The Gospel is not for the Hard-Hearted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living Water

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent based on John 4:5-26

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

We listened in on a very personal conversation between Jesus and the woman of Samaria in our Gospel reading today. A sensitive matter, although to our ears Jesus may sound insensitive.

Jesus, knowing all things including the situation of this woman, said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” She’d had five husbands. Jesus knew this. She was with a man now to whom she was not married. Jesus knew this. She did not have a husband to call and bring to Jesus. Jesus knew this. Yet, Jesus told her to go and call her husband and bring him.

When the woman admitted that she had no husband, Jesus aired her dirty laundry. Jesus dragged up the sin of her past and present and confronted her with it. They were just having a conversation about water, and then Jesus turned the conversation into an uncomfortable accusation concerning her sin.

The woman’s natural reaction was to deflect. She responded, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus’ conversation was not a comfortable one for her, so she turned it around to talk about Jesus and about places of worship.

When God’s Law hits you and you know you’re guilty, it’s far easier to change the subject than deal with the brunt accusations of the Commandments. It’s easier to talk about other people or about something that surely the man of God would want to talk about – the worship of God.

The thing about the accusations of the Law is that they’re not supposed to be comfortable. God didn’t give us the Law to comfort us. He gave us the Law to terrify us of our sin. He gave us the Law to show us that we are sinful and we need a Saviour, someone to save us from sin; someone to save us from ourselves.

This woman of Samaria could not change her past. She couldn’t change the fact that she had had five husbands. Whatever had happened between her and those men could not be undone. The baggage of her past was the baggage of her past and the Law of God does nothing to alleviate the weight of that baggage. Quite the opposite. The Law of God adds an infinite amount of weight to the baggage of our sin. The Law of God shows us that we cannot carry the weight of even one of our sins, even those that we foolishly imagine are tiny sins. The Law of God piles on the weight and only one of two things can happen. Either we cling to our baggage of sin and are crushed under its weight, or Jesus takes it from us because He is the Saviour that we need. Either we cling to our sin of past and present and go to hell for eternity, or Jesus takes the weight of our sin from us, every last gram, and we live eternally without the baggage of sin.

This comfort and taking away of the weight of sin does not come from the terrifying accusations of the Law. This comfort comes from the Gospel, the good news that tells us that Jesus has already carried the weight of our sin. He carried it to the cross and died with the whole world’s weight of sin on Him. Jesus suffered for us and in our place so that we would not have to carry the weight of our own sins into hell.

The woman could do nothing about her past sin, but she could do something about her present sin, the sin that she was in at that very moment. With Jesus offering to take away the baggage of all her sin, not just her past sin, why would she cling to her present sin and refuse to turn away from it?

By all indications, she did not cling on to her sin and refuse to repent. She left her water jar, and ran into town and told the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”

The woman was no longer deflecting. She was no longer avoiding the topic of her sin. In fact, she was going around openly talking about her sin. She had been confronted by God’s Law but she no longer had reason to deflect or attempt to hide her sin. Her sin had been exposed by the Christ, the one who came to bear her sin, and our sin.

Earlier, the woman did not realise that she needed a drink of water. She knew she needed water from the well, but she did not know that she needed living water from Jesus. She did not know that she needed forgiveness. She thought she didn’t need forgiveness because she hid her sin and deflected the accusations of God’s Law. But God’s Law exposed her sin. She thought she didn’t need forgiveness because she worshiped God. Jesus told her, “You worship what you do not know.” Jesus told her that she cannot hide behind her religion. You cannot worship in Spirit and truth when you’re living in sin. She needed a drink of living water from Jesus but she didn’t know it until Jesus exposed her sin with God’s Law and rejected her appeals of worshiping God as a cover for her sin.

We cannot fool God. We can fool ourselves if we deflect God’s Law or think it doesn’t apply to us. We can fool ourselves if we tell ourselves that we aren’t so bad or sinful. We can fool ourselves into saying that everything is okay because of our religion – because we come to church; because we worship God. We cannot fool God.

We cannot worship in Spirit and truth if we do not repent of our sin. If God’s Law has not struck us with its accusations, its discomfort, and its terror, we don’t even know we need living water from Jesus. If that Law has not killed us, we do not know that we need new life from the one who gives living water.

However, once the Law of God has done its work, there is no more hiding sin, denying sin, or deflecting God’s Law. There is only sorrow over sin. There is terror because we realize that we deserve hell. Then we realize that we need living water; living water which only Jesus can give us.

Jesus gives us living water wherever He gives us forgiveness. All the benefits of everything He has done for us are given to us in the means of grace, which are the Gospel, Baptism, and The Sacrament of the Altar. The benefits of His perfect life are given us in the means of grace. The benefits of His suffering and death are given us in the means of grace. The benefits of His resurrection and ascension are given us in the means of grace. Those benefits are the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.

Because Jesus gives us the forgiveness of sins, past and present, through the means of grace, He gives us living water which means we will live forever with Him in eternity. Our thirst for forgiveness is quenched.

God’s Law is not pleasant to hear. It is not comfortable to hear. Yet, without it we would not know of our need for the living water of forgiveness. Without it we would not know of our need for Jesus.

God’s Law is so important because it leads us to the living water which Jesus gives. The discomfort of the Law is to lead us to the comfort of the Gospel. The Law shows us that we are parched, so that we will receive living water from Jesus, as we receive the forgiveness of sin. Amen.

