Faith and the Theology of the Cross

Text: Genesis 15:1-6

30 years ago, this March, Irish rock band U2 released its fifth studio album. The Joshua Tree. The album’s theme was based off the wide-open spaces of the American west. The album, which has gone on to sell more than 25 million copies, truly does bring out a sense of vast openness throughout its 50-minute length – particularly in the second track, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” It’s still up in the air what exactly the song is about. There are references to the devil, to Jesus, and heaven. But, we’ll leave it to song critics to discuss it more. Whatever it means, the song brings out this idea of searching; of longing for something you know is there…but you haven’t found it yet.

Our text today from Genesis finds Abram in a similar situation. In the Bible, three chapters pass between when God first came to Abram and called him out of idolatry, promising to bless him and make a great nation out of him. Three chapters pass, but in time it’s about a decade between these chapters, maybe a little more. It’ll be more than that, still, before Isaac is born. Isaac, the child promised in our text. As we’ll see, Abram was a little fearful about his situation, about whether the things God had promised would actually come to pass. Then God appeared to him. He reassured Abram that the promise was not forgotten. Abram believed God, and the Lord counted his faith as righteousness. St. Paul said that these things were written not for Abram’s sake alone, but for ours. Today, we confess that, like Abram, the righteous live by faith in God’s promises – and they are not disappointed.

I.

We should all know the story of Abraham, but let’s recap it for a moment. The Flood happened in Genesis 6. Noah entered the ark with his wife, his sons, and their wives. 8 souls in all. Noah’s sons were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. After the Flood, the three sons all spread out and had children. Abram is a distant descendant of Shem. Abram and his family lived in a place called Haran and they had become pagans. They were unbelievers who worshipped idols. Then, in Genesis 12, God called Abram. He called him out of idolatry to worship the one true God and to go where the Lord would lead him. The Lord promised to bless Abram and make of him a great nation. So, Abram went.

Abram went as the Lord said, but it maybe wasn’t as straightforward and easy as he might’ve liked. There was a famine, so they went down to Egypt. While they were there, Abram did do somethings that were sinful. He doubted God’s promise; yet God forgave him. God also kept His promise and blessed Abram, who came up from Egypt a rich man. He amassed a large household and many servants – but no children. Abram rightly understood God’s promise to make him into a great nation required a son. But, as time went on, no son came. Abram started getting into trouble with neighboring nations, and with no son to inherit if he were to die, Abram began to fear and doubt whether this promise would pan out. In other words, Abram still hadn’t found what he was looking for.

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’”[1] As Abram began fearing for his future and doubting the promises of God, the Lord spoke to him in a vision. The Lord told Abram not to fear. For, despite appearances, the Lord was with him. Abram was sure that the Lord had reneged, or at least was second-guessing His promise. Abram said to God, “‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus…Behold, You have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.’”[2] What Abram meant was: God promised to make him a great nation, and so far, that hadn’t happened. Sure, Abram was wealthy; but with no son by birth, that wealth would pass from his name to someone else. No great nation.

Then the Lord said, “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”[3] Abram was misled by his own conscience and felt that God wouldn’t make good. Things appeared to be the opposite of what God had promised. Abram felt abandoned. Then God made Abram another solemn promise. It wouldn’t be Eliezer of Damascus who would inherit him, but a son from Abram’s own body. Then God took him outside, and told Abram to number the stars. So, would his offspring be. Our text concludes with one of the most important verses in the whole Bible, “He believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.”[4]

II.

The readings this week direct our minds to this idea: Even when it appears to the contrary, God doesn’t go back on His promises. God promised to make of Abram a great nation, and this nation would come from a son of his own flesh. The rest of Scripture – and history – tells us that, of course, this promise came true. Isaac was born when Abram was 99 years old. Isaac fathered Jacob, from whom is descended – according to the flesh – Jesus. St. Paul tells us that God’s promise to Abram was ultimately fulfilled in Christ and the great nation, now of billions, who have believed in His name. Abram believed God’s promise, even when it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. God counted his faith as righteousness. Eventually, Abram did find what he was looking for.

If Abram, that great patriarch of our faith, was fearful and doubting God’s promises, we shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves suffering the same temptations. Like Abram, we have each been called out of pagan idolatry. We were all by nature born sinful and unclean, desiring to be our own “God.” But we were called out of that in the washing of Baptism. At our Baptism, the name of the Triune God was spoken over us and we were made heirs of the promise of Christ. Namely, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life that are found through faith in Him. At our Baptism, we were made heirs of the promise, and we are continually reminded of it through God’s Word – yet we are filled with doubts and fears.

Luther, considering this passage, failed to come up with an answer as to why God orders our lives in such a way. At times, we say that our suffering we endure teach us to rely on God or another lesson. Sometimes, we plumb the depths of reason and empathy to find a reason for our suffering. We know that suffering comes as a result of sin. But, more often than not, we fail to find an answer to, “Why me?” Then we begin to doubt, to fear, and to be angry that we also still haven’t found what we’re looking for.

