The Gospel is not for the Hard-Hearted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God is Jealous over You

Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on James 2:1-10, 14-18

Dear spirits for whom God yearns jealously: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saint James, for the third week in a row, hammers us with the Law. He is unrelenting. Two weeks ago he told us faith without works is dead and cannot save us. Last week he accused us of setting the entire course of our lives on hell fire with our tongues. Today he is calling us adulterers. Not because of breaking the Sixth Commandment, but the First Commandment. He is saying we’ve been unfaithful to God in the love we have shown to the world.

How much time have you spent hearing God’s Word compared to how much time you have spent listening to the world? How much time have you spent pursuing worldly activities compared to how much time you have spent pursuing spiritual activities? How much money have you spent on worldly things compared to how much you have given to God? As Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:21)

We are either following the wisdom that comes down from above, or the wisdom that is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. There is no other wisdom. We are either serving God and our neighbour or we are serving ourselves. We are either following God’s will for our lives, of we are following the will of our flesh, the world, and the devil.

We think we can have it both ways. We think we can be friends with the world and still be friends with God. Scripture says, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” A life that is devoted to selfish ambition, selfish gain, and selfish passion is a life that has no room for God. It is a life that makes us enemies of God. Yet, we are jealous and covet what God hasn’t given us and we get upset with God because we don’t have all our desires. We covet the things of this world. We are jealous of those who have more worldly things than we have.

God is jealous for us. Our text says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us.” God wants us, but we want the world. God wants us, but we want our passions. God wants us, but we want selfish things of the world for ourselves.

God’s jealousy is not wrong, but ours is. God’s jealousy can be compared to a husband’s jealousy when his wife spends all her time with other men and is unfaithful to him. That’s why James uses similar language as the Old Testament prophets, calling our unfaithfulness adultery.

God created us. We are His people. He has redeemed us with the blood of His own Son. But we are chasing after the things of this world. We want all kinds of things other than God. When we don’t get them, we get upset with God. What kind of backwards people are we?

James calls this double-mindedness. It’s like the wife who comes home from other men every once in a while to tell her husband how much she loves him. It is double-mindedness to try and be friends with the world and friends with God. It is spiritual adultery.

Our Scripture lesson hammers home the Law, but James also continuously also tells us that it is impossible to fulfil the Law. Last week he said man can tame all kinds of wild animals, but no one is able to tame the tongue. This week he says we are double-minded, which we cannot stop being until we are dead. We cannot remove our sinful minds from our heads. We cannot rip out the sinful desires and jealousy and covetousness out of our brains.

So what then? Why did the Holy Spirit inspire James to write these things if we cannot do them? Why is God commanding the impossible?

First, it is because He wants us to know His will for us as His creatures. He wants to teach us what is holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7:12), and He wants us to strive for them.

Even more, God wants to impress upon us our sinful nature and the impossibility of us saving ourselves so that we would humble ourselves and mourn over our sin.

“Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.” Humble yourselves before God because of your sin, and He will forgive you your sin and raise you up.

Humbling ourselves is what we do when we confess, “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor sinful being.” (Public Confession in Divine Service setting three, LSB 184)

This is humility. It is confessing our worthlessness before God and begging Him for mercy. It is drawing near to God, for He draws near to us. It is being wretched and mourning and weeping over our sin. It is humbling ourselves before God because we know He will exalt us. It is knowing that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Grace. God gives you grace. He does not leave you in your wretchedness, mourning, and weeping because He does not leave you in your sin. He gives you grace. He exalts you. He forgives you all your sin in Absolution and takes your sin away from you. He cleanses your hands and purifies your hearts. He does this all on account of Jesus fulfilling the requirements of the Law in your place. He does this on account of Jesus’ suffering and death for your sins. He does this on account of Jesus taking the punishment that you deserve.

God is jealous over you and does not want the world to get you, so He gives you the forgiveness of sins and takes you exclusively for Himself as His pure, holy, forgiven child. He doesn’t just do this once. He does it again and again until you need no more forgiveness, that is to say, until He takes you home to be with Him to the sinless perfection of Paradise.

In Paradise, we will not sin any more. This is one of the greatest joys to which we look forward. We will never again sin against our Creator. We will never again have desires that are contrary to His will for us. Long forgotten will be the selfish ambitions, selfish gains, and selfish passions of this world. Long forgotten will be the world that will be burning along with all those things we used to care about. We will no longer be double-minded, but we will want everything that is holy and righteous and good. We will no longer have the wretchedness, mourning, and weeping of sin, but only laughter and joy forevermore. And we will be faithful to God, as He is faithful to us. Amen.

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 begin using the One-Year Lectionary.]

Commitment

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Matthew 16:21-28

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

It is easy to see commitment. If someone is committed to his career, it is obvious to everyone around him. He puts in the time, day and night, weekday and weekend, holidays included. Whatever it takes to get the job done. He keeps up to date on industry trends and participates in continuing education. He doesn’t give 80% or 90%. The standard business slogan is to give 110%. Do what it takes to get the job done.

