Jesus Calms Your Storms

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany based on Matthew 8:23-27

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

On a nice, calm day, the disciples followed Jesus into the boat. If you would have asked them at that point if they trusted Jesus, they would have responded strongly in the affirmative. Of course they trusted Jesus. They had just witnessed Jesus healing the leper, the centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and many others. They were of good cheer and content, thinking that because Jesus was with them, they would have no trouble. They had no fear, apprehension, or uneasiness. Jesus, weary from preaching and teaching, laid down to sleep.

Then, the storm hit. A great storm with waves swamping the boat. The disciples were overcome with fear and fright. They were in a panic as the amount of water in the boat increased and increased, even as the howling winds and great waves tossed it back and forth, completely out of their control. Jesus remained sleeping, seemingly unaware of what was happening.

Jesus remained sleeping to bring the weak faith of the disciples to light. Faith is revealed to be true or false precisely through crosses and trials.

Saint Peter had boasted that he was ready even to die with Jesus, but when tribulation came, Peter fell away and denied Jesus three times. We, too, know how to talk big about the Gospel, cross, and patience, but when the cross is upon us, and we get hit by the storms of life, then it becomes clear how weak our faith is.

“Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Jesus asks.

The winds and the sea obey Jesus. This of course means they obey Him not only when He rebukes the winds and the sea and tells them to be calm, but also when He tells them to rise up and storm. Jesus is the one who commanded the storm to start and to toss the boat and swamp it with water. The storm struck because of Jesus. So also our storms strike because of Jesus.

One way to end the storm is to throw Jesus out of the boat. That’s what the sailors did to Jonah. The Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land sent a great storm because Jonah was fleeing from the presence of the Lord. To quiet the storm, the sailors hurled Jonah, the one who was responsible for the storm, into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.

Throwing Jesus out of the boat to calm the storm is the easy way out of affliction. Scripture tells us, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (II Tim. 3:12) So, walk away from Jesus and your afflictions will end. The devil will stop harassing you at every corner. He will stop lying in wait for your thoughts, heart, soul, spirit, and conscience. The world will stop hating you, slandering you, and speaking evil of you. You will no longer have the constant battle with the desires, passions, lusts, anger and pride of your sinful flesh.

This is what many churches have done. They were beaten down by the social justice warriors of the world, so they caved to their every demand. Regardless of what Christ our Lord says on the matters, they wanted to avoid affliction, so they have fully embraced abortion, homosexuality, women pastors, and every other godless doctrine from Satan.

See, the world tolerates all the teaching and preaching of the heathen, the Muslims, and false Christians, but it cannot stand Christ’s teaching and preaching. As long as you preach what the itching ears of the world want to hear, everything will go smoothly for you. But when you begin to follow Christ, every calamity strikes. Then you invite against yourself the devil, the world, and all ungodly men. Then, because of Jesus, you face great storms and fierce winds, and suffer affliction.

But if you throw Christ out of the boat – out of your life – you throw out with Him all grace, salvation, and blessedness. You throw out eternal life.

Instead of throwing Jesus out of the boat, go in your anguish and distress to Him like the disciples did and say, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” Be patient and commit your cares to God until He is roused from sleep by your calling and crying.

The truth is that God never sleeps. Sometimes it seems to us as if God is sleeping. Psalm 44 says, “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! Rise up; come to our help!” (vv. 23,26) Psalm 35 prays, “Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication, for my cause, my God and my Lord.” (v. 23)

As a man, Christ did sleep according to His human nature. According to His divine nature, He did not sleep, but was awake. As Psalm 121 says, “Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (v. 4) Even sleeping, Jesus was not only aware of the storm, but commanding the storm. Even sleeping according to His human nature, Christ was awake according to His divine nature and keeping watch over His disciples in the boat.

Upon being roused by the disciples, Jesus did rebuke them for their little faith, but He calmed the storm. The storm and the calming of the storm were to strengthen the disciples’ faith; that they would trust that Christ alone is Lord of heaven and earth, who made the sea and the dry land; that they would trust that, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” (Ps. 34:19) Jesus desired them to know that they can find comfort and help in all dangers, be they physical or spiritual, by water or land, as long as they are with Him in the boat, that is, incorporated into Him by faith.

Even though He sometimes takes a long time, and it seems to us that He has fallen asleep, forgotten us, and will not hear us, we should not therefore despair, but cry out with the disciples, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” Then we will quickly find verification of David’s words, “Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” and “When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him.” (Ps. 91:15)

What we should always remember is that our death is our victory. Then we will be in no more trouble. We will face no more storms or afflictions. Because of Jesus’ death for our sin, our sin has been paid for, and our death is precious in God’s sight. Through the storms of this life, Jesus also teaches us to pray for death – that sweet release from the evils of this life. Jesus’ death has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. The kingdom of heaven is thus open to you.

