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A Bold, Uncalculated Faith

“The Two Sons” by Eugene Burnand

Click here to listen to this sermon.

23When [Jesus] entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” 24Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell Me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe Him?’ 26But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things”  (Matthew 21:23-27).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

As the national election approaches, we see candidates calculate how they should answer questions. For example: “What is your position on BLM?” The question is simple and yet the process of answering it is complex. Opinion polls have given a demographic picture of how certain answers will affect voting. So, the candidates are careful, calculated, in how they respond. Those who oppose the movement don’t want to be seen as racist. Those who support BLM don’t want it to be thought they support riots and violence.

The phenomenon does not just play out in politics. Businesses make important decisions, based not upon established principles or code of ethics, but what is best for the bottom line. Some add lip service to the latest social justice cause because they’re afraid of current cancel culture. For most of us, this calculation happens in our daily lives as well. In a toxic on-line environment, Facebook profiles and timelines are carefully curated. We learn to keep our most controversial comments and provocative posts to ourselves to avoid conflict. In a tense social situation, conversation is carefully monitored. We self-censor: “If I say this, then they will think this or do that, so I better say this instead.”

We live in a land of calculated responses. Which might seem necessary in the everyday work-a-day world but can be dangerous to our faith. We become so concerned we might offend someone when we confess what we believe that having a true conversation about faith is rare.

Now, such calculated measures of communicating are to be expected in politics. As a matter of fact, candidates who don’t have this kind of filter disturb a lot of people—even their own campaign staff and supporters. And, if we are wise, we will also be discerning in our everyday conversations and social media interaction. But, in matters of our faith, we must not be calculating, but bold.

Which is why I love this Gospel for today. Jesus invites us to practice a faith that is bold. He invites us to trust in Him, without calculations. You see, there is a difference between believing something because it brings about a particular result in your life and believing something regardless of the results it will bring.

Let me give you an example that Jonathan Fisk uses in his book Without Flesh. Imagine you are shown a folder that presents study after study done by reputable, world-class companies. These studies demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that preaching the texts of the Bible in today’s market conditions guarantees the emptying of the pews of your congregation. One hundred percent. There is no debate. The evidence is irrefutable. Jesus’ actual words not only will not grow your church—they will shrink it.

This is hypothetical, of course. There isn’t this kind of proof. But I want you to consider it a possibility for the sake of this question: If it were shown to be true, what would you do? Would you want the Scriptures preached anyway? It means your church will soon close. Do you still want to stand firm?

Now, let’s up the ante.

What if there was another folder? In this folder, there is further clear proof that this same tactic will not only empty your pews but will also put you on your government’s watch lists. It shows that clinging to the Bible’s words will not only put your local congregation in danger, but it will also threaten your mortgage. Your spouse’s ability to receive health care.

What if I showed you proof that continuing to attend your church’s services could reasonably get you killed? Would you still go? Would you still insist that the Scriptures be preached? Clearly? Irrevocably? Isn’t it amazing that this is a question that can even give us pause as we consider it?

Jesus invites us to believe in Him, regardless of the results that will follow.

We go back to Tuesday of Holy Week. “The last full working-day of our Lord’s public ministry to Israel ha[s] arrived… It [is] the busiest day of His life. It [is] His last day in the Temple, the last day of His teaching, the last warning He [gives] the Pharisees and Sadducees, and His last call to national repentance” (Fahling, quoted by Buls). Representatives of the Sanhedrin come to Jesus with a double question. What right does He have to preach as He does, do the miracles He did, enter Jerusalem as He did, cleanse the temple as He did? Furthermore, who gave Him this authority?

It is a blasphemous question because they already know the answer. Several months earlier, Jesus had told them, but they refused to believe (John 10:22-26). Now, the Sanhedrin—these chief priests and elders—have a perfect right to check on the religious life of the people and to question a religious teacher. But, on this occasion, the question is plainly malicious, which becomes clear as they proceed. They want to trap Jesus and thus bring a charge against Him. They reject His divine commission. And they expect Him to restate it as He did often before.

To their surprise, Jesus asks them a counter-question instead. It is by no means an evasion nor is Jesus turning them off. His answer is contingent on their answer. The true answer to Jesus’ question is also the true answer to the question of the religious authorities: “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?”

Three years prior, the chief priests and the elders had sent a delegation to John asking about his person and his baptism. He gave them clear answers. All the people knew precisely what the mission of John was—He pointed to the Savior Who was about to fulfill all of God’s Messianic promises. His message was identical to that of Jesus. Here, in holy week, these religious leaders already know the correct answer to Jesus’ question.

But they are not concerned about truth. Rather than answer immediately, they need to calculate before they respond. Notice they do not take the time to discuss what they believe, but what the polls indicate. That is, they do not discuss whether John was sent from God or not. Instead, they discuss the merits of what happens if they say they believe one thing or another. Faith, for them, is a calculated social posture. What they truly believe doesn’t matter. What matters is what happens when they appear to believe one thing or another.

So they discuss it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” In other words, “If we say, ‘from heaven,’ we’ll have to admit we’ve been wrong. We’ll lose face with the people. If we say, ‘from men,’ the crowd will have our skin.” What is decisive for them is not the truth, but the consequences involved in the two possible answers they could give. So, they answer Jesus, “We do not know.” And He says to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

They seek to entrap Jesus with calculated questions, He entraps them in their practice of a calculated faith. Though He “wins” the exchange, Jesus cannot be happy with the result. Jesus is not just engaging in a “power play” to ward off His enemies. If they had answered His question, they would have had their answer to Who He is and what He has come to do. Jesus’ question really is a call to repentance, an eleventh-hour invitation to believe in Him as Savior.

