Walking as Christians

Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost based on Ephesians 4:17-5:2

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

Through Baptism, you are clothed in Christ. Christ Jesus has claimed you from darkness and ignorance. He has taken you from walking in the futility of your mind to walking as His baptized child. As a consequence of this, you have been changed and are not to follow the old man which is corrupt through deceitful desires; you are not to follow the desires of the flesh.

The Holy Spirit tells us through the apostle Paul in our Epistle lesson that we Christians are not to walk as the pagans and unbelievers of the world. We are given several examples of how we are to be different from unbelievers: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil… Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (4:25-32)

With the Fifth Commandment, God protects the body, with the Sixth the spouse, and with the Seventh temporal possessions. Just as God does not want our neighbour’s money or possessions taken away from him, God does not want his reputation, good name, and upright character taken away from him, so God gave us the Eighth Commandment (cf. LC 255-256). God knows how many families have been destroyed by gossip and slander and how many congregations have been split because of people breaking the Eighth Commandment.

God’s command to not bear false witness against our neighbour includes the particularly detestable, shameful vice of speaking behind a person’s back and slandering, to which the devil spurs us on. It is a common evil plague that everyone prefers hearing evil about their neighbour rather than good, although we ourselves are so bad that we cannot suffer that anyone should say anything bad about us (LC 264).

This is what unbelievers do. They destroy the reputations of others so that jobs are lost, careers and marriages ended, and mobs rise up to judge what is not their place to judge. You are commanded not to do the same.

You are then warned by the Holy Spirit to not sin in anger. “It is better not to be angry at all. But if one does fall into anger he should at least not be carried away by it toward something worse.” (Chrysostom) On no account are you to be carried into swelling rapids by the impulse of rage (Jerome). You are commanded to not give rein nor yield to the impulse and promptings of wrath, but to beware of doing what your wrath would have you do (Luther).

Instead of sinning in anger, you are to not let the sun go down on your anger. You are to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. You are to be reconciled with God and with those who have made you angry, rather than giving the devil the opportunity to lead you into other sin because of your anger.

You are told put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and slander and clamour, along with all malice. Bitterness is a resentful attitude of the heart that arises from the belief that you have been treated wrongly. Clamour is angry shouting and malice is an attitude of ill-will towards others and the desire to do them harm. The connection between these can be seen in anger leading to bitterness and angry shouting, to lying and speaking ill of someone, and anger can even lead to the desire to do them harm.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. How is it that you can forgive someone who has sinned against you? Because God in Christ has forgiven you.

God forgave you all your sins through Baptism, but because you have sinned since Baptism and have been angry and gossiped and slandered and been bitter and shouted angrily and desired harm to others, thus God forgives you again and again. The entire Christian life is a continual return to your Baptism, a continual drowning of the Old Adam by daily contrition and repentance.

The danger of not daily being sorry for your sins and repenting of them is also mentioned in our text. Impenitence is the same as having a hard heart and being calloused. When sins are constant and repeated without repentance, you begin to be calloused to the sins, and your hard heart does not feel the accusations of your conscience. You start to argue that it is no big deal that you talk about someone behind his back; that you are justified in your anger; that your bitterness is right because you have been mistreated. That is not the way you learned Christ! Repent. Repent and believe the Gospel.

For you, Jesus suffered bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander and malice. Jesus was treated unfairly but He did not become bitter. In anger and wrath Jesus was stricken, smitten, and afflicted. Even crucified He still bore clamour and slander and malice.

Jesus died on the cross for your sins, but He is not bitter with you. Jesus suffered the righteous and just wrath and anger of God over your sins, but He is not wrathful or angry with you. Jesus suffered for your sins of anger and slander and gossip and lying but He bears you no ill-will.

Jesus is tender-hearted, forgiving you all your sins because He loved you and gave Himself up for you, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. His fragrant offering covers the foulness of your sins.

Daily repentant of your sins. Be sorry for your sins and trust in Jesus for forgiveness because He will never withhold it from you. He gives you His body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins and through them strengthens you to eternal life, so you know you have His forgiveness.

In Baptism you have put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. All your sins are covered. You are righteous and holy. Thus, you do not walk as the pagans do. You walk as a child of God because your sins are covered by the blood of Jesus. Amen.

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

Absolution is from Christ

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

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

Many people find Absolution offensive. Only God can forgive sin, they say. How then can you have a pastor saying, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”?

