The King of Glory Enters In

Text: Psalm 24

Bulletin: 2017-12-06 Advent Midweek I

Tonight, we begin another period of special devotion to our God and King. We come together this evening to hear His Word, to sing His praises, and to return Him our thanksgiving for the gifts He has freely given us. Especially in this Advent season, we remember His loving kindness as we await His return in glory. In all of these things, we are united to the saints of old in the Old Testament, who worshipped God in the tabernacle and temple with the singing of psalms. The texts for our meditations this year will each be based on the Psalm of the Week. The Psalm for the First Sunday in Advent is Psalm 24. Tonight, we confess that Christ is the King of Glory, who entered into His own creation so that we might receive blessing from God.

I.

Along with many of the other psalms, Psalm 24 is one that we know relatively little about. With some of the psalms – like Psalm 51 – we know who wrote them, when, and why. Psalm 51 was written by David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba. We know less about Psalm 24. The psalm is attributed to David in both the Hebrew and Greek. The Greek adds that this was a psalm meant to be sung on Sunday. In the Church’s history, this psalm has been sung on Ascension and, for about the last 400 years – on the First Sunday in Advent as well. It’s easy to see why. This psalm is a psalm of worship to God as our king.

Psalm 24 lays out right away why we worship God as King – He is the author and founder of Creation. It says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.”[1] This  topic comes up over and over in Scripture, and often it’s the first topic that we cover with our children. Our God, the Triune God, commanded the universe to exist and it did. He spoke and it came to be. He set the stars in place and knows them each by name. He set the boundaries of the seas and rules both wind and wave. The earth and all who dwell in it are the Lord’s. He gives all things their food, and they receive it from His loving hand. Truly, the Creator God is a King worthy of all praise.

II.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place?”[2] That is to say, who may stand before this God and King, who may stand in His presence to sing His praise? “He who has clean hands and pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord.”[3] God, our God, is the God of all creation. Not one thing escapes His eye or happens apart from His knowing. He deserves to be worshipped in sincerity and truth, for His Word is truth and He is the truth. Those who worship Him with pure hearts receive from Him blessing and honor.

But, as we live our lives, we find well-enough that we do not have pure hearts. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and operate outside of the truth. Those who receive blessing from God are those whose hands are clean, whose hearts are pure, who do not deal falsely or speak deceitfully. Yet, on each count, we are guilty. Our hands we have used to commit iniquity and our hearts are filled with the same. We have spent our lives pursing our own passions and desires and have often done so at the expense of our love for others. We have spoken and sworn deceitfully. We do not deserve to ascend the Lord’s holy hill or stand in His holy place.

III.

Then the psalmist sings, “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.”[4] It’s possible that this psalm was sung as the Ark of the Covenant was moved to its final resting place in the temple. In which case, the doors may be literal. In the Church’s use, these words are also sung to creation in the confidence that the King has come. Though we may not stand in the Lord’s presence nor receive His blessing because of our sinfulness, Christ Jesus is the one who has clean hands and a pure heart. He does not lift up His soul to what is false or swear deceitfully. He who is the King of Creation now has entered into His creation to redeem it from sin. Though He spoke no lies and had no guilt, He bore our sin on the cross. He suffered, died, and rose again victorious for us.

Therefore, with all of God’s people – past and present – we sing the praise of the King of Glory. He entered into the universe He made at His incarnation, being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. From there, He rose to conquer sin and death by His own death on the cross. He comes to us now, bringing with Him blessing from God in Word and Sacrament. Through these, He gathers us together and makes us a generation that seeks the face of the God of Jacob. Soon, all gates and ancient doors must open as He returns to judge the living and the dead. This Advent, may we ever be mindful that Christ, the King of Glory, has entered into His creation to bring us blessing from God.


 

[1] Ps. 24:1-2, English Standard Version.

[2] Ps. 24:3.

[3] Ps. 24:4-5.

[4] Ps. 24:7.

The Righteous Branch

Text: Jeremiah 23:5-8

Bulletin: 2017-12-03 First Sunday in Advent

Today marks the beginning of a new church year. We know by now that the Church Year flows in seasons. Seasons, which are patterned after the life of Christ and the Church. The first season of the year is Advent, a season of both repentance and joyful expectation. In Advent, we celebrate our Lord’s coming the flesh and His future coming again, even as we recognize in ourselves our own sinfulness. Christ, by His death, has secured for us forgiveness and eternal life. But still, we live here as exiles. And, like exiles, we groan.

The groaning among God’s people in Jeremiah’s time was that they were ruled by an unfaithful shepherd. Or, rather, a line of unfaithful kings who did not abide by God’s Word nor rule by His wisdom and justice. By these kings’ negative influence, the people also fell into idolatry – until Jerusalem was finally destroyed as the punishment for their evil deeds. Still, God’s faithful people among them longed for a new king, a new shepherd, who would be faithful to God’s Word. Therefore, God spoke through Jeremiah that the days were indeed coming, when the Righteous Branch would rule. Unlike the kings of Israel and Judah, and unlike all kings of the earth, Jesus the Righteous Branch executes justice and righteousness and makes His people dwell securely.

