followed Jesus and when Jesus notices, He turns around and asks them “What do you seek?” They respond, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” to which Jesus responds with the invitation, “Come and see.” The evangelist writes that these two men “came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day” (John 1:39). These two disciples of the Baptizer show us how important it is to remain with Jesus, to stay close to Him so that we might continually be learning from Christ. These two disciples wanted to apply themselves to the knowledge of the divine mysteries. They wanted to excel in their understanding of things of God. They wanted strength and help to fight sin. They wanted to remain in the kingdom of God so they sought to remain were Jesus was. John sets this before us as an example. Cyril of Alexandria, a fifth century church father, comments that with this, “The Evangelist says that once they stayed with him, they clung to him so that those who enter God’s house by faith and run to Christ may learn that they must remain with him and not desire to be estranged either by departing to sin or by rushing back to unbelief.”[1] The Christian is to remain with Christ, learn from Christ, receive strength from Christ, and not leave him by willful sinning against conscience or neglecting faith so that it turns into unbelief. The Christian abides with Christ, hears His Word gladly, and hallows God’s Name in his prayer and life.  

2)         Remaining with Christ, as these two disciples show us, is essential for the Christian because if we do not remain with Christ, if we do not stay where He is and daily learn from Him, we will eventually be draw away from Christ back to our former lord and master, the devil. Though many might be quick to say, “I have never belonged to the devil,” the Scriptures tell us that all men born in the natural way are conceived and born as sinners. St. Paul writes that “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). To put it another way, all humanity is, by nature, born into slavery to sin. Jesus says in John 8:34, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” Jesus says in today’s appointed Gospel lesson, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace.” The strong man of whom Jesus speaks is the devil. It’s no use to imagine the devil as weak or benign. He is neither. Nor is it helpful to imagine that the devil isn’t a real being but simply an ancient personification of evil in the world. But wishing something away doesn’t make it so. The devil is real. His power is real. His power is in temptation, enticement, sin, and ultimately death. These are the devil’s weapons and armors by which he guards the goods of his house. The goods which he guards are the hearts of men, women, and children. They are born into his house. They are born as slaves to sin and the devil makes sure many stay in that thralldom using the tools at his disposal. It does no good to imagine the devil as weak. Jesus tells us the opposite. He is the strong man who cannot be overcome by his own slaves. It is impossible for slaves to sin to stage a coup against this strong man. 

3)         But another comes along, one who is stronger and mightier than the devil. “But when a One stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils.” Jesus Christ is the stronger man who comes upon the devil and overcomes Him. We witnesses this two weeks ago as we heard again how Christ overcame the tempter in the wilderness not for His own sake but for our sake. Last week we heard that Christ drove out a demon from the Canaanite woman’s daughter with a word spoken at a great distance. Today we hear again how Christ approaches a man possessed by a mute demon. Christ drives out the demon and the man speaks. All of these, however, are minor skirmishes before the war. They are conflicts pointing to the final fight, for as Jesus says, “surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” The kingdom of the devil and the kingdom of God meet fully upon the cross. There the battle is joined. But the cross does not look so much like a battle as it does a forfeit. Christ willingly goes to be crucified. “The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him” (Mark 14:21). Christ, who could call down legions of holy angels to defend Himself, doesn’t. The Eternal Word of the Father, by whom all things were spoken into existence, could have spoken one Word and ended the suffering, but does not. In the death of Jesus it seems the strong man has conquered. It the crucifixion of the Christ, it appears as if the devil has successful defended the slaves of his kingdom. 

4)         But this is not the case. Christ, the stronger man, is clothed in weakness. Before the devil can be cast into hell forever, his armor must be stripped of him and his slaves set free. “When a stronger One than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils.” Before Christ destroys the devil, He must destroy those things in which the devil trusts. He must destroy sin. He has already broken the devil’s power of temptation by being tempted in the flesh and overcoming, making it possible for all who believe to overcome temptation in their same flesh. But on the cross Christ deals directly with sin, the devil’s chief armor. Christ dies as the “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Just as the lambs of the Old Testament sacrifices bear the sin of the one who brought them to the altar, so Christ bears the sins of the world upon His shoulders. Isaiah says, “The LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). St. Paul goes further and says that God the Father “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And to the Galatians He writes, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). Christ not only bears our sins, He is made sin, so all who trust in His atoning death have the forgiveness of all their sins. He not only bears the curse, He is made the curse so all who believe the Gospel are no longer under the curse of sin but under the blessing of Christ. This is how Christ overcomes the strong man. Suffers to atone for the sins which enslave us. He dies to redeem us from the curse than hangs over us. All who place their trust in Him are no longer slaves of sin but slaves of righteousness, children of the heavenly Father, spoils of Christ’s victory. 

5)         This is how He rescues us. He earns our release from the sin, death, and the power of the devil by His righteous life and innocent, bitter sufferings and death. He gives all this blessings to us when we believe the Gospel: that God is reconciled to us in Christ and forgives our sins. This means that sin’s power is broken over us. We ought never to go back to its slavery. We ought never to willfully rush into sin. We should never delight in our sins, nurture them, and cultivate our sins. Jesus gives us the example of the unclean spirit that has gone out of a man to warn us against departing from Him into sin and unbelief. “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” Once the house of the heart is swept clean from sin through faith in Christ, it must be continually filled with Christ, otherwise sin will come back. Not only will sin come back, but it will come back stronger than before. The hearth of our heart must be daily swept clean by repenting of our sins. The house of our heart, put in order by believing the Gospel and rejoicing in the forgiveness of sins, cannot be then left empty. Christ must dwell there through His Word and Sacraments. It is not enough to enjoy the absolution then stay away from God’s Word. It’s folly to repent and rejoice over the removal of sin then not have Christ remain in the house of the heart through daily meditation on the Scriptures. If Christ does not remain in the heart, sin will come back stronger than before, and more difficult to remove because repentance will be that much more difficult. Thus Christ warms us to forsake our sins, lest we grow to love them more than we love Him, and in not forsaking sin, forsake Christ instead. 

