Monday, November 30, 2020

Monday of Advent 1

 The Gift of Hope

Romans 15:4-6, 13 (ESV) For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Many congregations adorn their sanctuary with an Advent Wreath with four candles, one for each Sunday of the season. Although the practice is not universal or even uniform, the four themes most often associated with each Sunday are hope, peace, joy, and love.
At our congregation, our first candle symbolizes “hope.” Like many English words, people use “hope” to express a wide variety of ideas, but most often it is used to express an uncertain desire or wish: “I hope…it doesn’t rain today / my team wins the game this week / so-and-so gets elected / we find a cure for my illness / etc.”
However, the Greek word used in the New Testament that is usually translated as “hope” (λπς, elpis) is not intended to convey any uncertainty. In fact, a preferable translation would be “expectation”—that is, by faith the believer lives in anticipation that a promise of God is going to come to pass at any moment.
God does not want us to languish with uncertain desires but rather in faith that all of His promises in Christ are dependable so that we have joyful expectation of their fulfillment. We see testimony of God’s reliability in the promises He kept to our forefathers in the faith in the Bible: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
The Lutheran Book of Concord cites Romans 15:4 at significant junctures in Article 11 of the Formula of Concord (“God’s Eternal Foreknowledge and Election”) to provide an interpretative key to all the Scriptures: namely, if someone is using God’s Word to make a believer doubt his salvation (or, conversely, to give false assurance to an impenitent unbeliever), it is surely a misuse of the Bible (Concordia, 615).
As you make use of the Word and Sacraments this Advent season, be confident that through them the Holy Spirit will produce in you true hope: more than just an uncertain wish, but a lively confidence that by God’s grace you are justified for Christ’s sake and a joyful expectation that Christ’s return will be a glorious day for you.
Prayer: Almighty God, grant us a steadfast faith in Jesus Christ, a cheerful hope in Your mercy, and a sincere love for You and one another; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Friday of Trinity 23

 The Steadfastness of Job

Job 1:20—2:10 (ESV) Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. And the LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
There are false teachers who teach that if you believe firmly enough in God nothing bad will ever happen to you. Try that out on Job. He suffered not because he didn’t believe enough but because he did believe. He trusted in God. He was righteous before God through faith in God’s promises. That is precisely why Job suffered. God wanted to make an example of Job, to show that Job trusted in God’s Word and not simply in all the blessings God gave him.
So one by one God lifted his protective hand from Job and permitted the devil to take away his possessions, his family, his dignity, his health. The only thing God wouldn’t let the devil touch was Job’s life. But Job didn't know that. Only we, the readers of the book of Job, know that. To all appearances, it looked to Job as if God had become his enemy. And yet Job trusted in God even when God appeared to have abandoned him and seemed to turn against him.
That’s the kind of faith that these last days of the world call for: the faith of Job that stubbornly sticks to the promises of God no matter what, come what may. It is a faith that is firmly grounded in God’s Word, a faith that knows the difference between God’s commands and His promises, a faith that clings to the cross of Christ against sin, death, and hell even when sin, death, and hell are in our own backyard and threatening to knock down the door.
St. James wrote: “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:7-11).
Prayer: Almighty God, our heavenly Father, because of Your tender love toward us sinners You have given us Your Son that, believing in Him, we might have everlasting life. Continue to grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may remain steadfast in this faith to the end and finally come to life everlasting; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Thursday of Trinity 23

