Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
What does it mean to be a member of a church that espouses a definite confession of faith in Christ? What does that mean for pastors? For congregations? For individual members? Bottom line is that we look to the Word of God to give us what we are to confess.
Walking among the pagan temples on the slopes of Mt. Herman in the region of Ceasarea Philippi, Jesus queried His disciples, “Who are people saying the Son of Man is?” “Some say you are John the Baptist come back from the dead. Others talk about Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” So our culture also has many, many different ideas for who Jesus is, ranging from a “fairy tale,” to a “good man,” to a purveyor of whatever cause we believe in, as though we can pour Jesus into a mold of our making. Yet everyone seems to have this instinctive sense that they have to do something with Jesus.
“But who do you say that I am?” Jesus pressed home the question that comes to us all. Peter confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” You are the Anointed One of Old Testament promise. You are the son of the Living God, not a son of these stone dead idols scattered about on this mountainside, but the God of life, the only One who gives life. So we profess Christ, who is the living God come into our human flesh. Jesus answered Peter, “Blessed are you Simon, son of John, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father, who is in heaven” (see Matthew 16:13-17). In another place, Jesus said, “No one can come to me except the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44).
Then Jesus went on to promise, “I tell you, you are Peter (Petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her” (Matthew 16:18). A “petros” is a rock or stone you can pick up and throw. The “petra” is the bedrock, or a multi-ton foundation stone, for instance, the word Josephus used to describe the foundation of the temple. So the rock on which Jesus promises to build His church is not Peter, but Peter’s confession of faith, that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
Still, the confession needs confessors, people to confess Christ’s name before the world. Where this confession is made, that “Jesus is the Christ — God in our human flesh, crucified and raised from the dead for us,” Jesus promises to build His church. And “the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.” Sometimes the church is on the offense, charging into the world with the Gospel message. Sometimes the church is on defense, under attack for her Gospel proclamation. No matter. “The gates of hell shall not prevail.” She is built by Christ Himself on the rock of this confession.
No sooner had Peter made this confession that Jesus began to tell them what He, if He truly is the Christ, must do. “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21). Peter, of course, having just verbalized this wonderful confession, would have nothing of the sort. He began to rebuke Jesus saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” You have to be the kind of Christ I am looking for!
But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:22-23). If Jesus is the Christ of God, then He MUST die on the cross and rise again, because that’s what WE needed. For “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Even as we confess that Christ died and rose “to be a sacrifice not only for original sin but also for all other sins and to propitiate God’s wrath” (AC III, Tappert, p. 30).
With the church of all places and all times we insist that Jesus Christ is “God of God, Light of Life, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father, By whom all things were made; Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven And was incarnate of the Virgin Mary And was made man; And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate,” etc. (Nicene Creed). Among all the options the world sees, we confess Christ as God in the flesh, crucified and raised from the dead for us.
How is this confession lived out in the life of the Church? It means that the Church lives only by repentance and forgiveness. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). When people refuse to repent, the church, particularly through her pastors, is duty bound to warn them that, until they repent, their sin is bound to them. They’re stuck with it. But whenever and wherever people repent, the church and her pastors have only one thing to do — set them free in Christ by the forgiveness of sins. For the church is Christ’s bride, whom Christ loved, and for whom He gave Himself, that He might make His church holy, “having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:26-27).
This does not mean that the church accepts sin, or turn a blind eye to sins, for sin unrepented, or sin excused and explained away is still sin, bound to us. No, the church welcomes all sinners, no matter what the sin, on one basis, through repentance and forgiveness. We all stand on the same ground, sinners forgiven, covered in the redeeming blood of Christ. This confession does not minimize sin, but sees sin for what it truly is: an affront to God that, left unconfessed or unacknowledged, will damn us forever. But confessed before God, the sin is removed from us, as far as the east is from the west, for Christ on the cross is the sacrifice that “takes away our sins, and not ours only, but the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
Sometimes it is said that the church should receive everyone, no questions asked about sin or sexual morality, because “Jesus doesn’t say anything” about sex outside of marriage, whether hetero- or homosexual behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth. First, Jesus taught clearly on marriage, “… He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).