Commitment in sports is similar. If someone is committed to a sport, it is obvious to everyone around him. Late night practices trying to perfect that shot. Early morning games far from home. From a few years old, great sums of money must be invested into equipment and lessons, team fees and travel. Scraped knees, bloody noses, and some broken bones are the price you have to be willing to pay. Do whatever it takes to get it done.

So what does commitment to God look like? Coming to church here and there when you feel like it and when it is very convenient? Reading the Bible to the family perhaps on a special day like Easter or Christmas, if at all? Giving God an offering of the excess cash you don’t need for something else? That’s not what Jesus says.

Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Denying yourself is giving everything to God. Not just your time, talents, and treasure, but your soul, your life, your all. Denying yourself is not holding anything back. It is praying, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Denying yourself is throwing everything you want out the door and entrusting yourself to God and His will.

The disciples didn’t do so well with this. When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, not one of them stood by Him. They all fled. Not one of them denied themselves and picked up their cross to follow Jesus. They all wanted to save their lives rather than lose them.

We see it further with Peter and His denial of knowing Jesus during His trial. Today we also heard it when Peter’s idea of how Jesus should save us did not line up with Jesus’ plan of salvation. Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked Him. Jesus told the disciples that it is necessary that He go to Jerusalem to suffer and die, but Peter thought that was a bad idea. He didn’t deny himself and his will but he denied Jesus and His will. Peter said, “God be merciful to you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

Jesus replied very sternly and sharply, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Peter was not denying himself and his will. He was not submitting himself to God’s will, which of course is not just far better, but is perfect. Peter’s will was that Jesus would not die. That is Satanic! That is why Jesus responded so sharply.

As Jesus explained, He must go to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed. There is divine necessity in that word “must.” It was divinely necessary that it happen. Jesus didn’t fall into a trap made by the elders and chief priests and teachers of the law. He wasn’t tricked into suffering and dying. Jesus intentionally walked right into it. It was God’s plan of salvation from before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8).

Peter thought that God should be merciful to Jesus, but that was not the way to save us. In order for God to be merciful to us, He was not merciful to Jesus. Jesus was charged with the sins of the whole world. Jesus was given the punishment that our sins deserve even though He was innocent of sin.

Jesus was committed to die for us so that God would be merciful to us. Jesus was committed to the reason He came to earth, thus He knew it was necessary that He suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed. Jesus was committed to His plan of salvation, because He is committed to us.

It is easy to see Jesus’ commitment to us. He left the joys of heaven to come save us. He lived a life of humble service and fulfilled God’s Commandments which we cannot fulfil. He was committed to the point of death on a cross to save us.

Jesus had to do it all for us to save us because our commitment to do what is right is so fragile and wavering. Our inability to be committed to God is proved by the sins that we fall into over and over. Our inability to be committed to God is proved by our laziness and indifference to hear and read His Word. Our inability to be committed to God is proved by our small offerings to God despite His rich blessings to us.

We are not committed to God. No one would ever accuse us of giving God 110% or doing whatever it takes to spread the Gospel. We do not show the commitment to God that we show the many other things in our lives.

Thus, we need to be asked, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” What will it profit if we have millions in the bank and we die and go to hell? What will it profit if our children play in the NHL or major league baseball but they die eternally?

Jesus points Peter and us to the eternal things that actually matter. He tells us to set our minds on the things of God, not on the things of man.

When Jesus asks, “What shall a man give in return for his life?” we know the answer. There is nothing we can give in return for our lives. All the money in the world will not buy us eternal life. All the good works in the world will not buy us eternal life. All our commitments to God will not buy us eternal life.

The only thing that can be given in exchange for our lives is the life of Jesus. Jesus willingly and gladly gave His life in exchange for ours. If Jesus had been merely a man, the payment would not have been enough. Since Jesus is God, the payment was complete and perfect. His perfect, innocent life for our miserable, sinful lives.

Our commitment to God cannot save us because it is woefully inadequate. Jesus’ commitment to us has saved us because it is perfect and complete. He died for us and rose from the dead to reign at the right hand of God the Father almighty. He committed Himself to us personally by putting His name on us in Baptism. He committed Himself to us by instituting His holy Supper for us, giving us His true body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.

It is easy to see commitment. In everything God has done and continues to do for us, we see that He is completely committed to our salvation. He puts in the time and the effort. He has done and continues to do whatever it takes to save us. God is committed to you, to save you, and you can see it in everything that He has done and continues to do for you. Amen.

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

The Good Samaritan

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 10:25-37

Dear people with bound up wounds: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

If you want to know what to do to inherit eternal life, the lawyer from our Gospel lesson and Jesus give you the answer. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.” If you want to do something to inherit eternal life, this is it. If you fulfil these commandments, you will earn yourself eternal life.

Our reaction to hearing this is often similar to that of the lawyer. We desire to justify ourselves. In other words, we seek to redefine terms in order to argue that we have kept these commandments. We ask, “And who is my neighbour? I live on the end of a street so I’m OK on one side, and the guy on the other side is always gone, so I don’t have any neighbours to love. See, commandment fulfilled. My co-worker is not very neighbourly towards me, so he’s not my neighbour, and I don’t even know that needy family, so no, I don’t have any neighbours to love.” That’s what justifying yourself sounds like. Just redefine the word neighbour. Give it new meaning and say that you’ve kept the commandment.