It is true that only God can forgive sin, but in what way has He promised to forgive sin? He sends His ministers to forgive on His behalf, saying, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Christ has the authority to forgive sin. He earned it by paying for every sin ever committed through His suffering and death. And Christ gives that authority to His Church on earth. When a pastor speaks the forgiveness Christ has sent Him to speak, it is Christ Himself who forgives sin. Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth, so it is He who decides how He wants to forgive sin. Christ has chosen to give forgiveness of sins through the mouths of sinful men sent to His people for that purpose.

Forgiveness doesn’t do you any good if it is somewhere out there for you to find. Forgiveness doesn’t do you any good if it’s sitting in heaven. Forgiveness of sins needs to come to sinners, where sinners are. That is why Christ instituted the church. The church is the place for sinners to gather and receive forgiveness. Forgiveness belongs to the church.

Since forgiveness belongs to the church, no man can assume the office of pastor without a call from the church. The church, to whom forgiveness belongs, must call a pastor to give this forgiveness to them. No one can appoint himself to be a pastor. This is what it means in Romans 10 where Saint Paul asks, “How are they to preach unless they are sent?” They cannot preach unless they are sent. They must be called by God through the church.

Christ instituted the office of the ministry, or the office of pastor, for the purpose of preaching His Word and giving His forgiveness. It is the office or the position that is special, not the man who occupies the office or position. There is nothing special about the man John Nieminen. He has nothing to say to you. He has no special wisdom, insight, or knowledge to impart to you. Yet when your pastor speaks Christ’s Word to you, it is Christ Himself who speaks to you. When your pastor forgives you your sins, it is Christ Himself who forgives you your sins through the Word He has given your pastor to speak.

This is why pastors wear albs or robes. They cover up the man and remind you and me that it is only according to his office as pastor that he has the right to say one word from God. This is also why pastors are called by their title. It’s not a matter of pride or conceit, but rather a reminder to you and to me that I’m not here of my own doing. I didn’t decide one day that I think I’ve done enough studies, look on a map and say, “I’m going to move to the prairies and serve these two congregations in Neudorf and Melville as their pastor.” No, God called me here to be your pastor. He called me through you, the church. You called me to come and speak God’s Word to you and forgive you your sins in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ.

I’m not here as John to do what I want or speak what I want. I’m here as a pastor, doing what God has commanded me to do, and saying what He has commanded me to say.

There are some things I’m tempted to not preach or teach. I’m tempted to avoid saying things that get people upset. I’m tempted to not touch sensitive topics with a ten-foot pole. But I don’t have a choice in the matter, unless I am going to be faithless to the One who has called me to teach and preach to you.

I must preach God’s Law to you. I must tell you what God commands you to do in every aspect of your life. It is necessary, not because you can fulfil the Law of God, but so that you will recognize your failures to do what God commands and repent of your sins. It is necessary for me to preach the Law so that you realize that you need forgiveness and that you would desire to receive that forgiveness.

I must preach the Gospel to you. I must tell you that Jesus died on the cross for all your sins, so that every single sin is forgiven: big sins, little sins, public sins, secret sins. Jesus took the punishment of every single one of your sins so that you have the promise of eternal life instead of eternal punishment in hell.

I must forgive the sins of repentant sinners. I must also retain the sins of the unrepentant.

Those who are offended by a man forgiving sins are even more offended at a man retaining sins. “Who are you to judge?” they say. Once again, we have to go back to the Word of Christ Jesus Himself, who says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Withholding forgiveness is not done arbitrarily or based on the whims of the pastor. Here too, a pastor must follow the Word of Christ. It is only the impenitent sinners who have their sins retained and are not forgiven; those sinners who refuse to turn away from their sin; those who have no desire to do better.

Every sinner who is repentant is forgiven. The weak sinner who struggles with his sins is forgiven. The repentant sinner who has again fallen and thought, said, or done something which breaks God’s holy Law is forgiven.

This is where Absolution comes in. Absolution gives forgiveness to the weak and doubting heart. It strengthens faith. It is Christ’s Word spoken to you in His stead and by His command.

When you hear the words of Absolution, it may be the voice of your pastor you hear, but you are hearing the words of Jesus. Jesus instituted the office of the ministry for the benefit of His Church, so that through the ministers who faithfully proclaim His Word, Jesus Himself is speaking. When Jesus commands it to be spoken, so it is.

You can thus be confident in the Absolution you receive from your pastor. The forgiveness he speaks is not his own forgiveness, but the forgiveness of God. He is the messenger of Christ, speaking that which he has been commanded to speak; forgiving what he has been commanded to forgive.

