Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Wednesday/Thursday of Trinity 16

 Facing Reality, Altering Reality

Luke 7:11-17 (ESV) Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.

One of the strangest developments of the past 25 years or so is the proliferation of “reality TV” programs. Perhaps there is nothing more unrealistic and artificial than a reality TV show, but the networks love these programs since they cost almost nothing to produce and people line up hundreds-deep to be on them. So many people in our culture think that they haven’t really lived until they’ve been on TV or had a video go viral, until they’ve reached some sort of notoriety on the tube or in the cloud. This quest for fame is the opposite of what St. Paul bids us pray for ourselves, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

One of the reasons people watch reality TV and all forms of entertainment media is to escape the grim realities of their own lives. Now a little escapism isn’t a bad thing—moderation in everything, my grandfather always said—but my concern for us Christians is that we can become so intent on fleeing the harsher realities of this life, such as the fact that we are all dying, that we fail to reflect each day on our mortality. Or to put it another way, we can get so busy amusing ourselves that we wind up ignoring the reality of God’s judgment upon our sin and the reality that we deserve everlasting damnation in hell for our sins.

All the bleak, sad, and terrible realities in our lives are the result of humanity’s plunge into sin after the creation. The consequence God placed upon sin is death: “the wages of sin is death.” We can’t escape death, try as we might. But we can escape thinking about it for a while by burying ourselves in things that occupy our minds to keep them from thinking about death. This is why people don’t like hearing about sin: sin is the sting of death. Sin is made known by the Law, so the Law is what gives it its stinging power: the Law says, “Sin must be judged and punished.” So then sin oppresses us, eats at us, reminds us of temporal and eternal death.

But when we try to anesthetize ourselves to this sting of sin by escapism, or drugs, or alcohol, or by burying ourselves in our work, we will be no more successful than Adam and Eve at hiding from God, escaping from Him. The Law keeps poking and prodding and stinging us, reminding us that we must face up to God, that we are actually dead in sin and unable to save ourselves and give ourselves eternal life.

But when we do face up to God as He has revealed Himself in His Word, the Bible, we discover something far more wonderful than we could ever have come up with on our own. Natural, sinful man can only conceive of God as Judge, but God in Christ reveals Himself as merciful, the Savior of sinners. For Jesus doesn’t try to escape the reality of suffering and death but embraces our sinful, dying world, draws it into Himself, and alters reality: Christ’s death actually reconciles the world to God. He answers for all sins, so that God is no longer angry with Mankind for his sin, God no longer counts men’s trespasses against them.

And this same Jesus did not stay in the grave but rose on the third day, never to die again—death no longer has dominion over Him! And He comes to us today with His Word of Life to speak those who were once dead in sin into eternal life by forgiving their sins. Through the Gospel and the Sacraments, He gives life to the dead, just as easily as He raised up the widow’s son at Nain—and in just the same manner: by the power of His life-giving Word!

Prayer (LSB 589):

1. Speak, O Lord, Your servant listens,
    Let Your Word to me come near;
Newborn life and spirit give me,
    Let each promise still my fear.
Death’s dread pow’r, its inward strife,
Wars against Your Word of life;
    Fill me, Lord, with love’s strong fervor
    That I cling to You forever!
2. Oh, what blessing to be near You
    And to listen to Your voice;
Let me ever love and hear You,
    Let Your Word be now my choice!
Many hardened sinners, Lord,
Flee in terror at Your Word;
    But to all who feel sin’s burden
    You give words of peace and pardon.
3. Lord, Your words are waters living
    When my thirsting spirit pleads.
Lord, Your words are bread life-giving;
    On Your words my spirit feeds.
Lord, Your words will be my light
Through death’s cold and dreary night;
    Yes, they are my sword prevailing
    And my cup of joy unfailing!
4. As I pray, dear Jesus, hear me;
    Let Your words in me take root.
May Your Spirit e’er be near me
    That I bear abundant fruit.
May I daily sing Your praise,
From my heart glad anthems raise,
    Till my highest praise is given
    In the endless joy of heaven. Amen.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Tuesday of Trinity 16