6)         Like the two disciples that left John to follow Jesus, we must seek to have Christ remain with us. He promises to be present in His Word of Scripture, His Word in the Sacraments, and His Word purely preached. This is why Jesus says at the end of today’s lesson, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Because He is present in the Word. He abides there, so we ought to seek to remain there always with Him in every temptation of the devil, in every trial of the world, and in every enticement of our flesh. Let us remember what the father Cyril wrote, that we “remain with him and not desire to be estranged either by departing to sin or by rushing back to unbelief.” Let us hear His Word gladly and keep it by repenting of our sins and comforting ourselves with the Gospel, for faith is our victory over the devil, the world, and our flesh. Temptation is simply the strong man wanting his goods back. But praise be Christ, the stronger man, who comes to destroy the works of the devil in our lives by forgiving our sins, by restoring our souls, and making us into sons of God through the faith in the Word. 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] Cyril of Alexandria. Ancient Christian Texts: Commentary on John Volume 1. Tr. David. Maxwell. IVP Academic: Downer’s Grove. 2013. Pg. 87.






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March 12, 2017

Reminiscere, the 2nd Sunday in Lend + Matthew 15:21-28 + March 12, 2017

Introit 
RE- - MEM- | ber, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lov- | ing- | kind- | ness- | es, *
For they | are | from | of | old. -
|| Let not my enemies tri- | umph | o- | ver | me. *
God of Israel, deliver us out of | all | our | trou- | bles! - (Psalm 25:6, 2b, and 22)
|| To You, O Lord, I | lift | up | my | soul. *
O my God, I trust in You; let me | not | be | a- | shamed; -
|| Do not remember the | sins | of | my | youth; *
According to Your mercy remember me for | Your | good- | ness’ | sake. -
|| Good and up- | right | is | the | Lord; *
Therefore He teaches sin- | ners | in | the | way. -
|| For Your | name’s | sake, | O | Lord, *
Pardon my iniquity, | for | it | is | great. - (Psalm 25:1–2a, 8, and 11)
|| Remember, O Lord, Your tender mercies and Your lov- | ing- | kind- | ness- | es, *
For they | are | from | of | old. -
|| Let not my enemies tri- | umph | o- | ver | me. *
Redeem Israel, O God, out of | all | their | trou- | bles! - (Psalm 25:6, 2b, and 22)

Collect for Reminiscere
O God, Who seest that of ourselves we have no strength, keep us both outwardly and inwardly that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; 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 45:20-25
1 Thessalonians 4:1-7
Matthew 15:21-28

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

1)         The woman who approaches Jesus does so in great need and in great faith. Her daughter is severely demon-possessed. The poor girl is assaulted by a devil who torments her. But the torment isn’t hers only. Any parent whose child has suffered knows that they suffer just as much as the child does but it is a much different kind of torment. In this way the devil has both of them in his grasp. The woman’s great need drives her to find Jesus, who has travelled outside the boundary of the people of Israel. In spite of being a woman of Canaan, a woman outside God’s people Israel, she has heard the report about Jesus and has heard that he is able and willing to help those who come to Him. She approaches Jesus in faith. “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed!” She presents her petition before Jesus, the merciful one, the one who drives out demons with a word and frees men from the chains of Satan. And Jesus does nothing. “He answered her not a word.” He ignores here entirely. Her petition seems to fall on deaf ears, at least Christ’s ears are stopped up so that He doesn’t appear to hear. The disciples do and then they start asking Jesus to send the woman away “for she cries out after us.” The woman understood that the Lord does not often answer prayers immediately so she cries out all the more, annoying the disciples. They interpret Jesus’ silence as indifference. They assume that Jesus’ ignoring the woman implied that Jesus wouldn’t help her.

2)         Jesus answers His disciple’s request. “I was not sent except to the Lord sheep of the house of Israel.” Now the woman is in quite the quandary! Jesus won’t answer her honest petition cried out in faith, but He will answer the disciples. Not only are Jesus’ disciples asking, audibly for her to hear, that she be removed, but Jesus is speaking, for her to hear, that He didn’t come for people like her. She is a Canaanite. She is a descendant of the people of the land whom Israel was supposed to drive out. She is from the land of the harlot Jezebel who led Israel into sin by introducing Baal worship in the days of the Northern Kingdom. This woman is definitely not of the children of Israel. She is antithetical to the children of Israel in every way, except that she has faith in the promised Messiah. In spite of this terrible rebuttal that Jesus doesn’t even speak to her directly, the woman’s faith presses on. She will not be deterred by silence. She will not be shamed by the disciples. She will not be pushed aside because she is not a daughter of Abraham. She knows Jesus is good. She has complete confidence that Jesus will help her in spite of all these things. She feels her unworthiness but presses forward anyway.  She “came and worshiped Him saying, ‘Lord, help me.’” Her prayer, though shorter this time, is just as fervent. Please Help, dear Jesus.

