Rejoice! Your Reward Is Great in Heaven!

“Sermon on the Mount” by James Tissot

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The Beatitudes are some of the best-known passages of the Bible. We read them at least once each year for All Saints’ Day and every third year during Epiphany. There’s a good chance you’ve heard more sermons on the Beatitudes than any other text other than the Christmas narrative. So, I’m not going to go into detail about the individual beatitudes this year but will focus on the final beatitude.

Jesus said: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).

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

On the Feast of All Saints, the Church remembers those saints who have gone before us. The term “saints” does not mean that they were necessarily more pious and righteous than all the rest of us, though it is fitting to emulate the faith and life of many of them. That is one of the reasons our Lutheran forefathers made sure that we kept observing saints’ days, feasts, and festivals. The word translated “saint” in English means “holy one.” Though Scripture makes it clear that none of us are holy and righteous on our own, God declares that anyone who has been baptized in the triune name of God and has been given saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and His work of salvation is a saint.

Today, as Jesus speaks words of blessing to us, we also see that we have been called holy. In the Beatitudes, Jesus gives the promise of blessing after blessing to those saints today who endure the hardships of this life. The rewards of a life in Christ are above and beyond what you can conceive of yourselves, for the Lord reverses the original curse of death and grants you the fruits of eternal life won by Jesus.

This ninth and final beatitude is markedly different from the previous eight. The indefinite pronoun they of the first eight beatitudes is now replaced with a clear distinction between the disciples and Jesus. “Blessed are you” shows how the disciples are to apply all these beatitudes to themselves. Men will actually “revile” the disciples, upbraid them with violent language; “persecute” or inflict injury upon them, and “utter all kinds of evil against you.”

Jesus points to the renowned martyrs of the past, so many of whom gave up even their lives for God. He places the Twelve and His other disciples alongside of the prophets. In one and in only one way may we join this most illustrious company in heaven: by joyfully suffering persecution for Christ’s sake. Beyond question, the highest glory in heaven belongs to the martyred prophets, and next to them stand in due order all others who in their various stations suffered for Christ. So, not despite your persecutions are you to rejoice, but because of your persecutions. The wounds and hurts are medals of honor. They attest that you belong to Christ not to the world. In war, promotion is rapid, and the war for Christ never ceases. Yet so many are afraid of a few scars for Jesus’ sake.[i]

Instead of grieving and lamenting in view of this persecution or under the distress it inflicts, Jesus tells His disciples to rejoice and be glad. At once the adequate reason for the rejoicing under such circumstances is added: “for your reward is great in heaven.”

The word “reward” can easily be misunderstood. We usually think of it as  “a consequence that happens to someone as a result of worthy or unworthy behavior” or “money offered for some special service, such as the return of a lost article or the capture of a criminal.”  

In the day of the Reformers, the term reward was quite contentious between the Lutheran theologians and their adversaries. The adversaries used the idea of rewards to support their teaching on the necessity of good works for salvation. They claimed, “eternal life is called a reward and that, therefore, it is merited in a wholly deserving way (de condigno) by good works.” The Lutherans disagreed, saying: “Paul calls eternal life a ‘gift’ (Romans 6:23), because by the righteousness presented for Christ’s sake, we are made at the same time sons of God and coheirs of Christ. As John says, ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life’ (John 3:36). Augustine says, as also do very many others who follow him, ‘God crowns His gifts in us.’ Elsewhere it is written, ‘Your reward is great in heaven’ (Luke 6:23).”[ii]

The Reformers made it clear that the definition of reward was not the real issue they had with their adversaries. They asserted:

We do not argue about the term reward. We argue whether good works are of themselves worthy of grace and of eternal life, or whether they please only on account of faith, which takes hold of Christ as Mediator. Our adversaries not only attribute this to works, namely, that they are worthy of grace and of eternal life, but they also state falsely that works have surplus merits. The adversaries maintain that these merits can be granted to other people to justify them, as when monks sell to others the merits of their orders. They heap up these freakish ideas… especially about this one word reward.[iii]

The Reformers provide an example of their adversaries’ false comments regarding the reward:

It is called a reward; therefore, works are the price paid for it. So works please by themselves, and not for the sake of Christ as Mediator. And since one has more merits than another, some have surplus merits. Those who have earned them can sell them to others.[iv]

The Reformers were not trying to start a needless word battle about the term reward. But it was a matter of where people could find true and certain comfort. Can works give consciences rest and peace? Are works worthy of eternal life? Or it given to us for Christ’s sake? These were the real questions regarding these matters. If consciences are not rightly taught about these, you can have no certain comfort. Good works do not fulfill the Law. You need God’s mercy, that through faith you are accepted by God. Good works—be they ever so precious, even if they were the works of St. Paul himself—cannot bring rest to the conscience.

But for the ultimate answer of what reward means we turn back to Jesus.

