All of the Truth

Sermon for Cantate based on John 16:5-15

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

Jesus told His apostles that it is to their advantage that He goes away because He would send them the Holy Spirit who would guide them in all the truth. This explains to us how the timid and fearful men who fled at the arrest of Jesus were later preaching publicly, even amidst opposition and threats, that He is risen from the dead. It explains to us how these men who struggled to understand much of what Jesus taught them while He was with them were able, by the inspiration of the promised Holy Spirit, to write the inerrant words of holy Scripture. The Holy Spirit guided them in all truth. They did not write man’s word, but God’s Word as directed by Him.

It is worth pointing out also that Jesus did not say that the Holy Spirit would guide them in some of the truth, but that the Holy Spirit would guide them in all of the truth. Everything we have in the Bible is the truth. Not just a version of the truth, as if there are other versions of the truth, but the Bible is all of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

The Bible is thus reliable for us as we learn the truth. All our doctrine therefore must be from the Bible since that is how the Holy Spirit now guides us in all the truth.

Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit comes, He will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment.

What is sin? The world says sin is being judgmental, intolerant, or unaccepting. The world accepts and praises every depravity and perversion, and thinks Christians sin if we stand up for the truth of God’s Word or say that their depravities and perversions are sin. The world will accept every idea, lifestyle, and religion, so long as it is not from the Bible, the only source of truth.

The world also has its own ideas about righteousness and judgment. They justify their every selfish behaviour as if they are righteous. They don’t believe judgment in hell exists. Everyone just goes to heaven. Except maybe people like Hitler, but certainly, they do not believe hell is something the average person needs to worry about, even though Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt. 7:13-14)

Those who find the gate to eternal life are few because people prefer to follow the world’s definitions of sin, righteousness, and judgment, not God’s definitions as He gives us in His Word.

God defines sin as that which breaks His holy commands. God’s Law does not tolerate sin, but judges sin. God’s Law commands you to love Him with all your heart, soul, and mind, and your neighbour as yourself. Because you are sinful, it is not possible for you to fulfil these commands. You do not live for God because you want to live for yourself. You do not live for your neighbour because you want to live for yourself. God’s Law condemns the entire human race. We are all guilty of sin, which means we are sinful not righteous.

Yet, we must understand that even though our unrighteousness is found in our failure to love God and our neighbour, our righteousness is not to be found in fulfilling the command to love God and our neighbour. Our righteousness is not to be found in doing good works. Our righteousness is not to be found in giving generously to charities or helping your neighbour. Our righteousness is found only in Christ. He is our righteousness. His blood covers our sins. We must be covered by Christ’s righteousness if we are to appear righteous before the judgment seat of God.

Note carefully who Jesus says is judged. He says that when the Helper comes, He will convict the world concerning judgment “because the ruler of this world is judged.” The ruler of this world is Satan, and he has been judged guilty and condemned of being a liar and perverter of the truth. Those who follow his lies are thus condemned along with him, that is why Jesus says that the world is convicted of sin because the ruler of this world is judged. They are convicted because they reject the truth of God’s Word and follow their own hearts, which are of one mind with the devil.

Those who follow the truth of God’s Word, even though we are convicted by the Law as sinful, are convicted that we are not righteous, and are convicted that we deserve judgment, nevertheless do not despair because we trust in Christ. Christ has taken our sin. He is our righteousness. He was judged in our place.

Thus, we do not seek righteousness in what we do. We do not think that we are right in God’s eyes because we help our neighbour, give offerings at church, or visit the sick. We are right in God’s eyes because Jesus’ righteousness covers us. Because Jesus’ righteousness covers us and we were purchased by His blood, we belong to Him. It is not some kind of part-time ownership or timeshare. First Corinthians says, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” (6:19)

You belong to God. All of you – your heart, mind, body, and soul; your time, your money, your possessions. So, when you consider how you should use any given hour of the day, remember that the hour belongs to God. When you consider how you should use any given dollar, remember that the dollar belongs to God. When you consider how you should use any possession, remember that the possession belongs to God.

Also remember that your use of God’s time, money, or possessions will not give you any merit or worthiness in His sight. The only merit and worthiness you have is Christ’s. Everything that you think, say, and do is covered by Christ’s righteousness and thus forgiven. Yes, I dare say that even if you squander all of God’s time, all of God’s money, and all of God’s possessions that He has entrusted to you, for the sake of Christ, God will not condemn you.

That is the freedom of the Gospel. The free forgiveness of sins frees you from doing what you are commanded to do. You are then free to use God’s time, money, and possessions in a God-pleasing way – not because you must in order to be saved, but because you want to. You have been freed from the slavery of sin and from the condemnation of the Law, and have been promised eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth.

Eternal life is, in the end, all that matters. Time, money, and possessions will all be burned and they have no future. You have been freed from the slavery to these elementary principles and have been granted freedom in Christ who gave His life for you on the cross to pay the price of your sins and rose from the dead to secure your resurrection to life everlasting.

Cling therefore to the eternal truth of the Word of God. Cling to God’s definition of sin, righteousness, and judgment, because your sin is forgiven, you are declared righteous on account of Christ, and the ruler of this world has been judged and cast out, and you have the promise of eternal life. Amen.

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

 

The Truth Sets You Free

Sermon for Reformation Day based on John 8:31-36

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

Truth, even in the church, seems to be in short supply. There are thousands of different denominations in the world, all of which teach what they say is truth. There are dozens of churches with the name Lutheran, which teach conflicting doctrine, but all claim they are teaching the truth. Within our own confession, Lutheran Church-Canada, we have conflicting doctrines being taught in various places, and everyone claims to be teaching the truth.

It is easy to become indifferent about doctrine. It is easy to stop caring about what is true and what is not. It’s easy to give up and say, “Hey, there’s only one God, we’re all worshiping Him, so don’t worry about the details.” It’s easy to throw the hands up and say, “At least my children are going to some church.” It is easy to be frustrated and say, “If pastors who are supposed to know this stuff can’t agree, what point is there for me to even concern myself with it?”

Jesus answers this question by saying, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Concern yourself with and care about the truth, because the truth will set you free.

Free from what? Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” You are a slave to as many masters as you have vices. You cannot set yourself free from sin. You cannot set yourself free from sin because sin is stronger than you are. You cannot simply choose the good and avoid the evil. You do not have free will. It sounds good, but it’s not true. Your flesh is corrupted by sin and has every sinful inclination. How do you know this? Because that’s what God’s Word teaches. We heard in our epistle lesson that God’s Law finds all of us guilty so that every mouth is stopped, and we are all held accountable to God.

