…As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us

Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 18:21-35

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

The unmerciful servant was thrown into jail for eternity because he did not forgive his fellow servant. Jesus says, “So also my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

That’s a scary statement. It is found elsewhere in Scripture also. After Jesus taught His disciples the Lord’s Prayer, He said, “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses.” (Mt. 6:14-15) In other words, if you do not forgive those who have sinned against you, you are going to hell for eternity.

These are not easy words to hear. They’re not easy to hear because we know how much we struggle to forgive. We have been sinned against. Those close to us have betrayed us. Evil things have been said about us. We’ve been cheated. Precious things have been taken from us. Our families have suffered because of things done by others, and we are the ones who are in danger of hell if we don’t forgive?

We must understand correctly what this means. First, we must understand that it is not our forgiveness of others’ sins that earns us forgiveness for our sins. We are not forgiven because we forgive others. We are forgiven freely because of Jesus’ death in our place which paid the debt of our sins. There is no payment made by us for our sins.

Consider the servant that was forgiven his debt of ten thousand talents. He pleaded for time to pay it off, but this was a delusion. He could never pay it off. In today’s dollars, based on the price of gold, ten thousand talents would amount to over ten billion dollars. This servant didn’t have a hope to pay off his debt.

The king forgave the debt. The king took it upon himself to pay the debt because he knew only he could pay such a debt. The king took it upon himself to pay the great debt because he had mercy on his servant; he had compassion on his servant. Rather than throwing the servant into jail for eternity, he forgave the debt freely with no cost to the servant.

That is how God forgives us. God took it upon Himself to pay the debt of our sins, because our debt of sins is too large for us to ever pay off. Jesus paid our debt with His holy and precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. God had mercy and compassion on us and forgave us, because our debt has been paid by Jesus. Rather than throwing us into hell for eternity, He forgave our debt freely with no cost to us. Thus, we are not forgiven because we forgive others. It is not our forgiveness of others’ sins that earns us forgiveness for our sins. We are forgiven because Jesus has paid for our sins.

The next thing to understand is that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, so the debt of every single sin, including those committed against you has been paid. You have no right to refuse to forgive a sin that has been paid by Jesus’ death. If you do not forgive someone who has sinned against you, it means that you do not believe that Jesus’ death has paid for the sins of the world. Refusing to forgive someone is saying that the payment of Jesus’ most holy obedience, suffering, and death is not enough to pay for that sin. Thus, someone refusing to forgive shows that he is not a believer, that he does not believe in the forgiveness of sins.

Christians forgive. Christians forgive because we have been forgiven. Christians forgive because we know that Jesus died for all sin – our sin and the sin committed by others against us. Christians pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Christians confess in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

If Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, why is everyone not going to heaven? Why does anyone end up in hell? Why was the unmerciful servant thrown into jail for eternity even though the king had forgiven his debt?

Let’s go back to the text. The servant did not ask the king for mercy. He didn’t ask the king for compassion. The servant didn’t ask for the king to forgive the great debt that he could never pay. No, he asked for patience. He asked for a little bit of time to make the payment. He didn’t want the king’s forgiveness. He wanted time to earn the billions of dollars that he really had no chance of earning to pay the debt.

The unmerciful servant did not believe in forgiveness and mercy, thus, even though the king offered it to him, he rejected it. That’s why he went and choked his fellow servant and threw him in jail, refusing to forgive him. This man who did not want to be forgiven, did not want to forgive.

God offers His forgiveness freely to all. If you don’t want it, then He won’t give it to you. If you reject His forgiveness, then you don’t have it. God will take it away from you.

Refusing to forgive others is refusing to be forgiven by God. It is rejecting forgiveness. If you do not forgive your brother, then you do not want God’s forgiveness.

Do not ask God to just be patient with you. Asking for patience is not a confession of sin. As long as you ask for time instead of forgiveness, you remain under the burden of sin. As long as you think you have something to offer, you reject the forgiveness of sins God offers to you freely.

Thus, we go to God with nothing to offer. We don’t approach Him making promises to do better. We approach God confessing our sin. We don’t look at our mountain of sin and say if we had some time we could pay it off. We confess our sin, and God forgives our sin.

The mountain of debt that we had has been forgiven. Jesus paid for it. Jesus paid for the debt of all sin, including our brother who sinned against us. With our sin forgiven, we therefore also forgive our brother. Seven times? No. Rather seventy times seven. We keep forgiving.

We keep forgiving, because God keeps forgiving us. God does not count how many times He forgives us. He doesn’t have a quota for absolutions. He doesn’t ration the Lord’s Supper and say that you’ve had enough. God’s forgiveness in Christ is always offered to sinners.

God even forgives those times in our past when we held a grudge and did not forgive. He forgives us and strengthens us to forgive them now. God’s forgiveness even enables us to let go of angry feelings and pray for those who have sinned against us.

God’s forgiveness has wiped out all of our sins. Our mountain of debt that we could not pay off was paid by Jesus’ blood. God has had pity and compassion on us. He has shown His mercy to us and saved us from hell. We will not be cast into hell for eternity because God has forgiven us and continues to forgive us, so we can forgive our brother who sins against us. Amen.

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

Sin is Serious

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 18:1-20

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

The world laughs at sin. To them, sin is just a big joke. Everyone does whatever he wants, and any suggestions that God has given us His Commandments to follow with threats of punishment for not following them is laughable to the world.

This is reflected in today’s media. What sin is not laughed at? It is thought to be hilarious when children are defiant to their parents and even curse at them. It’s funny that someone keeps stealing from his neighbour or keeps doing stupid things when he’s drunk. It’s a joke that someone keeps cheating on his wife. Movies and shows often are based entirely on such “humour” to the point that we get immune to even thinking about how disgusting and sinful such actions are. We get immune to the point that when we see such things in our own families, we don’t even think of them as sins. We are in danger of sin becoming as big of a joke to us as it is to the godless world.

Sin has certainly become a joke to some churches already. The “bishop” of the other Lutheran church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, just declared this past week that God does not condemn sin. She said if there is such a thing as hell, it is empty. Sin is just a big joke to that church body. That is one of many reasons we are not in fellowship with them.

To God, however, sin is no joke. You heard what Jesus tells you to do, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” Go confront your brother if he sins and rebuke him. Jesus doesn’t tell you to laugh at your brother’s sin. He doesn’t tell you to ignore your brother’s sin. He doesn’t tell you to go tell your pastor about your brother’s sin or to gossip to anyone else about the sin either. Jesus tells you to go confront him. Rebuke him. Correct him.

