Posts tagged gospel
The following was preached by the Rev. Dr. Raymond Hartwig, secretary of Synod, on Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, at the LCMS International Center. The text for the day was Heb. 4:14-16.
On this day on the Church calendar, we remember the Early Church father Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna.
Polycarp lived during the first and second centuries after Christ. He may have had, in his younger years, opportunity to spend time with John, the last surviving apostle; he may actually have been a disciple of John and he may have been ordained bishop of Smyrna by none other than John. In any case, he lived to an old age as the bishop of Smyrna, the location of one of the congregations of Asia Minor addressed by Jesus in the Book of the Revelation of St. John, chapter 3. Jesus had this to say to the congregation at Smyrna:
I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.
The congregation at Smyrna did suffer, and so did Polycarp, culminating in him being burned at the stake for not offering incense to the Roman emperor. He is recorded as saying — on the day of his martyrdom — when asked to deny Jesus Christ:
“Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? Bring forth what thou wilt.”
And then there is one other thing: History and tradition also suggest that he may have been involved with assembling the books of the New Testament, one of which is the Book of Hebrews, the source of our text for this morning, the second of our subjects to consider together.
This brings us to our text for our meditation this morning: Heb. 4:14–16.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Could it be that Polycarp was familiar with this text? If so:
- He certainly would have appreciated its imagery more than we. “Since then we havea great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God” (Heb. 4:14a). Even as the high priest in Old Testament times killed the bullock and the goat and delivered their blood through the veil into the Holy of Holies to sprinkle it on the mercy seat to remove the sins of the whole people, so Jesus, the great High Priest, delivered His blood, passing through the heavens to deliver the forgiveness of sins for all people. Polycarp could certainly have said, “How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior?”
- He certainly also would have appreciated, especially when tempted on the day of his martyrdom to deny Christ, the words of verse 15: “For we do not have a high priestwho is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Polycarp was in good company, in company with his Savior and His Savior’s far greater sufferings. He could certainly have said, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong.”
- And he certainly would have found courage in the words of vv. 14b and 16: “Let us hold fast our confession. . . . Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Polycarp found that “grace to help in time of need” and the courage to say, “Bring forth what thou wilt.”
That leaves us to consider the importance of this text also for our day.
Ordinarily texts like this, especially from the Book of Hebrews, might strike us as rather obtuse, not commanding our interest. But in the context of this day on the church calendar and the things going on in the world in which we live, we may see otherwise. Here in this text, first of all, is the heart and core of our Christian faith — that Jesus has become one of us:
- to face temptations to sin that we often cannot withstand;
- to suffer far more severely than we ever will;
- to shed and then deliver to His Father in heaven the only blood that could suffice for our forgiveness of our sins.
Already in its first verses there is plenty in this text to cause us to sit up and take notice.
But it is also the encouragements to “hold fast our profession,” to “come boldly” and “find grace to help in time of need” that are taking on greater urgency and significance now every day. How rapidly things are changing for us as the bright conditions that we have been privileged to enjoy most of our lives begins to grow dim. In my childhood, the words “let us hold fast our profession” predominantly meant, “Beware of what they teach in that church down the street from our parochial school.” Or it meant, “Keep the faith while diving under our school desks for the latest nuclear bomb drill.” Now we are beginning to recognize that possibilities for personal suffering we once thought preposterous are no longer so; that we, too, might have to “find grace to help in time of need” because our Christian way of life and faith or even our lives might at some point be direly threatened.
I expect I will never get out of my mind the recent picture of the 21 Coptic Christians, young men dressed in orange, waiting to be martyred on the seashore. I felt I owed it to them, my brothers in Christ, to watch the video disseminated by their executors. I was disgusted, of course, but more so I was amazed — at their calm demeanor as they kneeled with knives at their throats and at the last word on their lips: the name of Jesus. I wondered how they could do that. But they, like Polycarp, had the encouragement of God’s Word. And they clearly had the last word: the name of Jesus clearly the last word on their lips. They are the best commentary of our text this morning: “Let us hold fast our confession,” to which the only thing more for us to say is, “Amen.”
