The Day of Pentecost

Sermon for the Day of Pentecost based on Acts 2:1-21

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

Christians long for another Pentecost; another Peter to rise up and call sinners to account for their sins so that they are cut to the heart and ask, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (v. 37) Another day with lots of Baptisms. Another day when three thousand souls join the church after hearing one sermon.

Especially as churches are closing, Divine Service attendance is dwindling, and people are just plain getting bored with hearing God’s Word, we may wonder why the Holy Spirit doesn’t come with the sound of a mighty rushing wind and fill this room and cause tongues of fire to appear and rest on our heads while granting us to speak in tongues we have never before studied or spoken.

The first thing to clarify, is that there will not be another Pentecost. Pentecost was the fulfilment of the prophecy found in Joel as Peter preached, and was the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit who would guide the apostles in writing the New Testament, in preaching God’s saving Word, and to work in the hearts of those who would hear the Word, which is for all peoples of all languages. Those prophecies have been fulfilled.

Secondly, don’t need another Pentecost to receive the Holy Spirit. We have the Holy Spirit. He continues to call sinners to repentance and faith through the preached Word as He did on Pentecost. Does that mean we will see three thousand souls saved in one day, after hearing one sermon? It doesn’t seem to be happening today, but He certainly could do so again.

What we need to realize is that the Holy Spirit works faith where and when it pleases Him. We might think He should work faith in our community and fill our church. He will do it if it so pleases Him.

We cannot control the Holy Spirit or tell Him what to do. We cannot manipulate Him by our own efforts or schemes. He is working wherever the Word is heard. He continues to call sinners to repentance. Will they heed His call? We will have to see. The question for each one of us is not “Will others heed His call?” but rather, “Will I heed His call? Will I turn away from my sin and repent, or will I harden my heart to His call?”

What we should realize is that even while the Holy Spirit is calling sinners to repentance and faith through the preached Word, hard, sinful hearts are rejecting His call, today just as they were on Pentecost. Yes, three thousand souls where saved, but how many heard Peter preaching? How many mocked the apostles and called the miraculous preaching of the Gospel in many languages nothing more than drunks babbling? Hard hearts will always reject the Holy Spirit’s call to repentance and faith.

Meanwhile, hearts that are convicted of sin cry out with those on Pentecost, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter’s response was, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself” (2:38-39)

Repent and be baptized, every one of you. Already baptized? God be praised. Repent and return to your Baptism. Circumcise your hearts. Turn from your sin. Throw yourself upon God’s mercy. Confess your sins because you are baptized. You have been named with God’s name. You belong to Him. But then, if that is the case, He also belongs to you. He cannot and He will not refuse your call. He has promised to be your God. You have access to Him through prayer, confession and absolution, His Word, and holy communion. Return to His name, His way, to His promise. Return to Holy Baptism where the Holy Spirit was poured out upon you and where God’s own Word was made your inheritance. There you will find a Father eager to accept and welcome you home (from a Rev. David Petersen sermon for Pentecost).

Longing for the Holy Spirit to turn sinners to faith is a good, Christian desire, even if we will not have another Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is working through the Word to call sinners to repentance. The work that He does in others we can leave to Him. The work that He does in us, we can also leave to Him.

What work does the Holy Spirit perform in us? He calls us to repentance. He convicts us that we are sinful and need a Saviour. He also grants us faith through the Gospel, when we hear that we do have a Saviour, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. He gave His life as a ransom for us. He died for our sins. He has saved us from everlasting condemnation by being condemned in our place.

The Holy Spirit still works in us through our Baptism, reminding us that we were adopted as children of God through Baptism. He strengthens our faith and nourishes us to life everlasting through the body and blood of Jesus, which take away all our sin. And finally, on the Last Day, He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true. Amen.

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

The Voice Crying in the Wilderness

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent based on John 1:19-28

Dear hearers of the voice crying in the wilderness: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

John the Baptist confessed, and did not deny, but confessed that he is not the Christ, that he is not the Elijah the Jews expected, nor is he the prophet foretold by Moses of Whom we heard in our Old Testament lesson.

For four hundred years, God had sent them no prophets. The last prophet, Malachi, had foretold of the coming of Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord (Mal. 4:5). The angel Gabriel says that John will go before the Christ in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17), and Jesus confirms that John is Elijah who is to come (Matt. 11:14; 17:11-13). John was not, however, the falsely interpreted Elijah the Jews were expecting, and thus he denies being that Elijah.

