Then Who Can Be Saved?

Sermon for the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 10:23-31

Dear believers who will enter the kingdom of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wealth is a blessing from God. It is God who gives riches to those whom He will, and He commands that the rich do good, be rich in good works, and be generous and ready to share (I Tim. 6:18).

Wealth is a blessing from God, but He doesn’t give it to all of us, because “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

The truth is that if God gave great riches to most of us, we would not be rich in good works; we would not be generous; we would not be willing to share. We would live in luxury and self-indulgence. We would seek enjoyment and fulfilment in our wealth and in time possibly even turn away from God.

Of course, we will all say, “No, not me! I would be very generous and very willing to share if I was rich!”

Jesus says, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” (Lk. 16:10) Jesus is saying that if you have not been rich in good works, generous, and willing to share if you have very little, you will not be rich in good works, generous, or willing to share if you have much. Instead you will have the temptations that the wealthy face in this world, and it will be harder for you to get into heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

Hebrews 13 tells us, “Keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have, for He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” (v. 5) First Timothy 6 says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (vv. 6-10)

Wealth is a blessing from God, but God wants to protect us from the temptations that money brings. Wealth is a blessing from God, but most of us would not be able to handle the wealth responsibly or with generous hearts. Wealth is a blessing from God, but many of us would wander from the faith and pierce ourselves with many pangs if God would give us greater wealth than He has given us.

“Then who can be saved?” asked the disciples. If Jesus says this of those to whom God gives great earthly blessings, what about those with less blessings? How can anyone be saved? Jesus replied, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

With man, it is impossible to be saved whether rich or poor. With God, salvation is possible for both. For all mankind, salvation is as impossible as for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. For God, salvation is not just possible, but it is accomplished, it has been fulfilled.

God didn’t just snap His fingers and save us, because the price of our sins had to be paid. The price of our sins was put on Jesus, who paid for our sins in our place; the righteous dying for the unrighteous.

Jesus had to face all the temptations we face, but He never sinned. The devil even tempted Jesus by offering Him all the kingdoms of the world and their riches and glory (Matt. 4:8-9). This really was a temptation for Jesus to skip over suffering and dying, and jump immediately into glory. Why go through suffering and death for the people of these kingdoms of the world, why not just take the kingdoms and their riches now? Skip the anguish of the soul to the point of death. Skip the beads of sweat dropping to the ground like drops of blood. Skip the torture, mockery, and death. Just take the kingdom and their riches and glory now.

For your sake, Jesus did not fall into this, or any other temptation. Skipping suffering and death would have meant skipping your salvation. For your sake, Jesus chose the anguish of the soul to the point of death. For your sake, Jesus chose the beads of sweat dropping to the ground like drops of blood. For your sake, Jesus chose the torture, mockery, and death.

Jesus chose these so that you would be His own; so that you would live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Jesus chose suffering and death so that your end will not be eternal suffering and death.

Your end will be eternal life in the riches of Paradise. No riches of this life hold a candle to the true riches of the new heavens and the new earth. Second Peter tells us that the heavens and the earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly (II Pt. 3:7,10-12). So, don’t cling to mammon that is destined for fire. Cling to the true riches of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Cling to Christ, who is your Saviour. The more you cling to Christ, the less you will care about the wealth of this world.

Use the wealth that God has given you, whether very great or very little, and be faithful with it. Put your unrighteous mammon to use for eternal good (cf. Lk. 16:9). Support the preaching of the Gospel both at home and abroad, so that this worldly wealth which is destined for fire might result in souls being saved eternally.

Wealth is a blessing from God, but He may protect you from the temptations of riches. If you have been blessed with wealth, pray that God strengthens you to be faithful with its use.

In death the rich and the poor have the same end, but those who cling to Christ and the forgiveness of sins He freely gives have the riches of Paradise awaiting them. In Paradise there are great riches. Even the streets are made of pure gold (Rev. 21:21). Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[A note to readers: beginning in Advent, we will be using the One Year Lectionary.]

The Gospel is not for the Hard-Hearted

Sermon for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 10:17-22

Dear followers of Jesus: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Gospel is not for the hard-hearted. The Law is for the hard-hearted.

When the rich man with a hard heart ran up to Jesus, Jesus didn’t give him the Gospel. He gave the rich man Law.

How do we know the rich man had a hard heart? Because he tells us. He tells Jesus that he has kept all the Commandments of the Second Table from his youth; all those that deal with loving our neighbour. Jesus lists for him Commandments Four through Ten, and the rich man says he’s kept them. He says he has loved his neighbour perfectly in thought, word, and deed. That’s what a hard heart says.

Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Luke 5:31) This rich man said he was not sick; that he had never broken a single one of God’s Commandments. He thought he was well. He said he needed no healing from Jesus. So, Jesus gave him no healing Gospel. Jesus gave him more Law: “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Jesus scratched at the scab of his illness. Oh, the illness was there alright. Jesus directs the rich man to the First Commandment. The rich man did not fear, love, and trust in God above all things. He feared the loss of his possessions. He loved his possessions. He trusted in his possessions. He did not fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

Thus, he became sorrowful and disheartened. His face dropped and he grieved in pain. The words of Jesus hurt him to the core. He had great possessions and he did not want to give them up. He could not choose between following Jesus and his possessions. He could not choose between loving God above all things, and loving his possessions above all things.

The man had run up to Jesus with excitement, confidence, and eagerness but departed from Him distressed and gloomy with his head hung low. He walked away from Jesus.

Isn’t this the same reason people walk away from the church? The Law preached to them makes them distressed and gloomy. It’s painful to hear the Law piled up until it crushes their confidence in themselves. It’s such a downer for them to hear about their sinfulness and their many sins.

The problem with the rich man was not that he became disheartened at Jesus’ words, or that he became distressed and gloomy. The problem was that he left Jesus. It was too painful to hear about his sins, so he left the physician of souls who alone can cure.

