Friday, July 10, 2020

Friday of Trinity 4

Baptism Works

Titus 3:1-8 (ESV) Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

Baptism works. It accomplishes things. It is not just an empty symbol that has no power. It is a sign, but also more than that. Baptism gives us adoption as God’s beloved children. Baptism takes the righteousness of Jesus that alone can justify before God’s judgment seat, and clothes us with it. Baptism takes the cleansing blood of Jesus and bathes us in it. Baptism buries us in Christ’s death and raises us up in His resurrection. Baptism gives us the Holy Spirit.  Baptism works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe. Baptism unites us with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Believing that Baptism gives us all these things is faith. To believe means to receive a promise from God and say, “Yes. Amen. I believe this.” When water is combined with God’s Word, then this Baptism is a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, so our faith holds open its empty hands and is given this gift. Faith simply receives this saving bath and says, “Lord, I believe that the promises you have made to me in Baptism are true.” That’s what it boils down to: is God telling the truth, or lying, when He says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16)? Which of us wants to call God a liar? So believe His promises, particularly the ones He makes to you in your Baptism into Christ.

God promises that Baptism works. It works to save us from our sins and give us everlasting life. That is the perfect and complete work of Baptism, driven by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Salvation is the most important work of Baptism, but that’s not all that Baptism works in us. Baptism also affects our everyday life; it effects our sanctification. Since the Holy Spirit is given to us in Baptism, and His work is to make us holy, our Baptism brings about the righteous works that we do and the holiness that we take part in. St. Paul says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). The Holy Spirit is given to us in Baptism, and those are the fruits that He works in us.

If these are fruits of the Spirit, then can we take any credit for any virtues in your lives? No, we give glory to God, as St. Paul says, “We are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). We do these good works, but in truth, God accomplishes them through our Baptism by the gift of the Holy Spirit, who continues to work all these good things in our lives through God’s Word and Sacraments in the Holy Christian Church.

But where these good fruits are not found and instead there is the bad fruit of sin, then Baptism is not being put to use but rather resisted. Then the old Adam is overcoming the new creature that was born of the Spirit in Baptism. The opposite of the good fruit of the Spirit is the wicked fruit of our sinful flesh. St. Paul says, are these: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).

May we repent of these and all other sins! Faith lives in a state of constant repentance, and if repentance is going on, then you can see your Baptism at work. Even though you carry that old sinful Adam around your neck, your Baptism into Jesus Christ keeps on working to call you back to repentance, and to give you forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. This is why it is a good idea to start and end your days “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” remembering and returning to the Name into which you were baptized. Then you remember who you belong to—that you are a child of God—and He has promised you that your Baptism works. God’s promises always are dependable, so repent and believe them!

Prayer (LSB 616):

1. Baptismal waters cover me
As I approach on bended knee;
    My Father’s mercy here I plead,
    For grievous sins of thought and deed.

2. I look to Christ upon the tree,
His body broken there for me;
    I lay before Him all my sin,
    My darkest secrets from within.

3. Lord, may Your wounded hand impart
Your healing to my broken heart;
    Your love alone can form in me
    A heart that serves You joyfully.

4. From Your own mouth comes forth a word;
Your shepherd speaks, but You are heard;
    Through him Your hand now stretches out,
    Forgiving sin, destroying doubt.

5. Baptismal waters cover me;
Christ’s wounded hand has set me free.
    Held in my Father’s strong embrace,
    With joy I praise Him for His grace. Amen.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Thursday of Trinity 4

In All the Churches of the Saints

1 Corinthians 14:33-38 (ESV) God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.

St. Paul’s words above may strike us as jarring or “sexist,” given the extent to which egalitarianism has come to define our worldview, and political correctness regulates what we can and cannot say in public. There is no way to make Paul’s teachings sound egalitarian or politically correct, which is at least partly why some have attempted to “explain away” these verses by arguing that they do not apply to the 21st-century church.

