Blessed Be the Holy Trinity

Text: Creed

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways…from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.”[1] St. Paul wrote this to the Romans after considering the mystery of salvation. God the Father sent forth His only-begotten Son into the flesh to suffer and die for the sins of the world. By this work, He accomplished salvation for His people. Those who are saved, He foreknew and elected to salvation by granting them the gift of faith – which itself is worked in human hearts through the Holy Spirit. This great grace and love of God is hard for us humans to understand, so St. Paul simply ends with a doxology – a hymn of praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Today we celebrate the Festival of the Holy Trinity. This is a Sunday set aside for centuries to give praise to our glorious and awesome God by speaking specifically about this wonderful doctrine. The Christian faith is wrapped up into this doctrine: we worship one God who exists eternally in three persons. None is before or after another, none is greater or lesser than the other. Yet, there are not three Gods, but one God. Though human reason cannot understand, yet faith confesses that God has revealed Himself to us as a Trinity. Our salvation rests in Him alone.

I.

In our time together today, we want to confess both what we believe about the Trinity and why this doctrine is important. We’re going to do it backwards, though, and start with why faith in the Trinity is important. We’ve been spending a lot of time in the Easter season and Pentecost hearing from Jesus’ final words before His passion. Shortly before He was betrayed, in St. John’s Gospel there’s what is called the “High Priestly Prayer.” Right at the start of the prayer, our Lord prayed this, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You, since You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”[2] Jesus breaks down for us what eternal life is. In addition to rescue from sin and death and living in eternal joy, eternal life is to know God and to be in fellowship with Him. To be in communion with God is to receive eternal life. Apart from knowledge of God, there is no life.

Therefore, God revealed Himself to mankind. He revealed Himself generally through nature and the conscience. But, so that man might know Him fully and thus receive salvation, God revealed Himself through the Scriptures. Through the Scriptures He has revealed Himself to be a plurality of persons, yet unity of substance. Trinity is the word we use to describe this. Trinity means, “three-in-one.” The Trinity is revealed to us throughout Scripture, but there are two passages which you probably already know. The first, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”[3] The second is from St. Paul, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”[4] Our Lord tells us to Baptize in the name of the Triune God, yet is also clear to confess that He and the Father are one God. You might’ve noticed last week in the Tower of Babel, how the one God spoke in the plural, as He also did at Creation.

II.

The first question to answer today is why we believe in the Trinity, and why are compelled to confess our faith. The answer to that is because to know God is to know eternal life. To not know Him is death. So that we might have life, the Lord revealed Himself to us in Scripture as one God in three persons. Scripture teaches us that we are saved by faith. But, faith saves not because it is a good work which merits righteousness. Faith saves because of its object. We are saved not because we have faith, but because of what our faith is in – namely, in God the Father who sent His Son and, who by the Holy Spirit has called us to faith.

Since we’re doing this backwards, the next question is what do we believe? We believe, as we’ve already said, “the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance…the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there are not three God, but one God.”[5] This is the Christian faith. We believe in one eternal God, who exists in three persons. All three are God, all three are Lord. None are before or after another, none is lesser or greater than another. They differ in relation to each other in that the Father begat the Son, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. They differ in their work in that the Father primarily is the Creator, the Son the Redeemer, and the Spirit the Sanctifier. Yet, they are all active in each work as one God. You’re probably thinking that this is impossible for us to understand, and you’re right. Human reason cannot understand the Trinity. It can only and must be believed.

We believe in one God, three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. None are more God than the other, and none are less. There are some common misunderstandings when it comes to the Trinity. The first is what non-Christians sometimes charge us with, namely, that we are really polytheists – that we worship three gods. That is not true. We hold to the Scripture which says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”[6]

On the other side are misunderstandings that were created within the Church, which the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds were written against. In order to preserve the oneness of God, some taught that the Son was, indeed, God – but was created by the Father. They said that there was a time when the Son did not exist. Others, taught that the three persons of the Trinity were just different masks that the one God put on. In other words, you could not have all persons of the Trinity in the same place at the same time. And still, others, which are today known as Unitarians, taught that the one God acts in three different ways, sometimes as the Father, sometimes as the Son, and sometimes as the Spirit.

Against these teachings we believe the Scripture, such as at our Lord’s Baptism. Our Lord was in the water, the Father spoke from heaven, and the Spirit descended in the form of a dove. We believe the words of our Lord, who taught us to baptize in the one name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And, we receive the words of angelic praise, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.”[7] We worship the God of our salvation, who has and always will exist in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

III.

