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Justification: The Article upon Which the Church Stands or Falls

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“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25a).

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

Martin Luther is generally remembered on this Reformation Day for the posting of the 95 Theses, statements for debate on repentance and the sale of indulgences. But a more complete statement of faith prepared by Luther is the Smalcald Articles. It was Luther’s hope that this document would be used for discussion at a general council of the Church or, should he die before such a council was held, that it would be regarded as his “last will and testament.”

The Smalcald Articles clearly establish the differences between Romanism and Lutheranism. Nowhere is this more evident than in Article I. It reads:

The first and chief article is this:

1 Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 4:24–25).

2 He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all (Isaiah 53:6).

3 All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works or merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23–25).

4 This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law, or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us. As St. Paul says:

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:28)

That He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. [Romans 3:26]

5 Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls [Mark 13:31].

For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

And with His stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

Upon this article everything that we teach and practice depends, in opposition to the pope, the devil, and the whole world. Therefore, we must be certain and not doubt this doctrine. Otherwise, all is lost, and the pope, the devil, and all adversaries win the victory and the right over us.[i]

Article I is short, to the point, and like Luther himself, pulls no theological punches. Notice how many of the passages cited come from our Epistle, Romans 3:19-28. It is easy to see why this pericope was chosen for Reformation Day.

The key teaching of Lutheranism, “The article upon which the church stands or falls,” is justification—particularly, justification by grace through faith in the work of Christ. “Justification” has to do with being or being made or being declared “just,” or “righteous,” or “right.” Scripture teaches that we are justified by Christ, who took our sin into Himself and atoned for it on the cross and who imputes (or credits) to us His righteousness. When we are united to Christ—which happens by Baptism, in Holy Communion, and when we receive His Word—we are justified, freely, apart from any works of our own. To believe, trust, and depend on the fact that Christ saves us is to be justified by faith.

Now, it might seem that justification is another theological term whose meaning has been lost in today’s secular climate. Christianity is about the forgiveness of sins. But many people today do not think they have need to be made right with God. “Sin” is thought to be an outmoded concept.

And yet people today still search for “justification” for themselves and what they do. They still crave approval, and they want to consider themselves to be good and right. And when they fail to measure up even to their own standards or that of their peers—let alone God’s standards—they tend to construct explanations and  excuses that would exonerate them. It turns out that justification is the article on which we all stand or fall. It’s just a matter of where we look for our justification.

We can look for justification in our political or ideological beliefs: “I am good despite my personal failures, because my cause is just.” Post-modernism can be a way to justify ourselves: “The truth I reject is nothing more than a construction, so I am blameless in rebelling against it.” We can seek justification through atheism: “God does not exist, so no one can condemn me.” Or we can simply seek to justify ourselves by comparison: “Nobody’s perfect, but at least I’m better than so-and-so.” These are all attempts at self-justification. They are endless mental exercises by which we can consider ourselves to be good.

But something is missing in these attempts: a correct understanding of sin and personal culpability for that sin. Many believe there is no such thing as objective morality to sin against. They assume morality is purely subjective, varying from one culture or one person to another. No one has the right to “impose” his personal morality on anyone else. And yet, those who reject the very possibility of moral truth, are constantly making moral judgments of others: demanding social justice, human rights, and ethical approaches to the environment.

We tend to frame conflicts with others as arguments over moral transgressions—“You’re selfish!” “You don’t really love me!” “That’s not fair!”—with both parties accusing each other and defending themselves. Our transgressions still leave us with guilt, which can torment us for the rest of our lives. And yet we still tend to insist that “I am a good person.” If someone else considers us “bad” or “wrong,” we defend ourselves—with excuses and arguments maintaining that our vices are not bad but good, even something to be celebrated. In truth, we do not need to be righteous in order to be self-righteous.

Far from being an outdated theological concept, justification is a preoccupation, if not an obsession, for people today. We always feel the need to show that we are right. At work, online, in our casual conversations, in our relationships with others, we are always seeking approval, scoring points, making excuses, and defending ourselves. At the same time, we are also always accusing and judging others. Often, such criticism is not dispassionate moral analysis, but attempting to cover our own flaws by highlighting the far greater flaws of others. Underlying the need to be justified is our yearning for affirmation, for thinking that our existence matters, for our need to think that our life is worthwhile.

Not only do we judge and justify ourselves and one another; we also judge and justify God. “How can God allow evil and suffering in the world?” both believers and non-believers ask. “He must not be good.” Against that accusation, believers can form arguments to justify God, as if He needs our help to explain His motives and actions. Non-believers, ironically, justify the intellectual concept of a righteous God by concluding that such a being does not actually exist.