Why? Because sin is not a joke. Sin is a breaking of God’s Commandments. Sin is rebellion against our creator. Sin is turning away from God’s good and perfect will to the devil’s evil and wicked will. Sin breaks communion with God and separates the sinner from God. Sin most certainly can damn a sinner to eternity in hell, that place of torment and gnashing of teeth which God’s Word tells us is not empty. That is why Jesus tells you to go confront your brother who sins. Jesus does not want to be separated from communion with your brother. Jesus does not want your brother condemned to hell.

Don’t tell me you’re too timid or shy to correct your brother who sins. If someone tells you that it is good that our Prime Minister pays out $10 million of our tax dollars to a terrorist murderer, you will voice your disagreement. If someone tells you that your favourite television show is a waste of time, you will speak up and defend it. If someone mocks the Roughriders, I hardly think you’d keep quiet. So why keep quiet when your brother sins?

We can only conclude that politics, television shows, and sports are more important to us than God’s Word; that they are more important to us than our brother’s salvation. We’ve bought into the devil’s lies about what is important to stand up for and defend and what is not.

We need to repent. We need to repent because neither our sin nor the sin of our brother is a light matter or a joke. That’s why Jesus says if your brother doesn’t listen to you, take one or two others with you to call your brother to repentance. If he doesn’t listen to you still, tell it to the church. If he refuses even to listen to the church, then he is to be treated as someone outside the church, outside the kingdom of God. He is to be treated as someone on the way to hell.

So many steps. So much hard, stressful, difficult work. That’s how much God loves our brother who sins. God wants to give him every opportunity to repent. That’s how much God loves us. He wants to give us every opportunity to repent.

Repentance has two parts. First, that we are sorry for our sins, fear God’s wrath, and grieve that we have sinned when God’s Word condemns our sin. And second, that in the midst of grieving over sin, we believe and trust that our sin is forgiven freely on account of Christ.

Our sin is forgiven freely because God takes sin so seriously that He gave His only Son to die for sin. Sin is so serious that God punished all sin in Jesus. Sin is so serious that Jesus was mocked, beaten, tortured, and killed because of it. Sin is the reason God the Father forsook His Son and would not listen to His cries, moans, or prayers as He suffered and died.

You have been bought with a price – the holy, precious blood of Christ, and His innocent suffering and death. You have been redeemed – God has bought you back for Himself and rescued you from all the weight of your sins.

Sin is not a light matter or joke, but forgiveness is an even greater matter. Forgiveness of sins brings sinners from darkness to light, from death to life, from hell to heaven. Forgiveness of sins snatches us out of the grasp of the evil foe and into the hand of our heavenly Father, from whose hand no one can snatch us.

It doesn’t matter how many people take sin lightly and laugh it off. Great numbers do not sway the truth, and they don’t sway God. Jesus promises to be present where two or three are gathered in His name.

Where one baptizer baptizes one person, there is Christ among them. Where one penitent is absolved by one who pronounces absolution, there is Christ among them. Where just one shut-in or hospitalized member celebrates the Sacrament of the Altar with one celebrant, there Christ has promised to be.

Baptism, Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Altar are no light matter either. They are the means by which God gives you the forgiveness of sins.

If I told you that there is a bank account with a million dollars in it, it would do you no good if you cannot access it. The money is sitting there, but if you cannot receive it, it is useless to you. But if I gave you a cheque book, a bank card, and an online banking password, all of a sudden you can benefit from the money in the bank account. You can receive what is there for you to receive.

Just so, there is forgiveness of sins and eternal life which has been bought for you by Jesus’ death. It does no good to you if you cannot access it. If you do not receive it, it is useless to you. Thus, Christ instituted Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. These are the means Christ instituted so that you can have access to His forgiveness and receive it. There’s not even a limit on the account! You can keep receiving forgiveness over and over. You can keep accessing and receiving forgiveness, given and shed for you. God gives it to you in unlimited supply.

Sin is such a serious matter, that God will continue to forgive you so that you will not end up in hell. Sin is so grave a matter, that God will continually forgive your sins all the way to the grave so that you will enter eternal life. Sin is such a big deal, that God gave His only Son to die for sin, so that you can receive unlimited and unending forgiveness over and over, day after day, to eternal life. Amen.

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

 

Commitment

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 16:21-28

Dear saints to whom God is committed: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

It is easy to see commitment. If someone is committed to his career, it is obvious to everyone around him. He puts in the time, day and night, weekday and weekend, holidays included. Whatever it takes to get the job done. He keeps up to date on industry trends and participates in continuing education. He doesn’t give 80% or 90%. The standard business slogan is to give 110%. Do what it takes to get the job done.

Commitment in sports is similar. If someone is committed to a sport, it is obvious to everyone around him. Late night practices trying to perfect that shot. Early morning games far from home. From a few years old, great sums of money must be invested into equipment and lessons, team fees and travel. Scraped knees, bloody noses, and some broken bones are the price you have to be willing to pay. Do whatever it takes to get it done.

So what does commitment to God look like? Coming to church here and there when you feel like it and when it is very convenient? Reading the Bible to the family perhaps on a special day like Easter or Christmas, if at all? Giving God an offering of the excess cash you don’t need for something else? That’s not what Jesus says.

Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Denying yourself is giving everything to God. Not just your time, talents, and treasure, but your soul, your life, your all. Denying yourself is not holding anything back. It is praying, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Denying yourself is throwing everything you want out the door and entrusting yourself to God and His will.

The disciples didn’t do so well with this. When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, not one of them stood by Him. They all fled. Not one of them denied themselves and picked up their cross to follow Jesus. They all wanted to save their lives rather than lose them.

We see it further with Peter and His denial of knowing Jesus during His trial. Today we also heard it when Peter’s idea of how Jesus should save us did not line up with Jesus’ plan of salvation. Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked Him. Jesus told the disciples that it is necessary that He go to Jerusalem to suffer and die, but Peter thought that was a bad idea. He didn’t deny himself and his will but he denied Jesus and His will. Peter said, “God be merciful to you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

Jesus replied very sternly and sharply, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Peter was not denying himself and his will. He was not submitting himself to God’s will, which of course is not just far better, but is perfect. Peter’s will was that Jesus would not die. That is Satanic! That is why Jesus responded so sharply.