3)         Then something different happens. First Jesus was silent and ignored her. Then He spoke to His disciples within earshot, but not directly to her, and he spoke terrible words that excluded her from His mercy. But now Jesus speaks directly to her. His words are far worse than any silence. “It is now good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” She finally addresses her directly! And He calls her a dog. He came only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He came only for the children of the kingdom, the heirs of Abraham, of whom she is most certainly not one. But now she is likened to a small dog, the lowest of the domesticated animals. Christ came for children of Abraham, not to show mercy to little yapping dogs. They are not worth His time. This should crush her. This should deflate all her hope in Christ. Christ’s mercy is not for her. Christ’s graciousness is not for her daughter. They are both outside the pale of salvation. The Gospel of Christ goes only so far, and they lie just beyond its reach. Many would have forsaken their faith and gone home to their demon-possessed daughter to live under the devil’s power.

4)         But faith doesn’t do that. Faith doesn’t let go of Jesus, even when He is silent. Faith isn’t deterred when it is shamed by the words of others. Faith only cares about the Word of Jesus. And in His response, for as cruel as it may sound to our ears, is still a Word to which this woman’s faith can cling. She takes a word of rejection and turns it against Jesus. He has finally answered her and she will not let Him go because she knows now that she has an audience with Him. Faith lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord, even a Word like this. She takes that word and uses it in her prayers all the more fervently. “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” This woman artfully takes Jesus’ Word and turns it against Him. Faith hears the Word of Christ, and believes it to be true, no matter what it says, and uses it, clings to it, hangs it hat on it, and relies upon it. She admits her unworthiness. She is a little dog. She is not a daughter of Abraham. She is descendant of the cursed Canaanites. But she doesn’t need any worthiness. She needs whatever Jesus will give her, a crumb, a morsel, a scrap. Her faith is so sturdy that she believes that even the tiniest good thing from Jesus will be more than enough for her and her daughter. She owns her unworthiness because her faith is not based on being worthy at all. Faith is based on Christ’s promise to be merciful and that’s all.

5)         Jesus relents. He can’t fend off this woman any longer. Nor does He want to. “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” Jesus grants her petition. Her daughter is healed from that very hour. It may seem at first glance as if Jesus were cruel and mean-spirited. But Jesus is never cruel and mean-spirited toward those who seek Him in faith. Jesus says in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” So why did He put this woman through such pains before granting her prayer? Why did He test her faith to such a great extent? Because He wanted to teach her, and His disciples, and us, upon whom the end of the ages has come, what true faith looks like and how true faith behaves. After all, Christ extolls this woman’s faith. “O woman, great is your faith!” Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel a Roman centurion asks Jesus to heal his servant, but he will not allow Jesus to come under His roof because of his unworthiness. He knows that Jesus can heal with only a Word. To this Jesus says, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” (Matthew 8:10). In both of these instances, the Centurion and the Canaanite woman, Jesus shows us that faith clings to His Word above all else. Faith pushes aside past experience, human reasoning, logic, and feeling and believes the Word of Christ. If Christ gives a crumb, faith is content. If Christ gives a feast, faith is thankful as well. For man does live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

6)         Dear saints, Christ tests this woman’s faith as an example to you. You know that Christ doesn’t always answer our prayers immediately. You have experienced this and you will continue to throughout your life. Like the Canaanite woman, your great need drives you offer your petitions to the Lord, for you know that He is the only One who is truly able to help. But often He is silent. For some petitions, that silence goes on for years. Many let this silence discourage them so that they cast aside their faith. But this is not what Christ wants. He has commanded you to pray and He has promised to hear your prayers. He says in Psalm 50:15, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” He desires that His baptized children “always pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). When the Lord does not answer your prayer immediately, do not despair and fret that the Lord has not heard your prayer. If it seems the Lord is turning a deaf ear to you, that is not the case. His silence is an invitation to believe all the more firmly that He does hear and that He will answer in His own good time and in His own wisdom, for He says in Isaiah 55:8, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” He doesn’t want us to prescribe the method or means of His help. He will take care of that and grant you relief from your burden in the best way which is often a way which we do not foresee.

7)         Most of all, the Canaanite woman is set forward as an example of what faith does with the Word of Christ. Faith holds to that Word, no matter how foolish it seems to reason. Faith believes the Word of Christ, no matter how it much it goes against our experience or emotions. The Canaanite woman clung so tenaciously to the promise of Christ’s mercy that her unworthiness didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was the Word of Jesus. You have a far better Word from your Lord, a Word that forgives your sins, a Word that calls you His Son, a Word that cleanses you from the impurity of your sin, a Word promises you everlasting life. You have the Word of Christ spoken in through the pastor as if from God Himself, a Word which absolves your sins so that they are put away and remembered no more by the Lord. You have the Word combined with water in your baptism which promises remission of sins and which claims you as God’s own child. You have the Word combined with bread and wine which cleanses you from all your unrighteousness. You have the Word of Christ in Holy Scripture which teaches you His will for you, that you believe His gospel, trust His mercy, and strive for sanctification and holiness in your vocations. Your Lord is not cruel. He is not mean-spirited, though at times He does test our faith with silence. But this is always to point us back to the Word He has given us in His means of grace, so that we trust that Word and cling to it no matter what we experience otherwise. You have a gracious God and Lord who hears your prayers and will answer in due time according to His mercy. Christ is merciful and has come not to destroy men’s life but to save them, thanks be to God. Amen.