No troubles or afflictions can keep you out of heaven. Sin, death, and the devil cannot keep you out of heaven. Christ Jesus fulfilled God’s Law for you in thought, word, and deed, and He suffered and died for you, taking the full punishment of your sins on Himself. He has defeated all that would bar the gates of heaven to you, and He has promised to be with you until the end, through everything you must face.

With Jesus in the boat with us, the world must rage against us as it rages against Him. Let the world rage and storm. The winds and sea, and all things must obey Jesus. Trial and trouble will last no longer than Jesus wills. He is Lord over all, and He can change it all in a moment. To Him be worship, glory, and honour forever! Amen.

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

[This sermon borrows from Johann Spangenberg’s questions and answers on the Gospel reading.]

Your King Comes to You

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent based on Matthew 21:1-9

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

If you live by what you see and feel, you will be sorely disappointed in Jesus. He rides in poverty, humbly on a borrowed donkey into Jerusalem. How is such an advent befitting a king?

But faith does not judge by what it sees or feels, rather by what it hears. It depends on the Word alone, and not on vision or sight. For this reason, Christ was received only by those who believed the words of the prophets who foretold His coming. Christ was rejected by those who had their own ideas about what the Saviour should say and do. He was rejected by those who did not believe what the prophets spoke about Him.

If you live by what you see and feel, you will be sorely disappointed in Jesus. He comes in mere water with the Word. He comes in humble bread and wine. But faith does not judge by what it sees or feels, rather by what it hears. Faith hears the words, “Baptism… now saves you” (I Peter 3:21) and “This is my body… this is my blood… for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:26,28)

Faith does not judge by what it sees or feels, rather by what it hears. Your king entered Jerusalem to suffer and die. This is not an advent befitting a king. He gave His life for you, so that you will live eternally.

You receive your Saviour, because you believe the words of the prophets who foretold His coming. The prophet Zechariah prophesied, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey.” (Zec. 9:9) Your king. He who was promised to you, whose own you are. It is your king – He whom you have yearned from the beginning, whom the prophets desired to see, who will deliver you from all that has burdened, troubled, and held you captive.

This is a comforting word to a believing heart. An unbelieving heart trusts only what it sees and feels. An unbelieving heart sees only a poor man riding on a humble donkey to die a gruesome death. Thus, an unbelieving heart is left in uncertainty, without a clear conscience, and in fear of death and hell.

Where the heart receives the King with firm faith, it is secure and has no fear of death, hell, or any other evil. The conscience is clear and the certainty of eternal life is known. Your king rode in to Jerusalem to die for you, thus securing your victory over sin, death, and the devil. Your king is the Lord of life and death, of sin and grace, of heaven and hell, and all things are in His hand.

Such great things are contained in these seemingly unimportant words, “Behold, your king.” Such boundless gifts are brought by this poor and despised king. Reason and emotion cannot understand or comprehend, but faith alone does. Therefore, He is called your king; yours, who are vexed and harassed by sin, Satan, death and hell, the flesh and the world. He is your King and He will bring you into His eternal kingdom.

“Behold, your king is coming to you.” He comes to you. This is great news, because you cannot go to Him, neither can you bring Him to yourself. He is too high and too far from you. With all your effort, work, and labour, you cannot come to Him. You cannot receive Him by any merit or worthiness of your own. You have only demerit and unworthiness on your side. He comes to you with grace and mercy on His side.

By this is condemned the teaching of free will in spiritual matters. As if we should by the power of free will first seek God, come to Him, run after Him, and acquire His grace. Beware, beware of this poison! It is nothing but the doctrine of devils, by which all the world is betrayed.

Before you can cry to God and seek Him, God must come to you and must have found you. As Saint Paul writes, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14-15) God must first seek you before you can seek Him, before you can call upon Him in prayer, before you can cling to Him in faith. Thus, your king seeks you. He comes to you.

Your king comes to you in the Gospel. Hence, it can be recognized that not greater wrath of God exists than where God does not send the Gospel – there is only error, sin, and darkness. On the other hand, there is no greater grace than where He sends the Gospel, even if not all, or perhaps only few, receive it.

This is what is meant by “your king comes.” You do not seek Him; He seeks you. You do not find Him; He finds you. For the preachers come from Him, not from you. Their sermons come from Him, not from you. Your faith comes from Him, not from you. Everything that faith works in you comes from Him, not from you. Where He does not come, you remain outside. Where there is no Gospel, there is no God, but only sin and damnation.