Only the truth will set you free. What truth is that? The truth that if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Only if the Son sets you free from sin, will you be free. Only if the Son sets you free from death and from the power of the devil, will you be free.

The Son has set you free from sin. He fulfilled your obligations under the Law that you are unable to do, and He did them. He fulfilled the Law for you in thought, word, and deed. He took your sin onto Himself and took your guilt, your shame, your punishment. He has thus set you free from sin.

The Son has set you free from death. He suffered and died for you, so that you will not die eternally, but will live eternally. His cross meant suffering and death for Him, but eternal life for you. He has thus set you free from death.

The Son has set you free from the power of the devil. When He ascended into heaven, He threw Satan down so that he cannot stand before God’s throne to accuse you of your sin day and night (Rev. 12:7-12). His mouth has been stopped. Hebrews two tells us that through His death, the Son has destroyed the one who has power over death, that is the devil, and delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (2:14-15). Thus, you are not a slave, but a son. The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son remains forever. Thus, you will remain forever with God as a son, and the Son, Jesus Christ, has set you free from the power of the devil.

This is the truth that sets you free. This is the truth that incited the Reformation; the truth which Luther taught and for which he was willing to die by the hand of the pope.

But we don’t believe this because Luther taught this. We don’t believe it because we were raised in the Lutheran church or because we went through adult confirmation. We believe it because God teaches this. We believe it because it is what God’s Word says. Thus, it is not an opinion or a feeling. It’s not wishing or thinking.  We can say we know the truth.

This flies in the face of what the world says about truth, that there is no way to know what is true and that we can all hold our own so-called “truths” even when they contradict each other. But there are no maybes. There is no uncertainty. That’s what Jesus said. “If you abide in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth.”

It doesn’t matter how many denominations teach how many different doctrines. It doesn’t matter what the world says or what we ourselves think or feel. We are called to abide in God’s Word so that we will know the truth. What God’s Word says is what matters.

Our life as Christians is abiding in God’s Word. It’s not about patting ourselves on the back since we don’t follow the pope. It’s not about seeing how we are better than other denominations or other Lutherans. It’s not even about looking at other congregations in our denomination and seeing where they are wrong, or at other people in our pews. Our life as Christians is about abiding in God’s Word and asking where have I wandered from the truth? Where have I followed the world in my thinking? Where have my feelings and emotions been hurt by God’s Word, so that I have hardened myself to hear it? Where have I lifted up my reason to deny what God says in His Word?

See, we need reformation. We need correction. We need repentance.

You have not been abiding in God’s Word as you should have, so you have wandered. You have lived as if God’s Word did not matter and as if you mattered most. Your Lord’s name you have not honoured as you should; your worship and prayers have faltered. You have not let God’s love have its way with you, so your love for others has failed. There are those you have hurt, and those whom you have failed to help. Your thoughts and desires have been soiled with sin (LSB Individual Confession and Absolution).

This is why Jesus, the Son of God, took on your flesh. He didn’t come to earth thinking that He was coming to people that needed a just little bit of help to do better. He came, knowing the greatness of your sin to rescue you from it. He came to save you from the slavery of sin that He knew had you in its grasp. He came with forgiveness and healing because He loves you, His creation. He shed His blood for you to save you from your sin. He came to set you free from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

He came to make you a son of the Father, adopted through Baptism. He keeps you a son of the Father through His Word in which He admonishes you to abide. He strengthens you as a son through His very body and blood through which He forgives you all your sin and nourishes you to your promised inheritance of everlasting life.

Abide in Jesus’ Word. Abide. Dwell in it. Live in it. Meditate on it day and night. If you abide in Jesus’ Word, you are truly His disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. 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: We will se using the One-Year Lectionary starting in Advent]

The Scandal of the Cross

Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 6:1-13

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

What is it about Christianity that turns people off? If you ask a million unbelievers, you may hear a million different reasons. The music is not exciting enough. The church building is too old. The people in church are too old. The pastor is too odd. Certainly, when scandals appear because a pastor or congregation has fallen into some sin which even the world finds distasteful, that is used as a reason why Christianity turns people off.

However, these are all excuses. They are not the real reason people are not interesting in being Christians. They real reason in Christ. They are offended by Christ, His Word, and what He has done.

Accusations can be made that a particular pastor was not winsome enough, friendly enough, or pleasant enough. He didn’t use the right words or say them in the right ways. That accusation cannot be made against Jesus, however. Yet, Jesus offended people. The people recognized His mighty works and His wisdom. They said, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands?” They still took offense at Him because He just appeared as an ordinary man, and from their own hometown and even household. Jesus marvelled at their unbelief.

Jesus is no god dreamed up by men. The gods dreamed up by men are superheroes with superpowers who cannot die. Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty, Ares was the god of war, Hades the ruler of the underworld, and Athena the goddess of wisdom and courage. Men dream up gods in their own image encumbered with their own desires. Indeed, one Greek philosopher wrote in the 6th century B.C. that such writers attributed to their gods “all that is shameful and disgraceful among men; they steal, commit adultery, and deceive one another.” (Xenophanes of Colophon)

The gods invented by men do not die. The true God, Jesus Christ, took on human flesh and did die.

There is no greater scandal to the world. First Corinthians calls Christ crucified a stumbling block and folly; it is foolishness to those who are perishing (I Cor. 1:18, 23). The world doesn’t want a God who suffers and dies, so they are scandalized by Jesus. The world wants a god who fosters and encourages them to follow and fulfil the shameful and disgraceful desires of their hearts, so they are scandalized by Jesus.

It’s not like churches haven’t tried to remove the reasons people give for being turned off Christianity. They’ve thrown away the ancient liturgy and hymns and moved to music that entertains. They’ve built multi-million-dollar buildings, attracted young people, hired charismatic pastors, and hidden their sinful scandals.

Do you know what they’ve thrown away in the process? The scandal of the cross. The scandal of Christ crucified. You could sit through their services and never hear of Christ crucified, which is the very centre of our faith. Nor will you hear the other Scriptural truths that accompany the message of Christ crucified. You won’t hear that Baptism saves – that too is a scandal to the world. You won’t hear that Christ absolves sinners through Absolution spoken by pastors – that too is a scandal to the world. You won’t hear that Christ gives forgiveness of sins with His true body and blood to eat and drink in the Lord’s Supper – that too is a scandal to the world.

Christ’s message of truth will always be rejected by many. Jesus Himself taught in Nazareth and even performed miracles there, but they rejected Him, and Jesus marvelled at their unbelief.

When Jesus sent out His ministers two by two to bring to other towns the same message He Himself was preaching, Jesus knew that not everyone would receive the message. Thus, Jesus told them, “if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” Jesus prepared them to accept the fact that their preaching of repentance would be rejected; that their preaching of Christ would be rejected; that God’s Word would offend many.