The Gospel for New Year’s Day, the “Name of Jesus,” is very simple: “And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21).
That’s all. Eight days after his birth (which we celebrated December 25th), he was circumcised and given the name Jesus.
Yeshua = “the Lord saves” – “for he will save his people from their sins,” the angel had told Joseph in dream (Matthew 1:21).
So we begin the new year 2015 in the name of Jesus, as the church observes on January 1.
Whatever the new year brings, Jesus has it covered. Whatever happens to us, we bear the name of Jesus. Whatever we go through, Jesus has been there before us.
Eight days old and he already sheds his blood for us. Eight days old and the name he is given is for our redemption. Eight days old and he is already being prepared for his saving work for us. It is as the church sings:
Jesus! Name of mercy mild, Given to the holy Child
When the cup of human woe First He tasted here below.
Jesus! Only name that’s giv’n Under all the mighty heav’n
Whereby those to sin enslaved Burst their fetters and are saved.
Jesus! Name of wondrous love, Human name of God above;
Pleading only this, we flee Helpless, O our God, to Thee.
(Lutheran Service Book, #900, st. 4-6)
Happy New Year, then, in the name of Jesus. “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11).
A blessed New Year to one and all!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President – LCMS
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
After May 20 tornadoes devastated parts of the Midwest and especially Moore, Okla., killing at least 24 people – some of them school children – we are requesting prayers and gifts to help with The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s ongoing relief effort.
The tornado swept dozens of homes and buildings off their foundations, shredded cars and trucks, littered streets with debris and power lines, injured at least 145 people in the Oklahoma City suburb and struck two schools and a hospital.
Aaron Uphoff, a vicar from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., is serving at Trinity Lutheran in Norman, Okla. He spent Monday evening in Moore, praying with and comforting those who survived the devastation. “I prayed with as many people as I could,” he said. “I asked Christ for comfort and for the peace that that surpasses all understanding, which is ours by virtue of Good Friday and Easter.”
At the same time, there is a great deal of mercy that needs to be shown to the people who have been hurt by this spring’s tornadoes. You can help support your Synod’s disaster response relief effort by contributing today to LCMS Disaster Response. The Rev. John Fale, associate executive director of the LCMS’ Mercy Operations Group,said, “The needs are going to be huge. We don’t know yet the extent of what they will be, but, by the grace of God, we will be there to respond with the love and mercy of Christ to help those affected by the tornado to regain some sense of normality.”
When the 6,200 congregations of the Synod respond, together we make an enormous difference by bringing our resources to bear where people are hurting. (Download a letter of encouragement I’ve written for our LCMS members and congregations here.)
Now is the time to help. Support those in need by:
- Making a donation online at http://www.lcms.org/give/disaster.
- Mailing checks payable to “The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod” (with a memo line or note designating “LCMS Disaster Relief”) to The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.
- Calling toll-free 888-930-4438 (8:10 a.m. – 4:10 p.m. CST, Monday through Friday).
Pastor Matthew C. Harrison
President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Give a gift to help the LCMS provide immediate and ongoing response when disasters happen.
Watch LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison’s video message of Christ’s help and hope.
Keep up-to-date on the LCMS response to disasters around the globe at www.lcms.org/disaster
Download disaster-related worship resources for use
this Sunday, including a Bible Study, devotion, hymn suggestions and prayers.
That’s what we used to say in college when a preacher laid on us his “pet peeve” or “hobby horse” but did not give the Gospel. The conversation might have gone something like: “Was there Gospel in that sermon?” One person might have answered, “Oh, he assumed you knew the Gospel. He just had something else he needed to bring us this morning.” Perhaps it was sophomoric of us, from that hypercritical attitude you sometimes find in students or even pastors. But it’s still true – “the Gospel assumed is the Gospel denied.”