As social disapproval of Christianity grows in our nation, we are tempted to live a calculated faith as well. We feel the need to be careful when we share what we believe. Jesus, however, shows us where those who have a calculated faith end up: Trapped. They are unable to confess because of the complicated social situation and, therefore, unable to follow the Savior who comes to lead them into His kingdom of grace.

To such people, Jesus speaks a parable, a parable about words and deeds. The one son who calculates and says the right thing (“I will go and work”) is judged. Why? Because his relationship with his father is a matter of calculation. It is about saying the right words in the right moment. But his actions do not back up his words. He is a poser, a hypocrite.

For Jesus, faith is more than having the correct calculated response. Jesus does not want us to say we believe when we do not, to say we care for the poor when we do not, to say we honor marriage when we do not, to say we speak truthfully when we do not. Jesus has come to free us from the game of calculated responses. Instead, He invites us to follow Him. To live with Him in a freely given life of faithful response.

What does that look like? Jesus offers us a glimpse. He points to the tax collectors and prostitutes who are following Him. These are people that no one would expect to be children of God. Their lives are an open testimony against the will of their heavenly Father. But, by the power of the Spirit, something happens. They hear a call to repent and they do. They hear a call to follow and they do. Jesus brings a Word into this world that awakens people to life. It frees us from the games of calculated confessions and opens for us a life of uninhibited response.

In Jesus, God has entered our sin and by His death brought about forgiveness and by His resurrection given us a new life. This new life is transparent about who we are in the kingdom of God. We are not here by our own merit. We are here by grace and grace alone. Our lives then become an open witness to the grace of God and the work of Christ.

Tax collectors and prostitutes are suddenly role models in the kingdom. Those whom no one would associate with are suddenly leading the way into the kingdom of God. Why? They have experienced the working of God, the call to repentance, and they have responded in faith. It is not calculated faith, but simply faith. Faith that is not ashamed to be honest about one’s life and to believe the good news of God that one is forgiven for Christ’s sake, not for what one has said or done but for what has been done and said for you in Christ.

Christ has died and risen for you. He forgives you your sin and claims you as His own. This is the source of your life. Boldly make this confession, regardless of what follows.

We do not follow Jesus based on a calculation of the benefits. Rather, we follow because He is Jesus, our Savior. He forgives us our sin. He gives us a new life, a free life, a transparent life, a bold life, an uncalculated authentic life in Him.

So, go and speak and live as children of God. Not calculating what will happen to you in this world if you say you believe but believing regardless of what happens to you because by believing you have life in His name. Go in peace and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Based on an article by David Schmitt, published on Craft of Preaching, //www.1517.org/articles/gospel-matthew-2123-27-28-32-pentecost-21-series-a

Sermons, Uncategorized

Seek the Lord While He May Be Found

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Unless the Lord shall return in your lifetime, the day will come when you will no longer be able to join with your brothers and sisters to worship here in the presence of the Lord. It could be because you decide one day, for one reason or another, that you’re not going, and you just never make it back. You might become ill or incapacitated and no longer able to make it to worship.

Though it once seemed impossible, it’s also not so hard to imagine the day may come when you cannot join with your brothers and sisters in the presence of the Lord because no one will let you worship here, perhaps because of health mandates or because what we teach here does not meet with “established community standards.”

Or it could be that you can no longer join with your brothers and sisters in Christ because this congregation is closed. Congregations, like people, have lifespans. None of them (or us, as individuals) will go on forever. And as we’re all aware: the fewer people who gather with their brothers and sisters to worship in the presence of the Lord, the harder it is for a congregation to continue.

Which brings us to the final reason why you would no longer be able to join with your brothers and sisters to worship in the presence of the Lord: you have “shuffle[d] off this mortal coil,” you’ve kicked the bucket,” you’re “pushing up daisies,” you’re dead. At this point, you can’t do anything, certainly not seek the Lord!

Now, here’s the thing: most of these scenarios you don’t have much control over or say about. You can take the best care of yourself, but you can still get ill, become incapacitated, or die. Someone could make it difficult (even impossible) for you to gather with your fellow believers in the presence of the Lord. But you can make sure that you seek the Lord while He may be found; you can be certain that you call upon Him while He is near. You see, the Lord is not hiding from you. Neither is He lost. He wants you to seek Him. He wants to be found. He actually finds you and places Himself in a place or position so you will see Him because you do not have the natural ability to turn to God. He has to, because you can’t, you won’t.

Luther has it right: “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.”[i] God can be found by humans only by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of the Gospel. In the Gospel, the Lord comes near.

In face of stubborn resistance to Him and His Word, God, however, does withdraw His Gospel at times. Jesus withdrew Himself from those who openly opposed Him. His withdrawal meant a severe judgment upon them because His absence removed their opportunity to repent. On his missionary journeys, Paul would first visit the Jewish synagogues to share the Gospel, but as opposition arose, he would leave and go to the Gentiles. God urges sinners to seek Him before their rejection prompts His departure.

Through His prophet, the Lord urges sinners to turn away from their wicked ways and turn to Him. For the one who does so, the Lord pledges to have compassion on the sinner and to pardon him abundantly. The words hold out the bright jewel of forgiveness for the grimy, stained hands of every sinner to grasp. What a comfort to every sinner! God looks tenderly upon sinners and, because of Christ, forgives us!

This sounds too good to be true. It doesn’t make sense to sinful human reason. No wonder: For 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” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

The connecting link between this and the previous verses are the words thoughts and ways. God speaks again and declares the superiority of His thoughts to those of any and every human. Like God, His thoughts are holy and righteous, just and merciful. The ways and thoughts of humans are wicked and evil by nature. Moses writes about the times of Noah: “The Lord saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Over the centuries nothing has changed. Jesus says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19).