Neither was John the the prophet foretold by Moses. The prophet foretold by Moses is none other than Jesus Himself.

John rather quotes this prophecy concerning himself, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” He is different from all the other prophets. He was not pointing forward in time to the future coming of the Christ. He was pointing to Jesus who was there present, standing among them, and saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He was not a prophet who gathered people to teach them and advise them, but he gathered them to bring them to Jesus, who was there present. He was the forerunner, running directly in front of the Lord of all prophets, telling people to step aside and make room.

John preached, “Make straight the way of the Lord!” This must mean that the way of the Lord was not yet straight among them. They were crooked. They had neither the Lord nor His ways. Where the Lord is not, nor His way, there is only man’s way, the world’s way, the devil’s way.

This was John’s preparation of the Lord’s way. He was to humble the whole world and to proclaim that they are all sinners – lost, damned, poor, miserable, pitiable people. He was to tell them that all their works are nothing but sin and they all deserve eternal punishment in hell and can only be saved by the grace and mercy of the One whose way he was preparing.

This humbling is necessary, for whoever is full of himself has no room for Jesus. This therefore John preached to prepare the way of the Lord, telling everyone to give way and make room.

There are two responses to the preaching of John. Some confess that his preaching is true, that they are sinful. These are the people to whom the Lord comes. In them His way is prepared and made even. As Scripture teaches, God gives grace to the humble (I Pet.5:5), and the one who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:14).

The other hearers deny John’s preaching. They see their way as being straight. They think that they do enough good in the community and are generous enough in helping the needy that they are not poor, miserable, or deserving of hell. They say they are not sick, and thus have no need of a physician. They think John and his preaching are crooked.

Such hearers cannot endure such preaching. No wonder John had to be put to death, and His Master after him.

Having heard John’s answer that he is not the Christ, he is not Elijah, and neither is he the Prophet, those sent by the Pharisees ask, “Then why are you baptizing?” Who do you think you are? We are the rulers and leaders of the church. We are your superiors according to the Law of Moses and you have to answer to us. You can’t go off on your own and do your own thing without our knowledge and permission.

Here they reveal their hypocrisy. The Pharisees did not send the priests and Levites to ask who John is so they could hear his preaching, learn from him, and be baptized by him. They went to him to tell him to stop doing what he’s doing, no matter who he thinks he is. Really, that could be recognized from the outset, because the Pharisees didn’t go themselves to hear John preach or be baptized by him. They sent their goons. If they had actually believed that John was the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet, they would have come themselves to hear him preach and be baptized by him, as others did.

But John is no reed shaken by the wind. Neither their hypocritical flattery nor their threats deter him. He responded, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” He may not have had authority from the Pharisees to baptize with water, but he had authority from the One whose way he prepared. The Pharisees didn’t know Him, otherwise, instead of questioning from where John had authority to baptize, they would have come themselves to be baptized. They did not know Him, but among them John says that He stands.

Thus John continually pointed his hearers to Jesus. What good is it to preach and humble the whole world by calling them sinners and then leaving them in their poverty, misery, and damnation? He must also preach comfort and tell how we can get rid of our sins. This is done by pointing to Christ, who came to redeem us from our sins.

Thus John preached, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He is how you get rid of your sins and in no other way. He alone takes upon Himself not just your sins, but the sins of the whole world. Not just some sins, but all the sins of the world, be they great or small, many or few.

This is the message of comfort, that your sins are not yours anymore; they no longer lie on you, but they were taken by the Lamb of God. Innocent though He was, He was condemned for your sins and died for your sins. But He could not be held by sin and death. He rose from the dead, vanquishing sin and making it nothing. Likewise, death and hell, being the reward of sin, must be vanquished also.

Sin naturally makes a conscience timid, which fears God and flees as Adam did in Paradise. Such a conscience knows that God is an enemy of sin and severely punishes it. Hence it flees and is afraid even to hear God mentioned.

With sin taken away by the Lamb of God, the conscience is not timid, but is bold even to pray and make requests of God. The conscience rejoices and loves and praises the Lamb of God, and you will become cheerful and willing to do His divine will, as best you can, with all your strength. Then you won’t ask, “What do I have to do for my neighbour?” but you will continually look for ways to help and serve your neighbour. You will realize the great, rich eternal blessings bestowed on you by Christ, and instead of offering your meagre help and service to your neighbour, you will realize that Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:40)

May God our Father according to His infinite mercy continue to send into the world and to us the voice of John who calls us to repentance and points us to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away our sins, freeing us to serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days (Luke 1:74-75). Amen.

