Who is a God Like You?

Text: Micah 7:18-20

Who is a God like you,” the prophet Micah asks, “pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression…[for] You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”[1] These beautiful words were spoken through the prophet Micah some 700 years before our Lord took on flesh. In his ministry he prophesied that Jerusalem and the surrounding country would fall as punishment for their sins. But, then he also preached these wonderful words – and more like them. The Lord will not retain His anger forever or always punish, for He delights in showing mercy and steadfast love. In His great compassion, He will take all His peoples’ sins and cast them into the depths of the sea. This, He would do by the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.

I love this imagery – something being cast into the depths of the sea – because, even though I haven’t done that, I have dropped things to the bottom of lakes. Maybe you have, too. The idea is that, once it sinks, it’s gone. Of course, you can hire a diver and such – but for most things, we wouldn’t bother. Once something sinks to the bottom of a lake, it’s gone. Such has happened to our sins through Christ. Though we deserve, for our sins, to be cast ourselves into the depths of hell, the Lord has shown His steadfast love to us by casting our sins into the depths of the sea in Christ.

I.

Micah is a prophet we don’t hear too much from over the course of the Church Year. We have this text today, and then we’ll hear from him once again toward the end of the year. Micah prophesied around the same general time as Isaiah, some 700 years before the birth of Christ. Other than that, we don’t know too much about him. What we do know about him is that he preached both Law and Gospel. Like Isaiah and like Jeremiah – who, a hundred years later, cited Micah’s sermons – much of Micah’s preaching is devoted to the Fall and Restoration of Jerusalem.

After the Exodus, God led His people for generations through Moses and Aaron, and then Joshua and Caleb. There were some rough spots during these times, but generally they were okay. Then, for centuries God led His people through the Judges. These were times of feast and famine. The people would abandon God, and He would allow them to be conquered. Then they’d pray, and He’d rescue them. But after a while, Israel asked for a king – and God knew that this would lead them down the wrong path. Still, He granted their wish. With few exceptions, as each king rose and fell, Israel grew farther and farther away from the Lord. They embraced sinful lifestyles.

Micah preached the Law to God’s people. It’s hard to hear his preaching and remember that Israel had further still to fall before its destruction. You don’t have to go far into the prophet to hear the chief source of Israel’s sin: idolatry. They had learned idol worship from the surrounding nations and embraced it. And, like we’ve learned before, transgressions against any Commandment are ultimately transgressions against the First. It’s also true that if you have the First Commandment wrong, the rest will follow. And so, they did in Israel. During Micah’s time, the people of God were promiscuous, covetous; they worked injustice toward each other, and, as a whole, had a general disregard for the Lord and His Word. Because of these things, Jerusalem would – and did – Fall.

But Micah is not a prophet of doom; he also preached the Gospel, as in our text today. The Law Micah preached was that, for their sins, Jerusalem would fall. The Gospel was that the Lord would return them from exile. He wouldn’t be angry at them forever. But, then it goes further. We heard these words, “Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of His inheritance? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love.” That’s the returning part. Then it goes further, “He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”[2] Not only would the Lord not retain His anger against His people, but He return them from exile, He would also make their sins plain disappear – like treading them underfoot and casting them into the sea.

II.

The thing is, we shouldn’t hear the preaching of the Law to God’s people in the Old Testament as if it’s something alien from us or has nothing to do with us. The same things which happened among Israel and led to the Fall, are present and continue in our lives. We do the same things. Maybe we think we’re better than they were because we can more easily sin in secret. Let’s examine ourselves for a moment and see where things really stand. A few minutes ago, I mentioned the sins that were prevalent among the people of Jerusalem; let’s compare ourselves.

The people of Jerusalem committed idolatry. They built idols and worshipped them. In our lives, what do we value above all other things? What do we spend our money doing, improving, and protecting? Be honest, if the answer isn’t Jesus and the forgiveness of sins, we’re committing idolatry and we are idolaters. Have we been as faithful to our spouses and as supportive of God’s institution of marriage as we could be? If not, we’ve broken the Sixth Commandment. Have we returned to the Lord in our offerings as regularly and as much as we should? If not, we have been covetous of the money and possessions that really belong to the Lord. That’s Commandments 7, 8, 9, 10, and 1. The same things which God’s people did then, the same sins they committed, we also do. That’s the second function of the Law. The Law first says what we should and shouldn’t do, then it shows that we still do them. We are sinners.