 Forsaken in Our Place

Matthew 27:45-50 (ESV) Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

The past two Sundays we have had narratives about the prophet Elijah from 1 Kings 17. It is striking that people at the foot of the cross have Elijah on their minds as Jesus’ last hour drew near. The bystanders certainly could have concluded that Jesus was calling out for Elijah because the Aramaic expression, “Eli, Eli” (“My God, My God”), sounds like “Elijah” (Elijah’s name means “The Lord is my God”). In addition, given Elijah’s miraculous raising of the widow’s son (1 Kings 17), his own miraculous assumption into heaven without dying (2 Kings 2), and the Malachi 4:5-6 passage that predicted Elijah’s coming “before the great and awesome day of the Lord,” it is plausible that the people assumed that Jesus thought Elijah would come to save Him.

Yet Jesus was not crying for help from Elijah, for He knew that His only source of help was His Father as He cried out, “My God, My God.” Jesus never lost faith in His Father, even as He underwent the punishment for sins in our place. Martin Luther wrote about “the cry of dereliction” from the cross, “The righteous and innocent Man must shiver and shake like a poor, condemned sinner and feel God’s wrath and judgment against sin in His tender, innocent heart, taste eternal death and damnation for us—in short, He must suffer everything that a condemned sinner has deserved and must suffer eternally” (AE 12:127).

Christ was truly forsaken by the Father for our sake, but He continued to trustingly call out, “My God” to His Father even in the depths of woe, and then He faithfully commended His life into His Father’s hands: “Father, into your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46), and was raised up on the third day to win eternal life for us!

Prayer (LSB 598):

1. Once in the blest baptismal waters

    I put on Christ and made Him mine;

Now numbered with God’s sons and daughters,

    I share His peace and love divine.

O God, for Jesus’ sake I pray

Your peace may bless my dying day. 


2. His body and His blood I’ve taken

    In His blest Supper, feast divine;

Now I shall never be forsaken,

    For I am His, and He is mine.

O God, for Jesus’ sake I pray

Your peace may bless my dying day. 


3. And thus I live in God contented

    And die without a thought of fear;

My soul has to God’s plans consented,

    For through His Son my faith is clear.

O God, for Jesus’ sake I pray

Your peace may bless my dying day. Amen.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Monday of Trinity 16

 God Is not against You

1 Kings 17:17–24 (ESV) After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. And she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him from her arms and carried him up into the upper chamber where he lodged, and laid him on his own bed. And he cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives.” And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

“What goes around comes around.” “I got what was coming to me.” “Justice is served.” Expressions like this reflect the theology of the widow at Zarephath when she concluded that God’s prophet Elijah had come “to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son” (1 Kings 17:18). She thought some sin from her past had angered God (or the gods), and the “man of God” had come to execute God’s wrath against her sin. She embraced the same pagan theology as Jesus’ disciples in the story of the man blind from birth, when they asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Jesus has no patience with this search for causation, for He responds, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3), namely, the work of Jesus in giving him sight.

When tragedies occur in our lives, we ask, “Why?” This is not wrong, as long as we are addressing the question to the Lord in prayer. For example, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1)

But when we try to answer the question on our own—by seeking to recall some sin from our past that the Lord must be punishing us for—then we have embraced pagan theology and set aside what God’s Word teaches about the trials and tribulations of His children. We pray, “Remember Your mercy, O Lord, and Your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to Your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of Your goodness, O Lord!” (Psalm 25:6-7) and as Christians, we know that the Lord has promised under the New Testament, “ ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’ Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:17-18).

God is not standing by with a baseball bat, waiting to whack us when we sin. For the sake of Christ, He is gracious to us: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose… If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:28, 31-32)

When we have a bad conscience and Satan accuses, “This inexplicable misfortune happened because of something you did,” then we should run to our Baptism, which has saved us and is continually “an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21-22). God doesn’t want us mired in the sins of our past but rather living a new life under His grace: “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” (Romans 6:3-4).

Prayer (LSB 440: 1, 5, 6):

1. Jesus, I will ponder now

    On Your holy passion;

With Your Spirit me endow

    For such meditation.

Grant that I in love and faith

    May the image cherish

Of Your suff’ring, pain, and death

    That I may not perish.


5. If my sins give me alarm

    And my conscience grieve me,

Let Your cross my fear disarm;

    Peace of conscience give me.