It is important to point out that just before Jesus piled the Law on the rich man in order to crush him, it says that Jesus “looking at him, loved him.”

This is the loving diagnosis of a physician to a sick and dying man who refuses to see the reality of his illness. Jesus has the eternal cure for our illness of sin, but without God’s Law showing us our sin, we will reject our sinful condition; we will reject eternal healing; we will reject forgiveness.

We do not know who this rich man was or what happened to him after he left Jesus. There are speculations that it was Mark, the writer of the Gospel, or perhaps even Saint Paul, but these are unsubstantiated theories. The Holy Spirit has intentionally left us without this information.

The information that we are left with is that if we think that we have fulfilled God’s Commandments to love Him with our whole heart and our neighbour as ourselves, we need only more Law piled up until we become disheartened and despair in ourselves. If we are asking what must I do to inherit eternal life, we need only more Law piled up until we realize that we are hopeless and helpless and can do nothing to save ourselves.

Once Jesus has looked at us and loved us and piled up the Law on us, He does not leave us in our despair. Once the physician of our souls has diagnosed our problem and opened our eyes to recognize our need for His cure, He gives us the cure. That cure is the forgiveness of sins.

This cure is only available from Jesus. Only Jesus has paid the price of your sins. Only Jesus has earned forgiveness for you by His suffering and death on the cross. Only Jesus has looked at you and loved you to the point of giving Himself into death for you.

Everything has been done for you to inherit eternal life. Jesus has done it for you. Jesus kept the Law for you by fearing, loving, and trusting in God the Father above all things. Jesus kept the Law for you by loving His neighbour to the point of giving His life for all of us.

Jesus wants you to despair of saving yourself, but not to despair of Him saving you. He wants you to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things, because He is your God and Saviour. Our souls are healed at His Word, so He causes us to love and trust Him. We love God because He first loved us (I Jn 4:19). Jesus showed His love for us by laying down His life for us, so we love Him and know that we can trust in Him for eternal life.

Jesus looks at you and loves you, so He has His Law preached to you, so that He might then bind up your wounds which the Law has exposed, and give you His free cure of forgiveness.

Those who are well have no need of a physician, but you who are sick rejoice in the forgiveness of sins Jesus gives to you. Jesus’ body and blood, given and shed for you give you the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

Jesus does not leave you in despair, but leads you through despair to Himself. He leads you through the gloom and disheartenment of sin to the joys of everlasting life. His hand that sends you sadness will turn your tears to gladness, for after grief God gives relief, your heart with comfort filling and all your sorrow stilling (from LSB 760 st. 2,5).

The Gospel is not for the hard-hearted. The Gospel is for you who have been crushed by the Law. The Gospel is for you who desire the forgiveness of sins. The Gospel is the free forgiveness of sins Jesus earned for you and gives to you as a gift. If that does not lift you from despair and make you rejoice, nothing will. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[Note: Beginning in Advent, we will be following the One-Year Lectionary]

On Marriage

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 10:2-16

Dear bride of Christ: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Marriage is good. Marriage is a blessing to husband and wife. Marriage is a blessing to children and children are a blessing in marriage. Marriage is a blessing to society, and is indeed the basis of society.

The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh think they know better. They think fornication is better than marriage. They think divorce is better than marriage. They think the individual is the basis of society.

If the individual is the basis of society, all responsibility of children to parents, parents to children, husband to wife, and wife to husband are thrown out the window. Then I do what I want when I want. It’s all about me. It’s all about whatever makes me happy. Surely you can see how that leads to licentiousness.

It also leads to divorce. We might even start debating divorce with God as the Pharisees did. “Surely God wants me to be happy. He can’t expect me to keep living in this awful marriage. God knows I married too young and my spouse has changed. This marriage is a sham.”

You’re not alone if you’ve tried to make excuses for your sins or the sins of others in this way. You’re not alone if you’ve tried to debate God in this way. The disciples did it too. Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees wasn’t enough for the disciples. Jesus said that Moses allowed divorce because of their hardness of heart, but that that is not God’s design for marriage. It is not God’s intent for marriage. God’s design and intent for marriage is for husband and wife to hold fast to each other as one flesh until death parts them, since God Himself has joined them together. What God has joined together, let not man separate.

The disciples thought that this surely did not sound fair or reasonable. So, when they went into the house, the disciples brought it up with Jesus again. Matthew, in his account, records that the disciples even responded that if divorce is sin, it is better not to marry at all (Matt. 19:10). If you are stuck in your marriage until one of you dies, they thought it better to despise marriage altogether. If you can’t remarry after divorce because it is adultery, then why not just commit adultery and forget marriage altogether?

What a sinful and godless way to view marriage! It sees marriage as being bad. As if marriage is a curse on husband and wife and a curse on society. Certainly, our society takes this view as marriage is abandoned in favour of divorce and adultery, but this view has no place in the Christian church. Afterall, Scripture tells us that the sexually immoral, the adulterers, and those who practice homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:19,21).

Does this mean that anyone who is guilty of breaking the Sixth Commandment is going to hell? No, that’s not what Scripture says. It says those who are sexually immoral. Those who practice such sins. In other words, those who remain in their sin and do not repent. Those who will not recognize their sin and turn away from it. Those who despise God’s good gift of marriage and remain in sin.

That’s why the Church has and continues to speak God’s Word on these matters. We love our neighbour, so we want to warn him about the eternal danger he is in if he does not repent. We love our neighbour, so we want him to receive forgiveness from God as we have received and continue to receive forgiveness.

Eve was created from Adam’s side while he slept. In the same way, the New Eve, the Church, has been given life from Jesus’ side. The Church has been given life by the water and blood that flowed from the spear-pierced side of the New Adam as He slept the sleep of death.

Ephesians 5 says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

Jesus washed you in Baptism to remove your spots and wrinkles of sin. He washed you to be holy and blameless. His blood continues to flow to you from the chalice with forgiveness and eternal life.