I.

Jeremiah is a prophet that comes up a lot in conversations and the lectionary. He, along with Isaiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel are called the Major Prophets – for the length of their writing. Not only is the book of Jeremiah long, but so was his ministry. Jeremiah preached perhaps more than 40 years, during which time a complete handful of kings ruled in Jerusalem. As you might guess, this was not a good time for Judah. Their brothers in the Northern Kingdom had long before fallen to Assyria, and now Jerusalem was on the road to destruction herself. The reason would be the same that Israel was given into the hands of their enemies, idolatry. Both king and people were unfaithful to God’s Word.

Jeremiah 23 is part of a sermon given in the king’s court. In it, Jeremiah recounted the deeds of King Josiah’s sons and grandson who followed him on the throne. Josiah was a good king. He abided by God’s Word – his sons, not so much. In the Old Testament, when you were king you weren’t just king. You were a shepherd; you very much a spiritual figure for your people. It was also your job as king to encourage worship of the one true God. You were to discourage and punish idolatry. Josiah’s sons, along with many of the other kings, didn’t do that. The kings did not abide by God’s Word. They were frivolous in their living. They did not care about their neighbor near as much as themselves. They were in it for themselves. And, as were the kings, so were the people.

This is not an unfamiliar concept for us. Just a few weeks ago we talked about how the rulers and governments that exist are put in place by God. Now, ask yourself, how many of them do God’s will according to His written Word, the Bible? As the kings, so the people. In America, the disfunction goes even deeper. There are many people who dislike the government, so they take their orders and inspiration from celebrities. But, it’s also not just the rulers who don’t follow God’s Word – neither do we. At least, not all the time. We all set up little shrines to ourselves in our own hearts. We are the most important things in our lives, we do what our hearts desire and disregard the good of our neighbor. As those who have been redeemed by Christ, we recognize and lament our own sinfulness. With the faithful people of Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s time, we also groan. God’s Word to them and us is the same.

II.

The Lord spoke through Jeremiah,

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’[1]

Remember that Jeremiah is speaking these words in the court of the king – at this time – Zedekiah. Jeremiah preached the Law against Zedekiah reign, and against those who came before him by calling them wicked shepherds. Now comes the Gospel to God’s people, where He promises a Righteous Branch, a Righteous Shepherd, a righteous king. These terms are often used interchangeably for the Messiah. The Lord promised David a son who would sit on his throne forever. The prophets Isaiah and Zechariah both talked about the branch of the Lord, the shoot from the stump of Jesse. Ezekiel preached about how the Lord would shepherd His people Himself. Branch, Shepherd, King, all mean the Messiah.

The Messiah, of course, is Jesus. He is the promised offspring of Adam and Eve, the offspring of Abraham. He is the true Son of David. He is the Righteous Branch who reigns as king. Unlike the kings of Israel and our time, Jesus does rule according to God’s will and Word. In His life, in the Garden, and on the cross, Jesus submitted to the Father’s will. He spoke and acted according the Word of God. According to the justice of God, “a bruised reed He [did] not break, and a smoldering wick He [did] not quench.”[2] Jesus does reign as king and deal wisely according to God’s Word, and that also means demanding the justice of God. One way God is just is in demanding punishment of sin. The kings of Israel did not punish the sin of idolatry. Jesus will punish sin eternally at His return. So that all the world might not perish in iniquity, Jesus also kept the Lord’s justice by bearing God’s wrath against sin in Himself on the cross. Jesus atoned for our sin by drinking the cup of God’s wrath for us.

The Lord promised through Jeremiah that the Righteous Branch would make both Israel and Judah dwell securely. That means He will bring all of God’s people together to live in peace. Such, has Christ done by His death. Though we were once united in death, by His death, Christ has brought His people together in life. He unites His people in every time and place together through His Holy Word and Sacraments. In Baptism, we are brought into the one family of Christ. In the Supper, we are united to Christ and each other. Through the preaching of the Word, the same Holy Spirit dwells in each of us. We have peace and security now in the forgiveness sins. But, that’s not the only thing we have. We have the blessed hope of eternal life. Someday soon, our Lord will return. He will send His angels and gather all the faithful from the ends of the earth. He will bring us together, and together we will enter the blessedness of the new creation. There, we will have no sin or sorrow, no danger or need. There, we will dwell with our king in our land, and we will all know Him.

But, for now, we groan. We are united with God’s faithful people in Jeremiah’s time. We are sinful people living in a wicked world at a wicked time. Yet, we are also the forgiven saints of God, purchased and won from sin and the devil by the precious blood of Christ. Through faith in His death we have the forgiveness of sins now, even as we await His return. While we suffer here as exiles below, God’s Word to us now is the same as then.

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.

[1] Jer. 23:5-6, English Standard Version.

[2] Matt. 12:20.