The only marriage taught in Scripture is between a man and a woman. Nothing else can be called marriage. Second, Jesus condemned sexual lust: “everyone who looks at woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Third, these Scriptures actually catch us all, whether we are talking about the “serial monogamy” of our divorce culture (even in the church!), or about the rampant pornography of our times, or the trend of living together without marriage. We are all on the same footing — always in need of daily repentance.
That’s why we do not excuse the sin and say, “it’s OK, we all make mistakes,” and then blissfully keep on living in the sin. No, we are called to repentance, to turn from sin, and to receive Christ’s forgiveness and hear His command, “Go, and sin no more.” The true challenge from our culture today is that so many will excuse sexual sins, both hetero- and homosexual, and make the judgment that they are no longer sin. Indeed, many wish to celebrate the sin, not repent of it. There’s the rub. Remember the Scripture says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Some will say, “but this is the 21st century, and we know more today than Moses or Paul” (both of whom condemned sexual sins). But isn’t that a 21st century version of Gnosticism, where we have some kind of special knowledge that trumps Scripture? The real danger is that this so called knowledge leaves the person in sin, for Scripture does not change, nor can the Word of God lie to us.
What about Jesus and the woman at the well? People will sometimes ask. In John 4 Jesus speaks to a Samaritan woman about her sexual behavior, revealing to her that He knew she had “had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband” (John 4:18). He speaks to her, receives her, loves her, but does not accept or excuse her behavior. Instead, He leads her to repentance and faith, so that she tells her neighbors, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29). To another woman caught in sin, Jesus said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:10-11). Jesus never excuses the sin, but always leads to repentance, so that the sin can be forgiven, and the person sent on his or her way to “sin no more.”
So with Peter, we confess Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” the one who gave Himself into death for our sin, and rose again for our justification. That’s why the Church welcomes all sinners, through repentance and forgiveness. But we do not give in to any of the world’s lies that seek to excuse sin or explain it away. Instead, we find ourselves in this Word of God from the pen of St. Paul: “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you! But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). For that reason, Paul says, “flee from sexual immorality…” (1 Corinthians 6:18). And, “you are not your own, you were bought with a price, so glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). In other words, go and sin no more.
The church lives only by repentance and forgiveness in Christ. This is the confession we are given to make before the world today. And this is the promise Jesus gives, “upon this rock,” this confession, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her” (Matthew 16:18). So take heart! Go! Love people, love them extravagantly in Jesus’ name, care for people in their need, and always confess Christ, crucified and risen, for you!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Note: The following sermon was preached in the Chapel at The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s International Center on July 23, 2015, by Rev. Kevin Robson, Synod’s Chief Mission Officer, for the installation of Rev. John Fale as Executive Director of the Office of International Mission and Revs. Ed Grimenstein and Dan McMiller as associate executive directors of that Office. The text was Isaiah 52:7-10. + Herbert Mueller.
+ JESU JUVA +
Let’s face it! You are podiatrically challenged! I mean … have you considered your feet lately? They are not those cute, cuddly little piggly-wigglies that you were born with. Now it’s calluses and corns. Hangnails and hammer toes. Hairy digits that splay out in every direction, looking more like they belong on a chimpanzee than a human being. Cracked heels and fallen arches. Skin so thick and rough that it would make an alligator’s mama proud! Cracked nails, yellowed nails, missing nails. Tired, achy, sweaty … and pungent. Yeechh!
But here’s the thing: God’s man, Isaiah, is given to see things in a different way — a much different way. And over seven centuries later, Saint Paul picks up from the same cue sheet: beautiful. Something lovely to behold. Completely fitting the intended use. The feet of the messenger, fleet and strong, running, flying like the wind, ascending effortlessly upon the lofty mountain. Feet simply beautiful …to the eyes of the one who beholds them.
So … do you? Do you behold such beauty — with the eyes of faith?
Bring it, O Herald of the Almighty. Publish your message of peace among us who continue so selfishly, so egotistically, so sinfully to wage war against one another. Fighting still, and still destroying. In this corrupted worldly life — war never ending, another war still and still yet another, war never ending, war always beginning. Bring your good news, O Sent One, and let our gaze be lifted up to that which is so lovely and beautiful. Lift up our eyes to the mountains upon which You intently travel, the hills from where our help comes. Set our vision upon Your humble Servant and Him alone … this Prince of Peace, the One who suffers alone upon the mountain called Calvary, in our place, on our behalf, the One who finally keeps us from all evil, yes, keeps our very lives in the peace that surpasses our human reason.