From time to time in the Gospels, Jesus speaks of reward, but all thought of merit is unconditionally excluded. His reference to reward implies that (1) man stands under the eyes of the holy God; (2) he owes obedience to God as Lord and King; (3) man’s salvation can be accomplished only by God Himself; (4) only God’s generosity grants a reward, and that it does so only to men with receptive hearts which are open to be blessed by the wonders of the kingdom of God; and (5)  reward derives from God’s love and which finds in the kingdom of God the beginning and completion of this overflowing generosity.[v]

The question naturally arises why then, Jesus should speak of reward at all. There can be no doubt that He found the term in the world around Him, that He retained it, but that He did so only at the same time to transcend it. In fact, Jesus rejected quite unconditionally any speculation concerning our reward with God or men. For Him, the idea of reward arises with faith in the consummation of the kingdom of God. In His love, the Father gives His children the greatest gift there is, namely, the kingdom of God. He there perfects our moral will, our obedience to God, because human life is played out before God and is related to Him.[vi]

Thus the concept of reward is taken up into calling to the kingdom of God and the message of the coming and consummation of this kingdom. Because God is understood quite absolutely in the greatness of His being and the incomparability of His generous love, because He is in no way dependent on or conditioned by human action, the idea of merit, or human reward. There is a reward only in so far as God in sheer love, draws human obedience, for all its limitations, into the power and glory of the kingdom of God.

This reward is “pay,” but never in the sense of something earned by works of sufferings of yours but as something unearned and freely bestowed by the generous hand of God (Matthew 19:29). This reward is great, not according to your merit, which does not exist, but according to Him who bestows it beyond any merit of yours. It is “in heaven,” with God, laid up for you there like a wonderful investment drawing interest, to be paid out to you in due time. It consists, not in salvation, which becomes yours by faith before you ever do or suffer anything for Christ’s sake, but in the greater glory that shall be yours in heaven. What those rewards are like, we finite humans cannot begin to perceive, so God simply promises they will be great.

If we are persecuted or punished for wrongdoing, we have no reason to complain. But we must also expect to suffer at times for saying and doing what is right. That was what happened to Jesus, and He warns that we must not expect any better treatment from the unbelieving world.

All God’s prophets of the Old Testament suffered persecution at the hands of those who should have welcomed and honored them. That will not change, because sinful human nature does not change. Even members of Christian congregations who publicly confess that they regard the Holy Scriptures as God’s inerrant Word, the final authority on all matters of which it speaks, sometimes persecute those who proclaim the whole counsel of God to them. If, for example, they do not like what God’s Word (and their pastor) tells them about divorce or about the sexual purity God requires, many will simply look for a minister and congregation that are willing to overlook or compromise what God clearly says, and they will accuse their God-given pastor of being old-fashioned, bigoted, narrow-minded, intolerant, and uncharitable.

But all who remain faithful to God’s truth will be richly rewarded in heaven. These rewards will be of grace, not merit, and they will be in addition to the salvation that is yours by Christ’s merits alone. And these rewards will be pleasant surprises for those who receive them.

So the Beatitudes reminds you of the blessedness that belongs to all believers in Christ, and they also remind you of the greater blessedness that could be yours already in this life if you would strive more diligently to follow the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whose only concern was to be faithful about carrying out the mission of mercy for which He came into this world.

Go in the peace of the Lord 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. 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] Lenski, R.C.H. (1998). The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel  (p. 197). Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.

[ii] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 136). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

[iii] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 137). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

[iv] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (p. 176). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

[v] Gerhard Kittel, Editor (1967). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume IV (pp. 718-719). Grand Rapids: Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[vi] Karner, 97 f

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Say to Those Who Have an Anxious Heart

“Isaiah” by James Tissot

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“Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you’” (Isaiah 35:4).

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

Why would they have an anxious heart? To know that, we need to have a little context. In the previous chapter of Isaiah, God’s prophet calls the nations to come and listen to the announcement of God’s judgment. The reason for the announcement is clearly stated: “The Lord is enraged against all the nations, and furious against all their host; He has devoted them to destruction, has given them over for slaughter” (Isaiah 34:2).

The picture is not pretty. It is a brutal and gory portrayal of judgment. Mounds of rotting bodies and a landscape soaked with the blood of God’s enemies. Isaiah announces God’s judgment, particularly focusing upon Edom. But note in these verses that the judgment anticipates the Last Day. “The skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall” (Isaiah 34:4). Jesus refers to these verses in His discussion of the end of time in Matthew 24:29, and St. John writes in Revelation: “The stars of the sky fell to the earth… The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up” (6:13, 14).

The historical conflict between Edom and Judah also had spiritual implications. It was a conflict between God’s chosen people and the enemies—a conflict between God’s believers and unbelievers. In the light of these things, it is not difficult to understand why Isaiah chose Edom. This neighbor to the southeast was a suitable representative for all the nations of the world who oppose God and reject His Gospel. The history of conflict between Judah and Edom was brutal and bloody; it fit the description of the final judgment to come.