Exhibit #1: In 2019 and 2020, the Evangelical “Lutheran” Church in America (ELCA) is celebrating “50/40/10,” which represents “50 years of Lutheran women being ordained in the United States, 40 years of women of color being ordained, and 10 years of LGBTQIA+ individuals being able to serve freely.”

The ELCA’s predecessor bodies (ALC, LCA, AELC) were on the bleeding edge of this issue. One of their basic arguments is that Paul’s prohibitions were merely attempts by him to accommodate to the surrounding culture so that the spreading of the Gospel would not be hindered. The argument goes, “In writing to the patriarchal culture of Corinth, Paul did not want to offend the cultural sensibilities of the male-dominated society, for this would have hindered the growth of the church.”

Yet in fact, Paul was going against the prevailing culture. As Dr. Dean Wenthe notes, “It is striking that in the ancient Near East, where female deities and priestesses were abundant, Israel was told to have only male priests. Similarly, in the Greco-Roman world, where female gods and priestesses flourished, the Church restricted the apostolic-pastoral office to men.” It is also worth noting that Jesus selected only men as the 12 Apostles. By contrast, for example, in Corinth there were several cults that had priestesses, and in the cult of Artemis in Ephesus, priestesses had higher positions than male priests.

So, if Paul had wanted to accommodate to the prevailing worldview, he would have allowed women to lead Christian worship. As his prohibitions stand, they would have caused as much offense then—perhaps even more—than they do today! Not allowing women’s ordination was unpopular then and now.

Some proponents of women’s ordination have acknowledged that 1 Corinthians 14 does prohibit public preaching and teaching in the church by women, and therefore ordination as well, but they argue that these prohibitions were only applicable to Paul’s own time and culture, not to ours. In other words, they say that times have changed and Paul’s words no longer are binding on the church.

Besides the fact that the Word of the Lord endures forever, Paul is always clear in his letters about when he is offering his own sanctified judgments and not the Word of the Lord. For example, in 1 Corinthians 7 he carefully distinguishes between which commands come from the Lord (and are therefore universally binding) and which instructions are merely Paul’s good advice to the church at Corinth (which are limited in application).

Yet the teaching of 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 is said to apply “in all the churches of the saints”; that “Word of God” belongs not just to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 14:36); and is in fact “a command of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37)—that is, a command of the Lord Jesus. The context of this passage indubitably sets it up as a universally binding command, not just culturally conditioned, time-specific advice.

We do need to be careful how we apply these verses, however, lest we end up taking them in such a literal manner that absolute silence is demanded of women when the church assembles. When St. Paul says that “the women should keep silent in the churches” (1 Corinthians 14:33b), this clearly does not mean that women cannot open their mouths in worship—for example, in confessing sins or singing hymns.

So what does it mean that women are to keep silent? Paul explains, “For they are not permitted to speak…For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church” (14:34-35). The word translated “speak” in 14:34-35 is the Greek lalein, which (when used by itself, without an object) is a technical term in the New Testament for public preaching and teaching (see, for example, Matthew 9:18; 12:46; Mark 2:2; Luke 9:11; John 8:12; Acts 4:1; 8:25; 13:43; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 2 Corinthians 12:19; Ephesians 6:20; Philippians 1:14, etc.). So Paul does not prohibit women from uttering words in the Divine Service, but only from preaching and teaching.

The Office of the Holy Ministry, which Jesus Christ Himself instituted (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-16; Luke 10:16; 24:44-47; John 20:19-23), was given to the church for the sake of public preaching and teaching of the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 14:33-38 specifically prohibits women from preaching and teaching the Gospel in the Divine Service, which is why these passages have always been used to reject the ordination of women.

Being a faithful Christian has always involved taking unpopular positions, because our Lord Jesus has given us some difficult, countercultural teachings to uphold, and He says: “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). As we have seen, some of those words of Jesus that we cannot be ashamed of include the “command of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37) that women not serve as pastors.