Your faith is thus in Christ and His promises, nothing else. Christ cannot deceive or lie, so you can confidently trust His word of forgiveness which He speaks to you through the mouths of His ministers. Ministers come and go, but Christ’s promises to you are eternal. Amen.

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

Not to Condemn, but to Save

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent based on John 3:14-21

Dear people for whom the Son of Man was lifted up: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but in order to save the world. He didn’t come as Judge, but as Saviour. He came to be lifted up on the cross to pay for the sins of the world, and thus save us from our sin.

He came in love, but the world hates Him. We heard the familiar verse that starts, “For God so loved the world,” but the love is not reciprocated. God loves the world, but the world hates God. The world loves darkness instead of the light. The world loves sin instead of loving God.

Why does the world hate Jesus so much? Why do they reject Him? Why do they refuse His forgiveness? It is because they do wicked things and they don’t want to come to the light, lest their wicked deeds should be exposed. Jesus is the light of the world, but the world does not want to come to Jesus who exposes their sin.

We must confess that our sinful inclination is the same. None of us enjoys hearing God’s Law which convicts us of the sins that we have committed. None of us likes God’s Law exposing our sin. Our sinful flesh does not want to hear about God’s rules or commandments, or about how we have failed to keep them. Our sinful flesh says, “If God really loved us, He wouldn’t give us all these rules and commandments to follow. If God really loved us, He would let us do what we want.”

Our sinful flesh is wrong on this matter as it is wrong on every matter.

God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. He exposes our sins not so that He can condemn us for them, but so that He can forgive our sin.

We can hide our sins from each other. We can lie about them to each other. We can lie about them to ourselves.

God, however, sees all our sins and knows all our sins. He doesn’t expose our sins for His sake, but for our sake. He shines light onto our sins so that we would see how dark and evil they are and hate them as much as God hates them. He shines light onto our sins so that we would flee the darkness and seek the light. He shines light onto our sins so that we would flee to Christ for refuge.

Christ is our only refuge. He is the light of the world. In Him there was no darkness, but He took our darkness from us onto Himself. He took every single one of our sins onto Himself and died for them.

How do you know that He took your sins? Because He took the sins of the whole world. Every sin of thought, word, and deed was put on Jesus. Every selfish thought, every lustful word, every greedy deed was put on Jesus. Your every sin of anger and doubt, your every sin of jealousy and discontentment was charged to Jesus. He was charged with all the sin of the whole world and was punished for it all. He took your punishment in order to give you eternal life, because He loves you.

It sounds so simple, and it is. Jesus died so that you will live – eternally.

The simplicity of it is what sometimes gets us tripped up. Consider the Israelites in the wilderness from our Old Testament lesson. They had again sinned against God in speaking against Him and complaining about the food God was giving them, so God sent fiery serpents among them. They bit the people and many of them died. This led to the Israelites repenting of their sin. The light of God revealed their darkness, and they repented and asked for the serpents to be taken away.

God provided a solution. He had Moses make a bronze serpent and put it onto a pole. If a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. Sounds so simple, and it was. Look and live. It sounds too simple. It kind of even sounds silly. That is the foolishness of the cross.

It would sound better to our reason if God would have told the Israelites to offer Him extra sacrifices and to do all kinds of acts of contrition in order to get forgiveness. It would make more sense to us if God had given them steps for overcoming their difficulties and guidelines for living better lives to save themselves. It would be more reasonable to us if the Israelites would have had to do work to pay off their sin. But God says simply, “Look and live.”

Jesus said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” Jesus was lifted up onto the cross to save us from the poison of our sin. It’s as simple as that.

Our reason tells us that we should have to offer extra sacrifices and do all kinds of acts of contrition in order to get forgiveness. Maybe if we had to suffer a little bit and work harder to overcome and live better, then we could work off our sins. But none of our sacrifices or acts of contrition or good works can pay for our sins.

The answer is far simpler. Jesus has done it all for you. Jesus died so that you will live – eternally. That’s why Jesus’ last words on the cross were, “It is finished.” Your salvation was accomplished then and there. Your sins were paid for then and there. Eternal life was purchased for you then and there. There’s nothing left to pay. There’s nothing left to do. It is finished.

Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but in order to save the world. He didn’t come as Judge, but as Saviour. He came to be lifted up on the cross to pay for the sins of the world, and thus save us from our sin.

When Jesus returns, He will return as Judge, but our judgment has already been pronounced. Jesus was judged in our place, so we are already declared innocent.

Jesus says that those who reject His forgiveness are also already judged. He says, “Whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Whoever thinks that they can earn their own salvation; whoever things they can save themselves and see no need for Jesus; whoever rejects the free forgiveness Christ offers is condemned already.