As Jesus explained, He must go to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed. There is divine necessity in that word “must.” It was divinely necessary that it happen. Jesus didn’t fall into a trap made by the elders and chief priests and teachers of the law. He wasn’t tricked into suffering and dying. Jesus intentionally walked right into it. It was God’s plan of salvation from before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8).

Peter thought that God should be merciful to Jesus, but that was not the way to save us. In order for God to be merciful to us, He was not merciful to Jesus. Jesus was charged with the sins of the whole world. Jesus was given the punishment that our sins deserve even though He was innocent of sin.

Jesus was committed to die for us so that God would be merciful to us. Jesus was committed to the reason He came to earth, thus He knew it was necessary that He suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed. Jesus was committed to His plan of salvation, because He is committed to us.

It is easy to see Jesus’ commitment to us. He left the joys of heaven to come save us. He lived a life of humble service and fulfilled God’s Commandments which we cannot fulfil. He was committed to the point of death on a cross to save us.

Jesus had to do it all for us to save us because our commitment to do what is right is so fragile and wavering. Our inability to be committed to God is proved by the sins that we fall into over and over. Our inability to be committed to God is proved by our laziness and indifference to hear and read His Word. Our inability to be committed to God is proved by our small offerings to God despite His rich blessings to us.

We are not committed to God. No one would ever accuse us of giving God 110% or doing whatever it takes to spread the Gospel. We do not show the commitment to God that we show the many other things in our lives.

Thus, we need to be asked, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” What will it profit if we have millions in the bank and we die and go to hell? What will it profit if our children play in the NHL or major league baseball but they die eternally?

Jesus points Peter and us to the eternal things that actually matter. He tells us to set our minds on the things of God, not on the things of man.

When Jesus asks, “What shall a man give in return for his life?” we know the answer. There is nothing we can give in return for our lives. All the money in the world will not buy us eternal life. All the good works in the world will not buy us eternal life. All our commitments to God will not buy us eternal life.

The only thing that can be given in exchange for our lives is the life of Jesus. Jesus willingly and gladly gave His life in exchange for ours. If Jesus had been merely a man, the payment would not have been enough. Since Jesus is God, the payment was complete and perfect. His perfect, innocent life for our miserable, sinful lives.

Our commitment to God cannot save us because it is woefully inadequate. Jesus’ commitment to us has saved us because it is perfect and complete. He died for us and rose from the dead to reign at the right hand of God the Father almighty. He committed Himself to us personally by putting His name on us in Baptism. He committed Himself to us by instituting His holy Supper for us, giving us His true body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.

It is easy to see commitment. In everything God has done and continues to do for us, we see that He is completely committed to our salvation. He puts in the time and the effort. He has done and continues to do whatever it takes to save us. God is committed to you, to save you, and you can see it in everything that He has done and continues to do for you. Amen.

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

The Church: Built on Confession

Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 16:13-20

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

The jokes get Saint Peter all wrong. I’m sure you’ve heard many of them. Saint Peter stands at the pearly gates giving an entrance examination which must be answered correctly to get into heaven. There are many varieties of these jokes, but the funniest ones seem to involve lawyers, politicians, and celebrities. Saint Peter supposedly gives a last chance to outwit or outsmart him or get his question correct to get into heaven.

Of course, we don’t get our theology from jokes, but these jokes do stem from bad theology – the idea that Jesus made Peter the first pope and that the pope has the authority to decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. It is the misunderstanding of our text where Jesus gives the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter, as if that gives Peter the authority over who gets into heaven.

First of all, Jesus did not give the keys to the kingdom of heaven to Peter alone. Two chapters later in Matthew, Jesus tells the same things to all His disciples. He tells all of them, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you (plural) bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you (plural) loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 18:18) Also, in John 20, Jesus also speaks in the plural to the disciples, saying, “If you (plural) forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you (plural) withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (v. 23)

This did not, however, give the disciples the authority to decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. It did not give them the authority to decide on a whim whose sins they would forgive and whose sins they would retain. So based on what did the disciples absolve and retain sin? Based on confession.

Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” is the rock on which Christ builds His Church. Christ does not build His Church on Peter himself, but on the truth that Peter confessed.

Jesus did not give Peter the authority to decide who gets asked the hard questions and who gets asked the easy questions at the pearly gates. In fact, no one will be asking any questions at the gates of heaven. By the time you are dead, your sins have already been loosed or retained. No amount of correctly answering easy or even difficult questions will change that fact.

Christ builds His Church on the confession of who He is and what he has done. These are what the church confesses.

Christ sees the hearts of all, but we cannot see hearts. We cannot see faith. But we can hear faith being confessed. Thus, the decision of whose sins are forgiven and whose sins are retained is based on confession. This is as true today as it was in the time of Saint Peter and the other apostles.

The Church teaches the faith. Those who learn and believe the faith as taught by the Church, confess the faith. They confess, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” All Christians of all time confess the faith as outlined in the three creeds of the Church – the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.

When someone wants to join the church, since we cannot see their hearts, we simply ask them their confession. Do you believe what Scripture teaches as it is summarized in the Small Catechism? Do intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully? Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death? Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?

If they confess these things affirmatively, the church takes them at their word, and they are brought into the church. We cannot see faith, but we can hear it confessed.

In addition to what Christians confess about God, we also confess something about ourselves. We confess that we are poor, miserable sinners who deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment. We confess that we are sinful by nature and have sinned in thought, word, and deed.

Again, we cannot see hearts. The pastor cannot see the hearts of those who speak the words of Confession. He does not know if they mean what they say. However, based on the confession he hears from their mouths, He absolves them in God’s name – remember, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them” and “Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

The pastor does this, because whether or not someone believes the words they confess – that they there are sinners deserving hell, it is true. Whether or not someone believes the words of Absolution – that their sins are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, it is true. These are just as true as the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Whether or not someone believes that it is true does not change the reality of it.

Speaking the words of Absolution is nothing other than speaking the Gospel. Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. If someone does not believe it, they get no benefit of it being true, but it still remains true.

Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. This remains true even for those who do not believe it. Everyone’s every sin was paid by Jesus. If you reject His forgiveness then you do not have it and will go to hell, but His offer for forgiveness remains. His death in your place remains true.

So who then has their sins retained? Those who confess that they are not sinful. Those who confess that their sin requires no forgiveness. Those who refuse to turn away from their sin and want to stubbornly remain in sin. Those have their sins retained who do not confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Even for such people, however, there is hope. There is hope that they will still come to realize their sin and turn away from it. There is hope that they will hear God’s Law which condemns their sin so that they would fear God’s righteous punishment and repent. There is hope that they will hear the sweet words of the Gospel that Jesus has paid the price of their sins and believe.