Besides the problem of sin, human thoughts and ways are limited by time, space, and other factors. No one, in a lifespan of 70 or 80 or even 100 years should expect to be able to learn what God, who is eternal and all-knowing, knows. No one who can be in only one place at one time should expect to have the knowledge of an infinite, omnipresent God. But this text gets us deeper into the profound difference between God and humanity. Our natural perverse nature struggles against God. All thoughts that flow from us are nothinglike God’s thoughts. The deepest thinkers of the ages cannot achieve the high and lofty ways of God or understand God. Left alone and without God’s Word, no human can imagine that God would send a Savior to die for unworthy sinners. God’s grace remains a mystery to human intelligence and research. Yet God does make it known to us in His Word.

Even the way God works in the human heart lies beyond the human imagination. The Holy Spirit works the miracle of conversion through the Gospel—simple words that announce forgiveness and life through Christ. The Word is powerful. For God’s dealing with men and women, the Word is everything. Yet words appear so weak and ineffective—only sounds that travel through the air to an ear or a series of lines on a page or screen perceived by our eyes. But God’s ways are higher than ours. God’s way works through the words of the Gospel not only to convert sinners but to strengthen us and preserve our faith against the many temptations and distractions in this life. Simple words that announce God’s love for sinners have more power than all human ways and thoughts because God’s Word changes the heart and offers life and forgiveness to all believers.

God is seeking sinners, so that they would repent of their sins because God wants to forgive sinners—sinners like you and me. He wants us to seek Him and His forgiveness and to call upon Him in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving while He is still near to us. If God departs from us, we are in seriously deep spiritual trouble. What does this mean? It means that, if we do not seek the Lord where and while He is found, we are in danger of spending eternity in hell. We risk eternal condemnation when we do not seek Him where He is found.

Where God is found is where He has willingly bound Himself for our sake. God, who is without limits, has put Himself in a box, so to speak. God, who is infinite and omnipresent, has freely and willingly bound Himself to His Word and Sacraments. It is there and nowhere else that the Lord is to be found giving His gifts. This is sure, certain, and iron-clad guarantee, for God has promised this to us in His Word. When it comes to our souls, we need certainty.

When we look elsewhere for Him, somewhere He has not promised to be found, we have doubt, and doubt is never a good thing where our salvation is concerned. When we look somewhere else for God instead of where He has promised to be, we are telling God that we don’t think His gifts are good enough for us, that we want Him to deal with us on our terms, not His.

We’ve heard the excuse; we may have made these excuses ourselves: “You don’t have to go to church to worship God.” We may think we can worship God when we’re on the lake or when we’re out camping. If this is true, then how do you hear your sins are forgiven? Remember that St. Paul tells us that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. Out in nature, we can see the beauty of God’s creation, but we don’t hear the forgiveness of our sins. Though God, in is everywhere, He has not promised to be everywhere with His grace and mercy but points us to where He may be found—in His means of grace.

We may also think, “We can hear the Word of God when we’re watching Main Street Living or the service streamed on Facebook.” While such media may be helpful for the short-term, and I thank God that we have them available to us, they are not meant to be a long-term substitute for our being in the Lord’s house, especially if one is physically able to be here. Our Christian faith is meant to be shared in community. While God’s Word can be received in many forms, one cannot receive the body and blood of Christ virtually.

For those not able to come because of health concerns or complications of age, the Church has an obligation to go to them, as their pastors have the charge to bring them the Word and the Lord’s Supper. If you find yourself or a loved one in this situation, please give me a call so we can figure out a way to best meet your spiritual needs according to your circumstances. This important to your spiritual well-being!

In Isaiah’s day, the Lord was found where He promised to be—in the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was the place that God promised to be with His people as long as they sought the Lord and listened to His Word. There, He promised to hear their prayers and forgive their sins. Sadly, they often did not seek the Lord or call on His name, and Isaiah’s call in our text was just one of many pleas the Lord made through His prophets over the years for His people to return to Him. Time and again, they refused to listen. They refused to repent. They refused to turn from their wicked ways.

Finally, God sent His Son. Jesus lived a perfect obedient life in our place. He fulfilled the Law, loving the Lord with all His heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving His neighbor as Himself. He gave Himself into death on the cross, exchanging His righteousness for your and my sin. Three days later, He rose from the dead, giving us the certain hope of eternal life. As He ascended to the right hand of the Father, He promised: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).

Where is He now? Here. With us. Always. As we gather with our brothers and sisters around His Word and Sacraments.

Jesus has promised that “where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). He is right here now as we gather in His name and Word. He speaks to us through the voice of His called and ordained servant in the Absolution. In His Supper, He feeds us with His true body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith.

In these means of grace, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. In these means of grace, the holy, righteous Lord comes to you in mercy and compassion with pardon and peace. So, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).

Indeed, for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[i] Luther, M. (1991). Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

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Government: God’s Good Servant and Avenger of Wrath

The Apostle Paul Explains the Tenets of Faith in the Presence of King Agrippa,
His Sister Berenice, and the Proconsul Festus” by Vasily Surikov

Click here to listen to this sermon.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:1-4).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

The IRS. CDC. FBI. DHS. City Hall. County Courthouse. The Mayor. The Governor. The President. Your Congressman or Congresswoman. Your Senator. Make America Great Again. Black Lives Matter. De-fund the Police. Words like these can stir up a beehive of feelings—frustration, disappointment, betrayal, distrust, oppression. With the flames of Minneapolis, Portland, and many other cities flickering on our screens, after months of living under executive orders and mandates, it’s remarkable to us today that St. Paul wrote this little paragraph about being subject to the ruling authorities. Many today take it for granted that government officials of any level are not to be trusted.

