A New Creation, at Great Cost

Text: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

Therefore,” St. Paul said, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself…in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”[1]Today, we’ve come to the lowest depths of the Church Year to witness the greatest heights of God’s love for us. On this day, we remember that He who knew no sin – our Lord – was made to be sin for us. Though He had committed no sin, He bore our sins in His body on the tree. He was betrayed, flogged, crucified. He bowed His head and died so that we, crass and ungodly sinners, might become new creations. In Christ, God reconciled the world to Himself and made us new creations, but only at great cost.

I.

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that those who are in Christ are new creations, new creatures. He means that those who have been Baptized into Christ have been buried with Him into death so that, as He was raised from the dead, they, too, might walk in newness of life. Those who have been buried and raised with Christ through Baptism and by faith are new creations in God’s sight. For the sake of Christ, their sins are no longer reckoned to them and they are restored to a right relationship with God. The word that St. Paul uses to describe this new reality is reconciled. “In Christ God[reconciled] the world to Himself.”

This word is a powerful word in English. It means to right what was wrong, to create harmony and make things compatible. In this tax season, we might also reconcile our bank accounts and records. It is also a powerful word in Greek. In Greek, it’s a legal term. This word for reconcile that St. Paul uses means to formally exchange hostility for friendship.[2]It means to remove the obstacles, which were in place, which prevented a right relationship between two parties. It means to repair legally – and in reality – a relationship which had fallen into disarray.

II.

St. Paul uses this profound and specific language because, apart from Christ, there is a vast gulf of separation between our God and us. That gulf is of our own creation; it is the chasm of sin. We spoke just a few moments ago from Psalm 51. This psalm was composed by King David after Nathan brought before him his sin in committing adultery. David had spied Bathsheba from afar and lusted after her in his heart. He later physically committed adultery with her as well and, after his attempts to cover it up had failed, had Bathsheba’s husband killed. Nathan came to David and showed him his sin. David then recognized where he stood before God. God had revealed to David His holy and good will. God had been gracious to David and blessed him in a multitude of ways, and David – by his actions – despised the Lord.

Our sin may not be the same as David’s, but our own sins are just as great. As the Bride of Christ, we have all – each of us – been unfaithful to our heavenly bridegroom. We have not feared, loved, and trusted in Him above all things. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. And often, we have acted as if we and our own desires were what mattered most. And, rather than acknowledging our sin, we have denied it. We have covered it up, we’ve pretended it doesn’t exist, we have feigned ignorance, and we have been complacent in forsaking sin. We have encouraged others in their sin, and we have been strengthened in our sin by them. We have rightly, and fully, deserved God’s wrath – not only this world; but we deserve to stoke the fires of hell. Our God is a just God, and we have disobeyed and despised His holy will.

III.

Our God is a just God, but He is also a merciful God. Sin demands payment and God receives that payment – but not us; from Himself. God made the payment for sin, He atoned for sin, Himself. That brings us back to St. Paul. Remember that Paul used the word, “reconcile.” To reconcile means to cease hostility, to exchange hostility for friendship by removing an obstacle. The gulf between us and our God, the obstacle preventing a right relationship between He and us was sin. Instead of demanding payment and atonement from us, and from each and every sinner, God provided the payment – His own dear Son.

St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoptionas sons.”[3]In the words which we already heard, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” St. Paul continued, “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”[4]

Our God is holy, righteous, and just; He is also merciful. Out of His mercy, and at great cost to Himself, He has reconciled us to Himself. He did this by placing our sin on His only-begotten Son and handing Him over into death. He who alone – in all creation – did not deserve to die, did die. He died horribly and brutally. Jesus died for you. By His death, He made full atonement for the sin of the world. He made the full payment for your sin. By faith in His death and resurrection, God has reconciled you to Himself and has made you a new creation. If anyone is in Christ, He has been made a new creation – but only at great cost. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy. Amen.


[2]William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 521.

The New Testament in His Blood

Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-32

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.[1]

On Holy Thursday, we remember and celebrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper. On that Thursday evening, as Jesus celebrated what would be His last Passover with His disciples, He gave them His last will and testament. In place of the Passover, Jesus’ disciples – then, and for all time – receive a new meal, the meal of His body and blood. By the power of His Word, Jesus gives His body which was broken and His blood which was shed with the bread and wine, for the forgiveness of sins. For His last will and testament, Jesus gave His Church this Holy Supper, with the instructions that we receive it until returns, in His memory and for the forgiveness of sins.