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


Wednesday after Invocabit + James 1:2-15 + March 8, 2017

Psalm 32
Antiphon: BE GLAD || in the Lord and rejoice, you | right- | eous; *
And shout for joy, all you up- | right | in | heart!

|| 1 Blessèd is he whose transgression is for- | giv- | en, *
Whose sin | is | co- | vered.
|| 2 Blessèd is the man to whom the Lord does not impute in- | i-qui- ∙ | ty, *
And in whose spirit there is | no | de- | ceit.
|| 3 When I kept | si- | lent, *
my bones grew old through my groaning all | the | day | long.
|| 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy up- | on | me; *
My vitality was turned into the drought | of | sum- | mer.
|| 5 I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not | hid- | den. *
I said, ―I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,‖ and You forgave the iniquity | of | my | sin.
|| 6 For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You in a time when You may be | found; | - *
Surely in a flood of great waters they shall not | come | near | him.
|| 7 You are my hiding place; (+) You shall preserve me from | trou- | ble; *
You shall surround me with songs of de- | liv- | er- | ance.
|| 8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should | go; | - *
I will guide you | with | My | eye.
|| 9 Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no under- | stand- | ing, *
Which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, else they will not | come | near | you. || 10 Many sorrows shall be to the | wick- | ed; *
But he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall | sur- | round | him.
|| 11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you | right- | eous; *
And shout for joy, all you up- | right | in | heart!

GLO- RY || be to the Father, and to the | Son: | - *
and to the | Ho- | ly | Ghost;
AS IT || was in the begin -ning, (+) is now, and ever | shall | be: *
world without | end. | A- | men.

Collect 1
O Lord, mercifully hear our prayer and stretch forth the right hand of Thy majesty to defend us from them that rise up against us; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.

Collect 2
We beseech Thee, O Lord, by the mystery of our Savior’s fasting and temptation, to endow us with the same mind that was in Him toward all evil and sin; and give us grace to keep our bodies in such holy discipline that our minds may always be ready to resist Satan and obey the promptings of Thy Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
 
Readings
James 1:2-15
Luke 22:24-32 
Sermon


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

1)         St. James tell us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” This has to be revealed to us by the Word, because we, by nature, run from all kinds of trials and think them a terrible hardship. When hardships come upon us, when we are afflicted in body our soul, or when we face any kind of suffering, we are to rejoice when it happens. We are not commanded to seek our suffering. Nor are we to think suffering under the cross merits us anything in God’s sight. We joyfully bear our cross, whatever it may be, because it is from God. James tells us that we are to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” By sending trial, suffering, and affliction to you, God your heavenly Father is testing your faith. He is giving you an opportunity to exercise your faith in His goodness and promises. This is why the apostle writes that we are to bear up under afflictions joyfully, because we know the affliction is from God not for our harm, but for our good. We never see it that way in the middle of a hardship. Our flesh, wanting to run from the cross, assumes that God has sent it to us to harm us, to avenge our sins, or even to kill us. But this is not the case. God sends it to produce patience and endurance, so that you exercise your faith and bear up under your affliction, trusting that the Lord who has sent it knows best how to remove it in His own good time according to His own gracious wisdom. James shows us the goal of such trials from God in verse 4. “Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

2)         None of us are up to this task of bearing up under suffering and cross. The flesh hates suffering and always assumes it is a thing of wrath and punishment. The patience we need to bear up under our crosses can only come from God Himself. In every affliction and trial God wants us to joyfully pray to Him for an increase of faith and a strengthening of our confidence in His promises. James writes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” The wisdom you need in order to bear up patiently under your affliction is faith. It is a holy wisdom which sees beyond the external circumstances to see God’s gracious hand in the trial. Human wisdom faces trial and says, “This is a terrible suffering. How can I get out of this as quickly as possible?” Divine Wisdom encounters suffering and affliction and says, “This affliction is from the Lord and He wants to exercise me through it. I cannot remove it on my own or by my own plans or striving. I must rely upon Him to remove it, for He knows how to remove it so that it is beneficial for me.” This is foreign to human reason, which hates affliction and flees it. Faith in Christ bears trial patiently. Faith is Christ is wise in that is knows that the trial is ultimately for our good, even it if kills us, because then Christ has used that affliction to bring us to our heavenly home. The key in affliction is faith. And when your faith falters, James says to ask God for wisdom. He gives liberally to His baptized children.

3)         This is key, that we ask God our Father for the wisdom to see our afflictions as He means for them to be seen, and that we are wise to see past the earthly circumstances and rejoice that God is exercising our faith to drive us to prayer and the Word. In that moment it is imperative that we pray and not doubt. James says that God “gives liberally.” Consider the words of your Savior in Luke 11:11-13. “If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” You are a child of the heavenly Father through Holy Baptism. He has promised to give you every good thing. To show you this He has even given you His Only-Begotten Son as your substitute under all of His wrath for sin upon the cross. This is why we can ask for wisdom, patience, and faith without a shred of doubt. James goes on: “Let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” When you pray for wisdom, you approach your heavenly Father. The one who is exercising your faith by affliction He has send is the same one who promises to liberally and lavishly give you His holy Spirit so that you may not doubt and grow faint-hearted, but that you may rejoice that God your Father has drawn you closer to Him through cross and trial. Blessed are you, the Apostle writes, when you endure trials; “for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

4)         There is another kind of trial, though, of which the Apostle speaks, one that does not come from God but comes from elsewhere. This is the temptation to sin. This is called a trial because in Greek the word for testing and temptation are the same. The difference is the source and purpose. James writes, “Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.” God tests with affliction, cross, and hardship to exercise faith. But the Lord God never tempts you to sin. David says, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost in Psalm 5:4, “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, Nor shall evil dwell with you.” God cannot lead us into temptation because that would make God the author of evil, which would mean we cannot firmly believe that God will be merciful and gracious to us in every situation. If God is the author of evil and tempts men with false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice, then we become uncertain about His will for us because in the moment of temptation, if God is the one doing the tempting, then we cannot be certain that He will provide a way of escape from the temptation. God tempts no one to sin, for it is contrary to His holy character and would make Him untrustworthy and His Word unreliable.