For those who struggle to believe that some sin from their past is forgiven, private Confession and Absolution is offered. Private Confession and Absolution is offered so that the burden of sin can be unloaded on Jesus who has already carried that sin on the cross. Private Confession and Absolution is offered so that those who struggle with sin can be strengthened in their fight with sin by hearing it specifically absolved from the mouth of the pastor as from Christ Himself, since He is the one who sends His minsters saying, “He who hears you, hears me.” (Luke 10:16)

Absolution heard in private is the exact same Absolution heard in public in the Divine Service. It is not because of the length or detail of Confession that sins are absolved. The Absolution is the same, whether you spend an hour tormenting yourself to confess every detail of every sin to God that you can remember, or if you merely say as we did this morning, “Almighty God, have mercy upon us, forgive us our sins, and lead us to everlasting life.”

Absolution is the same, because Absolution is the Gospel. Absolution is the good news that because of Jesus’ death for your sins, you are forgiven. Absolution is the good news that because of Jesus’ death for you, you have eternal life. Absolution is the word of Christ Himself which forgives your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Praying with Faith

Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 15:21-28

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

We want to put God in a box. We want to contain Him. When we come to church, we want to open up the box for a little bit, but then quickly close it again on the way out as if God has nothing to do with the rest of our lives. Here in church it’s okay to talk about the Ten Commandments, but out in the world and in our lives we think it’s a different story. Here in church it’s okay to talk about God’s design of marriage until death, of male and female, of wives submitting to husbands and husbands loving their wives to the point of giving up their lives for them, but out there in the world we think we should keep quiet because the world is a free-for-all, as if God’s will doesn’t apply.

When it comes to life in the world, we want to put words in God’s mouth. When we hear something that we don’t like, we say, “God wouldn’t say that.” When we see something we don’t like, we say, “God wouldn’t do that.”

We’ve got it all backwards because of our sinful nature. We want to make a god in our image, but it is God who made us in His image. We can project our ideas of who and what God should be, but God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is. 55:8-9)

Our thoughts and our ways tell us that if a woman is pleading to Jesus for her daughter who is severely oppressed by a demon, Jesus would answer her. Our thoughts and our ways tell us that Jesus would tell her that He came to save her and her people. Our thoughts and our ways tell us that Jesus would give her the best, answer her prayers, and not treat her like a dog begging on the street.

Yet, Jesus answered the woman not a word. She continued to plead for mercy, but Jesus did not respond, so the disciples told Jesus to tell her to get lost. That’s basically what Jesus did. He said that He did not come for her, her people, or her daughter; she’s not one of God’s chosen people, Israel. Even this did not deter the woman. She kept pleading. Jesus then told her, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” In other words, it is not right to take that which belongs to the chosen children of Israel and give it to those who are not.

We cannot say Jesus wouldn’t do that. He did. We cannot say Jesus wouldn’t say that. He did.

We don’t have God in a box. We do not have Him contained. We do not even understand His ways and His thoughts. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts.

At those times that we do not understand God’s ways or thoughts, we would do well to focus on what we do know about Him; what He has told us about Himself. He has promised us that He hears our prayers. He has told us that He is loving, merciful, and gracious. He has told us that even though Jesus came for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, all nations will be blessed through Him (Is. 56:6,7).

When it seems to us like God is not listening to our prayers, we know that it is not true. He always hears our prayers. When Jesus told the Canaanite woman that He didn’t come to save her and that she is an unworthy dog, He said this to humble her, because we are indeed all unworthy dogs, undeserving of being saved. That’s why we should pray like the woman, acknowledging our sins and unworthiness. We don’t pray to God because we deserve that for which we pray. As we confess in the meaning of the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “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.” (SC III.5)

If we pray to God like He owes us something or we deserve that for which we pray based on our own merits or worthiness, we may well receive an answer that seems like God is calling us unworthy dogs so that we would realize our unworthiness and pray to Him not on account of our worthiness, but on account of His love and mercy, and His promise to hear us.

When we pray and God does not answer; when we pray for help and we still get hurt; when we pray for solutions and we only get more troubles; when we pray for rain and we only get more drought; when we pray for an end to rain and we only get more rain – these times when we do not understand God’s thoughts or ways, we need to cling to those things that we do know: God’s promises to us.

When God seems to be distant from us and not answering our prayers, He is working faith in us. When God does not immediately answer our prayers with help and grace, He is working faith in us. When we cannot understand God’s thoughts and ways, God is strengthening our faith in what we do know about Him, so that despite what we see and feel; despite what we do not know or understand, we would still cling to His promises to us.

God has promised that He will hear our prayers and never leave us or forsake us. He has told us that He loves us and wants everything only for our good. He has promised that even though we are unworthy to receive anything good from Him, He gives to us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He promises us that because of Jesus’ death on our behalf, our sins have been paid for and we are declared worthy of eternal life.

Cling to these promises when God seems distant or angry. Cling to these promises of God when you do not understand what He is doing. Cling to these promises of God when you realize you do not have God in a box and do not have Him contained. Even cling to these promises when you do not understand why God has given certain Commandments and rules and how or why they are best. Even all of God’s Commandments are good for us and for our society, whether we understand it or not.

There are things that we cannot know or understand. There are things God has hidden from us. Every time we face troubles and tribulation, we do not have an answer from God as to why, or even for how long. That is why we cling to what we do know; what God has given us to know and understand. We cling to His promise that He is with us and will never leave us or forsake us. We cling to His promise that everything we face is for our eternal good. We cling to His promise that after grief, He will give relief, whether it starts already in this life, or if it is when we receive eternal life. We need fear no harm, because God will keep us safe in His arm, so we can trust in Him, and submit to His holy and perfect will. He who has given us faith will also keep us in the faith, whatever we must face. Amen.

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

Faith in the Midst of Storms

Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 14:22-33

Dear storm-tossed disciples: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

How do you know for certain that you are saved? How do you know for certain that your sins are forgiven? How do you know for certain that you will receive eternal life? How can you be certain that when you are sinking and you cry out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus will save you?

Do not respond by saying that it is because you have faith. You do have faith, and because of the faith that God has given you, you are saved (John 3:16), but that is not the answer to the questions.

Look at the example of Peter to understand why having faith is not the answer to the questions. When Peter stepped out of the boat, he had faith in Jesus’ Word. When he saw the wind, he was afraid and doubted Jesus’ Word.