God is not interested in our excuses for sin. He will not debate adultery or divorce with us. But He will forgive adultery and divorce to those who are repentant.

God doesn’t weaken or bend His Law when we break it. The breaking of God’s holy Law means there must be just punishment, but that punishment is not for you. Your punishment was put on Jesus.

Only sinners die. That’s why Jesus died. God put your sins on Him and punished Him in your place. For your sake, God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him you might become the righteousness of God (II Cor. 5:21). God took all of your sins against His holy institution of marriage and put them on Jesus. God took your selfishness and excuses and put them on Jesus.

Jesus, the perfect bridegroom, gave His life to save His bride, the Church. He washed us through Baptism. He nourishes and cherishes us with His life-giving Word and His true body and blood. He does this so that He might present us to Himself with splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that we might be holy and without blemish. He covers our sins and clothes us with His righteousness so that we will be appropriately dressed for the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will He keep His anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion on those who fear Him.” (Ps. 103:8-13)

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[A note to readers: beginning in Advent, we will be following the One-Year Lectionary.]

Praying for Healing

Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on James 5:13-20

Dear people who pray: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We should pray to God because He has commanded us to pray and because He has promised to hear us. But sometimes we are a little sheepish with our prayers. We are timid with our requests to God.

Is it because we are not sure that we’re praying for the right thing? Perhaps. We heard last week that if we ask wrongly, to spend it on our passions, God will not give us what we ask (Jas 4:3). This should actually comfort us in the sense that if we are asking God for something that is not good for us; something that would lead us into sin; something that would lead us away from Him – He will not give it to us. So we don’t have to be afraid of praying for the wrong thing. If it is the wrong thing, God will not give it to us.

Perhaps we are timid to pray because we are worried that God won’t give us what we are praying for. We are worried it might crush us not to have our request granted. This should not be a worry either. Because God only gives us what is good for us, if He doesn’t grant our request, we should not be crushed, but rather understand our request was not for the best. If God doesn’t answer our prayers in the way we would like, it is because He is answering our prayers in the way He would like – He who knows better than we what is best.

Perhaps we are timid to pray because our conscience is bothering us over our sin. If that is the case, James writes, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

Then we are given the example of Elijah. He prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three and a half years it didn’t rain. Is it because Elijah was a great prophet with a special connection to God that such a prayer was answered? Our lesson makes a point of saying that Elijah was a man with a nature like ours – a nature that is human; a nature that is weak; a nature that is sinful. Yet, the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Was Elijah righteous in himself? No, Scripture tells us no one is in himself righteous in God’s sight; none is righteous, no, not one (Rom. 3:10,20).

This is why James writes of confession. “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” Certainly confession and absolution is always available from your pastor. Confess your sins and “receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.” (SC V)

When we have sinned against our neighbour, we should also confess that sin to them. That’s why James says, “Confess your sins to one another.” It is reciprocal. Sins should be reconciled and forgiven so that they will not hinder our prayers being answered. This is why we also pray in the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our tresspasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. What does this mean? We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.” (SC III)

Absolution makes you righteous before God, because Absolution covers a multitude of sins. Absolution forgives transgressions and covers sin. Absolution declares you righteous so that the Lord will count no iniquity against you. Because your sins are covered by the blood of Jesus who gave His body to death and shed His blood for your sin, Absolution declares you righteous.

As righteous, your prayers will be heard by God. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

Especially in this context, our lesson is talking about prayers for healing from sickness. “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” Do not be timid to pray for healing from sickness. Declared righteous, your prayer has great power as it is working. It is not your power at work in prayer, but the power of God almighty who can heal the sick and raise the dead. Pray for healing. You have the command from God to pray and you have His promise that He will hear you. God can heal where doctors fail.

Tell me though, what healing is best? Healing in this life where God saves you from sickness and raises you out of your sick bed? Or healing in the next life where God saves you from your sins eternally and raises you from the dead? Healing in this life where you will get sick again, or healing in the next life where you will be healed and never again get sick?

“The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” Confess your sins and receive forgiveness and you will be saved and the Lord will raise you up on the Last Day.

Since God answers our prayers in the way He knows is best, we may be praying for healing in this life, but He is going to give us something far better. He is going to give us eternal healing in the life to come. He is going to give us eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth that Jesus ascended to prepare for us.

After accomplishing our salvation through His innocent suffering and death, He ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us. After taking the guilt of our sins so that the multitude of our sins is covered, He ascended to prepare a place for us without sickness, sorrow, or sin. After dying our death on the cross, He ascended to prepare a place of life for us – eternal life.

Pray boldly for healing, and know that God will answer your prayer and save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. Because your sins are covered, your righteous prayer will be heard. Your prayer has great power when it is working. You will be saved, and God will raise you from the dead to eternal life. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[A note to readers: starting in Advent, we will be following the one-year lectionary.]

God is Jealous over You

Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on James 2:1-10, 14-18

Dear spirits for whom God yearns jealously: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saint James, for the third week in a row, hammers us with the Law. He is unrelenting. Two weeks ago he told us faith without works is dead and cannot save us. Last week he accused us of setting the entire course of our lives on hell fire with our tongues. Today he is calling us adulterers. Not because of breaking the Sixth Commandment, but the First Commandment. He is saying we’ve been unfaithful to God in the love we have shown to the world.

How much time have you spent hearing God’s Word compared to how much time you have spent listening to the world? How much time have you spent pursuing worldly activities compared to how much time you have spent pursuing spiritual activities? How much money have you spent on worldly things compared to how much you have given to God? As Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:21)

We are either following the wisdom that comes down from above, or the wisdom that is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. There is no other wisdom. We are either serving God and our neighbour or we are serving ourselves. We are either following God’s will for our lives, of we are following the will of our flesh, the world, and the devil.