The wonderful thing, though, is that it’s not just the Law that Micah preached that also applies to us, but the Gospel, too. “Who is a God like You,” Micah asked, “pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression.”[3] Though we deserve God’s anger and wrath, because we have transgressed against God’s Commandments, He has made His anger pass from us. Rather than demand our deaths for our sins, the Father placed His anger, wrath, and the punishment we deserve on His only-begotten Son. Jesus bore our sins and the sins of the whole world most willingly, because He knew that His death and His resurrection would bring this result, “our sins [are cast] into the depths of the sea.”[4]

In Christ’s death, all our sins were cast as into the deepest, darkest, and furthest depths of the ocean. There is no sin that He did not die for, no transgression for which He did not atone. By nature of His being God, His death covers all sin, even our own. By His grace, through faith in Him, we are spotless in God’s eyes. Through Christ, God looks down upon us with only His Fatherly, divine, goodness and mercy. He does not wait and watch to use our sins against us, but He delights to show His steadfast love toward us. He has removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west.

In this, God has made good on His promises. He has shown His faithfulness to Jacob and His love to Abraham. In Christ, God has tread our sins and Satan underfoot, just like He promised in Genesis 3. In this the love of God has been shown to us: He has taken our sins and thrown them into the depths of the sea. Instead of anger, He shows us only compassion and steadfast love. And, just like when we drop something in the lake, once it’s gone, it’s gone. So, also, our sin and guilt. Thanks be to God.


[1] Micah 7:18-20, English Standard Version.

[2] Micah 7:18-19.

[3] Micah 7:18.

[4] Micah 7:19.

To This You’ve Been Called

Text: 1 Peter 2:21-25

For about six years a wildly popular show ran on the BBC over in England, and it was also broadcast over here for American audiences on PBS. The show was called Downton Abbey. Even though it had the word “abbey,” in the title, it had nothing to do with nuns. It did have everything to do with Lord Richard Crawley, the earl of Grantham, his family, and the servants who work for them. The show spans a decade or so, beginning just before the first world war. It follows the family as they administrate and care for the county, as well as the servants who care for them.

On the show, the servants have their own lives apart from their work and the twenty-or-so of them generally get along well, and their work goes smoothly. They generally get along, except for two: a man named Thomas and a woman named Miss O’Brien. These two both dislike everyone, and they bond over their common disdain for others. That is, until Miss O’Brien’s nephew comes to work at the house. Thomas, at the time, had been working in a midlevel position for a decade and, when the next rung on the ladder opened, proceeded to vie for that position. However, Miss O’Brien had another idea. As a personal favor, she asked if Thomas would help her nephew – brand new to the business – get the same one position that he had been working a decade to get. He refused, she took offense, and the two them spend the rest of the series trying to get each other fired.

Was she justified in her actions? She felt she had been wronged and sought to get even. Thomas, for his part, felt he had been wronged and tried to get even with her; was he wrong? According to the world, no. According the Apostle of our Lord in the text: they were both wrong. It is not within our place to seek revenge or the right the wrongs that have been done to us. Instead, Christ left us His example, St. Peter said, that we might follow in His footsteps. He did not curse or revile in return for the wrongs done to Him, but instead bore all our sins in His body on the tree. By His wounds, He has healed us of ours. He has brought us wandering sheep back into the fold. In this life to which we’ve been called, there is no place for revenge, only patience and forgiveness.

I.