 What Jesus Sees

Mark 5:21-24a, 35-43 (ESV) And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” … While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Jesus was unwavered by the report of the girl’s death. With great seriousness, He said, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” And the crowd laughed at Him. This was not a playful laugh, but a scornful, mocking laugh. “Who is this joker? This man is crazy. Doesn’t he know a dead body when He sees one?”
But just as Jesus had ignored the messengers who said the girl was dead, Jesus ignores the crowd. You get the impression that He’s angry; the text says that He kicked them out of the house. He ran them out on a rail.
You see, they were laughing at God. They thought they could see better than God can. They were thinking, “We see a dead girl; that means she’s dead.” But in Jesus’ eyes, the girl was truly sleeping; not dead at all. He sees reality. He sees beyond heartbeats and heart monitors, beyond brainwaves and brain death.
Think of it this way. You know what it means when someone says, “You’re dead to me.” That means the person is no longer a part of their life. He is as good as dead. He will not be in the other person’s thoughts at all. When Jesus says, “The child is not dead but asleep,” He is saying, “This girl is alive to Me. In my eyes, she’s only asleep.” And if you’re alive to God, then you are most certainly alive no matter how many doctors pronounce you dead or how deep they bury you.
So Jesus went into the bedroom with the father and mother and a few of His disciples. And when the eyes of Jesus beheld the dead girl, He saw that she was only asleep, that she only needed to be woken up by His Word. So He spoke. “Talitha cumi” which is Aramaic for “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” And immediately she got up and walked around.
What Jesus sees is reality, and what He speaks is reality. The Word of Jesus does what it says, since Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. He is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. He is the one who said, “Let there be light” and there was light. He said, “Let the waters bring forth fish and the sky bring forth birds” and the fish swam in swarms and the birds flew in flocks.
The words of God are not like our words. I can stand over a dead body and say, “He’s not dead” or “She’s not dead” and nothing changes. I can say, “Wake up!” and it doesn’t happen. My words only speak what my eyes perceive to be reality. But God’s words speak reality. So when Jesus tells a dead girl, “Wake up,” she wakes up. Astonishing, isn’t it?
Now think about what this means for you. It means that God’s Word spoken to you does what it says. It means that when Jesus cries out from the cross, “It is finished!” then everything necessary for your salvation has been accomplished, your sins are atoned for. Since God’s Word speaks reality, it means that when Jesus says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,” then the water poured over you actually washes away your sins and grants you a new, eternal life. It means that Baptism isn’t simple water only, but it’s a washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
So no matter how many people out there pronounce it plain water, no matter how much the devil would like to make you forget about Baptism, no matter how much your sinful eyes can’t see how God could possibly save you through the same old water that you drink every day, Baptism is what God says it is: It is a gracious water of life that clothes you in all the holiness and righteousness of Jesus. If you are baptized, then in the eyes of God, you are robed in the righteousness of Jesus, and that’s really all that matters.
Prayer (LSB 552):
O Christ, who shared our mortal life
    And ended death’s long reign,
Who healed the sick and raised the dead
    And bore our grief and pain:
We know our years on earth are few,
    That death is always near.
Come now to us, O Lord of Life;
    Bring hope that conquers fear!
A ruler proud but bent by grief
    Knelt down before Your feet:
“My precious daughter’s gripped by death!
    Come now and death defeat!”
A multitude had gathered round
    To hear the truth You taught,
But, leaving them, You turned to help
    A father sore distraught.
You pressed through crowds to reach the child
    Whose limbs with death grew cold.
“She is not dead; she only sleeps!”
    The weeping folk You told.
And then You took her hand and called,
    “My child, I bid you rise!”
She rose! And all stood round You, Lord,
    With awed and wond’ring eyes!
Death’s power holds us still in thrall
    And bears us toward the tomb.
Death’s dark’ning cloud hangs like a pall
    That threatens earth with doom.
But You have broken death’s embrace
    And torn away its sting.
Restore to life our mortal race!
    Raise us, O Risen King! Amen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Tuesday of Trinity 23

 Rendering to God and Caesar

Matthew 22:15-22 (ESV) Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

In the Gospel reading for the Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity, the Pharisees were flattering Jesus, hoping to trap Him in His own words by fawning over Him. They said, quite insincerely, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.” Ironically, all of that was true, though the Pharisees hoped that when Jesus heard those things He would be made to trip up, play the hypocrite, and give them cause for bringing public charges against Him and discrediting His movement.

Their entrapment goes like this: “Tell us what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

If Jesus were to answer, “Yes, it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar,” then He would have alienated Jewish nationalists who wanted independence from Rome for Israel and who said that God alone was their King, to whom they owed tribute. Jesus would have lost support of the people by saying, “Yes.”

If Jesus were to answer, “No, it is not lawful to pay taxes to Caesar,” then He would have pleased the nationalists but would have been guilty of sedition, incitement of resistance to lawful authority. This would have made Jesus an enemy of Caesar, which surely would have caused Him to lose His head.

So Jesus appeared to be trapped. But then He called their hand, and their hypocrisy. “Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.’ And they brought Him a denarius.”

Obviously they were not opposed to using pagan money, because they had some on hand.

And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.”

Jesus simply speaks the truth. He offers a brilliant answer that springs Him from the trap set by the Pharisees and makes them look like fools, simply by being honest and true to God’s Word. No doubt, this reveals Jesus as a master teacher, clever, and wise as a serpent while innocent as a dove. He upholds the Fourth and First Commandments: we are to give to the government what is owed to the government, and we are to give back to God what is owed to Him.

But there is something far more profound in Jesus’ words than the simple teaching that we owe taxes and obedience to the government, and total obedience to God. Jesus here describes His own way of life.

In His life, Jesus never broke the Fourth Commandment, which requires obedience to Caesar. That would have been sin. Even when He was unjustly convicted and sentenced to death by Caesar’s government, He did not protest. Because of that conviction, the life of Jesus was owed to Caesar, and He willingly gave it up on the cross. Jesus did not resist, but knew that through Caesar’s unjust execution, He would die for the sins of all people of all time.