As we’re nearing the close of this sermon, since we’ve answered why we should confess the Trinity and what we believe, we might ask, also, what comfort this doctrine brings. I would venture that the comfort that this doctrine brings is this: we have divinely transcendent God who far above all creation, whose ways are unsearchable, unknowable, and inscrutable – but who yet is also near and ever present in our lives and at work for our salvation. God the Father is the author and source of all life, He created all things and knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. He provides for us our daily bread and protects us from all evil. He sent forth His Son.

The second person of the Trinity became man. He did not change from God to man but brought humanity up into Himself. He suffered and died for the sins of the world. By His ascension, He is preparing our own ascension to His side and He continues to dwell among us by His Word and Sacrament. From Him and the Father, the Spirit proceeds. The Spirit works through the Word of the Son to call all people to faith. He creates faith in the hearts of those who hear the Word and works through the Sacraments to sustain them. The Spirit dwells even within our hearts and intercedes for us with the Son to the Father. He comforts us in our weaknesses and helps us to pray.

The doctrine of the Trinity is not something we’ll understand this side of eternity, but it is true, and our salvation depends on it. Jesus said eternal life is knowing God and knowing Him as He has been revealed by the Son through the Holy Spirit. We who have received that life, therefore, give all glory to the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us.”


 

[1] Romans 11:33, 36, English Standard Version.

[2] Jn. 17:1-3.

[3] Mt. 28:19.

[4] 2 Cor. 13:14.

[5] Athanasian Creed, 3-4; 15-16.

[6] Deut. 6:4.

[7] Is. 6:3.

Septuagesima, “The Wages of Grace”

*Septuagesima marks the beginning of the season called Pre-Lent in our lectionary. The word means, “seventieth,” and stands for the seventieth day before Easter. It is three Sundays away from Ash Wednesday.


 

Text: Matthew 20:1-16

Life isn’t fair. Life isn’t fair. Either you’ve said this yourself, or you’ve heard it spoken by someone around you. I must confess that those words crossed my lips many times when I was a child. I wish I could say that I only uttered them when a real injustice was committed against me. But really, I was just upset at one thing or another. What I actually meant by, “Life isn’t fair,” was more like, “Why don’t things work they way I want them to?” You might’ve thought this way from time to time. This sort of feeling was common in the Bible, too – if I can speak a little candidly about King David and our other fathers in the faith. Though, for David, Elijah, Jeremiah, Solomon, and others, the question was more often phrased in terms of, “Why do other people prosper and I fare so poorly?”

However, as I look back on these long 26 years of my life, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s probably for the best that I don’t always get what I want. But, just as I don’t always get what I want, neither – by the grace of God – do I always get what I deserve. Actually, it is far more often that I don’t get what I do deserve. Meaning: When we confess in the liturgy that we have offended our heavenly Father with all our sins and iniquities, we also confess that, because of those sins and iniquities, we justly deserve God’s wrath in both the eternal sense (hell) and the temporal sense (afflictions, diseases, and death). By the grace of God alone, we are spared the majority of the terrible things that we deserve as the consequences of our sins. And by the grace of God alone, we are also invited into His heavenly kingdom. Jesus illustrates this for us in the parable of the vineyard. In it Jesus shows us that there is only one way to heaven, grace alone, and this grace is given equally to all sinners. As Jesus said, many who are last will be first.

Our text today is part of a larger chunk of teaching. After the Transfiguration, Jesus’ teaching was amped up a little bit; things got more serious as He drew nearer to the cross. Just before our text, Jesus was teaching His disciples and the crowds about getting into the kingdom of heaven. The conversation went like this. A rich young man came up to Jesus and asked Him, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus, being the model preacher and knowing when to give either the Law or the Gospel, gave the man the Law. He knew the Commandments. If the man desired to enter eternal life by works, he must keep all of the Commandments perfectly. The man insisted that this was already the case. However, it was not. When Jesus instructed him to sell all his possessions and follow, he went away sorrowful. He was not rightly honoring the First Commandment. He did not fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

This caused no small ripple among the disciples, for if a rich person could only scarcely enter the kingdom of heaven, how could anyone be saved? The rich were looked to as the ones most able to do good works. They didn’t have to labor in the hot sun all day, and then worry about doing good works after. Instead, they could just do the greatest work of all and give away money. Surely the wealthy were on the short list to heaven. Not so. St. Paul clearly writes, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” The way into heaven is not by works, but only by the grace of God. That is why Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of heaven belongs even to little children. Everything a child has he receives as a gift. So also is the kingdom of heaven. In this way, many who are last are made first.