Where the Gospel is preached, there your King comes to you. Where holy communion is distributed, there your King comes to you. He comes to you humbly, but with overflowing grace and mercy.

Christ did not ride into Jerusalem just for the apostles, but for you. He is your Saviour from sin and death. He is your Saviour from Satan and his Satanic crew. He is your King and you too will reign with Him.

Believe your Saviour’s Word and promises to you. As you see the dark times that have overtaken us, trust your Saviour’s Word. As you face illnesses and tribulations, trust your Saviour’s promises. As you face death, believe that your King has come and died for you, that He comes to you in His Word and Sacrament, and that He will come again with glory to take you to Himself.

Faith does not judge by what it sees or feels, rather by what it hears. So, hear and listen to the Word of your king, and receive Him as He comes to you in bread and wine with overflowing grace and mercy. Amen.

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

[This sermon borrows content from a sermon by Martin Luther on the same text.]

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.]

Faith in Tragedy

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 5:21-43

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

When terror or tragedy strikes, it is common these days to claim strength in the midst of weakness and helplessness. For example: “Humboldt Strong” and “Toronto Strong.” It says that we are strong enough to get through this tragedy. We are strong, so we will survive, and life will go on.

What is it that makes us strong? Our resolve and determination? Our self-confidence and smug attitude? Our faith in ourselves to stay strong? These will not help us in tragedy.

Faith in Jesus will help us in tragedy and crisis. Faith in Jesus will get us through.

But this faith is not self-confidence. Faith is not confidence that you are strong and can take on the world.

Faith is humble begging. It is throwing yourself at the mercy of God. It is Jairus falling at the feet of Jesus and begging Him to heal his daughter. Faith is reaching out and touching Jesus’ garment for healing and falling at his feet as did the woman with the discharge of blood. Faith is trusting in God’s mercy even though we deserve nothing but temporal and eternal punishment because of our sins.

So you see, faith is not strength. It is relying on the strength of another, namely Jesus. Faith comes from weakness.

Ask anyone who says that they have strength in themselves to deal with tragedy. They will say they don’t need faith in Jesus. They have faith in themselves – they have no use for faith in Jesus. If you have the self-confidence to get through anything this life throws at you, you reject Jesus because you say you don’t need Him.

Faith is the opposite of self-confidence. It is denying yourself and clinging to Jesus for salvation, comfort, help, and for everything you need.

We heard of the faith of Jairus and the woman with the discharge of blood. Jairus was a prominent man, one of the rulers of the synagogue. He would have been well known, well connected, and well respected. Then we have the woman, who would have been ritually unclean because she just wouldn’t stop bleeding. She had spent all her money on doctors who were not able to help her at all. In fact, the text says she suffered much under many physicians and her condition only grew worse. According to Jewish law, she was unclean and forbidden from even worshiping in the synagogue which Jairus ruled.

Two people on opposite ends of the spectrum. Both in need. Jairus’s daughter was sick to the point of death. In fact, she died while Jairus was with Jesus. She was twelve years old, born about the time that the woman had started bleeding. Both Jairus and the woman went to Jesus for healing, because both had faith in Jesus.

Faith is rather a simple thing. Faith is knowing God as He is revealed to us in Jesus, assenting to the truth of God’s Word, and trusting in God, especially for the forgiveness of sins because of Jesus’ death for us.

Faith is trust in Jesus, even when we don’t have all the answers. Faith does not ask, “Why did this happen to me?” but simply trusts in God’s mercy. Having faith means realizing that all the bad things that happen in the world are not only because of everyone else’s sins, but our own sins, too. Having faith means realizing that God is justly displeased because of my sins.

This brings us back to faith coming from weakness, not strength. In our weakness, we trust in Jesus for salvation, comfort, help, and for everything we need.

Faith does not come from within us. Faith comes from outside of us. Faith is the gift of God. As Ephesians tells us, “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 my boast.” (2:8-9) God gives us faith as a free gift.

We cannot attain faith by our own powers or strength, but we can lose our faith when we rely on our own powers or strength. This is seen most often when Christians forget how God strengthens and nurtures faith. They forget that God keeps them in the faith through His Word. They forget that God nurtures them in the faith through the Lord’s Supper. They think that they don’t need God to keep them in the faith because they are strong enough on their own. They stay away from where God preserves them in the faith, thus they fall away from the faith.

Faith does not preserve itself. Just like faith does not create itself but is given by God through the means of grace, so also faith does not preserve itself, but is preserved by the means of grace. The second you think that you don’t need to hear God’s Word regularly and receive holy communion frequently, you are relying on your own strength and are walking down the road that leads to falling away.