Many Christians—on both sides of the political aisle—take it for granted that governments are corrupt and dehumanizing and that it is part of our marching orders as followers of King Jesus that we should offer serious criticism and opposition even, if necessary, at any cost to our personal prospects.

Sadly, this paragraph has been used—and abused—by many people in power as a way of telling their subjects to keep their mouths shut and step in line even in the face of flagrant abuse. But when we put these verses back into their context, right here in the letter, we start to see what Paul is getting at. He has just said, strongly and repeatedly, that private vengeance is forbidden for Christians.

This does not mean, on the one hand, that God does not care about evil or, on the other, that God wants society to collapse into chaos where the bullies do what they like and get away with it. In fact, even in places where people hate the authorities and fear the police, when someone commits a serious crime, everyone affected by it wants the authorities to find the culprit and administer justice. That is a basic, and correct, human instinct. We do not want to live by the law of the jungle. We want to live in an ordered, properly functioning society.

This is almost all Paul is saying, making the point as he does so that the Christians, who were regarded as the scum of the earth, might not get an additional reputation as troublemakers. No good will come to the cause of the Gospel by followers of Jesus being regarded as crazy dissidents who will not cooperate with the most basic social mechanisms. Paul believes Jesus really is the true Lord of the world and His followers should not pick unnecessary quarrels with the lesser lords in His name and in the name of His bride, the Church.

If we followers of Christ become known as lawless rebels concerning the authorities, then what will a watching world think of us with respect to obedience to Christ Himself? True, we are indeed a revolutionary community, but if we go for the normal violent and lawless revolution, then we will be playing the Empire game on Empire terms and that is always a losing proposition for the Gospel.

But, while making this point, Paul is making one or two others of great interest. To begin with, he declares that the civic rulers and authorities have been put in place by God Himself. This would be news to Nero and the other emperors, who believed (or claimed to believe) in their own divinity, certainly that they held power in their own right rather than as a gift from the One Creator God, who was, in fact, their sovereign. They would have laughed at such a suggestion.

Christians are called to believe, though, that the civic authorities are there because the one true Lord wants His world to be ordered, not chaotic. This does not validate particular actions or governments. We retain the right to make bad decisions and vote for bad officials and pass bad laws which we enforce badly. God is not at fault for our faults. Rather, it is merely to say that some government is always necessary in a world where evil flourishes when unchecked.

Of course, Paul knew that quite often one might do the right thing and find the rulers doing the wrong thing. You only have to read the stories of his exploits in Acts to see that. But notice in those stories that, precisely when the authorities are getting it all wrong and acting illegally or unjustly, Paul has no hesitation in telling them their proper business and insisting they should follow it. Hardly the way to become popular, but completely consistent with what he says here.

In saying this, Paul was standing within the Jewish tradition and developing it in light of the Gospel. The Old Testament had denounced pagan nations and their rulers, but some of the prophets whose rebukes were fiercest also told Israel that God was working through the pagan nations and rulers for Israel’s long-term good. God, the only true and living Lord, was, in fact, sovereign over all the nations, even as the pagan nations and their rulers, were wicked, idolatrous, immoral, and dangerous for Israel. It was precisely this tension that came to its head when Jesus stood before the Roman governor and declared that, even though Pilate was about execute Him, the power by which he did it had come from God in the first place.

It is a profound truth: there is no authority except that which God has established. God’s overriding concern in establishing governments is to bless us with an orderly and peaceful existence, hence it is the duty of God’s agents to encourage and commend those who do right. But when the peace is jeopardized by lawbreakers, God’s representatives need to step in to restore order and punish evildoers. Earthly leaders are God’s servants for good, His avengers of wrath.

Now, I think it’s valuable to explain this text—and it’s fitting as we’re just a couple of months away from another election. At the same time, though, a sermon is to preach Law and Gospel. My task, as a preacher, is not to give you a civics or history lesson, but to show you your sin, call you to repentance, and then declare that Christ has died for your sin.

The Law for this day may seem mundane, only because it is broken so often and so easily. We live in angry, cynical times. We are troubled as a nation by upheaval. News reports detail scandal after scandal among politicians, substituting rumor and “unnamed sources” when the news day is slow. There’s little trust in elected officials, and lots of calls to “drain the swamp” or “burn the whole thing down.” Political debate is reduced to name-calling and mudslinging.

Now, I’m not naïve. I’m aware of corruption and trouble in the government. I know about immorality among politicians, both in their personal lives and in legislation proffered. As a citizen, I’ve got a few opinions. But I’m not in the pulpit as a citizen; rather, I’m here as a called and ordained servant of the Word. And the Word says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

Therefore, says the Word, exercise Christian care in how you treat those placed in authority. You’ll be tempted to be angry that the officer is pointing the radar gun in your direction when you’re in a school zone, running late. You’ll find that glee comes easy when a politician you don’t care for gets his or her comeuppance. These are the times in which we live.

But this is not just about human contests for power. To be angry at one in authority is to be angry at one whom God has placed there for your wellbeing. To wish ill on one in authority is to wish ill on God’s servant for your good. To hold them in contempt or be gleeful at their downfall is to rejoice in the downfall of God’s instrument. For such sins, repent.