We, however, look to Christ lifted up on the cross. He is the light of the world and He has exposed the darkness of our sins so that we would trust in Him for forgiveness.

We look to the cross, but we cannot go to the cross for forgiveness. Rather, the forgiveness earned on the cross comes to us. Forgiveness comes to us in Baptism, [as it did for Emma this morning. Forgiveness comes to us in] Absolution, and Holy Communion. Once again, it’s so simple. God forgives our sins through water, through the Word, and through bread and wine. It doesn’t require anything from us. Jesus has done it all and He gives us forgiveness freely.

Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but in order to save the world. It sounds so simple, and it is. Jesus died so that you will live – eternally. Amen.

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

God’s House is for Forgiveness

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent based on John 2:13-22

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

The youth are holding a fundraiser in the narthex following the service. After hearing our Gospel reading, should the tables be overturned, their money poured out, and should the youth be driven out with a whip?

To answer this question, we have to understand why Jesus drove the money changers and the livestock sellers out of the Temple.

Livestock sellers were selling animals so that God’s people could offer the sacrifices prescribed by the Law of God. This way the people who made their pilgrimage to the Temple from far away wouldn’t need to make the long trek with animals in tow. The animals were necessary for the prescribed sacrifices.

The money-changers were also necessary. Every Israelite twenty years old and upward was to pay the Temple tax and it had to be paid in Jewish coins (Ex. 30:11-16; cf. Mt. 17:24-27). Money-changers exchanged Roman coins with the Jewish currency. The Roman coins had the image of Caesar and an inscription declaring him to be a god. The money-changers exchanged these idolatrous and blasphemous coins for Jewish coins, the local currency that was acceptable for the Temple tax and could be used for giving tithes and offerings to God.

There was nothing wrong with selling animals for Temple sacrifices or trading Roman coins for Jewish currency. It is not a sin to sell to others what they need, nor is it a sin to make a profit.

The problem is where they were carrying on this trade. It was in the Temple, in the Gentile court where the Gentiles were supposed to be able to pray. They were thus denying the Gentiles a place to pray, even though the Temple was supposed to be a house of prayer for all people, not just the Jews (Is. 56:7).

The Temple was the place from where forgiveness came. The sacrifices for the sins of the people where the means of grace for the Old Testament believers. They were sacrifices which pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross when the body of His temple was destroyed.

Forgiveness cannot be bought or sold, and the buying and selling was preventing Gentiles from worshiping in the Temple. Their buying and selling got in the way of forgiveness. This Christ would not tolerate going on in His Father’s house, and thus He drove the livestock sellers and money changers out of the Temple.

We also should not tolerate anything that gets in the way of forgiveness of prevents anyone from worshiping in church. No event or fundraiser can be permitted that does these things.

The youth fundraiser does not get in the way of forgiveness, nor does it prevent anyone from coming to the Divine Service. Forgiveness of sins cannot be bought or sold, and you know that your donations towards their catechism retreat will not earn you the forgiveness of sins any more than your church offerings earn you the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness is given freely.

The Jews wanted a sign from Jesus to prove that He had the authority to cast the money changers and livestock sellers out of the Temple. They wanted visible evidence that He is the Son of God with the authority to cleanse His Father’s house.

Jesus, speaking about the temple of His body, responded, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” That is His sign of authority. He is the temple. He is the sacrifice. He indeed was killed, and He did rise again, just as He said.

Jesus’ death is what truly has cleansed the church. Throwing out sellers and money changers doesn’t cleanse the church. Jesus’ blood shed for us, covering our sins is what has cleansed the church.

Psalm 32 says, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” We are thus blessed, for that is exactly why we come to God’s house. We come here to have our transgressions forgiven. We come here to have our sins covered. Jesus does not want anything getting in the way of that.

Jesus is zealous for what happens in His Father’s house, because it is a place of forgiveness. This is where the font stands before our eyes, reminding us of how God has received us and cleansed us from sin. This is where we gather to receive absolution from one in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is where the altar stands which recalls Christ’s sacrifice; the altar from where we receive Christ’s true body and blood, cleansing us from all our sins.

Jesus is zealous that nothing gets in the way of our transgressions being forgiven. Jesus is zealous that nothing gets in the way of our sins being covered.

We also should be zealous to make sure nothing gets in the way of us receiving forgiveness from God. Cast out whatever gets in the way of you being here. Overturn it and pour it out. Make a whip of cords if necessary to drive out whatever is in your way of forgiveness.