We think we can have it both ways. We think we can be friends with the world and still be friends with God. Scripture says, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” A life that is devoted to selfish ambition, selfish gain, and selfish passion is a life that has no room for God. It is a life that makes us enemies of God. Yet, we are jealous and covet what God hasn’t given us and we get upset with God because we don’t have all our desires. We covet the things of this world. We are jealous of those who have more worldly things than we have.

God is jealous for us. Our text says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us.” God wants us, but we want the world. God wants us, but we want our passions. God wants us, but we want selfish things of the world for ourselves.

God’s jealousy is not wrong, but ours is. God’s jealousy can be compared to a husband’s jealousy when his wife spends all her time with other men and is unfaithful to him. That’s why James uses similar language as the Old Testament prophets, calling our unfaithfulness adultery.

God created us. We are His people. He has redeemed us with the blood of His own Son. But we are chasing after the things of this world. We want all kinds of things other than God. When we don’t get them, we get upset with God. What kind of backwards people are we?

James calls this double-mindedness. It’s like the wife who comes home from other men every once in a while to tell her husband how much she loves him. It is double-mindedness to try and be friends with the world and friends with God. It is spiritual adultery.

Our Scripture lesson hammers home the Law, but James also continuously also tells us that it is impossible to fulfil the Law. Last week he said man can tame all kinds of wild animals, but no one is able to tame the tongue. This week he says we are double-minded, which we cannot stop being until we are dead. We cannot remove our sinful minds from our heads. We cannot rip out the sinful desires and jealousy and covetousness out of our brains.

So what then? Why did the Holy Spirit inspire James to write these things if we cannot do them? Why is God commanding the impossible?

First, it is because He wants us to know His will for us as His creatures. He wants to teach us what is holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7:12), and He wants us to strive for them.

Even more, God wants to impress upon us our sinful nature and the impossibility of us saving ourselves so that we would humble ourselves and mourn over our sin.

“Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.” Humble yourselves before God because of your sin, and He will forgive you your sin and raise you up.

Humbling ourselves is what we do when we confess, “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor sinful being.” (Public Confession in Divine Service setting three, LSB 184)

This is humility. It is confessing our worthlessness before God and begging Him for mercy. It is drawing near to God, for He draws near to us. It is being wretched and mourning and weeping over our sin. It is humbling ourselves before God because we know He will exalt us. It is knowing that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Grace. God gives you grace. He does not leave you in your wretchedness, mourning, and weeping because He does not leave you in your sin. He gives you grace. He exalts you. He forgives you all your sin in Absolution and takes your sin away from you. He cleanses your hands and purifies your hearts. He does this all on account of Jesus fulfilling the requirements of the Law in your place. He does this on account of Jesus’ suffering and death for your sins. He does this on account of Jesus taking the punishment that you deserve.

God is jealous over you and does not want the world to get you, so He gives you the forgiveness of sins and takes you exclusively for Himself as His pure, holy, forgiven child. He doesn’t just do this once. He does it again and again until you need no more forgiveness, that is to say, until He takes you home to be with Him to the sinless perfection of Paradise.

In Paradise, we will not sin any more. This is one of the greatest joys to which we look forward. We will never again sin against our Creator. We will never again have desires that are contrary to His will for us. Long forgotten will be the selfish ambitions, selfish gains, and selfish passions of this world. Long forgotten will be the world that will be burning along with all those things we used to care about. We will no longer be double-minded, but we will want everything that is holy and righteous and good. We will no longer have the wretchedness, mourning, and weeping of sin, but only laughter and joy forevermore. And we will be faithful to God, as He is faithful to us. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[A note to readers: beginning in Advent, we will begin using the One-Year Lectionary.]

The Untameable Tongue

Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost based on James 3:1-12

Dear people with tongues: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The tongue can set the entire course of life on fire, by the fires of hell, says our Epistle lesson. Not just our own lives, but the lives of others as well. The tongue, though a small member, is compared to a bit in a horse’s mouth and the rudder of a ship. A large horse is controlled by the bit in his mouth, and a great ship is controlled by the rudder even in strong winds and big waves. So our tongue affects our course of life, as insignificant as it may seem.

We are often blind to this truth. We even have a saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We tend to think of words as weak and powerless. We tend to think of words as empty and meaningless.

We also tend to think that we can say what we want, when we want. Freedom of speech right? If someone is offended by it, that’s their problem.

If you have ever been betrayed by someone close to you, you know how much words can hurt. If you’ve ever had your secrets revealed by someone you trusted, then you know the power of words. If you’ve ever had lies and slander spread about you, then you know how the tongue can set the entire course of life on fire; you know how the tongue can be a restless evil, full of deadly poison – poisoning the speaker, the hearers, and those who are the subject of the evil spoken.

It was with words that Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph and got him thrown into prison. It was with words that Delilah convinced Samson to tell her the secret of his strength, and with words that she betrayed him so that his hair was cut off, his eyes gouged, and he was forced to grind at the mill in prison. It was with words that Jezebel got worthless men to falsely accuse Naboth of blaspheming God and the king, and with her words that she got him stoned to death. It was with words that Judas betrayed Jesus to the chief priests and officers for thirty pieces of silver, and it was with words that Pilate condemned the innocent Jesus to death by crucifixion.

What we say matters. All of the Commandments can be broken with our words, and two out of the Ten Commandments directly have to do with what we say. The Eighth Commandment commands us not to tell lies about our neighbour, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation in any way. We are rather to defend him if someone speaks ill of him. We are to speak well of him even if others don’t, and we are to explain everything in the kindest way.

The Second Commandment commands us not to misuse God’s name by cursing, swearing, using satanic arts, lying, or deceiving by His name. This Second Commandment is broken by false teachers who preach false doctrine.