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

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.

The Word – Opposed, but Salvific

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 6:14-29 (Amos 7:7-15)

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

The preaching of God’s Word is opposed everywhere it is heard. The prophet Amos was told to leave the land of Israel and never again prophesy there; never again to speak God’s Word to them there. John the Baptist wasn’t just asked to leave and never preach again. He was beheaded in prison.

Both messengers of God had merely preached the Word God had sent them to preach. Amos called the people of Israel to repentance over their idolatry and various other sins such as taking bribes, fornication, and not helping the needy. John certainly called the Israelites to repentance over many sins, but it was his calling of Herod to repentance over adultery that he was put to death.

No one finds the preaching of God’s Law to be pleasant. You don’t like it when I tell you that you are despising God’s Word when you don’t come to church. You don’t like it when I tell you that you are robbing God by not giving more offerings to support this congregation. You don’t like it when I tell you that sex outside of marriage is sin and that those who live together outside of marriage are to repent. God knows what discord and conflict has been caused in this congregation when I have called couples living in sin to repentance.

No one finds the preaching of God’s Law to be pleasant, but it is necessary for salvation. It is necessary that you have God’s Law preached to you so that you would recognize sin to be sin and repent. It is thus necessary that you support this congregation so that it can remain here, and the preaching of God’s Word can be heard here.

If you don’t support this congregation, and it does close, where are you going to go to church? An ELCIC “Lutheran” church in town? They don’t call sinners to repentance. They harden sinners in their impenitence. Did you know that at their sister church’s teen assembly in the U.S. earlier this month they had a boy who says he is a transgender girl speak to the teens about God’s call for him to be transgender? This was received with loud cheering by the teenagers. They had a woman who cross dresses as a pastor have the teens repeat after her that homosexuality is beauty. She also has drag queens perform at her church, calls some of Scripture “wretched,” teaches that hell is not real, and views the Wiccan goddess as an aspect of God. (See https://www.exposingtheelca.com/ for this and much more.)

Is that where you are going to go to church and is that where you’re going to send your children and grandchildren for youth camp, or are you going to support this congregation so that God’s Word can still be heard here in this place?

No one else is going to support this congregation. Those who are on the membership rolls but despise God’s Word aren’t going to give a red cent. Nor should they. Why would they support the preaching of God’s Word which they don’t want to hear? Why would they support the preaching of repentance which they despise? They’d sooner support an ELCIC congregation that encourages them to keep sinning. They need to be removed from membership, but that’s another matter. The point is that you need the preaching of God’s Word here, and in order for you to have it, you need to support it.

It is not for my sake that I say this, but yours. It doesn’t matter what happens to me. Like Amos, I can be told to leave here and never again preach God’s Word to you. Like John the Baptist, my preaching can be stopped by the authorities who hate God’s Word. For your sake, you need God’s Word preached to you. You need to support this congregation so you do not lose the great treasure of the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

God can keep this congregation here until Christ returns. If He does so, it is not for your sake that He acts, but for the sake of His holy name, which you have profaned (cf. Ezek. 36:22). You have profaned it by not supporting the preaching of His Word or gladly hearing and learning it. You have profaned God’s name by your sins which have caused God’s name to be blasphemed by unbelievers (cf. Rom. 2:24).

But God does not save you because of what you have done or left undone. He saves you for His own name’s sake. He has sprinkled you with water and cleansed you from your uncleanness, and from all your idols He has cleansed you. He has given you a new heart, and a new spirit He has put within you. He has removed the heart of stone from your flesh and given you a heart of flesh. God has put His Spirit within you, and He will cause you to walk in His statutes and be careful to obey His rules (cf. Ezek. 36:22-27).

And God says to you, “Bring the full tithe… And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.” (Mal. 3:10-12)

God promises you every blessing in giving your tithes and offerings to Him. The greatest blessing is that your offerings ensure that His Word remains in your midst; that Absolution is still spoken to you to forgive your sins; that Christ’s true body and blood are still given to you to nourish and strengthen your faith.

The truth is that you have supported and do support this congregation, otherwise it would not be here today. God has already moved your heart to give to Him, and He continues to move you to give.