Another point I try to make when teaching about this issue is that not only women, but the vast majority of men, are not allowed to be ordained (see, for example, 1 Timothy 3:1-7). And the Office of the Holy Ministry is not something to be entered into lightly: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) has, to date, done an admirable job of resisting the cultural push for the ordination of women. For a thorough, outstanding defense of the biblical, historical practice of ordaining only men into the Holy Ministry, see Women Pastors?, published by Concordia Publishing House. In that volume, there are a couple essays by Lutheran women who emphasize the different vocations of men and women, and the many ways that women are also able to serve in the church.

In a world that is very confused about the roles of the sexes, what is most important to remember is that all of us, male and female, young and old, rich and poor, of all skin colors, have been set free from our sins by the blood of Jesus Christ and have been granted eternal life and salvation. Now that we have received that most precious and eternal gift in Christ, He wants to continue to bless us by teaching us to observe everything He has commanded us (Matthew 28:20). That “everything” is given to us in God’s inspired and inerrant Word, the Bible, and it is ours to treasure and gain wisdom from.

Since the teaching that God has reserved the Office of the Holy Ministry to men is given to us in God’s Word, we can receive this teaching as His gift to us, to be received by faith. The Lord gives, and we are given to, and we can be confident that the way He has ordained things is part of His good and gracious will for His Church and for all the baptized. “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28).

Prayer: Merciful God and Father, You have graciously promised that, by the preaching of the crucified Christ, those who believe in Him will be saved. By Your Holy Spirit grant grace to those men whom You have called to be pastors in Your Church. Grant them readiness and steadfastness in their ministry, patience, understanding, and great zeal. Support and strengthen them in Your service that, by Your Word, they may faithfully serve in the upbuilding of Your Church; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Wednesday of Trinity 4

Trade Shame for Sanctification

Romans 6:15-23 (ESV) What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The feeling of shame is awful, isn’t it? Paul says that sin leads to the rotten fruit of shame. But shame actually is useful to us, since it helps impress upon us the gravity of our sins. It is the proper response to objective wickedness. It also is inseparable from guilt, so a properly functioning conscience will produce both as a way of signaling that we need to repent of our sins.

In Romans 6:21, Paul is speaking of a shame that comes from recognizing how ungrateful and rebellious we have been toward our God, who has done nothing but show love and kindness to us in our creation, redemption, and sanctification. And this shame over sin not only reminds us that sin always produces bad fruit and therefore is to be avoided, but it also keeps us humble; it reminds us each day of our unworthiness in God’s presence, how far we have fallen short of the glory of God. It shows us that we need to live each day in repentance and faith, putting to death our old sinful flesh and rising up to newness of life by the power of Baptism.

But when you feel ashamed of how horribly you have sinned against your gracious Lord, then you need to remember that Christians live by faith, not by feelings. The promise of the Gospel is that, for the sake of Christ’s patient suffering for your sins in His shameful death on the cross, you will not be put to shame on the Last Day. St. Peter writes, “Whoever believes in Jesus will not be put to shame. So the honor is for you who believe” (1 Peter 2:6-7). Because of Jesus, you will not be shamed at the last judgment, but you will be honored with eternal life and blessing. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And in eternal life, there is no shame, for you will then be completely and perfectly sanctified, made holy.

Yet in the meantime, your Lord has plans for you, namely, plans for your sanctification. Paul points out in our lesson that the fruit of sin is shame and death, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” In other words, now that God has justified you, He also is going to sanctify you, and after you die, take you to heaven.

The word sanctification means “to make holy.” This is what the Holy Spirit continues working in your life until your dying day. Through faith in Christ, you are saved even now, but you might define sanctification as the ongoing work by which God the Holy Spirit preserves and strengthens your faith in Jesus and moves you to do good works.

Trading shame for sanctification is God’s gift to those who trust in Jesus. Sanctification is not something that you can initiate—nor should you try to track your progress, since that will lead to pride or despair. Sanctification is something done by God in your life as a free gift when He baptizes you and then brings you each day to repentance and faith in Jesus, as you live out your Baptism. So your sanctification doesn’t happen apart from your participation in it, but in you. It is even appropriate to speak of your regenerated will cooperating with the Holy Spirit in all the works that He does through you.