This is why our epistle lesson starts out with saying, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” We all stumble in many ways. We all sin in what we say. But one who teaches will be judged with greater strictness. Why? Because false doctrine is deadly. Not just deadly in that it separates soul from body, but deadly in that it delivers both body and soul to eternal punishment. False teaching sends those hearers who believe it to hell. This is beyond the tongue setting on fire the entire course of life by the fires of hell. False teaching delivers to the eternal fires of hell those who are captured by it.

To keep the course of our lives from being set on fire by false teachers, God has given us His Word. We may be few within His fold, and by the world forsaken in these dark times that have us overtaken, but we have the Word of God that is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105). False teachers confound the truth with fraud which they themselves invent, but we have the Word of God which is truth. False teachers’ hearts are not grounded in God’s pure doctrine as they parade with outward show, but our hearts are grounded in God’s pure doctrine, so we follow God’s Word rather than outward show (some phrasing borrowed from TLH 260, our opening hymn).

The Word of God protects us from the entire course of our lives being set on hell fire by the tongues of false teachers because we won’t listen to their lies. We know better than to watch and listen to every television and radio preacher. We know better than to read every so-called “Christian” book and devotional from every so-called “Christian” bookstore.

We sang in our opening hymn that God’s saving Word for us shall fight. This is not just a matter of the tongue of God casting false teachers and their followers into hell. It is also a matter of Him declaring us forgiven through the tongues of the ministers He sends. When God’s Word fights for us against evil, it fights against all evil, including ours. God’s Word fights against our evil by saying, “Go in peace, your sins are forgiven you.”

Absolution is God’s Word which casts out our evil. If the words we speak can have tremendous effects, how much more the Word of God which is all-powerful! God’s powerful Word even forgives our sins of the tongue; the restless evil and poison we have spoken; the cursing we have done with our mouths against those made in the likeness of God; the lies and slanders wherewith we have caused the course of our lives and the lives of others to be set on fire by the fires of hell.

When Isaiah had a vision of God, he exclaimed, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” A seraphim flew and took a burning coal with tongs from the altar and touched Isaiah’s lips and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (Is. 6:1-7)

For you, the Lord’s Supper touches your unclean lips and your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for. Your unclean tongue is cleansed.

Do not say, “How can my unclean lips receive the true body and blood of Jesus? I need to first cleanse my tongue and lips before I can receive Jesus.” Do not say this, because you can never cleanse your tongue and lips. That thinking is futile and in vain. The body and blood of Jesus are what cleanse your tongue and lips. His body and blood are the medicine that give you eternal life. His body and blood take your guilt away, and your sins are atoned for.

That your sins are atoned for means that you have been redeemed. An innocent life was offered as a substitute for your guilty life. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, died for the guilt of your sins, and He gives you His body and blood to eat and drink, in which you receive forgiveness and your guilt is taken away. His body and blood cleanse your tongue of all uncleanness so that you can with a pure tongue sing praise and thanksgiving to God, and speak well of your neighbour.

The true body and blood of Jesus forgive you all your sins and strengthen you to not say words that later need recalling. His body and blood have atoned for your sins and guard you from idle speech. His body and blood bring you to everlasting life, and give your words grace lest you offend the weak. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[A note to readers: beginning in Advent, we will start using the One-Year Lectionary.]

Faith is Never Alone

Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on James 2:1-10, 14-18

Dear people with faith and works: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” There is no such thing as true faith which does nothing except for sin. There is no such thing as true faith that says, “I’m going to do whatever my sinful flesh wants.” There is no such thing as true faith that does not love God and neighbour.

Faith is living, busy, active, and mighty. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works without ceasing. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works is an unbeliever. It is impossible to separate works from faith (SD IV.10-12).

James gives us an example. If a brother in Christ is naked and lacking daily food, and one of you says to him, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving him the things needed for the body, what good is that? That’s not faith! That’s a cold, uncaring heart acting in a cold, uncaring way. It is a heart without good works and a heart without faith.

As Christians, the keeping of God’s Law must begin in us and then increase more and more. This is true both of our inner spiritual impulses and our outward good works. It is true both of our inner desires and our outward actions (cf. Ap IV.125).

Good works are not those which people invent for themselves or those which follow human traditions. Good works are those which God Himself has prescribed and commanded in His Word. They are well summarized in the Ten Commandments.

Scripture tells us that we receive the Holy Spirit through faith (Gal. 3:14). The Holy Spirit dwells within those with faith, and their bodies are His temple (I Cor. 6:19). The Holy Spirit isn’t dead. He spurs us to good works. These good works are not possible on our own. We cannot perform them out of our own natural powers, but they are performed when a person is reconciled with God through faith and renewed through the Holy Spirit, or as Saint Paul says, created anew in Christ Jesus for good works (Eph. 2:10; SD IV.7).

Many construct for themselves a dead faith or the illusion of faith which exists without repentance or good works. As if true faith and the evil intention to remain and continue in sin could exist in a single heart at the same time! That is impossible (SD IV.15).

True faith is living faith because the Holy Spirit dwells within believers, and leads us to live a life according to God’s revealed will. Thus, true faith does not fear, love, or trust in anything above God. True faith does not follow false doctrine or take God’s name in vain, but rejoices in the truth and calls upon God’s name in prayer and praise. True faith does not despise preaching and God’s Word, but holds it sacred and gladly hears and learns it. True faith does not despise God-given authorities, but honours them, and serves and obeys them. True faith does not seek hurt or harm to a neighbour, but helps and supports his every physical need. True faith does not follow the sexual morals of the world, but follows God’s will of purity and chastity. True faith does not take the money and possessions of a neighbour, but selflessly helps him protect his possessions and income. True faith does not speak evil of a neighbour, but speaks well of him and explains everything in the kindest way. True faith does not covet or scheme to get that which belongs to a neighbour, but helps him to keep what is his (these are rephrased from the meanings of the Ten Commandments from the Small Catechism).

We have thus gone through the Ten Commandments, which are the good works which the Holy Spirit within us strengthens us to do.