Perhaps the bloodshed and gory details upset you. They should. God’s judgment will be brutal and complete. God’s Law always terrifies the sinner. God’s judgment comes to people who have rejected Him, refused His Gospel, and opposed believers. We are likely to think of God’s judgment in the abstract; Isaiah pictures it for us in concrete and brutal terms. One commentator observed: “The blood-red sin of rebellion demands a blood-red punishment of judgment.”[i]     

No wonder so many have an anxious heart!

We have enemies even more dangerous than Edom or any mortal foe. Our worst enemies are death, the devil, and our own sinful nature. And you don’t have to look very far to find evidence of their presence in your life even now. “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The devil brought sin into the world by tempting Adam and Eve, who willingly yielded to the temptation. In Adam and Eve’s sin, the entire human race fell into sin. This original sin affects every human creature. We are born without the ability to fear and love God. We are spiritually blind and dead. We are born with an endless desire to sin. We are enemies of God. We are born deserving God’s temporal and eternal death sentence. We are born enslaved in a lifelong sinful condition from which we cannot free ourselves. The wages of sin is death, and every disease and disorder and devastation is a consequence of sin.

We live in a fallen world in which everything falls apart, and “everything” includes you and me. Even if you are born with good health, time and circumstance will take their toll. Accidents and sickness will hurt and maim. Age dulls our senses. God gives life and health, and sin works to take it away. Eyes dim, hearing hardens, joints ache, and muscles loss their tone. Where the Lord would have you see His blessings, sin works to take sight away. Where He would have you hear His Word, sin seeks to silence your world. Where the Lord would have you to be with Him, sin seeks to keep you separated from God for eternity.

Death hounds you every step of the way. You must devote a lot of time each day to avoiding death as long as possible. It’s why you look both ways before you cross the street, why you make the regular medical appointments, why you at least consider the importance of diet and exercise for a healthy lifestyle. But you can only avoid disease, injury, and death for so long. Eventually, death wins.

No wonder so many are anxious.

But death does not win. Satan will not reign forever. Sin’s chains will be loosed. Christ has broken into this world and destroyed the power of sin and death and devil. This is what He demonstrates by working these miracles in the Gospels. Where the devil’s horde seeks to possess God’s children, Jesus casts them out. Where sin leads to the affliction of blindness, Jesus heals the blind. He often heals simply by speaking! He speaks His powerful Word, and sight is restored; blindness has no choice, but must flee. He speaks, and the deaf hear His Word, and then hear everything else, too. He speaks His living Word, and the dead come back to life.

But there’s a far greater miracle. Jesus sends the wages of sin packing simply by speaking His Word. Thus, Isaiah declares, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you’” (Isaiah 35:4).

The Lord prepares the salvation of His people. Today, no matter what foolishness or fear has ensnared your anxious heart, confess your sins in the confidence that the Lord has redeemed you by grace alone and has prepared for you a new way of life. In Christ, God comes with a vengeance: not to condemn you, but to save you. Not vengeance against you, but against sin and death and devil. By His death, Christ has destroyed the power of sin and death. By His Word, Jesus rescues you from sin, the devil, and death.

By His death on the cross, Christ paid the entire penalty of your sin and guilt. By His death on the cross, Christ fully endured and appeased the righteous wrath of God toward all people, thereby reconciling you to God. By Christ’s death on the cross, He destroyed the power of sin to enslave you. Christ defeated Satan by obeying His Father’s will throughout His earthly life, even going all the way to the cross, all in your place. Christ put death to death by His own death and resurrection.

If Christ has defeated your worst enemies (and He has!), He can still your anxious heart.

“Be strong; fear not.” This is the Gospel message. God does not wish to terrify and threaten. He takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked. He is much more interested in bringing forgiveness, hope, and life. So, God’s people hear the Gospel message, and it dispels fear. Through Christ, death becomes a sleep from which He will awaken us. Through Christ, even every trial becomes a source of joy because God will cause it all to work out for your own good. The Gospel steadies weak hands and strengthens wobbly legs when you have no power to go forward of yourself. The Gospel strengthens and encourages you.

Be strong; fear not, O you with an anxious heart! Behold, Christ, your God, will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God! He will come and save you!

Be strong; fear not, O you with an anxious heart! Christ has lived a perfect life and His righteousness is credited to you!

Be strong; fear not, O you with an anxious heart! Christ has died for you! His perfect sacrifice for sins has brought you complete forgiveness. You are judged not guilty for His sake! His death brings you eternal life!

Be strong; fear not, O you with an anxious heart! Christ has risen for you! No matter what may happen to you in this life and body, you have the certain hope of the resurrection of your own body and soul unto life everlasting!

Be strong; fear not, O you with an anxious heart! Christ has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father, where He intercedes for you and rules all things for the good of His Church and people!

Be strong; fear not, O you with an anxious heart! The crucified, risen, and ascended Lord comes to you in His means of grace, granting you pardon and peace in His Word, saving you by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on you richly, and coming to you in His Supper where He feeds you His own body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and strengthening of your body and soul unto life everlasting!