Assuming the Gospel is actually the height of arrogance. It is as if we were saying, “We all know what God has done for us in Jesus, so we can go on to more important things now.” St. Paul covered many points in his Corinthian letters. But he also insisted, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). What did he mean? No matter what Paul had to say, the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation are the center, the essence, the focus of all Christian preaching. Justification or sanctification, it all comes back to the cross. No preaching, no Christian teaching is complete unless it brings us back to what God has done for us in Jesus Christ on the cross. Every doctrine of Scripture is designed by God ultimately to bring the comfort of sins forgiven and eternal life in Christ to the broken sinner.
Lutherans wholeheartedly agree. We confess we are saved by grace alone, for the sake of Christ alone, through faith alone. We insist that God works faith in us through Word and Sacrament, His means of grace (Augsburg Confession IV & V). We are known as law and Gospel preachers. We understand the law does God’s “alien” work to show us our need for God’s proper work in the Gospel. Surely we have it right. How could we Lutherans ever be guilty of “assuming the Gospel”?
You find it when a pastor believes his hearers know the Gospel thoroughly already. Perhaps very creatively he urges them to share that Gospel with others, but then forgets that the Gospel itself is the power and motivation for its own proclamation. More blatantly, pastors may think because they have talked about the Gospel, they have also preached the Gospel. Or the pastor may have determined to emphasize “practical issues” of Christian living to the point there simply wasn’t time enough for God’s action.
How do you tell? Are there any warning signs you are in danger of “assuming the Gospel”? Have you ever begun your preparation, formulated your theme, and then realized that the Gospel is auxiliary to the thrust of your sermon? You have a “message” you want to bring to the people; for example, you want them to understand the Biblical ideals concerning marriage. As you finish writing, you realize, “I should get some Gospel in here somewhere. Let’s see, where does it fit?” The Gospel has become auxiliary to your “message.” Perhaps you have listened to a sermon and then thought, “Pastor gave us a lot of good advice for living but there wasn’t much Jesus.” The preacher has assumed, and therefore denied, the Gospel, I would suggest, if Christ and His cross and God’s saving action are adjunct to what the preacher really wanted to say.
The Gospel is assumed (and therefore denied) when we prepare a liturgy where the central focus is on us, how we feel, what we do, or our response. Instead, the golden thread that needs to run through our worship is God’s service to us in Jesus Christ. The ultimate question, the answer to which ought to shape everything, is this: Does the language we use actually deliver God’s gifts or merely talk about them or hint at what they are? Is the central thought God’s work in Christ, God’s gifts in Jesus, or preoccupied with our work?
When the Gospel is assumed, all that is left is law. Of course, as long as the law is not presented too strongly, harshly, or pointedly, our sinful flesh feels at home with the law and counts it an ally. That is why it is so natural to talk about our own actions even when we assume we are proclaiming the Gospel. Because our sinful flesh readily understands the law, we are very comfortable talking about God’s work as though it were our work. For instance, we may say, we come to God, we believe, we preach, we worship, we baptize, we forgive sins, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we do works of service, we witness for Christ. Yes, from a human point of view, we do those things. But if that is all we say, we are still under the law. If we urge these activities apart from God’s work, we have assumed (and therefore denied) the Gospel. Remember, all these actions are actually God’s work. God comes to us in Jesus Christ even though we, in our sin, could never come to Him. The message of the cross has power in itself to create faith. It is God’s doing and God’s gift. Our messages have no power without the Word of God. Jesus Himself speaks through His Word we proclaim. Paul assured the Corinthians, “My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).