The church is God’s house of forgiveness. For you. For everyone. Yes, for our youth too, so please don’t drive them out with whips.

Let us receive that forgiveness in Jesus’ body and blood, given and shed for us. Amen.

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

Repentance – Specific and General

Sermon the Third Sunday after the Epiphany based on Mark 1:14-20

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

“Repent and believe in the Gospel,” Jesus preached. The Holy Spirit does not give us any more content of Jesus’ sermon here, or a list of any specific sins of which the people were to repent. The Holy Spirit simply had Mark record that Jesus preached a general call to repentance.

There is a need to preach about specific sins so that we would recognize those sins to be sin and repent of them, but there is also a need to preach general repentance. This is because we tend to think that our problem is a specific sin. Maybe it’s a bad temper. Maybe it’s discontentment. Maybe it’s gossip. We think, if only I could keep my cool a little better; if only I could find a little more contentment in life; if only I could say less bad things about others, then I would have my sin under control, then I’d be a moral person, then I’d be a good person.

We tend to think of our sins very specifically, as if the solution to our sins is to do better in the areas we struggle. I’m going to show more love to my spouse. I’m going to drink less. I’m going to be more patient with the children. I’m going to go to church more.

However, doing better with specific sins is no solution. The problem with us is not our specific sins. The problem with us is that we are sinful in general. All of us, all our being is infected with sin. Our very nature is corrupt. Our flesh is sinful to the core and has not one good desire. We are sinful from conception and will remain that way until we die.

Specific sins are merely a symptom of what is wrong with us. We aren’t sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners. Working on committing less of a particular sin is like dealing with a symptom of illness, without treating the illness itself. Working on committing less of a specific sin as the solution to sin is like having cancer but getting no treatment other than an Advil for your fever. Even if your fever goes down a little for a while, it doesn’t help your overall situation at all.

Now don’t get me wrong. Turning away from specific sins is part of repentance. Striving to do better in the areas we struggle is what God commands us to do. The point is that we need to repent in general. We need to repent not just of what we have done and left undone, but of who we are and what we are. We need to repent of our sinful hearts, which is where all our sins of thought, word, and deed originate. Jesus says, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matt. 15:19) These specific sins come about as the result of general sin of the heart.

It’s not that a pretty good person commits murder and thus becomes a bad person, or a moral guy commits adultery and becomes an immoral sinner, or an essentially honest man steals and thus becomes a dishonest man. The problem is the heart. We sin because we are sinful. Because we are bad, immoral, and dishonest, we break God’s Commandments.

We can work on individual sins all we want, but it will not help us unless we address our general situation – that we are by nature sinful and unclean.

This is why the general preaching of repentance leads into the specific preaching of the Gospel. Repent and believe in the Gospel, but not just any gospel. There is only one specific Gospel that saves us from sin – the specific Gospel that Jesus died on the cross for our sins so that we have the promise of eternal life.

This specific Gospel is the cure for our illness of sin. It doesn’t just treat symptoms, but it makes us new from top to bottom. It gives us a new heart and new desires to do what is right. It makes us clean from sin in general, so it makes us clean from specific sins also. Every specific sin is wiped away from us. Every sin of thought, word, and deed that we have committed was put on Jesus and He paid the price for them. That is the specific Gospel for you, but it still gets more specific and more personal.

The Gospel is not just out there somewhere for you to find. Christ has instituted specific places where He gives you the forgiveness of sins. Those places are Baptism, Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Altar. These are the specific ways God gives you forgiveness.

Baptism is a washing away of your sins. It washes away the guilt of specific sins you have committed, but it also washes you generally clean of sin. It forgives individual sins, but it also forgives your sinful heart. All of you is washed clean, and all of you is claimed by God as belonging to Him.

Baptism is very specific. Your name was spoken along with God’s name. You, personally and specifically, became a child of God in Baptism.

Absolution is God’s forgiveness spoken to you. It declares you righteous. It declares you forgiven. Absolution is God’s Word, spoken at His command, and with His promise.

Absolution can be spoken in general, as it is every Divine Service, or it can be specific, personal, and individual. Yet, the forgiveness is the same, and specifically for you.

The Sacrament of the Altar is Christ’s true body and blood given to you for the forgiveness of sin. It gives forgiveness for specific sins, general sin, all sin. You yourself receive it. You eat, you drink, so you know that you, specifically, receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sin. This specific meal strengthens and nourishes your faith until you are at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.