Since this parable is the second longest that we have recorded for us. I’ll let it stand as read before; I’ll just remind you how it goes. Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who goes out to hire workers for his vineyard. The first bunch are called early in the morning, and it is agreed that they will work for a day’s wages. A few hours later the owner goes out again and he finds workers standing around in the marketplace. He hires them to work, offering to pay them what is right. A few hours later he does the same, and again even later. Then, finally, when there is only one hour left in the workday, he goes out and hires a last round of workers.

Jesus uses this parable to teach us about the kingdom of heaven. God is the master of the household and the vineyard is His kingdom. We are the workers. We see that life in Kingdom, life in Christ’s Church, is like being called to work in a vineyard. Throughout the Scriptures we are exhorted to serve to the Lord. Psalm 100, for example, teaches us, “Serve the Lord with gladness!” Like the master in the parable, the Lord, in His gracious wisdom, sees fit to call workers at many times throughout the day. The morning is probably the most expected time, but the master is gracious. He goes out many times during the day, calling to himself many who would not have been hired otherwise. We, likewise, have all been called to serve. That call has come to us at different times. Some of us received at Baptism while we were children. Some of us may have received it as adults or in other times of our lives. The Holy Spirit works through the Means of Grace in many times and ways to call laborers into the vineyard.

  1.  

Eventually, the end of the workday does come. The owner of the vineyard calls his foreman and says, “Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.” Then, beginning with those who started in the last hour and finishing with those who started first, each received the same wages, a denarius. After the laborers who started first received their payment, they began to grumble. They figured that if those people who only worked an hour received so much, they should definitely receive more than that. That’s understandable. It’s fair, even. But, remember what I said before: life isn’t fair. Or, perhaps a better way to frame it today is: God’s fairness is not the same as our fairness.

That is to say, Jesus uses this parable to show us that with God things are reversed. In our world you work to get paid; in the kingdom of God, payment is given apart from works. In our world, your own hard work merits you a reward; in the kingdom of God, Christ’s hard work earns you the reward. In our our world, you work longer and you get paid more; but, in the kingdom of God, all are paid the same. In our world also, we all earn the same wage. The Scriptures say that the wage that we all earn is death. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, regardless of who we are, where we’re from, or what we’ve done. And, if life were fair, we would all die in our sins and trespasses, having justly deserved the earthly and eternal wrath of God.

But, life isn’t fair. Instead of getting the punishment we do deserve, we get the wage that Christ worked for. When someone gets that we’ve worked for, we get upset and grumble like the workers in the vineyard. But Jesus, He is happy when people get what He worked for, because otherwise they wouldn’t get it at all. What I mean is, in the kingdom of God everything is a gift. We are neither worthy of the things that we have, nor have we deserved them. Instead, God gives us all things freely in Christ Jesus. He blesses us with food and drink, house and home, clothing and shoes. He gives us all that we need to support this body and life. And, above and beyond that, He gives us the most precious gift in all creation: the forgiveness of sins and eternal life with Him. And that, He gives to us not because we’ve worked for it or earned it, but because of the sacrifice of His only begotten Son on the cross.

When I was child, I used to complain that, “Life isn’t fair,” often. Mostly, it was just because things weren’t going my way. But, today I realize that might be for the better. In Christ, things don’t go our way; They go His way: grace. Through the sacrifice of Christ, we don’t get what we deserve (the punishment of our trespasses) and we do get what we don’t deserve (forgiveness). Having been forgiven our sins, we are called to be workers in God’s vineyard, sharing the grace and love of Christ with the world around us. And, whether we’ve been in the vineyard a long time, and worked many long hours, or whether our work is still mostly ahead of us, we all receive the same gift. As it says, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Therefore, in Christ, life isn’t fair. Thanks be to God.

 

The Righteousness of God: Sola Fide

Text: Romans 3:19-28

This year we mark the 498th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. To celebrate, we’ve been looking at three pillars of the Reformation, the truths that the Holy Spirit worked to preserve among us: Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone. God’s Word comes to us in the Scripture alone, it is the only place where we hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. We hear through it that we justified through faith alone, which we receive through God’s grace alone. Last week we spent some time looking at the Scripture Alone part; this week we will look at the idea of Faith Alone. It is only through faith that we are counted righteous in God’s eyes. We are justified by faith alone, without any merit or work on our part.