But even more profoundly, Jesus rendered to God the things that are God’s. He always rendered perfect, unwavering trust, love, and obedience to His Father. He did not doubt His Father’s love, did not forsake His Father’s will, did not place His confidence in anyone else than in God alone. As He died, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last (Luke 23:46).

Just as Adam’s sin caused all of us to be sinners and receive the sentence of temporal and eternal death, so now Christ’s perfect obedience has caused all of us to be declared righteous, as St. Paul wrote: “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).

Just as Adam’s sin happened only once but its effects span the ages, so also Christ’s death has an eternal impact. The Epistle to the Hebrews (10:12) says, “When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” A single sacrifice for all the hypocritical sins of all times, and that forgiveness has been accomplished for you, too.

Prayer (Psalm 34:8; 116:12-13, 17-19):
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
          Blessèd is the man who takes refuge in him!
What shall I render to the Lord
          for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
          and call on the name of the Lord.
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving
          and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord
          in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord,
          in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord! Amen.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Wednesday of Trinity 22

 Maintaining the Temple

2 Kings 12:1-16 (ESV) In the seventh year of Jehu, Jehoash began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zibiah of Beersheba. And Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all his days, because Jehoiada the priest instructed him. Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away; the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings on the high places. Jehoash said to the priests, “All the money of the holy things that is brought into the house of the LORD, the money for which each man is assessed—the money from the assessment of persons—and the money that a man’s heart prompts him to bring into the house of the LORD, let the priests take, each from his donor, and let them repair the house wherever any need of repairs is discovered.” But by the twenty-third year of King Jehoash, the priests had made no repairs on the house. Therefore King Jehoash summoned Jehoiada the priest and the other priests and said to them, “Why are you not repairing the house? Now therefore take no more money from your donors, but hand it over for the repair of the house.” So the priests agreed that they should take no more money from the people, and that they should not repair the house. Then Jehoiada the priest took a chest and bored a hole in the lid of it and set it beside the altar on the right side as one entered the house of the LORD. And the priests who guarded the threshold put in it all the money that was brought into the house of the LORD. And whenever they saw that there was much money in the chest, the king’s secretary and the high priest came up and they bagged and counted the money that was found in the house of the LORD. Then they would give the money that was weighed out into the hands of the workmen who had the oversight of the house of the LORD. And they paid it out to the carpenters and the builders who worked on the house of the LORD, and to the masons and the stonecutters, as well as to buy timber and quarried stone for making repairs on the house of the LORD, and for any outlay for the repairs of the house. But there were not made for the house of the LORD basins of silver, snuffers, bowls, trumpets, or any vessels of gold, or of silver, from the money that was brought into the house of the LORD, for that was given to the workmen who were repairing the house of the LORD with it. And they did not ask for an accounting from the men into whose hand they delivered the money to pay out to the workmen, for they dealt honestly. The money from the guilt offerings and the money from the sin offerings was not brought into the house of the LORD; it belonged to the priests.
Previously, I wrote about the construction of God’s Temple under Solomon’s (r. 970-931 BC) supervision, and about how this Temple pointed forward to our incorporation into the Body of Christ, God’s final Temple for all nations. However, we can also learn things from the story of the Old Testament Temple and apply them to the Church (the Body of Christ!) today.
1 Kings 5-6 describes the building of the Lord’s Temple. There He dwelled in the midst of Israel to hear prayers, receive sacrifices, and bless His people. By the time of King Joash (r. 835-796 BC), the Temple had fallen into a state of disrepair on account of aging, neglect, and abuse.
Joash (also known as Jehoash) ascended the throne of Judah at the age of seven and reigned forty years (2 Kings 11:21—12:1). Prior to this, the wicked queen mother Athaliah sought to wipe out all of King David’s lineage (the Messianic line) so that she could control the throne, but the Lord rescued Joash from her hand (2 Kings 11:1-3). The godly high priest Jehoiada anointed Joash and secured the throne for him. Joash had Athaliah executed (11:4-21).
Joash reigned well as long as his counselor Jehoiada lived, but later the king backslid into idolatry (2 Chronicles 24:15-27). Joash’s life reminds us to live each day in repentant trust in the grace which God delivers in His Word and Sacrament, knowing that we can cast away our salvation through impenitence (Hebrews 10:23-27).
Joash instructed the priests to take part of the people’s payments for vows and sacrifices and make needed repairs to the Temple (12:4-5). However, the priests had to live off those contributions, so they could not afford (or were unwilling to make sacrifices for) repairs. After twenty-three years with no repairs, Joash and Jehoida put a collection box in the Temple so the people of Judah could make voluntary contributions for repairs (12:6-9). The public responded generously. The king’s secretary and Jehoida paid workmen, who oversaw repairs of the Temple and in turn paid for supplies and laborers (12:10-14). The workmen were so honest that no special accounting had to be made for expenditures (12:15). The priests continued to live off the sin and guilt offerings, which were not put into the repair fund (12:16).
Joash’s undertaking of Temple repairs and Judah’s generous support set an example for us. Jesus is present with us when we gather in the church for worship (Matthew 18:20), so we should properly maintain the sacred house in which God serves us with His Word and Sacraments. Our offerings should be generous and given cheerfully, in proportion to how the Lord has blessed us (1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8-9). Our offerings include time and talent as well as money.
The Lord blesses us with the opportunity to support the ministry of His Word at home and abroad. We get to offer money to the Lord through the church. Money is not good or bad in itself, but is simply one more gift God gives us to use in support of the ministry of His Word. Money cannot satisfy us (Ecclesiastes 5:10). If we love and serve money, then we actually hate and reject the Lord (Matthew 6:24). “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” that can lead us away from the Faith (1 Timothy 6:10). But as Christians we can keep our lives free from the love of money and be content with what we have, since God has told us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Prayer (LSB 981)
1. To Your temple, Lord, I come,
For it is my worship home.
This earth has no better place,
Here I see my Savior’s face.
2. I through Him am reconciled,
I through Him become Your child.
Abba, Father, give me grace
In Your courts Your love to trace.
3. While Your glorious praise is sung,
Touch my lips, unloose my tongue
That my joyful soul may bless
Christ the Lord, my righteousness.
4. While the prayers of saints ascend,
God of love, to mine attend.
Hear me, for Your Spirit pleads;
Hear, for Jesus intercedes.
5. While I listen to Your Law,
Fill my soul with humble awe
Till Your Gospel bring to me
Life and immortality.
6. While Your ministers proclaim
Peace and pardon in Your name,
Through their voice, by faith, may I
Hear You speaking from the sky.
7. From Your house when I return,
May my heart within me burn,
And at evening let me say,
“I have walked with God today.” Amen.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Tuesday of Trinity 22