Help me see forgiveness won

    By Your holy passion.

If for me He slays His Son,

    God must have compassion!


6. Graciously my faith renew;

    Help me bear my crosses,

Learning humbleness from You,

    Peace mid pain and losses.

May I give You love for love!

    Hear me, O my Savior,

That I may in heav’n above

    Sing Your praise forever. Amen.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Wednesday/Thursday of Trinity 15

Be Reconciled

Matthew 5:21-26 (ESV) Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”

Jesus quotes a common Jewish commentary on the Fifth Commandment: “whoever murders will be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:21). While true, Jesus finds this interpretation too limited. Anger, insults, or saying “You fool!” also can make one liable to judgment, even “to the hell of fire” (5:22).

Yet Jesus Himself called the Pharisees “blind fools” (23:17) and looked at them “with anger” (Mark 3:5), so His prohibitions in Matthew 5:22 are not intended to absolutely prohibit anger or saying “fool.” Dr. Luther explains that the Fifth “commandment forbids everyone to be angry, except those…who are in the place of God, that is, parents and the government. For it is proper for God and for everyone who is in a divine estate to be angry, to rebuke, and to punish because of those very persons who transgress this and the other commandments [Romans 13:4]” (LC I.V.182, Concordia, 379).

St. Paul advises that, when we have become justifiably angry at someone who has offended us, we must not let that anger turn into rage and spite: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). Satan loves nothing more than getting us at each other’s throats!

The “Barney Fife” principle should always be kept in mind: regarding anger, lust, or any sinful desire in our hearts, we must “nip it in the bud” before it turns into sinful words or actions. Even though Jesus says that unrighteous anger is equivalent to physical murder according to God’s judgment, this does not mean that they inflict equivalent harm upon the victim, in society, or on the perpetrator’s soul. Outward sins of word and deed are more harmful in obvious ways!

The main point of this text is that Christians must be reconciled to one another at all costs. Grudge-bearing and vindictiveness place us under God’s judgment and in danger of rejecting His grace. We should not go to Communion until we have reconciled with those with whom we will commune (Matthew 5:23-24). “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (6:12) must be lived out in the Christian community; otherwise, “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (6:15).

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35) illustrates the importance of forgiving one another because God has so abundantly forgiven us. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). “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).

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, in Your love for us and for our salvation You suffered the Father’s wrath upon the cross. Deliver us from anger and resentment, hatred and revenge. Grant that we may forgive as we have been forgiven and stand reconciled before You in Your righteousness and purity; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Tuesday of Trinity 15

 Gentle Restoration

Galatians 6:1-10 (ESV) 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. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

The Epistle reading for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity contains the powerful but oft-ignored admonition, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”

One reason some ignore this is because Jesus said, “Judge not, and you will not be judged” (Luke 6:37), and they take it for granted that any form of calling another person to repentance is judgmentalism. However, judgment would involve immediately announcing a public verdict, which we certainly are not to do when our neighbor has fallen into sin. In Luke 6, Jesus goes on to talk about helping the neighbor remove the speck from his eye (after we have removed the log from our own), which would have to be a gentle process lest the eye be damaged while restoring your neighbor’s eye to full health!

There also are certain elements of this passage that can be abused or ignored. For example, “any transgression” has to be tied to God’s Laws and not manmade ones. “Transgression” comes from the Latin word transgredior, which means to cross over something; in moral terms, this means to cross a boundary that God has put in place in His Law. Today there are all sorts of made-up “transgressions” that are so ill-defined as to be meaningless; for example, racism, sexism, homophobia. Perhaps such “sins” are bandied about not so much to “restore” others but rather to slander and intimidate.

By contrast, St. Paul had just a few verses earlier given concrete examples of “transgressions,” also known as “works of the flesh”: “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).

“Gentleness” is another ignored aspect of this passage. Especially on social media, when self-appointed enforcers of the aforementioned manmade “transgressions” sniff out a “transgressor,” there certainly is no “spirit of gentleness” observed as they castigate and cancel the “offender.” And in our own relationships, when we have been sinned against or observe outrageous behaviors in our neighbor, we are tempted to respond with indignant severity, which Paul says we must not do.