I.

The concept of a last will and testament is not a new one for us. Many of us already have wills written, and some of us probably should get around to doing that. We leave wills and testaments directing the use of the earthly possessions we leave behind when we die, and to provide for those previously in our care. Whether written or if, according to need, spoken, last wills are legally binding and may not be changed once the will’s owner has died. The concept of a will is not new to us, and neither was it to our Lord.

Our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, knew what would be happening to Him later that Thursday evening. He knew that He would be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and crucified. So, He took the opportunity in the hearing of His disciples, to give them His last will and testament. Birds of the air have nests, Jesus once said, and foxes have their dens; but the Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head. Jesus had no earthly possessions to leave behind, no amassed wealth; so, what would He leave His disciples? This bread and this cup. The translators of the English Standard Version translated the words as, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood,” to bring the words in line with Exodus; but the context implies a better translation would be, “the new testamentin My blood.”

Jesus had no earthly possessions to dole out, no money to bequeath, but what He could leave behind for His disciples throughout all time is this – His body and blood. In the context of His last Passover, Jesus took bread, He broke it and gave to the disciples, saying to them, “This is My body.” In the same way, He took the cup of wine and gave to them saying, “This is the new testament in My blood. Do this…in remembrance of Me.” By the power of His Word, Jesus joined the body which would be broken and the blood which would be shed for world to the bread and wine. His last will for His disciples, and even us, is that we receive the Supper He gave.

II.

Holy Thursday is the Church holiday remembering and confessing our faith in the Institution of the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, every time we receive the Sacrament, these words are spoken, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed.” It is good for us also, on this night, to confess again our faith in what Christ gives us in the blessed Sacrament. Our Lord, on the night He was betrayed, took bread. He broke it and gave to the disciples saying, in Greek, “Τοῦτόμούἐστιντὸσῶμα;” in Latin, “hoc est corpus meum;” in English, “This is My body.” In the same way, He took the cup and said, “This is My blood[2]On these clear words, we set aside our human reason and, in faith, believe what Jesus has said. The bread and wine are His body and blood.

We learned in confirmation that this called the Sacramental Union. That means, that Christ, by His Word, gives us His true body and His true blood with the bread and wine in way known to Him alone. When we receive the Supper, it’s not like we’re biting into Jesus’ knee or something. No, it is not a physical eating but a sacramental eating. The bread and wine retain their natural substances. But, by the power of His Word, Christ joins His real body and blood to them. Therefore, we receive in the Lord’s Supper not just bread and wine only, but His very body and blood in, with, and under the earthly elements. Though plain reason may not comprehend how this can be, yet faith believes and trusts what Christ has said.

Faith also trusts the reason for and benefit of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus said, “Take, eat; this is My body…Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”[3]As His last will and testament for the Church, Jesus gave the supper of His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Though Christ, truly, is present everywhere, He is present in the Supper for the forgiveness of sins. And, as the Catechism says, “where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”[4]Christ has left us this supper as the pledge of His love for us and to be the place where we can turn to and trust in the forgiveness of our sins. Our Lord said to receive it often, which is great, because we daily sin much and need as much forgiveness as we can get. Thankfully, our Lord never tires of forgiving and blessing in His supper.

III.

Beloved in Christ, tonight we confess our faith in Christ and His blessed Sacrament. But, before we end, we should also hear again these words of the Spirit through St. Paul, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”[5]Christ, as His last will and testament instituted this Supper for our benefit. By His Word, He joins His body and blood to the bread and wine so that we may receive the forgiveness of sins by faith. As the bread and wine become the body and blood by the power of Christ’s Word, they remain so whether one believes it or not. Only those who receive the Supper in faith receive it to their blessing. Those who do not believe or who do not desire forgiveness receive, as St. Paul said, “judgment.”

So that we may not receive judgment from the Lord, but His abundant blessing, St. Paul encourages us to examine our hearts before communing. We should ask ourselves, first, do I believe what God has said in His Word. Do I believe that He has revealed to me what is good and right and true, and that I – for my part – have failed to observe it? Do I believe that because of my failure to keep the commandments, I deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment? And, do I believe that, for my sake, Christ suffered and died as the atonement for sin? Do I believe that in this Supper, I receive not just bread and wine, but also Christ’s true body and blood; do I desire that forgiveness?