Dear brothers and sisters, St. Paul did write, “The words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.”[5] Meaning, this passage of Scripture wasn’t written for Abram’s sake alone, but for our benefit, also. We are meant to look at Abram’s suffering and fear, and Lazarus’, and find in them fellowship. Abram suffered, Lazarus suffered, our Lord suffered, we suffer. Abram suffered, at times thinking the Lord would not fulfill His promise; then He did. So, will He also fulfill His promise to us. What promise? The promise to remove our sins from us, which He has done in Christ. The promise to bring us to a land flowing with milk and honey, foreshadowed by the Promised Land and fulfilled in the New Creation. The promise to bring us through this valley of the shadow of death, and feed us beside still waters. The Lord spoke these things and others to Abram. Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted that faith as righteousness.

God grant that we also, by that same faith, would continue to be counted righteous. Scripture does say that the afflictions of the righteous are many, but also that the Lord delivers them out of them all. At times, it does feel like we aren’t finding what we’re looking for. But, God’s promises are sure and will ever stand true – even for us. Abram believed the Lord’s promise of deliverance, God counted His faith as righteousness and did deliver Him. He will deliver us, too. Amen.


[1] Gen. 15:1, English Standard Version.

[2] Gen. 15:2-3.

[3] Gen. 15:4.

[4] Gen. 15:6.

[5] Rom. 4:23-24.

Thrice-Holy Forgiver of Sins

Text: Isaiah 6:1-7

 

“Blessèd be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us.” This Sunday is one of the few, if not the only, Sundays, where we focus not on an event in our Lord’s ministry or life, but a doctrine. In Scripture, the God of all creation reveals Himself to us as a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All three are co-eternal and co-equal, none existing apart from or without another. We worship one God in three Persons. This is how God has revealed Himself to us.

Unfortunately, over time different and competing understandings of God began to spread. The Jews, for example, believed in the Trinity in the Old Testament, but rejected it when the Son of God became flesh. The Gnostics also rejected the divinity of Jesus. Both of these are addressed in Scripture, in St. Paul’s letters and St. John’s. But, then, in the fourth century, a pastor named Arius began teaching that there was a time when the Son of God didn’t exist. He was a very popular pastor, and his teaching in part led to the Nicene Creed being written, and also the Athanasian Creed.

Today, the Church sets aside time to both praise our eternal, Triune God and to firm up and make clear our confession of faith in the Trinity. We asked in the Collect of the Day that God would keep us steadfast in this faith and preserve us against all adversity. In Sacred Scripture, the one true God reveals Himself to us as a Trinity, who alone takes away our guilt and pardons our iniquity.

I.

I said that today we want to firm up and make clear our confession of faith in the Triune God. The first step in that, though, is acknowledging that we aren’t going to understand everything. There will never be a time in this sinful flesh, when we will perfectly understand the Trinity. I am confident that we will in the new creation; But, for now, we see as in a mirror dimly, St. Paul said. St. Paul also said in our Epistle text, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!”[1] This passage comes at the end of St. Paul’s discussion of another difficult doctrine, predestination. I’ve always pictured him, at this point, as just throwing up his hands, confessing his faith in the Trinity, and being done for the day. And, that’s actually how it ends. He says, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”[2]

That text is good, because St. Paul’s brings out this idea: that we aren’t called to understand everything, but believe. Consider the doctrine of the Trinity. We aren’t called to understand every little bit and piece of it, but we are called to believe it and confess it as truth. Why? Because the Triune God is the true God, who takes away the guilt of our sins and pardons our iniquity. That is plain what the Scripture says. We like to tell ourselves we live an age of science and reason, and we must therefore have a logical backing, first, before we can believe anything. You aren’t going to prove the Trinity from human reasoning nor from science. Don’t even try. Instead, believe; because that’s what Scripture says. It is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”[3] Our Lord also said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.”[4] The Triune God has hidden Himself from human reason, but reveals Himself even to little children through Scripture.

II.

Okay, so we aren’t going to understand the Trinity this side of Eden. That’s alright. We aren’t called to totally understand what has been revealed to us, but to believe it. St. Peter says it this way,

Our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him…there are some things…that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist…as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore…take care that you are not carried away…but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior.[5]

We aren’t called to understand, but believe. And, in order for us to believe in the Trinity, it must first be revealed to us. In Scripture. Where, in Scripture, is the Trinity – one God in three persons – revealed to us?

We’ll start with the words straight from our Lord’s mouth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name (notice, singular) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”[6] We remember also the revelation of the Trinity at Jesus’ Baptism. Remember how the Father spoke from heaven, the Spirit descended as a dove, the Son in the water? Just last week, in the Gospel lesson, Jesus said this: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name…will teach you all things.”[7] Jesus even proved the Trinity, along with His own being God, from the Old Testament. One time the Pharisees came to Him, and Jesus asked them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls [the Christ] Lord, saying ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’”[8] Jesus linked the Holy Spirit, the Father, and the Son together from the Old Testament and pointed out that David believed in the Trinity.

Time doesn’t permit us to list all the other proofs of the Trinity in the New Testament, how Sts. Paul, John, and Peter, James, and Jude all make mention, as do the Gospels and the letter to the Hebrews. But, what about the Old Testament? Is the Trinity just a New Testament thing? Nope. Where can we go to prove the Trinity from the Old Testament, and show that Old Testament believers knew this doctrine?