Be strong; fear not, O you with an anxious heart! Christ will return to judge the living and the dead and take you and all believers to be with Him in the new heaven and new earth for eternity! “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy!”

Be strong; fear not, O you with an anxious heart! All your enemies are no match for Jesus. Go in the peace of the Lord 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. 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] Edward Young, The Book of Isaiah, Volume 2 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing House], p. 433.

Justice and Righteousness Executed

“Jeremiah Preaching to His Followers” by Gustave Dore

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“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness’” (Jeremiah 33:14-16).

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

Recent data collected from Barna’s pastor poll indicate that U.S. pastors are currently in crisis and at risk for burnout. Notably, in 2021 alone, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of pastors who are thinking about quitting the ministry entirely.[i] Thirty-eight percent indicate they have considered quitting full-time ministry within the past year. Even worse, this is up nine full points since Barna asked church leaders this same question at the beginning of 2021.

“We started seeing early warning signs of burnout among pastors before COVID,” says David Kinnaman, President of Barna Group, “with initial warning bells sounding in Barna’s The State of Pastors study in 2017. Now, after eighteen months of the pandemic, along with intense congregational divisions and financial strain, an alarming percentage of pastors is experiencing significant burnout, driving them to seriously consider leaving ministry.”[ii]

I don’t mention this study because I’m feeling burnout, or because I think pastors are suffering more than anybody else. I’m sure it’s the same in many other vocations: health care, law enforcement, first responders, teachers, food services, just to name a few. I just happen to have the statistics for pastor ministry available to me. You’ve maybe noticed an increased level of stress in your own life.

What bothers you? What makes you uneasy and anxious? Political and racial tension? A shaky economy? A health report from your doctor? Family turmoil? Job burnout? A world that has changed so much, sometimes it is hard to recognize? Injustice?

Each of us is no doubt bothered in separate ways by different developments in our lives. Whatever your anxieties, Jeremiah could probably relate. His world was upset by a number of things.

First, God has called him to be a prophet and to speak God’s Word in a time when people refused and resented God’s messengers. At least twice there were attempts on his life. The refusal and violent reaction to his message caused him great anguish.[iii] Jeremiah shares his frustration when he pours out his heart to God:

“O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’ For the Word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, ‘I will not mention Him, or speak any more in His name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot’” (Jeremiah 20:7–9).

Thus, at the center of Jeremiah’s life—his very vocation—there was tension and rejection. Talk about a candidate for ministry burnout!

And if the inner turmoil of his life was not enough, his world on the outside was about to collapse, too. The Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar, were about to conquer Jerusalem and enslave its population. The glory of Jerusalem (Solomon’s temple) would be flattened.

Jeremiah was at the crossroads of this inner and outer world. He was called to announce that this would all happen because the people had so completely rejected the God who had given them the land, the temple, Zion, and Jerusalem.

What a situation! However unsettled we might be and whatever bothers us, these forces do not surpass the internal and external challenges that faced Jeremiah.

Into such a shaken world, God sends a remarkable word for Jeremiah and for each of us: “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and He shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness’” (Jeremiah 33:15-16).

A calming, healing word. A restoring, refreshing word. A certain word. Indeed, it is more than a word. It is a change in reality. Jeremiah describes the coming of One who would reverse the curse of apostasy and idolatry. The Jerusalem that would experience violence, bloodshed, anguish, and enslavement would once again dwell in security and enjoy wonderful prosperity and justice. God’s blessings would be lavished upon her.

Jeremiah repeats the promise the Lord had revealed to him earlier in his ministry (chapter 23). The real marvel and wonder of God is Christ. The final words of this chapter speak about Christ and the age to follow. Jeremiah describes more fully the nature of the Righteous Branch which the Lord would raise up from  David. David was long dead; the Lord had written off the last successor to his throne, Jehoiachin, “as if childless” (Jeremiah 22:30), yet He promised that one from David’s line would sit eternally on the throne, ruling an eternal Kingdom. To be a descendant of David, this King must be a human, a Jew. To rule an eternal Kingdom, He must be eternal, that is, He must also be God.

This great reversal would be brought about by the presence of the One who would execute justice and righteousness, who would bring security and salvation. David’s Seed, Jesus, fulfills this wonderful word precisely as Jeremiah promised.

The word “justice” includes sentencing, punishment, and retribution, but also suggests more positive and pleasant activities such as providing for the welfare and happiness of people. The restrictive and negative meanings we today attach to both “justice” and “execute” suggest a delicious Gospel irony. This was more than just a perverse turn of events. It was the plan of God for your salvation. For when the Messiah set to our world to “execute justice” was Himself judged and executed, that was precisely how we were saved. For He was judged and executed in our place, for our sins, and that’s why we are now called by His name, “The Lord is our righteousness.”