We should also examine our hearts by asking this, by the Spirit’s aid, do I desire to amend my sinful ways? If I am at odds with my brother and sister in Christ, do I desire to be reconciled and so live together in the love of Christ? This is what St. Paul means by examining ourselves before receiving the Supper of the Lord. If the answer to these questions is yes, and you have faith in the words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” then you are well-prepared and may receive the Supper to your abundant blessing. If you find yourself wrestling with these words, it may be well to refrain and speak with the pastor before communing again. It is not a sin to refrain from the supper for a time; it is a sin to commune while harboring and entertaining sin in our hearts.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, gave to His whole Church on earth His last will and testament. We are to receive His true body and blood as the pledge of His love for us and for the forgiveness of our sins. May He give us all repentant and trusting hearts, that we may receive this Supper to our abundant blessing. Amen.

Fear Not, Your King is Coming

Text: Zechariah 9; John 12:12-19

The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt![1]

Thus, began the week of our Lord’s passion. Five days before the Passover, the true Passover Lamb rode into Jerusalem amidst shouts of praise and acclamation.

Our Lord rode into Jerusalem not like any king of the earth, but as the true Melchizedek – the true king of peace. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to fulfill the Scriptures that were written about Him, and to bring peace to our distress and calm to our fears. He rode into Jerusalem to suffer and die, and – by His death – win for the whole world the forgiveness of sins. Today, as we enter into our Lord’s holy week, we focus on these words, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming.” With these words from the prophet Zechariah, we are reminded that our king Jesus comes to calm our fears and bring peace to our distress by His own death and resurrection.

I.

The text today takes place on a Sunday, five days before the Passover. St. John tells us this at the beginning of chapter 12, when he said, “Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.”[2] If you know the Gospel, you remember that it was there that Lazarus’ sister Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with oil and wiped them with her hair. “The next day,” St. John says, “the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.” Confessing their faith in Jesus, the crowd – some of whom witnessed the raising of Lazarus’ and thus believed – grabbed palm branches from the trees and spread them out. They sang praises to Jesus from Psalm 118, believing that He is the fulfillment of the promises God had made. Jesus then sat on a donkey to come in, just has it had been written in the prophet Zechariah.

When we heard this text last, it was from St. Matthew on the First Sunday of Advent. Matthew, likewise, cited this passage from the prophet. But, we didn’t spend time then speaking about it. Zechariah was one of the last prophets of the Old Testament. His ministry took place after the children of Israel had been returned from exile, but before the temple was rebuilt. It was a time of turmoil. The people of Israel were returned to Israel, but in their absence, others had moved in. These others did not take well to the Israelites returning, nor did they think highly of the God of Israel. In fact, they greatly opposed the rebuilding of Jerusalem and they caused God’s people much distress and fear. Zechariah’s ministry to the people was one of comfort. He reminded them that God had not forgotten them. And, even as His promise to return them to their home had been fulfilled, so, too, would His promise to give them a king.

Both Sts. Matthew and John cite this passage from Zechariah, but – by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – St. John makes a change to the text. The original text from Zechariah said, “Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion,”[3] but John changed it to, “Fear not, daughter of Zion.” It’s not a huge change, but a purposeful one. Jesus, the true king of Israel, rode into Jerusalem to calm all fears and distress. What were the people of Israel afraid of then? You name it. Death, for one. Without modern medicine and care facilities, death was an ever-present reality. Poverty, that was a thing. Or, perhaps, when the faithful looked around – perhaps they were afraid, as in Zechariah’s day, that God had forgotten them. What are we afraid of? Probably the same things. Death, I’m sure; what about the way the world is headed? When it comes to money, we may not be destitute, but it often stretches thin. And what about church life? Are we afraid that we may be the last generation to worship in this place?

II.

Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming…righteous and having salvation is He.”[4] These are the words our Lord has given us by the Holy Spirit. We hear these words again today, the day we celebrate what is called “The Triumphal Entry.” Jesus rode into Jerusalem amidst shouts of praise and acclamation. Not like any other king did He ride in though, but humbly and mounted on a donkey. Normally, a king would ride in victoriously on a war horse. Jesus’ horse was a donkey, and His victory was yet to be won. The battle He had come to fight was not against flesh and blood, against barbarians or armies, but against the devil, against sin and hell, and against the powers of death itself. The field of this battle would be the cross.