The simplest place to go, and the one you already know, is Creation. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Later it says, “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” Then it says, “God created man in His own image.” Even in English, you can hear the one God saying, “Let us.” In Hebrew, the word for God here is Elohim, which is plural. And yet, all the actions are singular. And, of course, it also says in Genesis 1, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

The easiest place to go to prove the Trinity from the Old Testament is Genesis 1. But, how can we prove Old Testament Christians believed this, and that we aren’t just making it up after the fact? Fast forward to Moses. In his final days, he spoke to the people of Israel, “Is not [God] your Father, who created you?[9] Moses mentioned the Father specifically. Move forward to King David. In Psalm 33, he linked all three persons together when he said, in addition to the Father, “By the Word of the Lord (Jesus) the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth (the Holy Spirit) all their host.”[10] You could go backwards to Job, which some believe is the oldest book, and hear, “By His Spirit the heavens were made.”[11] You could jump to Isaiah, two hundred years after David, or to Ezra – some three hundred years after that – both of whom speak of the Father, the Spirit, and the promised Messiah. Suffice it to say, not only is the Triune God revealed to us also in the Old Testament, but the Old Testament Church believed in and confessed its faith in the Trinity.

III.

So now, why talk about all this? Why take a Sunday and cram this all in? Or, why even talk about the Trinity? After all, a large chunk of the world believes in “God,” whatever that means. Couldn’t we just, for the sake of unity, jettison the talk of the Trinity and hope that it’ll all sort out in the end? That doesn’t really jive with the Creed we just confessed, which all Christian church bodies believe, “Whoever desires to be saved, must above all, hold the catholic faith. Whoever does not keep it whole and undefiled will without doubt perish eternally. And that catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity.”

Why talk about the Trinity? Because this is how the true God has revealed Himself to us. He alone, is the true God who has acted in and throughout history. And, not only has He acted, but He’s acted for us. See, when Isaiah saw God in our text, he feared for his very life. The seraphim were crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts,” and Isaiah knew God’s holiness and our unholiness cannot coexist. Then, one of the angels flew to him and touched his lips with a hot coal from the altar of sacrifice. He said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sins atoned for.”[12]

We talk about the Trinity because it’s how God has revealed Himself, and it’s how He has revealed Himself for us. God the Father created us, He takes care of us and provides for us. He guards and defends against all evil. For us men and for our salvation, the Son of God took on flesh. He shed His blood for us so that we might live. When His blood touches our lips in the Sacrament, our guilt is taken away and our sins atoned for. God the Holy Spirit, reveals this truth to us through the Scripture. He calls us to faith, and preserves us in the same until we die. We confess our faith in the triune God, not fully understanding, but believing that He is true and has taken away our sin. “Blessèd be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us.”


[1] Rom. 11:33.

[2] Rom. 11:36.

[3] 1 Cor. 1:19.

[4] Matt. 11:25.

[5] 2 Pet. 3:15-18.

[6] Matt. 28:19.

[7] Jn. 14:26.

[8] Matt. 22:43-44.

[9] Duet. 32:6.

[10] Ps. 33:6.

[11] Job. 26:13.

[12] Is. 6:7.

Outpouring of Spirit and Word – Pentecost

Text: Acts 2:1-21

Let us pray:

Almighty and ever-living God, You fulfilled Your promise by sending the gift of the Holy Spirit to unite disciples of all nations in the cross and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ. By the preaching of the Gospel spread this gift to the ends of the earth; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.[1]

Today we gather to sing hymns of praise and thanksgiving to our God on high. We ascribe all glory to our Lord Jesus Christ, who has ascended the right hand of the Father but has not left us without consolation. On this day, Pentecost, we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Christ’s Apostles and the spread of His Gospel – the Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins by grace through faith – to all the world. When the Holy Spirit caused the Apostles to speak in those many different languages, He showed that the salvation that is in Christ is for the whole world. As St. Peter said, “It shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”[2]

Our text today is the reading from Acts. From it, we confess that the day of Pentecost is the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise to pour out His Holy Spirit on His faithful people and marks the spread of the Gospel to all nations.

I.

The events of the day took place in the Holy City, Jerusalem. Ten days ago, the Church celebrated the ascension of our Lord to the right hand of the Father. Forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus resumed the glory which was His before the foundation of the universe, which He will continue to hold even when He returns in glory. You may remember these words from His mouth just before He returned to the Father, “Behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”[3] St. Luke also wrote in Acts 1, that Jesus, “ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father.”[4] Jesus’ last words before departing to the Father included the command to remain in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes.

We’ve heard about the Holy Spirit a few times this Easter season. Of the seven Sundays of Easter, at least four speak about the Holy Spirit. Four of our Gospel lessons fall during Jesus’ final teaching in the Upper Room. He taught about how the Holy Spirit would convict the world through the Law and comfort believers with the Gospel. Jesus called the Holy Spirit, “the Helper.” In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus promised that when the Holy Spirit came, He would, “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said.”[5] As He taught them in the Upper Room, Jesus promised the Disciples the Holy Spirit. He promised Him again before His Ascension. Even John the Baptist spoke about the Holy Spirit when He said Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Jesus promised the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but He didn’t say when.