Repent and believe in the Gospel. Yes, repent of specific sins that you commit because of your weakness, and strive to do better. But the only solution for sin is the Gospel – the good news that Jesus suffered and died for your sin and freely forgives you all your sin; the good news that your sinful heart and all the sins that flow out of it are covered with the blood of Christ; the good news that your general sinfulness as well as your specific sins were put on Christ, and you will not be punished for them because Jesus was punished for them.

Repent and believe in the Gospel. Amen.

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

Generous Wages

Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 20:1-16

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

Do not run your vineyard, or your farm, or your business like the master of the house in Jesus’ parable. If you pay the labourer who works for one hour in the day equal to the one who works twelve hours in the day, you will not find many labourers willing to work twelve hours, but you will find many willing to work one hour.

It simply is not fair to give equal pay for unequal work. If one labourer worked twelve hours, it is not fair to pay him the same as to the labourer who worked only one hour. We have a sense of what is fair and right, and that’s not it.

If you want to run your farm or business profitably, you have to reward the behaviour in your employees that helps you make more money. You have to pay the employees more that do more work and pay the employees less who do less work. That’s how you stay in business. That’s how you don’t lose the farm. It’s just good business. Equal pay for equal work, right? You get paid for the work you do, but not for the work you don’t do.

The Church, which is the kingdom of heaven on earth, is not a business. Sure, we have to do some business-like things, but the Church is not a business. We have to pay the bills. We have to maintain the building. We have to give enough to balance the budget or this congregation will close. However, the Church is not a business. Equality in the kingdom of heaven is not the same as equality in business.

In one sense, we are all equal. We are all sinners deserving temporal and eternal punishment. That is where the equality stops. Some members of the kingdom of heaven spent a lifetime living in sin before entering the kingdom of heaven, while others were baptized into the kingdom of heaven the day they were born. Some members of the kingdom of heaven have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat, working on the church council, as treasurers, as trustees, while other members simply show up and reap the benefits. Some members support the church through sacrificial offerings to the congregation, to seminaries, to missions, while other members contribute next to nothing at all. Despite these differences in labour, we all get equal wages – eternal life in the kingdom of heaven.

This doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t seem right. That’s even before we start comparing ourselves to those who have worked as missionaries in dangerous places, sacrificing the comforts of this life to bring the Gospel to others, sometimes even sacrificing their very lives. Yet, we all get the same wages that we were promised.

The kingdom of heaven is not a meritocracy. We don’t get what we deserve in God’s kingdom. If we got what we deserved as our wages, we would all get eternal death. As Scripture teaches, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

Rather, everyone in the kingdom of heaven receives the same undeserved wages – “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

God does not give out varying amounts of forgiveness. In Jesus, He always gives us full and complete forgiveness. Regardless of the amount of sin in your past, Christ covers them all with His righteousness. You cannot be more righteous than Jesus, so when Jesus gives you His righteousness, there is no one more righteous than you. Before God’s judgment throne, you are as perfect and righteous as Jesus, since He has given you His righteousness. The same is true of everyone who is God’s child, no matter what they’ve done or left undone.

Now, we can look at those who we deem to be more sinful, or those we deem to have worked less or given less than us, and say that it’s not fair that they get the same wages as us. God responds to us, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Are you not getting the wages that I promised you? I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?”

We need to stop looking at others and look to ourselves. We are all guilty before God and deserving nothing but hell. Out of His great love and generosity, He forgives us all freely and gives us wages that we do not deserve. How dare you begrudge God’s generosity to others! Is God not allowed to give His forgiveness to everyone as He sees right? Is God not allowed to give all His children His overflowing, undeserved forgiveness like He gives it to you?

God is so generous and overflowing with His forgiveness so that we all know that it is for us. The kingdom of heaven is not a business. Forgiveness is not sold. Forgiveness is not earned. Forgiveness is given freely because Jesus has paid the price of the sins of the whole world.

Through His life and death, Jesus earned the wages of eternal life for us. He is the one who earned and accomplished what we cannot. He alone earned salvation for us and gives it to us freely, as a gift.

Christ gives salvation freely through Baptism to the infant just newly born. He gives it freely to the sinner who finally on his deathbed recognizes and confesses his sins and is absolved. Christ gives His salvation freely in the Sacrament of the Altar, where all we do is receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, and yet we receive the wages of eternal life that Christ earned for us.

None of us has accomplished the work necessary to save us, but Jesus has. None of us has laboured to the point of earning eternal life for ourselves, but Jesus earned eternal life for us. None of us deserves eternal life, but Jesus gives it to us freely. His Church is not a place of business, but a place where forgiveness is given freely, abundantly, and generously. Amen.