Bring forth your powerful Word, and preach the fitting good news, O Divine Evangelizer. The beauty of Your return, Your resurrection in victory, speedily, thankfully overtakes us who were trodden down in the dust of today’s Babylon, Babylon here and now, a contemporary exile of our own making. Let us convicted sinners hear this Gospel again and again: Yahweh has redeemed His chosen people, His Israel. Let us redeemed sinners simply shout out in sheer joy, as watchmen from the rooftops, with one voice — “Our God reigns.”
Where once all appeared lost, where we exiles had plunged ourselves into the deepest depths of darkness, where we had been drowning in a self-made cesspool of rebellious transgression and chaos, where hope was seemingly absent, where we were dead … the Son, in Jesus Christ, has joined us, stood in solidarity with us, and now, in Him, a new and confident hope, genuine hope, appears. We were outcasts, and so is He. We were faced with a quagmire of unfamiliar surroundings, and so is He. He stands with us in the cauldron of our wounds and sadnesses, our fears and losses. And although He is sovereign and free, He has willingly submitted Himself, entered into our marginalized community, and has led us, walked us out, to the Promised Land, once again.
Announce it, O “Gospel-er.” Publish this good news of salvation so that every corner of the earth can see it. Your saving us. Not us saving ourselves; that was never in us. Lay bare your holy arm, and let the world see Your muscle, but not in the way that the world expects. Let them see Your bared arm … extended, stretched out in willing obedience, nailed upon that horrible instrument of humiliation, punishment, and death. For in this way, You have “brought down the rulers from their thrones and lifted up those of humble estate” (Luke 1:52). In this way, in this way of Your holy cross, and this way only, what was utterly ruined is restored, finished, perfected, complete. Behold, it is good, it is very good, it is … beautiful.
Today we are given to behold something like this, something beautiful: the prayerful consecration of three men, a triad called by our merciful Lord, to go forward in their performance of sacred duties given them as heralds, evangelists, “gospel-ers.” Under the watchful eye of Yahweh, strengthened by His Spirit, their running task under God’s grace is to continue to support and further the proclamation of the peace that has come in Jesus Christ: to publish His salvation quite literally to the ends of the earth, that all might be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
Dear brothers, it has so happened under God’s foreknowledge and plan that your feet have been rather well-traveled in the years that He has already granted you. You’ve stepped upon distant continents. You’ve been given to walk in many different places and through varied circumstances that at times, I’m sure, have either wildly joyful as if in a dream … or tragic and terrifying, as if in a nightmare.
The road has been easy in some places; hard, lonely, exasperating, and perplexing in others. Such is life in this mortal flesh. We have not walked in your shoes, but we know what it is to follow together in the footsteps of Jesus, and we are all continuing, day-by-day, to learn what it means to sojourn through this life (and our new identity given us in Holy Baptism) under His cross.
So please, dear heralds, evangelists, “gospel-ers.” In all your leading, in all your contending for the faith, in all your planning, in all your labors, please be sure to keep on telling us the story. Bring it. Announce it. Preach it. Publish it. We who hope, we who are awaiting the return of our King, need to be reminded.
Please know that we are praying for you, in compassion, as you go about this most sacred task. And please know something else. Your feet — though they bear the marks of the fallen-ness and corruption that we all share — your feet have been made beautiful. Fitted to the task. Tireless, nimble, speedy. Turned toward their intended purpose, that for which they were created, that which was ordained by God from before time ever began.
Your feet are beautiful, not in and of themselves, but because of the beautiful path upon which they have been set — because of the beauty of Him who has stooped down to wash them — because of Christ’s beautiful, brutally bruised heel, driven through by the serpent’s bite, a fiery iron spike forged in the crucible of our transgressions, the very same heel of our almighty Savior that came down to deliver the singular, final death blow upon the head of our greatest enemy. And thus, “Our God reigns.”
“How beautiful the feet that ran
To bring the great good news to man” (LSB 834).
