On Marriage

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 10:2-16

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

Marriage is good. Marriage is a blessing to husband and wife. Marriage is a blessing to children and children are a blessing in marriage. Marriage is a blessing to society, and is indeed the basis of society.

The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh think they know better. They think fornication is better than marriage. They think divorce is better than marriage. They think the individual is the basis of society.

If the individual is the basis of society, all responsibility of children to parents, parents to children, husband to wife, and wife to husband are thrown out the window. Then I do what I want when I want. It’s all about me. It’s all about whatever makes me happy. Surely you can see how that leads to licentiousness.

It also leads to divorce. We might even start debating divorce with God as the Pharisees did. “Surely God wants me to be happy. He can’t expect me to keep living in this awful marriage. God knows I married too young and my spouse has changed. This marriage is a sham.”

You’re not alone if you’ve tried to make excuses for your sins or the sins of others in this way. You’re not alone if you’ve tried to debate God in this way. The disciples did it too. Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees wasn’t enough for the disciples. Jesus said that Moses allowed divorce because of their hardness of heart, but that that is not God’s design for marriage. It is not God’s intent for marriage. God’s design and intent for marriage is for husband and wife to hold fast to each other as one flesh until death parts them, since God Himself has joined them together. What God has joined together, let not man separate.

The disciples thought that this surely did not sound fair or reasonable. So, when they went into the house, the disciples brought it up with Jesus again. Matthew, in his account, records that the disciples even responded that if divorce is sin, it is better not to marry at all (Matt. 19:10). If you are stuck in your marriage until one of you dies, they thought it better to despise marriage altogether. If you can’t remarry after divorce because it is adultery, then why not just commit adultery and forget marriage altogether?

What a sinful and godless way to view marriage! It sees marriage as being bad. As if marriage is a curse on husband and wife and a curse on society. Certainly, our society takes this view as marriage is abandoned in favour of divorce and adultery, but this view has no place in the Christian church. Afterall, Scripture tells us that the sexually immoral, the adulterers, and those who practice homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:19,21).

Does this mean that anyone who is guilty of breaking the Sixth Commandment is going to hell? No, that’s not what Scripture says. It says those who are sexually immoral. Those who practice such sins. In other words, those who remain in their sin and do not repent. Those who will not recognize their sin and turn away from it. Those who despise God’s good gift of marriage and remain in sin.

That’s why the Church has and continues to speak God’s Word on these matters. We love our neighbour, so we want to warn him about the eternal danger he is in if he does not repent. We love our neighbour, so we want him to receive forgiveness from God as we have received and continue to receive forgiveness.

Eve was created from Adam’s side while he slept. In the same way, the New Eve, the Church, has been given life from Jesus’ side. The Church has been given life by the water and blood that flowed from the spear-pierced side of the New Adam as He slept the sleep of death.

Ephesians 5 says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

Jesus washed you in Baptism to remove your spots and wrinkles of sin. He washed you to be holy and blameless. His blood continues to flow to you from the chalice with forgiveness and eternal life.

God is not interested in our excuses for sin. He will not debate adultery or divorce with us. But He will forgive adultery and divorce to those who are repentant.

God doesn’t weaken or bend His Law when we break it. The breaking of God’s holy Law means there must be just punishment, but that punishment is not for you. Your punishment was put on Jesus.

Only sinners die. That’s why Jesus died. God put your sins on Him and punished Him in your place. For your sake, God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him you might become the righteousness of God (II Cor. 5:21). God took all of your sins against His holy institution of marriage and put them on Jesus. God took your selfishness and excuses and put them on Jesus.

Jesus, the perfect bridegroom, gave His life to save His bride, the Church. He washed us through Baptism. He nourishes and cherishes us with His life-giving Word and His true body and blood. He does this so that He might present us to Himself with splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that we might be holy and without blemish. He covers our sins and clothes us with His righteousness so that we will be appropriately dressed for the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will He keep His anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion on those who fear Him.” (Ps. 103:8-13)

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

[A note to readers: beginning in Advent, we will be following the One-Year Lectionary.]

What is Murder?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hear and Live

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 6:1-13 (Ezek. 2:1-5, 2 Cor. 12:1-10)

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

God sent Ezekiel to speak His Word to the people of Israel. For the most part, they did not listen. Ezekiel was not sent to speak his own words, but the very Word of God. But most of the people did not listen.

Was there a problem with Ezekiel? Maybe he wasn’t winsome enough. Maybe he wasn’t friendly enough. Maybe he wasn’t lenient enough. But no, the problem was not with Ezekiel. God Himself says the problem was the people of Israel. God calls them “nations of rebels” who had rebelled not against Ezekiel, but against Him (Ezek. 2:3). God calls them impudent and stubborn (Ezek. 2:4). These people hardened their hearts to God’s Word because they didn’t want to hear God’s Word. They didn’t want to turn from their sins. They loved their sins rather than loving God. Of course they’re going to find God’s messenger not to be winsome, friendly, or lenient.

Maybe if Ezekiel would have been more like Saint Paul he would have had more success. Saint Paul says he became a servant of all that he might win more of them (I Cor. 9:19). He says he became all things to all people, so that by all means he might save some (I Cor. 9:22). That sounds winsome. That sounds friendly. That sounds lenient.