Heeding our Lord’s instructions, the Disciples remained in Jerusalem after His Ascension. They were continually in the Temple, worshipping Jesus and praying. On Pentecost, they were all together in one place. Then, St. Luke wrote,

Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.[6]

As the Disciples were all together, trusting in our Lord’s promise, the promise of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled as a sound like a mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire came from heaven. These tongues rested upon the Apostles, and they were caused to speak out clearly the Gospel of Christ in languages they had not previously known. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Cappadocians, and more, all heard the Gospel of Christ in their own languages. Pentecost, which means fifty days, originally was a harvest festival that fell fifty days after Passover. Here, fifty days after our Lord’s Passover, it became a festival of the Lord’s harvest as the Spirit was poured out and the Gospel spread to the nations.

II.

These are the events of Pentecost. The Apostles remained in Jerusalem, trusting our Lord’s promise and awaiting the Holy Spirit. As they were gathered together, there was a great sound from heaven and tongues as of fire rested on them. As it was a loud sound, many who were in Jerusalem also came together, perplexed at what it meant. They found the Apostles declaring the Good News of Jesus Christ, and each heard it in his own first language. St. Luke writes, “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.‘”[7] That’s when St. Peter, standing with the other eleven Apostles, addressed the crowd and explained what this all meant. St. Peter gives the meaning of the day we celebrate today.

First, he said, “This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days…God declares…I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh.”[8] St. Peter said that this outpouring of the Holy Spirit was not only promised by Jesus and John the Baptist, but it had also been prophesied through the prophet Joel, some eight-hundred years earlier. God never goes back on His Word nor fails to keep His promises, even when the timeline doesn’t make sense to us. All these things were happening, St. Peter said, as fulfillment of God’s promises. The outpouring of the Spirit also demonstrated the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. His atonement for the sins of the world has been what it’s all been about all along.

Second, St. Peter quoted from Joel, “In the last days…I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh…and I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below…before the day of the Lord comes.”[9] By this, St. Peter showed, not only is God fulfilling His promise of the Spirit on Pentecost, but these things show that we are in the Last Days. It seems that every year there are more and more predictions of the End Times. But, the most Biblical way to speak on this topic, is to hold with the inspired words of Peter that the Last Days began with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost. Now, all the work of our salvation has been completed by Christ on the cross. All that remains is the spread of the Gospel of Jesus to the world – which is the third thing St. Peter taught in His Pentecost sermon.

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise and it marks the spread of the Gospel to the whole world so that, “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” God spoke through Joel that in the Last Days, His Spirit would be poured out on all flesh. On the Day of Pentecost, that happened visibly upon the Apostles. The Holy Spirit was poured out on believers throughout the book of Acts as the Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached to them. The Holy Spirit is poured out on us through Baptism and through the preaching of the Word. Through these things the Holy Spirit dwells in us and causes us to confess with heart and mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, who has redeemed us not with gold or silver, but with His precious suffering and death in our place.

As the Holy Spirit caused the Apostles to tell out the greatness of the Lord, leading them to speak boldly about the Gospel of Christ to all the world, so also the Holy Spirit causes us to speak forth the Good News in our lives. Today we give thanks to God Almighty for the fulfillment of His promises and for the Holy Spirit which we received in our Baptism. And, we pray that God would continue what He started on Pentecost – the spread of the Gospel to all nations, that all might be led to repentance and faith, so that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.


[1] Collect for the Eve of Pentecost

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Acts 2:21.

[3] Lk. 24:49.

[4] Acts 1:4.

[5] Jn. 14:26.

[6] Acts 2:2-4.

[7] Acts 2:12-13.

[8] Acts 2:16-17.

[9] Acts 2:17, 19-20.

This Mind Among Yourselves

Text: Philippians 2:5-11

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God…emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant.”[1] With these words St. Paul encouraged the Philippian congregation in their life together as brothers and sisters in Christ. The young congregation was buckling under pressure. They faced pressure from outside, from the surrounding Roman culture that constantly challenged and belittled their faith. And they faced conflict within the congregation. The outside pressure from the surrounding culture started to tear away at the bond of love that existed between the beloved of Christ. They were thinking more highly of themselves than each other and less of those who lived and worked around them. Under pressure, the allure of false teaching became harder to resist, and some were resorting to legalism to get them out of their mess.

St. Paul’s pastoral eye cut right to the chase; under pressure from the world and each other, the congregation lost sight of its Master, Jesus. He did not pride Himself on being God. He truly could demand the loyalty and servitude of all Creation, yet He didn’t. He humbled Himself by voluntarily refraining from His power and majesty and taking upon Himself our human flesh. He became subject to the Law and was obedient even unto death on a cross. In the Torah it says that those who are hung on a tree are cursed by God. Christ took that curse upon Himself. Jesus Christ humbled Himself so that He might redeem us from our sins and so that we might live in love toward one another.

I.

The Philippian congregation was, perhaps like us, a smaller congregation. It was founded when St. Paul, Silas, and Timothy visited the Roman colony during the Second Missionary Journey, about 49-51 A.D. Philippi was not the biggest city in the district, but it was prestigious. The citizens of Philippi were afforded all the same rights and privileges as if they were living in Rome herself. This was reflected in the culture. It was very cosmopolitan. As a society, infidelity in marriage was to be expected and pagan worship was the norm. As result, the congregation faced challenges in its call to be faithful to God’s Word. In Philippi, Paul and Silas were unjustly imprisoned after they had cast a fortune-telling demon out of a slave girl. The demon was making the her owners money, you see. Even with this conflict, the Philippians were known to be a generous congregation. They, largely, funded the mission work among the Corinthians by giving over and above what could’ve been expected of them.