Once we have properly understood what “any transgression” means and have adopted “a spirit of gentleness,” then 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 Lutheran 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 points out to me which sins to confess, seek forgiveness for, and stop doing, how will I ever know to repent of anything?

It is most important to emphasize the goal of repentance, namely, that it “leads to life” (Acts 11:18). The will of God for His children clearly is to repent of our sins, trust in Christ for forgiveness, and then strive to lead a God-pleasing life in our vocations. When we are erring or straying, sometimes we need gentle restoration from our brothers and sisters in Christ. While this experience is unpleasant, it reminds us to focus on the ultimate goal of our faith, the Final Restoration: Resurrection unto everlasting life and a happy reunion with our loved ones in heaven!

Prayer: O God, for our redemption You gave Your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross and by His glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of the enemy. Grant that all our sin may be drowned through daily repentance and that day by day we may arise to live before You in righteousness and purity forever; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Monday of Trinity 15

 The Lord Will Provide

1 Kings 17:8-16 (ESV) Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” And she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’ ” And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.

Elijah was the mouthpiece of the Lord, first to Ahab with words of judgment, then to the widow with words of blessing and hope. The widow at Zarephath believed the Lord’s word of promise spoken through Elijah, so she gave all that she had to live on over to the Lord by giving it to Elijah.

Similarly, Jesus commends the widow in Jerusalem, who put all that she had to live on into the offering box at the temple, committing all that she had to the Lord and trusting that He would provide for her:

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4)

As a faithful child of Israel, this woman believed David’s words, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread” (Psalm 37:25), and Jesus’ words, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied” (Luke 6:21).

Both of these poor widows prefigure Jesus, who gave all that He had for us on the cross to save us from our sins and win for us eternal treasures in heaven: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

In Holy Baptism we have been made children of God’s Kingdom (John 3:5), so we possess all that we could ever need for eternity. This liberates us from the need to be anxious over temporal provisions (Matthew 6:31-32) and frees up our time and attention for seeking God’s Kingdom and righteousness in the Church, where Jesus gives us a supply of forgiveness that cannot be spent and a source of joy that cannot be emptied in His Word and Sacraments.

Prayer (LSB 787):

1. The temple rang with golden coins
    The rich in bright array
Contributed from gleaming hoards
    Their scales could scarcely weigh.
2. A widow came with copper coins
    And offered them in praise.
They were the last she had to give
    Or save for darker days.
3. When Jesus saw her costly gift
    And knew she had no more,
He praised a love that spared not self
    And called her rich, though poor.
4. At last He brought His offering
    And laid it on a tree;
There gave Himself, His life, His love
    For all humanity.
5. Lord, help us all, with You, to yield
    Whatever love demands
And freely give, as You have giv’n,
    With open hearts and hands. Amen.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Friday/Saturday of Trinity 14

The Son's Life for Our Freedom

John 8:28-38 (ESV) So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” As he was saying these things, many believed in him. 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. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
In the film Braveheart, Mel Gibson portrays William Wallace, a knight and leader of the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. Perhaps you have seen his rousing speech made on horseback before the demoralized Scottish troops. He encourages them to persist in their fight for independence from England, and the message he wants the Scots to send to the Brits is, “They may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!!!”
The sentiment Wallace and his fellow Scots were expressing was that they would rather suffer death 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 this is a noble sentiment and we should always be thankful for political liberties we enjoy in this life, their importance pales in comparison with the liberty that Jesus is talking about in John 8 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.
Jesus 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. In Holy Baptism, you have been given the Holy Spirit, and “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!
Prayer (LSB 333):
1. Once He came in blessing,
All our sins redressing;
    Came in likeness lowly,
    Son of God most holy;
Bore the cross to save us;
Hope and freedom gave us.
2. Now He gently leads us;
With Himself He feeds us
    Precious food from heaven,
    Pledge of peace here given,
Manna that will nourish
Souls that they may flourish.
3. Soon will come that hour
When with mighty power
    Christ will come in splendor
    And will judgment render,
With the faithful sharing
Joy beyond comparing.