 Total Forgiveness

Matthew 18:21-35 (ESV) Then Peter came up and said to Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
In the parable, the King completely forgives the servant’s debt. On the cross, our debt to God has been paid. “Tetelestai,” Jesus cried out (John 19:30). “It is finished.” What all humans owed to God has been paid in full by Jesus, so our debt is canceled. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for the masses” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus paid that ransom to the Father. What’s more, His perfect obedience to the Father produced a currency that opens the door to heaven for us, His perfect righteousness.
Sins, debts, trespasses—by whatever name our misdeeds are called—they have been answered for by Jesus, at Calvary, under Pontius Pilate. Our prayer, “Forgive us our debts,” has been answered even before we were born. On Calvary, Jesus achieved forgiveness for all sinners, and now He sends His Holy Spirit to draw us to Himself so that we can be given that forgiveness through faith.
If His work on the cross weren’t delivered to us, it wouldn’t save us, so in the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, we confess, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins.” The Small Catechism explains that, “In this Christian church [the Holy Spirit] daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.” Here Christ’s Kingdom comes and His will is done: forgiveness and salvation for sinners.
How did you enter this Christian Church, His Kingdom, the place where God forgives our sins? You were given the Holy Spirit in Baptism, which “works forgiveness of sins.” In Baptism you were pardoned of all your debts and given a new life as a child of God. Baptism also indicates that your sinful Old Adam should be drowned and die, but he proves to be an excellent swimmer. The struggle against sin is endless! So we flee for refuge to God’s infinite mercy in Holy Absolution and in Holy Communion. In Absolution and in the Lord’s Supper, we are given forgiveness of our sins and strength for the new man’s struggle against the Old Adam.
Part of that struggle is to forgive others as we have been forgiven. While we are like that first slave in our standing before God and in God’s merciful forgiveness of all of our debt to Him, we must not then act like that wicked slave. The forgiven forgive. The parable shows that hell is the punishment for those who claim God’s forgiveness as their own but then heartlessly refuse to forgive those who sin against them and instead nurse grudges and seek retribution.
The point of the parable is that God has pardoned a debt you could never pay, which frees you to forgive those whose sins against you pale in comparison to the innumerable sins of thought, word, and deed you have committed against your Creator. If you receive God’s forgiveness of all your sins and then refuse to forgive your brother when he repents, there will be hell to pay.
It sounds easy in principle, but you know it is much harder in practice. We must not trivialize the severity of sins against us, or justify wrongdoing. The Ten Commandments not only identify our own sins, but also the sins others commit against us. Sin must be identified and repentance must be called for; it can’t just be swept under the rug. This parable is about forgiving those who acknowledge their debt to us; not those who are unwilling to admit that they have sinned at all. As with Christ’s saying about the log and the speck in eyes, we should rebuke the wrong others do, but we must first remove the log from our own eyes, lest we be hypocrites and our rebukes fall on deaf ears.
We also must not diminish how difficult it is to forgive those who have sinned against us in awful ways. Forgiveness of another’s sin isn’t just a one-time thing but might occur thousands of times over the years. Every time you pray the Fifth Petition, you are moved to think, “God has forgiven all my sins in Christ and so I will gladly forgive the sin of that person which just keeps flooding back into my mind, bringing back those horrible feelings and that bitterness.” Forgiving others is a struggle, and this is all the more reason to run to church to be given forgiveness in the Word and Sacraments, because only when we truly appreciate how great Christ’s forgiveness of our sins is do we have the ability to forgive others.
St. Paul wrote in Ephesians, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). We love, because He first loved us. That’s where the power to forgive others comes from. Though your sins are as countless as the sand, though they number in the zillions, how much forgiveness do you have in Christ? Complete and total!
Prayer (LSB 843):
1. “Forgive our sins as we forgive,”
    You taught us, Lord, to pray;
But You alone can grant us grace
    To live the words we say.
2. How can Your pardon reach and bless
    The unforgiving heart
That broods on wrongs and will not let
    Old bitterness depart?
3. In blazing light Your cross reveals
    The truth we dimly knew:
What trivial debts are owed to us,
    How great our debt to You!
4. Lord, cleanse the depths within our souls
    And bid resentment cease;
Then, bound to all in bonds of love,
    Our lives will spread Your peace. Amen.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Friday of Trinity 21