The Spirit uses the means of grace to gather us for worship, because in those means Jesus Himself comes to serve us with His forgiveness. When someone is baptized, we see the water and hear the Word the pastor speaks, but God is there baptizing, uniting that person with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (“We were buried with Him by baptism into death…” [Romans 6:4] It’s passive. God did it to us.) When penitent sinners are absolved, it is Jesus Himself speaking the Word of forgiveness (John 20:21ff). He gathers us around His table, at His command and promise, because He is the host, serving us His own body and blood. Our works of service are really the works of Christ through us. He gives us His Spirit to produce His fruit. Our witness is also the work of His Spirit, who continually bears witness to Jesus. As our confession puts it, “without the grace, help, and activity of the Holy Spirit man is not capable of making himself acceptable to God, of fearing God and believing in God with his whole heart, or of expelling inborn evil lusts from his heart. This is accomplished by the Holy Spirit, who is given through the Word of God…” (Augsburg Confession XVIII, 2-3).
Here is a simple test for evaluating a sermon, Bible Study, or liturgy to see whether you are merely urging people to do something themselves or announcing Jesus’ work and proclaiming His gifts – in other words, whether you are assuming the Gospel or proclaiming the Gospel. After you have prepared your text, go back and underline all of the action words. Find the subject of each verb. Ask, who is doing these verbs? If we are doing the action, then no matter how much it might otherwise sound like Gospel, it’s still the law. The law is concerned with what we do or don’t do. When the Gospel is assumed, the law alone will make us hard-hearted and self-righteous, but then drive us to despair. The Gospel, on the other hand, is concerned with everything God has done and is doing in Jesus Christ for our salvation, to forgive our sins, to give us new life. On the inside of the pulpit at the parish I last served, placed where only the preacher could see it or feel it, was a small crucifix. Yes, that cross was law reminding me of the necessity to preach the Gospel, as St. Paul writes: “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). The Gospel assumed is the Gospel denied!
But that little crucifix was an even more powerful and necessary comfort for me in proclaiming what God has done and is doing for us in Christ. Again, St. Paul writes: “All this is from God who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). All this is from God. I am not just “flapping my gums” proclaiming Jesus crucified and risen. God Himself is there to bring His reconciliation to me and to the people. God Himself is shining through the Gospel: “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For it is God who said, ‘let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6).
Though we are never up to this tremendous task, though you and I falter, God is always faithful. He will use His faithful Word to keep us faithful. “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code [the law!] kills, but the Spirit [by the Gospel!] gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6). The law does not simply advise us or show us God’s way. The purpose of the law is to kill us so that God by His Word can raise us to life with Jesus. The law strips us of any pretense of life on our own, but the Gospel fills us with the life of Christ crucified and raised from the dead.
Again, who does the verbs? God gives life. God shines. God makes us competent. God saves. God forgives. God raises the dead. God heals. God comes to us in Jesus. God speaks in His Word. God creates faith. God gathers His church. God baptizes. God feeds us the body and blood of His Son. God gives His gifts, all for you. Jesus says to His preachers, “He who hears you, hears me.” His Word on our lips is alive with His life, to give life.
+ Herbert Mueller
LCMS First Vice-President
[Note: This sermon was preached in the Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Wednesday, March 20, 2013. + Herbert Mueller]
31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. (Luke 18:31-34).
People loved by God in Jesus!
After telling the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, blessing the children, and dealing with the man who asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus takes the 12 aside and starts the final journey: “See,” He says, “we are going up to Jerusalem, where I’ll be delivered up and killed.”
There are several issues we could engage in this, Jesus’ 3rd prediction of His passion:
- We could emphasize the fact that His suffering will accomplish everything written in the prophets, from the stone the builders rejected becoming the head of the corner to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. Something Luke does himself in chapter 24 of his Gospel.
- We could explain how the cross and resurrection of Jesus is central to God’s plan of salvation, and how it was easy for Jesus to SAY, but quite another thing to go and do it – to die and to rise – which Jesus actually went and did!
- We could focus on Jesus’ passive obedience as He laid down His life for us – note the passives – He WILL BE delivered over, He WILL BE mocked, and shamefully treated and spit upon. After flogging Him, they will Kill Him, as He is obedient to the will of the Father, obedient even unto death, even the death of the cross.