4. Come, then, O Lord Jesus,
From our sins release us.
    Keep our hearts believing,
    That we, grace receiving,
Ever may confess You
Till in heav’n we bless You. Amen.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Wednesday/Thursday of Trinity 14

 By Word, not by Sign

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.
Jesus had just returned to Galilee from Judea (4:46-47). During His journey He met the Samaritan woman at the well and revealed to her that He was the Messiah (4:4-26). Many Samaritans came to believe in Him through her testimony about Him (4:39) and even more came to know Him as Savior of the world through His own Word (4:40-42).
The official from Capernaum was a military or administrative officer under King Herod, tetrarch of Galilee. We know he had some authority of his own because he had servants (4:51). The road from Capernaum to Cana was twenty rough miles, more than a day’s journey.
Cana in Galilee, where Jesus had turned water to wine (2:1-11), was near His hometown of Nazareth. The people of Nazareth had become angry and even tried to kill Him when He did not perform miracles for them (Luke 4:23-30). Jesus frequently criticized the people in Galilee who were interested only in getting miracles out of Him. This provides background for Jesus’ response to the official with the dying son: “Unless you [a plural pronoun in Greek, meaning “you Galileans”] see signs and wonders you [plural] will not believe” (4:48). Along with many other Galileans, the official did believe that Jesus could heal his son (otherwise he wouldn’t have asked), but according to Jesus, this was not true faith in Him but only faith in miracles. Jesus expressed disgust with such a superficial “faith.”
Jesus’ initial rejection was met with a genuine intercession on behalf of his child. Jesus then gave His Word that his son would live. He granted the request not because of the official’s faith (which was certainly lacking) but because of His grace. The greatest miracle occurred when the man believed Jesus’ Word and went home with nothing to show for his trip except that Word. Perhaps his faith was as small as a mustard seed, but he did have faith in Jesus’ Word.
The next day the man learned from his servants that his son had recovered at the same time Jesus gave the Word. The man then moved beyond a shallow belief that Jesus was a miracle-worker and came to believe that Jesus is Lord over life and death. He shared the Word about Jesus with his whole household and they believed it, too.
This story is an invitation for us to believe the Word of Jesus. The official had only one Word to go on, whereas we have the testimony of Holy Scripture and the Sacraments which He established to deliver forgiveness, life, and salvation to us. Through the Word and Sacraments, we are able to know who Jesus is much more clearly than the people in Galilee who heard Him teach and perform miracles. Though we cannot see Him but live by faith, we know “the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). The Church does not place faith in Jesus merely as a miracle-worker but above all in Jesus the crucified and risen Lord who is our Savior from sin, as St. Paul reminds us: “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23).
Prayer (LSB 846):
1. Your hand, O Lord, in days of old
    Was strong to heal and save;
It triumphed over ills and death,
    O’er darkness and the grave.
To You they came, the blind, the mute,
    The palsied and the lame,
The lepers in their misery,
    The sick with fevered frame.
2. Your touch then, Lord, brought life and health,
    Gave speech and strength and sight;
And youth renewed and frenzy calmed
    Revealed You, Lord of light.
And now, O Lord, be near to bless,
    Almighty as before,
In crowded street, by beds of pain,
    As by Gennes’ret’s shore.
3. O be our great deliv’rer still,
    The Lord of life and death;
Restore and quicken, soothe and bless,
    With Your life-giving breath.
To hands that work and eyes that see
    Give wisdom’s healing pow’r
That whole and sick and weak and strong
    May praise You evermore. Amen.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Tuesday of Trinity 14

 Hooked on a Feeling?