Oil Enough and More

Text: Matthew 25:1-13

Bulletin: 2017-11-26 Last Sunday of the Church Year

Once again, during the final Sunday of the Church Year, we return to our Lord’s teaching during the final week of His earthly life. That final week, He spent much of His time teaching in the temple. He taught about the greatest commandment, about being a Christian in two kingdoms, even about His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. Today, we turn to some of our Lord’s teaching on the End Times. It’s fitting that we talk about the close of the age as we are at the close of the church year.

The focus of our Lord’s teaching today is this, as Jesus said, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”[1] Jesus taught the parable of the Ten Virgins to emphasize to His Disciples that His return to judge and bring in the New Creation would not be an immediate thing. This fact doesn’t surprise us, some 2000 years later, but it was new for them. It’ll be, Jesus said, like the days of Noah. People were eating and drinking and marrying up until the Flood and caught them all unaware. Today, we confess that our Lord’s return will be sudden and unexpected, but He sustains us in our watch through His Word and Sacraments.

I.

As usual, when we dive into a text it’s important to understand the context. The context of our passage today is that comes from a chunk of Matthew where Jesus is speaking about the destruction of the temple and signs of the end times. It happened that, as they were walking out of the temple, Jesus told the Disciples a time would come when none of its stones would be left standing. That prompted them to ask what the signs of would be of Jesus’ coming at the end of time. Then, Jesus taught them the passages we’ve all heard about wars and rumors of wars. As we live amidst what seems like endless wars and disasters, our minds sometimes fall with the Disciples – that maybe the end is near. Every so often someone gets on TV, the radio, or internet and proclaims that they know the exact day. But, the point of Jesus’ teaching today is that His return will be unexpected.

Just before today’s Gospel, Jesus taught in chapter 24 that no one knows the day or hour of His return – not the angels, not even the Son of God – only the Father. Following our text, is the Parable of the Talents. That’s where the master left his money with his servants and went away. When he came back, he expected his servants to have done something useful with what he gave them. The meaning of that parable is that we should wait for our Lord’s return, making faithful use of the things God has given us. God has blessed each of us with many talents and skills, and we are to use them in loving service to God and neighbor during our exile here below.

But, we sometimes take all this for granted. It is not news to us that our Lord’s return wouldn’t be immediately after His Ascension. But it was news for the first Christians and even the Disciples. St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians twice concerning it. First, they thought Christ had already come and they missed it. Then, when they heard it may not be soon, they grew idle and lazy. St. Paul wrote them every parent’s favorite verse, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”[2] Even the Disciples had trouble with this. Just before the Ascension, they asked Jesus if He would restore all things right there. He said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority.”[3] The point being, they were to wait and watch; as are we. Such, Jesus explains with a parable.

II.

It’ll be like ten virgins, Jesus said, who took lamps to meet the bridegroom. The custom at the time was that the bridal got prepared and then waited for the groom to come and get them. When arrived, they would all proceed together to the wedding hall for the ceremony and feast. Jesus said, “Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”[4] It happened that the groom was delayed in his coming, and all the virgins grew tired and slept. Then, at midnight came the cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” The virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The wise were prepared and had oil, but the foolish had run out.

The foolish virgins said to the wise, “‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’[5] The foolish virgins did not expect the delay. And, when the cry came, it caught them unaware. They left to go and buy oil. And, while they were out, the groom came. He gathered the wise virgins, they went to the wedding hall, and the door was shut. The foolish virgins knocked at the door saying, “‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’[6] Jesus interpreted the parable for us. As we heard before, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

III.

This is a parable directed to and concerning the Church on earth. Very seldom, if ever, in Scripture, is the word “virgin” used for anyone other than a believer in Christ. The ten virgins in the parable are members of the visible Church on earth. In the parable, they were all called to await the bridegroom. Likewise, as Christians, the Bride of Christ awaits His return. Our job is to wait and keep watch for His coming. We are to be alert and expecting His return at any moment.

But, on this end of things, it appears to us that Christ’s return is delayed. At the very least, we’ve been waiting a long time. This will be my 28th Advent. That means I’ve heard the story of the Triumphal Entry read and preached 56 times, each time mentioning the fact that Christ will someday return in glory to take me to heaven. Most of you have heard it more, and we’re still waiting. Waiting, like forgiving – which we talked about a few weeks ago – and praying, can make us grow weary.

When we grow weary, we are troubled by temptations of two sorts. The first, is to fall away from our watch. Some cease coming to church. It usually doesn’t happen all at once. But some fall away from regular attendance, and their lamps go out. The other temptation is to become focused on other things. We might still be here to receive God’s Word and Sacraments, but the temptation is for our lives to really revolve around something else, be it sports or family, or some collision of the two. We become so focused on other things that we forget what we’re watching and waiting for.

So that we might keep watch, Christ has given us and sustains us with His Means of Grace. This is important because, if we’re being honest, waiting for Christ to come is hard. Every year the Church calendar starts up again and the secular calendar after that. It’s hard, but the hope that has been poured into our hearts will not put us to shame. Through His Word and in His Sacraments, Christ forgives us our sins. The Lutheran Confessions say that the Holy Spirit works through these things as through instruments to give to us the forgiveness Christ won on the cross. But, through these things, also, is our watch sustained.