The fruit of your sanctification is the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. On the other hand, the fruits of our sinful flesh are things like sexual immorality, impurity, jealousy, fits of anger, idolatry, grudge-bearing, envy, and drunkenness.

It is God’s will that you not be a slave to sin, but a slave to God in sanctification, as St. Paul says: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5). A few verses later, Paul says that our sanctification occurs by the Holy Spirit, whom God freely gives to us. So an important part of our sanctification is praying for God to perform His sanctifying work in our lives, because Jesus promised that your Father in heaven will “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him” (Luke 11:13).

The tools that the Holy Spirit uses to sanctify you, to make you holy, are Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion, along with hearing and learning God’s Holy Word. Our sanctification, then, occurs not by our individual efforts, but it happens as the Holy Spirit keeps us in a holy community gathered around Christ’s holy Word and Sacraments.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You have joined us to Yourself in Holy Baptism and made our bodies a temple of Your Holy Spirit. May the fruit of the Spirit be born in our bodies as we show forth in the world Your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, for against such things there is no law; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Tuesday of Trinity 4

But as for You...

2 Timothy 3 (ESV) But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men. You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

“The last days” will be times of difficulty, St. Paul says. When is this? Today, and every past day since Jesus ascended into heaven! So let us not delude ourselves with nostalgia for “the good old days” or with utopian dreams of “progress.” The reality is, we live in “the present evil age” (Galatians 1:4) until Christ returns in glory.

This is foremost because of Satan: “Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Revelation 12:12). In fact, the term Paul uses above for “difficulty” is only employed one other time in the New Testament, to describe “fierce” demon-possessed men: “When Jesus came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way” (Matthew 8:28). The devil never takes a holiday!

We see manifestations of the diabolical difficulties described by Paul all around us: “lovers of self” look out for #1, “lovers of money” exploit others, “proud, arrogant, abusive” language permeates social media, children who are “disobedient to their parents” behave the same way in schools, people are “ungrateful” for the blessings we enjoy in this good land, “unholy” folks desecrate morality, “heartless” parents and doctors murder the unborn, “unappeasable” special-interest groups rave on, etc.

But let’s get personal: how often have you “slanderously” gossiped, lost “self-control,” acted in a “brutal” manner toward your neighbor, didn’t “love” good but delighted in evil, “treacherously” betrayed a friend, behaved “recklessly,” swelled “with conceit,” loved pleasure rather than God, and dressed up your life with “the appearance of godliness” to hide your secret sins?

“Avoid such people,” says Paul. Lord, have mercy! Do we have to avoid ourselves?

No, while we can recognize some or all of these behaviors in ourselves, St. Paul is describing people who “oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.” In other words, unbelievers, who live in manifest impenitence, with their minds set “on the flesh”: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:7-10).

 

Sinners we are, but in Christ, we have a Savior from sin, death, hell, and the flesh. Baptized into Christ, we have received the Holy Spirit to give us a new heart and a new mind, which seeks to “submit to God’s Law” by rejecting vice and embracing virtue. Of course, this happens in great weakness, which certainly keeps us humble, recognizing our need for constant repentance.

Since the world around us is in the hands of the Evil One, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

There is great power in godliness, great power in using the Word and Sacraments, since the Holy Spirit works through them to help us daily put to death the Old Adam with his vices so that a new man may arise each day to live in newness of life. The world will reject the Means of Grace, but as for you, they “make you wise for salvation” and equip you “for every good work.”

Prayer: Merciful God, for freedom You have set us free through Christ’s liberating death and resurrection. In this freedom, teach us to live in the fruit of the Spirit given us in our Baptism that we may bear in our bodies the fulfillment of the Law as we love our neighbors as ourselves; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.


Monday, July 6, 2020

Monday of Trinity 4

To Judge or Not to Judge?