Jesus doesn’t instruct His ministers to cater to what the people want to hear. He doesn’t tell them to be friendlier if their preaching is rejected. He doesn’t tell them to water down the preaching so that it will be palatable to the populace. He doesn’t tell them to be more exciting or entertaining if the people don’t hear. No, Jesus says that if they don’t listen, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them. Matthew records that Jesus continues by saying, “Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” (Matt. 10:15)

Watering down the message of the cross will not save anyone. Entertainment and catering to people’s desires will not save anyone. Preaching about Jesus as if He’s a god dreamed up by man will not save anyone. That is why Jesus sends His ministers with the task of preaching the cross.

Only the preaching of the cross of Christ saves. That God took on human flesh and became man is scandalous to unbelievers, but it is nevertheless true. That God the Son died on the cross for the sins of men whom He created is scandalous to unbelievers, but it is nevertheless true.

And yes, the forgiveness that was earned on the cross is given to us in the ordinary water used in Baptism, in the words of Absolution spoken by a sinful man, and in underwhelming bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.

God intentionally chooses ways and means to save us that are scandalous to human reason so that we would realize that our salvation is a miracle. It is not something that we do, but something that God has done for us.

God has given us the gift of faith. We didn’t discover the faith by our own efforts or in-depth studies. All our efforts would only lead us to see the cross as a scandal. However, God has miraculously opened our eyes to the truth of the cross.

God initially gave us faith in Baptism. This truth which scandalizes unbelievers saves us. God continues to strengthen and nourish our faith through Absolution and Holy Communion. This truth which scandalizes unbelievers saves us. God became man and died for our sins. This truth which scandalizes unbelievers saves us.

Christians don’t let the imperfections of their congregations keep them from hearing the Word of Christ. If there are imperfections with the music, the building, the people, or the pastor (which I assure you is always the case), Christians still come to hear the word of the cross. Foolishness to unbelievers, but for us who are being saved, the word of the cross is the power of God that saves us and brings us to life everlasting. Amen.

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

Christ’s Letter to the Church in Thyatira

Sermon for Midweek Lenten Service based on Revelation 2:18-29

Dear conquerors who will be given authority over the nations and the Morning Star: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

In Christ’s letters to His churches, He always commends them for what is good and rebukes them for what is evil.

In His letter to the church in Ephesus which we heard three weeks ago, Christ commended the good, saying, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.” (Rev. 2:2)

This is the opposite of what was happening in the church in Thyatira. Christ rebuked them saying, “I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.”

Both churches were under attack by false teachers. The church in Ephesus was enduring patiently and bearing up for Christ’s name’s sake and had not grown weary. The church in Thyatira had given up the fight against false teaching and tolerated the false teacher symbolically called Jezebel.

It is not an easy thing to endure patiently and bear up when being assailed by false teachers, as the church in Ephesus did.

Consider this congregation. If you called a candidate from seminary or from the field and received a pastor who taught you things contrary to the Word of God, what would you do?

First of all, would you even recognize false teaching if you heard it? Are you familiar enough with the Word of God that when you hear something contrary to it, you immediately recognize it to be false? Could you test someone who claimed to be true, and find him to be false? The church in Ephesus did, and Jesus praised them for it.

Second, what would you do upon recognizing the false teaching? If the pastor will not be corrected and repent, it is easier to just tolerate him because he’s a nice and friendly guy and overlook his false teaching. It is easier to just stop going to church than to keep fighting for the truth. It is easier to just say that you will wait for the pastor to leave than have him removed for false teaching.

If the circuit counsellor won’t help, the district president won’t lift a finger, and you’re left on your own, it is hard not to have your spirits crushed and give up; to give up not just on the congregation, but to give up on the church in general; to give up on God. Then the pastor leaves, and in comes one who is twice the son of the devil. It is so easy to throw in the towel and give up.

The church in Ephesus endured and did not give up. They fought for the truth of God’s Word and did not tolerate the lies of the devil. This meant intent study of God’s Word to differentiate truth form error. It meant strife and hardship in the church. It meant heeding Jesus’ words, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Mt. 7:15) Outwardly, false prophets are nice and friendly, cheerful and funny, charismatic and personable. You cannot recognize a false teacher from their sheep’s clothing. You can only recognize them by what they teach – that is where the wolf is revealed.

The church in Thyatira gave up the fight. It doesn’t mean that they all believed the false teachings of Jezebel, but they tolerated them and they tolerated her. They stopped fighting against the devil’s lies introduced by the false teacher. They stopped fighting for the truth, and that is why Christ rebuked them.

We heard from Romans, “Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” (Rom. 16:17) Those who think that standing up for the truth of God’s Word causes divisions have it all wrong. False doctrine creates divisions. False teachings create obstacles.

Churches today are generally led by a spirit of unionism and syncretism. This means that they want to have services together and pray together and pretend like we are united even though we are not. It is a spirit that says what we believe doesn’t matter. It is a spirit that says what God’s Word says doesn’t matter, let’s just do whatever we want. It is a spirit that says there is salvation in all religions.

That is not what Christ says. He says, “Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” False teaching is deadly. False teaching leads to hell. False teaching cannot be tolerated.

The only unity that can exist in the church of Christ is unity in His truth. Apart from the truth we have only division, no matter how much we pretend to be united or in fellowship. Apart from the truth we have only lies, no matter how sugar-coated they are.

True doctrine saves. Thus, Christ exhorts the church in Thyatira, “hold fast what you have until I come.” Hold fast to the doctrine you have been taught. Hold fast to the standard of teaching to which you committed (Rom. 6:17).

Christ also tells them to keep His works. Hold fast to what the Lord of the Church has done for the her, namely, giving His life to redeem us, and rising from the dead to open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.

Those who hold fast and conquer do so by holding to the works of Christ, because only His works can save us. Our own works help and save us never, but Christ’s works of keeping the Law, dying and rising from the dead save us from hell.

Those who thus cling to Christ’s works will reign with Him. Christ promises that He will give them authority over the nations, and that they will rule with a rod of iron, as when breaking pots to pieces. This is how Christ’s rule is described in Psalm 2, where He crushes rebellious nations with a rod of iron and dashes the in pieces like a potter’s vessel (v.9). Those who belong to Christ will thus join in reigning with Him (cf. also II Tim. 2:12).

Those who hold fast to God’s truth and the works of Jesus are also promised that they will be given the Morning Star. Later in Revelation, Jesus identifies Himself as the Morning Star (Rev. 22:16).