But hearing the story again this time, though, I was quite taken by the fact that the disciples who first heard this understood NONE of these things. This word, this matter, was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
Perhaps this adds to the believeability of the Gospel. After all, if it were a made up story, you would think those who concocted it would make themselves look better than they did, for this is now the second time Luke tells us the 12 didn’t understand what Jesus was saying and were afraid to ask.
That’s what caught my eye this time… They understood NONE of these things – it was hidden from them and they did not grasp what was said.
What about you?
What about me?
Do we grasp it? Do we live as though we understand none of this?
Well, of course not! We know the story! We’ve memorized the details. Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He was betrayed. He carried ALL our sins, took them all. He spoke from the cross, “Father, forgive them…” He is God in our flesh dying for us. And by His resurrection He promises to raise us as well.
We get that!
But do we? More than superficially?
Do we see that God in Jesus has only this one way of operating? That the way to the Kingdom, the way to life is ONLY by death and by resurrection? That this is God’s only game? That God is not in the business of just fixing you up a bit, putting some little finishing touches on the good stuff you are already doing to make it a bit more acceptable? No, God’s aim in His Law is to KILL you, to drown your flesh, to lead you to see YOUR death, so that in His Gospel in Jesus He can raise you to life. “I kill and I make alive,” He says.
- It happened when we were baptized, buried with Christ in His death and raised up by His resurrection.
- It happens now when we are led to repent and to confess our sin, so that we can be raised to life by the forgiveness of sins.
- It will happen, when we die, and our bodies are laid to rest with the promise that He will come back to change our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body even by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself.
I’ve occasionally enjoyed a little game with people in Bible Class. I’ll ask – what do you have that is uniquely yours to give to Jesus? People bring all kinds of answers. I bring Him my worship. I give Jesus my trust. He wants my heart. I’ll give Him my love, my whole life. It’s all admirable. But all that is stuff He gave you or by His Spirit has worked in you.
Then finally someone gets it. The only thing we have that is uniquely ours that Jesus didn’t give us is our death which comes from our brokenness, our sin.
But THAT is exactly what Jesus has come to take! Our death and our brokenness. That’s why He was going up to Jerusalem to be delivered into the hands of the Gentiles, to be mocked and flogged and killed – to take YOUR death, my death, into Himself.
You see, death is the great equalizer. We each get one. Just one. But that is the ONE thing we have that Jesus can truly use, because His game, ultimately His ONLY game, is to raise the dead.
Of course, if you don’t think you’re dying, you don’t need Jesus. But when you see your brokenness, when you see death coming, ONLY Jesus can help. Because only Jesus rose from the dead. And His Church today is His sign of the resurrection, confessing, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”
The disciples didn’t get it till Jesus, in the upper room on Easter evening, opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, that repentance and forgiveness of sins be preached in His name to all nations, because Jesus is alive, and He has come to raise the dead – even YOU.
Only with that confidence in Jesus’ death and resurrection will you be able to stand by the grave-side to speak the promises of God. Oh, it will be relatively easy sometimes, like when it’s the 85-year-old grandma who loved Jesus. It’ll be quite another when it’s the 2 day old baby the parents desperately wanted, or worse yet, a 31-year-old father of two little kids who died in a senseless accident.
Only the real resurrection of Jesus will do – when they won’t care what you think, but will be desperate to hear what God has to say.
And that’s also the thing that enables you and me to deal with our own mortality.
Knowing that you, too, are a dying sinner, but forgiven and raised to life in Jesus will be the only strength that will sustain you in the face of unrelenting evil, in the times of profound disappointment, in the midst of often unbearable suffering, and when you walk into the presence of death itself.
May the Spirit of God hold each of you in the confidence that Jesus has taken YOUR death and YOUR brokenness into Himself, and enable you to grasp that, because He rose, He will raise also YOU!
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.