This works similarly when it comes to the command to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. “I think God is pretty important. I go to church every once in a while. I don’t have any idol statues in my house, and I do have a cross on the wall. Yeah, I’m OK here, too.” That’s what justifying yourself sounds like. Just redefine what it means to love God. Give it new meaning and say that you’ve kept the commandment.

The thing with the Law of God is that it points out our sin, and that’s never fun. We want to weasel our way out of its accusations instead of admitting guilt. We want to justify ourselves and redefine God’s Law so that it won’t accuse us anymore. What is a neighbour? When does life begin? What is male? What is female? What is love? What is marriage? Let’s just redefine everything and we can do whatever we want.

Have you really fulfilled the commandments to love God and your neighbour? To fulfil the commandment to love God means that in everything you do, pleasing God is your only concern. It means you would never skip the Divine Service because you never have anything better to do than to hear God’s Word and receive His gifts. It means that you would dig into God’s Word first thing when you wake up and last thing before you go to sleep so that it would guide your thoughts throughout the day and give you peace at the end of the day. It means that you would know God’s Word front to back because you would love and treasure the only communication you have from God to you.

To fulfil the commandment of loving your neighbour as yourself doesn’t mean you give a needy person a loonie out of your pocket or donate a couple of nearly expire cans of food to the food bank. It means that you hold as equal to yours the needs of your neighbour, that is, anyone who is close enough for you to help; anyone in your life that could use your assistance; anyone that God puts in your life.

So if we look at the parable of the Good Samaritan, it means that you go out of your way to help your enemy (the Jews and Samaritans were enemies, after all). You bind up his wounds no matter how disgusting they are. You put him in your car even though he’s bleeding all over it, and take him to a hotel. You pay for his room for as long as he needs to recover, and just in case, leave your credit card at the front desk in case anything more is needed. You pay for his doctor because he doesn’t have medical insurance and you take a second mortgage on your house to pay for it. That’s what it means to love your neighbour as yourself. So if you hear Jesus say, “Go, and do likewise” and think that you can do it, that’s what it means.

This is Jesus’ answer to someone who desires to justify himself. If you think you can fulfil the Law of God, Jesus shows you that you cannot even come close. He closes the loopholes you want to open, and shuts down your attempts to weasel out of God’s commandments by trying to redefine terms.

The reason why Jesus does this, is so that you would see that there is more to the parable of the Good Samaritan than the command to love God with your whole heart and your neighbour as yourself. Yes, you are commanded to love God with your whole heart and your neighbour as yourself, and these are good things which you must endeavour to do to the best of your abilities, but there is more to the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is to show you that you are the man left for dead by robbers. The devil, the world, and your sinful flesh have attacked you and robbed you of innocence. They’ve robbed you of purity, righteousness, and love. You are incapable of helping yourself or saving yourself. Trying harder won’t work. Excusing sin won’t cut it. Redefining terms won’t help. You cannot bind the wounds of your sin by promises to do better. You cannot heal yourself by pretending you’re OK. You need the Good Samaritan to save you.

The Good Samaritan can be no one except Jesus. Only Jesus has compassion on you to the point that He would leave the perfection of heaven to come as a foreigner to our sin-polluted world even though we showed Him nothing but hatred. Only Jesus washes our wounds of sin through the waters of Holy Baptism, as He did for Kylee this morning. Only Jesus nourishes us to health with His body and blood like He will do again this morning.

Jesus does this for us because He did what we could not do. He loved God with all His heart, soul, strength, and mind. Jesus loved His neighbour as Himself. Despite perfectly fulfilling God’s Law, He suffered at our hands and because of our sins. All our sins were put on Him and He suffered the wrath of God for all sin in our place. Thus Jesus earned us forgiveness. He did what we could not do to earn us eternal life.

That’s why the Bible speaks of eternal life as an inheritance. An inheritance isn’t something you can earn. An inheritance isn’t something that is given to you because of what you’ve done. An inheritance is something that you get because of who you are. You receive the inheritance of eternal life because you are God’s child, washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, absolved by His Word, and forgiven and strengthened by the body and blood of Jesus.

The Good Samaritan in the parable said to the innkeeper, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” So Jesus, your Good Samaritan, has left you to be taken care of in the inn of His Church. He is still today washing away sin through Holy Baptism. He is still today forgiving you your sins in Absolution. He is still today forgiving you your sins and strengthening your faith through His Holy Supper.

And He says that He is coming back. He has left you to be taken care of, but He will return. He will return and give you the inheritance prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34). This eternal inheritance isn’t yours because of what you have done, but is yours because of what Jesus, your Good Samaritan, has done for you. This eternal inheritance isn’t yours because of what you have done, but it is yours because of who you are, baptized into Christ Jesus. Amen.

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