Jesus is the light of the world; the light no darkness can overcome (John 1:4-5). He is the light that saves us from the darkness of our sins. He is the Morning Star that rises in the darkness to give us light through the forgiveness of our sins.

We have the promise that we will be given Jesus. We are given Jesus in Baptism, which the early church often called enlightenment, because the baptized have been called out of darkness into God’s glorious light (I Pet. 2:9). We are given Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, in which we receive the fruits of His cross.

Everyone who conquers by clinging to the doctrine of Jesus and to His works, will receive Jesus when He returns. We will then be like Him, because we will see Him as He is (I John 3:2). We will be glorified with Him and rule the nations with Him. We will dwell in His perfect light for eternity, and see Him face to face. Night will be no more, so we will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be our light, and we will reign forever and ever (Rev. 22:4-5). Amen.

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

The Truth Will Set You Free

Sermon for the Festival of the Reformation based on John 8:31-36

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

Jesus says, “The truth will set you free.” The truth may, however, cause you troubles in this life.

Martin Luther’s proclamation of the truth got him excommunicated by the pope and declared an outlaw by the Emperor. As we heard in Bible class last week, the reformer John Hus’s teaching of the truth got him burned at the stake by the pope. The pope murdered him simply because he believed and confessed the truth.

Today, five hundred years after the Reformation, opposition to the truth and consequences for standing up for the truth still exist. Christian business owners are being put out of business by the government just because they stand up for the truth. Just this month, the Lutheran pastor in Churchbridge was viciously attacked and bullied out of town by the very people God called him to serve, simply because he taught the truth and the people didn’t want to hear it.

The truth setting you free does not mean that there are no consequences in this life for believing and confessing the truth. The wicked world does not want to hear the truth. The devil is the father of lies and hates the truth. Thus, the world and the devil continually attack the truth and those who believe it. They will do everything they can to quiet the truth, to pervert the truth, to throw out those who would speak the truth. Yet, the truth will set you free.

We need to hear God’s Law first, before we understand what it means to be set free. Without the Law, we would respond like the Jews did to Jesus, “We have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” We see no need for freedom if we think we are already free. We see no need for freedom if we do not realize that we are slaves. Thus, to show us that we are slaves who need to be freed, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”

Do you commit sin? Then you are a slave to sin. Do you think, say, and do things that God has commanded you not to think, say, or do? Then you are a slave to sin. Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. God’s Law stops every mouth and holds us all accountable to God.

We do need to be set free. We cannot free ourselves. We cannot rescue ourselves from our sins because they are more powerful than we are. Because of our sinful nature, we are unable to choose the good and avoid the evil. We need to be saved. We need to be freed from slavery to sin. We need someone else to be held accountable for what we have done so that we do not die eternally.

The truth will set you free. Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Jesus is the truth that sets you free.

“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed,” because Jesus is the one who is more powerful than sin and death. He is the one who is more powerful than the old evil foe. Jesus is the one who has defeated sin, death, and the devil, and He holds the field victorious.

Jesus is the one who chose the good and avoided the evil. He is the one who was held accountable for the sins that we have committed and was punished for them in our place. Jesus frees us from the punishment our sins deserve. He frees us from slavery to sin. He saves us from the devil and from hell. This is the truth that sets us free.

Martin Luther understood this freedom, so he held to this truth and was willing to face whatever the pope would do to him. Thus, he wrote, “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.” (TLH 262 st. 4)

Luther knew the truth and the truth had set him free, so he was willing to suffer the loss of everything in this life rather than lose that freedom. He clung to the truth and shared it with others even at the risk of losing his life. He knew that he was freed from eternal damnation, justified by God’s grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

We don’t believe this because Luther taught it. We don’t believe it simply because we grew up in the Lutheran church. We believe it because God Himself teaches it in holy Scripture. We believe it because God tells it to us in His Word, the only source of truth.

Jesus says, “If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” He starts out by telling us to abide in His Word, because His Word is truth. The second we follow anything other than God’s Word, we are straying into error.

That is the error into which the Roman church has fallen. They stopped following the Bible and started following man. They still follow what the pope says even when he disagrees with Scripture. They claim that the pope is infallible and cannot err when he makes statements of doctrine. When his statements disagree with the Bible, the pope is still held as being correct by the Roman church.

Abide in God’s Word, not the word of man. Abide in God’s Word, not your own words. It is so tempting to follow our own thoughts, feelings, and desires. It is so tempting to follow what we think is fair, just, and reasonable. It is so easy to follow the world. They do whatever they want. They think that they have freedom, but they are really slaves of sin. Abide in God’s Word so you will know the truth that sets you free.

Abide in God’s Word. Read it. Study it. Attend a church where it is taught in its truth and purity. Attend Bible class where it is explained and expounded for your benefit. In the Bible is where we learn about God and His will for us. We can learn it from no place else.

Only in the Bible do we hear the Son has set us free, so we are free indeed. Only in the Bible do we learn the truth that sets us free. Only in the Bible do we have God’s truth given to us, so that we don’t speculate, we don’t wonder, we don’t guess, but we know the truth that sets us free.

Christ Jesus our Lord has set us free to be sons of God who remain in the house forever. A slave does not remain in the house forever. The son remains forever. The Son of God has freed us from slavery to sin and has given us faith so that we know the truth. He saved us, and He keeps us saved so that regardless of the opposition of the world, the devil, and our sinful flesh, we will remain in Him to eternal life. Thus, we can sing with Luther, “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.” Amen.

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

Sola Scriptura

Midweek Advent Sermon – Sola Scriptura (Is. 55:6-11; II Tim. 3:10-17; John 6:60-69)

Dear people who know the Truth from Scripture alone: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

How do you know what is right and what is wrong? Everyone has some basis for answering this question. Some will say, “I feel that this is right and that is wrong,” or “I think this is right and that is wrong.” Some say, “I want to do this; therefore, it is right,” or “I follow my heart on these things.”

That is of course why we have so many differing opinions on what is right and what is wrong. If everyone has a right to their own opinion and everyone has a different opinion, well then, I guess everyone can do whatever they think is right in their own eyes.

If we are following our feelings, then of course we want that which makes us feel good. We pursue pleasure because it makes us feel good. I’m not just talking about alcohol, drugs, sex, and food. I’m talking about following our feelings in life, in decisions we make, and even in what we expect from God. We want to feel good, so we want to hear cheery, uplifting music in church. We want a feel-good emotional message that uplifts us and motivates us. We don’t want any of that “I’m a poor, miserable sinner” stuff, or any depressing downers like talk about hell or sin or punishment.