5)         God tempts no one. On Sunday we heard that Christ Himself was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. Satan wanted to lead Christ to sin, to disbelieve the Word of His heavenly Father in His baptism. He wanted Christ to believe that the heavenly Father would not take care of Him. He tempted Christ to violate the First Commandment, not only in the temptation to bow down and worship the devil, but in the first temptation to turn stones into bread. Christ’s temptations are our temptations to sin as well. The Devil wants us to believe that God our Father is treating us poorly and that He won’t take care of us, that He won’t give us everything we need, and that He doesn’t give us only good things. So in the moment of trial and affliction, of are from God as an exercise of faith, the devil comes along and tempts us to look upon God as a stingy Father who is withholding blessings from us. Satan wants us to believe that we have to provide our own good things and thus he tempts us to be our own god, because a God is that to which we look for every good thing. He tempts us as He did Christ, to put God to the test, to make God prove His promises to us as if they were not true, or as if God had no intention on being faithful to them. In all his temptations to sin, Satan really has only one temptation for us: forsake God your heavenly Father and His promises and believe that you have to provide and care for yourself in all things. But as Christ taught us, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

6)         There is also our own flesh which tempts us to sin. James writes, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” Besides the devil, we have to content with our very flesh which entices us to sin. The flesh is by nature greedy for more wealth and discontent with what God gives. The flesh lusts for fleshly pleasures of the body, not content with what God has given us in the bounds of marriage. The flesh entices us into hatred of our neighbor, jealousy towards other’s lives and circumstances and discontent with our lot in life, as well as all sorts of other sins against God’s commandments. It is important to remember that we must watch against our own flesh, which is just as active in desiring sin as the devil.

7)         The answer that the Scriptures give us to stand in the hour of temptation to sin is the same as God gives us for the hour of affliction and cross sent from God. We are not to look upon temptation to sin as something from God, as we do with affliction and suffering, but we are to look to Christ’s promises for strengthened faith and the Holy Spirit. Divine Wisdom, that for which James says we ought to pray, causes us to see our temptations for what they are so that we, in the moment when desire begins within us, are able to apply the Word of God to it and extinguish it, lest it conceive and give birth sin in our life. In this, God is faithful. He has promised to give us what we need in the hour of testing and the hour of temptation: and that is faith in Christ’s promises given to us in the means of grace. St. Paul writes , “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” Your way of escape is faith in Christ’s Word to you, not so that the temptation will go away and never return, not to make you immune to ever being tempted again, but to make you “be able to bear it.” Go in peace with the promises of God on your lips and tucked away in your hearts. In the moment of affliction, rejoice that your Father exercises you and strengthens your faith. In the moment of temptation, cling to His promises as your only way of escape. Finally, rejoice that God tempts no one but that He gives you everything you need to patiently overcome, so that you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength. Amen.

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

March 05, 2017

Invocabit, the First Sunday in Lent + Matthew 4:1-11 + March 5, 2017

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn # 262 A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
Hymn # 446 Rise, My Soul, To Watch and Pray
Hymn # 448 Brief Life is Here Our Portion 
Introit
HE - SHALL - || call upon Me, and I | will | an- | swer | him; *
I will deliver him | and | hon- | or | him. -
|| With long life I will | sat- | is- | fy | him, *
And show him | My | sal- | va- | tion. - (Psalm 91:15–16)

|| He who dwells in the secret place | of | the | Most | High *
Shall abide under the shadow of | the | Al- | might- | y. -
|| I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my | for- | tress; | My | God, *
In | Him | I | will | trust.” -
|| Because you have made the Lord, who | is | my | re- | fuge, *
Even the Most High, | your | dwell- | ing | place, -
|| No evil | shall | be- | fall | you, *
Nor shall any plague come | near | your | dwell- | ing. -
|| You shall tread upon the lion | and | the | co- | bra,
The young lion and the serpent you shall tram- | ple | un- | der- | foot. - (Psalm 91:1–2, 9–10, 13)

Collect for Invocabit, the First Sunday in Lent

O Lord, mercifully hear our prayer and stretch forth the right hand of Thy majesty to defend us from them that rise up against us; 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 Season of Lent
Almighty and Everlasting God, our Father, Who hatest nothing that Thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent, create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of Thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with the Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. 
Readings
Genesis 3:1-24
2 Corinthians 6:1-10
Matthew 4:1-11 
Sermon