David and Bathsheba, 1860, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

Galatians 5:16-24 (ESV) But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 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. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Houston-native BJ Thomas had a hit single in 1968 called “Hooked on a Feeling.” Since the Epistle for Trinity 14 mentions “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,” it brought to mind this song. “Hooked on a feeling” aptly describes the temptation Christians face to get hooked on the experience of the five senses rather than staying hooked onto God’s Word through faith.
One way to get hooked on feelings is by living as a sensualist. Sensuality means that your physical feelings are ruling you, which makes your senses into idols to be served. The sensualist makes his senses his guide, and adopts hedonism: if it feels good, do it; if it feels bad, avoid it!
The song “Hooked on a Feeling” is dripping with sensuality related to fornication, along with allusions to drug abuse and alcohol addiction. Quite frankly, a great deal of rock, jazz, pop, and country music promotes sensuality through both their words and their music. Music is a powerful medium, and it is worth pausing to think about its effects on us and especially on our children. Sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll often work in tandem. Just consider the etymology of “rock and roll.”
The song “Hooked on a Feeling” revolves primarily around sexual immorality (fornication) and the passion of lust that leads to such sensuality. In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, Paul focuses on this aspect of our sanctification: “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 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; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”
The concluding verse is a solemn warning from the Apostle, reminding the Thessalonians and all of us that he is speaking on behalf of God Himself. When we disregard God’s Word in the Bible, we disregard and reject God Himself. That is why it is such a serious matter when Christians adopt a way of life that contradicts God’s will in the Bible. That is why pastors, who are under orders from the Lord to conduct their ministry according to the Word of God, can’t play favorites or wink and nod at public sin and unbelief. We are duty bound to speak God’s Word in its fullness, no matter the time or the audience. In fact, all Christians have this duty toward one another: “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).
Paul clearly warns Christians against sensuality related to fornication, but he also is alluding more generally to the need for self-control in all our bodily faculties, that our behavior might be holy and bring honor (not shame!) to our Father in heaven. Indeed, “self-control” is one of the nine elements produced as “fruit of the Spirit.”
Paul also contrasts Christians with unbelievers. Yes, there is a difference between these two groups! Believers have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and have been given a new life in Christ, while unbelievers remain trapped in the futile, sinful ways they have by their unregenerate nature, the ways reinforced by the dying world around us.
Believers not only have an old sinful flesh but also a new spirit from God in them; unbelievers live only according to their sinful flesh. So Paul says that Christians especially are not to fornicate but to control their bodies in holiness and honor, “not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.” This means that if Christians let their lustful passions lead them into sin, they are not acting like followers of Jesus but as rank unbelievers who don’t even know the True God!
As we know from Romans 7 and our own experience, our old sinful flesh and new man are constantly battling, and this leads into a second type of feeling that Christians can get hooked onto: the feeling of wretchedness, hopelessness, and despair because of our sins. When we face up to God’s Law and feel His wrath against our sin, our emotions drag us into the feeling that God is wrathful toward us and that we are a lost cause. Satan hooks his claws into us and drags us into despair over our guilt, and then he piles on by hissing the lie that God has abandoned us. Especially when bad things are happening in our lives, we search for a reason, and the devil is an expert at reminding us of the sins we have committed, and he sneakily suggests that God has forsaken us because of our sin, and that we deserve exactly what we are getting.
This is why we must never let our feelings be the guide for our knowledge of God’s goodness and the certainty of our salvation. If we stay hooked on the feelings that come from our experiences, whether good or bad, we will never have any peace in our hearts. Physical, psychological, and emotional feelings simply are not a reliable guide for giving us confidence that God is good, that we are right with God, and that He wants to hear our prayers. As we suffer under the fear of God’s wrath and the fear of Him abandoning us, fleeting feelings must not be our guide. Instead, we need to hear the objective certainty of God’s Word, the unshakeable fact of the full forgiveness of sins we have in Christ.
Embracing this truth then leads us to repentance and a new life in Jesus, who said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:46-47), and “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
Prayer (LSB 421):
1. Jesus, grant that balm and healing
    In Your holy wounds I find,
Ev’ry hour that I am feeling
    Pains of body and of mind.
Should some evil thought within
Tempt my treach’rous heart to sin,
    Show the peril, and from sinning
    Keep me from its first beginning.
2. Should some lust or sharp temptation
    Fascinate my sinful mind,
Draw me to Your cross and passion,
    And new courage I shall find.
Or should Satan press me hard,
Let me then be on my guard,
    Saying, “Christ for me was wounded,”
    That the tempter flee confounded.
3. If the world my heart entices
    With the broad and easy road,
With seductive, sinful vices,
    Let me weigh the awful load
You were willing to endure.
Help me flee all thoughts impure
    And to master each temptation,
    Calm in prayer and meditation.
4. Ev’ry wound that pains or grieves me
    By Your wounds, Lord, is made whole;
When I’m faint, Your cross revives me,
    Granting new life to my soul.
Yes, Your comfort renders sweet
Ev’ry bitter cup I meet;
    For Your all-atoning passion
    Has procured my soul’s salvation.
5. O my God, my rock and tower,
    Grant that in Your death I trust,
Knowing death has lost its power
    Since You crushed it in the dust.
Savior, let Your agony
Ever help and comfort me;
    When I die be my protection,
    Light and life and resurrection. Amen.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Monday of Trinity 14