The temptation with this parable is to try and nail down what the oil is and how to get enough. I’m not sure we want to go down that route. Rather, let us stick to our Lord’s interpretation, that His return will be sudden and unexpected. Therefore, we are to keep watch. Though our flesh is weak, His Spirit is not. So that our watch is sustained and filled with hope, Christ gives us His Word and Sacraments. Through these things, our lamps have oil enough and more. And when the Bridegroom does finally call us, we will enter the wedding feast with joy.


[1] Matthew 25:13, English Standard Version.

[2] 2 Thess. 3:10.

[3] Acts 1:7.

[4] Matt. 25:2-3.

[5] Matt. 25:8-9.

[6] Matt. 25:11-12.

A Christian in Two Kingdoms

Text: Matthew 22:15-22

Bulletin: 2017-11-19 Trinity XXIII – Bulletin

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are Gods.”[1] With these words, Jesus put the attempts of the Pharisees to trap Him to flight. They came to Him in the temple to catch Him once-and-for-all, and finally put Him to death. This side of the Gospel, we know will happen only three days later, but we have in this text another picture of the hatred they had for our Lord. We also have here another masterful teaching from our God. With their words, Jesus’ enemies tried to trap Him. But, with His words, He both confounded them and gave us an important teaching.

The teaching was as useful to the first Christians as it is to us now – and would’ve been to the Pharisees, had they received it. The lesson is, just like Jesus said before Pilate, His kingdom is not of this world. Jesus did not come to set up an earthly kingdom or system of government. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be Christians in every country in the world, we will all be gathered together right now. In fact, we are together, now – in the kingdom of God. This called the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. Christ teaches us that, as Christians, we live in two kingdoms. Both are established and ruled by God, and we are led by Him to give what is due in both.

I.

Let’s set the scene, shall we? We’ve been in this chapter of Matthew already in the Church Year, so we know that everything after 21 takes place in Holy Week or after Easter. When we were last here, the Pharisees put Jesus to the test by asking Him which was the greatest commandment. Remember that He was not fooled, but correctly taught that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind; and, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Mt. 22:37-39) The Pharisees even admitted that Jesus taught correctly in our text. They said, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully…you are not swayed by appearances.”[2] But, they’re up to something. Nearly every time the word “Teacher,” is used for Jesus, it’s by an enemy.

In fact, they are up to something. St. Matthew wrote, “The Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle [Jesus] in His words. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians… [They said] …Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”[3] It’s important to understand some of the context here. The Pharisees had some specific ideas about the Messiah. One of them was that, when the Messiah did come, he would be an earthly ruler. He would overthrow the Romans and institute a new worldly order. Now, the people called the Herodians who came with them – they were fans of the Romans. When they asked Jesus about paying the tax, they thought they would stick Him either way. If He said to pay it, then He would offend the Pharisees and their followers. If He said to not pay, then He would alienate Himself from those who favored the Romans…and potentially lose His head.

Just like before, Jesus wasn’t fooled. It says that Jesus, aware of their malice, had them bring Him a coin – which, of course, they had. Then He said, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” When they said, “Caesar’s,” then Jesus answered, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are Gods.”[4] Just like that, Jesus cut free of their trap and pulled them into it. Confounded, the Pharisees left Him alone. When they put Jesus to the test, to try and get Him to choose between serving God or government, the right understanding is that we serve God in both. A Christian lives both in the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world at the same time.

This is as an important teaching now as it was then. It’s important for us to confess this, because we sometimes take it for granted. All things being equal, a Christian does not need to choose between living in God’s kingdom (the Church) and the world, because God has established and rules both. In the world, He rules by His Law; but in the Church, He rules by grace. From our Lord’s mouth, we confess that we live in both kingdoms, and He leads us to render to each what is due.

II.

So far we’ve been talking about the Two Kingdoms. When Jesus was put to the test to choose between them in principal, He said to serve both. Now, let’s define them and talk about what should be rendered to each. The first, is the kingdom of caesar, the Kingdom of the World, the Kingdom of the Left. This kingdom is the collective governing systems of the world. The majority of countries have some sort of governing party that establishes and enforces law. The intention of most is to prevent and punish evil and promote and reward good. All these things are originally God’s idea.

St. Paul taught the Romans, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”[5] St. Peter, likewise, said, “Be subject for the Lords sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”[6] As an institution, government was established by God to maintain order and promote good. This happens by the establishment and enforcement of laws. There are many good examples in this of Scripture. Monday nights, we’ve been going through Daniel where kings used laws to promote the worship of God. At Kelleher, we also learned about Nehemiah, who was a governor and used his position for the good of God’s people.

In order for the government to do its work, which is really God’s, it does need some things. The thing brought up by our text? Taxes. Pay your taxes. The government serves by God’s command, so Paul says, “because of this you also pay taxes.”[7] When we pay our taxes, even as we can disagree about the amount in good conscience, we are acting in obedience to God’s Word and it pleases Him. At times, we may be called upon to serve our government with our talents and bodies. We should also do that in good conscience, for behind the government, we are really serving God. It may be that God has given us talents and gifts that may be of service to our government – whether it be running for office or entering voluntary service – in these also, we render to Caesar what is his. The kingdom of the left, extends over all the world and over all people. The whole world is ruled by God’s Law. He sets in place and overthrows, He plants and uproots. But the kingdom of the right, the Church, God rules by grace. We are brought into this kingdom through faith in Christ.