Do we not do the same? We believe Jesus’ Word until we see the wind and waves of this life howling and threatening. That’s when doubt sets in. When we are overwhelmed by loss and strife, illness and death, we doubt. When we pass through trials, with sin and ills contending, bearing the cross that God has sent us; when we are facing adversity and the storms of woe dismay our souls; when death pursues us without rest and the only thing between us and death’s strong grasp is a failing breath – at such a time, do not turn inwardly to find your faith. You will have a hard time finding anything but doubt.

Our response is not likely to be one of faith, but despair. We question why God would allow such tragedy. We may even feel angry towards God. We respond like the widow of Zarephath to Elijah when her son died, who said, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sins to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” (I Kings 17:18)

The widow responded with those words because when she turned inwardly to find faith, she found only sin. She thought because of her past sin, God had taken her son from her. She thought because she remembered her sin, God also remembered her sin and punished her for it.

To find certainty of your salvation; to know for certain that your sins are forgiven and not remembered by God; to know for certain that you have eternal life, do not look inward to your faith. We are sinful people whose faith waivers, especially in trials and temptations. When we are sinking and we turn inward to look for faith, we will find only doubt and despair.

For certainty of your salvation, look to where God has promised you salvation. God has promised you salvation in the waters of Holy Baptism. Scripture tells us that Baptism gives the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38) and washes away sins (Acts 22:16). Scripture tells us Baptism rescues from death and the devil (Romans 6:3-5) and clothes us with Christ (Galatians 3:27). Scripture tells us that as Noah and his family were saved in the ark from the flood waters, so the flood waters of Baptism save us (I Peter 3:21).

When the wind and waves of this life hit you with full force, do not turn inwardly to try and find faith. Instead look to your Baptism where God has given you faith. Look to your Baptism which is not a feeling or emotion. Your Baptism doesn’t waiver. Your Baptism doesn’t wear off. Baptism saves you.

You have certainty in Baptism because that is where God has promised you salvation. In the midst of trials and tribulations, remember your Baptism where God claimed you as His own and promised you the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

For certainty of your salvation, look to where God has promised you salvation. In addition to Baptism, God has also promised you salvation in the Sacrament of the Altar. Scripture tells us that in the Lord’s Supper, we receive Christ’s true body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins (Matt. 26:28). Scripture tells us that Christ’s blood cleanses us from all sin (I John 1:7). Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation (SC VI.2), thus eternal life and salvation are also received in the Sacrament of the Altar.

When the wind and waves of this life hit you with full force, do not turn inwardly to try and find faith. Instead look to the Sacrament of the Altar where God gives you the forgiveness of sins and strengthens your faith. Look to the Sacrament of the Altar which is not a feeling or emotion. The Lord’s Supper doesn’t waiver – you always receive Christ’s true body and blood. The Lord’s Supper saves you through the forgiveness of sins.

You can thus be certain of your salvation through the Sacraments because they are where God has promised you salvation.

When Peter doubted and began to sink, Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of Peter and saved him. Jesus didn’t say, “No, I’m not going to save you because you are doubting instead of believing.” It was not because of the strength of Peter’s faith that Jesus saved him. In spite of Peter’s doubting and lack of faith, Jesus saved him.

All of this does not downplay the importance of faith. Faith is what saves, but faith has an object. Faith believes in something.

Faith in false gods does not save. Faith in one’s own goodness does not save. Faith in one’s own faith does not save.

Saving faith is trust in Jesus and His promises. Saving faith is trust that Jesus’ death on the cross was for your sins. Saving faith is trust that when Jesus’ Word tells you Baptism saves you, you believe it to be true. Saving faith is trust that when Jesus tells you that He gives you His body and blood to eat for the forgiveness of sins, you believe it to be true. Faith is trust that Jesus gives you all the benefits of His life, death, and resurrection through the Sacraments He instituted for that very purpose.

This is why faith does not turn inward to look to itself. Faith looks to Christ on the cross. Faith looks to the empty tomb. Faith looks to Christ and what He has accomplished for our salvation.

Faith must also look to where Christ has promised that we receive that salvation. We cannot receive salvation from the cross. We cannot receive salvation from the empty tomb. We receive salvation in Baptism. We receive salvation in the Sacrament of the Altar. Thus, faith looks to Baptism. Faith looks to the Sacrament of the Altar. Faith looks to these two Sacraments where Christ has promised us salvation.

When the storms of life gather and our road looks dark; when great woes and troubles overtake us; when disaster brings our sins into remembrance and death looms near, know for certain that you are saved. Know for certain that your sins are forgiven. Know for certain that you will receive eternal life. Know these for certain, because these are the promises God Himself has made to you in your Baptism and in the Sacrament of the Altar. Amen.

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

Weeds in God’s Field

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

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

There are weeds growing in God’s field. God knows it. We know it. Right next to the good wheat that Jesus has planted, there are weeds planted by the devil. The wheat and weeds are growing side by side in the same field. God knows it. We know it.

Right beside a church that teaches the truth of God’s Word is a church that teaches the lies of the devil. Right beside a church that sows the good seed of God’s Word is a church that sows the weeds of the devil. They may both have started out looking the same, growing up together, even both being congregations of Lutheran Church-Canada. However, as the wheat comes up and bears grain, so the weeds also come up and are seen for what they are. Side by side, the wheat and the weeds grow together.

The Christian church always has to contend with false teaching and false teachers. Jesus says so. The devil is not going to stop sowing weeds among the wheat until Christ returns and the angels gather the weeds and bind them up to be burned. Christ certainly will not stop sowing the good seed of His Word until the harvest when the wheat is gathered into His barn.

The good seed of God’s Word produces only good wheat. The devil deliberately sows weeds where the good seed has been sown. We are witnesses of this. We see all the evil things that are done in Christ’s name. Churches are condoning all kinds of behaviour that Scripture says are sinful practices. Churches and pastors condone the favourite sins of the day including living together outside of marriage, homosexuality, and divorce. They support the lies of the devil like feminism, women’s ordination, and the confusion of what is male and what is female. All kinds of blasphemous practices are taking place in churches where following Scripture is replaced with following the desires and feelings of man.

When the bad seed was initially sown, it may not have been obvious. While Christ sows His seed openly in the day, the devil sows his seed secretly at night. At first you may not be able to tell any difference between the two. Once the seeds sprout and grow, then you see the difference. Then you can differentiate the wheat from the weeds. Then you can distinguish the sons of the kingdom from the sons of the evil one.