Their generosity flowed out of the love they had received from Christ, but it didn’t divert the pressure they were under. As we said, Philippi was a Roman colony. Things there were as you would expect – not friendly to the Christian faith. So, when the members of the congregation didn’t go to the pagan temples and were faithful to their spouses, the surrounding culture did not appreciate that and, in fact, was hostile to them. Within the congregation, that external pressure was certainly felt. We experience the same. We know what it’s like to have our society largely disagree with our confession of faith. We know that pressure, so we should recognize what happened with the Philippians. They started arguing. Rivalry and jealousy were very present. Things were done not in service of the Gospel, but of oneself. In general, everyone was exalting their position by putting down their brother in Christ. Some in the congregation also turned to false doctrine, hoping that a teaching that was more in line with the culture would save them. It wouldn’t.

II.

St. Paul knew what would, though. The Philippians were near and dear to Paul’s heart, and so it was with all affection that he directed them to who would save them: Jesus. St. Paul wrote,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.[2]

St. Paul turned them to Christ. In Philippians 1, Paul told the congregation that they shouldn’t be surprised at the conflict they faced from outside the church. It had been granted them to suffer with Christ, as it has been to all Christians, and we should rejoice at that. For, as Christ promised the Apostles, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. But that doesn’t mean that internal struggles and fights won’t tear a congregation apart. So, he turned them to Christ. Jesus Christ, from the very beginning was in every way fully God of fully God. By Him and through Him all things were made. He alone is truly Lord of all creation and by right could demand that all things bend to His will. (That day will come.)

But, rather than rest on His laurels and pride Himself on the fact that all things must obey Him, He humbled Himself. St. Paul says that He emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant. This means that Jesus Christ willingly, for a time, refrained from using His eternal power, glory, and authority, and He took on our human flesh. He who deserves above all things to be served, came to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. He became obedient to the Law, perfectly submitting Himself to God and neighbor. He committed no sin and spoke no deceit. Yet, He was numbered with the transgressors. He poured out His soul unto death, even death on a cross. Scripture says, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”[3] Christ willingly took that curse upon Himself, which we also confess this Palm Sunday.

III.

Why did Christ do this? Why did He humble Himself – stepping down from His throne, veiling His glory, becoming flesh and blood, and dying on the cross? He did it as the prime demonstration of God’s love for us, and to redeem us from our sins. Apart from Christ’s death, we were lost in sin and death. We had nothing to look forward to, save the eternal separation from God that starts at death. Christ suffered and died to save us from that. St. Paul says that in Baptism we were united with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. Through Baptism, our sinful nature drowned and died with Christ, and we were raised again to new life with Him. This new life is what Paul means when he says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus Christ humbled Himself, obeyed the Law, and still died in our place to save us from our sins and has enabled by the Holy Spirit to live in love. Though we, by nature, are prone to fighting and insults, to lies and arrogance, to distrust and disunity, that has all been put away through the death of Christ and our Baptism into it. As we’ll hear next week, through Christ’s resurrection the old leaven of malice and evil is put away and we celebrate with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. These things St. Paul called to the minds of the Philippian congregation. Their fearful infighting was not right. Christ died to forgive them those sins – and they are forgiven – and they are enabled through Him to live in love. They are to look to Jesus Christ for both the example and the strength to live in love.

Were the Philippians, after Paul’s letter, perfect at this? Probably not. Still, Polycarp, who was a disciple of St. John wrote this to them some fifty years later, “I have greatly rejoiced with you in our Lord Jesus Christ, because ye have followed the example of true love…and because the strong root of your faith, spoken of in days long gone by, endureth even until now.” St. Paul’s confidence in the congregation and his encouragement for all Christians is found in the opening of this letter, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.[4] May Christ our Lord grant us the same grace as the Philippians, that we may give thanks for all His benefits and live in love – especially in the coming Easter season.


[1] Philippians 2:4-7, English Standard Version.

[2] Phil. 2:5-8.

[3] Gal. 3:13.

[4] Phil. 1:6.

“And in Jesus Christ, Our Lord – Pt. II”

Text: The Second Article

Today we continue our Lenten study of the Apostles’ Creed. So far we’ve learned from the First Article about God the Father. We’ve learned that He has made us and all creatures, and has given us all we need to support this body and life. And, He still continues to take care of us. He guards and defends us against all evil. We don’t deserve any of these things; God does them because He is love. And, because God is love, the Father sent forth His only-begotten into the flesh to bear our sin and be our savior.

Two weeks ago we looked at the words of the Second Article up to our Lord’s death and burial. For us and for our salvation, Christ our Lord stepped down from His throne on high. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He became both fully God and fully man – but not by changing from one into the other; instead, by taking our humanity upon Himself. For our salvation, He became subject to God’s Law and kept it perfectly. As payment for our transgressions, Christ offered Himself up on the cross and breathed His last. The Son of God did truly die and was buried.

