Christ’s Letter to the Church in Philadelphia

Sermon for Midweek Lenten Service based on Revelation 3:7-13

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

Patient endurance. Jesus commends the church in Philadelphia for their patient endurance. They had but little power, yet they kept the Word of Christ and did not deny His name. They were persecuted, but they held fast to what they had.

Patient endurance is waiting for God while holding fast to His promises. It is bearing up under suffering without complaining, trusting that all things are in God’s hands and that He knows what He’s doing. It is quietly waiting for the salvation of the Lord (cf. Lam. 3:26). This is easier said than done.

We see how wicked the world is. It is filled with senseless violence and murder, corruption and dishonesty. We see our authorities implementing policies that are anti-Christian and harmful for our nation. We see our courts perverting the course of justice and criminals receiving all the rights instead of their victims. We see children being brainwashed in schools and led astray but their celebrity idols. Christ’s name is blasphemed in the world and even in places that call themselves the church.

We are tempted to say that God is slow to fulfil His promise to make all things new (Rev. 21:5). We are tempted to say Christ is taking too long to return. Such temptations lead us away from patient endurance.

It is the scoffers who say such things. As we heard from Second Peter, scoffers will come in the last days and say, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (II Peter 3:3-4) Such scoffers think that this world will never end because they deliberately overlook the fact that God created the world with the power of His Word and the only reason it still exists and is preserved is because God has so commanded and ordered it.

Many such scoffers have misplaced their trust by putting it in government, as if the government can save us. Scripture says, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” (Ps. 146:3-4)

With a godless government like ours in Canada, we are often made to wonder how they can be so foolish and stupid. Yet, we have our answer in Job, where we heard, “[God] makes nations great, and He destroys them; He enlarges nations, and leads them away. He takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth and makes them wander in a trackless waste. They grope in the dark without light, and He makes them stagger like a drunken man.” (Job 12:23-25)

For those leaders of men who reject God and His Word, God takes even their understanding of natural things away. Then, in their stupidity, they don’t even know what a man is or what a woman is. They don’t know what a family is. They don’t understand justice or truth or beauty in anything, and they punish the righteous and reward the wicked.

This is related to what Romans chapter one tells about those who did not honour God or give thanks to Him. Claiming to be wise, they became fools. It says God gave them up in the lust of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves. God gave them up to dishonourable passions and to a debased mind.

They rebelled against God, seeking to be free of Him, so God gave them up to the slavery of sin which they pursued. Giving them over to sin is their punishment in this life. Sin degrades and brings shame and disgrace and leads to its inevitable goal, eternal death in hell, their eternal punishment.

Scoffers are going to scoff. Corrupt leaders will do corrupt things. This is no reason for us to lose hope. In fact, this should increase our hope because God told us that these things would happen. They should be no surprise to us.

Christ will return and the world and everything in it will be destroyed by fire, as it was destroyed by water during the Flood. God is not slow to fulfil His promise, but He is being patient so that people are given time to repent.

When Christ returns, it will be too late to repent. Every day that goes by without Christ returning is another day of mercy and grace given to mankind to repent before the world is destroyed. God does not want anyone to perish eternally, but that they would come in through the open door of heaven.

Christ is after all the one who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. To His Church, Christ says, “I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.”

The door of heaven is open for you, and no one can shut it. The nations can rage, and the people plot in vain, the kings of the earth can set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed, but He laughs at them (Ps. 2). They cannot close heaven for God’s people. They cannot close what Christ has opened.

Violence and murder, corruption and dishonesty will not stop in this world until Christ returns and burns it all up. Wicked rulers will continue implementing policies that are anti-Christian and harmful for our nation. Godless courts will continue perverting the course of justice and giving criminals all the rights instead of their victims.

However, we will patiently endure. We will wait for God and hold fast to His promises. We will bear up under suffering, trusting that all things are in God’s hands and that He knows what He’s doing.

We will patiently endure because our sins are forgiven and the door of heaven is open to us. We can patiently endure because our hope is not in earthly government or judges or lawmakers or anything on the earth. We will patiently endure because our hope is in heaven, and no one can shut the door that Jesus has opened for us.

Jesus promises that the door of heaven is open for us. We trust Him because He gave His life for us. He died to save us from our sins and has a place prepared in heaven for us. He has done everything for us, and has the door of heaven wide open, waiting to receive us when we die or when He returns, whichever happens first.