Luke 6:36-42 (ESV) Jesus said, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

St. Paul writes, “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’” (1 Corinthians 5:11-13)

This passage makes us uncomfortable. Paul says to judge those inside the church. But Jesus said, “Judge not, and you will not be judged” (Luke 6:37). Which is right? To judge or not to judge?—that is the question!

Here is an apparent contradiction between Jesus and Paul, and our inclination would be to go with the Son of God rather than His Apostle, right? That is the route liberal Protestantism has taken, playing Jesus off against Paul, as if Jesus’ words trump Paul’s, or as if Paul was just speaking to a specific timebound situation and his words don’t apply today, while Jesus was providing a universal, eternal principle for all of us to follow.

Of course, Jesus goes on a few verses later to tell Christians that they can point out the faults of others and call them to repentance, provided that we do not hypocritically refuse to repent of our own failings first: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Luke 6:41). People like to rip that passage out of context and use it to exclude the possibility of anyone ever chastising or rebuking another person. But they omit what follows: “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (Luke 6:42).

Once the log is removed, we can see clearly to identify the speck in our brother’s eye and help him out of his own transgression. This is what Paul says elsewhere: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). The one who is “spiritual”—that is, living in repentance and being led by the Holy Spirit—actually is required to gently and lovingly try to help the erring brother recognize his sin and repent. This is not an act of judgmentalism, but of love, seeking the repentance and salvation of the sinner.

Repentance is a turning away from sin and a turning back to the Lord and His forgiveness, and it is integral to the Church’s message. After all, Jesus did say, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). And He began His public ministry with this call as well: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

The Book of Concord also shows that repentance does involve turning away from sin: “When repentance and faith in Christ (Acts 20:21), or repentance and forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:46–47), are mentioned as distinct, to repent means nothing other than to truly acknowledge sins, to be heartily sorry for them, and to stop doing them” (Formula of Concord, V, 8). If no one tells me which sins to confess, seek forgiveness for, and stop doing, how will I ever repent of anything?

In fact, when Jesus says “Judge not,” He is using the word “judge” to mean “publicly issue a verdict about someone” (and perhaps even punish them), and He is speaking about the way Christians are to treat one another. In Matthew 18, He provides further insight about this. When another Christian sins against you, you are not to judge that person by going and telling everyone else about it—you are to go directly to that individual and call them to repentance and reconciliation: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15–17)

With this passage in mind, we can see that Paul and Jesus are in perfect agreement. Public judgment is not authorized when a one-on-one confrontation about sin is called for, but if another Christian refuses to repent and the issue escalates, other Christians and perhaps the whole congregation must become involved.

The situation in 1 Corinthians 5 had become a churchwide, public issue—not merely a private matter between two Christians. A man was having a public affair with his stepmother and apparently had no intention of repenting (1 Corinthians 5:1). The Corinthian congregation apparently was going the liberal Protestant route and tolerating the public immorality. But Paul says, “Let him who has done this be removed from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:2). The judgment of excommunication Paul renders is equivalent to Jesus’ “let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” And the goal of this excommunication was “so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5), that is, the Church would regain a brother when he would recognize that he was hellbound, repent, and be restored to the Communion of the Church.

As we have seen from Jesus and Paul, the Christian Church must judge what is sin and what is not, and what is true doctrine and what is false. Jesus’ Words about judgment do not forbid the Church’s judgment of public sin or false doctrine, but actually uphold them. The Office of the Keys demands that we judge those within the Church on the basis of their public words and deeds. When public, open, unrepentance is being shown by a member of the Church—then the Small Catechism says the Keys must be exercised: “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”

Prayer (LSB 508):

1. The day is surely drawing near 

    When Jesus, God’s anointed,

In all His power shall appear

    As judge whom God appointed.

Then fright shall banish idle mirth,

And flames on flames shall ravage earth

    As Scripture long has warned us.

 

5. My Savior paid the debt I owe

    And for my sin was smitten;

Within the Book of Life I know

    My name has now been written.