Faith trusts in Jesus no matter how things appear. In the midst of suffering, it appears that God does not care. It seems like He is not listening to your prayers.

You don’t think everything seemed bleak to the woman who was able to get no help from doctors, only suffered more, and now had no money either? You don’t think she had prayed to God every single day over those twelve years, crying on her knees, and begging for help? Yet she still had faith that simply touching Jesus’ garment would heal her! After God had not answered her prayers for twelve years, she still had faith and trusted in Jesus.

Such a faith cannot come from within. The only way she could have such faith was because God had given her the gift of faith.

Jairus’s daughter’s future also looked bleak as she was so ill. Undoubtedly, Jairus also had been praying for healing before he went to Jesus, but instead of getting better, his daughter approach closer to death’s door. Then she died.

But having faith means believing in the resurrection of the dead, because Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Saint Matthew tells us that after his daughter died, Jairus said to Jesus, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” His daughter died, but Jairus still had faith in Jesus.

Your prayers for healing, comfort, and the end of suffering will be answered. No matter how bleak things appear, Jesus will make an end of them as He has promised. You may have to wait twelve years for healing like the woman, or you may have to wait until you die, but Jesus will give you healing, comfort, and end your suffering.

We trust in Him who is the resurrection and the life. We trust in Him because He has given us the gift of faith. He who suffered our sins and sicknesses on the cross will give us healing in His good time. He will save us from our illnesses and sins and even death itself, because He has conquered these enemies of ours.

Jesus continues to preserve our faith through the hearing of His Word and the eating and drinking of His body and blood. He continues to forgive our sins and will keep us in the faith until we die. And then when He returns, He will raise us from the dead like we are merely sleeping and give eternal life to us and all who have died in the faith.

Don’t think you are strong enough yourself to get through tragedies and crises. Rather, in your weakness, trust in Jesus and His promises to you. He will see you through. Pray to Jesus for healing and help even if He has not answered you for twelve years. Pray to Jesus for life in the midst of death.

When you do face tragedy, do not claim to be strong. Instead, in your weakness and helplessness, cling to Jesus. He is the resurrection and the life. Amen.

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

Christ’s Letter to the Church in Sardis

Sermon for Midweek Lenten Service based on Revelation 3:1-6

Dear conquerors who will be clothed in white garments, whose names will never be blotted out of the book of life, and whose names Jesus will confess before His Father and before His angels: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The church in Sardis was the big church with a full schedule every week. Moms and Tots on Mondays. Quilting and youth group on Tuesdays. Free suppers for the homeless on Wednesdays. Serve your neighbour Thursdays. Clean up the city Fridays. Men’s groups, ladies’ groups, young adults’ groups, youth groups, children’s groups, family groups. You name it, they had it. They thus had the reputation of being alive.

They had the reputation of being alive because of all the works they did in their communities, all the help they offered to the needy, all the funds they raised for relief efforts around the world. They had the reputation of being alive because they had the numbers – big attendance numbers, big event numbers, big dollar numbers collected in offerings.

Yet, Jesus says they are dead. The reputation they had before men was a lie. Men judge by outward appearance; God judges by the heart (I Sm. 16:7).

Hebrews 11 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God (v. 6). Romans 14 tells us that whatever does not proceed from faith is sin (v. 23). We also heard from John chapter fifteen where Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (v. 5) This means that even works that are excellent and praiseworthy in human eyes are sin before God if they are done without faith. Without being in Christ, we can do nothing good; we can bear no fruit.

The church in Sardis got completely wrapped up in every imaginable purpose except matters of faith. The church had become a community club where the members gathered to do things, but they did not gather for the purpose of hearing God’s Word and receiving His forgiveness. The church came to have a life of its own, apart from life in God, and thus Jesus said that they are dead. They were dead branches cut off from the vine.

This is not an uncommon occurrence. Churches that have been around for a long time can forget their reason to exist. Churches can even be started for the wrong reasons. People go to church, they attend services, but they don’t know why they’re there. They go through the motions. They say sing the hymns. They say the responses. But their hearts aren’t into it. Their minds are preoccupied by other things.

Christ says, “Wake up!” Don’t get distracted or caught up in events and programs and groups and committees. Come to church to hear God’s Word. Yes, in church you hear the very words of God Himself written for you and spoken to you. Come to church to receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. This is where sins are forgiven and removed from you as far as the east is from the west. This is where God takes your sins from you and throws them into the depths of the sea.