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

…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.

 

What is Murder?

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany based on Matthew 5:21-37

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

God’s Law says, “You shall not murder.” Our sinful tendency is to apply this only to the course outward deed of striking our neighbour so that he dies, as if that is the only thing forbidden in this Commandment. Our sinful tendency is to think that we can do anything we want to harm our neighbour, so long as we do not personally and physically put him to death.

This was the interpretation of the Jews, and thus they thought they were not guilty of killing Jesus. They delivered Him over to Pilate for crucifixion and considered their own hands to be clean and innocent of His blood. When Peter accused the Jewish Council of being guilty of killing Jesus (Acts 4:10), they respond by saying, “You intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (Acts 5:28) as if they were innocent and the Gentile Romans were the guilty ones, even though it was the Jews that compelled Pilate against his own will to kill Jesus.

So also, David thought he was innocent of the blood of Uriah the Hittite when he had Uriah put to death by the hands of the Ammonites. David had committed adultery with Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, and to cover up his sin he put Uriah at the forefront of the hardest fighting where the enemy had their most valiant fighters. Then David had the rest of the soldiers pull back from Uriah so that he was struck down dead by the enemy. Somehow David thought he was innocent of Uriah’s death because his own hand had not struck the killing blow.

What Pharisaic holiness! It dismisses the heart full of anger, hate, and envy, of hidden and evil schemes of murder. It dismisses the indifference the heart has to the needs of neighbours, as if we can do anything we want to our neighbour as long as we don’t personally take his life. As if we can be angry and unforgiving towards our brother, insult him, hold a grudge, and betray him to be killed as long as we do not strike him dead ourselves.

Jesus teaches us the true meaning of the Fifth Commandment when He says, “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” God’s Law demands to be kept not just outwardly, but also inwardly, in the heart. We are not to break God’s Commandments in thought, word, or deed. Insulting our brother makes us as guilty in God’s eyes as if we had murdered him.

Even failing to help our neighbour in need is breaking the Fifth Commandment. Luther explains this in the Large Catechism, “If you send a person away naked when you could clothe him, you have let him freeze to death.  If you see anyone suffer hunger and do not feed him, you have let him starve.  Likewise, if you see anyone condemned to death or in similar peril and do not save him although you know ways and means to do so, you have killed him.  It will do you no good to plead that you did not contribute to his death by word or deed, for you have withheld your love from him and robbed him of the service by which his life might have been saved.  Therefore God rightly calls all persons murderers who do not offer counsel and aid to men in need and in peril of body and life [LC I.V. 190 – 191].”

Jesus also teaches us the true meaning of the Sixth Commandment when He says, “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” This Commandment also is not only about the course outward deed of adultery, but it is also about the heart, the eyes, and the mouth – sinful lust, looking, and speaking. This Commandment is not just broken when you fornicate, but it is broken when you don’t love and honour your spouse as you should, when you speak poorly of him to your friends, or when you selfishly neglect her needs. This Commandment is broken when you are unsatisfied with your spouse and look at or think of someone else in the way you should only look at and think of your spouse.

Jesus teaches us the true meaning of these Commandments so that we would not be proud and flatter ourselves by considering that we have fulfilled them. He wants to lead us to repentance, so that turning away from our sins, we would receive forgiveness.

He shows this when He says, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Here Jesus is saying that if you are about to do the best good work you can do, of giving God an offering, of sacrificing or giving up something He has given to you, God wants no part of it unless you are first reconciled to your brother. If you intend to serve God while you have unrepentant sin in your life, Jesus says, “Stop! Lay it down right now, drop everything, and go be reconciled with your brother first.” Repent of your sins or God will accept nothing from your hand.

It is an unchristian attitude that is hateful and bears a grudge. It is an unchristian attitude that refuses to repent and refuses to be reconciled.

Jesus sets the example for us in bearing the hatred and grudges of the world and still desiring nothing except our good. It was, after all, our sins that killed Jesus. We are guilty of murder here, too. Do not respond with saying, “You intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” as if you are not guilty of murdering Jesus just because your hands did not do the whipping, nailing, and piercing. We are guilty. Jesus died because of our sins. Yet the very One we are guilty of murdering gladly took our sins. He was pierced for our sins. He was crushed for our sins. He voluntarily died for our sins.

See how Jesus fulfilled the Fifth Commandment? Jesus helped you in your physical need. To prevent your eternal death because of your sins, He Himself died. To prevent your eternal suffering and death He instead suffered and died in your place. As He was crucified by you and your sins, Jesus did not get angry with you or insult you or bear a grudge against you. He prayed for you. He said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do [Lk. 23:34].”