Christ Jesus is the one who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. To you, Christ says, “I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” 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 Smyrna

Sermon for Midweek Lenten Service based on Revelation 2:8-11

Dear church of Christ who will not be hurt by the second death: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We focus far too much on our first death, that is, our physical death. Our time and energy and money are consumed by the things of this life, rather than that which relates to eternal life. We thus show we are more concerned with our first death than we are with the threat of the second death, which is eternal death, or with eternal life.

If we are honest with ourselves and count the hours we spend on matters related to this life versus the matters related to eternal life, we will see that this is very true. We spend hours working for material goods to benefit us in this life. We spend energy on planning meals, shopping, and cooking to nourish our physical bodies. We spend money on recreation, leisurely pursuits, and getting rested so that we can go back to work for more material goods and nourishment for our bodies.

How many hours per week do you spend on spiritual pursuits which relate to eternal life? How much time do you spend per week on planning and ensuring your spiritual nourishment? How much money do you spend per week to ensure that you will receive spiritual rest in this place to strengthen you through the spiritual battles of this life to eternal life?

This examination of our own failures can help us to understand why tribulation or persecution can be good for the Church. Tribulation can change our focus to the eternal, instead of being so preoccupied with the temporal. Tribulation can cause us to release our grip on the things of this world that are passing away, and cling to what is eternal.

However, for the Church in Smyrna facing tribulation, persecution did not help them focus on the eternal. They were in poverty and being slandered by the unbelieving Jews, who Jesus calls a synagogue of Satan. Jesus told them that the devil is about to throw some of them into prison as persecution was about to increase. They were afraid.

The Church in Smyrna may not have focused as much time, energy, and money on the pursuit of material goods, nourishment, and leisure as they had before the tribulation, but they were still focused on this life. They were still afraid of the first death, their physical death from this life. Tribulation undoubtedly refocused their use of time, energy, and money, but now they lived in fear over what was about to happen to them and what slanders were spreading around about them. They were still more concerned about their monetary poverty than spiritual riches. Their focus was fear of persecution; fear of suffering; fear of death. Here too, in Smyrna, the people were more concerned about their first death, than about eternal life.

Thus, Jesus writes the Church in Smyrna a letter saying, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer… Be faithful unto death and I will give you a crown of life… The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” These are words of comfort to troubled and fearful hearts.

Because these words of comfort are “the words of the first and the last, who died and came to life” we don’t have to be afraid of the first death. Christ is the first because He is the cause and source of our faith and life since He died and came back to life. He is the first, because He is the founder of our faith (Heb. 12:2) and the first born from the dead (Col. 1:18). Christ is the last, because He is the goal and object of our faith since He is the giver of eternal life.

His promises give comfort in tribulation because He assures us the tribulation is short. To the Church in Smyrna, Christ says they will have tribulation for ten days. A symbolic number, but nevertheless an indication that the time is short. As also Saint Paul writes in Romans chapter eight, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (v. 18)

We also heard in Peter’s First Epistle of the living hope that we have through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us. In this we rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, we are grieved by various trials (I Pt. 1:3-6).

A little while. Ten days. It’s not worth comparing to eternity in heaven. It’s not worth comparing to the glory and joy of heaven.

This is Christ’s promise to His Church. So, do not fear. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul (Matt. 10:28). Do not fear the first death because you will rise from the dead. Do not fear the second death, which is eternal death, because Christ writes to His Church that you will not be hurt by the second death.

Christ will give you the crown of life – a symbol of victory over fear, death, and the grave. Christ wore a crown of thorns and suffered and died for you, so that you have the promise of the crown of life and eternal life with Him in heaven. This inheritance is waiting for you. It will never perish. It will never be defiled. It will never fade.

Thus, do not fear what you are about to suffer.

But don’t allow your time and energy and money to be consumed by the things of this life. Rather, focus on eternal life. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matt. 6:19-20)

Spend time in reading God’s Word and serving your neighbour. Spend your energy in making sure you receive spiritual nourishment. Spend your time, energy, and money on supporting this congregation, and come here often to receive spiritual rest, nourishment, and strength for the days ahead.

Do not fear. Do not fear even though the earth gives way, and the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea (Ps. 46:2).

Do not fear because it is not up to you to keep yourself in the faith. It’s not up to you to nourish or strengthen yourself spiritually. God does these, but He does them through means. He does these things through His Word and Sacraments.

Christ is the first and the last, who died and came to life. His Church is in His hands. You are in His hands. He will keep you faithful to death and give you the crown of life. Through faith you will conquer, and you will not be hurt by the second death. Amen.

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

Peace or Sword

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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