I will not doubt, for I am free,

And Satan cannot threaten me;

    There is no condemnation!

 

7. O Jesus Christ, do not delay,

    But hasten our salvation;

We often tremble on our way

    In fear and tribulation.

O hear and grant our fervent plea:

Come, mighty judge, and set us free

    From death and ev’ry evil. Amen.


Saturday, July 4, 2020

Saturday of Trinity 3

Liberty or Death


John 8:31-36 (ESV) So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

“Give me liberty, or give me death!” So said Patrick Henry in a speech to the Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775 as he tried to convince the Virginia House of Burgesses to send troops to support the Revolutionary War. In the audience that day were none other than Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. After Henry delivered his rousing speech, all those in attendance began to shout his powerful phrase, “Give me liberty, or give me death!”

The sentiment Henry and his fellow Virginians were expressing was that they would rather suffer death rather than live in bondage to a political authority which they considered to be tyrannical. They were willing to die in order to achieve political and civil liberties.

While we should be thankful for such liberties in this life, their importance pales in comparison with the liberty that Jesus is talking about when He says, “If you abide in My Word, then you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Political and civil liberties are all temporary and easily changed or overthrown; they guarantee certain freedoms while we are living in this world, but at death they are all taken away.

On the other hand, the freedom that Jesus speaks of in John 8 is not temporary but eternal liberty from sin, death, and hell. We can see the everlasting nature of this freedom when Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The liberty Jesus is talking about delivering to His disciples is true freedom from sin; He wants to liberate us from slavery to sin and have us dwell freely in God the Father’s house forever.

It is noble that men are willing to sacrifice their lives to achieve or preserve temporary earthly liberties for their neighbors, but consider how much more wonderful it is that Jesus would lay down His life to set us free from the guilt of our sin and in exchange give us His righteousness and everlasting life. The Son’s sacrifice of His life is our freedom from death. Jesus willingly said to His Father, “Give Me death for the sins of those slaves so that I can give them liberty!”

Early on in the ministry of Jesus, John the Baptist pointed to Him and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Jesus came to the Jordan River to fulfill all righteousness, to accomplish the righteousness of God that liberates sinners from their guilt. At the Jordan Jesus was baptized with a baptism intended for sinners, yet He Himself had no sins to confess or be forgiven of; by taking that Baptism for us sinners He was loading the guilt of the sins of the world upon Himself, taking the bondage off of us and putting it upon Himself. By taking our sins He places Himself into slavery to the punishment of sins, death. Yet He Himself was perfectly innocent so that He could be the blameless and spotless Lamb of God, dying in the place of sinners so that we can be set free from the guilt of our sins. On the cross Jesus pays to His Father the ransom price of His holy, precious blood and innocent sufferings and death in order to redeem us out of slavery to sin, death, and hell.

And Christ’s resurrection on the third day is proof that the Father was pleased with the Son’s sacrifice for sins. The grave could not hold Jesus down, but He broke the bonds of death and burst forth from the tomb, never to be captive to the weight of sin or death ever again. Then Jesus gave to His Church the proclamation of the Gospel as the means for the Holy Spirit to create saving faith in the hearts of sinners. He gave Holy Baptism as the concrete place where sinners receive liberty from slavery to sin and adoption as free sons in God’s eternal household. In Holy Baptism, you are set at liberty from the guilt of your sins and are given a new life to live as free sons of God in his Kingdom.

Prayer (LSB 966):

1. Before You, Lord, we bow,
    Our God who reigns above
And rules the world below,
    Boundless in pow’r and love.
Our thanks we bring
    In joy and praise,
    Our hearts we raise
To You, our King!

2. The nation You have blest
    May well Your love declare,
From foes and fears at rest,
    Protected by Your care.
For this bright day,
    For this fair land—
    Gifts of Your hand—
Our thanks we pay.

3. May ev’ry mountain height,
    Each vale and forest green,
Shine in Your Word’s pure light,
    And its rich fruits be seen!
May ev’ry tongue
    Be tuned to praise
    And join to raise
A grateful song.