There was a period of time while I was back in seminary where I thought that record collecting was a cool thing. I would take weekly trips down to Neat Neat Neat Records to peruse the bins until I found something I had to have. Then I would take it back to my dorm room and fire it up. Almost always, everything would work just fine. But, was I ever filled with fury when a record skipped. That thing that I most hated about records, I also love about Lutheranism. Lutheranism is like a broken record. No matter what we’re talking about, no matter where we are, we always return to the fact that we are saved by God’s grace through faith. We preach Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins. That is what the Bible is all about, and so it’s what we’re all about. This week as we look at the Faith Alone pillar of the Reformation we confess with St. Paul that the righteousness of God comes to us through faith in Jesus, and by this faith we are justified, that is, forgiven our sins.

I.

As Lutherans, that is our bread and butter. We eat, sleep, and breath justification by faith alone. We all have those verses in our text from Romans and from Ephesians 2 in our brains, and rightly so, but this was not always the case in God’s Church. I’m going to read you a little bit of a lengthy quote from Martin Luther, but I want you to pay close attention because it is very telling of the Church at the time:

I hated that word “righteousness of God,” which…I had been taught to understand philosophically…God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly…I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. [1]

What Luther was confessing here is that during his time, the Church had lost faith in the words of Holy Scripture – that man is saved by faith alone. Instead, it taught that our works contribute to our salvation. It held that, since God is righteous, we must also be righteous. How do we become righteous? Not by faith, but by following God’s Commandments. As if the keeping the commandments wasn’t hard enough, God then punishes with eternal damnation those who fail to keep them. So much for a righteous God, thought Luther. God is not love, God is not mercy. According to Luther at the time, God was an unjust tyrant.

The Church was mired in a misunderstanding and a misapplication of the Mosaic Law (The Ten Commandments). They taught that the chief work of the Law was to justify sinners. Here what St. Paul says in our text, “we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”[2] The role of God’s Law in the Commandments is not to justify, but to condemn. The Law stops mouths. It cuts through our lies, our false pretenses, our attempts to justify ourselves; it shows us for what we really are: sinners. It shows that, according to God’s standard of righteousness, we aren’t.

St. Paul continues, “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”[3] The role of the Law, the right understanding and application of it, is to show us our sin. True, it is God’s will for our lives, and after repentance and as a result of faith, we do try to keep it. But that’s the key – without faith, the Law only kills. Jesus said that those who live by the sword die by the sword. In another context: those who attempt to justify themselves through the Law will die by it. As Paul said, through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. No human being will be justified in God’s eyes through its works. And at that thought, Luther crumbled. “If there ever was a person who could be saved through monkery,” he said, “I was that monk.” But, alas…

II.

With Luther we come to these words in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”[4] What a brilliant statement! Such profound gospel! The righteousness of God is not something that He alone has and then demands of us. The righteousness of God is something He has, and He gives it to you. The righteousness of God comes apart from the works of the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it. This means that the entire Old Testament testifies about the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ. Remember on the road to Emmaus, how after the resurrection Jesus went through the books of Moses and the Prophets to show how it was about Him? Or, remember how Abraham was credited as righteous, even over 400 years before the Ten Commandments were given? The text says, “Abram believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.”[5]

This is the chief article of the Reformation, the chief article of our faith. Luther, and those with him, really did face the possibility of death for their confession of faith, but they knew – as we do – that it’s all about Jesus. It’s all about Jesus because, as the text says, “there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[6] There is no distinction among us. We have all sinned. We are all sinners, and, because we are born this way, we lack the glory of God. Man no longer exists as God created him to be. Therefore, the Son of God took on human flesh. He became the new Man, the new Adam, to obey God’s will and fulfill the Law in our place. Apart from Him there is no salvation, be we who believe are, “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”[7]

Therefore, in this the 498th anniversary of the Reformation, let us hold fast our confession. From Luther’s own words:

Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification…

All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works or merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood…

Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls…

Upon this article everything that we teach and practice depends.[8]

We confess that we are all by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned in thought, word, and deed. We deserve nothing but God’s eternal wrath and punishment. But, He sent His Son Jesus to take on human flesh and die in our place for the forgiveness of sins. We are justified by God’s grace through faith alone. We receive faith through the preaching of the Word and the Sacraments, and faith becomes the channel through which we grasp the forgiveness of sins. We neither earn eternal life, nor do we deserve it. We made righteous before God only through the blood of the Lamb, who sets us free through alone.