The suffering and death of Jesus on your behalf is why you are forgiven. Your failures to keep the Fifth, Sixth, and every other Commandment were put on Jesus. The very piercing and crushing of Jesus is what brings you peace and heals you.

Jesus teaches us the true meaning of the Commandments so that we would not be proud and flatter ourselves by considering that we have fulfilled them. He wants to lead us to repentance, so that turning away from our sins, we would receive forgiveness.

God’s forgiveness is what enables you to repent of your sins and to be reconciled to your brother. You are forgiven, so turn away from your sins. You are forgiven by God, so forgive your brother. You are forgiven, so you have God’s promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus died for your sins, so your sins have been taken away from you, and you are forgiven. Amen.

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

[i] Part of the ideas in this sermon are indebted to Luther’s sermon on the Sermon on the Mount, AE 21.

Promised Paradise

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year based on Luke 23:27-43

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

“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” What comfort for the criminal on the cross to hear!

The criminal’s life of sin had caught up with him and he was being justly punished by the governing authorities. There was nothing he could do to undo what he had done. He could not give back what he had stolen. He could not bring back to life those he had murdered. He could not make up in any way for any sin he had committed. Yet, Jesus promised him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

At that point in time, what do you think mattered to the criminal? The profits he had amassed from criminal activity? His memories from visiting the beaches of Greece? The respect of his peers? No. The only thing that mattered to the criminal was his impending death and what comes after death.

The criminal confessed that he was guilty and deserving of death. He said to the other criminal that they were justly under the sentence of condemnation, receiving the due reward of their deeds. But he also confessed that Jesus had done nothing wrong. Unlike the criminal’s life of sin, Jesus never did anything sinful or harmful or hurtful to anyone. Jesus never even said or thought anything wrong. So, the thief confessed two things – he deserved to die, and Jesus did not deserve to die.

We struggle to believe that we deserve to die. We have a hard time believing that we even deserve to have anything bad happen to us. If something that we view as bad does happen to us, we ask “Why? Why did this happen to me?” We see everything bad that happens to us as injustice. We don’t think we deserve to have anything bad, only everything good.

The truth is, we deserve death just like the criminal. Our sins deserve crucifixion and then eternal death in hell. Yet, when we die, Jesus will say to us, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

What great comfort it is for us to hear those words! Even though we are not hanging on a cross dying, just like the criminal we also cannot undo the evil we have done. We cannot undo our sins. We cannot make up in any way for any sin we have committed. We cannot go back and redo our lives. Even if we could, we would still not be able to avoid sin. We avoid one sin only to fall into another. If we could relive our life a thousand times, a thousand times we would deserve crucifixion and eternal death. Just like the criminal on the cross, Jesus is our only hope, so we pray, “Jesus, remember me.”

Jesus will remember us. The day we die, Jesus will say to us, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” That day the money we have in our bank accounts won’t matter. Our vacation memories won’t mean a thing.  What other people think of us will not be on our minds. The only thing that will matter to us will be our impending death and what comes after death. And with Jesus’ promise that we will be with Him in Paradise, we know what comes after death for us.

Because the innocent Son of God suffered death for us, we will receive eternal life. Jesus took all the punishment of our sins on Himself. It wasn’t just physical pain that He suffered. Jesus also had all our guilt and shame on Him, weighing Him down. Jesus took all the wrath and anger of God on Himself, and was abandoned and forsaken by God the Father for us.

As Jesus suffered in this horrible way, men mocked Him and scoffed at Him. They cast lots for His clothing and tauntingly offered Him sour wine. Still, Jesus does not get angry with them but lovingly prays for them, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Even while suffering and dying, Jesus was still thinking of others and praying for them. He was praying for those whose hands whipped Him and nailed Him to the cross. He was praying for those whose mouths were still mocking Him. Jesus continued to love His creation despite their sin. He still prayed that they would repent and that the Father would forgive them.

Jesus prays for you, that the Father would forgive you. That was the purpose of Jesus coming to earth. He came to face the judgment of God against sinners so that we will receive forgiveness. He came to die so that you may live.

Because Jesus faced the judgment of God against sinners, you will not have to. God turned away from Jesus because your sins were on Him, but now God will never turn away from you. God the Father forsook Jesus, His only Son, because He was covered with your sins, but now God will never forsake you.

So now you can pray, “Jesus, remember me.” And Jesus will tell you on the day you die, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Amen.

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