4. Earth, hear your Maker’s voice;
    Your great Redeemer own;
Believe, obey, rejoice,
    And worship Him alone.
Cast down your pride,
    Your sin deplore,
    And bow before
The Crucified.

5. And when in pow’r He comes,
    Oh, may our native land
From all its rending tombs
    Send forth a glorious band,
A countless throng,
    With joy to sing
    To heav’n’s high King
Salvation’s song! Amen.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Friday of Trinity 3

Prodigal Son, Forgiving Father

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 (ESV) Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable… “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” ’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ”

In Luke 15, Jesus tells us the parable of the Prodigal Son (prodigal means wasteful) and his Forgiving Father in order to teach self-righteous Pharisees of all times that the grace of God stops short of no man, that God does not desire the death of a sinner but rather he turn from his ways and live, that God desires all to repent and come to a knowledge of the truth.

When the wasteful son took his inheritance and ran, he wasted more than material goods; he wasted his father’s love for him. When the younger son asks for his inheritance early he basically was saying to his father, “I wish you were dead. I want no part of life with you anymore. I’d rather go off and spend my time and money with people I don’t even know.” When Jesus told this story, the people who heard it would have expected the father to blow up at the son in anger and deny his request. But the father did not; he graciously granted his son’s wishes.

The son quickly liquidated his share of the inheritance and headed to a foreign land with lots of cash in hand. He squandered it all, living recklessly. After the money was gone, the son was so desperate he became a servant for a foreigner just to survive, doing something that a good Hebrew would have found unthinkable: feeding pigs (the Old Testament deems pigs unclean, and Israelites couldn’t eat or touch them). He found himself broke and starving in another land, but finally came to his senses. He realized that his father’s hired servants were much better off than he was, so he planned to return, groveling, and make a deal with his father: he would give up the title of “son” in exchange for a position of servant in his father’s house. It wouldn’t be ideal, but that way at least he wouldn’t be starving and broke.

So the son headed home to grovel and bargain for acceptance, but his father’s behavior was totally unexpected. He still loved his son and even stood outside gazing longingly into the distance, hoping for his son’s return. And when he saw the son on the horizon, the father was so moved with compassion that he ran to embrace and kiss his son. In that culture it would have been humiliating for a noble man to run: Aristotle wrote that “Great men never run in public.”

But the father was so overjoyed to see his son that he tossed societal convention aside, and embraced and kissed him. And remember what the son was doing before he came back? He was a pig herder, so he was filthy and smelly, yet the father didn’t care. He loved the son anyway. He was just delighted to have his lost son home again. This parable’s all about the father’s wasteful, unconditional, forgiving love. The sin is covered. Now all was made right again between the father and the prodigal son.

So who is the prodigal son? “Surely not I, Lord?” Yes, it is you. Read yourself into this parable. You didn’t birth yourself into the Father’s household, but even when you were dead in sin, He made you His child by baptizing you into His Son, giving you a place in His eternal home. But have you responded with complete gratitude and obedience and love for the Father, or have you despised Him and His gifts by wandering into sin?

You are the prodigal. By your sins you have said to Him, “I wish you were dead; I want no part of life with you; I’d rather go be elsewhere.” But how does the Father respond to your sinful efforts to run away from Him? He stands waiting with open arms, longing for your return, because He has already slaughtered His Lamb, His only-begotten Son, in order to atone for all your sinful straying. He has no wrath toward you. All He wants is for you to come home, so through His Word He sends His Holy Spirit out to call you to your senses, to call you to repent and return home. When you come back to His house, He embraces you and absolves you: “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” When you are a child of God in Christ, you have a forgiving Father in heaven!

 

Prayer (LSB 977:4-5):

4. As a father, ever yearning,

    Longing to be reconciled,

Seeks the prodigal’s returning,

    Loving still the wayward child,

So my many sins and errors

    Find a tender, pard’ning God,

    Chast’ning frailty with His rod,

Not in vengeance with His terrors.