Something beautiful, indeed, in the name + of Jesus. Amen.
+ SOLI DEO GLORIA +
Note: The following sermon was preached this morning, June 22, 2015, at the LCMS International Center in St. Louis by the Reverend Doctor Edward Grimenstein, associate executive director for the Office of International Missions, for the opening of Missionary Training for the current cohort of missionaries to be trained and sent into the worldwide mission fields of our Synod. By God’s grace, we are very close to the goal of doubling the number of missionaries sent into the field, a goal adopted by the 2013 Synod Convention. God be praised! + Herb Mueller
“God does not do things lightly”
God likes Words — He called creation into existence through Words. God loves water, because He destroys our flesh with it, while delivering us as newborn babes in Christ through it. He is very pleased with bread and wine because He cradles His flesh within His promise so we may taste and see how good the Lord truly is. But what God loves most, what He cares for most — is you.
God loves people. He loves you; made in His image, in His likeness, reborn in the likeness of Christ. Because through you, He still speaks His Word of salvation into this world. Through the mouths of preachers people believe, through the conversations of a wife over coffee with a neighbor tears of comfort can freely pour, through a simple child’s witness some of the greatest saints have believed.
And this brings us to some very special guests with us this morning. Welcome to our Summer Missionary class of 2015; our missionaries, spouses, and children. We are very pleased to have you join us here for the next two weeks during orientation.
It has been awhile now since you first started this process hasn’t it? But now the long deliberations are over. Your church has called you, God has called you, and you accepted that call. It is time to be like Abraham, and to follow where God has called you — not knowing everything, but knowing your God would never steer you wrongly. You go to minister and love a people you do not even know yet, all the while leaving people you already know and love — but don’t worry, God knows all and knows whom you are to love.
Big changes, lots of changes. But remember, your God is the One true God who does make big changes, who does do things greatly, and is the One who risks everything to go after that One lost sheep. That is your God. That is who He is. And so He has called you into a life that mirrors the very nature of God Himself — He does big things.
This morning God spoke through the prophet Isaiah to you. And He said to you, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel, I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Your God does not do things lightly. He doesn’t take the easy way out. He is a God who takes the long road, He is a God who stays the course no matter what, He is the God who is willing to go through for Himself a suffering and a death, so that there could be a resurrection.
God doesn’t take the easy way out. Whether He is cradling you and your life, or desiring to draw the whole world under His wing – God doesn’t do things lightly. God is not satisfied with staying in one corner of the world – that would be too light a thing. God refuses to close His mouth and speak to only one race of people – that would be too light a thing. Your God just doesn’t do things lightly. He never has and He never will. It is not in His nature. The whole world is His and all that is in it, and He desperately wants that world and her people to come back under His protective wing.
Each of you here have been called by name to also never live your lives lightly. Whether you are a missionary, or a spouse, a child, whether you are someone who is working here in this building in the International Center — you have all been called by name. God knows who you are. He knows how you are attacked. He knows who attacks you. And our God does not abandon you to be ravaged by your flesh — because that would be too light a thing — He gives us a new life in Christ.
Our God doesn’t abandon you to be a people who see no hope from day to day — that would be too light a thing — you have a lasting hope in Christ that no one and no thing can ever take away from you. When we sin, God does not turn His face away from us embarrassed — that would be too light a thing — He looks us square in the eyes and says, “I forgive you.”
And when we die, and after the memory of who we are has faded from our friends and families minds, after our tombstones themselves have turned to dust by rain and wind and time, even after our bones have reverted back to dust — your God will not forget you, He will not abandon you — your God will never, never forget you or the promise He made to you that whoever has been united to Christ in His death through baptism … will also be united to Christ in His resurrection from the dead.
Today is a day of celebration for all of us here whether serving as missionaries or working here in the International Center. Because today we see how our God acts — He doesn’t act lightly, He goes big, He goes for the whole world to bring His light to all the nations. And He goes really big by going really small; He knows your name, He knows your illness, He knows your sin, He knows what tempts you and who tempts you … and your God stakes His claim upon your life and your future just as much as He has staked a claim upon this whole world so that neither death nor suffering nor all the powers of Hell can ever pluck you out of His hand … because, let’s face it, we worship a God who does not do things lightly. Amen.