Not as any other king did Jesus ride in, but as the true king of peace, who would secure peace for the world by the sacrifice of His own body and blood. In just five days, shouts of praise would change to taunts and jeers. The waving palms would change to lashes and blows. The cloaks spread out on the road before Him would give way to His own clothes being torn from Him as He was nailed to the tree. And, all this He suffered willingly, most willingly. He suffered all these things and died, so that our sins might be forgiven and so that we might have peace. We’ll hear these words on Friday, “They made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth…Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied…[He shall] make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”[5]

Not as any other king did Jesus ride in, but as the true Melchizedek, the true king of peace. Jesus rode into Jerusalem to bring calm to our fears and peace to our distress. Just as all men have since the Fall of Adam, we also live beneath the shadow of death. As the consequence of sin, we will die; and this causes us to be afraid. By His death, Jesus made our death but a doorway to heaven. By His death, He atoned for our sins and secured for us forgiveness. Then, by His rising again, Jesus restored us eternal life. And, not only did Jesus rise from the dead, but He remains alive even now and – even now – remains with us. Not only is our fear of death conquered and calmed in Christ, but so is every fear and distress we now face. For, we now face all things having been united with Christ. That is what our Baptism means. In Baptism, we were united with Christ and He with us. He can no sooner abandon us than He can Himself.

Now, what does that mean? It means that all the situations in life that cause us distress and fear, we now face with Christ, and He with us. We live our lives as victors in Christ. And even though death may threaten with disaster, though our finances may go to the pot, we have a greater treasure in Christ our Lord. Not only does He remain with us in our lives, but He is here with us now. He has promised to be where two or three are gathered in His name and He is present for us in the blessed Sacrament. By His true body and blood, He binds up our wounds and strengthens our souls. St. John wrote, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming.” And so, fear not, for your king has come and is here to calm your fear and give you peace.


[1] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Jn12.12

[2] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Jn12.1

[3] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Zec9.9

[4] Jn. 12 and Zech. 9.

[5] https://biblia.com/books/esv/bibleesv.Is53.9

Before Abraham Was, I Am

Text: John 8:42-59

The Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’[1] With these words, we witness a climax of the tension between the Jewish authorities and our Lord. These confrontations seem to increase toward the end of the Gospel as those sinful men sought to silence the Word of God. Indeed, in just a few more chapters, the authorities would make up their mind to put Jesus to the death. But Jesus would not be silenced. Instead, He continued to speak to them the Word of Him who sent Him and to perform miracles, in order that some might be saved. In our text, though, things look dire. Our focus today will be on those words, “Before Abraham was, I am,” – both what they mean, and what they mean for us. Christ, the eternal Son of God – the one who spoke to Abraham and to Moses – is now become flesh to suffer and die.

I.

Our text today takes place in the temple. It would’ve happened shortly after the Feast of Booths, which is in the fall. Jesus had gone up to the temple for the celebration, and when it had ended, He went to the Mount of Olives – but, then He came back. John 8 begins with the account of the woman caught in adultery, and out text flows out of that occasion. Jesus spoke to the mixed crowd – as some of them did believe in Him – mostly concerning their father. The Jews were claiming to Jesus that they were the offspring of Abraham. Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.”[2] By this, Jesus meant they were truly offspring of the devil. For, if they were of Abraham, they would have believed Jesus, as Abraham did.

Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”[3] Now, this set them off. Abraham, the great patriarch of their faith – or, so they claimed – died. The prophets also died. How could Jesus possibly say that whoever believes His Word will never die, Jesus Himself being not even fifty? That’s when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” That is, before Abraham was born, before he was brought into existence, Jesus is. The Jews picked up stones to throw at Him because they understood what Jesus meant. Jesus was saying to them, definitively, that He is God. These are the words that were spoken to Moses from the burning bush: “I am who I am… Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’[4]

With these words, Jesus was authoritatively declaring to them just who He was. He is the great I Am. He is the one who spoke with Moses from the burning bush. He is the one proclaimed by the prophets. He is the one who spoke with Abraham. He is the one who existed before all things, and by whom all things were made. With these words, Jesus is saying that He is the eternal and almighty God. There, standing in their presence, was God. And, out of the hardness of their hearts, they picked up stones.

II.