This week we pick up with what happened next. After Jesus died and was buried, He was made alive again. After He had risen from the dead, but before leaving the tomb, Christ descended to hell. He didn’t go there to suffer, nor to release anyone, but to proclaim His victory over death and the devil. On the third day Jesus rose from the grave and appeared to His disciples and others for forty days. He did many things to prove He was alive and taught His disciples about the kingdom of God. After the forty days, Jesus ascended into heaven and is now seated at the right hand of God, where He rules all things for our benefit. On the Last Day He will come again to judge both the living and the dead.

I.

In our last look at the Creed we learned that Jesus is both fully God and fully man. In theological talk this idea is called, “The Two Natures of Christ.” It means that Jesus, fully and at the same time possesses, both divine and human natures. In Christ these natures are so united that we can’t separate them without doing great harm to the faith expressed in the Scriptures. We confess that Jesus Christ is fully God because the Scriptures clearly call Him God, they describe His divine attributes, and they show Him doing things only God can do. We confess that Jesus is man because the Scriptures also clearly call Him a man, describe His human characteristics, and show Him doing and suffering things as humans do. Only as man could He take our place, suffer and die. Only as God could His death atone for the sins of the whole world. This is what we mean when we say that Christ is both God and Man, or that He possesses two natures.

Today we’re going to learn another idea. It’s called, “The Two States of Christ,” which are the Humiliation and the Exaltation. All the things we’ve talked about so far have been part of Christ’s humiliation. His humiliation is the time, beginning with His conception, when Christ did not always and not fully use His divine powers. He did use His powers when it was appropriate to His work, but in His humiliation He refrained from the full and total use of His power. St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men…He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.”

Christ’s state of humiliation is the time when He did not fully use His divine power. It began with His conception and ended with His death. His exaltation is the time – now – when He always and fully uses His divine power. His exaltation began with His descent into hell, continued in His resurrection and ascension, and still is going today as Christ cares and watches over us from the right hand of God the Father. St. Paul wrote, “[Christ] humbled Himself by becoming obedient unto death…therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.”

II.

The first event of Christ’s exaltation is, as we confess in the Creed, “He descended into hell.” The reason why we believe that His descent is not part of His suffering is because of Jesus’ words from the cross, “It is finished.” Jesus meant that His work of atoning for our sins was complete with His death. Therefore, anything which comes after that is not part of His suffering, but His exaltation. This is how St. Peter frames it, “Christ also suffered once for sins…that He might bring us to God, [having been] put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.” The word “proclaimed” is understood by its context to mean that Christ descended to hell neither to suffer, nor to offer a second chance to those who were there, but to proclaim to the devil and the souls of the unbelievers that He had conquered. The when of Christ’s descent is after His resurrection but before leaving the tomb. As for the how, we will have to leave that to when we know more in the new creation.

On the third day Jesus rose from the dead. That is the chief confession of our faith. We can leave the narrative of Easter to when we celebrate it again in few weeks. The Scriptures teach that after Christ rose from the grave, He remained on earth for forty days. Scripture gives two reasons for His appearances after the resurrection. It says in Acts 1, “He presented Himself alive to [the disciples] after His suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking to them about the kingdom of God.” Jesus appeared to the women, to Peter, to the rest of the disciples, to the five hundred brothers at the same time, to James, and to Paul. He allowed them to touch Him and even ate to prove to them that He was alive. Then, as St. Luke writes, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

III.

When the forty days were complete, Jesus led His disciples as far as Bethany and, as the Creed says, “ascended into heaven.” We learn from Scripture that this was a true and literal ascension. Jesus was visibly lifted up into the clouds before the disciples’ eyes. After ascending into heaven, Christ resumed His position at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. The Right Hand of God is not one literal location, but it extends everywhere and every place. The Right Hand of God means that Christ now rules and fills all things.

He can now be in all places at all times, which is a particular comfort for us in our suffering. Because Christ has ascended into heaven and no longer refrains from using His power, He can be and truly is with us at all times and in all places. St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “[God the Father] raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion…He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

Finally, in the Creed we confess, “From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.” The Scripture says, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” We believe that on the Last Day – God the Father alone knows the date – Jesus will return. When He returns He will raise the bodies of all the dead and, as our Lord Himself says, “will sit on His glorious throne,” to judge the world in His righteousness. Those who rejected Him and His Word will return, in both body and soul, to eternal torment. Those who believed in Him and His Word will enter into the eternal joy of the new creation.

Now, how may all of this be a comfort to us? We confess that Jesus Christ suffered once for the sins of the whole world. By suffering in our place, He who is both God and Man, secured for us the forgiveness of our sins and the joy of eternal life. When He had risen from the dead, He descended into hell to proclaim His victory. This comforts us because Christ truly has defeated death and the devil; they no longer have any claim over those who are in Christ. He proved throughout those forty days that He was alive. So, too, will those who believe in Him rise from the dead in glorified bodies. By His ascension to the right hand of the Father, Christ continues to be with us at all times and in all places. He is able to comfort us in all distress and provide us with His own body and blood in His Supper. When He returns, He will gather us together with all the faithful to Himself to live in eternal peace and happiness.

Next week we will finish our Lenten devotion by studying the words of the Third Article.