 Out of the Great Tribulation

Revelation 7:9-17 (ESV) After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Though it grieves our flesh, one of the tasks the Lord has given us to is to suffer, experiencing trials and tribulations, and remain patient and faithful in the midst of suffering. This contradicts the popular misconception that becoming a Christian means that you’ll be healthy, wealthy, and wise, and you will have your best life now. Rather listen to what Jesus says in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Jesus tells us of a particularly rich blessing when we suffer precisely because we are Christians. This is most clearly seen when we are scorned for confessing our faith, but it also includes the quiet witness shown by Christians as they suffer all the trials of this life and yet remain faithful. Though the world shouts at us, “God is dead. If He were real, and if He really loved you, then you wouldn’t suffer the way you do.” This is being reviled for the sake of Christ, because the world thinks that being a child of God means to have every blessing in this life, but we learn from the life of our Lord that being God’s child—being a saint—doesn’t mean cruising through life pain-free, but the opposite is the case: children of God suffer because their Lord suffered.

When St. John saw the saints in heaven, the elder told him, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” We are in the great tribulation right now. Our consciences plague us because of sin. Our bodies cry out for relief from pain and illness. Our spirits are broken by grief as we lose one loved one after another. Our souls cringe and whimper as they face the prospect of dying and facing God’s judgment. Those tribulations are real, and Satan wants to point us to them and convince us to renounce our Lord Jesus. But find strength in this: you have washed your robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb by being baptized, absolved, or fed the body and blood of Jesus. The blood of Jesus is what turns away God’s wrath against your sin, and that eliminates from your future the eternal tribulation of hell.

In the meantime, as we live in the great tribulation of this miserable world, the Lord Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you. Just as Jesus never wavered or gave up hope in His Father even on the cross, when He was dying for the sin of the world, so also the Lord Jesus gives His Holy Spirit to those who ask Him in order to strengthen their faith in the midst of trials and temptations. Jesus gives us His own body and blood as a certain pledge that He is 100% with us to protect us from the devil’s assaults. Jesus and the Spirit intercede to the Father on our behalf, uttering effective prayers that preserve you in the Christian faith even when attacked by sin, death, and hell.

Prayer: O Lord God, heavenly Father, we give You thanks that of Your great goodness and mercy Your only-begotten Son became incarnate to redeem us from sin and everlasting death. Enlighten our hearts by Your Holy Spirit that we may forever give You thanks for Your grace and be strengthened in all times of tribulation and temptation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Thursday of Trinity 21