Furthermore, pray for these authorities, whether you agree with them or not. Pray that they might resist temptation and act with integrity. Pray that they might repent of positions which contradict Scripture and that they would act in love for those they serve. Pray that they and their families might be spared trouble and trial. And remember: Their failures no excuse for you to disobey God’s Word. Where you fail to pray for authorities, and instead choose contempt and scorn, repent. And where you find the laws of the land to be disagreeable to you, keep them anyway. For such sins, even sins of thought, repent. They are sins against those whom God has appointed for your good; and thus, they are sins against God.

That may sound crazy, because we set high standards for God’s representatives in the Church, in the kingdom of the right hand. If pastors are guilty of the same actions as many politicians, we rightly remove them. But we are speaking of the kingdom of the left, for governing this world; and God, in His wisdom, appoints an interesting collection, many of whom choose to abuse the office. In fact, who ruled the Roman Empire at the time Paul wrote this epistle? That would be Nero, an evil tyrant if ever there was one—and one who martyred Christians in all sorts of gruesome ways. Yet, what did Paul write? Be subject, pay taxes, accord honor. Nero was placed there by God, though his evil was his own doing—not the Lord’s. Yet Paul, by inspiration of God, commanded honor.

And who issued the death sentence on no less than Jesus? A weaselly Roman ruler named Pontius Pilate; yet Jesus, the all-powerful Son of God, acknowledged that Pilate was put in that office by God and submitted Himself to Pilate’s authority (John 19:11). And what did Pilate do with his authority? He unjustly put the Son of God to death on the cross. But rather than draw His sword, the Son of God willingly suffered and died. And yet, that death is your salvation. Despite the evil of man, God used this for your redemption. Christ Jesus bore your sins to the cross and died with them there, so that you might have everlasting life.

In this Gospel, you rejoice. The authorities of this world are fallen sinners, subject to failure and unable to keep even the promises they mean to. Jesus Christ, your eternal king, is without sin. He promises to you that He will deliver you, and He keeps His promises. While the criticism of many authorities today is that they are out of touch, it is not so with your Savior. He promises, “where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). He is in the midst of you today by His Word and by His Supper.

Jesus does not come into your midst to take from you, but to give—to give you grace by His Word of Holy Absolution, to give you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins. He does not come to you with power and sword to give orders and say, “If you obey these laws, then you can be My people.” He comes in grace and says, “I have obeyed the laws for you where you could not; and by My obedience and My death I have made you My people.”

And where many rulers fall prey to the temptation of believing that they exert power over others for personal gain, the Son of Man—the King of Kings!—continues to serve you with grace and mercy, even as He came in the flesh not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. He gave Himself into death to appease God’s wrath for sin. He truly is the Servant for good!

Because Jesus has given His life as a ransom for you, your sins are forgiven and the kingdom of heaven is yours. As long as you are on this earth, He appoints rulers to keep order and punish evil, some of whom will do better than others. For these you pray, and to these you accord the honor due. But no matter what happens in this world, you know this world is not the end. The kingdom of heaven is yours forever because you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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A Short Step from Rock to Stumbling Block

“The Protestations of St. Peter” by James Tissot

Click here to listen to this sermon.

But [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, “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” (Matthew 16:23).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

It’s a short step from “Rock” to “Stumbling Block,” from “blessed” to “Satan.” Just ask St. Peter. In last week’s reading, Peter spoke for the rest of the disciples by confessing Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus commended this confession, identifying the Father as its source and its truth as the foundation of the Church’s endurance. In other words, Peter got Jesus right. Jesus pronounced Peter blessed and called him Petros, “Rock.” But now, just five verses later Jesus calls him Satan, and says he is a skandalon, a stumbling block to Jesus and His ministry. What changed? To find out, let’s review the narrative.

The time has come for Jesus to reveal His mission to His disciples. The Father has just shown Peter and the others that Jesus is, in fact, the unique Son of God and the Anointed One Jesus has promised to them a future in which He will build His Church and use them to unlock access to the reign of heaven (Matthew 16:17-19). Now it is time to show them what that will require of Him and them.

Jesus speaks frankly to the disciples about His imminent suffering and death. He has surely spoken of these things before, but the disciples have not really understood. They do not understand what Jesus tells them here either, but in due time they will understand. Nevertheless, at this time, it is necessary for Jesus to go on record as being fully aware of the suffering and death He will soon endure, and also to speak of His resurrection on the third day. It must be clear that Jesus knows what He faces and that He willingly endures it all. He is a willing sacrifice for all our sins, not a helpless victim of the schemes of evil men.

Jesus’ ministry evokes many reactions, including the hatred and opposition of influential people in Israel. Arrayed against Him are the likes of Herod Antipas (Matthew 14:1-2), Galilean Pharisees (Matthew 12:2, 14, 26), Jerusalem Pharisees and scribes (Matthew 15:1), and Sadducees as well (Matthew 16:1). Always before, when the opposition has arisen, Jesus has chosen to withdraw to avoid conflict. Now, however, He declares that He must confront His enemies in Jerusalem, the city where the Messiah of Israel, should be rightly received with faith and acclaimed with joy, but where He must die. The powerful men in the holy city will inflict many pains on Him, and He will be killed. Sin and rebellion will have its way. Jesus will die and He gives His life as the ransom payment for many (Matthew 20:28).

This is all too much for Jesus’ disciples to comprehend. Peter takes Jesus aside, and begins to rebuke Him: “Far be it from You, Lord!” Peter says. “This shall never happen to You!” Peter’s intentions are good. But His denial confirms the old saying: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Peter cannot bear to think of such terrible things happening to his Lord. But he speaks without considering the ramifications. The man who just acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, now presumes to contradict Jesus’ very plain words.