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


1)         When temptation comes upon you, the first thing Satan attacks is the Word that God has given you. If He can separate you from the Word, either by putting it from your mind or by twisting its meaning, then you have no defense left against the temptation and will easily fall into sin. This is how the ancient serpent subtly attacked poor Eve in the Garden. He approaches her in her primordial innocence with a simple question. “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree from the garden’?” The question seems innocent enough. After all, the lowly serpent is simply asking for clarification about the Word God has given them. And that is how Eve takes it. But that simple question upends poor Eve. She replies, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat of it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’” The original command the Lord gave Adam and Eve prohibited them from eating from the tree. But Eve subtly begins to think of God as stingy. They aren’t even to touch it. The trap is set and Satan has done it. He has taken Eve away from the Word by getting her to twist her understanding of it. Then he proceeds to further distance her from the Word of God by outright denying the truth of the Word. “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5). That did it. He first twisted the Word in Eve’s mind, then he removed it entire. “God has lied to you. He’s holding back good things from you.” Eve puts aside the Word of God and believes the Word of the devil. She looks at the tree as desirable for the first time. She eats. She passes it off the Adam. He eats. And Satan’s attack is complete. Humanity has left God’s dominion and care and has become enslaved to sin, liable to death, and now they and all their descendants will live under the Devil’s power.


2)         It is only by providing another Word that God is able to save these sinners. The Lord curses the serpent, the woman, and the earth. The serpent will crawl on his belly and eat dust. The woman will have toil and pain in childbearing and the man will have the same in his vocations. But in the midst of these curses the Lord gives the Word that saves them. He says the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15). There will be great enmity and strife between the woman’s seed and the Devil’s seed. The serpent’s seed will have his head crushed. He will be overcome and his power destroyed. The seed of the Woman will not get out unscathed though. His heel will be bruised in the fight. The Lord is merciful towards His creatures. They willfully transgressed God’s Word of command. They did not do it. So the Lord gave them, not a Word to do, but a Word to simply believe. Adam and Eve believed that first Gospel Word, that the Seed of Eve would destroy the Seed of the serpent, and by that faith in God’s Word they were restored to life, though the wages of sin and the curses remained upon their earthly life. As long as they clung to that Word of promise in faith they were victorious over the devil’s accusations.


3)         The Promised Seed arrives in the person of Jesus. He is the Seed of the woman, and only the woman, because of His virginal conception and birth, for God is His Father from all eternity. The second person of the Holy Trinity assumes flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary so that He might combat Satan as the second Adam. They have their first skirmish when Christ is young in the flesh. The devil incites King Herod to jealousy so that he murders the innocents of Bethlehem, hoping to destroy the newborn king of the Jews. But that’s just the prequel. The main event begins immediately after Jesus is baptized in the River Jordan. As Jesus was baptized the heavens opened, the Holy Ghost comes down upon Christ in the form of a dove, and God the Father speaks a wonderful word: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Jesus comes up out of the water, with that Word of God in His ears. And that same Spirit then leads Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, for Christ is the second Adam, who has come to do what the first Adam was unable to accomplish and destroy the work of the devil.


4)         Satan does to Jesus, God in human flesh, exactly what He did to Eve and exactly what he does to each of us in the hour of temptation. He attacks the Word of God given to Jesus in the Jordan River, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Satan attacks that Word first. “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” It is as he did to Eve. “The Lord said you were His Son, but then why do you lack food? Why is your Father driving you into the wilderness? Why is He withholding good things from you? Some Father He is, if this is how he treats his ‘Beloved Son.’ So turn these stones into bread.” But Christ does not let the devil separate Him from that Word of God given to Him in His Baptism. To turn stones into bread would be no different, externally, from multiplying loaves and fishes for the multitudes. Except to turn stones into bread now would be to believe the devil’s accusation that God was not truly Christ’s Father, and that He had to provide His own daily bread. The Lord Jesus clings not only to His baptismal word, but to the entire Word of God. “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” Part of being a Son of God means living by every Word of God that is written. Christ shows the devil that even in suffering and lack, hunger and great need, a Son of God trusts that what God has provided is enough and that God will provide whatever He knows, in His wisdom, to be best.


5)         Rebuffed, Satan tries a different tactic. If Christ will not mistrust the Word, then perhaps He can tempt Christ into presumption. He leads him to the pinnacle the temple and tries a new way of tearing the Word from Christ. If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you,' and, 'in their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'” Satan tries to use God’s Word against Jesus. He wants Jesus to tempt God. “Put God to the test, see if He will really take care of you as He’s prophesied in the prophets and Psalms. Since you rely upon His Word, put that Word to use.” But the devil is the master of twisting Scripture, for though the Lord promises to guard the Christ and all the saints with His holy angels, they are not to test this by putting themselves willfully in danger to prove God’s divine promises. In this temptation Satan shows how deceitful he can be. The very thing upon Christ relies, the Word, can be manipulated so that it speaks against the promises of God and leads us to doubt God’s provision and care. But Christ responds, “It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God.'" Satan excels at pitting one Word of God against another to get us to doubt God’s Word and eventually separate ourselves from the Word as something sure and certain. We must never presume to put ourselves in harm’s way to test God’s promises to us, for if we willfully put God to the test, we have no promise that He will aid us.


6)         Satan’s final attempt is the crass temptation to apostasy. He offers the kingdoms of this world to Christ if Christ only turns away from His heavenly Father and worships him instead. But Christ is not tempted with the wealth and prosperity of the world. He is not swayed by earthly glory and honor. He is not tickled by the temptation of worldly pleasures and creaturely comforts. In this way we see that Satan tempts many to abandon God entirely for the sake of the things of this world, even Christians. But Christ once again uses the Word of God and says, “"Away with you, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.'” Christ accomplishes what Adam and Eve were unable to do in the Garden. Where they fell in a garden paradise, Christ overcame in a desert. Where Adam and Eve allowed themselves to be separated from the Word of God, Christ clung to the Word of God as the source of His life, even more so that food, protection, prosperity and pleasures. Satan would leave Him but only for a time, for on the cross, we would hear the voice of Satan again, “If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40). But He will not. For the cross is how Christ crushes the serpents head for good, breaking his power over mankind by earning the forgiveness of sins so that all who believe in Him have all that earns in that bitter suffering and death, including victory over the tempter and His many varied and manifold temptations.