And now may the peace of our God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:6–11).
Brothers in Christ:
Grace and peace to you in Jesus, the Living One, who died and lives forevermore, who holds the keys of death and hell (Rev. 1:18)! We are writing specifically to pastors today, but much of this applies to all of us, brothers and sisters alike.
Every three to six weeks, I sit down with my pastor. Generous with his time, he usually gives me 90 minutes or more. We talk about our families, about our joys and burdens, about our temptations. We then read and discuss Scripture, pray and, if necessary (when is it not necessary?), confess and speak Christ’s word of forgiveness. I do not believe it is possible to serve very long as a pastor without hearing for yourself the precious word of Christ on the lips of your pastor, “Your sin is forgiven you! Go and sin no more!”
Why? Simply put, as Peter writes, the devil is prowling about, seeking someone to devour. Does that include pastors too? Oh, yes, it does—in spades! And if you think it doesn’t, you are actually in even greater danger. Time and time again, we’ve seen how both the devil and the world target pastors and their families. If they can take a pastor down, they can often take others down with him. What is more, we pastors, like everyone else, have beating in our own chests a heart full of sin, “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). Why so negative today? Jesus explains: “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20–23).
So when Satan comes with his temptation, he has this natural ally in me, in my heart. In other words, my sin problem is not merely a surface anomaly like a skin blemish easily removed with a laser. Instead, it’s like a metastasized melanoma, not just on the surface, but infecting the whole body with its deadly effects.
What are some of the tactics Satan uses to play with our sinful flesh, often when we least expect it?
- He almost always takes our pride and twists it to his purposes. “It won’t happen to me.” “I’m immune to these temptations.” “I have progressed beyond that.” “I’m on to the devil’s schemes.” “I’ve got this licked.” “Let’s focus on the good things, not the negative.” “I’m okay. At least I’m not as bad as . . .” “You work for the Synod. You’re good!”
- Sex is like a powerful river. Within its proper banks, within a marriage of one man and one woman for life, it is a glorious gift of God. Outside these boundaries, it quickly becomes destructive, narcissistic. Used as God designed, for husband and wife to give themselves to serve each other in love, it is a source of great joy and blessing from God’s hand. But when our appetites lead us to use others for ourselves, it turns into an idol that often runs wild, becoming an all-consuming desire that is never satisfied. With the Internet, accessing debilitating pornography (debasing to women and men alike) has become so easy. We toss God’s gifts into the trash, causing great pain to ourselves and those we love.
- Sometimes those with great intellect are tempted to think that they can solve just about any problem if only people will listen to them. When people do listen, we become enamored with our own wisdom. When they refuse to hear us, we blame it on their “stupidity” or “hardness of heart,” claiming that they have thereby refused to hear Christ. We become proud of our accomplishments. Or when we suffer, we blame others.
- Great wealth or lack of possessions, take your pick. The devil can use either one to consume our hearts and minds. We don’t have enough. We are blessed, but we want more. We focus on what we don’t have, instead of receiving in thanksgiving all that God has given us. But the thing about idols and obsessions is that God has a tendency to grind them to bits. He tolerates no rivals!
- The devil tempts us with the fear of man. We know the right thing to do or to say, but we are afraid people will not like us if we say it, so we soft peddle. We compromise. We give in. Pray God would instead give you both the wisdom and discernment necessary, as well as the Spirit-worked courage, to speak the Word of God with loving boldness. Let the fear of God drive out the fear of man.
- Can pastors develop a haughty spirit? There are many opportunities the devil takes to play on our sinful flesh in this regard. “This church is growing because of me.” “If everyone followed my methods, this Synod would take off!” “My people are a bunch of dumb sheep who know nothing of the Word of God.” “They’re not worthy of a man of my talents.” Any one of these thoughts will indulge our sinful pride, but each of them is deadly.
- We could also write volumes about the tongue, what James calls “a fire, a world of unrighteousness . . . no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:6, 8). Heed his warning: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue [or his fingers on the keyboard!] but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
What a list! And I’m only scratching the surface. Satan’s purpose in all of these temptations is to separate us from Christ, to drive others away from Christ or to destroy our ability to serve in the pastoral ministry. What is God calling us to do?