III.

According to our Lord, we also live in the kingdom of God. Just as the kingdom of the world was established and is ruled by God, so also the Kingdom of the Right. It is built upon the preaching and teaching of the prophets and apostles, Christ Himself being the cornerstone. In this kingdom, Christ rules by His grace. Those who have sinned are forgiven. Those who die daily to sin, are raised in Baptism and in the resurrection to come. Here, He mends broken hearts and binds up weak souls. To Caesar we render our external obedience, our tax money, and our talents. But to God, we render our hearts. This is the Law Christ preached to the Pharisees, and we should hear it – our hearts belong to God and not the things of this world. Too often we mistake this, and place our trust in things that fail. The Psalm says, “Trust not in princes.”

Thanks be to God, then, that we do live into two kingdoms. As Christians, we live and serve God in both realms. In the Kingdom of the Left, we serve God through the government by being subject to it, obeying laws and paying taxes. We know that behind these things, we have both the command and promise of God. He said to the Israelites in exile that they should pray for the city they were in, for in its welfare they will find their own. We also live into the Kingdom of the Right, the kingdom of Grace. We were brought in through Baptism and here we receive the forgiveness sins of daily, we are strengthened in the faith, and led to love and serve God and neighbor. When the Pharisees put Jesus to the test, He confounded them and taught us the truth. We are called and led to serve God in both kingdoms. The Lord grant that, by His Holy Spirit, we cheerfully render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.


[1] Matthew 22:21, English Standard Version.

[2] Matt. 22:16.

[3] Mt. 22:15-17.

[4] Mt. 22:20-21.

[5] Rom. 13:1.

[6] 1 Pet. 2:13-14.

[7] Rom. 13:6.

Unlimited Forgiveness

Text: Matthew 18:21-35

One of the conclusions that we all come to as we work our way through this life is that things don’t last. They wear out, they run out; they expire. One of the lessons I’ve had to learn over life is to smell my milk before I drink it. And, something I find myself doing with unnerving frequency is buying new socks. For some reason, I wear holes in my socks quickly, and I have to throw them away and get new ones. Everything has a number of expected uses, a shelf life, or an expiration date – which we have all learned to accept. But, what about forgiveness?

Forgiveness is the topic of the day in the Gospel text. St. Peter went to Jesus with a reasonable question. When my brother sins against me, how many times I am required to forgive him? How many times before I can stop? In some areas of our country, legal systems allow for three strikes – then you’re out. In our personal lives, we tend to mirror that standard. St. Peter was especially generous, he offered to forgive his brother up to seven times before he cut him off. How does our Lord respond to the question? “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Mt. 18:22) That is, the forgiveness we offer to our neighbor should never be exhausted or run out. There is no point at which we can stop forgiving our neighbor and get a new one. Jesus will illustrate this with a parable. As our multitude of sins have been forgiven by Christ, so also are we led by Him to freely forgive those who sin against us.

I.

It is a totally understandable – and relatable – question that Peter asked our Lord. We’ve all been in situations or are in one now, where we have been repeatedly sinned against, even by the same person. The flip side is also true, we have all been guilty of repeatedly sinning against other people. What prompts Peter’s question is Jesus’ teaching in this chapter. Matthew 18 is largely concerned with caring for our neighbor in Christ. The chapter opens with Jesus teaching that we should humble ourselves and become like children before God. Then, Jesus talked about how, if our brother sins against us, we should go and speak to him. If he refuses to be reconciled, Jesus said to take one or two others with us and go speak again. If he still refuses to be reconciled, it is to be told to the congregation and – if he still then refuses to repent and be reconciled – the offending brother is excluded from fellowship.

So, Peter follows this up with the question, “‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” (Mt. 18:21-22) Peter’s question resonates with us. Forgiving is hard work. Often, it involves no small amount of spiritual hurt and anxiety. As such, we get tired of forgiving. So, we stop. And the world says we’re right to do so. But, what does Jesus say? We are not to forgive our brother seven times only, but seventy-seven times. The phrase that Jesus uses in the Greek is meant to convey an unlimited amount, not just a bigger – but still limited – amount than what Peter graciously offered. In no uncertain terms, Jesus says that we are to forgive our neighbor in Christ. Period. No limits. The relationship between a Christian and his or her neighbor is to be one of complete love and forgiveness. At no point should our forgiveness run out or dry.

II.