So, what does it mean when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am?” It means that Jesus is the eternal and everlasting God, the one who was before all things and through whom all things have come into being; even Abraham, even us. But, what does this mean for us? It means that all the promises of God are being fulfilled, even in the present age. Jesus is the One who, with the Father and the Spirit, created all things. Yet, He is the one promised to Adam and Eve, who will crush the head of the devil. He is the one promised to Abraham, the offspring by whom all the nations of the world will be blessed. He is the one promised to David, who would sit on the throne forever. He is the one promised through Isaiah, who will rule with justice and equity. He is the one promised to be born of a virgin. These promises are now being fulfilled.

Chiefly, being accomplished now, is the forgiveness of our sins. Christ, the eternal and everlasting God, has become flesh for this purpose – to suffer and die. We should see in this that sin is no laughing matter, no small thing. Our sins hang around our necks like a great weight. Every single sin is another shovel load as we dig ourselves down to hell; and not only us, but the whole world, also. The weight of the world’s sin such that only one sacrifice could take away the guilt – our Lord’s own self-sacrifice. Our sins prompted God to die. Mark well, the seriousness of our transgressions. But, mark as well, the depth of our God’s love for us.

Though He was without sin, though He had kept the Law of God perfectly, Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath against sin. That cup did not pass from Him; He drank it all. Not as any man did He die, but as both man and God. One person may not die for another; we are all responsible, each for his own sin. But Jesus Christ, man and God, died in place of the whole world. By His death, He secured for the world – for us – the forgiveness of our sins. And, so, this is what it means, “Before Abraham was, I am.” It means that Jesus is the eternal God, the author of all life. He is the eternal God now become flesh, to suffer and die. He is the eternal Word of God become flesh to win for us the forgiveness of our sins. He is the eternal Word of God, come to bring us life through the cross.


[1] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Jn8.58

[2] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Jn8.41

[3] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Jn8.51

[4] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Ex3.14

Deliver Us From Evil. Amen.

Text: Seventh Petition and Conclusion

Today, we pray the Seventh Petition, “But deliver us from evil.” Luther writes of this petition that it’s like our Lord has combined all of the previous petitions we’ve prayed and summarized them into this final request. We’ve prayed that God’s name would be holy among us, His will done, His kingdom extended, our daily bread be given and received, that the forgiveness be shone forth in our lives, and temptation resisted. By all these things, God is at work in our lives, delivering us from evil and from the evil one – which is what the Greek text originally said in this petition. We end the Lord’s Prayer this week by praying, in summary, that God our heavenly Father would deliver us from every evil of this present age in the glad confidence that He can and will do what He has promised.

I.

            Let us speak the Seventh Petition together.

But deliver us from evil.

What does this mean? We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.[1]

As we’ve already said, this petition is sort of a summary of all the previous petitions and is directed chiefly against the devil, who is the evil one actively working against God and the world. The devil would give everything to see even us without daily bread, without forgiveness, without pure doctrine, and without faith. He prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour, and we pray this petition against him. We ask our heavenly Father to do three things in the Seventh Petition: We ask that He would defend us against all evils of body and soul; that He preserve us in the face of the evils which do befall us; and, we ask that, at the hour of our death, our Father would allow us to die in the faith and be carried to His side in heaven.

Yes, we do believe in the devil. The devil is not a god, for there is no other God; but, he is a fallen angel. Shortly after Creation there was a rebellion in heaven, and Lucifer and his followers were cast out. Jesus said that Satan is a liar and murderer who opposes the truth and all things good. As such, he seeks to lead all he can away from the truth of the Gospel – even, if he can, you and me. The devil uses disasters and calamities, and also pleasures, to lead us astray from God’s Word and faith. We ask in the Seventh Petition that God would preserve us from the assaults of the devil, and from all evils of body and soul. We pray that He would thwart the old, ancient foe and finally bring all his works to nothing.

Even still, there are some evils that God allows us to suffer. It has been the experience of the saints through all time that we suffer many hardships in this earthly life. Our Lord said, “In the world, you will have tribulation.”[2] St. Paul also taught that, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”[3] Our heavenly Father allows us to suffer for two reasons. Sometimes, God allows us to suffer as the earthly consequences of sin. Death and illness are good examples of this. God uses suffering for another purpose, however, and that is that He uses our earthly sufferings to discipline and train us in righteousness. In Proverbs it says, “Do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of His reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom He loves.”[4] We pray in the Seventh Petition, that God would preserve us from despairing in our trials and that would endure our suffering in faith. St. James says, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life.”[5]

Lastly, we pray in the Seventh Petition that, when our final hour does come, that our Lord would give us a blessed end. When I was little, I used to think this meant that the best way to die is to die in church, or else in prayer. Those wouldn’t be bad; but, what we also pray in this petition is that God our heavenly Father would grant us to remain in the one true faith until death. We pray that He would preserve us from the evil works of the devil and keep us firm in the faith amidst the evils that do happen to us, that we may meet death joyfully and without fear, and so receive the crown of righteousness won for us by Jesus Christ.