[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 34: Career of the Reformer IV, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 34 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 336–337.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 3:19.

[3] Rom. 3:20.

[4] Rom. 3:21-22.

[5] Gen. 15:6.

[6] Rom. 3:22-23.

[7] Rom. 3:24-25.

[8] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 263.

Faith Comes By Hearing (Mission Festival Sermon)

Texts: Romans 10:11-17; Luke 24:44-53

Today we gather in celebration and thanksgiving to our Lord Jesus Christ for His gracious gifts to us, chiefly the forgiveness of sins, life, and eternal salvation that we have through faith in His name. These things He gives to us freely through the preaching of His Word and in His Holy Sacraments. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit works to give us the gift of faith. It is for the use and spread of these, called the Means of Grace, that the Lutheran Church, including our own church body – the Missouri Synod – and our own congregations exist.

St. Paul wrote to the Romans that faith comes from hearing, from hearing through the Word of Christ. Apart from the Word and work of Christ, there can be neither faith nor salvation. Because it is Christ’s desire that all be saved and come to the knowledge of truth, He equips and commissions His Church to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all of the world. This work He began through the ministry of the Prophets and Apostles. St. Peter wrote that the prophets prophesied about the grace to come, the forgiveness that we would receive through the suffering of Christ, not to benefit themselves but those who would come after them – us. In the Gospel text Jesus commissioned the Apostles to proclaim His Word, opening their minds to the Scriptures and their mouths to preach repentance and forgiveness in His name to all nations.

As those who have benefited from the ministry of the Prophets and Apostles, and through the many generations of faithful pastors and teachers who have shared the Word of God with us, we too now reach out as congregations for the benefit of those around us. We gather here to listen to God’s Word and be forgiven our sins, to receive the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through these things He equips His Church for a life of mission, a life of calling to repentance and faith in Jesus those in the community around us and around the world.

I.

St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “With the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”[1] St. Paul wrote in-step with the will God, who desires that all people be saved. In this section of the letter Paul is taking special care with his congregation in Rome by connecting them – Gentile Christians – to the children of Israel. Everyone knew, after all, that the children of Israel were God’s people.

Yes, Paul says, the Old Testament children of Israel are a special people. To them belong the adoption, the covenants, the Law, the Patriarchs…but, Paul writes, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’[2] Yes, they are a special people – but not because of their connection in the flesh, but their connection to the promise given to Abraham that through Isaac shall his offspring be named. This promise is not about prolonging the line of Abraham for its own sake, but about extending the line through which the Messiah would be born.

Therefore, Paul says, the children of Israel are a nation not because of their connection in the flesh, but because of their common faith in the Promise of Jesus. This is why the Church receives the name of the Children of Israel in the New Testament. Not all descendants of Abraham are children of Israel, and not all are children of Israel because they are descended from Abraham. Who then are the children of Israel? Those who confess Jesus with their mouth and believe in their hearts. The Scripture says, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”[3] There is no distinction among people in this regard, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. There is no one who is without sin. Every person, from the unborn child just conceived to those with a crown of grey hair, carries in themselves the guilt of sin. Christ Jesus gave Himself as a ransom for all. He died for the forgiveness of all people, which is to be received through faith.

II.

As Paul writes, faith comes by hearing. He writes to the Galatians that it is not those who do the works of the Law who are made righteous, but those who live by faith. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Now here’s the rub, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”[4] Paul wrote how people receive eternal salvation. It’s not because of who they are; It’s not because of works, no matter how loving; it is through faith in the grace of God – that rather than count our sins against us He offered up His only-begotten Son in our place, so that by faith we may be reckoned righteous in His eyes.

This faith comes from hearing, but how can people believe unless they hear? How can they hear without someone proclaiming? And how are people to proclaim unless they are sent? Jesus knows this. Therefore He sent out His Apostles in our Gospel text. It says, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.[5] Though before they did not understand, Jesus now opened their minds. He gave them the key to all Scripture – that He, the Christ, should suffer for the forgiveness of sins and rise from the dead. This message, Jesus says, is to be proclaimed to all nations. Through the message of Christ’s death and resurrection the Holy Spirit calls and brings people to faith.