Romans 6:1-11 (ESV) What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Before His Ascension, Jesus bequeathed to His Church Holy Baptism, when He said, “Go and make disciples from all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded.” One of the things Jesus commanded was to let the little children come to Him, and so those little children, even infants who are part of all nations, also are to be made disciples through Baptism and by teaching them all of Christ’s Words as they get older.
The Baptism Christ has given to us is a new birth of the Holy Spirit, which makes us beloved children of God, as St. Paul said, “[God] 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” (Titus 3:5-6).
The gifts of Baptism can never be exhausted. It promises us the resurrection of our bodies on the Last Day, and everlasting life, in perfect peace and joy in heaven, as St. Peter explains, “Baptism…now saves you…through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). The reason Baptism is more than just a symbol is that it is filled with the power of Christ’s death for our sins and His resurrection for our justification, as St. Paul also writes in Romans 6.
Salvation is promised to us because Christ’s death is for the forgiveness of our sins and His obedience fulfilled all righteousness. John the Baptist asked the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Luke 3:7). The wrath of God is His anger and punishment against sin and unrighteousness. There is only one safe place to hide from the wrath of God, and that is in Jesus, in our Baptism into Him, in His forgiveness and robe of righteousness. When Jesus went to the cross, He received the full outpouring of God’s wrath against our sins, so that our guilt may be forgiven, so that we may be saved on the Last Day rather than damned by His wrath against all unbelievers. That is the wrath to come—the everlasting punishment that will be suffered by those who reject Jesus Christ and His Baptism.
But all who believe and are baptized will be spared from that wrath because their sins are forgiven by Christ’s death for their sins; their sins are washed away in the flood of Christ’s blood in Holy Baptism, and they are clothed with His perfect righteousness. So value your Baptism as the highest good you have in this life. There is no greater treasure than you could receive, for it gives you the gift of everlasting life on account of Christ’s resurrection.
In a world filled with profound uncertainty, one thing you can count on for sure is your Baptism, where we celebrate this truth: “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5).
Hymn (LSB 601):
1. All who believe and are baptized
    Shall see the Lord’s salvation;
Baptized into the death of Christ,
    They are a new creation.
Through Christ’s redemption they shall stand
Among the glorious, heav’nly band
    Of ev’ry tribe and nation.
2. With one accord, O God, we pray:
    Grant us Your Holy Spirit.
Help us in our infirmity
    Through Jesus’ blood and merit.
Grant us to grow in grace each day
That by this sacrament we may
    Eternal life inherit. Amen.
Prayer: Almighty God, You have given us this good land as our heritage. Grant that we remember Your generosity and constantly do Your will. Bless our land with honest industry, truthful education, and an honorable way of life. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil course of action. Grant that we, who came from many nations with many different languages, may become a united people. Support us in defending our liberties, and give those to whom we have entrusted the authority of government the spirit of wisdom, that there may be justice and peace in our land. When times are prosperous, may our hearts be thankful, and in troubled times do not let our trust in You fail; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Tuesday of Trinity 21

 Not Sight, but Faith in the Word

John 4:46-54 (ESV) So Jesus came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.

In the Gospel reading for the Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity, there is no question that the father’s love for his dying son was sincere; and he was looking for help in the right place by going to Jesus. But the man was coming to Jesus with a secular faith, not a Christian faith, similar to the way we take our children to the doctor with confidence that they can come up with the right diagnosis and treatment for most maladies. When we have problems, we go to people that we expect can help, and the father knew that Jesus could get the job done—Jesus had healed plenty of people before. But the father wasn’t coming to Jesus with faith in Him as Lord and Savior from sin and hell.

This can be seen first because the father wasn’t going to Jesus looking for eternal life but only the preservation of the life of his son. In the man’s prayer to Jesus he wasn’t asking too much of Jesus but actually far too little of Him, for our loving God sent His Son to give everlasting life, not just temporary healing. Our deepest need is redemption from sin and salvation from hell, not just a healthy family. So Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” that is, keep first things first.

The second offense the father perpetrated against Jesus was to grossly underestimate Christ’s Person and power. The father had heard and maybe even witnessed that Jesus was a wonder-worker, but he hadn’t yet come to believe in Jesus as the only-begotten Son of God in the flesh, the same One who spoke the world into existence, as we heard in Genesis 1-2 this morning. The father of the sick boy insisted that Jesus come down to Capernaum to heal his son. He thought the 20-mile journey was necessary for Jesus to help; the father wanted to see with his own eyes while Jesus did the healing. So the man’s motto was, “Seeing signs is believing.”

But that’s not how God’s Kingdom works. Jesus teaches us that seeing signs isn’t believing; rather “we live by faith” in His Word and “not by sight,” and “faith comes by hearing…the Word of Christ,” not by witnessing signs and wonders. This is why Jesus is so stern with the father and with everyone who insists on living by sight and not by faith alone. He reproaches them in the Gospel reading, “Unless all you people see signs and wonders, you never believe!”

All of us must repent, for we sinners are like the boy’s father, wanting Jesus to come down right away and take care of our problems; we want society reformed according to God’s Word; we want instant answers to our prayers as visible proof that God is on our side; we crave miraculous healings and visions of the afterlife and signs that we have made correct decisions. We are always looking for signs of God’s goodness and presence in day to day events. So when we try to live by sight and not by faith alone, Jesus rebukes us, saying, “Unless you people see signs and wonders you refuse to believe.” And He calls on us to repent of the idea that seeing is believing.