    All things else have but their day;

    God’s great love abides for aye.

 

5. Since there’s neither change nor coldness

    In God’s love that on me smiled,

I now lift my hands in boldness,

    Coming to You as Your child.

Grant me grace, O God, I pray You,

    That I may with all my might,

    All my lifetime, day and night,

Love and trust You and obey You

    And, when this brief life is o’er,

    Praise and love You evermore. Amen.


Thursday, July 2, 2020

Thursday of Trinity 3

The Table of Duties

Luke 17:7-10 (ESV) Jesus said, “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ”

In our legal system, when a person is accused of a crime, he has a right to counsel and the opportunity to defend himself in a court of law. But when you face up to God for your sins, do you have any natural rights to claim before Him? Do you even have an inalienable right to defend yourself against His accusations that you have violated His holy Law and you are liable to judgment? No, for Solomon said: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

It is our whole duty to fear God and keep His commandments. In our day we are accustomed to speaking about this or that right, but before God, we have no rights at all, unless He gives them to us by grace. By nature, or by law, the only things we have before God are duties, not rights. Because He has created us, we are His to do with as He pleases, and out of gratitude to Him for giving us life and innumerable blessings, the Small Catechism explains, “For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him” (First Article). Before God, we have only the duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him—we have no rights.

The best we can aspire to is to be God’s unworthy servants, as Jesus pointed out in our text above: “When you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10). That is what we say if we have done all that we have been commanded to do.

Have you done all your duty, all that God has commanded to do? Of course not! We are so sinful that we cannot even claim to have done our duty, the bare minimum. The fact is, we have failed miserably and deserve nothing good from God, as we confess in the Small Catechism, “We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment” (Fifth Petition).

We deserve nothing but punishment for our failures to do our duty, but God has been merciful to His servants. He sent His only-begotten Son to become the Suffering Servant, to lay aside all His rights and privileges as God, and to become servant of all, the least, despised, rejected of men, acquainted with grief. He was put to death for our transgressions, the King dying for His subjects so that we might be spared the hellfire and instead be granted the privilege of serving in His Kingdom, now and forever.

We confess this most clearly in the Small Catechism: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true” (Second Article)

Because of Jesus and our Baptism into His death and resurrection, we are forgiven, set free from sin and eternal death, and we are redeemed to live in righteousness, serving Him—our Lord. And that is why our Small Catechism includes a Table of Duties to explain and supplement the Two Tablets of Stone, the Ten Commandments. The Table of Duties is a series of Bible passages that spell out our basic duties as servants of God who are called to live in love toward one another. It contains Certain Passages of Scripture for Various Holy Orders and Positions, by Which These People Are to Be Admonished, as a Special Lesson, about Their Office and Service.

We need this admonishment and special lesson from the Scriptures, just as we need the Ten Commandments, otherwise we would not know what our duty is; we would not know what a God-pleasing life is. And without such laws from God, we would not be able to evaluate how miserably we have failed at doing our duty, so we would not realize how desperately we need our Lord Jesus Christ for salvation and for daily help.

But God is good. He has given you this Table of Duties to learn, study, put into practice, and pass on to future generations. He has given you a Savior in Jesus to redeem you from your failure to always do your duty, who has given you the right to be called children of God, as St. John writes, “To all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

You were born of God in your Holy Baptism into Christ, and for you dear children of God, He has given you the Gospel and the Lord’s Supper in the Church to serve you with His forgiveness, life, and salvation, to strengthen and keep you in the one true faith. And He has given you the right to pray—to ask Him to make you a good and faithful servant, as Jesus commands and promises, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” He who called you is faithful, and He will surely do it.

Prayer: Eternal Lord, ruler of all, graciously regard those who have been set in positions of authority among us that, guided by Your Spirit, they may be high in purpose, wise in counsel, firm in good resolution, and unwavering in duty, that under them we may be governed quietly and peaceably; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.