The problem with following our feelings is that our feelings change. Feelings wear off. What makes us feel good one day isn’t quite as effective the next day. Also, feelings are unreliable. I recently heard of a man saying that he knew that God existed because he didn’t die in a near-drowning mishap when he was young. He based his knowledge of God on this feeling that he had when he was younger. What does that tell grieving fathers and mothers if they had a child who did drown when they were young, or died in any other way? According to his argument, it tells them that God does not exist. We plain and simple cannot follow our feelings or trust them to know the truth.

Following our thinking is no better. We may think this is right and that is wrong; this is fair and that is unfair. However, as we heard in our Old Testament reading, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is. 55:8-9) Our sinful minds cannot comprehend God’s thoughts, and we cannot find truth following our reason.

The only place to find the Truth is Scripture. Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone. We must add the word “alone,” because whatever we add to Scripture takes us away from the Truth.

If we say that we follow Scripture and reason, then we are saying that we believe what God says in His Word only if it makes sense to us. Jesus walked on water? That doesn’t make sense, so obviously, He knew where the rocks were in the water. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead? That doesn’t make sense, so obviously, the people only thought Lazarus was dead. Then really, we are only following our reason, and discarding God’s Word.

If we say that we follow Scripture and our feelings, then we are only following our feelings and discarding God’s Word. It would mean that anytime we feel like God’s prohibitions are unfair, we say that they don’t apply to us. Anytime we feel like doing something God forbids, we come up with excuses for why we’re going to do it anyway.

Second Timothy tells us, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (3:16) All Scripture. We don’t pick and choose what we like. We don’t decide what makes sense and discard what our sinful minds think doesn’t make sense. We can’t decide what we feel is right and wrong. God decides what is right and wrong. He created us and the whole universe, so He makes the rules.

The most important reason why we rely on Scripture alone is because only Scripture tells us the Gospel. Only Scripture tells us that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. Grace is God’s free gift of forgiveness which we receive through faith, which is trust in God’s promises to us. How do we know this? Scripture alone tells us.

From looking at the world, we can conclude that there is a God who is the creator. From our conscience, we can know that we have done things that are wrong, even if we can’t know perfectly what is right and wrong. From history books, we can find out that Jesus died and that many people claimed that He rose from the dead.

However, only Scripture gives us the solution for what ails us. Only Scripture is God’s Word which He has given to us to tell us of His love for us. Only Scripture tells us the reason that Jesus died – to save us from our sins. Only Scripture tells us what Jesus’ resurrection means – the He conquered sin, death, and the grave for us, and now we have the promise of the resurrection of our bodies.

The Bible is not just any other book. The Bible is God’s Word, and God’s Word has power. God’s Word created the heavens and the earth. At His speaking, it was done. God’s strong Word bespeaks you righteous. He pronounces you absolved, and it is done. God’s powerful Word has claimed you as His own in the waters of Baptism, and God’s powerful Word will raise you from the dead when Christ returns. God’s powerful Word gives us the body and blood of Jesus with the bread and wine and will bring us to the eternal feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.

There is a place for feelings and thinking. After all, God created both our emotions and our minds. However, God didn’t give us emotions and minds to decide what is right and what is wrong. He gave us His Word for that reason. Scripture is how we know what is right and what is wrong. Scripture is how we know that despite the wrong we have done, Jesus has made things right. That is why we follow Scripture alone. Amen.

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

The Reformation

Sermon for the Circuit Reformation Day service based on John 8:31-36

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

The Reformation is not the story of Martin Luther. It is not the story of Luther versus the pope. It’s not the story of Germany versus Italy or even of Lutherans versus the Roman Catholics. The Reformation is the story of the freedom of the Gospel versus the slavery of the Law. It is the story of God versus the devil. The Reformation is the story of the truth versus lies. However, the story of the Reformation does include the Roman Catholics, the pope, Martin Luther, and the Lutherans.

The Roman Catholic church of the sixteenth century was no longer the catholic church of the prophets and apostles. The freedom and truth of the Gospel had been lost in most of the church, instead replaced by slavery to the law.

And it’s not the Law of God the Roman Catholics wanted to follow. They abolished the Law of God and invented their own laws. They dreamed up their own laws that they taught earn merit with God. They invented monasticism, pilgrimages, viewing relics, and observing festivals as supposed good works that please God. They touted celibacy, even tearing apart families as a supposed good work, although their monasteries and churches were full of vices and debauchery better left unmentioned.

The invented works of man were held in such high regard, that well-known Roman theologian Thomas Aquinas even said that the monastic profession is equal to Baptism.[1] In other words, he said that leaving society to be a monk at some monastery has the same benefits as Baptism.

As if this were not enough, the Roman Church further taught that those who followed these man-made rules earned so many merit points from God that they could sell them to others. So, the Roman church preyed on weak and despairing people, promising eternal life to them and their loved ones if they gave the church money. The church got rich from stealing from the poor and the widows. They invented a place they named “purgatory” and told grieving families that their dead loved ones were suffering there, burning in the fires of this fake temporary hell. The families were scammed and coerced into giving sums of money to the church to reduce the time their loved ones would suffer in their invented place of torment.

The Roman church thus taught the people to see God as a mean judge and to be afraid Him. Instead of praying to God, the Roman church told people to pray to Mary or other saints. Why would you pray to Jesus if you are afraid of Him? Pray instead to His mother who can put in a good word for you with her son. The Roman church thus turned people away from Jesus as their Saviour.

To those who did believe that the death of Jesus saves us, the Roman Catholic church said, “If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, let him be anathema.”[2] Also, “If anyone says that… the Gospel [is] a bare and absolute promise of eternal life without the condition of observing the commandments, let him be anathema.”[3]

The Roman Catholic church says that if you believe that you are saved by faith alone you are anathema, that is cursed to hell. They say that if you do not believe that you also need to work your way into heaven you are cursed to hell. They say that if you do not believe that by your own power and strength you must work to save yourself, you are going to hell.

Can you image the freedom then, when the Gospel again came to light? When the lies of the pope and the Roman Church were exposed to be nothing more than Satan’s work? When the truth of the Word of God was once again preached, telling the people that the made-up works of the Roman church are nonsense; that you cannot buy forgiveness of sins with money? When the people again heard that their sins are forgiven freely, without cost to us, without any merit or worthiness in us?

The Gospel brought the people out of slavery to the Law to freedom in Christ. With the return to God’s Word, we can see what Jesus was talking about in today’s Gospel reading when He said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The truth of the Gospel sets us free from the Law that we cannot fulfil. I’m not talking about some man-made laws which are utter nonsense. I’m speaking of God’s Law with its demand that we be perfect in thought, word, and deed. The Gospel sets us free from the demands of the Law because the Gospel tells us that Jesus fulfilled what we cannot fulfil. Jesus kept the Law of God perfectly for us since we cannot do it. He took the punishment that we deserve for our sins onto Himself. By His suffering and death on the cross, He paid the price of our sins in full, with no payment remaining for us to make.