In our text today, St. Peter discusses a topic that is on or has crossed every human heart: revenge. We have all, at one point or another, desired to get back at those who’ve done us wrong. St. Peter’s original audience was the scattering of Christians throughout the area we’d call northern Turkey. A great thing about Christianity is that the Gospel has nothing to do with personal wealth; Jesus died for the sins of rich and poor, alike. That said, many of St. Peter’s hearers were household or civil servants. They worked low paying jobs and they did them well; yet they were treated poorly. They were commonly mistreated because being a Christian at the time was a scandalous thing. In a time where many “gods” were worshiped, family life was frowned upon, and where human sexuality knew no bounds, the Christians worshiped one God, they cared for their families, and Christian husbands and wives remained faithful to each other alone.

Their beliefs led to the Christians in St. Peter’s society being marginalized. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that. However, some of the Christians had had enough of being mistreated. They were going to get back. They were going to take their revenge on those who had done them wrong. St. Peter starts addressing them just before our text. He said, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.”[1] Then, he said, that some of them were being treated harshly because, well, they deserved it. But, after that, he said to those who were genuinely being mistreated for the sake of their faith, “if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps.”[2]

Rather than directing those who had been wronged – whether justly or not – to take revenge, St. Peter directed them to Christ. Now, we may not have received the same treatment as these early Christians (though that time may return) but the principle stands: we are not to seek vengeance on those who’ve done us wrong. But, oh, how we’ve wanted to. I would wager in this matter that we are all guilty. Who hasn’t decided at one point that you are tired of how that other person has treated you, and wondered how you’ll get back? Maybe you’ll have a fight on the playground. Maybe you’ll spread a lie about them. Maybe you’ll give them the cold shoulder. Maybe you’ll be just unkind enough toward them that they’ll know you’re angry – that’s popular in North Dakota. In all these ways, we have sinned. Our place is not to take revenge, or to hold grudges. Our place is to follow in Christ’s footsteps, Peter said.

II.

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”[3] St. Peter has in mind the prophecies of Isaiah, of the Suffering Servant who would bear all human griefs and sorrows, who would be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, who – by His wounds – would heal us. These Gospel promises of God (which are in the Old Testament, even) are fulfilled in Christ.

While we were wandering like sheep, content to be lost in our own sinfulness, Christ took upon Himself our human flesh. He became our Good Shepherd. He was reviled, cursed, struck, spit upon, beat, whipped, flogged, killed. At no point did He return evil for evil. At no point did He hold a grudge. At no point did He seek revenge or to get back but, He continually entrusted Himself to the Just Judge – our Father in heaven above. He did and suffered all these things to bring us wandering sheep back into the fold. Though we were prone to wander in sin, including desiring to and, sometimes, indeed getting back at others, Jesus paid for our sins with His own body. He has brought us back into God’s fold by His own blood.

III.

St. Peter said, “If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps.”[4] These words are meant primarily, to comfort us when we suffer unjustly for the sake of Christ. Those times may return when faithful Christians are not just marginalized, but truly mistreated for no other reason than for our trust in Christ’s Word. Peter would also remind us of our Lord’s Word, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”[5]

But these words today also stand for us in this way – just as Christ did not seek vengeance on those who wronged Him, but bore it all while trusting in God, so also are we called. A student is not above his master, nor a servant his Lord. Neither is it within our place to do wrong to those who’ve wronged us. We have sinned in this way, yet, we are reminded by St. Peter, that even those sins were borne by Christ on the cross. Though we were prone to wander, and have wandered in sin, Christ has secured for us forgiveness by His cross.

This past Lent we went through the Lord’s Prayer again. We read these words, the meaning of the Fifth Petition,

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

May the Lord grant by His Holy Spirit that we remember these words, endure our suffering with patience, and do good to those who’ve done us wrong.


[1] 1 Peter 2:18-19, English Standard Version.

[2] 1 Pet. 2:20-21.

[3] 1 Pet. 2:22-24.

[4] 1 Pet. 2:20-21.

[5] Mt. 5:11-12.

Forgive and Lead Us

Text: Fifth and Sixth Petitions

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

I.

            Let us speak the Fifth Petition and its meaning together.

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

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

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

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

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

II.

            Let us speak the Sixth Petition and meaning together.

And lead us not into temptation.

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

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

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

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

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


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

[2] Col. 3:13.

[3] 1 Cor. 10:13.

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.

“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.”