II.

            We now turn to the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer. Let’s speak it together.

For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

What does this mean? This means that I should be certain that these petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven, and are heard by Him; for He Himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us. Amen, amen means “yes, yes, it shall be so.”[6]

It is true that some ancient copies of the New Testament do not contain these words, including the one that Luther used in writing the Catechism, so this portion was not entirely written by Luther himself. That said, the conclusion has been prayed by the Church at large for 1500 years, and the meaning we spoke dates back to the Reformation, at least. In response to God’s invitation to pray, the Church listens and glorifies God, and ends her prayer with a bold “Amen.”

“Amen” is an old Hebrew word which means, “Yes, it shall be so,” or, “truly, it will be done,” or something similar. It is a confident assertion that things which were said are true and will be done. We end the Prayer in this glad confidence because God has invited us to pray to Him as His own dear children and has promised to hear us. God cannot lie; therefore, we know that our prayers are, indeed, heard. And, not only does God hear our prayers, but He can and does answer them. Our God is the God, the Lord of heaven and earth. By the Word of His mouth all the heavens were made, and by His breath all their host. He is the giver of all good things, who sends rain on the just and unjust alike. And, as our Lord says, if God can so feed the birds and clothe the grass, our Father can also provide for what we need.

And so, we end the prayer right where we began. With the words, “Our Father,” God invites us to pray to Him as dear children would ask their dear fathers. In response to His gracious invitation, we pray that His name would be holy among us, that His kingdom come to us and all the world, that His will be done, that we receive our daily bread with thanksgiving, that we be forgiven our sins and so forgive others, that we be strengthened against temptation, and be defended against the devil and all evil. All these things are good and pleasing to our heavenly Father, and so we gladly say, “amen,” for He will truly do all these things.

St. James said, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”[7] Let us pray that God the Holy Spirit would continue to work through the Word and Sacraments, that we be strengthened and preserved in the true faith, and that we may gladly and confidently pray to our Father in heaven, who alone is able to do more than we can say or think.


 

[1] http://catechism.cph.org/en/lords-prayer.html

[2] Jn. 16:33, all Bible citations from the English Standard Version.

[3] Acts 14:22.

[4] Prov. 3:11.

[5] James 1:12.

[6] http://catechism.cph.org/en/lords-prayer.html

[7] James 1:5-6.

Born Through Promise

Text: Galatians 4:21-31

Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,” St. Paul said, “and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.”[1] St. Paul wrote these inspired words to the congregation at Rome as they struggled with the question, just who were the children of Abraham, that is, of God? Was it those descended from Abraham according to the flesh? No, said Paul; but those who shared Abraham’s faith in the promise of Christ.

The Galatians faced a similar question, though earlier in time than the Romans. How does one become – and remain – a child of God? Is it through faith in the promise of Christ, as St. Paul said, or by – in addition to faith – observing the laws of Moses, as some others said. To put it into contemporary language: are the children of God those who live perfectly moral and upright lives? Or, are they those who struggle against sin and temptation – and often fall – but look to Christ for forgiveness and rescue? Those who seek to appease God by their own moral perfection will ultimately find themselves condemned by the same law they claim to uphold. But, those who have been called by the Gospel, who look to Christ for forgiveness, are set free from the condemnation of the law and are children of the Jerusalem above.

I.

This text from Galatians 4 is one that’s hard to understand on first glance. This is a text where it’s very important to know the context. The congregations of Galatia were Gentile converts to the faith who heard the Good News of Jesus Christ through the missionary work of Sts. Paul and Barnabas. As these new brothers and sisters in Christ grew in the faith and love of God, some other missionaries came to them. These other missionaries came down from Jerusalem with a supplemental message. St. Paul, indeed, laid a good groundwork by sharing with them the Good News that Jesus had died and rose for the forgiveness of their sins. However, to remain in that forgiveness, they must continue to observe the laws of Moses. By this they meant, the dietary and ceremonial laws, the moral law, and, particularly for these Gentiles, circumcision. In terms we would be familiar with: they had faith, which is good, but the Galatians needed works to be true Christians.