I am confident that you will ensure that God’s Word is preached to you, not just today, but for years to come.

In this world that has abandoned sanity, you need God’s Word preached to you in its truth and purity. In a world that watches some vile, bottom-feeder from Hollywood say, “God bless abortions” on her Netflix special, you don’t need a church like the ELCIC that encourages abortion. You need to hear the truth that God abhors abortion as a detestable and horrendous sin.

In a world which cannot differentiate male from female, natural from unnatural, or good from evil, you need to hear the truth that God created us male and female, and that He instituted marriage for one man and one woman for life.

You need to hear what is right and true so that you will also recognize where you have departed from God’s thinking and followed the world’s thinking. God has His Law preached to you so that you would turn from sin and receive forgiveness.

Forgiveness is after all what God wants for you. It doesn’t matter the sin, God wants to give you His forgiveness. Every sin is forgivable, whether it is living together outside of marriage, homosexuality, divorce, or abortion. Jesus knows these sins. Jesus died for these sins.

Jesus didn’t think that He was coming to die for people that were overall pretty good. He knew our detestable and wicked sins of rebellion and selfishness, and He came to earth to die on the cross for them. He came to forgive sin. He came to give new life. He came to soothe guilty consciences that have made decisions that cannot be undone. He came to give comfort to you, living in this world of confusion and chaos. He gives you His body and blood to keep you in Him to life everlasting.

Cling to God’s Word and do everything you can to ensure it is preached to you. The Law that points at our sins is not pleasant to hear, but it diagnoses our sinful condition, so that the soothing ointment of the Gospel will comfort us with forgiveness, life, and salvation.

God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105). Cling to its light to stay on the path that leads to everlasting life. 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.

By Whose Authority?

Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 21:23-32

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

As Jesus was teaching in the Temple, the chief priests and elders of the people questioned Him saying, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

The question of authority is an important one. Not just anyone can show up in the Temple to teach. Not just anyone rides into Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna” as Jesus had done earlier in the week. Not just anyone throws out money changers and salesmen from the Temple as Jesus had also done that week.

The chief priests and elders of the people were questioning Jesus’ authority to do what He did and say what He said.

In answer, Jesus asked them a question in return, “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” Jesus asked them this question, because it has the same answer as the question they asked Him.

If Jesus’ authority is from man, then His forerunner’s authority is also from man. If Jesus’ authority comes from God the Father, then His forerunner’s authority is also from God the Father. If the chief priests and elders would have answered Jesus’ question correctly, they would have also answered their own question correctly. But they refused to answer.

When John came preaching a baptism of repentance, the tax collectors and the prostitutes repented and received the forgiveness of sins. They stopped living in their sin. They turned from sin and produced the fruit of repentance (Mt. 3:1-6). The chief priests and elders, on the other hand, did not repent of their sin. They presumed to say that Abraham is their father as if that is a substitute for repentance. They were saying, “We are God’s children, so we don’t need to repent. We don’t need to do the will of the Father.” Thus, Jesus told the chief priests and the elders of the people, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.”

The chief priests and the elders of the people had rejected John’s baptism of repentance. Sure, the tax collectors and prostitutes need to repent, they thought. They thought that they themselves were so good and so righteous that they didn’t need to repent of sin. They thus rejected the Saviour. They rejected the Saviour as preached by John the Baptist, so they rejected the Saviour standing before them, teaching in the Temple.

Of course, it makes sense that if you reject Christ’s messenger, you reject Christ who sent the messenger. Christ says to His ministers, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16)

Thus, you are stuck with the same question about your minister. Is my ministry to you from God or from man? If it is from man, then come to church when you feel like it, and don’t come when you don’t feel like it. If my ministry to you is from man, then take what you like from the things that I say, and discard those things that you don’t like. If my ministry to you is from man, then I am speaking my own opinions and ideas, and you really lose nothing if you don’t hear what I say.

However, if my ministry to you is from God; if I have been called by God to serve you here in this place, then you better be here, hearing what God has called me to say. If my ministry to you is from God, then take what I speak to you from God’s Word to heart, whether you like it or not, because it is not my opinion, but the Word of God. If my ministry to you is from God, then it is He Himself who is speaking to you through His Word, it is He Himself who absolves you, it is He Himself who gives you the body and blood of His Son to eat and to drink.