We do not need to be afraid of Jesus as if He is a mean judge. He loves us so much that He came to live for us and die for us. He loves us so much that He was judged in our place so that we stand acquitted.

Concerning those who make up their own rules to follow while claiming to be disciples of God, Jesus says, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matt. 15:9)

Concerning those who say the death of Christ is not enough, that we must also work to save ourselves, Scripture teaches that by works of the Law no human being will be justified (Rom. 3:20), but rather we are justified by His grace as a gift (Rom. 3:24), we are justified apart from the works of the Law (Rom. 3:28), and Christ is of no advantage to them because they are again submitting to a yoke of slavery to the Law (Gal. 5:1-2). Galatians 5 says, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” (Gal. 5:4)

There can be no middle ground on this. We cannot tolerate the commandments of men, but must cling to the Word of God. We cannot give any ground to the teaching that we must work to save ourselves. We must cling to the freedom of the Gospel instead of submitting again to a yoke of slavery.

The Lutherans responded to Aquinas and his claim that being a monk is equal to Baptism by saying, “It is madness to put a human tradition, which has neither a command nor a promise of God, on the same level with an ordinance of Christ, which has both a command and a promise of God, and which contains a covenant of grace and eternal life.”[4] You cannot invent some supposed good work and say that God will give you merits if you do it. We must not submit to a yoke of slavery from which we have been freed by Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Son has set us free, so we are free indeed.

We rejoice that with the Reformation the freedom of the Gospel was once again taught and learned. Unfortunately, sin does not lie dormant, but is crouching at the door (Gen. 4:7). In all too many places, the freedom of the Gospel was misunderstood to mean freedom to indulge the flesh.

Luther made official visitations of congregations and writes, “The deplorable, miserable condition which I discovered lately when I, too, was a visitor, has forced and urged me to prepare this Catechism, or Christian doctrine, in this small, plain, simple form. Mercy! Good God, what manifold misery I beheld! The common people, especially in the villages, have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and, alas, many pastors are altogether incapable and incompetent to teach [so much so, that one is ashamed to speak of it]. Nevertheless, all maintain that they are Christians, have been baptized and receive the holy Sacraments. Yet they [do not understand and] cannot [even] recite either the Lord’s Prayer, or the Creed, or the Ten Commandments; they live like dumb brutes and irrational hogs; and yet, now that the Gospel has come, they have nicely learned to abuse all liberty like experts.” (SC Preface)

Friends in Christ, we still live in the time of the Reformation. The Roman Church still denies the Gospel and condemns to hell those who believe it. The Lutheran church still struggles with the abuse of the freedom of the Gospel, as if we are free to do whatever we want because our sins are forgiven. We have nicely learned to abuse all liberty like experts under the guise of the freedom of the Gospel.

We must be clear. We are justified by faith apart from the works of the Law. Our salvation is not because of our works, but solely because of Jesus’ work of salvation.  But we are not to continue in sin so that grace may abound (Rom. 6:1-2). We are not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies, making us obey its passions (Rom. 6:12). By the help of the Holy Spirit we are to put to death the deeds of the body (Rom. 8:13).

This is possible only because God continues to forgive our sin and strengthen our faith through His Word and Sacraments. Our Baptism is a daily reminder that we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, so we will rise from the dead as He rose from the dead. The Lord’s Supper is a regular meal of spiritual nourishment, giving us the forgiveness of sins and strengthening our faith. God has given us His Word in which we abide, so that we know the truth, and the truth sets us free. Since the Son has set us free, we are free indeed. Amen.

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

 

 

 

[1] S Th II, 2, q. 189, a. 3, ad 3

[2] Canons Concerning Justification, Canon 9. Cited from H. J. Schroeder. Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent. (Saint Louis: B. Herder Book, 1960), 43.

[3] Ibid. Canon 20. 44.

[4] Ap XXVII.20

Freedom

Sermon for Reformation Day based on John 8:31-36

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

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, ‘If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered Him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, “You will become free”?’”

Never enslaved to anyone? That simply isn’t true. The offspring of Abraham were enslaved in Egypt by Pharaoh. Pharaoh oppressed them and set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. The Egyptians ruthlessly made the offspring of Abraham to work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service. Pharaoh even commanded that every son born to the offspring of Abraham be murdered by throwing them into the Nile (see Ex. 1-5). The offspring of Abraham had been enslaved to the Egyptians.

The offspring of Abraham were also enslaved by the Assyrians. Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, overran Israelite cities and carried the people captive to Assyria (II Kings 15:29). Shalmaneser V and Sargon II continued the assault and the capital city of Samaria was captured and the offspring of Abraham were enslaved in Assyria (see II Kings 17:3-6).

The offspring of Abraham were later also enslaved to the Babylonians. King Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and took it. All the treasures of the king’s house were taken and the vessels in the Lord’s house were smashed and the Lord’s house was burned to the ground along with the king’s house and every other great house. The offspring of Abraham were taken into exile in Babylon while the poorest were left to work the land for the King of Babylon. The offspring of Abraham had been enslaved to the Babylonians (see II Kings 25).

Finally, even at the time that the Jews said to Jesus that they had never been enslaved to anyone, they were not a free people. The Romans had invaded and taken over the land of the offspring of Abraham. Their land was converted into a Roman province and they were forced to pay taxes to Caesar, the Roman emperor, and to follow Roman laws as Roman soldiers marched their streets. The offspring of Abraham were not free. They were enslaved to the Romans even as they told Jesus that they have never been enslaved to anyone.

But is this the slavery to which Jesus was referring? Was Jesus promising freedom from the Roman occupation by abiding in His Word of truth? No, not at all.

Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” This is the slavery Jesus is talking about – slavery to sin. This is the condition of sinful man from conception whether it is realized or not. As surely as these Jews were blind to their slavery to other kingdoms past and present, so they were blind to their slavery to sin.

We also can be blind to our sin. We can argue that we do our best. We look around and see everyone else’s sin and we figure we’re doing better than them. But the Law doesn’t say “Do your best.” The Law says “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mt. 22:37, 39) Have you or have you not? Have you always put God first in everything? You’ve never doubted God or His will? You’ve never desired something that you don’t have? You’ve never spoken about someone behind their back? You’ve never neglected to help someone in need? You’ve never neglecting hearing and reading God’s Word?