In this life, we cannot perfectly distinguish between the sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one. Certainly, there are signs that you are one or the other, but oftentimes we cannot know. God knows. God can perfectly identify the wheat from the weeds. God does perfectly distinguish between the sons of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one.

Even so, God does not weed His field. He doesn’t pull up the weeds to bind them up for the fiery furnace. He doesn’t round up the sons of the evil one and cast them all into hell. Oh, He will do it, but not yet.

The servants of the master expected the master to want them to gather and remove the weeds immediately, but the master said, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.” God does not want to uproot sons of the kingdom by rooting out the sons of the evil one around them. Out of His love and concern for the sons of the kingdom, He does not uproot the sons of the evil one at this time.

God is patient and long suffering. He endures the weeds in His field for the sake of the wheat. He endures the weeds also for the sake of those weeds. God desires the sons of the evil one to become sons of the kingdom

After all, we all had our start as weeds. After Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, they were weeds. Weeds cannot produce wheat, only more weeds, thus all mankind gets their start as weeds.

It is not until being watered with the waters of Holy Baptism that God turns weeds into wheat. He makes sons of the kingdom out of sons of the evil one. In Baptism, He adopts us as His sons because He forgives us all of our sins. He covers the sinful nature of who we are with His perfection. He pours out His love and mercy on us, giving us what we do not deserve. We deserve to be bound and burned in hell for eternity. But our dear Lord took the punishment of our sins in our place so that instead we will be gathered into His barn, which is His eternal heavenly banquet.

Even though we must remain, grow, and produce fruit in a world where we are surrounded by weeds, we are safe. God waters us through Baptism to claim us as His own, separating us from the multitude of unbelievers. He has separated the wheat from the weeds already now by His claim on the wheat, even though we still grow surrounded by weeds. God nourishes us with the meal of His Son’s body and blood so that we would remain in Him, grow in Him, and produce good fruit.

God gives us these good, wonderful gifts because He knows our sinful tendencies. He knows the temptations of the world around us. He knows the evil one is always lurking to deceive and tempt us. That’s why God continues to forgive us our sin. He doesn’t count how many times He forgives us. He keeps forgiving us. He doesn’t remember our sins, but removes them from us. He casts our sins into the depths of the sea. He forgives our sins now, so that we will be ready for the harvest to come.

There will be a harvest. Judgment Day will come. As we confess in the Apostles’ Creed, Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. As Scripture teaches, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (II Cor. 5:10) The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace, that place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, while the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

Therefore stay awake! We do not know when Christ will return. Do not get caught up in the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches. Do not get choked by the weeds that surround you so that you fall into their manner of thinking and living. Do not harden your heart so that the devil snatches away the Word that has been sown in your heart.

On the Day when Christ returns, it won’t matter if you have four million dollars in your bank account or if you are overdrawn; it won’t matter if you are rested from time at the lake or exhausted from being overworked. The only thing that will matter is whether or not you have faith.

The thing about faith is that it doesn’t come from you; it comes from God. You cannot sustain your faith; God sustains your faith. You cannot strengthen your faith; God strengthens your faith.

Faith comes from hearing God’s Word, so listen to God’s Word. Faith is strengthened by hearing God’s Word, so do not find excuses not to hear. Faith is nourished and nurtured by receiving the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for you for, so eat and drink for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Don’t let the weeds growing around you convince you that God will not ever weed His field. The harvest will come. God knows there are weeds in His field and you know this.

God also knows those who are His. God knows you, the wheat, because He planted you. You are sons of His kingdom. Your names are written in His Book of Life because your Saviour has paid the debt you owe.

The weeds are no threat to you. Not even the evil one can threaten you. God has given you faith, thus He has turned you from weed to wheat. He has made sons of the kingdom from sons of the evil one.

You are wheat growing in God’s field. God knows it. You know it. Though you are surrounded by weeds that will not immediately be pulled, you are safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers. Because your sins are forgiven, on Judgment Day you will be gathered by the angels into the barn of our Saviour, where you will shine like the sun in the kingdom of your Father. God knows it. You know it. Amen.

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

The Word

Sermon for Sixth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 13 1-9, 18-23 (Is. 55:10-13)

Dear hearers of the Word: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

God says, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

In other words, God’s Word does what it says it will do. God’s Word has power. God’s Word has power to condemn; God’s Word has power to save. God’s Word is the seed which bears fruit and yields a hundredfold, sixtyfold, and thirtyfold.

Without the seed, you can have no fruit; you can have no growth. It doesn’t matter what kind of soil you have. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like – whether you get enough sunshine or enough rain. Without the seed, you have nothing more than dirt.

Just so, without God’s Word, you cannot have faith, you cannot have good works, you cannot have salvation or eternal life. It doesn’t matter what you face in life, what decisions you make or don’t make, what you do or don’t do. Without God’s Word you cannot have faith, you cannot be strengthened in the faith, and you cannot have eternal life.

God’s Word has power. The Holy Spirit has bound Himself to work through the Word. When God’s Word is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit has promised to be there calling sinners to repentance and faith. His Word does not return to Him empty, but will accomplish what God purposes, and will succeed in the thing for which God sent it.

Wherever the Word of God does not result in faith, the fault does not lie with God. It’s the exact same seed being scattered everywhere. God doesn’t short-change anyone. The fact that God’s Word is rejected by so many does not point to a weakness or short-coming in the Word of God. It points to the hardness of hearts that refuse to understand and believe the Word of God. It points to the weakness of trying to find root in oneself and thus when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the Word, such a man immediately falls away. It points to the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choking the Word so that it proves unfruitful. This is not God’s doing, nor is it God’s fault.

God’s Word has the power to save, but people don’t like what God’s Word says, so they avoid hearing it. God’s Word has the power to bring sinners from darkness to light, but sinners prefer the darkness to the light because their deeds are evil. God’s Word has the power to bring the dead to life, but the dead prefer the death of their sins to everlasting life.

Because of the great power of God’s Word to save and God’s desire to save us, He gave us the Third Commandment. The Third Commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”

This Commandment is openly despised by many people who claim to be Christians. They don’t go to church because they don’t think they need to hear God’s Word. They do not realize that the devil is real and is out to deceive them and lead them astray from God’s Word. They do not realize the world is not a neutral place, but does everything it can to get their attention away from the Word of God. They do not realize that they are their own worst enemy and that their sinful flesh does not want to hear God’s Word because it exposes their sin to be sin, breaking their contrived conviction that they aren’t so bad and their sin isn’t so serious.