His name becomes our name. His righteousness becomes our righteousness. Here we have simply and clearly stated the Gospel of forensic justification: the fact that God declares us sinners righteous because Christ’s righteousness has been credited to us. That declaration is our entrée to eternal life.

Justice and righteousness are yours in Jesus. And you are in Him—in David’s Seed—for you were joined to His death and resurrection in your Baptism. You were clothed with Christ’s righteous. His death has done away with Israel’s sin, Judah’s sin, your sin. His resurrection has given you life that is in God—in the Father, in the Son, in the Holy Spirit—as the triune name spoken over you.

The political and racial tension that upsets you? Christ brings His perfect peace that makes us all brothers and sisters in the family of God. A shaky economy? The Lord promises you treasures kept for you in heaven. A health report from your doctor? The Lord promises you strength to meet the unwelcome news, and healing, if not in this life, perfect healing in eternity. Job burnout? Jesus offers and contentment and joy despite our circumstances. A world that has changed so much, sometimes it is hard to recognize? Jesus promises a new heaven and earth for eternity. Injustice and evil? Jesus brings His righteousness and justice. Insecurity and fear? Now, even death cannot conquer you, for your life is secure in the life of God.

Jesus’ word is certain: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25). And our answer, with Jeremiah, with Martha, is “Yes, Lord; I believe” (John 11:27).

Indeed, if we reflect for a moment, it is clear that many of those who seek to make us feel safe and secure cannot deliver. The stock market? Financial plans? Insurance? Physical fitness? Beauty? Popularity? Executive mandates? Legislative programs? All those places that advertise lasting security simply, on examination, cannot deliver. The most powerful and wealthy of human beings will soon lose that power and wealth. How silly to regard wealth or power or popularity as gods! How misspent is a life devoted to them as though they were gods!

Jeremiah spoke that message to his contemporaries. He faithfully spoke God’s holy Word. The majority rejected his message, but a significant minority listened and believed.[iv] They saw reality for what it was. They saw the beauty and wonder of the God of Moses and of Jeremiah. They confessed their sins and rejoiced in God’s forgiveness for the sake of David’s Seed, Jesus.

So, rejoice with Jeremiah. Beyond the disappointment and challenges of the world and that beset us from within, beyond anxieties is security, beyond sin and injustice is justice and righteousness, the security, justice, and righteousness that the Son of God, the Seed of David, brings and freely bestows upon us. Be at peace inside and as you meet the world on the outside, for you are secure in Jesus. In Him will you find true justice and righteous, in this world and in the world to come.

Go in the peace of the Lord 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. 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] 38% of U.S. Pastors Have Thought About Quitting Full-Time …, https://www.barna.com/research/pastors-well-being/.

[ii] 38% of U.S. Pastors Have Thought About Quitting Full-Time …, https://www.barna.com/research/pastors-well-being/.

[iii] Dean Wenthe. Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 23, Part 1, Series C, December 2, 2012—February 10, 2013. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, P.15.

[iv] Dean Wenthe. Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 23, Part 1, Series C, December 2, 2012—February 10, 2013. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, P.15.

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By Every Word That Comes from the Lord

“The Gathering of Manna” by James Tissot

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“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:1-3).

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

Thanksgiving is a time for reflection and remembrance. A time for reflecting upon the bounteous blessings God has so freely bestowed upon us out of His lavish love and abundant mercy. A time for remembering the episodes in which He has patiently and lovingly brought us through trials and tough times.

Reflection and remembrance: That’s what Moses is doing in our Old Testament reading for this evening. As the nation of Israel is poised to enter the Promised Land and Moses is ready to depart this life to be with the Lord, he reminds them of all that has happened to them, and all that God has been teaching them over the past forty years. He exhorts them to do everything that the Lord commands them so that they might continue in the blessings that the Lord has promised to them as His beloved children and to avoid the curses that come from disobedience. Moses declares the glory and magnificence of God and urges them to trust the Lord’s goodness and to fear His wrath.

Moses said that God led Israel through the wilderness to test them. The purpose of His test was to lead Israel to trust Him more fully.

So far, they weren’t doing very well. It wasn’t long after God had led the Israelites to safety through the Red Sea, that the little bit of food they had packed for themselves in Egypt ran out. They were starving. There was no food for them to eat in the wilderness, just a lot of rocks and sand.

The Israelites should have remembered what God did in Egypt and at the Red Sea, how He had delivered them out of slavery. They should have trusted Him to take care of them. They should have prayed for Him to give them food. Instead, they grumbled and complained.

They had said they wished that they had stayed in Egypt. They had talked about all the sumptuous food they could eat there—but they had forgotten how badly the Egyptians had treated them. They had accused Moses of bringing them out of Egypt so they would die in the wilderness. Even though God worked so many great miracles to set them free, they still didn’t trust Him to take care of them. So, God had talked to Moses. Moses told the Israelites that God would send them bread and meat. Later, when the sun started going down that evening, huge flocks of quail had flown right into their camp. The Israelites had gathered them and cooked them for supper. That was the meat God had promised them.