Jesus shows us that seeing isn’t believing when He responds to the father’s begging for help not with a visible miracle but just with a Word, saying, “Go, your son is alive and well!” Jesus gave him nothing to see, just a Word to hang onto. And then the Holy Spirit worked a miracle in that father’s heart by the Word of Jesus, for St. John tells us that the man believed the Word that Jesus had spoken and went on his way.

The father started out on the difficult 20 mile journey back to Capernaum trusting that Jesus would keep His promise, and when he finally met up with his servants, they told him that a great sign had occurred, that the boy was healthy again, and it had happened at the very moment Jesus had said the boy was alive and well. And then another miracle of the Holy Spirit occurred: the man and his whole household came to believe in Jesus not just as a great wonder worker but as the Christ, their Lord and Savior, the Son of God who came into the world to seek and to save the lost. Jesus had shown through this miracle that His Word is completely trustworthy and therefore everything He teaches about Himself is true; when He teaches that He is the Savior of the world, the only faithful response is, “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.”

Likewise, Jesus leaves us with only His Word and promises to go on. This isn’t what the sinful world is looking for. As St. Paul says, “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom.” All sinners are looking for some experience of the divine to prove His goodness and presence. But what does St. Paul say that we Christians are to preach and believe? He says, “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God.” So while that “word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing…to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” “the power of God for salvation to all who believe.”

The Word of the cross, the Word of forgiveness of sins, the Word of grace that is attached to the sacraments of Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper—that is the Word given to us by the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. That Word is all we have to go on, it’s all we’ve got. So if Jesus and His Word are not the only ground and foundation of our confidence, then our hopes are misplaced. “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand,” we sing in the hymn.

In fact, the greatest signs and wonders that Jesus leaves behind for us are the miraculous sacraments that come from His Word: Holy Baptism, where He combines His Word with water to bring dead sinners to life in Him; Holy Absolution, where He speaks pardon to the guilty for the sake of His sufferings and death; and the Lord’s Supper, where by the power of His creative Word Jesus makes bread His body and wine His blood so that He can feed us with forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. These are the most amazing, wonderful signs Jesus gives to us in this life and they assure us of that much greater, fuller life that we look forward to in heaven.

So while seeing signs isn’t believing, believing does come by hearing; faith comes by hearing the Word of your Lord Jesus Christ, who promises you this: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

Prayer (LSB 720):
1. We walk by faith and not by sight,
    No gracious words we hear
From Him who spoke as none e’er spoke,
    But we believe Him near.
2. We may not touch His hands and side,
    Nor follow where He trod;
But in His promise we rejoice
    And cry “My Lord and God!”
3. Help then, O Lord, our unbelief;
    And may our faith abound
To call on You when You are near
    And seek where You are found.
4. For You, O resurrected Lord,
    Are found in means divine:
Beneath the water and the Word,
    Beneath the bread and wine.
5. Lord, when our life of faith is done,
    In realms of clearer light
We may behold You as You are,
    With full and endless sight. Amen.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Monday of Trinity 21

 Defend Your Turf, Christian Soldiers!