First, repent. Turn from the lies you tell yourself. Turn from following your own desires. Turn from the idols you have created. Turn in the pride. Give up to the Lord in confession all those sinful thoughts. Turn away, by the Spirit’s power, from those sinful actions. Give up the sinful, prideful words. Put away the fear of man (again, idolatry) to fear, love and trust in God alone.
Second, even more importantly, remember that the Church lives only by the forgiveness of sins. You and I need Christ’s forgiveness as much or more than our people. Hear for yourself the poignant words of John: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1–2). That’s how you can be sure this is also for you.
God in our flesh and blood, Jesus, became the sacrifice that takes away our sins. He soaked it all up. He is the propitiation, the sacrifice that made us whole. He absorbed all that sin and death could do. All the wrath, all the destruction—He took it all for us. He did it all for real sinners. He did it all for you and me.
All this works a wonderful exchange, an exchange actually finished from the cross. When we come, stained and dirty, dying with our sin, Jesus says, “Here, I will take what is yours, will take all your sin, I will become the sinner for you, in your place!” He gathers all our sins, carries them all and is nailed up to the cross for every last one of them. Now raised from the dead, Jesus says, “Here, now let me give you what is Mine, My life, My peace, My mercy, My grace, My heaven, all for you, for you are my beloved!” And the Father looks at us and sees only Jesus—for us!
All this is delivered to us in our Baptism, in absolution, in the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for us. As a pastor, you deliver these gifts to your people in the Word of God. But you need the gifts too. No one, including you, can live without them. The greatest help in temptation is our Lord’s promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). You are loved in Christ, washed clean in His blood.
Forgiven by the Word of the living Lord Jesus, we are now called to be “humble . . . under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” We are to be “sober-minded; watchful” against temptation (1 Peter 5:6–8). In essence, by the Word of God and prayer, as we are accountable to one another, we are to guard our hearts. We take seriously the warning, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). This is why God provides you with brothers in the ministry, with a board of elders, to help you stand. This is why God gives His Spirit, in His Word: “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” (1 Cor. 10:13). Look for it. Look for the way of escape He gives. Trust Him. Know that Satan is already defeated. He has no power unless we allow it. That’s why Peter tells us to “resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:9–10).
When you sense you are being drawn into temptation, get help. Don’t fight alone. Call a brother pastor. Talk to someone. The devil loves loners. They’re easier to “pick off.” Guard your heart. Watch what you take in. Be careful what you look at. “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). Be accountable for your devotional life. Call your circuit visitor. Visit regularly with your pastor, your father confessor. Put safeguards on your computer if you haven’t done so. Start or become part of an accountability group. Ask a brother pastor to hold you accountable. Talk to a Christian counselor (many districts provide help in this). The Concordia Plan Services Employee Assistance Plan can help too (1-866-726-5267). No matter what, remember this promise: “Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20).
Why are we belaboring this? Satan has two more dastardly tricks. He will often lead you to think it’s no big deal, you’ll get away with it, no one will know, no one will recognize you. He will tempt you to become what you most despise. And then he will turn around and accuse you: “You think God can love you after you did all that? You’ve got to be kidding!”
But hear and take to heart God’s Word: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:32–34). And that also includes you, whoever you are! Trust Him. Lean on Him. He will never fail you.
One more thing: You can stake your life on these words. They are trustworthy and true. “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24).
May that peace of God be with you all—in Jesus!
The Rev. Dr. Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Note: This homily was preached by Pastor William Weedon, International Center Chaplain, on April 10, 2015, the Friday of the Week of the Resurrection of Our Lord. We bring it to you as a joyful proclamation of the fullness of the resurrection Gospel. + Herbert Mueller
Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Today we mark yet another step in the unfathomable love of God for the human race. It was not enough for Him to have created us in His image and place us into the paradise of plenty. It was not enough for Him, when we fell into sin, to promise us a Savior. It was not enough for Him, to give us the Law to teach us our need of His mercy. It was not enough for Him, to send us prophets who called us again and again to trust in Him and to turn from all that was death and vanity. It was not enough for Him even to send His Son into our flesh. It was not enough for Him to walk among us, a man among men, the man among all others who are really only failures at being men. It was not enough for Him to stand in the waters of the Jordan in solidarity with sinners. It was not enough for Him to reach out and touch and heal. It was not enough for Him to teach us the counsels of salvation. It was not enough for Him to offer up His life a ransom for us upon Gologotha’s stony slope. It was not enough for Him to share our graves and taste our death. It was not enough for Him.