Holy Eucharist

Luke 17:11-19 (ESV) On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

The Gospel reading for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity is also appointed to be read when the Church celebrates a Day of Thanksgiving. It is not hard to see why. The Samaritan leper falls on his face at Jesus’ feet and gives Him thanks for the miraculous healing He had done. In the original Greek of this story, the word we translate as “giving thanks” is εχαριστν (eucharistwn). That should sound a little familiar because another name for the Lord’s Supper is the Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving.” In the early days of the Christian Church, the name Eucharist was the most common way of referring to the Sacrament of the Altar.

There are two basic reasons why this title Eucharist caught on. First, when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, we are told that He gave thanks before He distributed the bread and wine that were His true body and blood. So the Greek-speaking Christian Churches would have heard the word eucharistesas every time they celebrated the Lord’s Supper, and it became a shorthand way of talking about the whole event.

The second reason the early Church called it Eucharist is because when Christians celebrate the Communion liturgy and receive the Lord’s Supper, it is a way that they show Jesus their faith in His sacrifice for their sins along with their thanksgiving to Him for salvation. That is why in the Communion liturgy, the pastor says, “Let us give thanks unto the Lord our God,” and the congregation responds, “It is meet and right so to do.” So for centuries the Holy Eucharist has been recognized as the time for the faithful to receive Christ’s true body and blood for the forgiveness of their sins and in remembrance of His salvation, and as an opportunity to give thanks to Him for all His blessings to us.

The example of the Samaritan leper should lead us to the Holy Eucharist. It seems that nine of the lepers were Jews, so after being healed, they would have sought out the Temple in Jerusalem as God’s Old Testament location for worship and praise, and surely they would have given thanks to God for sending this mighty prophet Jesus to heal them. But what the nine lepers didn’t get, and what the one Samaritan leper did realize, was that the location for worshiping, thanking, and praising God had shifted away from Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit worked faith in that foreign leper’s heart and moved him to turn around and head back to Jesus, all the while proclaiming the goodness of God who had healed him, and when the Samaritan got back to Jesus, he threw himself before Him, giving thanks.

While we should imitate the gratitude of the Samaritan by showing our thanksgiving to Jesus, the main point is that we should, like the Samaritan, find God in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, who gave His body and shed His blood on the cross to save us. And the only place in the entire world where we can actually receive His true body and true blood in our mouths is in the Eucharist, where Jesus comes to us to feed us with Himself, giving us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

It would be ingratitude to say, “No thanks, Jesus. I don’t need what you are offering.” But the response of faith is to say, “Lord, I, a poor, miserable sinner humbly bow to receive your precious body and blood, and I offer you the lowly sacrifice of my thanksgiving to you, for all that you have done to save and preserve me.”

And to those who have been baptized, absolved, and eucharisted, Jesus says, as he did to the Samaritan, “Rise, and go your way. Your faith has saved you.” He has come to heal you, and now He sends you out to live by faith in Him and love for your neighbor.

Prayer (LSB 846):

1. Your hand, O Lord, in days of old
    Was strong to heal and save;
It triumphed over ills and death,
    O’er darkness and the grave.
To You they came, the blind, the mute,
    The palsied and the lame,
The lepers in their misery,
    The sick with fevered frame.
2. Your touch then, Lord, brought life and health,
    Gave speech and strength and sight;
And youth renewed and frenzy calmed
    Revealed You, Lord of light.
And now, O Lord, be near to bless,
    Almighty as before,
In crowded street, by beds of pain,
    As by Gennes’ret’s shore.
3. O be our great deliv’rer still,
    The Lord of life and death;
Restore and quicken, soothe and bless,
    With Your life-giving breath.
To hands that work and eyes that see
    Give wisdom’s healing pow’r
That whole and sick and weak and strong
    May praise You evermore. Amen.