Jesus sent out the Apostles to be pastors, to preach the Word of God and administer the Sacraments. Through preaching the Holy Spirit calls people to faith. Through the washing of Holy Baptism we are forgiven our sins and clothed with Christ’s righteousness; we are made the children of Israel. In the Lord’s Supper you receive the Body and Blood of Christ for the continual forgiveness of your sins and the strength to love and serve those around you. Jesus sent out the Apostles so that people would hear about Jesus and call upon Him in faith even as He continues today to send pastors to do the same for us.

III.

Jesus sends pastors to preach His Word in the congregation and administer the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but that does not exclude you from the work of Christ in the Church. That is what Paul is writing to the Romans. There are plain too many people in the world for pastors to be the only ones sharing God’s Word; therefore, we have banded together as congregations and as a church body. We have joined together to be a place where the Word of God can be taught among us purely and without fear, and where we can receive the sacraments with frequency. By these things Christ claims us as His own and leads us in triumphal procession. Through preaching and the Sacraments Jesus opens our minds and places His Word of forgiveness upon our lips.

He continues His work of mission among us in our daily vocations. God has placed us all in many positions in life. We are all children. Some of us are husbands or wives. Many of us have jobs or other activities that occupy us. We are equipped by Christ to share His Word in all of these different places. It could be as overt as speaking God’s Word directly, or sharing a cup of cool water. It could be by delivering meals, or, especially, inviting people to hear God’s Word and receive the forgiveness of sins here in church. Mission work is an ongoing work of Christ, who desires that all people be forgiven their sins through faith. This is a vocation to which we are all called, and we can no more forsake it than we can forsake being a Christian. To do so would be neither right nor safe.

The Scripture says that faith comes by hearing. It is not the one who lives by the works of the Law who is justified, but the one who believes that Jesus died for the forgiveness of their sins. For us to believe this, Jesus sent the Prophets, the Apostles, and pastors to preach His Word and administer His Sacraments. Through His Word and Sacraments, He opens our minds to share His Gospel with those around us, that they, too, may believe. May He ever continue this work among us – in our lives, in our congregations, and in our Synod.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Rom. 10:10–13.

[2] Rom. 9:6–7.

[3] Rom. 10:13.

[4] Rom. 10:14-15a.

[5] Lk. 24:45–47.

At the Right Time

Text: Romans 5:1-11

romans_5_8_by_jcwhatcounts20-d46nbykOur text this evening, Romans 5:1-11, works for well for the Lenten season. Lent is the period of time where we especially look to the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. Here in Romans St. Paul describes one of the results of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf: we have received reconciliation. Paul writes, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”[1] He continues, “We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”[2] Since we have been justified by faith, Paul says, we are reconciled to God and we are at peace.

Now this peace, what is it? What do we mean by peace? It seems that as we get older, the world begins to revolve faster and faster. Most of us remember life before the internet, but now even some of our grandchildren have cell phones with internet on them. Life used to seem calm, quiet, and peaceful, but increasingly the world is becoming chaotic to the point that many of us just want some peace and quiet – peace, meaning the lack of chaos. Peace in this sense is negative, it is the lack of something. In our text, the peace we have with God is positive. It is not only the removal of the hostility between Him and us because of our sin, but it is also an introduction of the active good will of God our Father for us through Jesus Christ. As our text says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”[3]

I.

This peace and reconciliation between God and us is something that comes entirely from outside ourselves. Throughout Scripture our state of being apart from faith in Christ is described as death. Without faith we are dead in our trespasses. Those who lack saving faith live their lives in sin only to go to the grave unrepentant and to eternal torment. Such were some of us. Lured by the influence of Satan and the world, at various times and places, we have each devoted ourselves to sinful desires and actions. At those times we were not only without God, but we were actively turned away from Him.

But, Scripture says, “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”[4] Before new birth in Christ, we were weak. No, it’s worse than that – we were ungodly. At times we behave as if we still are, yet at the right time Christ died for the ungodly; He died for you. This is not something usually reflected in the world. As Paul says, one will scarcely die for a righteous person; how much less, then, would one die for an enemy? Or, how about an entire nation, an entire world, of people who hate and curse your name? I don’t think I would be so willing, yet Christ was. In this God showed His love for us and the world, that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The result of Christ’s work is this: that He has broken down the wall of hostility that existed between God and us. Ever since our first parents were cast out of the Garden, there existed a wall between God and us, a flaming sword separating everything sinful from everything good and righteous and pure. This wall was broken down by Christ on the cross, as we read in Matthew 27 that the veil in the Temple was torn in two at His death. Because of this, the hostility and wrath of God against sin, sin that existed in us, is replaced by God’s good favor.