By what authority am I doing these things, and who gave me this authority? When Christ sends His ministers, He tells them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)

Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth. So when He sends His ministers to preach His Word and administer His sacraments, He has the authority to do it, and His ministers do what they do and say what they say by Christ’s authority, not their own.

That is why you can trust in the forgiveness of sins received in Baptism. It is Christ who has all authority in heaven and on earth, and it is Christ who sends His ministers to baptize. That is why you can trust in the forgiveness of sins received in Absolution. It is Christ who has all authority in heaven and on earth, and it is Christ who sends His ministers to absolve you. That is why you can trust in the forgiveness of sins received in the Sacrament of the Altar. It is Christ who has all authority in heaven and on earth, and it is Christ who sends His ministers to distribute to you His true body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ, and He sends His ministers to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His name. Repentance, because we are all sinful and must turn away from our sins. Forgiveness, because salvation does not come from our own work or efforts to save ourselves.

If forgiveness of sins comes from our own work or efforts to save ourselves, the chief priests and elders of the people would have been in good shape because of all the good that they did. However, good works cannot avert our doom, they help and save us never. Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, Who did for all the world atone; He is our one Redeemer (LSB 555 st. 1).

Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone. Nothing else. Jesus is the one who fulfilled the demands of God’s Law for us. Jesus is the one who suffered and died for us. Jesus is the one who rose from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.

Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone. Nothing else. Faith does not look to our works. Faith does not look to our sins. Faith does not look to how successfully we have managed to avoid the sins of our weak flesh.

Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone because we don’t need anything else. In Him we have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. In Him we have salvation full and free. Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone because in Him we have the promise of health after illness, of joy after sadness, of life after death.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus, so as He has promised you, He can and will bring you to where He is, so that where He is, you may be also. Amen.

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

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.

Preaching Fire and Comfort

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent based on Matthew 3:1-12

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

We tend to think of John the Baptist as a fire and brimstone kind of preacher; tough-as-nails, not backing down from anyone, even calling Herod the king to repentance at the cost of his head.

Certainly, today’s Gospel reading has much to do with this view of John as a fiery preacher. People are coming to him to be baptized, but instead of baptizing them, he says, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” John continues and tells them that it is of no value for them to be part of God’s people when they do not bear fruit in keeping with repentance. “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in to the fire.” John threatens these people who are coming to be baptized with the fires of hell. No wonder we might consider him a fiery preacher.

That’s not what the prophet Isaiah calls John. Isaiah calls John a preacher of comfort. Isaiah writes of John, the voice crying in the wilderness, as a comforter of God’s people, speaking tenderly to them that their warfare is ended, and their iniquity pardoned (Is. 40:1-3).

So, is Isaiah wrong? Or did John the Baptist not preach what he was supposed to preach? Or is there a problem with God or in His Word? Where is the problem?

The problem is with the impenitent sinners who went to John for baptism, and the problem is with us. The Law of God cuts us to the heart because our hearts are filled with sin. The Law of God hurts when it is preached because it exposes our thoughts, words, and deeds for what they really are: wickedness. The Law of God hurts because it reveals the desires of our hearts to be opposed to God and His will. Those things to which we cling in this life are shown to be idols but our sinful flesh doesn’t want to give them up, so the Law stings.

The Law is not the problem. The Law is holy, and righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12). The Law shows us what is already there.

John’s preaching didn’t make the Pharisees and Sadducees into sinners. The Law that John preached exposed their impenitence. John’s preaching proved that they were not coming to be baptized in order to flee the wrath to come. They were coming to be baptized for show. They had no intention of repenting and turning away from their sins. They had no intention of bearing fruit in keeping with repentance. Whatever their sins were, they had every intention of returning right back to their sins after receiving John’s baptism of repentance. That’s why John calls them out. That’s why John calls them a brood of vipers, but the problem is not with John.

John is simply acting like a physician with a diagnosis. You may not like the diagnosis of the doctor, but it’s not his fault that you’re sick. He just happens to be the bearer of the news. He’s not the one who decides that you are sick, nor is he the one who decides what kind of illness you have. He merely examines the patient and analyses the illness that is already present, and provides the diagnosis.

So also, the Law of God that we hear preached does not make us into sinners. We are already sinners. Every selfish thing we do is sin, but it takes the Law to reveal those things as being selfish. Every careless word we say is sin, but it takes the Law to show us that such words deserve God’s punishment. Every covetous or jealous thought is sin because it is against God’s will, but it takes the Law to expose our sinful thoughts as deserving to be cut down and thrown into the fire.