It’s like this, Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.” (Mt. 18:23) In this parable there is a king who wishes to reconcile the debts of his servants. Right away, one was brought to him who owed ten thousand talents. A talent itself was a large amount of money. One commentary I read did the math and said that this would be the equivalent of sixty million days of work. Since the man could not pay this monumental debt, the king ordered that all that the man had be sold to cover at least part of it. The man begged for patience while he tried to figure out some way to pay. But, instead, the king felt compassion for the man and, “released him and forgave his debt.” (Mt. 18:27)

Straightaway, the man went out and found one of his fellow servants. The other did owe him money, and a large amount – about 100 days’ wages – but certainly less than the first servant had been forgiven. The first servant began choking the other and demanding payment. When the man begged for patience, in the same way that the first had implored the king, his cries were steadfastly ignored. The Greek says the first servant kept being unwilling to forgive and instead threw his fellow servant in prison until such time as the debt be paid.

Now, in short order, the king found out about all this. He said to the unforgiving servant, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Mt. 18:32-33) The expected behavior of the first servant is that, as he had been forgiven a monumental debt, so he would in turn forgive the debt of his neighbor. Instead, he refused to forgive. So, the original forgiveness from the king was set aside. “In anger his master delivered him to the torturers, until he should pay all the debt.” (Mt. 18:34) Our Lord provides for us the interpretation of this parable, “So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Mt. 18:35)

III.

This is a difficult text to hear, as Jesus is calling us to do something we cannot do. And, quite frankly, we have done the opposite of what Jesus says here. We have let our forgiveness toward others lapse, and we have often refused to forgive, even in the first place. We find ourselves in the position of the first servant. We are about up to our necks in sin and it’s poised to drown us all. We know that for each and every sin, there is payment to be made. The cost of our sin is such that we could not pay it in a billion years. Yet God, who is the king in the parable, forgives us. He forgives us at great cost to Himself, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, His Son. By His grace, our colossal debt is forgiven. So, we, in turn, should forgive those who sin against us. And, not seven times, but seven-times-seven.

The question before us is how. How can we forgive so much, especially when we are hurt by others’ sinning? On our own we can’t. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches…apart from Me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15:5) But, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. This is why Jesus has given us the sacraments: so that we might receive the forgiveness of our sins, be strengthened in the faith, and have our love for our neighbor increased. This why we are to receive the Lord’s Supper often. On our own, we tend to look at forgiveness as a limited resource that, once it’s gone, it’s gone. But that is not how we are to be. Instead, through the Sacraments, the love of Christ is poured into our hearts, and through that we are led to love and forgive our neighbor as often as he does sin against us.

Peter’s question to Jesus is totally understandable. Like the milk in our fridge that expires or socks that wear out, we also treat our forgiveness like it’s something that can expire or run out. But, Jesus says our lives are to be lives of love and unlimited forgiveness. On our own, we cannot do this. But, Christ, through His Word and Sacraments, gives the forgiveness His won to us and, through these things, leads us to forgive others. May He grant that this day we receive the Sacrament for the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our faith, and the increase and sustaining of our love for each other.

Healed in Soul and Body

Text: Matthew 9:1-8

Lord, Thee I love with all my heart; I pray Thee, ne’er from me depart, with tender mercy cheer me. Earth has no pleasure I would share. Yea, heav’n itself were void and bare if Thou, Lord, wert not near me. And should my heart for sorrow break, my trust in Thee can nothing shake. Thou art the portion I have sought; Thy precious blood my soul has bought. Lord Jesus Christ, my God and Lord…forsake me not! I trust Thy Word.[1]

The words of our hymn were written around 1567 by the pastor Martin Schalling. Martin served many years as a pastor and was removed not once – but three times – from his office for refusing to compromise his Lutheran beliefs. Through it all, he trusted in the Lord’s mercy and grace. The same could also have been sung by the paralyzed man and his friends in the Gospel text.

When they heard that Jesus was in the area preaching, teaching, and healing, some men brought their paralyzed friend to also be healed by Jesus. Recognizing faith in their and the man’s hearts, Jesus declared to the man, “Your sins are forgiven.”[2] Then, as a demonstration of His great love, and His authority to forgive sins, Jesus healed the man. The man picked up his mat and went home, leaving the crowds to glorify God.

We see in this text Jesus’ great love and compassion, and His great desire to heal. The order Jesus did things in the text can also teach us something. First, He diagnosed and healed the man’s greater affliction: his sin. Then, Jesus also healed his body. He does the same for us. Jesus heals our souls of sin now through the Gospel, and in the resurrection, our bodies, too.

I.

Our text from Matthew 9 continues in a string of teaching and miracles from our Lord. Just before our text, Jesus crossed over to the east side of the Sea of Galilee. That was when He calmed the storm. While He was on the other side, He cast the demons out of two men. The demons went into a herd of pigs and drowned them. All the people of that city came out and begged Jesus to leave them. So, He did. He crossed back over to the west side, to His home base in the town of Capernaum. Jesus did many miracles there: healing Peter’s mother-in-law, raising a girl from the dead, and just generally healing many people. Thus, in our text there was a great crowd around Jesus. This was a standing-room only situation.