Don’t even get caught up in good works. Yes, those who have been reborn and renewed by the Holy Spirit are obligated to do good works. In fact, they cannot help but do good works because they have been freed from the slavery of sin and have been filled with love for God and for their neighbour. God Himself has prepared good works for us to do (Eph. 2:10). Abiding in the vine, the branches will bear fruit.

However, let your focus always be the Gospel – the forgiveness of sins Christ has won for you and gives to you freely. It is Christ’s death for you that gives you eternal life. It is His Word and His body and blood that strengthen you through the trials and tribulations of this life to eternal life.

It is also the Gospel that motivates you to do good works. The threats of the Law may get you to begrudgingly do what it demands, but these are not good works before God no matter how much men may praise you for them. The threats of the Law may compel to a full schedule of events and programs to help others, but without faith it is all sin. Without faith, even works that are excellent and praiseworthy in human eyes condemn to hell. Without faith, you may have the reputation of being alive, but Jesus says you are dead.

Do not turn inward, however, to try and find faith. Faith does not come from within us. Faith comes from outside of us. Faith comes from God.

Faith comes from God when He tells you that He has clothed you in white through Baptism, covering all your sin. Faith comes from God when He tells you that He has written your name in the book of life and He will never blot it out. The devil cannot blot your name out because he’s been thrown out of heaven. Your sins cannot blot your name out because you are clothed in the white robe of Christ’s righteousness. Your name will never be blotted out of God’s book of life, because no one can snatch you out of God the Father’s hand since He is greater than all (John 10:29).

Finally, Christ says He will confess your name before His Father in heaven and before the angels. He will shut down every accusation against you. Clothed in the robe of forgiveness, Jesus will claim you as His own. He will confess and acknowledge that you belong to Him, and you will thus enter the holy city, which comes down from the new heavens to the new earth (Rev. 21:2).

You are alive. Not because of your busyness with programs and events and good works or because of your reputation before men. You are alive because you abide in the vine, Jesus, in whom you will bear much fruit. You are alive because you are in Christ, and He is alive, and because Christ is alive and will live forevermore, you are alive and will live forever. 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.

Not Seen, but Believed

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter based on John 20:19-31

Dear you who have not seen and yet have believed: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Old Testament writings prophesy the resurrection of the Christ. The Psalmist writes that the Christ will not be abandoned in Sheol, the place of death, nor would His body see corruption, thus prophesying that Christ’s body would be raised and not remain in the grave to decay (Ps. 16:10).

Jesus Himself prophesied His resurrection before His death, telling His disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22) Jesus told them this on many occasions.

After Jesus’ resurrection, angels announced to the women at the tomb, and then Peter and John had seen the empty tomb for themselves. Jesus Himself had appeared to the women, who went and told the disciples that He was alive, but to the disciples, it seemed like an idle tale, and they did not believe them (Luke 24:11).

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus had seen the risen Saviour, as had all those who were gathered in Emmaus when Jesus broke bread with them and gave them communion (Luke 24:13-35).

Even the elders and chief priests had heard Jesus prophesy His resurrection. That’s why they went to Pilate after Jesus had died and said, “We remember how that imposter said, while He was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’” They thus requested a guard of soldiers to keep watch over the tomb to make sure Jesus’ body wouldn’t go anywhere (Matt. 27:62-66).

The disciples had heard again and again that Jesus would rise from the dead, and then after the fact, that He had risen from the dead. They didn’t understand when they had heard it and they didn’t understand it after His death before they had seen Him alive.

We see this best with Thomas because he wasn’t with the other disciples the first time Jesus appeared to them in the locked room. After Jesus had appeared behind locked doors the first time, the other disciples told Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.”

Even this was not enough for Thomas to believe. Thomas wanted proof. He wanted to see Jesus with His own eyes. He wanted to touch Jesus and see that He was real, and physically alive.

By nature, we suffer from this same spiritual blindness. By nature, we do not want to believe anything that we have not seen with our own eyes. We’ve never seen God punish sin, so we don’t want to believe that He ever does, that He ever has, or that He ever will. We don’t see the demons behind the ways of the world, so we don’t want to believe that they exist or that there is anything wrong with living like the world. We do not see the Bible as being the Word of God, so we neglect it, don’t read it, do our best to not listen to it when it is read, and have no idea what it says, instead coming up with our own ideas of what God wants and doesn’t want. Repent.

If your faith is based on what you see, what you feel, and what you touch, you’re doomed to hell. If you scoff at what the Bible says, because you don’t even know what it says, you’re doomed to hell. If you think calls to repentance are an idle tale, you’re doomed to hell. Repent.