However, the Law is not preached with the purpose of sending the hearer to hell. The Law is preached to give the diagnosis, so that we would receive the medicine that we need. That medicine is comfort.

Unlike our medical doctors who may not have the medicine that will bring us back to health and save us, the Gospel is always the medicine that saves us. It doesn’t matter what specific sins have ailed us. It doesn’t matter how long we have suffered from their effects. Even if we have taken the medicine for granted for so long, it is here for us today.

Jesus comes to us with healing. He comes to us with forgiveness. He does this because He is the one who suffered all our diseases of sin and died for them. He is the one to whom the axe was applied. Jesus was cut off out of the land of the living for our offences. He suffered the wrath of God for our sin so that we will receive the medicine of immortality and live forever. Jesus gives us His own body and blood to eat and drink which is that medicine of immortality, which cures us of all our sins that ail us.

So, John’s fiery preaching wasn’t really bad news. The Law he preached sounded bad because it told them they were dying; that they need his medicine. But it didn’t change things. The Law just exposed them for what they were. They were dying whether they knew it or not or believed it or not. John called for them to realize their condition and receive the medicine he offered to them, with the warning that if they would not receive the medicine they would be cut down and thrown into the fire; that they would die eternally in hell. The goal of John’s preaching was to comfort the hearer with the medicine they desperately needed.

So also, the Law is not bad news for you. The Law sounds bad because it exposes your sins and what you deserve because of them. But the Law really just tells you that you need medicine. Jesus gives His medicine to you freely, without cost. He has paid the price and He give it to you freely.

You can try to fake comfort by saying that you’re not sick when you really are, but that’s not true comfort. True comfort is knowing the truth of your heart’s condition, yet knowing that Jesus Christ, the great physician, gives you healing, which gives you eternal life. True comfort is knowing that you are baptized into Christ and are covered with His righteousness. True comfort is receiving the Sacrament of the Altar which takes your sins away and heals you eternally.

Do not hear the preaching of the Law as bad news. Hear the preaching of the Law as God’s diagnosis of your sin, and receive the medicine of immortality that gives you comfort and brings you to eternal life. Amen.

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

History

Sermon for the Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 21:5-28

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

You have perhaps heard the saying, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” If you cannot learn from the mistakes of past generations, you will repeat the same mistakes they made, and end up with the same consequences.

As Jesus foretold the destruction of the Temple, the people of Jerusalem had not learned from history. In history, when man forsook God and acted wickedly, following every evil intention of his heart, God sent a flood which killed all the wicked (Gen 6-7). When the people rebelled against God and gathered in pride to build for themselves a monument to reach heaven, God confused their language and dispersed them over the face of the earth (Gen. 11:1-9). When the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah rejected God and exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; when the men gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men, they received the due penalty for the error (cf. Rom. 1:26-27), as God rained sulphur and fire from heaven and destroyed those cities (Gen. 18:16-19:29).

The Israelites also had the history of their own people from which to learn. God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 6-14), but they got impatient waiting for Moses on the mountain so they had Aaron build them a golden calf. God struck them with a plague (Ex. 32).

They were all under the pillar of cloud as God led them, and all passed through the Red Sea and were baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food, the manna God sent from heaven. They all drank the same spiritual drink, given by the spiritual Rock that followed them, Christ Himself. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness (I Cor. 10:1-5).

First Corinthians 10 tells us that these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. “Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (I Cor. 10:7-11)

The people of Jerusalem did not heed Christ’s warnings. They did not listen to the warnings of the prophets God sent for centuries before Jesus either (ex. Jer. 6:8; Mi. 3:12; Zec. 14:1). They thought they could ignore God’s Law and do whatever they felt like doing. They followed their hearts instead of God’s Word. They engaged in idolatry, adultery, testing God, and grumbling.

They felt safe from God’s punishment because they had been doing it for years and lighting from heaven hadn’t struck them, no plague had decimated them, and despite being under Roman rule, they were at relative peace. Sure, God had destroyed sinners and punished sin a long time ago, but not today. They thought that in that day God just turned a blind eye to sin and forgave without people even turning away from sin. They thought that just because the Temple of God stood among them and the sacrifices were taking place there, everything was okay. However, Jesus told them the days will come when there will not be one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down.