II.

Scripture says, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”[5] One of the things that we were just talking about in new member class is the end of the world. In the past couple years contemporary society has seemingly become more conscious of the fact that our earthly lives, and the world, will end. On the shelves we see books like, Heaven is for Real and Love Wins. But, concern over what will happen at the end of life is not new.

Paul writes to the Romans, that if we are now justified by the blood of Christ, meaning that the guilt of our sins is removed through His death, how much more then, when we die, will we be saved from God’s wrath. Scripture is perfectly clear that God and sin cannot coexist. Out of mercy Christ has delayed His return so that many may be called to faith and receive forgiveness. But there will be a time when He returns and sin is punished. This should not scare us, for we have received reconciliation and are saved by the life of Christ. However, it should motivate us to share the Good News of Christ so that others may enter His rest with us.

There’s a children’s song that goes, “At time like this, oh, I need the Lord to help me.” In our text tonight we learn that, at a time like this, we are helped by the Lord. As it says, while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. He died for us; He died for you. By His blood the wrath of God has been removed from us and we now have peace. Instead of God the Father seeing our sin, He now sees His beloved children, whom He will soon welcome into eternal life. In His name, amen.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Rom. 5:1.

[2] Rom. 5:11.

[3] Rom. 5:8.

[4] Rom. 5:6.

[5] Rom. 5:9–10.

Apart from the Law

Text: Romans 3:19-28

This year marks the 497th anniversary of the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses by Martin Luther on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Though it was early in his career, he wouldn’t die for another 29 years, Luther had already stumbled onto the fact that, contrary to the Church’s teaching of his day, we are saved by grace alone. Our sins are forgiven purely through the precious, innocent suffering and death of Jesus Christ, and not through any work or worthiness of our own. This played out in the 16th century as the controversy over indulgences. Indulgences were pardons that you could buy for yourself or a relative to get them out of purgatory, and thus into heaven, quicker. This situation would become the catalyst for what is now known as the Protestant Reformation.

The central idea, the spark that ignited the flame, is here in Romans 3. The text says that the righteousness of God is manifested apart from the law. One is justified by faith, apart from any works of the law. To be true, this idea is the central idea of all Scripture. It is all about the promise of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. This is what our Lutheran forefathers called, “The Article upon which the Church Stands or Falls,” meaning that if this teaching is lost, so then is the Church. Thus, this is our good confession this Reformation: The righteousness of God is manifested apart from the law; we are saved by grace.

I.

The Apostle Paul writes in our text, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”[1] We read that verse and, at least at first glance, it appears to be such a no-brainer. Earlier in chapter 3 we read, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”[2] We all have that and Ephesians 2, where it says we are saved by grace, in mind; but our flesh often tells us something different.

Paul’s writing here is a clean cut against our natural human inclination. It’s very, very, subtle – but our natural tendency is to search inside ourselves. We’re taught from childhood to look inside ourselves and others to find the good that is inside us all. We’re taught to look inside and do our best to be a good person, because good things happen to good people. That sentiment is what you’ll find in many of the best-sellers at the bookstore, but it’s not Gospel – it’s law. Law says: put good in, get good out. Some call it karma, but it’s still law, and it gets us nowhere.

Verse 19 says, “We know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”[3] The purpose of God’s law is to stop every mouth. It’s to stop us from claiming to be a good person or to deserve heaven. The law shuts every mouth. Galatians 3 says that “the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin.”[4] Eternal life was not intended to come through following the law, because then there would be no promise. The purpose of the law, the 10 Commandments, is to show us that we fail to earn God’s favor. The idea of putting good in to get good out doesn’t work with God.

God shows us this in the law because we naturally try to do things. We want to do better than everything and everyone. We want things to do, we want to work and to contribute. There must always be something that we can add to the situation. But that is all false. There is nothing that we can do to earn our own salvation or contribute to it. God’s law shows us that we fail at everything, even at our attempts to be decent human beings. Try going even one day without being driven by your hunger for food or desire to not be bored. God’s Law says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”[5] Often we wrestle with the temptation to skip church, or even in church we find ourselves thinking about whether the Vikings will win against Tampa Bay or how the Bison did yesterday. The purpose of the law is to catch us in our sin, to imprison us beneath it so that salvation might be totally through faith in Jesus. Over 400 years before the law was given on Mt. Sinai God promised to Abraham that in Christ all nations would be blessed.