But Paul faced imprisonment, beatings, riots… insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities (2 Cor. 6:4-5, 12:10). Being all things to all people did not mean that everyone listened to the Word of God that Paul preached. Even to the church in Corinth, Paul had to defend himself from so called “super-apostles” who came to lead the congregations away from pure doctrine (cf. esp. 2 Cor. 11:5). And for those who refused to repent, Paul judged them according to God’s Word and told the congregations to deliver such people over to Satan by putting them out of the church (I Cor. 5:5). That does not sound winsome, friendly, or lenient.

Maybe if Paul had been more like Jesus, he would have had more success. But Jesus Himself faced rejection, even by the people of His own hometown and His own relatives. They took offense at him (v. 3). They did not believe in Him (v. 6). In the end they whipped Him, beat Him, scoffed at Him, spit in His face, crowned Him with thorns, and crucified Him.

This all points to what Jesus says to those He sends to preach His Word, “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)

God’s Word will be rejected by the world. It will be rejected by the nations of rebels who have rebelled against God. It will be rejected by the impudent and stubborn. It may even be rejected by those of our hometowns and our own relatives.

We have witnessed the rejection of God’s Word again recently with the Supreme Court in the United States legalizing the sin of homosexual “marriage”. America joins us here in Canada who legalized such sin about a decade ago. Scripture is so clear on homosexuality that it is easy for us to be up in arms over such abomination, impurity, and dishonourable passions (cf. Rom. 1:24-27). It is easy for us to point the finger even at the other so-called “churches” who embrace such debauchery and depravity. But this is not the first time nor is it the only way marriage has come under attack. This is where we have to take blame for our own despising of marriage.

Concerning marriage, Jesus says, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matt. 19:6) We have to examine our own hearts. Where have we hardened our hearts against our spouses, refused to forgive, and divorce them? Where have we encouraged the divorce of others through what we have said, what we have done, what we have gossiped?

God’s Word says, “You shall not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14), and “Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (Heb. 13:4) Here also we have to examine our own hearts. Where among us has the marriage bed been defiled? Couples live together outside of the life-long union of marriage instituted by God. Adultery, fornication, and pornography are the norm of society and we are only too ready to embrace them. Should we expect a winsome, friendly, and lenient message from God?

God’s Word says marriage is for the procreation of children as God mandated by saying, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). There are many reasons for the decline of the church, but one of the biggest reasons is most certainly the unwillingness of Christian couples to have children. And when we do have children, how faithfully do we teach them what God’s Word says about how they should live sexually pure and decent lives?

So before we get too upset with the homosexual agenda and how it has taken over the airwaves, newspapers, and all media, we need to examine our own sins against marriage and repent of them. We need to repent of our own sins, including our own reluctance to show love to our friends and families by warning them of the dangers of their sin. God will not forgive sins which we refuse to turn away from. God will not forgive those who reject His Word and impudently and stubbornly remain in their sins.

Yes, this message of repentance will be rejected by the world. When Jesus sent the Twelve to preach repentance in our Gospel reading, He anticipated that there would be places where they would not be received; that there would be places that God’s Word would be rejected; that there would be people who will not listen. Jesus says, “When you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” (Mk. 6:11) Jesus tells them to move on from such impudent and stubborn rebels. They will receive in themselves the due penalty for their error (Rom. 1:27).

Not everyone will listen to God’s Word. In fact, most people will not. But we must ensure that we do. We must listen to God’s Word and repent. “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” (Ezek. 18:32) Repent.

To repent means to be sorry for our sins and to believe that they are forgiven by Jesus’ death for us. God’s Law is not winsome, friendly, or tolerant. God’s Law shows us our sin so that we would be sorrowful over it. God’s Law condemns us in our sin so that we will see and recognize our need for a Saviour.

And then God’s sweet Gospel tells us that Jesus took all of our sins on Himself and died for them on the cross. Jesus’ suffering and death show exactly how winsome, friendly, and tolerant God is of sin. It required the horrific suffering and death of God’s own dear Son to pay for our sins. But Jesus’ death in your place means that you are forgiven. It means that however you have sinned against marriage, you are forgiven.

Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) Jesus came for us sinners who suffer the sickness of sin that has permeated our very existence. Jesus came to forgive us for the ways we have trampled on His institution of marriage. Jesus came to give us new life, even amidst this world that rejects Him and His Word. Even those sins which still gnaw at our conscience; those sins whose consequences we still suffer from; those sins we still struggle with; all these sins were put on Jesus. He is not shocked by our sins. He didn’t come to earth expecting to find pretty good people who just needed a little bit of help. Jesus saw our death and came to give us life. Jesus came to give life to heterosexual sinners and homosexual sinners.

We’ve been washed clean by the waters of Holy Baptism. Jesus comes to us in His true body and blood once again to give His forgiveness to us; to strengthen us in our struggle with sin; and to give us eternal life. Yes, in His body and blood Jesus gives you eternal life, because where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

Don’t look for a winsome, friendly, lenient Word of God. Hear God’s Word which condemns your sin and tells you that Jesus took your sin on Himself. Hear God’s Word which gives you the forgiveness of sins. Hear God’s Word which gives you eternal life. Amen.

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