If someone truly believes that he is sinful, why would he not take every opportunity to receive the forgiveness of sins? If someone truly believes that he is sinful, why would he not take every opportunity to be strengthened against the devil, the world, and his own sinful flesh? If someone truly believes that he is sinful, why would he not take every opportunity to hear God’s Word which alone has the power to save from sin?

The more one is away from the Word of God, the more he is influenced by the devil, the world, and his own sinful thoughts, ideas, and feelings. He will not realize it. He will just follow what he thinks is good and feels right, and without the direction of God’s Word, it will be further and further away from what God says is good and right.

That’s why you are here. To hear God’s Word. To receive His forgiveness. You have not done what you should have done. Your sinful flesh cries out, “Yes, I have,” but God’s Word says, “No, you haven’t.” You have done what you should not have done. The devil and the world cry out, “No you haven’t,” but God’s Word says, “Yes, you have.”

The reason why God sends His Word to you to tell you this is not so that you would despair and lose hope and be condemned to hell. Rather, God sends His Word to you to call you to repentance and faith. God sends His powerful Word to you to bring you from darkness to light; from death to life.

God’s Word does this because it tells you of Jesus, whose blood covers your sin. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, so He takes away your sin. Jesus’ death covers your sin of despising preaching and His Word, and not holding it sacred and gladly hearing and learning it. Jesus’ death covers your sins of preferring the ways of the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh to the ways of God revealed in Holy Scripture. Jesus’ death removes from you your sins of trying to find root in yourself in stead of God’s Word, and from being deceived by the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches.

God has not abandoned you because of your sin. He still sends His powerful Word to you to forgive you all yours sins and take them away from you as far as the east is from the west. He still gives you the body and blood of Jesus which give you eternal life.

When you struggle with your sins and do what is wrong, God does not turn into your enemy. He ever remains your loving Father calling you back to Him for forgiveness given freely. He gives forgiveness to you freely because Jesus has already paid the price of your sins. There’s nothing left for you to pay.

When God’s Word convicts us of sin, the reaction of the sinful flesh is to flee from preaching and the Word of God. Do not listen to your sinful flesh. Listen to God’s Word which tells you that His Word will do what it says it will do. God’s Word will not return to Him empty but will accomplish your salvation as God has purposed it.

God has claimed you in the waters of Holy Baptism. No one, not even the devil, can snatch the gifts of your Baptism from you. Christ our Lord gives you His very body and blood to eat and drink to spiritually nourish you and keep you in the faith. Your sins cannot prevent God’s Word from accomplishing God’s purpose. God’s purpose is for your salvation, and His Word will succeed in saving you. Amen.

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

Rest in Jesus

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 11:25-30 (Romans 7:14-25)

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

The life of a Christian can be described as civil war. We have an ongoing and fierce battle waging within us. We can say along with Saint Paul, “I delight in the Law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”

As Christians, we want to do what pleases God. We want to keep His commandments. We want our desires to be the same as God’s desires. It thus pains us when our desires are not in line with God’s desires; when our sinful flesh desires those things that God does not desire for us. There is a war within us as the Holy Spirit gives us the desire to do what is right but our flesh wants only to indulge itself.

We want to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, but our flesh needs money in the bank account to feel secure. We want to go to church every Sunday and study God’s Word at home, but our sinful flesh would rather go to the lake and sit in front of the TV. We want to be forgiving and loving to our neighbour, but our flesh is angry and wants revenge on the neighbour who did harm to us. We want to be content with what we have, but our flesh covets things that God has not given to us and things that we don’t need and wouldn’t be good for us.

Our flesh cannot be tamed to want what God wants for us. As we heard, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” Our flesh has nothing good in it. Our flesh is not capable of a single good, God-pleasing desire. Everything our flesh wants is contrary to God’s will for us, and there’s nothing we can do to change or get rid of our sinful flesh. It is part of us until we die.

That’s why we also can say, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”

We can blame the devil for our sin. We can blame the temptations of the world as the reason we fall into sin. But the real problem is us. The real problem is our sinful flesh. Our sinful flesh wants to fall into the temptations of the world and the snares of the devil. That’s the real problem with us. Our flesh wants to sin. Add to that the fact that our sinful flesh is the king of excuses. We have an excuse for every selfish thing we do. Our flesh refuses to acknowledge any sin we commit as actually being sin because it is a natural desire of the flesh.

No wonder Paul exclaims, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

We cannot deliver ourselves. We cannot rid ourselves of the desires of the flesh. We cannot stop sinning. Even if we could, we cannot undo all the sin that we have already committed. We are left with nothing except a detestable body of death which will die and then burn in hell for eternity unless someone delivers us.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

In the words of the great hymn:

But God had seen my wretched state

Before the world’s foundation,

And mindful of His mercies great,

He planned for my salvation.

He turned to me a father’s heart;

He did not choose the easy part

But gave His dearest treasure.

God said to His beloved Son:

“It’s time to have compassion.

Then go, bright jewel of My crown,

And bring to all salvation.

From sin and sorrow set them free;

Slay bitter death for them that they

May live with You forever.” (LSB 556 st. 4-5)

Out of His great love for us, God sent His only Son to slay bitter death for us by His own death in our place. God had compassion on us. He does not want us to die eternally, so He sent His Son to die for our sins. To rescue us from our own wretchedness, God’s Son suffered a wretched and horrific death for us.

Thus, God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord says to us, “Come to me, all who labour and our heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” You who labour under your heavy burden of sins, come to Jesus for rest. You who bemoan the wretchedness of your state, rest in Jesus. You who are fatigued and worn out by the battle with your sinful flesh, Jesus is your rest.

Jesus fulfilled for you what you cannot fulfil. He kept God’s Law perfectly for you, so you can rest from your attempts to save yourself by the Law.

Jesus continues, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Being yoked to the Law is heavy and hard; it is impossible because we cannot keep the Law because of our sinful flesh. Being yoked to Jesus is easy because He has kept the Law for us. Being yoked to Jesus is light because He lifts the heavy burden of our sins from us. When sin has been forgiven and the conscience has been freed from the burden of sin, then everything becomes easier and lighter.