Just as Jesus did not leave His disciples in their blindness, so He does not leave us in our blindness. To the disciples, including Thomas, He showed His hands and His side. Jesus showing them His hands and His side did not make Him any more alive than He was before He proved Himself to be alive. He was alive whether the disciples believed it or not. He was alive whether the disciples saw Him or not. But He showed Himself alive so that they would not only believe themselves, but that they might also bear witness about Jesus’ resurrection to others.

Thus, the beloved disciple John records the resurrection in his gospel and writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

Thus, Jesus does not leave us in our blindness. He has given us multiple records of His life, death, and resurrection, so that we would believe. He has sent and continues to send ministers of His Word to proclaim repentance, His resurrection, and to forgive and withhold forgiveness in His name. Do not disbelieve, but believe.

This belief, or faith, changes us.

It changed the disciples from being cowards in fear of the Jews and hiding behind locked doors to going out and openly proclaiming the Word of Jesus. Peter and the other apostles, hauled before the same council that had put Jesus to death, did not cower in fear. They point blank accused the council of murdering Jesus saying, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging Him on a tree.” When ordered by the council to stop teaching in the name of Jesus, they said, “We must obey God rather than men.” When they were taken by the council and physically beaten for teaching God’s Word, they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for Jesus’ name.

The disciples were completely different men than those who hid behind locked doors out of fear. They were changed because they no longer believed that Jesus was dead, but that He was alive.

So also Jesus’ resurrection changes us, if we believe. A believer is changed because he does not live in unrepentance like Jesus is still in the grave. A believer is changed because he does not scoff at Jesus Word like it is idle tales. A believer is changed because he does not cower in fear over His sins like Jesus is still dead.

Whether we believe or not does not change the fact that Jesus is risen from the dead. Whether we repent or not does not change the fact that Jesus is risen from the dead. Our repentance and faith only affect whether or not we have life in His name, and Jesus has specifically given us His Word so that we would repent and believe, and live forever.

Notice the mercy Jesus shows to the disciples. Jesus had sent the disciples to proclaim His death and resurrection, and to absolve sins but they hadn’t gone. Eight days later, they were still hiding behind locked doors. Jesus appeared again to them behind locked doors and gave them His peace, absolving their sin, absolving their fear.

This is the same mercy Jesus shows to you. Jesus absolves your sin, but you again struggle with it and fall back into it. So Jesus comes again into the locked doors of your heart and gives you His peace and absolves you of your sin. He breaks the bonds of sin that bind you by leading you to repentance and again forgiving you your sin.

He gives you His Word in which His life, death, and resurrection are recorded, so that you may believe and have life in His name. He absolves you again and again because you sin again and again, but He’s not tabulating how many times He forgives you or how often. Jesus is merciful, so He just forgives you. He gives you His body and blood to eat and drink so that you would be strengthened to everlasting life, not so that you would remain impenitently in sin.

Jesus’ resurrection changes everyone who believes because believers no longer live for themselves, but for Christ, in whose resurrection we have the promise of our resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection changes everyone who believes because we no longer have to fear hell because we have the promise of eternal life. Jesus’ resurrection changes everyone who believes, because in His Word He promises that we have life in His name. In His Word He promises, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Amen.

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

Blind Faith

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent based on John 9:1-41

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

God is just. He is righteous. He is fair. Knowing this, upon seeing the man blind from birth, the disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” God is just. He is righteous. He is fair. Thus, the disciples thought the blind man was obviously getting what he deserved.

Keep in mind that in that day there was no welfare system to take care of this man. There were no disability benefits for which he could apply. There was no centre for the blind, no school for the blind, no seeing eye dogs, no government assistance for the blind. This man was born blind and the only thing he could do for food was beg on the side of the street and hope that enough people had pity on him to toss a couple coins in his direction so that he could eat.

God is just. He is righteous. He is fair. So, the disciples thought this man must have deserved what he got. God punishes sin, and here you can see it. Either his own sins are the reason, or his parents’ sins are the reason he had been suffering in complete darkness from birth, relying on the compassion of strangers just to eat. The explanation for such an awful situation must be payback for something.

Is that how we tend to see things? Any suffering that someone else goes through must be deserved. Any tragedy that strikes others must be divine retribution for their sin. Either they sinned, or their parents sinned, but they are getting what they deserve.

This is easy to understand. Sin results in the just punishment of God. What we do has consequences. This is justice in our eyes. If I don’t smoke, I won’t get cancer. If I eat healthy and exercise, I won’t have a heart attack. If I don’t drink and drive, I won’t be in a collision on my way home. It’s the smokers who get cancer, the unhealthy eaters who get heart attacks, and the drunk drivers who end up in collisions.

The problem with seeing things this way, is that we know that things don’t work out this way. Non-smokers die of cancer every day. Young athletes have heart attacks. Innocent families get hit by drunk drivers.