A moment earlier, Jesus commended Peter’s confession of faith. He called him Petros, “Rock,” and pronounced him blessed. Now, Jesus rebukes him sternly, even addressing him as Satan. This is appropriate because Peter is now saying essentially what Satan told Jesus during those forty days of temptation in the wilderness. Forget the obedience and suffering, seize the glory now. This is no ordinary but well-meaning confusion on Peter’s part. His words show that he is taking his stand against the Lord and against His Anointed. There are two ways to think about God’s activity in the world, and Peter has chosen to think and articulate the satanic way, that is to say, “the things of men” (Matthew 16:23).

When Jesus calls the apostle a skandalon, or “stumbling block,” that term refers to a crooked stick in a trap to which bait would be attached. An animal going for the bait would spring the trap and be captured or killed. In the same way, Peter is setting a trap for Jesus. If Jesus steps into that trap, His whole mission of redeeming the world will be aborted. The rebuke Jesus speaks to Peter is in order, and it is important for the other disciples to hear it, too. They have not said what Peter said but have thought what Peter thinks.

In mere moments, Peter goes from “Rock” to “Stumbling Block”, from “blessed” to “Satan.” What changed? The promise of suffering. Peter’s resistance to suffering is so strong, and so natural to his fallen nature, that he is willing to rebuke the very Son of God he just confessed. In addition to contradicting Jesus (which is never a good idea), Peter’s opposition prevents him from considering the resurrection. Jesus is clear. Not only will He suffer and be killed, but He will “on the third day be raised.” But Peter finds no comfort in the promise of the resurrection. He is too disturbed by the suffering.

Isn’t that how it works for us, too? It’s hard to get past the suffering. Most of us have learned that life—even Christian life—involves a certain amount of anguish and affliction. But this knowledge does not make the experience of suffering any easier, and it does not make the desire to avoid suffering any less intense. For this reason, Peter stands again this week as a model Christian. Unfortunately, he is not the type of model to emulate. Peter puts on display our shared determination to avoid suffering at all costs—both for ourselves and those we love. This does not sit well with Jesus.

Jesus reminds His disciples what they must expect as they follow Him. They have long since committed themselves to following Jesus, but they seem to forget what that involves. So He tells them, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).

This verse is the heart and summary of Jesus’ teaching. He speaks these  words because His disciples have badly misconstrued the character of God’s work in the world. They still do not know what it will mean for God to reign through His Anointed One and what it will mean for Christ to accomplish the work that He has been sent to do. God’s work will entail the seeming defeat of the Christ. He will not go to Jerusalem in triumph, but rather, He will suffer there and be killed.

This speaks volumes about the nature of the world as well as the plan of God in Christ to reclaim the world and reign over it in grace. The world is filled with violent men. All, by  nature, are such, and all such would seek to snatch away the kingdom of God and destroy it. To be sure, God is King, and in Jesus, His reign has broken into the creation. The mighty deeds and authoritative Word of Jesus have demonstrated that full well. In the unexpected way of God, however, this same Jesus must yield to those who oppose Him and suffer the unjust fate of vicarious suffering and death. Only in so doing, by God’s design, can God’s people, all people, and all creation be saved from sin and its henchman, death.

After dying, Christ will rise to eternal life, and this sequence can neither be changed nor interrupted. Those who belong to Jesus will follow in this world the same sequence and path—first the cross, then glory. Death first, then resurrection.

The first and primary obstacle to such following, however, comes not from the world around, but from within. The enemy lies within the heart of every disciple. So Jesus’ call begins: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). Even as the “things of men” are allied against God’s plan in Jesus, within each person who would be a disciple is the “world” in microcosm, which must be rejected. This reality is so prevalent and deeply rooted in the corrupt human nature that Jesus says a person must “deny himself.” This is the opposite of what Peter has just done. Instead of saying no to himself, Peter has just said no to Jesus.

There probably is no limit to the specific applications of what it means to deny oneself as Jesus commands. There are so many sinful desires in our hearts! The context of Matthew 16, however, emphasizes two related tendencies that are alive and well in every fallen human creature, who, by God’s gracious invitation, wants to be Jesus’ disciple.

The first tendency is to think—and insist—that God’s way of dealing with the world and its evil should conform to our way, that is, a way of power and success. We reason: If evil really is evil, should not God, the omnipotent Creator of all things, simply come forth in might and overcome it? Moreover, shouldn’t Jesus’ disciples be allowed to be participants in such work, separating wheat from chaff and uprooting the sons of the evil one (Matthew 13:28)?

God’s mysterious answer is, simply, no. The Christ Himself will not deal with the world in that way—at least not yet. To deny ourselves means that we will not assume or believe that God’s way of working in the world will conform to our expectations or definitions of success or efficiency or glory.

The second tendency, related to the first, is for a disciple to insist that God work in humanly powerful ways, so that the disciple desires to exercise power over others, especially over fellow disciples, so that he can accomplish what he believes should be done. Living in each disciple is that dark conviction that can destroy unity and do untold damage to the cause and name of Christ: “Put me in charge, and I’ll set things right.” This conviction can take the forms of ambition, a disguise considered good, even in the Church. It readily sprouts forth as criticism, competition, and one-upmanship. More introverted sinners might choose to worship Lord Self wit quiet, prideful comparison in which one doesn’t actually do anything, but merely demeans a brother or sister. Ambition, comparison, and criticism are all ways of embracing and exalting oneself, rather than denying oneself.