“Do Not Hold Back a Word”

2017/03/22 Lent Midweek III – Manuscript

Text: Jeremiah 26:1-15 (Alternate text in LSB)

We’ve spoken of Jeremiah’s ministry on a few occasions. We’ve learned that Jeremiah prophesied in Jerusalem during the time leading up to the Fall in 586 B.C. His ministry lasted about 40 years – perhaps longer. Jeremiah is often singled-out for the difficulty which he faced in his ministry. He was viciously opposed by many of the priests and the abundance of false prophets in Jerusalem, who held that it was utterly impossible for Jerusalem to fall. In our text tonight we get to peer back behind the curtain and see why Jeremiah was rejected and treated as he was.

The Lord gave him specific instructions in verse 2, “Stand in the court of the LORD’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the LORD all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word.” That is to say, the Lord sent Jeremiah to speak the Law to His people. He was sent to call out against Jerusalem her great and many sins, which would soon bring upon God’s wrath. He was sent to preach the Law, and was told not leave anything left unsaid. But, not leaving anything left unsaid also applied to the other part of Jeremiah’s preaching: the Gospel. Jeremiah was sent to preach both the Law and the Gospel to God’s people. The Lord sent (and still sends) His servants to preach both Law and Gospel, so that sinners may repent and be forgiven.

I.

Jeremiah’s ministry took place over a long time, but the king in our text is Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim was a son of Josiah, and actually the 2nd son of his to reign – after his evil older brother was taken to Egypt. Jehoiakim was also evil. When the Lord sent Nebuchadnezzar up to Jerusalem, he rebelled and the end of the city began in earnest. But still, even at this point all was not lost. Even in the face of impending doom, the Lord again sent His servant to preach. He said to Jeremiah, “Stand in the court of the LORD’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah…all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word.”

Jeremiah was another in a long line of prophets. Each was sent by God to speak His Word to His people, both about their transgressions against Him and His mercy and willingness to forgive. Jeremiah was also sent to preach both Law and Gospel. In this case, the Law was that, because of Judah’s evil deeds, Jerusalem was going to be destroyed. God said, “If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened, then I will make this house like Shiloh.” Shiloh was the first resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, which the Lord caused to fall to ruin because of Israel’s unbelief.

II.

The Lord sent Jeremiah to preach the Law, specifically telling him not to omit a single word, even though the people wouldn’t like hearing it. We learn from Scripture that the Law always has an effect; it always causes one of two reactions. The first reaction, which is really Satan’s work, is what we see in our text. It says, “when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded…then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, ‘You shall die!’” The first reaction to the preaching of God’s Law, the attitude that is from the devil, is denial and resistance. God’s Law is meant to show us our sin, but the Old Adam in us, and the influence of the devil in the world around us, tempt us to deny its truthfulness. Sadly, in the case of some who are deeply lost in the sin, the result of pointing out their sin leads them to become hardened and even more resistant to God’s Word. This is purely the devil’s handiwork.

There is another reaction to God’s Law, the one which He desires and creates: repentance. We learn in our text why God sent Jeremiah to preach the Law. He says, “It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way.” In short: God sends His servants to preach the Law to show us our sins, so that we may repent and be forgiven. God’s great mercy is also demonstrated in this text. It was not long after that Jerusalem did fall. Even up until the very last possible moment, God continued to send the prophets, who promised that God would stop the disaster, if only they would repent. God’s Word through Jeremiah was not hypothetical. Because of Judah’s sin, Jerusalem would be destroyed. Yet even then, God was willing and desired to forgive, and would avert their doom, if they would only repent.

III.

That is the reason why God sent Jeremiah to preach the Law, so that the Gospel might also be preached. The Lord said, “Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the LORD your God, and the LORD will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you.” Though their sins were great, though they were like scarlet, God was ready and willing and more fully desiring to forgive than we can ever know. Even in the face of destruction, after generations of idolatry and covetousness, God would forgive. Just like we heard on Ash Wednesday, “Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him.”

So also does God send His servants to preach to us today, both His Word of Law and His Word of Gospel. He sends them to preach the Law to show us our sins. When we hear from them that we are sinners, the words which judge us are not theirs, such as what the people thought of Jeremiah, but God’s. The Law is and remains God’s holy Word. When we hear from it that our sins are great, we should respond with the words, “Amen; this is true.”

God also sends His servants to preach the Gospel to those who recognize from the Law that they are, in fact, sinners. Just like God offered to freely forgive even the adulterous people of Jerusalem, He will freely and completely forgive all who turn to Him in repentance and faith. If God the Father willingly sacrificed His only-begotten Son on the cross, how true His promise to forgive our sins must be; if only we repent. So that we may repent, God speaks to us His Word of the Law through His servants. Then, when they have shown us our sins, they reveal to us the Gospel of Christ: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

“(In This Way) God Loved the World”

Text: John 3:16-17; 1 Jn. 4

St. John the apostle wrote in his first letter, our epistle reading, that God is love. This a phrase that most people probably know, even if they don’t always know that it’s from the Bible. True, if you’ve ever been to church, you’ve most likely heard it. (I would hope.) But, we also see it in many other places. It’s on everything: from t-shirts and mugs to bracelets, and at present, even on protest signs on TV or in the paper. Something interesting happens when a word or phrase is used so frequently and in so many different places. What happens that its meaning changes. Words and phrases get their meanings from how they’re used, the context. One comes to my mind right now. What frequently changes, as I’ve learned over the past few years is “Sloppy Joe.” I was always taught the a sloppy joe has three ingredients beside the beef: ketchup, mustard, brown sugar. Does that sound like a sloppy joe to you?