II.

            Contrary to the Beatles, love is not all you need. Even if it were, we still wouldn’t have enough to even gaze upon the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”[6]

Luther’s breakthrough was his rediscovery of the Biblical truth. Instead of through works of the law, the righteousness of God is manifested in Christ. Righteousness is not something that we earn or deserve or merit or even have in ourselves, but it is the free gift of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

This is not a new teaching, as Paul’s opponents were charging against him. They insisted that, in order to remain a Christian and in God’s grace, one had to follow the law. But instead, righteous is apart from the law, as the Law [capital “L”] and the prophets, the Old Testament, bear witness. Scripture says that God spoke of His Son through the prophets long ago. As St. Peter spoke to the centurion Cornelius, “To him [Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”[7] Jesus also said that Moses wrote of Him and Isaiah spoke of Him. As He was speaking to disciples on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”[8]

When Paul writes that the Law and the Prophets bear witness to the fact that righteousness comes through faith, he means that the entire Old Testament is about Jesus – The Offspring that would crush the head of the serpent, the promised Offspring of Abraham, the Bronze Serpent on the pole to which the people looked and were healed of the poison within them, the New Prophet who would speak with the words of God; all of the Scriptures are about Jesus. It’s all about faith in Him. Because we are sinners, Jesus was put forward as the payment for our sin. He made propitiation by His own blood, though He Himself was without sin.

The Scripture says, “We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”[9] Justification, being declared righteous in God’s sight and forgiven our sins, is not something that we can do ourselves. In Luther’s time, they had the idea that you could buy your way into heaven. You can’t. Today we often find ourselves clinging to morality or some sense that we are good people, and that good things happen to good people. But God’s law shows that we are not good people. We put ourselves before others, before God. We take the Lord’s name in vain. We refuse to hear and obey God’s Word. We do not honor our parents or those in authority. We harbor malice in our hearts. We lust. We could keep going down the list. Every single sin is punishable by death. On our own, we cannot get out of it.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”[10] Though our human inclination is to look for things to do, in the case of salvation, there is nothing left to do. Even though we try to be good and follow God’s law, we fail. But Jesus’ Word stands true, “It is finished.”[11] All the work is done. Jesus has won for you the forgiveness of sins by the shedding of His own blood and He gives you His righteousness freely. In His Word, He comes to you. He does all of the work. In His Holy Sacrament, which we are about to receive, He comes with His very body and blood to be received for the forgiveness of sins. In Him all things are ready and prepared; through faith in Him we have salvation. There is nothing left to do but receive the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus, apart from the law.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Rom. 3:20.

[2] Rom. 3:10–12.

[3] Rom. 3:19.

[4] Gal. 3:22

[5] Ex. 20:8

[6] Rom. 3:21–25.

[7] Acts 10:43.

[8] Lk. 24:27.

[9] Rom. 3:28.

[10] Eph. 2:8.

[11] Jn. 19:30

The Struggle Within

The continuation of our Bible study on Romans:

“4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:4-6, ESV)

Searching the Scriptures

  1. How does Romans 7:6 follow logically on the points Paul made in Romans 6:2-7?
  1. In vv. 7-13, how does Paul contrast the nature of the law itself with what it does in practice?
  1. What does it mean to be “sold under sin,” (v. 14) or to be “captive to the law of sin” (v. 23)?
  1. Paul vividly describes his present situation in vv. 21b-23, especially v. 23. How does the apostle describe “another law”?
  1. Note the Law/Gospel juxtaposition in vv. 24-25. What point is Paul trying to make through this sharp contrast?

The Word for Us

  1. Christians have long debated whether Paul is talking about his life before or after conversion. What do you think? What is some of the evidence you might give from this chapter?
  1. When the temptations of sin entice us, what promise can we claim?
  1. The inner conflict described in this chapter is obviously intense. Is it more or less so for a Christian? Why?

Closing

Gracious God, we are assailed by the accusation of the Law, which incessantly exposes the sin in which we are mired. Assure us of the Gospel of Your Son’s death and resurrection for us. Keep us mindful of the forgiveness that You continually give to us. Remind us that in Baptism we have become Your adopted children, and that You will not let us go. Amen.