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

Law Fulfilled, Not Abolished

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany based on Matthew 5:13-20

Dear salt of the earth and light of the world: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them…” Jesus did not come to invalidate the Law or end its effectiveness. Jesus did not come to overthrow God’s Law or get rid of it like something that can be discarded. Jesus says the Law will remain in full force and effect until the end of time. “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law…”

Jesus does not say this to unbelievers. He doesn’t say it to the scribes or Pharisees. Jesus says this to His disciples. He says this to those who follow Him; to those He has called as His own.

Jesus tells believers that the Law must be fulfilled and not one single commandment is to be relaxed, not even the least of the commandments.

Christians are supposed to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We’re not supposed to hide the fact that we’re Christians. We are to love God and love our neighbour so much that others see it and give glory to our Father who is in heaven. We should be so helpful and generous and unselfish and kind that others around us take notice. We should be so full of joy and peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (cf. Gal. 5:22-23) that others look at us and says, “Wow! What a wonderful blessing from God that person is! Praise God for such a wonderful Christian!”

That’s not what others see most of the time, is it? Instead they see bickering and fighting among Christians and in the church. They see selfishness and stinginess. They see grudges held and anger and impatience. They hear gossip and slander, harsh words, and they see self-indulgence. They see the Law of God being relaxed, not just the least of the commandments, but even the greatest of them. They say, “Wow! I can’t believe you are a Christian! I expected more from you!”

So much for being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. How often we Christians have lost our saltiness and have hidden the light of Christ under a basket.

Trying harder is not the solution. God is not some little league coach saying, “Just try your best.” He doesn’t give marks for effort. Not one iota, not a dot of the Law can go unfulfilled, and we cannot fulfil it. We are in great peril because unless our righteousness exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees, we will never see the kingdom of God. Unless you are perfectly righteous on Judgment Day, on that day, God will say to you from His throne of judgment, “Damn you!”

Since Christ did not come to abolish the Law, the Law must be fulfilled. Therefore, we flee to Christ for refuge. Why do we flee to Christ for refuge? Because Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.”

Christ did not come to invalidate the Law or to overthrow it. After all, “The Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Rom. 7:12) Christ came to fulfil the Law. He came to do what we cannot do. He came to accomplish everything demanded of us by the Law of God. He did not miss an iota; not a dot. He dotted every i of the Law and crossed every t.

The other thing we cannot overlook is how Jesus ends His sentence, “… not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Until all is accomplished; until the Law is fulfilled. That’s exactly what Jesus did. He fulfilled the Law, and thus He said on the cross, “It is finished.” It is accomplished. Everything demanded by the Law is fulfilled.

It’s not only the Law that Jesus fulfilled, but also the Prophets. Christ fulfilled all the prophecies of the Old Testament, from the promise given to Adam and Eve of the offspring to crush the head of Satan (Gen. 3:16) to the promised sun of righteousness in Malachi (4:2). He fulfilled the prophecies of the Psalmist who wrote that His hands and feet would be pierced, that He would be forsaken by God the Father and that His garments would be divided and they would cast lots for His clothing (Ps. 22). He fulfilled the prophecies of Zechariah, that they would look on Him whom they have pierced (Zech. 12:10). He fulfilled the prophecies of Isaiah, that He would be the Suffering Servant, rejected by men, bearing our griefs and sorrows, and that we would be healed by His stripes and that He would take our iniquities (Is. 53). The Son of God took on human flesh and fulfilled the Law and the Prophets.

Scripture teaches that in Baptism we died with Christ (Rom. 6:8) and that the Law is only binding on a person as long as he lives (Rom. 7:1). Therefore, we have died to the Law through the body of Christ (Rom. 7:4) and we have been released from the Law, having died to that which held us captive (Rom. 7:6).

So, while the Law has not been abolished or overthrown and remains in full force and effect, we have been released from its demands because we are baptized into Christ who has fulfilled its demands. The Law remains for us to tell us what God’s will is for us, but it no longer condemns us, because Jesus was condemned for us. On Judgment Day, we will not hear God’s condemnation, because on the cross, God the Father said “Damn you!” to Jesus. Jesus was condemned for your sins and you have received His free gift of righteousness.

His free gift of righteousness covers all your sin, and on Judgment Day you will be perfectly righteous. In fact, you are already perfectly righteous right now. You are covered with the righteousness of Christ because He was covered with your sin. You have died to the Law, so even though you have not dotted every i and crossed every t of the Law, you will not be charged with your trespasses and sins. You are free from every penalty and punishment of the Law.

Thus, you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Not because you have done so much good, but because Jesus has done so much good in you. In spite of your sins, the light of Christ shines in you. This is the real witness of a Christian in the world. It’s not about what we have done or left undone. It’s about what Jesus has done for us; how Jesus has saved us from our own sins. It’s about Christ’s light shining in us forgiving our sins, and we can’t help but let others see that light.

Even though not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law, you will not be condemned, because in Christ, you have fulfilled the Law. The Law has not been abolished, but in Christ, you have fulfilled every iota and dot of the Law. The Law will remain in full force and effect until the end of time, but Christ fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, so in Christ, you are holy, and righteous, and good. In Christ, you have fulfilled the Law. Amen.

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