That must be just bad luck, many will say. You can do things to decrease your chances of getting cancer or a heart attack or being in a collision, but in the end, it just comes down to pure dumb luck. You may not be a high risk for a disease, but if you do get it, it’s just unpredictable chance and bad luck.

Jesus’ answer to the disciples, however, was not that the man was blind because of his sin or his parents’ sin. Neither was His answer that the man was blind out of pure dumb luck. Jesus told the disciples that it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. In other words, God made the man blind so that He could display His work in the man.

Well that’s not fair, we might be quick to say. We prefer to say that God allowed the man to be blind. Whoever did it, it cannot have been God. God wouldn’t do such a thing. But God allowing something is still His doing. Nothing happens apart from God’s will.

Do you remember Job? He lost his oxen and donkeys to raiders as well as the servants who cared for them. Fire from heaven burned up his sheep and the servants who cared for them. Another group of raiders took his camels and killed the servants tending them. A great wind blew over the house of his oldest son and killed all ten of his children. Job was struck with loathsome sores from the bottom of his foot to the crown of his head. And Scripture says that God brought all this disaster upon Job (Job. 42:11). God did it. It wasn’t Job’s sin. It wasn’t coincidence or chance. God did it.

According to our sense of justice, righteousness, and fairness, we say that this is not just, it is not righteous, it is not fair. We don’t just say that about what God did to Job. We say it about what God has done to our loved ones. We say it about what God has done to us.

We say it’s not fair that my loved one died. It’s not righteous that she suffered so long. It’s not fair that I have cancer.

Did we sin or did our parents sin so that we suffer like this? We can go right back to our first parents, Adam and Eve, and say yes, our parents sinned, and that sin has been passed on from generation to generation, so that we also have sinned. That is why we suffer. We suffer because we are sinful. We will die because we are sinful. If we were not sinful, we would never suffer and we would never die.

This does not give us the complete answer, however. The truth is that we will not receive a complete answer on this side of heaven to why we suffer in the ways that we do. We will not know the answer because we are blind.

We might sing, “I once was blind, but now I see,” but that’s not true. We don’t see. Jesus says, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” Don’t say that you see, because you don’t. If you say that you see, your guilt remains.

If you could see, you would never question God’s justice, righteousness, or fairness. You would see that all that you suffer is so that the works of God might be displayed in you. What is the work of God? Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:29) Everything God does is so that we would believe in Him, but we don’t see it. We’re blind to it.

If you could see, every time suffering came upon you, you would rejoice and rush onto your knees to thank God that He is allowing you to suffer. In the face of loss, you would say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) In the face of illness and death, you would say, “Thank you God for displaying Your works in me.”

The work of God is that you believe in Him whom He has sent. The work of God is that you believe in Jesus.

This might be easier to understand first from someone else’s suffering. That’s why we have the example of Job. God took away all of Job’s earthly possessions, yet Job still believed in God and trusted in Him. That displays God’s work of faith. God killed all of Job’s children in one great blow, yet Job still believed in God and trusted in Him. That displays God’s work of faith. On top of all this loss, God struck Job with loathsome sores from the bottom of his foot to the crown of his head, yet Job blessed God, he did not sin, and he did not charge God with wrong (Job 1:21-22). God displayed his work in Job.

God displays His work in us also. We suffer in this life. We cannot say it is because of some sin that we committed. We certainly cannot say that it is just random dumb luck. If it is by random chance that we suffer, then it is by random chance that our suffering ends. We suffer at the hand of God, so that He would display His work in us.

God’s work of faith is displayed in us when we continue to believe and trust in Him even when we suffer illness and loss. God’s work of faith is displayed when we, who are blind, trust in what God does even though we cannot see what He does. Faith is by definition in something that is not seen. Hebrews 11 tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (v.1) Romans 8 tells us, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (vv.24-25)

God’s work is displayed in us when we accept that we cannot know all the reasons why we suffer as we do, but we trust that God knows better than we do. God’s work is displayed in us when we accept that we are blind to what God does but we accept from His hand both days of gladness and days of sadness. God’s work is displayed in us when despite what we suffer, we say with firm confidence that God is just. He is righteous. He is fair.

You can trust that everything that God does is for your good. He sent His only Son to suffer and die for you. What more could He do for you? The Son of God voluntarily came to take your sins on Himself and receive the punishment that your sins deserve. Jesus suffered and died for you so that you have the promise of leaving this world of suffering, sorrow, and death. His death gives you the promise of an end to suffering and a reunion with all your loved ones who have died in the faith.