In our Epistle we heard, “Now we know that whatever the Law says it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world held accountable to God.” (Rom. 3:19) God’s Law shuts our mouths and our claims of doing our best. The Law shuts our mouths from our excuses, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) The Law shuts our mouths because we’re guilty. Whoever commits sin is a slave to sin so we’ve got nothing to say. Our excuses fall short. Pointing fingers doesn’t help. Our claims of having done our best are rubbish.

We cannot save ourselves from the slavery of sin any more than the offspring of Abraham could save themselves from their slavery. The Israelites never got themselves out of slavery; they were helpless at the hands of their oppressors. So also, we cannot get ourselves out of slavery to sin; we are helpless at the hands of sin, death, and the devil. They are more powerful than we are.

But Jesus says, “If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” What truth is that? The truth that “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” The truth that if the Son of God sets you free from the slavery of sin, you will be free indeed.

Jesus, the Son of God, has set you free by doing what you cannot do. He fulfilled the entire Law of God with all its legal demands. He left no Law undone. He did what you were supposed to do but could not. Then He died on the cross, taking the punishment of all your sins on Himself. He took your chains and shackles of sin onto Himself. He suffered the punishment of hell for you and in your place. He conquered your enemies of sin, death, and the devil and He set you free.

Your freedom is not your doing. It is a gift. In the words of our Epistle, “We are justified by His grace as a gift.” You are declared righteous and pleasing to God not on account of anything you have done or left undone, but on account of what Jesus has done for you. We are justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.

This truth is what the Reformation was all about. It was about returning to the truth of God’s Word that we are not saved by our own works or merits, but by the work and merit of Jesus.

The Reformation was about correcting the lie that we must do our part in salvation; the lie that we are justified through our works not by grace as a gift. The Reformation was about making the truth of God’s Word known once again. It was a return to Jesus’ words, “If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Jesus says, “You will know the truth.” You will have certainty concerning the truth. You can say it with conviction. It is not an opinion or a feeling. It’s not wishing or thinking. This flies in the face of what the world says about the truth, that there is no way to know what is really true and we can all hold to different so-called “truths” even when they contradict each other. But Jesus says, “You will know the truth.” You will have certainty concerning the truth. You know the truth with confidence because God says it in His own Word; you know the truth because God tells you and He cannot lie. That truth is: if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. You are justified by His grace as a gift. You are justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.

The offspring of Abraham were never able to free themselves from slavery. They were helpless at the hands of the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Romans. God rescued them from slavery in Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea and He has rescued us from the slavery to sin though the waters of Holy Baptism. God rescued the offspring of Abraham from slavery in Babylon by sending Cyrus, king of Persia, to defeat the Babylonians (Is. 44-45; Ez. 1) and God has rescued us from slavery to sin by sending Jesus, His only Son, to defeat our enemies of sin, death, and the devil.

That is the truth of God’s Word. Blindness to your sin does not set you free. Jesus’ death in your place sets you free. Claiming that you’ve never been enslaved to anyone does not set you free. Claiming the merits of Jesus sets you free. Jesus, the Son of God has set you free. Because the Son has set you free, you are free indeed. Amen.

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

Cure for Itching Ears

Sermon for the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost based on II Timothy 3:14-4:5

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

The Holy Spirit prophesied through the Apostle Paul saying, “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.”

That time has come. People do not endure sound teaching. Every excuse is made to ignore what the Bible says. They say that society is so different now, what the Bible says doesn’t apply any more today. They say that you can pick and choose what you want to believe from the Bible. They say that God forgives my sin so I can do whatever I want to do.

If they have a pastor who follows Scripture and says it does still apply today, they leave the church. If they have a pastor who says you cannot pick and choose what you like and dislike in the Bible, they go find a new pastor. If they have a pastor who says they cannot do whatever their sinful flesh wants to do, they go find someone who tells them what they want to hear.

This is what the Holy Spirit is talking about in saying “having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.”

Whatever passion they pursue, they can find someone to say what their itching ears want to hear. Is their passion to pursue after wealth? Then they find a preacher who says God wants them to be rich and he’s going to give them lots of money. Is their passion to pursue sex outside of marriage? Then they find a preacher who tells them marriage was not instituted by God in Paradise but is rather a social construct that they can ignore as they like. Is their passion to pursue feminist desires of women teaching and exercising authority over men? Then they find a preacher who tells them that patriarchy is oppressive to women and God’s designed order of creation means nothing today.

The Bible meanwhile says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Scripture cannot be profitable for teaching if it doesn’t apply any more today. Scripture cannot be profitable for reproof and correction if we’re supposed to follow society instead of God’s Word. Scripture cannot be profitable for training in righteousness if we can choose for ourselves what is right and what is wrong.

Contrary to what some might say, the Word of the Lord endures forever. Isaiah writes that the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord endures forever (Is. 40:8). Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Matt 24:35) Jesus also says, “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matt. 5:18)

The Word of the Lord endures forever. It doesn’t change with the seasons or with the earthly kingdoms that rise and fall. It will not bend to the whims of society or the passions of man. God’s Word doesn’t change according to the passions and desires of man.

What God says is what goes, regardless of what anyone thinks of it. What does Scripture say of those who oppose God and His Word? What does Scripture say concerning those who think they can throw away God’s Word as if it is shackles from which they must free themselves? Scripture says, “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then He will speak to them in His wrath, and terrify them with His fury.” (Ps. 2:4-5)

It doesn’t matter how great the nations and the numbers of those who reject God’s Word. It doesn’t matter if all the nations of the earth rage and plot against God. It doesn’t matter if the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together to overthrow God’s Word. It will come to nothing it will not come to pass. They will be broken with a rod of iron and dashed into pieces like a potter’s vessel (Ps. 2:9). God’s Word will not be overthrown. God’s Word will endure forever.

The fact that God promises that His Word endures forever is actually of great comfort to you. It means that despite the changes in society, God’s promises to you stand fast. It means that despite others chasing what their itching ears want to hear, you hear the Word of God that gives you life.

Because the Word of the Lord endures forever, Christ’s death in your place still stands and will stand forever. Because the Word of the Lord endures forever, your Baptism does not wear out or lose its power, but it also stands forever. Because the Word of the Lord endures forever, He still gives us the true body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins because His institution of the Lord’s Supper still stands.

Only the Word of the Lord is able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Without God’s Word, you would not know of Jesus death for you. Whatever you can learn about God from creation, from your conscience, or through your thinking, the only place you can learn of God’s love for you in Christ Jesus our Lord is the Bible. There is no other place.