Does Saint James then teach something contrary to Saint Paul by saying that faith without works is dead? Not at all. James does not say we are saved by faith and works. He also holds that we are saved by faith apart from works. He is teaching that we are saved by faith alone, but faith is never alone. Your works do not help earn your salvation or pay for your sins. We are saved by faith alone. But faith is never alone. Good works are sure to follow as the fruit of faith.

This is nothing different from what Paul writes in Ephesians chapter two, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (vv. 8-10)

You are saved by faith alone. It is not your doing. It is by grace, which means it is a gift. The forgiveness of sins is a free gift from God to you, earned by the suffering and death of His only beloved Son.

Neither does James suggest that we can perfectly fulfil what God has commanded us to do. He makes it clear in saying, “Whoever keeps the whole Law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” He’s saying that if you are relying on your good works to save you, you have got to do every single good work. You have to fulfil every single Law of God in thought, word, and deed. You have to live a life as holy and perfect as Jesus. You have to gladly suffer the slander, hatred, and abuse of the world even though you only ever do good. You have to give everything and sacrifice everything for others, even your very life.

Since we have all failed miserably at all of that, do not hold to the thought that because you have lived relatively well in regards to a certain commandment, that you are doing well in regards to the Law of God. Even if you fail in one point of the Law, you are a law breaker; you are accountable for all of it. Thus, when it comes to your salvation, forget the Law. Only Jesus has fulfilled the Law.

However, since you are saved by faith alone, do not forget God’s Law in how you live your life. Remember and recite the Commandments regularly. Delight in the Law of the Lord, and meditate on it day and night (Ps. 1:2).

Since you have been bought with a price, you belong to God (I Cor. 6:20). Instead of having you follow the futile ways of sin and death, God has prepared good works for you to do. These good works do not help God or benefit Him in any way, but they do help your neighbour and they supply the proof that your faith is living. Thus, we say along with James, “I will show you may faith by my works.”

We are saved by faith alone, but faith is never alone. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[A note to our readers: beginning in Advent, we will be following the One-Year Lectionary.]

Don’t Follow Your Heart

Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 7:14-23

Dear people who wrestle with spiritual forces: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We are foolish if we think that we are basically good and decent people deep down. We are wrong to say that we acted out of character when we got angry and sinned. We are wrong to say that we acted out of character when we spoke evil of our neighbour. We are wrong to say that we acted out of character when we pursued sinful pleasure.

Jesus says sin comes from the heart. Our heart is who we are. When we sin, we expose our hearts, we expose ourselves for who we really are. When we sin, we are acting according to our character.

The sins that we commit are merely a symptom of our status as being sinful. We don’t become sinful because we commit sin. Rather, because we are sinful, we commit sin. Because we have sinful hearts, we sin by what we do and by what we leave undone. We are defiled by sin, and we defile ourselves further by what we think, say, and do.

Jesus says, “from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

We cannot help but squirm when we hear such lists of sin in Scripture. We expect one accusation may not hit its mark with us, but the next one will. We may not have physically murdered someone, but we have envied them and been jealous of them. We may not have physically stolen that which belongs to another, but we have coveted it. We may not have physically committed adultery, but we have had evil thoughts.

The reality is that no accusation of the Law actually misses the mark with us. When we think some accusation of the Law has missed its mark with us, we are merely being blind to our sin. We are not understanding what perfection God’s Law actually demands of us.

And the bigger issue is that, as I said, all these sins are just symptoms of the true problem – our sinful heart. In one person, certain symptoms or sins are more obvious, and in another person other symptoms or sins. Some of us are better at hiding the symptoms, but we all have the same sinful heart.

When they fall into sin, some people will say, “The devil made me do it.” It is true that we are in a battle not against flesh and blood, as we heard in our Epistle lesson, but against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. But the truth is that the devil and his demons cannot make us do anything. They tempt us. The world tempts us. But we sin because of our sinful heart.

Besides, demons rarely come uninvited. We dangle our fingers in shark-infested waters with every sin. The young man says he was tempted by the devil, that’s why he committed adultery. But he first opened the internet to a porn site, opening a portal for the demons to come into his home. He first allowed his mind to be filled with lust and hardened his conscience, inviting the demons in. There are no victimless crimes, no small sins without consequence (reworked from a paragraph in a Rev. David Petersen sermon on Matt. 15:21-28).

The young woman says she was tempted by the devil, that’s why she shoplifted. But she first coveted what she did not have. She was first jealous of what others had and discontent with what God had given her. She allowed the demons to harass her with desires and hardened her conscience, inviting the demons in. To harden your heart to commit sin is inviting in demons. Sin is a dangerous activity that pleases the spiritual forces of evil, but grieves the Holy Spirit.

Of course, it is not just the young that sin. Slander and gossip are more common with those who have more free time on their hands. Often, pride becomes a bigger struggle as we age. Discontentment and bitterness are common as it seems that everyone else has it easier. After a lifetime of sinful patterns and habits, it is easy to have a conscience hardened by sin and not even recognize sin to be sin. After years of inviting the demons in to roost and harass, there isn’t much fight or resistance left.

We all need our sinful, defiled hearts to be cleansed. We cannot be cleansed by our own efforts to do better. We cannot be cleansed by trying harder or intending to do our best. We know which road is paved with good intentions.

Cleanliness is not a matter of focusing on our weaknesses and getting stronger. Remember, sin is a problem of the heart. Sin comes from the heart. The sins we commit are simply a symptom of who we are.

Cleanliness must come from Jesus. Cleanliness must come from Jesus, because He is the Lamb of God without blemish or spot. Cleanliness must come from Jesus, because only He is perfect and clean of sin. He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world because He is the Lamb of God that was led to the slaughter without complaint.

Jesus never sinned, even through all that He suffered. He didn’t sin when others spoke evil of Him for healing the sick. He didn’t sin when He was reviled and mocked. He didn’t sin even as He was beaten, whipped, spit on, and crucified.