Because of what God has done for you, you can blindly trust Him. Even though you cannot see now, one day you will see clearly that He has loved you dearly. Despite what you cannot see, you can trust God’s promises to you. His promises to you are sure and certain, because Jesus died for you. Amen.

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

 

Sola Fide

Midweek Advent Sermon – Sola Fide (Gen. 15:1-6; Rom. 4:1-8; John 3:16-21)

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

For our midweek services this Advent we are studying the three solas of the Reformation. As we heard last week, sola means “only” in Latin, and these three solas of the Reformation clarify the Scriptural teaching concerning salvation. The three solas are sola gratia, sola fide, and sola Scriptura. What they mean is that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, as taught in Scripture alone.

Last week’s sermon was about sola gratia – that we are saved by grace alone. Grace is God’s unmerited favour and goodwill towards us, not counting our sins against us because of Jesus’ death for us.

Tonight, we examine sola fide – the Scriptural principle that we are saved through faith alone.

As we heard last week, grace is universal. That means that God offers grace to everyone. God offers the forgiveness of sins to everyone. After all, Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. However, the only way to receive that grace is through faith. Faith receives grace. Faith receives the benefits of Jesus’ death for all mankind.

Faith is trust. We can have faith in a of of different things. We can trust that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. We can trust that the roof will not cave in on us. We can trust that our pensions will continue to be there for us during our retirement. Of course, faith in such things is not the faith that saves us.

In addition to such faith, there is the more important faith – faith in something for salvation. Everyone has faith in something for salvation. Everyone believes in something. Even for the one who says he believes nothing, he still has faith that there is nothing after this life. He trusts that there is no God. He trusts so fervently in himself to know this to the point that he is ready to go to his deathbed denying the existence of God. Such a man still has faith, though. Such a man has faith in himself. He trusts his mind so strongly, that despite the evidence that he can see with his eyes, hear with his ears, and feel with his hands, he says everything came from nothing. That is faith. He has faith in his own mind. He trusts his own mind so much that he rejects Jesus’ resurrection from the dead even though it is affirmed as a historical truth. That is faith.

You can have faith so strong and fervent that you are ready to die. You can be passionate and zealous and sharing your faith with everyone, but if you believe in the wrong thing, your faith will not save you.

If you don’t believe that people can believe so strongly in something false, just look at Muslim suicide bombers. They are willing to wear explosives and walk into crowded places and murder people while killing themselves in the process. They do this because they believe they will go to heaven when they have accomplished their suicide mission. They believe that murder of non-Muslims is such a great good work that you automatically get to go to heaven if you commit the act. That is strong faith, but faith in the wrong thing. Such believers will be shocked to find themselves in hell.

Faith always has an object. That means faith trusts in something. If that something is false, or a lie, then your faith does you no good, but faith always has an object.

For Christians, our faith is in the Gospel. Our faith is in Christ Jesus and His death in our place. That is the object of our faith. Saving faith is not merely a matter of believing that there is one God. Scripture tells us even demons believe that there is one God – and they shudder (James 2:19). Saving faith is also not just a general knowledge of Jesus dying on the cross.

Saving faith is trust in the promises of the Gospel. Saving faith is trust that Jesus’ death was for me. Saving faith is trust that because of Jesus’ death my sins are forgiven. Saving faith is trust that Christ has reconciled me to the Father. Saving faith is trust that the promise of eternal life is for me.

Such saving faith receives the benefits of Jesus’ death. Such saving faith receives the promises given in Baptism. Such faith is counted by God as righteousness, and of such a believer we heard in our Epistle lesson, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Ps. 32:1-2 cited in Rom. 4:7-8).

You can have faith in a lot of things, but only having faith in the Gospel saves you. Faith in the wrong object does not save or give the forgiveness of sins. Only faith in Jesus save. “For God so loved the whole world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned” (John 3:18).

And where does this saving faith come from? Faith comes from hearing (Rom. 10:17). When you hear the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus died for you, the Holy Spirit creates faith in your heart. Even an infant comes to faith through hearing, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Saving faith is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9). We cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him. The Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel and enlightens us with His gifts. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us and keeps us in the faith (SC II.3).

Therefore, we treasure the means of grace. God uses Baptism to give saving faith. God uses His Word to give and nourish saving faith. God uses Holy Communion to strengthen and preserve saving faith.

Our faith is thus secure. Our faith is secure because it is God who gives it and it is God who sustains it. Our faith is firmly founded on Jesus Christ our Lord and what He has done for us, so it is secure. Our faith is trust in the promises of God which can never fail, so our faith is secure. Faith is trust, and we can trust in God because He is faithful. He will surely do what He has promised. Amen.

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