7)         Christ defeats the devil in the wilderness for us, so that all who are in Christ by faith have also defeated the devil. Faith is our victory over the devil in the moment of temptation. No matter what the temptation be, Christ gives us His Word to cling to it, to hold on to it, and to believe that it is true beyond all other sensations, feelings, and realities. Like Christ, you have been baptized and given divine sonship, so that you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). You are sons of God through holy Baptism and as an adopted son of God, all the promises of God are yours. Faith in the Word given to you in Scripture, in your baptism, in the Lord’s Supper, and in the absolution, this faith in the Word of God is the way out which God your Father provides for you in every temptation. Faith in these very same words is your fortress when you fall into sin, so that you do not succumb to the devil’s attacks to despair because of your sin, an equally terrible temptation. Remember that God is your heavenly Father through Holy Baptism, so that in every temptation of the devil, the world, and your own wicked flesh, you are a reconciled Son of the heavenly Father and have all the blessings of Christ, including victory over the evil one. Amen.


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

March 03, 2017

Ash Wednesday + Jonah 3:1-10 + March 1, 2017

Order of the Confessional Service - Pg. 46
Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 20
Hymn # 331 Yea, As I Live, Jehovah Saith
Hymn # 329 From Depths of Woe I Cry To Thee
Hymn # 384 Oh, How Great is Thy Compassion 
Introit

I WILL - || cry out | to | God | Most - | High, *
                To God who performs | all - | things - | for | me.
|| And in the shadow of Your wings I will | make | my | re- - | fuge, *
                Until these calami- | ties - | have - | passed | by. (Psalm 57:2, 1b)
|| Be merciful to me, O God, be mer- | ci- | ful | to - | me! *
                For my | soul - | trusts - | in | You;
|| And in the shadow of Your wings I will | make | my | re- - | fuge, *
                Until these calami- | ties - | have - | passed | by.
|| I will cry out | to | God | Most - | High, *
                To God who performs | all - | things - | for | me.
|| He shall send from heav- | en | and | save - | me; *
                God shall send forth His mer- | cy - | and - | His | truth. (Psalm 57:1–3)

Collect for Ash Wednesday
Almighty and Everlasting God, our Father, Who hatest nothing that Thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent, create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of Thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with the Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Collect for the Beginning of Lent
O Gracious God, Who retainest not Thine anger forever, but delightest in mercy and pardonest iniquity, Who wouldst be gracious to Thy people rather than pour out Thy wrath upon sinners, we beseech Thee, forgive us all our sins, and enable us by Thy Holy Spirit to go and sin no more; for the sake of the bitter sufferings and death of Thy beloved Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.Amen. 
Readings
Jonah 3:1-10
Joel 2:12-19
Matthew 6:16-21 
Sermon
 Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         Ash Wednesday without ashes seems a little odd, like it defeats the purpose of the day so that we might as well just call it “Wednesday.” There is a reason though. Two actually.  We have not imposed ashes on our foreheads for a few years now because of the irony of Ash Wednesday. Rubbing ashes on one’s forehead is a visible sign that tells everyone you’re penitent, humble, and contrite over your sins. But in the Gospel lesson appointed for this day Jesus chides the Pharisees who “disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting” (Matthew 6:16). Christ doesn’t want His disciples parading around their piety. Your repentance is for God and no one else. It’s not meant to be a matter of showmanship for all the world to see. Instead Jesus says, “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matthew 6:17-18). I’ve always thought it ironic that on the day in which Jesus tells us not to disfigure our faces, especially so as to be seen by men, the church goes about putting a temporary disfigurement on the forehead of the saints. And although no one accepts the  ashes with the thought of recognition and being seen, the temptation is ever-present to quietly judge everyone else if they don’t have ashes on their heads, as it the wearing of ashes were commanded by God or that they make someone a better, more pious Christian. That’s getting in the territory of the Pharisees, doing man-made works of piety so that others can see those works.

2)         The second reason is the purpose of the ashes. The purpose of putting ashes on the foreheads of the saints is to remind them of their sin and their mortality, both of which the world around us refuses to admit. We are commanded to repent. The Law condemns us in our sins and when we think we have no sins left the Law condemns us as sinners. It shows us that not only is the fruit bad, but the tree itself is diseased and dead. This messages is necessary. All the prophets preached repentance. John the Baptist preached repentance. Christ Himself preached repentance throughout His ministry. At Christ’s command, so did His apostles. But we are not stop with repentance or even make it the main event. Repentance isn’t the end. If we come here to sorrow over our sins and lament them, then go home, we’ve accomplished nothing. If we walk out of this sanctuary and the lasting mark left on us is the reminder of our mortality and our sinfulness, then we’ve missed the point and gotten it only half right. And something half right is still wrong. Repentance is only the first thing God wants to give us on this first day of Lent. He commands repentance so that He can then give us forgiveness. Or as Dr. Luther teaches us in the Small Catechism: “Confession embraces two parts: the one is, that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution, or forgiveness, from the pastor, as from God Himself, and in no wise doubt, but firmly believe, that our sins are thereby forgiven before God in heaven.”