Tell me,” St. Paul said to the Galatians, “you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise.”[2] Right. Those who came to the Galatians to add to what St. Paul taught them used Abraham as an example. So, St. Paul fired right back – from Abraham. Abraham had two sons, but only one of them came from God’s promise. Remember that God had promised that through Abraham’s offspring all the nations of the world would be blessed. After some time had passed, thinking that God was being slow to make good, Sarai had Abram lay with her servant Hagar. Hagar conceived and gave birth to Ishmael. He was the son born according to the flesh. He was not the one born according to God’s promise. That would be Isaac.

The Lord said to Abraham, “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.”[3] The Lord promised Abraham, who was 100, that his 90 year old wife, would give birth to a son. And she did. It was through this child that the Messiah and forgiveness would come: the child of the promise. The true child of Abraham, the one who would inherit the promises of God, was not the one born through the work of the flesh, but the one born according to the promise, the one born through faith.

II.

As you probably feel, this is a difficult text – but the concept less so. What is it that St. Paul is trying to stress to the Galatians? At some point you’ve heard this word from James, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”[4] St. Paul is trying to stress to the Galatians that those who are the children of God, are not those who seek to fulfill the Law themselves. For, since the Fall into Sin, the Law does not bring life – only condemnation. We hear in the Law, by this we mean the Commandments, which things are pleasing to God – but which we are unable and fail to do. If we seek to earn righteousness or to be righteous before God by good works, we will pull the whole house down around us and suffer eternal condemnation. For, whoever fails the Law in one point fails the whole thing.

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise,” St. Paul said.[5] He recalled to them earlier in the letter how it was they first received the Holy Spirit, not by their works but by hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Galatians heard through St. Paul that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, took on our human flesh. He became subject to the Law, yet kept it perfectly. By His perfect keeping of the Law, Jesus fulfilled the Law. By His death, He made the full payment for our sins. This forgiveness He gives to all through faith and, at the same time removes from us the curse of the Law. The curse of the Law is that those who fail to keep it shall die. The Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus died, so that those who believe in Him live eternally.

What does this mean for us? We, like the Galatians, are children of the promise. We have heard the Good News of Jesus Christ and have been called to faith by the working of the Holy Spirit. Though we were under the curse of the law, rightly headed to eternal death for our failure to keep even a single Commandment, that curse has been removed from us. How? By Christ becoming a curse for us. He Himself bore our sin on the cross and suffered the condemnation of the Law for us. By faith in His death we are set free. We no longer live beneath the eternal condemnation, but the eternal light of the Gospel. That is why St. Paul called the Galatians – and all who believe in the Gospel of Christ – children of the Jerusalem above.

But, as we learned on Sunday, the temptation to sin remains. One of those temptations is to turn inward into ourselves. We either tell ourselves things are good because of all the good works we have or we assume that we must be condemned for our lack. That is what the Galatians were tempted to. Any attempts to justify ourselves by works of the Law will bring only death. The true children of Abraham, rather, are those who look not to themselves but to Christ for forgiveness. By His death, Christ set us free from the guilt we deserve to bear. And so, we rejoice, as this Sunday in Lent is called. Christ, by His death and through the preaching of His Gospel, has released us from the curse of the Law. We now live freely by faith in the light of the Good News. Though for our sins we deserve eternal death, by faith we now reign in life. “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”[6] Thanks be to God.


[1] https://www.esv.org/Romans+9/

[2] https://biblia.com/bible/esv/Ga4.21-23

[3] https://biblia.com/bible/esv/Ge17.19

[4] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Jas2.10

[5] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Ga4.28

[6] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Eph2.8

Forgive and Lead Us

Text: Fifth and Sixth Petitions

Today we move into the second portion of the Lord’s Prayer. As we said a few weeks back, the seven petitions can be divided into two categories: those petitions asking for blessings, and those asking for deliverance. In petitions 1-4, we asked God for blessings – for the hallowing of His name, the coming of His kingdom, for His will to be done, and our daily bread be given. In our petitions today, we move into the petitions asking for deliverance, particularly from sin and temptation. Although we are God’s children in His kingdom, we remain in the flesh. We ask in these petitions that God would not deny our prayer because of our sins, but instead, continue to forgive us and strengthen us against temptation until we enter His eternal kingdom of glory.