Even following God’s Law and will for us becomes easier and lighter. Not because we can tame the sinful flesh, but because through daily contrition and repentance we drown the sinful flesh and kill it along with all sins and evil desires. Not because we can now fulfil the Law perfectly, but yoked with Christ who has fulfilled the Law for us, we receive the forgiveness of all our sins. Following God’s Law and will for us becomes easier and lighter not because of our own goodness, but because we have the Holy Spirit who gives us the desire to do what is good, right, and holy and strengthens us to do it.

We thus rest in Jesus. We rest in Jesus through Baptism where He yokes us to Himself and gives us the benefits of His death on the cross. We rest in Jesus through the Sacrament of the Altar as Christ gives us His own body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith.

The Lord’s Supper is such an important part of our life as Christians because through it the heavy burden of our sins is lifted from us and our conscience is freed from the weight of sin. Through the Lord’s Supper Jesus gives us rest from our labours and gives us peace; He gives us rest for our souls.

Jesus gives us rest, because He has already won the battle. He has already conquered sin, death, and the devil. His life and death accomplished everything for us, so we can rest in Him and the forgiveness He continually gives to us. We can rest in Jesus and the salvation He has accomplished for us.

Thanks be to God, we will be rescued from our bodies of death through Jesus Christ our Lord, who will raise us from the dead as surely as He Himself rose from the dead, and give eternal life to us and all believers in Christ. In this truth we can rest now, throughout our lives, and in the moment of our death. This is most certainly true. Amen.

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

Peace or Sword

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 10:34-42

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

Isaiah prophesied that the Saviour shall be called Prince of Peace, and that there would be no end of peace in His kingdom (Is. 9:6,7). Zechariah prophesied that the Christ would guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:79). At the birth of Jesus, the angels announced peace on earth to the shepherds (Luke 2:14).

Yet Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

This does not mean that the prophecies concerning Jesus are wrong. The Holy Spirit is never wrong. Jesus did come to bring us peace. He came to bring us peace with God. As Romans 5 tells us, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:1) Christ came to reconcile us with the Father by dying for our sins and earning us forgiveness. That is why we have peace with God.

However, not everyone wants peace with God. Not everyone thinks that they need peace with God. There is thus no peace between those who have peace with God and those who do not have peace with God.

As Jesus says, He even divides families. He says, “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

Those who do not have peace with God have always despised and hated those who do have peace with God. In others words, unbelievers have always despised and hated believers throughout history, even within families.

Within the same family, Cain despised his brother Abel and murdered him out of jealousy because God accepted Abel’s offering but not his. Abraham’s son, Ishmael, born of the slave woman also persecuted his brother Isaac, the son of promise. Esau sought to kill his brother Jacob who had received the blessing from their father Isaac. The church has and always will be persecuted by those outside of the church, even within the same household.

This is even seen in Jesus’ earthly family. At a time when His family did not believe in Him, Jesus’ own family came to seize Him from a crowd saying, “He is out of His mind.” They wanted to stop Jesus from teaching the crowds because they thought He was delusional. They set themselves up to oppose Jesus and His work. Those of His own household sought to seize Him and take Him away.

There is bound to be strife and hostility between believers and unbelievers, even within families. One group believes that there is nothing beyond the peace they can achieve on this earth. The other group looks ahead to eternal peace after this earth is destroyed, and is willing to sacrifice peace on earth for eternal peace with God.

The church on earth has thus often been called the church militant. It is a pipe dream to hope for peace for the church on earth because Christ’s church is the kingdom of truth in the middle of the world, which is a kingdom of lies. There is no rest for the church on earth as there is constant affliction due to unbelief. The rejection of truth results in tension, strife, and the persecution of believers.

Those who believe that there is nothing beyond the peace they can achieve on this earth do not want to hear God’s Law which tells them they are sinful. God’s Law is not a pleasant thing to hear. Hearing that what you want to do is wrong and sinful in God’s eyes makes the world angry and fills them with hatred. Nor do unbelievers want to hear that Jesus died for their sins. They hate that anyone would even suggest that they have any sins for which Jesus would need to die. Jesus is thus a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence (I Peter 2:8).

The temptation for the church is to stop fighting. Just shrink back and keep quiet. Why should we trouble ourselves by speaking the truth and offending people? Why can’t we just keep quiet and keep our faith and confession to ourselves?

If we do, we cease to be the church of Christ. Once we stop fighting, we are already defeated. There is no rest for the church as there is constant affliction due to unbelief. There is no rest for the church because the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh will not stop fighting against what is true, holy, and righteous.

The Holy Spirit tells us through Saint Paul that it is even necessary that there are factions or divisions in the church. It is necessary that the church is divided and split so that those who are genuine may be recognized (I Cor. 11:19). This may be surprising, but divisions in the church reveal who is following the teaching of Christ and who is wandering off into the lies of the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh. Divisions in the church force people to examine what Scripture says and to pick a side. There is no fence sitting. As Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Matt. 12:30).

This really is not a complicated thing. Either we follow what God says in the Bible or we follow the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. We either are enemies with unbelievers, even if they are of our own household, or we are enemies with God. Either we prioritize peace with God or we prioritize peace on earth.

The thing about peace on earth is that it will never happen. We can avoid some conflicts, but others are unavoidable. We can avoid confronting sin that we see in our family, but then it sits there and festers and soon takes over entirely and then it is too late for our family. We can shrink back and keep quiet about the evils going on in our society to avoid offending people, but those evils are going to take over our society, and those same people we wanted to avoid offending will come after us and seek our destruction and the destruction of the church that follows what God says in His Word. This will happen because unbelievers have always despised and hated the church since the time of Cain and Abel and they will not stop until the earth is burned up with fire on Judgement Day.

There is no hope for peace on earth. Our hope is in heaven. Our hope is in heaven, because despite those times that we have kept quiet when we should have spoken, we have the blood of Christ covering our sins. Despite those times we have sought peace on earth instead of peace with God, Christ Himself is our peace. Despite those times we have fallen into following the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, we have the forgiveness of sins because Jesus died for us. Thus we have peace with God.

We have peace with God because He will not charge us with the offences we have committed. Christ was charged with all our offences and paid the penalty that we deserve. Christ has released us from the Law which held us captive and we have peace with God. God is not angry or wrathful towards us because we are no longer His enemies but are at peace with Him through our Saviour.

Thus, yes, as prophesied in the Old Testament, our Saviour is the Prince of Peace. There will be no end of peace in His kingdom. Christ has guided our feet into the way of peace. No strife or conflict on earth can take away the eternal peace we have with God. Our sins and iniquities cannot take away our peace with God because Jesus has taken our sins away from us. Even on this earth which has no peace, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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