Forty year later, the Romans destroyed the Temple and all of Jerusalem as Jesus had prophesied. Over a million Jews were killed and about 100,000 taken captive. They fell by the edge of the sword and were led captive among the nations, and Jerusalem was trampled underfoot by Gentiles as Jesus prophesied.

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who know history and fail to heed its warnings are also doomed to repeat it. Here specifically we are talking about the history of God’s relationship with man; God’s relationship with us.

We are God’s baptized people. That’s our history with Him. He has rescued us from the slavery of sin. By Jesus’ death in our place, He has rescued us from death and the devil, and from hell. We all passed through the sea of Baptism, baptized into Christ. We eat the same spiritual food and drink the same spiritual drink, the very body and blood of Jesus given and shed for us. And we have the same warning as God’s people of all time have had: do not follow your sinful flesh. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom. 8:13)

As Jesus gave the warning of the destruction of Jerusalem, He gave the warning of the destruction of the world. We have the warning of the end times when nation will rise against nation, and there will be earthquakes and famines and pestilences. There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations and perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and the foreboding of what is coming into the world.

This prophecy is no more preventable than Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem. It will take place. The world will be destroyed and the Son of Man will return, coming in a cloud with power and great glory. There is nothing man can do to prevent it, but man can learn from the history of those who reject God and His Word, and the history of those who cling to God’s Word.

As with the destruction of Jerusalem, God’s children have nothing to fear about the end of the world. Even in the face of end-times persecution we have nothing to fear, even if that persecution comes from parents and brothers and relatives and friends. Even if we are hated by all the world and are put to death, Christ says, “By your endurance you will gain your lives.” That is, by enduring in the faith, you will receive eternal life.

This eternal life is a free gift to us in spite of our past sins. If we look back at our personal histories, they are filled with all kinds of vile sin. But these histories are wiped out in God’s history books. Jesus died in our place, taking all the punishment for our sins. Our histories are re-written and do not include our sins. Our histories say that we have fulfilled the Law of God perfectly because Jesus fulfilled it for us. Our histories say that we are adopted children of God because we are baptized into Christ. Our histories say that we are in Christ and Christ in us because we eat the spiritual food and drink of Jesus’ true body and blood.

So, when we see the signs of the end times approaching, we do not need to fear. Rather, Jesus says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” We can raise our heads in confident expectation that even though Jesus returns to judge the world, our judgment has already been pronounced – we have been acquitted; we have been declared blameless by the judge of the living and the dead.

Instead, our redemption is drawing near. That moment when we will be taken from this world of sin and death is drawing near. That moment when we will no longer suffer at the hands of evildoers; that moment when we will no longer suffer illness and death; that moment when we will no longer suffer from the earthly consequences of our own sins; that moment is drawing near.

We can learn from the history of God’s people in all time and places. God’s people suffer in this world of sin as everyone suffers, but God saves His people from this world. Despite what we see going on in the world around us, we can straighten up and raise our heads because our redemption is drawing near.

God’s history is that He has never failed to keep His promises. Throughout history, He has never failed to save His people from every evil. He has never failed to warn people to turn from their sin and He has never failed to forgive repentant sinners.

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. But those who know the history of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus are destined for eternal life, with our own history of sin wiped clean by the blood of Jesus. So, straighten up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near. Amen.

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

Mustard Seed Defeats Millstone

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 17:1-10

Dear believers with faith like a grain of mustard seed: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Do not cause one of Jesus’ little ones to sin. Jesus says it would be better for you to have a millstone hung around your neck and be cast into the sea than to cause one of His little ones to be scandalized and fall away.

How do you cause one of Jesus’ little ones to sin? Jesus mentions two ways: failing to rebuke him, and failing to forgive him.

Jesus says, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him.” If your brother sins, you are to rebuke, reprove, and warn your brother so that he does not fall away. You must point out your brother’s sin to him so that he will turn away from his sin. If you do not reprove his sin, he may become hardened in his sin and turn away from God. If you do not warn him of his sin and the danger of hell, your brother may end up in hell because of your failure to do what Jesus commands you to do. If you do not rebuke your brother who sins, it would be better for you to have a millstone hung around your neck and be cast into the sea.

That’s not what the world tells you to do. The world tells you to live and let live. Be tolerant. Be easy-going, non-judgmental, and accepting of sin. The world claims that the loving thing to do is to accept your brother and the depravity in which he is engaged.