When the sun had come up the next morning, dew covered the ground. When the dew dried up, there was a flaky thing on the ground. The people had asked Moses, “What is it?” Moses told them it was the bread God had sent from heaven. They called it manna, which is a Hebrew word that means “What is it?”

Each day they traveled in the wilderness—for forty years!—God would send just enough manna for the people to eat that day. If they picked up more than a day’s worth, it would just spoil. Except for Fridays—God instructed them to pick up enough manna for two days on Friday so they would rest and listen to His promises and remember His gifts on the Sabbath. By the Lord’s testing, He wanted His people to trust in Him for their daily bread and to make time to hear His Word.

Moses says that God had led Israel through the wilderness to test them. As a man disciplines his son, the Lord God disciplines His children. The purpose of the Lord’s testing and discipline was to lead His people to trust Him more fully. The reason He provided such miraculous physical blessings was to show His people that they needed, and that He could provide, far more than physical blessings. With His Word, the Lord could meet all their physical needs as well as the still greater need of their souls. Without God’s Word, physical blessings by themselves will never be enough. Life has deeper dimensions that only God can satisfy.

Almost 1,500 years later, God’s only-begotten Son is led out into the wilderness immediately after His Baptism. Christ’s personal fast of forty days and forty nights corresponds to Israel’s forty years in the wilderness. Whereas when Israel was tested, the people sinned miserably and did not trust God, Jesus does not fail. Though hungry, He does not murmur against God or doubt God’s purposes.

With the first temptation, Satan attempts to get Jesus to use His own power to serve Himself in time of need. The slanderer grants Jesus’ identity as “the Son of God” (Matthew 4:3), but he seeks to lead Jesus into being the wrong kind of Son. He acknowledges that Jesus has the power to turn stones into bread, and he tries to get Jesus to use that power for Himself—something He never does.

The Lord had tried in vain to teach Israel an important lesson. Moses reminded them: “[The Lord] humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

Jesus knew well what Israel had failed to learn; unlike Israel, Jesus lived according to the divine Word. Jesus’ life and relationship to God the Father came from what God provides, and especially from what God speaks. He lives “by every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Specifically, Jesus knows that God has already spoken and that from His mouth have come the words “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17). He has no need to prove it by turning stones to bread. Jesus knows that His time of temptation in the wilderness is God’s will; it is the Spirit’s leading. So, Jesus will not use His power to murmur against God or to reject God’s will and purpose, as Israel did in the wilderness.

The people in their wilderness wanderings did not realize that “as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you” (Deuteronomy 8:5), nor did they respond to His discipline as an obedient son should. Jesus, however, overcomes the slanderer, knowing the Father’s Word that declared Him to be God’s Son, and living by every divine word, even and especially in His experience of being tempted in the wilderness. Jesus came in humility to His Baptism, and He willingly suffers the time of hunger and temptation, obeying His Father. He lives perfectly and completely by the Father’s Word and will.

    The application should not be direct as though each of Jesus’ temptations is intended to correspond directly with something that we Christians experience. Rather, read holistically, the attacks of Satan against Jesus call up for review the nature of Jesus’ identity as God’s Son. Satan tries to misunderstand or contradict what it means for Him to live out His mission as God’s Son. In other words, it is a question of grasping His own identity.

So, it is also in the Christian life of temptation and struggle against sin. Matthew 4:1-11 does not so much teach us that we should “find the right Bible verse with which to combat temptations.” Rather, as men and women in Christ, we can learn to recognize Satan’s temptations as attacks on our identity as the children of God, and on what it means to live out that identity in the world and in our vocations. Jesus’ paradigm is this: “Know from God’s Word who you are and how that identity as God’s baptized, adopted son or daughter is to be lived out.”

In that sense, even as He wins the victory, Jesus, the Son of God prepares us for the battle. Just as the Spirit led Jesus into temptation and spiritual warfare with the evil one, so it will be with us as we serve and follow our Master. The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps us in the family of God by the power of God’s holy Word.

And so, we come here tonight to give thanks to our God for all He has blessed us with throughout the year. We thank Him for our daily bread, which He so richly and daily provides us with all we that we need to support this body and life. We come here to hear God’s Word and to worship Him.

The highest worship of God is faith that receives all that He promises in His Word. Faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17), and faith speaks back to God, using the words He has given. In a sermon preached at the dedication of a new church, Luther prayed that “nothing else may ever happen in it except that our dear Lord Himself may speak to us through His holy Word and we respond to Him through prayer and praise” (LW 51:333). The Divine Service is structured around Christ Jesus speaking to us in His Word and the Sacrament of the Altar and our answering in confession, thanksgiving, praise, and prayer.