Why then did He suffer so much anguish, grief, and bitter pain? Why did He suffer so cruelly when He never did anything wrong? Why was the sharp sentence of death spoken on an innocent man? It is for your sins that your Lord languished. Yes, all the wrath and anger of God for your sin was poured out on Jesus. All the punishment that you deserve for your sins was put on Jesus. The defilement of your heart was put on Jesus. The sinless Son of God died in sadness, so that you, the sinful child of man may live in gladness.

This is why we thank and praise God. Not because we’re such good Christians. Rather, because we miserable sinners have been forgiven; because we will not get the punishment that our sins deserve; because we will receive the gift of eternal life which we do not deserve.

Jesus has not forsaken us in our weakness. He continues to strengthen us through His Word. Since our strength will not suffice to crucify the desires that still entice us, He gives us His Holy Spirit to reign within us and win us to all good works. He gives us His own body and blood to continually give us the forgiveness of sins and nourish us to eternity.

Jesus knows our weakness. That’s why urges us to confession and absolution often. That’s why He urges us to holy Communion often.

Do you think Jesus is prescribing medicine that we don’t need? Are hearing His Word often and receiving His Sacrament often unessential and unnecessary for our lives? Far from it. It is through these that we receive forgiveness as He removes the defilement from our hearts. It is through these that He strengthens us to curb the symptoms of sin that flow from our hearts. It is through these that He gives us new desires to live a life pleasing to Him. It is through His Word and Sacrament that He brings us before His throne in heaven to give us the crown of joy at last, where with all the saints forever singing the sweetest hymns of praise, we too, will join with praise to our God (portions of these last paragraphs are rephrased from LSB 439). Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[A note for readers: Beginning in Advent, we will begin using the One-Year Lectionary.]

Ceremonies: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 7:1-13

Dear reverent worshipers: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

It is good and important that we have ceremonies. Ceremonies serve good order and help to teach. Bowing your head to pray is a good ceremony, because it is a posture of humility before God and helps you not to be distracted by what is around you. Kneeling takes that even further and puts you on your knees before God, acknowledging your status as a humble beggar before God. We do after all approach God not based on our own merits, but the merits of Christ.

Certainly, the Divine Service is full of ceremony. The pastor faces you when he speaks God’s Word to you and faces the altar when speaking to God. Thus, he faces the altar to confess his sins along with the congregation and turns to face the congregation to speak absolution to the people in Christ’s stead and by His command.

Ceremony ensures that our worship is pious, ordered, careful, solemn, reverent, and liturgical. This is because we believe that Jesus is telling the truth when He tells us that wherever two or three are gathered in His name, there He is (Matt. 18:20). We believe that Jesus is telling the truth when He says, “This is my body… this is my blood… do this in remembrance of me.” (Matt. 26:26,28; Luke 22:19) Jesus is here, so we behave like He is here.

Our ceremonies reflect what we believe. We believe that the Word of God and the sacraments are the greatest gifts of God to us, because through them He gives us the forgiveness of sins. We thus treat them with reverence and respect and don’t turn our worship into chaos and disorder or have an attitude of irreverence or indifference. We treat holy things as holy.

Yet ceremony is just ceremony. You do not get the forgiveness of sins from ceremony. You can go through the motions of ceremony without believing or caring one way or the other. Let us not forget that Scripture tells us the antichrist sits in the temple of God (2 Thess. 2:4). The wolf puts on sheep’s clothing. Luther’s great Reformation hymn talks of the heretics and false teachers who parade with outward show and lead people to and fro, in errors maze astounded (O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold TLH 260).

This was the case with the scribes who criticized Jesus’ disciples for not following their ceremonial washing of hands. This hand-washing was not for reasons of hygiene. It was a ceremony that was supposed to remind them of the need to be cleansed by God, to receive forgiveness, and to remind them that their food and sustenance came from God (from Rev. David Petersen). But they had become superstitious. They departed from following God’s Word and held to empty ceremonies they themselves invented. They abandoned God’s commandments and replaced them with their own made-up commandments

Jesus said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

Jesus uses the example of the Fourth Commandment. The Fourth Commandment commands you to honour your father and mother. This includes honouring “them by your actions, that is, with your body and possessions, serving them, helping them, and caring for them when they are old, sick, feeble, or poor; all this you should do not only cheerfully, but also with humility and reverence, doing it as if for God.” (LC IV.111)

However, the scribes had invented a special offering, called Corban. Instead of supporting their elderly parents and taking care of them, they would give this special offering and not help their parents. It was a sham. They pretended to be piously giving God extra offerings (no doubt with lots of nice attendant ceremony), but it was all a ruse to break the Fourth Commandment and not fulfil their obligations to honour and support their parents. Their made-up commandments and ceremonies made void the Word of God and taught people to break God’s Law and follow the commandments of men.

The chief thing here is to avoid confusing the Commandments of God and the commandments of men. It is thus important to know and study what exactly it is that God commands and to question everything that man commands.

It is also important to understand the importance of ceremonies, why we do them, and how they provide reverence, piety, and solemnity to the Divine Service and to our daily devotional lives. Those who do not understand them are quick to dispose of ceremonies that the church has done for two thousand years.

What we must remember is that ceremonies are just ceremonies. Ceremonies do not save or give us the forgiveness of sins. The Word of God saves and gives us the forgiveness of sins. Baptism saves and gives us the forgiveness of sins. The Lord’s Supper saves and gives us the forgiveness of sins. Ceremonies don’t even help God’s Word and sacraments save and forgive sins. Rather, ceremonies serve to prevent distraction and prevent your attention being drawn away from the Word and sacraments.