I.

            Let us speak the Fifth Petition and its meaning together.

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

What does this mean? We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.

In this petition we pause to focus on the reality of our lives here on earth. Though we have been brought into God’s kingdom by the preaching of the Word and Holy Baptism, and have been made His children through the same, we still remain in the flesh and in this world. Though the guilt of original sin was washed away in Baptism, the effects of it remain. As we remain in this flesh, the temptation to sin also remains. Original sin is the corruption of our human nature that all humans have been born with since the fall of Adam and Eve. It means that we, by nature, are inclined to rebel against God and His Word. Original Sin is forgiven in Baptism, but the inclination to sin remains in our flesh. The Old Adam still hangs around our neck, Luther would say.

And, as the temptation to sin remains, we must confess that we do, daily and often, give in. We sin much and greatly. We have transgressed against God’s Law, and we have even enjoyed it. And, for our sins, not only do we deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment, but we don’t deserve to have our prayers heard…to say nothing of them being answered. We ask in this petition that God would not remember our sins against us or deny our prayers because of them, but that He would remember His steadfast love and mercy toward us. God the Father sent forth His only Son to fulfill the Law and die as the atoning sacrifice for us. By the working of the Holy Spirit, we have been brought to faith and have received the forgiveness of our sins. We ask in this petition that God would continue to forgive us our sins by His grace, as we do sin daily and stand in great need.

Included in this petition is also a reminder of how we are to live and act toward others in this world. The petition is “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” St. John, perhaps reflecting on this petition, wrote to his flock, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins…We love because he first loved us.”[1] As we sin daily and much against God and His Commandments – and He has yet forgiven us – so we, too, are to forgive those who sin against us. St. Paul also said, “[Bear] with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”[2] God does not forgive us because we forgive; we forgive because we have first been forgiven. We ask in the Fifth Petition that God would not deny our prayers because of our sin, but continue to forgive them and also lead us to forgive those who sin against us. In the Sixth Petition, we ask that God would preserve us against temptation.

II.

            Let us speak the Sixth Petition and meaning together.

And lead us not into temptation.

What does this mean? God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.

Now, even though we have been brought into God’s Kingdom and are daily forgiven our sins by faith through the Word and Sacrament, as we’ve said, the Old Adam remains. As long as we are in the flesh we remain both saint and sinner. As sin remains, so does temptation. And, it remains in force. No one is so secure in the faith that they can’t immediately go from the most joyful moment in the forgiveness of sins to the depths and depravity of sin. Perhaps you’ve experienced this: as you leave the sanctuary, no sooner have you stepped foot outside, then have you started coveting. None of us are so sanctified that we do not feel the sting of temptation. Temptation to sin comes from three places – the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. Our flesh tempts us to lust and covet, the world to doubt and deny God’s Word, and the devil all the above.

We ask in this petition that God would preserve us against the assaults of the devil, the world, and our flesh. Though we are in the flesh and daily sin much, we ask that God would strengthen and defend us against future sin. We ask that He would give us purity of mind and heart, and contentment; that He would strengthen us against the enticement of the world to deny or change what He has said; we ask that He would harden us against the old satanic foe. As we said a moment ago, “We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.”

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”[3] There are no temptations that are ultimately unique, St. Paul says. Although we are beset on all sides by temptation to sin, God has provided for us the means of escape, which we know as the Means of Grace. The Means of Grace are the ways in which God’s grace and forgiveness are given to us. They are: God’s Word, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Absolution, and, “mutual conversation and consolation of brethren.” Through these things, the Word and Sacraments, God forgives us our sins and strengthens our faith. Through these Means of Grace, God hardens and preserves us against the temptations of the devil, the world, and our flesh until such time as we receive the full victory at Christ’s return.

In these petitions, we acknowledge that we are but sinful human beings. Though we have been forgiven our sins, because of the weakness of our nature, we continue to live contrary to God’s Word and Commandments. We ask today that God would not remember our sins against us, but His mercy. We ask that by His grace through Christ, He would continue to forgive us our sins and grant us our prayers. So, we, too, will forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us. So that we may do that, we ask that God would continue to preserve among His Word and Sacrament, that our sins may be forgiven, and our faith strengthened against all temptation.


[1] 1 John 4:10, 19. English Standard Version.

[2] Col. 3:13.

[3] 1 Cor. 10:13.