The way of Jesus, however, is the way of humble obedience and submission to the will of Another. When first confronted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11), Jesus set aside His own power (Matthew 4:3-4) as well as the presumption that His Father’s powerful provision would rescue Him from reckless independence (Matthew 4:5-7). Instead, Jesus chose the way of service and obedience and suffering for the sake of Israel and the world. Now He calls every Christian to look at the darkness within, at the desire for power over others, and to deny that desire whenever and wherever it shows itself. Let us deny ourselves and take up our cross.

This is not some terrible task; this is the life of the Christian. By the Law of God, we know what our old sinful nature is like, with all of its selfish tendencies. By the grace of God, we deny ourselves—we deny our sinful selves the authority and respect the Old Adam desires. We declare to the Lord that we naturally follow our own will, not His, and we pray that He would forgive us for the sake of His crucified Son.

We say this, though often in different words. Words like, “I, a poor miserable sinner confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You.” We sing, “Lord have mercy upon us,” and “O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us,” praying that He—who died for our sins—would forgive us.

He does! You hear the truth proclaimed in words like these: “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins.” The pastor announces that Jesus forgives you! Furthermore, he traces a cross toward you as he says them, to convey this awesome truth: You are forgiven because Christ has died your death on the cross, and He has shared His death with you in Holy Baptism. His cross is your cross! This is the cross that you bear! St. Paul makes that clear in Galatians 2: “ I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (v. 20). He also says in Romans 6, “We were buried therefore with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Jesus had placed His cross and His victory over sin upon you, and that is the cross you bear.

And that is why Luther advises us to draw that cross upon ourselves each morning and evening, as we rise and go to sleep with prayer, that we might constantly remember that we bear His cross—that we have died with Him to sin. And because He pours out His grace and gives us faith, we daily confess our selfish sinfulness, put it to death once again, and live as His forgiven people.

So, like St. Peter, we cling to the Word of our Lord—the Word of Christ, the Son of the living God who suffered many things, died, and rose again. Oh, rejoice to deny yourselves and confess your sins, for you do so knowing that the Lord has died to set you free from your selfish, sinful nature that seeks to kill you forever. And you rejoice, all the more, knowing that the Lord has died your death and made His cross your cross; and that He gives His cross and life to you in His Word and His Sacraments. You will battle your sinful self each day, but the Lord is present with His grace; and you are forgiven for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sermons, Uncategorized

The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail

“The Protestations of St. Peter” by James Tissot

Click here to listen to this sermon.

[Jesus said:] And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

It may be the case, that as Jesus meets with His disciples near Caesarea Philippi, He is geographically farther away from Jerusalem than at any other time in His earthly ministry. The town was about twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee, at the base of Mount Hermon. That’s around 100 miles from Jerusalem, a long trip in the day when just about every land journey was completed on foot.

Whether or not Matthew intends the geographical perspective of distance and separation to highlight how far apart the religious establishment in Jerusalem is from Jesus, the comparison is certainly applicable. It is also true that the religious leaders of Jerusalem would have looked down on the inhabitants of this area that had been the northernmost region of the nation of Israel in its heyday, with much the same perspective that the political class and cultural elites of our country look on SW Minnesota as “flyover country.” They couldn’t believe that anything good or worthwhile would ever come from or happen there.

As Jesus has journeyed from the town to town, region to region, the constant theme has been the various answers to the question: “What do you think of Jesus?” In Galilee, religious leaders and crowds alike do not know how to answer that question rightly. The Pharisees and scribes come from Jerusalem thinking that they know how to pose the important questions (Matthew 15:1-12). The Sadducees join the Pharisees in demanding that Jesus give a sign to validate His ministry of words and deeds (Matthew 16:1-14). But Jesus has refused to meet with them on their terms. Jerusalem and her leaders are not the focal point of the new thing that God is doing to reestablish His kingdom of mercy and truth in Israel and in the world. Jesus is that center! Tragically, Jerusalem and her representatives have shown no signs of repenting and believing; they are far away from Jesus.

One begins to wonder: Will anyone in Israel grasp the real significance of Jesus and His kingdom of God ministry? Of all the people that have encountered Jesus, the Canaanite woman we heard from last week has displayed the strongest faith (Matthew 15:21-28). Jesus’ disciples themselves are an uncertain commodity. On the one hand, after Jesus saved Peter from his near-disastrous demand to walk on the water, the disciples in the boat joined in confessing, “Truly You are the Son of God!” (Matthew 14:33). However, in the debates over the traditions of the Pharisees (Matthew 15:1-20), the feeding of the four thousand (Matthew 15:29-38), and Jesus’ warning about the leaven of false teaching of the religious leaders (Matthew 16:5-12), the disciples have not exactly distinguished themselves by displaying a firm grasp on the truth. It appears the knowledge of Jesus’ identity is too high for any human beings to attain. And so, it is.

It is, however, also the Father’s good pleasure to reveal the Son to little children (Matthew 11:25-26), and that is what Matthew offers in this account at Caesarea Philippi that brings the question of Jesus’ identity to a climax.   

Jesus begins with public perception. Not because He needs to take a poll to know what anybody thinks about anything. He already knows. In a way designed to set up the false or incorrect perceptions of His identity so as to highlight the truth, Jesus asks His disciples what they have heard from others. Most people seem to put Jesus into a prophetic mold, but beyond that agreement, there are a variety of answers. “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:14). Certainly, there are similarities between the careers of Israel’s prophets and the ministry of Jesus, but it is in no way sufficient to name Jesus merely as a prophet of the kind God sent in the Old Testament. Those prophets merely foreshadowed Him and His ministry.

So, Jesus moves on to personal confession. Who do you say I am?” He asks the Twelve. Notice, that Jesus’ question has to do with what they say. It is a reminder that faith in the heart is always accompanied by words in the mouth (see Romans 10:9-10).