For instance, I use the ceremony of holding up the body and blood of Christ for the congregation to see after the consecration while saying, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” Whether or not I do this, you receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. However, the ceremony draws your attention to the body and blood of Christ just consecrated. Here it is. This is for you. It is concrete and real. Christ has His promises attached to this bread and this wine, for they are His body and blood.

This goes together with the words, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” How is it that you get peace? Through the body and blood of Christ you are about to receive. Christ gives you peace that the world cannot give.

Christ showed His pierced but resurrected hands to His disciples, the hands with which He earned them peace and said, “Peace be with you”. So, the pastor stands in the stead of Christ and holds the body and blood of Jesus with which He earned you peace, and says the same to you.

Christ’s body and blood give you peace with God because Christ died for you. He gave His body to be beaten and crucified and He gave His blood to be shed for the forgiveness of sins. He gives you that forgiveness in His body and blood.

You don’t need some hand-washing ceremony that points to purification and cleaning. You receive Jesus’ body and blood which purify you and cleanse you of every stain of sin. You receive Jesus’ body that strengthens you to life everlasting. You receive Jesus’ blood which washes away your sin. Through eating and drinking His body and blood, Jesus will grant you to partake of the greatest ceremonies of all in the feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[A note for readers: Beginning in Advent, we will begin using the One-Year Lectionary.]

Offended by Jesus

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on John 6:51-69

Dear followers of Jesus: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We live in days when pretty much everyone is pretty much always offended. Everyone is so self-centred that they cannot even tolerate hearing a point of view different from their own. People are offended by natural marriage and families. People are offended by those who want to protect the lives of the unborn. People are offended because everyone doesn’t bow down to their newly fangled ideologies and perversions.

As the morals of society change, what is offensive changes. This is certainly reflected in the media. Things that used to be offensive to society and would never have been seen in television and movies are now common in most media. Yet things that used to be common in older movies and shows are now deemed offensive.

What has not changed and will not change is that the world will be offended by Jesus. Jesus has not changed. His Word is the same as it has always been. When people are offended by what Jesus says, they either twist it or stop listening to it.

In our Gospel lesson, many of Jesus’ disciples were offended by Jesus. They had been following Jesus, but then He said something that offended them, and they turned back and no longer walked with Jesus. They said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” They said that Jesus’ Word was difficult to accept, intolerable, and offensive. They did not want to listen to Jesus’ Word. They didn’t want to listen to Jesus.

Jesus was teaching them about the manna God’s people of old received from heaven, and said about Himself that He is the bread that came down from heaven; that He is the bread of life. Those who ate the bread in the wilderness died, but those who eat the bread of life will live forever. Whoever feeds on Jesus’ flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life.

Many of Jesus’ disciples didn’t like Jesus’ interpretation of the Scriptures as He taught them in the synagogue that day. They thought they could be disciples of Moses and followers of the Scriptures and faithfully attend the synagogue, but reject Jesus. They neglected to understand that the Scriptures speak about Jesus; that Moses spoke about Jesus; that the synagogue was the place to hear about Jesus.

Jesus had earlier said to the Jews seeking to kill Him, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (Jn. 5:39-40)

The Scriptures all speak of and point to Jesus for eternal life. He was there before their eyes and they were offended, and they rejected Him and refused to hear Him teach anymore. The words that Jesus said are spirit and life to them, they did not want to hear.

We too can be offended by Jesus’ words. We too have been so influenced by the rapid demoralization of the world around us that Jesus’ words can offend us. Jesus tells us to purge the unrepentant person from the church (I Cor. 5:13), but that sounds offensive and unloving to world-influenced ears. Jesus tells us to practice closed communion (I Cor. 11:17-32), but that too sounds offensive to world-influenced ears. Next week’s Epistle lesson tells wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22). There’s not much that will more offend this feministic society we live in and those influenced by it.

However, the reality is that the Law of God is not what causes people to stop walking with Jesus. That God gives rules and has standards for behaviour does not cause people to part from Him. Everyone expects that God should have standards and rules.

Look at what happened to the disciples in our Gospel lesson. Jesus didn’t give them an extra commandment, causing them to say, “Hold on, that’s one too many. We’ll take the Ten Commandments, but we can’t handle eleven.” They didn’t fall away because Jesus told them to work for their daily bread. They fell away from Him because He said that He is the living bread that will cause all those eating His flesh to live forever.

Instead of giving them more rules, He was giving them Himself and thus promising them eternal life; promising to raise them on the last day.

Jesus said, “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.” Many of Jesus’ disciples found this offensive.

What we have to understand is that when we find God’s Word offensive, that is our sinful nature rebelling against God. It’s our sinful heart saying, “I know better than God.”

When we find God’s Word offensive, we need to drown the Old Adam is us by contrition and repentance. We may not understand why God says what He says, but we must cling to His Word as the truth, because it is the truth.

The cross is a scandal and an offence because we don’t want to admit that we are sinful. We don’t want to admit that it was for our sin that Jesus suffered and died. We don’t want to admit that we need God’s forgiveness every day.

Yet, Jesus gives us the forgiveness of our sins. He gives us the gift of faith. He gives us His true body and blood. We feed on His flesh and drink His blood, so Jesus promises us that He is in us and we are in Him. He promises us that we will live because of Him. He promises us that He will raise us on the last day and we will live forever.

Do we understand this perfectly? No, but we still trust Jesus’ word.

Do you want to go away from Jesus and hearing His Word along with those who are offended by His Word? No, you don’t. We answer with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

You trust Jesus, because you know He is God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. You trust Jesus because He is the one who took all your sins onto Himself and suffered and died for you, taking the punishment you deserve because of your sins. You trust in Jesus because He gives you His body and blood to eat and drink so that you believe and have come to know that all your sins are forgiven and you will live forever.

There will always be those who are offended by Jesus and thus turn away from following Him. We however will follow Him, because God the Father has granted to us to come to Jesus. We follow Him because He paid the price of our sins. We follow Jesus because He alone has the words of eternal life. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.