3)         We don’t want to forget the second part. The second part is why we come here as often as we do. The second part is the part that gives us joy and gladdens the heart. The Lord says in Joel 2:13 that “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.” He commands repentance so that He may forgive sinners. Consider how we address the Lord in the Collect for Ash Wednesday. “Almighty and Everlasting God, our Father, Who hatest nothing that Thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all who are penitent.” Consider how we address the Lord in the Collect for the Beginning of Lent.  We pray “O Gracious God, Who retainest not Thine anger forever, but delightest in mercy and pardonest iniquity, who wouldst be gracious to Thy people rather than pour out Thy wrath upon sinners.” God desires to forgive. That is why He condemns sin. He wants to give sinners joy and gladness. That is why He strikes sinners with terror through His Law. The Lord desires to give life. That is why He kills our sinful flesh with the command to repent. That is all the repentance is, sorrow over one’s sin and the desire to leave it behind and amend one’s life. When we repent, in fact, as often as we repent, our Lord pours out grace and mercy on us by freely forgiving us all our sins for Christ’s sake.

4)         Consider today’s first reading from the prophet Jonah. The Ninevites prove to be an incredible example of precisely what God desires to do with sinners. Jonah walks a day’s journey into the ancient metropolis. To cross the entire city would take three days. Archeology shows us that the city’s circumference was 60 miles, so Jonah walked roughly 20 miles into the city and cried out, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Through the preaching of His prophet, the Lord condemns the mighty Assyrian city. And while we might expect such a message to be met with silence or ridicule or even persecution, the Ninevites do something Jonah doesn’t expect. They hear the Word with an honest heart. The Lord threatened them with death, but not only death. The Lord threatened their great city, their metropolitan culture, their booming economy, in other words, civilization as they knew it. “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” From this message it seems as if the only thing the Lord was interested in was smiting sinners. From this message it might appear that the only thing the Lord is about is the first part, the repentance part, the part that demands sorrow over sin. The prophet writes “so the people of Nineveh believed God.” They took God at His Word. They agreed with His verdict that they were decadent and detestable sinners. They believed that He would do what He had threatened to do. But in that stern message of Law the Ninevites hear something else as well.

5)         They believe the Word and this causes them to repent of their sins. They show the standard outward signs of repentance. A fast is proclaimed. All the citizens don sackcloth, “from the greatest to the least of them.” This news spreads like wildfire, so much so that it reaches the King, who repents Himself! “He arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.” He humbles Himself, then He commands His subjects humble themselves according to the customs of the day. No one gets food or water. Fasting when you are penitent is how you feel God’s anger in a very physical way. This was not just for the people but for the animals too. Animals can’t repent because they don’t have rational souls. But even the livestock of Nineveh taste God’s anger. Soon the great city of Nineveh is filled with the sounds of wailing, both man and beast’s cries for mercy filling the air. The sackcloth, ashes, and fasting are simply external signs of the reality of their hearts, for the King commands, “Yes, let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.” Let everyone turn. Let everyone repent. Let everyone sorrow over their deeds and amend their lives. All this happened because of the simple preaching of Jonah. “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!

6)         The king of Nineveh understands something about the Lord. He understands that repentance is never an end unto itself. He repents, and all Nineveh with him, so that God might change His verdict and show mercy. “Who can tell,” he says, “if God will turn and relent and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” The King of Nineveh, a pagan, shows us the goal of repentance, the goal of sackcloth and ashes and wailing and lamenting. The goal of repentance is mercy. “Confession has two parts.” Repentance and faith in the promise of the Gospel, faith that God will forgive the sins of all who repent because He loves all that He has made and does not desire the death of sinners but that sinners repent and live. “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.” God saw their works, not their sackcloth and ashes. He saw their work of turning away from evil. He saw their repentance and their sorrow over their sin. And because of that He forgave them and relented. His threat was to destroy the mighty city and all in it. But through repentance and faith they were spared. The Lord changed His mind and cancelled the verdict against them, forgiving their sins and not imputing their sins to them. They sought mercy and that is precisely what they found in the true God.

7)         So even now, God “commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30), but not only so that they sorrow over their sins, but that they receive the absolution which Christ earned for all men by His death upon the cross. God the Father shows mercy to everyone who confesses their sins and flee to the throne of grace, Jesus Christ, and pleads His merits, His perfect life, and His sacrificial death as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. He wants you to repent and acknowledge your sins of thought, word, and deed. He wants you to see that its not only your actions but who you are, not just that you sin but that you are a sinner. But He wants to show you this so that He can cleanse you and absolve you and remove your sin. We could impose ashes upon ourselves as an outward sign of our repentance. It’s a free thing, a man-made custom of the church. But I’d much rather have you walk out of here thinking about the absolution rather than your ashes. God is more interested in what’s going on in your head than what’s put on your forehead. He desires repentance and faith in His absolving Word, spoken by the pastor as if from God himself, because it is God’s Word, as Jesus says, “He who hears you hears me,” (Luke 10:16) and “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them” (John 20:23). Your Lord does not want you to leave this place with a sour face or a gloomy disposition. He wants His Christians to be joyful, glad, and cheerful, rejoicing that their sins are forgiven and their guilt is removed. He wants you to repent today and every day, so that He may forgive you today and every day, for He “delightest in mercy and pardonest iniquity,” He “wouldst be gracious rather than pour out wrath.” Look to the Ninevites. If they found mercy so will we, for we have the promise of Christ. Amen.

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