As Jesus was teaching, some brought to Him a man who was paralyzed. St. Mark and St. Luke tell us that, because the house was so crowded, and they couldn’t otherwise get to Jesus, they actually cut a hole in the roof of the house and lowered the man down. St. Matthew writes, “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, My son; your sins are forgiven.’”[3] What an odd thing to say. And yet, maybe not. The men approached Jesus in faith, seeking healing. Jesus the Great Physician diagnosed and healed the man’s greater illness: his sin. As great as the man’s physical affliction was, his paralysis had an expiration date. When he died, he wouldn’t be paralyzed anymore. In the Resurrection, the full use of his body would return. There’s one thing that could de-rail that though, sin and its fruit.

See, we’re more than just our bodies. As Christians, we recognize from Scripture that all we see is not all that exists. You might have this memorized, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”[4] We believe that when God formed each of us in the womb, He gave us not just our body, but our soul as well. Which of these two lasts longer? Well, our soul, of course. And, just like our bodies, our souls are prone to sickness, too. The illness of our soul is sin. When we die, the sickness in our body dies; not with our soul. Sin, which separates from God, unless it is forgiven, clings to our soul forever. And, those whose sins are not forgiven or those who reject that forgiveness, have their sins bound to their souls forever in hell. Therefore, Jesus first healed the man’s greater illness, his sin.

II.

St. Matthew at this point writes, “Some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’”[5] St. Mark tells us that, in this standing-room only situation, the scribes were sitting. This marks about the beginning of serious opposition to Jesus. Their charge was this: that Jesus was committing blasphemy by forgiving the man’s sins. Blasphemy is when you take the glory that belongs to God and ascribe it to anything else. Blasphemy in general is breaking one of the first three Commandments. So, they accused Jesus of blaspheming by forgiving sins, which only God can do. This line of thinking Jesus called evil.

St. Matthew continues, “Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’”[6] Jesus asked them why they were thinking evil. Then, He turned the tables and asked them question. Which is easier to do? To say he is forgiven, or to tell him to walk? Obviously, it’s saying your sins are forgiven. How can you really measure from the outside if someone’s sins are forgiven? When sins are forgiven there’s isn’t an external change in the person. But, if you say, “get up and walk,” and that doesn’t happen…that’s pretty quick proof of something. So, to demonstrate that He has the authority to forgive sins, Jesus told the man to get up, and he did. Jesus healed the man’s soul and his body.

Jesus did this because of His great love for the man and for us. We are all weighed-down and beset by sin. It clings to us, pressing in on us from every side. Were it not forgiven, it would drag us all down into the eternal pit of hell. So that that might not be the case, Jesus took on flesh to suffer and die for you. Through His Word and Sacraments, He offers healing, peace, and pardon to you. In Baptism, your sin was washed away, and you received the Holy Spirit. Through the preaching of the Word, the Holy Spirit strengthens you in the faith and daily declares to you that your sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ. In the Lord’s Supper, we partake of Christ’s very body and blood, which purifies and heals us from the inside. By these things, our souls are healed, and we receive passage into the eternal kingdom of heaven.

Every Sunday we confess our faith not just in the forgiveness of sins, but also in the life of the world to come. In the text Jesus healed the man’s soul and in the Word and Sacraments, He heals our souls. Jesus healed the man’s body and, in the Resurrection, will fully restore ours as well. Jesus’ great love doesn’t just cover our souls, but our bodies, too. Otherwise, God wouldn’t have given us bodies or continued to care for them throughout our earthly lives. Just as the man was healed in the text, we all will be healed in the Resurrection. When Christ returns, He will raise the bodies of you, me, and all believers. We will together be changed. Our bodies will no longer bear the effects of sin, but will be as God created them to be.

In our text, we see Jesus’ great love for all mankind demonstrated. When a paralyzed man was brought to Him seeking healing, Jesus recognized His greatest need – the forgiveness of sins. Jesus forgave the man, healing His soul. Then, Jesus also healed the man’s body. Through the Word and Sacraments, Jesus has healed and continues to heal our souls of sin. And, in the Resurrection, He will fully heal our bodies, too.


[1] “Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart,” stanza 1.

[2] Mt. 9:2, English Standard Version.

[3] Mt. 9:2.

[4] Heb. 11:1.

[5] Mt. 9:3.

[6] Mt. 9:4-6.

The Law, and How to Keep It

Text: Matthew 22:34-46

Our Lutheran Book of Concord says this near the end,

The distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a particularly brilliant light. It serves the purpose of…properly explaining and understanding the Scriptures…We must guard this distinction with special care, so that these two doctrines may not be mixed with each other…When that happens, Christ’s merit is hidden and troubled consciences are robbed of comfort, which they otherwise have in the Holy Gospel when it is preached genuinely and purely.[1]

Today we have another text in which the distinction between the Law and the Gospel brought up and taught to us by our Lord. When questioned by the Pharisees about the Law, Jesus explained the holy and righteous will of God, the actions that all the Commandments are pointed towards: love of God and love of neighbor. As Jesus said, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”[2] Our Lord went on to explain the Gospel: that He is both the promised Son of David and David’s Lord, his Redeemer.

The thing about the Law and the Gospel is that you can’t have one without the other. These two teachings must remain and be preached in the Church until Christ returns. If you take away the Law, the Gospel gets turned into a new Law. If you take away the Gospel, then you doom people to eternal condemnation. Therefore, our Lord rightly teaches both the Law and the Gospel in this text. Today we confess that in the Law we are taught God’s holy and righteous will and in the Gospel, we are taught what Christ has done for us.