That’s not the loving thing to do! Your failure to warn your brother could mean that he goes to hell. How loving is that? Of course, the world doesn’t believe in hell, only in heaven, and they think that everyone ends up in heaven with or without Jesus, but that’s why they’re not going to heaven.

The loving thing to do if your brother sins is to rebuke him. If you love your brother and don’t want him to go to hell, warn him when he sins. That’s what Jesus tells you to do. No, don’t go tell your neighbours. No, don’t go tell your friends. No, don’t go tell your pastor. Go to your brother who sinned and tell him. Show him his fault between you and him alone (Matt. 18:15).

Are you going to let your brother die eternally without concern? Are you not grieved at all, even though impenitence is the true death of the soul? Do you look on without concern? Do you show careless neglect? Then it’s back to the millstone for you.

Jesus continues, “and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

This can be difficult, especially if he has badly hurt you, repeatedly. It’s difficult enough to forgive one sin. The memories of hurt can still linger years after the fact. We can still remember sins against us even if the offending party has passed away. This memory of sin leaves a wedge between you even if it is forgiven, because it is remembered.

Jesus speaks of continuing to forgive, even if the offender continues to sin against you. Each time he asks you for forgiveness, you must forgive him. If you do not forgive him, we are back at the millstone again.

To top it all off, Jesus says that if you do these two things perfectly, then you haven’t done anything special; you’ve only done what you were commanded by your master. If you’ve lovingly rebuked every sinner and forgiven everyone who has sinned against you (grievously or otherwise, repeatedly or not), then you have only done your duty. Jesus says you’d still be an unworthy servant. Do not expect God to give you any thanks for doing what you are supposed to do as His servant.

No wonder the disciples responded to Jesus by saying, “Increase our faith!” They recognized how impossible this is. They realized how often they turned the other way when their brother sinned because they didn’t want a confrontation. They recognized how difficult it is to forgive at all, and even more so to continuously forgive a repeat offender who says he repents but shows no sign of repentance. They were cut to the heart and understood that they deserve the millstone hung around their necks.

But more faith is not the answer. Faith like a grain of mustard seed is the answer. The tiniest speck of faith is all it takes. Why? Because faith gives you all the benefits of Jesus fulfilling what you cannot fulfil. Faith gives you the forgiveness of sins because it clings to Jesus not to your own attentiveness to rebuke your brother’s sin or your own ability to forgive those who sin against you.

Faith realizes that your sins of holding your tongue when you should rebuke and struggling to forgive were already punished. Jesus already took the punishment for your sins. Jesus already took your millstone, my millstone, and every millstone and was plunged into the abyss of death for us.

It is faith that enables us to avoid causing Jesus’ little ones to sin. It is faith that enables us to rebuke now where we have failed to rebuke and to forgive now where we have failed to forgive. It is faith that can give thanks for the rebukes we ourselves have received and for the forgiveness we have received.

And God’s forgiveness is not like the forgiveness of man. God completely forgives and actually forgets your sins even if your neighbor cannot forget and you cannot forget. God says, “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Is. 43:25). He says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34; cited also Heb. 10:17).

What this means is that each time God forgives you your sin, it is like the first time that He forgives you. He is not counting up your sins on a tablet throughout your life. He doesn’t add your sins onto His scales of justice, weighing them out for punishment. Every time you are absolved, your sins are wiped clean and removed from you as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). Every time you receive the true body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins God treads your sins underfoot and throws them into the depths of the sea (Mi. 7:19). Your sins are washed away and God remembers them no more.

God’s forgiveness is perfect. It is complete. Jesus’ death was the perfect and complete sacrifice for all sin and all sinners, so no sin remains for those who are in Christ. Jesus crushed the scales of justice since He took the weight of and paid the price of everyone’s sin. God throwing your sins into the depths of the sea is like Him taking the millstone from your neck, tying it to your sins, and throwing them altogether into the sea.

Jesus’ love for you is also seen in His command to your brothers that they rebuke you and forgive you. Jesus is looking out for you through your brothers in Christ, by having them rebuke you when you sin, and by having them forgive you when you sin.

The answer is not more faith. The answer is the faith that we already have, faith like a grain of mustard seed, and clinging to the promise of forgiveness for Christ’s sake who has taken our millstones and our sins away. Amen.

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