The whole service is centered on the Word of God and the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ. Confessing our sins and receiving His forgiveness, we glorify our triune God using words He has given us in the Scriptures: psalms and biblical hymns of praise. The liturgy (order of worship) seeks to assist us in hearing the whole counsel of God. The lectionary is a system of Scripture readings from the Old Testament, the Epistles, and the Gospels arranged according to the Church Year. Having heard God’s Word, we confess the faith in one of the Church’s creeds. God’s Law and Gospel are proclaimed by the pastor in the sermon. We answer this proclamation with our prayers and offerings in grateful response to all of God’s gifts to us.

God gives us His promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation in more than one way. Along with His preached Word, the Lord gives us His body and blood to eat and to drink in His Supper. We come to the Lord’s Table praising the Savior who comes to us, acknowledging His saving presence in the words of the angelic hymn from Isaiah 6, and praying the prayer that Jesus taught us. The pastor speaks the Words of Our Lord over the bread and wine, which give us the true body and blood of the Lamb of God to eat and drink. Having received Jesus’ body and blood with our own mouths, we give thanks to Him, praying that this holy gift will strengthen us in faith toward Him and love for one another.

Throughout the service, we are reminded of the great truth proclaimed by Moses and Jesus: “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:1-3).

A blessed Thanksgiving to you all; and rejoice, my friends. The Lord is treating you as His beloved children because you are His beloved children. He has made you His own in water and Word of Holy Baptism. He speaks His Word of forgiveness through the voice of His called and ordained servant. He feeds you His visible Word, His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of your faith. He gives you all that you need for this body and life. He gives you all that you need for this body and soul for eternal life.

O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; and His mercy endures forever. And 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.

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On That Day

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“The Last Judgment” by Francisco Pacheco

[Jesus said:] “In those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send out the angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (Mark 13:24–27).

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

Trust in the midst of trouble. That’s what our Lord calls us to experience today. In our Gospel reading, Jesus speaks to a few of His disciples about the end of the world and Judgment Day. The vision He offers is frightening, unsettling. Nature breaks apart. The sun and the moon no longer give light. The stars tumble from the heavens. Everything is falling apart. But trouble brings trust to light and for those who hold on to the faith, there is wonderful Good News on the horizon!

The moment God brings history to an end is the moment when the Son of Man will come in the clouds of heaven to judge the living and the dead. Who is this Son of Man? Jesus consistently used this term to refer to Himself. He used it also in Mark 8:38 and Mark 14:62 when speaking of His coming in judgment. So, the disciples know it is the same Jesus speaking with them on the Mount of Olives—the one who will shortly suffer and die for the sins of the world—who will also come on that Day to judge the world.

On that Day, Christ will come in glory and power and not in a state of humiliation as when He first walked among us before His resurrection and ascension. In His assumed human nature, He will return to gather to His tribunal all people, the dead and the living—the former raised to life from the dust and the latter changed in an instant.

On that Day, Christ will reveal His power and authority by sending His angels. They will gather the elect, all those who have been called and chosen by the Lord to be His own. No matter where we are or where our bodies, bones, dust, or ashes may lie, the Lord’s angels will find us and bring us to Him. While our text does not expressly mention the resurrection of the body, it is certainly implied.

On that Day, all will see the truthfulness of Christ and His Word. In the prophetic and apostolic oracles, He promised that there would be a judgment at an appointed time. Those who scoffed and mocked such prophecy will receive their comeuppance; those who believed and trusted His promise will have their faith validated.

On that Day, those who suffered unfairly and who cried out to the Lord for justice, will see its completion. All will be made right. Each will receive the compensation for his works in his body. All people will see the glory of God’s justice. The godly will receive their rewards, the ungodly will receive eternal punishment. Cast into the outer darkness, the ungodly will no longer be present to tempt us or to persecute us. We believers will be safely with the Lord.

On that Day, Christ will demonstrate His kindness and grace because He will repay the godly beyond what we have deserved, beyond every merit, by completely sharing with us the boundless treasure of eternal glory and happiness of His Kingdom and therefore also Himself.

On that Day, Christ will demonstrate His power in the execution of the sentence He has pronounced in the full destruction of the devil’s kingdom and in the confirmation of His own heavenly and eternal Kingdom. For at that time, He will “place all His enemies as His footstool (Psalm 110:1) and “He will destroy death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). He will reveal Himself as really the most powerful Victor over Satan, death, and hell (Hosea 13:14; 1 John 3:8).

On that Day, Christ will completely renew and reshape the divine image in which man was first created in His beloved elect and He will dwell with us forever as if in His own glorious temple (Philippians 3:21l Revelation 21:3, etc.). In eternity, the saints and the elect will glorify God and the Lamb seated upon the throne by freely acknowledging the glory of God’s wisdom, goodness, truthfulness, justice, and power and by doing this with unending praises.[i]  

When will this be? Only the Father knows. But that Day could be any day. All the signs have been fulfilled.

The lesson of the fig tree is simple. When the twigs and leaves sprout, summer is at hand. Thus, when you see the signs mentioned in this chapter, you know that the end is near. However, we must remember that God does not look at time the way we do. “For a thousand years in Your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4). From the time the apostles took the Gospel out into the world, to the destruction of Jerusalem, to the growth of the Church, to its persecution from within and without, to the end of all things is one chapter in God’s sight—the final chapter. Jesus has a purpose in speaking this way—so that we might never say His coming is due on such and such a date and then delay in getting ready.