I wonder, has this sort of thing happened to the phrase, “God is love?” What I’d like to to do today is go back to the Scriptures, where the phrase originally comes from, and learn what it’s all about. In doing so we’ll also see what the Christianity thing is all about. Just like with phrases, what people think Christianity is all about fluctuates, too. What Scripture says, and what we must preach, is that God’s love for the world is shown in this way: He sent His only Son to die, so that everyone who believes in Him would not die, but have eternal life.

I.

Let’s remind ourselves of the verse we heard a few minutes ago. A lot of people have it memorized from their VBS days, but I’ll read it again. This is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Another verse goes with it today. St. John also wrote, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him.” So, we’ll get this part out of the way: God is love, this is true. Now, Lutherans are a quirky bunch. This is shown by the fact you can tell someone was raised as a Lutheran because they instinctively ask, “What does this mean?” whenever they hear Scripture.

What does it mean that God is love? That’s the question today. First, it means that God created everything – the heavens and the earth. As Scripture says, God is love; but, to love, there needs to be something else – something to love. So, God created. God created all that there is, including us, and He continues to provide for all that we need to support this body and life. Since God is love, He created human beings with the ability to love Him back. But, the ability to love works both ways. If you can love, you can also not love. Unfortunately, that’s what happened. Shortly after God created mankind, they decided that loving God wasn’t what they wanted to do. And that’s where sin comes from.

God created everything out of love, desiring nothing other than to love us and be loved back. Instead, Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Bad happened. It’s kind of like going into the basement and loosening up the one light bulb so that it flickers. When it flickers, there’s light. But, in between you stub your toe and knock things over. When Adam and Eve decided to not love God, it broke the world. When they decided to not love God, it also introduced a new and terrible thing: death. See, to live in fellowship with God is life. To live apart from Him is death.

The Scriptures do say that there is a punishment for sin, and that is death. The failure to love God results in death. All those times where we don’t listen to the Bible and do what we want instead, all those times where we think thoughts about those whom we aren’t married to, all those times where we maybe aren’t as helpful to others as we could be add up. The end result is that, for our sins, we will all die.

II.

But, the Scriptures say this: God is love. Love is what led God to create and take care of us. Love is also what made it so that God couldn’t just stand by while the whole world dies. Instead, He loved the world so much that He acted. He acted in this way: He sent His only Son as the payment for our sins. God is a loving God, but He is also a just God – a fair God. Fairness demands that transgressions be punished, that wrongs be righted. God is also mercy, however. Instead of demanding that we right our own wrongs, pay for our own sins, God sacrificed His Son, His only Son, Jesus.

In this way, God’s love for the world is demonstrated. He sacrificed His only Son to pay for our sins. Now, we might not think that we’re really that bad. Think about it this way. When you speed you get a ticket. If you lie to a judge, you can be placed in jail. If you disobey a king, in some countries, you will be put in prison – or worse. That’s for a single offense, and we’re trained to accept that. What do you think should happen if you disobey God? What do you think should happen if you willingly and purposefully break the law many times a day for an entire life? But God is love, so He sent Jesus to die in your place, to pay for your sins.

Jesus Christ’s death did pay for our sins, and for the sins of the whole world. By His death on the cross and His resurrection, Jesus has restored us to a right relationship with God. He put the water back under the bridge, tightened the light bulb so that it shines like it should. By His death and rising again, Jesus has brought back to mankind eternal life. He won for us the ability for us to again call God, “Father,” and the ability to live at peace with those around us and in our community. These things He gives to us not because we deserve forgiveness, eternal life, and peace – but by His grace as a gift. As it says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Some of us are newer to the whole Lutheranism thing. Some of us have been around it for a while; and we sometimes forget, but this is what it’s all about. The Christian faith, and Lutheranism as a part of it, is all about how Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. We’re talking forgiveness of sins for everyone who believes in Him. It doesn’t matter whether you were born into the Church, or came as an adult. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, where you live, how much you give, or even how often you warm a church pew – Jesus died for you. He gives the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life to everyone who believes in Him.

Now, this is all fine and good, but some of us might be thinking why we need to hear this again. Why should I to go to church, if I’ve heard this once already? For starters, life is hard. It is a struggle; it is busy; some days we don’t even know how to do. Even beyond that, before we’ve noticed, we’ve been short with people; we’ve treated them poorly and they’ve done the same in return. Church allows us to hit pause, to hit reset and reflect, to hear God speak to us and tell us that it’ll all be okay – that our sins our forgiven, and that eternal life awaits us in heaven. In heaven there is no pain or sorrow or stress.

Then, St. John also says, “If God so loved us, we also ought to love each other.” Speaking for myself – even as a pastor – I’m not always so good at that part as I should be. So, in addition to pausing to hear God speak through His Word that my sins are forgiven, church also helps me to love others as I have been loved by Christ. “We love because He first loved us.”

May the peace of God be with you this week and always. God is love, and this is the way He showed His love for you: He sent His Son Jesus to die for you, so that through faith in Him, you might not die but live eternally. In Jesus’ name.