I.

The text this week takes place during Holy Week, around the Tuesday. Sunday was the Triumphal Entry, and much of the first part of the week Jesus spent teaching in the temple. While He was teaching, the challengers just kept coming. First, it was the chief priests with the elders, then the Pharisees. Then came the Sadducees – who don’t believe in the Resurrection. Then came the Pharisees, again, in our text. Their plan? Get Jesus to trip up and incriminate Himself. So, the text begins, “When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?‘”[3]

This was an on-going discussion for the Pharisees. They and their scribes and the rabbis would argue back and forth about which is the greatest commandment. If Jesus said something different than the others generally responded, then they got Him. Jesus won’t be caught in their game. He cuts through the muck and goes right to the heart, as only the author of the Law could. He cites from Deuteronomy 6, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”[4] As Jesus said, this is the first Commandment. We are to fear, love and trust in God above all things. But, a second goes with it – again from the Old Testament – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[5]

These two commandments are the sum of the whole Law. In fact, all Scripture is directed to this end: that we love God and love each other. Sounds pretty simple. But, remember, Jesus is preaching the Law here. He’s speaking to the Pharisees, of whom we’ve had examples over the last number of Sundays: The Pharisee and the Tax Collector or the parable about humility from last week. The Pharisees were known and loved for their outward piety. But in their hearts, they did not love their neighbors and, therefore, did not truly love God. And neither do we.

The great commandment is that we love God with all that we have and are, but do we? To use an illustration from Luther, we would rather have a gold coin in our pocket that we could use to feed our appetites than hear the whole and pure Gospel read. God’s holy and righteous will is that we love our neighbor as ourselves, yet so often – for all we care – our neighbor can take a hike. Like the priest and Levite, we pass by while the Samaritan suffers. Even if we don’t pass by physically, we hold both contempt and apathy in our hearts.

II.

The will of God is given to us in the Law: we are to love Him above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. This is good, right, and true. Jesus says, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” And, I think that’s devastating. Because, the whole of Scripture directs us to those two things, and condemns for our failure to do them. This is what the Law does: it shows us what we are to do, and it condemns us when we don’t. Therefore, the Law must not be preached alone. But, after the Law, the Gospel. This is what Jesus does. He has just taught the right understanding of the Law, which is both good and hard for us to hear. In it we hear what we are supposed to do, but that which we fail to do. What we need now is the Gospel.

Jesus preaches the Gospel here in an odd way, by talking about King David. King David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, sang Psalm 110, which says, “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool.’[6] We know from elsewhere in Scripture that the Messiah would come from the David’s bloodline. This is shown in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke. But, here David – and Jesus by citing it – says that not only would the Messiah be his descendent but also his Lord. And, by “Lord,” he also means “Redeemer.” To redeem someone, in the Scriptural understanding, is to buy someone back from something else. In David’s case and ours, Jesus is our Redeemer and Lord, for He has bought us back from sin, death, and the devil.

“Not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” Jesus is David’s son and Lord, and ours, by purchasing us out of death by His own suffering and death in our place. But, before He died for us, He kept God’s Law for us. First, He did truly fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Second, He perfectly loved the whole world by dying for the whole world on the cross. By these things Jesus both fulfilled God’s Law in our place, and secured for us the forgiveness of our sins. This is the distinction between the Law and the Gospel: the Law shows us God’s will for us and condemns transgressions against it, the Gospel shows what us Jesus did for us and gives to us.

But, if we cannot do the Law or obtain merit before God by our works, why is the Law still preached? Well, because the Commandments remain holy and righteous and good. They are God’s will for us as Christians. Besides, it is good to not steal or kill or commit adultery. Sometimes we need the reminder. When Jesus was questioned about the Law, He didn’t say we should put it on the shelf and talk about something us. Rather, He taught the Law and then the Gospel. The Gospel is different from the Law in another way, too. The Law doesn’t actually give us the ability to keep it, but the Gospel does. The Gospel doesn’t just tell us we are forgiven, but through being preached it actually does it. The Gospel is the instrument through which the Spirit creates and sustains faith, and through which we are equipped and led to do God’s will, the Commandments.

We won’t keep them perfectly, since we are in the flesh. Now that Christ has atoned for our sins, God our Father no longer looks down at our failures as an angry judge, but, to use Luther again, God looks at us through His fingers. He sees only the righteousness of His own dear Son. For our part, as God’s dear children, we seek to do the will of our Father. The Lutheran Confessions say that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a brilliant light and the way to rightly understand Scripture. In our text, Jesus teaches both the Law and the Gospel. In the Law, He shows that God’s holy will is that we love both Him and our neighbor. In the Gospel, Jesus showed that He is both David’s Son and Lord, who has redeemed us all by His perfect life and death.


 

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 552.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Mt 22:40.

[3] Matt. 22:34-36.

[4] Matt. 22:37.

[5] Matt. 22:39.

[6] Ps. 110:1.