Peter’s confession always gets the attention, and rightfully so. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” he declares. Notice that “the Christ” connects Jesus to the people of Israel, while “the Son of the living God” connects Jesus to the Creator and all people. What makes Peter’s confession noteworthy to Jesus, however, is not its specific formulation, but that it did not come from Peter himself. The Father made it known to him, which is how it always works. The Father reveals Jesus and the result is a faithful confession.

Simon’s words have revealed what God the Father Himself has placed into his heart, and so, Jesus proclaims him blessed, one who has been reconciled and restored to the Father. God’s salvation consists of Jesus Himself, and one receives that salvation by being brought to a true knowledge of Jesus—even if that true knowledge is not yet completely formed. Simon is not praised for his great insight; he is pronounced blessed because God the Father has revealed the Son to him.

Jesus continues speaking to His disciples and matches the apostle’s earlier emphasis. Where Simon had said, “You are the Christ” (Matthew 16:16), Jesus says, “You are Peter” (Matthew 16:18). Although certainty is not possible, it may very well be the case that it was at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus first applied the label “Peter” to Simon. This also seems to be the first time in ancient literature that “rock” (petros) ever was used as a proper name. As far as nicknames go, “Rock” is certainly better than “Little-Faith.”

After giving Simon a new name, Jesus makes a promise. “On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

Jesus speaks the promise to Peter, who is standing as the first among equals in the company of the other apostles. Jesus promises that He will build His Church upon the rock of Peter and his confession of Christ. And that is precisely what He will do: He will call, equip, and put in use in wonderful and terrible ways the men who were the unique and unrepeatable group of the holy apostles, whose chief task it was to speak the truth about Jesus.

What is more, Jesus promises: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus acknowledges that during the time when He is building His Church upon the apostles and their confession of Him, this assembly of disciples will find itself under assault. If one wishes to specify more exactly what threat Jesus’ words envision, perhaps it is the idea that Satan will send his forces out of the gates of Hades to assault Jesus’ disciples, the Church. The battle, as Paul will later say, will not be with mere flesh and blood, but with spiritual rulers of evil (Ephesians 6:12).

As fierce as the battle may be, however, the Christ, God’s Son, will not allow Satan and his ways ultimately to gain the upper hand. In the battle when Jesus’ disciples cry out in faith, God will honor the prayer that Jesus taught the Church to pray: “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

This confession of Peter and Jesus’ reply isn’t just an earth-shattering moment; it’s a hell shattering moment. Jesus has just declared that He’s come to defeat sin, death, and devil. Not only that, but He’s going to share the victory with His people—He’s going to build His Church upon Himself, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

This promise does not, of course, guarantee that any particular congregation or denomination or historical manifestation of visible Christian fellowship or confession will never pass away. Christ’s Church is here thought of in general terms, as we might say, the una sancta, “the “one holy catholic and apostolic church” (Nicene Creed). This is a tenet of faith to which we cling despite the fracturing, corruption, and demise of so many Christian institutions.

“On this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).That is what Jesus promises to and about His Church. It is a timely promise for us. The pandemic is putting Jesus’ assurance to the test. Many congregations across the country have not resumed in-person worship services. Congregations like ours that have returned to in-person worship services are still seeing a significant decline in participation that already had been dropping precipitously the last few years. None of us knows what the future holds.

We have traditionally measured engagement in the Church and maturity of faith with Sunday morning attendance. Not only is this no longer a reliable measure, but we are also being forced to consider why and how we have been measuring things that way, as well as why we do what we are accustomed to doing as the Church every week. What are the essentials?

As we consider such foundational questions, Jesus’ promise of endurance becomes crucially significant. Whatever the “new normal” may be, and whatever Bible study, worship, and our life together may look like in the short and long terms, the Church will endure. Not even the gates of Hell will prevail against it. In a context where just about everything else seems up in the air, there is certainty in Christ. Two things are ultimately certain in life, and they are not death and taxes. It is Jesus’ return and the preservation of His people until that day.

The justification for this promise is Jesus’ resurrection. The gates of Hell, which He encountered in His death (“He descended into Hell”), did not prevail against Him. Neither will they prevail  against His body on earth. History gives us plenty of examples of times when this promise was tested. Every time Jesus has delivered. The existence of this congregation in worship (whether online or in-person) is the latest evidence locally.

In Article VII of the Augsburg Confession, what has been called the Magna Carta of the Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Confessors addressed Jesus’ promise and defined “Church”: “Our churches teach that one holy Church is to remain forever. The Church is the congregation of saints [Psalm 149:1] in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered.” [1] Where you find the Gospel purely taught and the Sacraments correctly administered, you find the Church. There, in the means of grace, God’s people are blessed.

So, here, at this time and this place, by God’s grace, you are blessed. You are just as blessed as Peter. By His Word, the Father has revealed to you Jesus—the Christ, the Son of the living God. By His Word, the Lord has shown you by your sin: by His Law, He has let you feel them bind you so that you repent, and by His Gospel He releases them from you so that you might have salvation.

It is sure, because Christ had conquered sin and death, devil and hell.

So next time you hear the Absolution, listen carefully: it’s not just words, but a proclamation so powerful that the devil can’t contradict it, that the very gates of hell can’t prevail against it. When you kneel at the altar, rejoice that you receive the body and blood of the Son of the living God, the body and blood that opens the gates of heaven for you. You are built on Christ, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against Him or His people. Where Christ is, the devil must flee; and when your sins are loosed, he has nothing left to work with. So let us send the evil one scurrying away again:

In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[1] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 34). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

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