For the sake of the disciples, who were often perplexed and in doubt, Jesus added a statement concerning the reliability of His words and predictions. Heaven and earth will grow old like a garment (Mark 13:24-25) and pass away, but His words will never pass away. Many years may pass (and have!), but the end will most certainly come. At that moment, Jesus also will come to gather all believers to Himself. That’s a real antidote for despair.

 As Jesus unfolds this frightening vision, He offers us a comforting promise. The Son of Man will return. He will gather His people from the ends of the earth. And He will reveal what has always been true—He rules over all things (Mark 13:26) and His Word is to be trusted (Mark 13:31). Amid all the frightening changes, one thing remains the same—Jesus, who promises to be there for you.

On that Day, Jesus will come with the clouds of Heaven. He will no longer be someone you can mock and spit on and torture and nail to the cross. He will no longer be someone you can worship at your leisure when you don’t have anything more pressing going on that weekend. He will no longer be someone whose words you can pick and choose which you want to believe and follow. No, He will reveal Himself as Lord of all. All things are under His control. When the Son of Man comes with power and glory, angels go forth at His bidding to gather His people from the ends of the earth and the ends of the heavens. And all the Lord’s promises of eternal life in His Kingdom, will fully and finally come true.

So, “watch,” Jesus says. His words to you are life and His promises will never pass away. In the end, you will see He has conquered sin, conquered death, conquered Satan for you. Our risen Lord Jesus is the reigning Lord Jesus. Even now when He is so hard to see.

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that life in our world has been changing drastically. And I’m not talking specifically about COVID, now. COVID just hastened a sickness in our society that was already spreading quickly. I’m talking about our social interactions. No one knows how to speak with someone with whom they disagree anymore. Everyone who agrees with us is our friend and everyone who disagrees with us at some point in our enemy. Our nation’s public codes of behavior and topics of conversation have changed, and, for Christians, that can be bewildering. We wonder how to respond.

Today, Jesus comes to remind us of what we already know. The kingdom He brings is not of this world. If the world does not look like the Church, that is because it is not. His Kingdom is not a political kingdom, established by votes, manipulated by polls and the news cycle, and enforced with power. Christ’s  Kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, and He works by grace.

By grace, today, Jesus gives you His promise:

“I am your Lord and Savior. On that Day of Judgment, you will see Me on the clouds of Heaven, revealing who I am—the Lord of all nations. For now, I come in hidden ways. In a word spoken from a pulpit. In a splash of water on a child’s head. In the bread and wine shared at the communion rail. I am there, in body and blood, in power and love, for you.

“From now until the day of My return, the world will change, and people will wander from their God. People will turn more inward to themselves and against others. Such changes are disorienting, frightening. As My disciples, I know you will feel isolated and alone. But look and listen.

“Like a tree, putting forth its leaves, about to bear fruit, these changes and challenges are just the sign of My coming. When the world gives you trouble, I give you relationship of trust.[ii] Trust in the One who overcame the world and who will finally come for you.

“Until that day, gather together. Support one another. Encourage one another Watch for My coming. For one day, I will return, and, when I come, I will open My Kingdom and welcome you home.”

Go in the peace of the Lord 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. 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] Gerhard, Johann. Translated by Richard J. Dinda. Theological Commonplaces XXX_XXXI: On the Resurrection of the Dead and On the Last Judgment, p 376

[ii] Gospel: Mark 13:24-37 (The Last Sunday of the Church Year …, https://www.1517.org/articles/gospel-mark-1324-37-the-last-sunday-of-the-church-year-series-b.

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Song of the Samaritan Leper

“The Gathering of the Ten Lepers” by James Tissot
There were ten of us waiting, each of us a pariah.
Jews and a Samaritan, waiting for the Messiah. 
The only thing that united us, our horrible affliction.
He headed to Jerusalem, to cross and crucifixion.

Standing at a safe distance, raising our voice to be heard,
Crying out for His mercy, the One who’d heal with a word.
“Go show yourselves to the priests” was Jesus’ simple command.
They’d verify the healing, let us back into the clan.

Onward to Jerusalem, Christ’s living word took effect.
We suddenly were healed, no sore, no scar, no defect.
Our leper days were over, no more loneliness, no shame  
We’d soon be with our family, the house that bears God’s name.

Suddenly I realized, God’s temple was in this place. 
In Jesus, God was present, with mercy, love, and grace.
It was He who made me clean, He who made my life complete.
I praised the Lord, giving thanks, I fell down at Jesus’ feet.

“Were not ten cleansed?” He asked. “Then, where are the other nine?”
“Did no one think to praise God except this Samaritan?”
Spoke to me, this holy One, who would conquer death and hell.
“Rise and go your way,” He said, “your faith has made you well.”

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