Ephesians 6:10-20 (ESV) Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
In the Epistle Reading for the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity, St. Paul highlights the fact that Christians are soldiers in the Lord’s army. Christians are baptized into Christ’s legions as soldiers of Christ; we have been clothed with the armor of Jesus Christ’s righteousness in Baptism, which covers all our sins and will keep our souls safe from Satan’s attacks. But even though we have been saved for everlasting life and enlisted in the Lord’s army, we need to learn how to make use of the “whole armor of God” that Paul refers to.
St. Paul says: “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” And then he goes on to elaborate on the identity of our enemy; he writes, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
St. Paul is emphatic that in our Christian lives, the enemy of our souls is not other people, or nations, or armies. We will automatically lose the battle if we think that terrorists, or foreign countries, or political opponents, or even false religions are what the Church is fighting against. Paul says, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood,” but rather against the devil and all his demonic cronies.
Of course, Satan does make use of human beings who willingly go along with his plans against God and the Church, but we have to realize that the hostility of other people against us is just a symptom of a much larger problem: the devil and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places are constantly attacking our faith in Christ, primarily by invading our consciences. Those people who are hostile to us and to the Church need our prayers more than anything, because they are captive to the Evil One’s devices as he attacks Christians and tries to separate them from Christ’s army by destroying their faith.
So we are all enlisted in Christ’s army against the devil and all demons, but what is the nature of our military service to Christ? Are we offensive or defensive troops? Are we supposed to go on search and destroy missions against the devil, or are we to simply defend our turf, serve on guard duty, as watchmen?
At least four times St. Paul talks about us taking a stand against the devil and his forces—stand against, withstand, stand firm, stand—he says. These are defensive terms that describe a person under attack. The overall picture St. Paul paints is not one of a soldier heading out into battle, or marching to war, but rather one who is on watch, looking out for the enemy, and then standing firm when under attack.
Here is why we are not spiritual crusaders, offensive troops: because Jesus is the champion, and He has already won the victory over sin, death, hell, and the devil. Jesus lives, the victory’s won! Jesus is the one who has invaded Satan’s territory on earth and has won it back for God and His Kingdom. At one time Satan had been a good angel, but he could not tolerate being subordinate to God, so he rebelled against the Lord and also dragged down a bunch of other angels with him to serve in his army against God and the remaining good angels. In the mystery of God’s will, He allowed Satan to tempt Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and by their sin the devil brought all humans under his captivity as well. Yet God counterattacked with a promise to ultimately defeat the devil for good by the Seed of the Woman, the Christ, the Messiah, who would liberate the children of Adam and Eve from slavery to sin, death, and hell. Though the devil seemed to be victorious on that day, his fate was sealed and the Christ would defeat him for good through His suffering, death, and resurrection.
Try as he might, Satan cannot win the victory! The battle between God and the devil is not one between equal parties, so the success of God’s army is not dependent on our attacking Satan. Rather, our role is to defend our turf, to withstand the attacks of Satan so that we do not get slaughtered and separated from Jesus Christ, who is the champion. And the Good News is that we are not alone, and we do not depend at all on our own resources or power for success. Rather, Jesus gives us the victory, or as St. Paul says in Romans, we are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). If our Savior, the God-Man Jesus Christ, has all authority and power in heaven and earth, then that means the devil has to be subject to Christ; Satan has no authority apart from the limited things he gets to do here on earth. And Jesus is not only our Savior but also our Protector against Satan. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Amen.
Prayer (LSB 677:1-3, 8):
1. For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
2. Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;
Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
3. Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold!
    Alleluia! Alleluia!
8. From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:
    Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Friday of Trinity 20

 When You Fast...

Matthew 4:1-11 (ESV) Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

As we read yesterday, in Matthew 6, the third and final “practice of righteousness” that Jesus identifies is fasting. This one is probably the least commonly practiced—and understood—of the three. Doing mercy to others? Check. Daily prayer? You bet. But fasting? That doesn’t sound very Lutheran! But check your Small Catechism (known as “the Layman’s Bible”), as well as the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:16-18, where Jesus says when you fast, not if.

At the same time, He does not make this into a new law that allows us to justify ourselves before God. Nor is he imposing an impossible burden on Christians that could harm them physically (for example, the church has traditionally discouraged fasting among pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and the infirm, for whom it might be detrimental). Rather, Jesus is inviting us to participate in a Christian discipline that He Himself took part in and that He promises to be a blessing to us (“your Father who sees in secret will reward you”).

Martin Luther commends fasting to Christians in the Small Catechism: “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training” before going to Holy Communion. But he then goes on to emphasize that these are not the elements that make us worthy of receiving the Sacrament. Only faith in the forgiveness of sins distributed in the Sacrament prepares us to receive it for our benefit, and only unbelief disqualifies.  

Nonetheless, fasting can teach us several things. Most obviously, it shows us that we are mortal. We begin to hunger quickly and recall that we need food to survive. We would perish without it. This reminds us to prepare for death by living in repentance. But above all, it reminds us of where true life is found: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). Fasting leads us to hunger for true bread that satisfies, especially that bread that is Christ’s body, along with the wine that is His blood, in the Lord’s Supper.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst… This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:35, 50–51). May we constantly hunger for this Bread and be satisfied as He comes to feed us in His Word and Sacraments!

Prayer (LSB 544):

1. O love, how deep, how broad, how high,
Beyond all thought and fantasy,
That God, the Son of God, should take
Our mortal form for mortals’ sake!
2. He sent no angel to our race,
Of higher or of lower place,
But wore the robe of human frame,
And to this world Himself He came.
3. For us baptized, for us He bore
His holy fast and hungered sore;
For us temptation sharp He knew;
For us the tempter overthrew.
4. For us He prayed; for us He taught;
For us His daily works He wrought,
By words and signs and actions thus
Still seeking not Himself but us.
5. For us by wickedness betrayed,
For us, in crown of thorns arrayed,
He bore the shameful cross and death;
For us He gave His dying breath.
6. For us He rose from death again;
For us He went on high to reign;
For us He sent His Spirit here
To guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.
7. All glory to our Lord and God
For love so deep, so high, so broad;
The Trinity whom we adore
Forever and forevermore. Amen.