That is the primary reason why we treasure God’s precious Word. It is our only hope of salvation. It is the only way we know that the price of our sins has been paid and that we stand as forgiven saints because we are covered by the blood of the Lamb. It is the only way we know that we are adopted children of God through Baptism. It is the only way we know that we are joined in communion with Christ and all the saints of all time and all places as we celebrate the most holy of Suppers.

Sometimes God’s Word might feel like a knock upside the head when it cuts us deep by condemning our sinful passions. It may feel more like shackles than freedom. But God condemns our sins so that we would turn away from them and receive forgiveness. God condemns our sins so that He might rescue us from death and bring us to life. God condemns our sins which are the actual chains and shackles that try to hold us imprisoned.

The world can and does rebel against God. The people can follow their itching ears. But may God keep us in the faith so that we would not rebel against Him. May God strengthen our faith in His Word which endures forever. May God grant us faith to cling to the cross of Christ for mercy, that mercy which is promised us in His Word, which endures forever.

The Word of the Lord endures forever. That means that God’s promises to you endure forever. No matter what the world’s itching ears are listening to today, our ears hear that our sins are forgiven. No matter what the latest trending false teacher is saying, our eternal Saviour gives us His eternal promise of eternal life. No matter the clutter of things to listen to, our ears hear the eternal truth of God’s eternal Word. Amen.

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

Perfectly One

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter based on John 17:20-26

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

Jesus prayed and still prays that His Church would be perfectly one. He doesn’t pray that we would be similar or mostly in agreement or almost completely united. He prays that we would be perfectly one.

Seems pretty far-fetched, doesn’t it? I found 38 Lutheran denominations on an online list in North America alone. It is difficult to determine how many total denominations exist in the world, but it is in the thousands. Some estimate that there are over 33,000 different denominations in the world. I think that estimate is too high, but the point remains the same: the church on earth is divided not united. Certainly not perfectly one.

How can this be? The world looks at the church and says, “Look at all the division! You want me to believe in this Jesus but you can’t even agree on what He says?” It is an offence and a shame and the world is right with such accusations. They don’t know what to believe and we, as the church on earth, are not helping that.

Why are there so many divisions? There’s actually a simple answer to that question. It is because of our sin. It is because people would rather follow anything than what the Bible says. If God’s Word condemns your sin, the sinful flesh would rather dismiss God’s Word as irrelevant in this day and age than repent and turn away from sin. If God’s Word says something hard to understand, human reason would rather dismiss God’s Word as irrational than accept it as true. If God’s Word says something that doesn’t feel right to our sensibilities, our feelings would rather dismiss God’s Word as overly harsh than believe what it says.

There are those think the solution to our divisions is to dismiss and ignore the differences between denominations. They think that diversity in Christian doctrine is a good thing – something like giving people an opportunity to pick their favourite foods from a smorgasbord. That’s certainly not what Jesus prays. Jesus prays that we would all be perfectly one.

Saint Paul exhorts the churches in Corinth saying, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (I Cor. 1:10) Differing opinion on doctrine is not a good thing. It is harmful and sinful. It divides the church.

When Jesus sends His ministers to make disciples of all nations, He says, “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.” (Matt. 28:19-20) Jesus doesn’t tell them to pick and choose what parts of doctrine they are to teach. He doesn’t tell them it’s acceptable to discard those things that people don’t like. Jesus instructs them to teach people to observe all that He has commanded. It is Jesus’ prayer that we are perfectly one.

There certainly are Christians in denominations other than ours. We have never denied that, nor should we. The concern is that denying the clear words of Jesus leads people away from Jesus and puts faith into peril of being lost. If you cannot trust Scripture that Baptism saves, how can you trust Scripture that faith saves? If you cannot trust Scripture that the Lord’s Supper is the true body and blood of Christ, how can you believe Scripture that Jesus gave His body into death and shed His blood for you? If you cannot trust Scripture that an indulgence cannot save you, how can you trust Scripture that Jesus has saved you? There is great danger in denying any matter of doctrine taught in Scripture because it leads you to question whether you can trust Scripture at all.

Of course this is not about finger pointing. Finger pointing gets us nowhere, certainly not to unity. Our primary concern must be what we believe. We must not take matters of doctrine lightly as if it doesn’t matter what we actually believe. We must study Scripture to learn God’s truth. We should study particularly those things in Scripture that our human reason would dismiss as irrational; those things that attack our sensibilities; those things that hit close to home, so that our stubborn sinful wills might be changed by the Word of God to align with God’s good and perfect will; that we would be one as Jesus prays that we would be.

Unity cannot be achieved by ignoring doctrinal differences as we already heard. Force or coercion won’t work either. You cannot force someone to believe anything. The only hope that the church has for unity is the Word of God. The Word of God creates unity. The church cannot create unity. We cannot create fellowship. God creates unity and fellowship; we simply recognize it where it exists. God creates unity through His Word as we learn all that Christ has commanded.

The sad reality is that in this sinful world, we are not likely to have unity in doctrine. Baptists aren’t going to start baptizing babies and Lutherans aren’t going to stop. The United Church won’t start caring about doctrine and we’re not going to stop. The Roman Catholic Church won’t stop granting indulgences and we’re not going to start. The sad reality is that the clear words of Jesus will not be confessed in unity by all. But this is not reason to despair.

Jesus knows His own. He knows those of us who belong to Him in our denomination, and He knows those who belong to Him from every denomination on earth. Jesus isn’t going to cast His sheep aside because they do not understand some matters of doctrine. He’s not going to forsake those who belong to Him because they belong to a church body that is not teaching what He commanded them to teach.

But since the danger remains for those who hear falsehood that they would believe it, Jesus prays that the church would be perfectly one, without division; that the church would be united in all that He has commanded. Thus we also pray that the church would be perfectly one; united in faith and doctrine. We pray that we would be guided in the truth of God’s Word and that God would heal all divisions among us.

Our church body and congregations are also under continual attack by the devil, that is why we see divisions even among us. We see congregations that wander from what we believe and confess, and introduce practices that are unscriptural. We see pastors who seek the easy road and cease teaching all that Jesus commanded. We see that we are not perfectly one.

Let us pray for unity as Jesus prayed for unity. Let us pray that God would make us perfectly one. Let us pray that God would open our eyes to understand His Word so that we would not be misled by false doctrine.

True doctrine is the most comforting thing in the world because it gives us Jesus. The doctrine of Baptism tells us God has made us His children and given us the forgiveness of sins. The doctrine of the Lord’s Supper tells us that Jesus gives us forgiveness and strengthens our faith through His true body and blood. The doctrine of the Gospel tells us Jesus died for our sins and we have the promise of eternal life.

Let us cling to the truth of God’s Word and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it. And let us pray that God would make us perfectly one through His saving Word. Amen.

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