He would love us even more. And so the joys of Easter. For make no mistake about what Easter celebrates. Not merely that a man was raised from the dead. THIS Man had raised others from the dead before — Jairus’ little girl, the widow of Nain’s son, Lazarus. But they were all brought back from death into life with still corruptible flesh. That is, they each finally grew sick and died yet again. I don’t imagine that any of them faced death in the same way as before — for they had encountered Him who was stronger than death. But their coming back to life was not like His.
This week we celebrate that human flesh, like unto our own, of a piece with us, has been raised from death in incorruption. He will never die again. He is forever beyond all that. As we like to sing: “Gone the nailing, gone the railing, gone the pleading, gone the cry, gone the sighing, gone the dying, what was loss lifted high.”
This is the news that the Angel brought to the Marys and Salome at the tomb: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth. He is not here. He is risen. Come, see the place where they laid Him, but go and tell His disciples and Peter that He is risen and goes before you into Galilee. There you will see Him just as He told you.”
As He told you. His words of promise never fail. You can count on them when everything else around you is shaking, when your world crumbles, when your heart breaks, when your body fails. He will not fail you. It wasn’t enough for Him to merely share our flesh and blood. Oh, no. He would have that flesh and blood glorified, raised in incorruption, shining with the light of deity, the very source of our eternal hope. And He will take that glorified flesh and blood and raise it to the right hand of the Father, bringing humanity to that place where God had intended humanity to live from the beginning.
And do you see what His incorruption means to you? He, who is forever beyond death, beyond sin, beyond the accusations of the law, beyond hell — He has joined you to Him. In your Baptism you went into that grave with Him and you came out with Him. Alive. One with Him. His life was given you there in the water to be your life — His INCORRUPTIBLE life. But with Him, that’s never enough. There’s always more.
And so He sends His servants out to proclaim His promises — promises that cannot fail, that are as sure and certain as His rising from that grave on this day in incorruption–incorruptible promises to make you partakers of His divine nature. This is how St. Peter put it: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:3,4) The promises of the Incorruptible One impart to you incorruption and make you a sharer in His divine nature — so that all that He is by nature you become by grace. He, a child of God; You, a child of God; He, the Heir of the Father; You, the heir of the Father.
But with Him there is always more. It was not enough for Him to baptize you into His own indestructible life; not enough for Him to arrange for His promises to be spoken to you to impart to you incorruption. He goes further; He has more; His love knows no limit. He has a meal for you. He wants to put into you, into your corruptible, dying, sinful bodies His incorruptible, undying, sinless Body and Blood for your forgiveness and for you life. He wants to unite YOU to Himself; to strengthen the bonds of your faith; to comfort you; to hold and still you in all your anxieties and fears. He wants you to know that just as death was not the end of Him, so it will NEVER be the end of you. He wants you to rejoice that YOU have a life that is stronger than all the death in this world.
Old Job could go to his grave in the confidence that his Redeemer lived, and that on the other side of the corruption — yes, though his body be destroyed — yet he would live again in this flesh and his eyes and none other would behold God. And as he thought of it, his heart burned within him.
You see more than Job. For you have known the Redeemer for whom he hoped, and you know His triumph over death and the grave. You know that not a single word of His ever proves false.
So, beloved, since Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed, let us keep the feast. Away with the leavened bread of malice! Away with the leavened bread of evil! Let us welcome the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth: the sincerity that is God’s earnest promise and the truth that with our God and His love for us, nothing was good enough until He had made our nature incorruptible in His Son and united us to Him that we might live in Him forevermore. This is God’s sincerity. This is God’s truth. This is the Bread on which we feast — the incorruptible bread that is Christ our Passover Lamb to whom be glory with His Father and the Holy Spirit — the only and blessed Triune God who has loved us with a love unimaginable and deep.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!