But the problems of evil and suffering do not go away even when God’s existence is rejected. No longer is the question “Why does God allow evil and suffering?” but “Why does existence allow evil and suffering?” If God cannot be justified due to the evil and suffering in the world, existence itself cannot be justified for the same reasons. If existence cannot be justified, life is meaningless, absurd, pointless, and (in a tragic number of cases) not worth living.

But what if, instead of having to justify ourselves, God Himself gives us the approval, affirmation, and assurance that our existence matters, that despite our many, obvious shortcomings, our lives have His approval? He does! We do! The incessant desire to justify ourselves is put to rest when we are justified by Christ.

How does Christ justify us? By dying.

The Second Person of the Trinity assumed a human nature. Instead of living in earthly glory as we might expect and as He was certainly entitled to, He chose to be born in poverty and to live a life of homelessness. But He did good works—by healing the sick, raising the dead, reconciling people who had been at each other’s throats—and His teaching blessed the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the persecuted, and so on. Jesus’ goodness was evident to all, even to His enemies, who hated Him for it. He accomplished what other human beings throughout history have always tried to do but failed: He was justified by His good works.  

Nevertheless, Jesus did not escape accusations, judgments, and condemnation. He was, in fact, wrongly convicted and sentenced to death. While others have supposedly died an innocent death, Jesus is the only person to have truly died an innocent death. At His execution, though, He fully exerted His divine power by doing something that defies our capacity to understand or to imagine: He took the evils of the world—that is to say, the sins of the entire human race—into Himself. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). St. Paul put it even more strongly: “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

When on the cross Christ “bore our sins in His body,” He also took the punishment that we deserve. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The “wonderful exchange” also means that Christ’s righteousness—along with access to the Father, freedom from guilt, and eternal life—become ours. God the Father now counts our sins as belonging to Christ. He also counts Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us. Thus, when we face the judgment of God the Father, He will consider all of Christ’s good works—His healings, His acts of love, His obedience to the Father, His perfect fulfillment of the Law—to be ours. This is what it means to be justified by Christ.

This is unbelievable, one might think. It would be tremendous if it were true, but how could it be? How could God become a human being? How could anyone—even God—bear another person’s sins, let alone the sins of the entire world? It staggers the mind. It is beyond understanding. Interestingly, Luther agrees. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him,” he writes in the Small Catechism. Essentially, Luther admits, “I believe that I cannot… believe.”

Notice how Luther anticipates—and repudiates—the mindset of both the modernist and the postmodernist. “I believe that I cannot by own reason… believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord.” So much for the “Age of Reason.” So much for modernism. Human reason is not how we receive Christ Jesus and His gifts. “I believe that I cannot by my own… strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord.” So much for the will to power. So much for postmodernism. Exerting our own power or effort is not how we receive Christ Jesus and His gifts.

So how do we? Luther goes on to explain: “But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Faith, this belief and trust in Christ, is a gift from outside ourselves. The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, creates our faith. Rather than human reason or power, faith is how we receive Christ Jesus. God does this by calling me through the Gospel, His means of grace—Word and water, body and blood—which creates, sustains and grows faith.

For Lutherans, the doctrine of justification is the “chief article” on which the Church stands or falls. Every other key teaching—the Sacraments, Scripture, worship, vocation, the two kingdoms, prayer, the Christian life—has as its keystone our justification by Christ.

And it is also the chief article on which individuals stand or fall. Restless hearts and anxious minds find peace in justification. Frenetic lives of self-justification have rest in the salvation of Jesus Christ. The incessant need to prove our own worthiness and our failure to ever do so are nailed to the cross, buried in the tomb, and put to death forever. What Good News!

 We confess: “[We] all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25a). That is to say, by God’s grace, for Jesus’ sake, you are righteous and holy; 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.

[i] McCain, P. T. (Ed.). (2005). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (pp. 262–263). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

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Holding on for the Blessing

“Jacob Wrestles with an Angel” by James Tissot

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Jacob said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me.” (Genesis 32:26).

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

Jacob and his caravan reach the Jabbok, a stream that flows into the Jordan from the east just about midway between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. After leading family and flocks south across the Jabbok under cover of darkness, Jacob himself goes back across the stream, apparently to spend some time alone with the Lord in prayer. As he begins once again to pour out his heart to God, he suddenly becomes aware that out of the darkness someone has grabbed hold of him and is wrestling him to the ground. The mysterious struggle continues—for hours—until the first streaks of dawn appear in the eastern sky.

In commenting on this passage, Martin Luther said, “This text is one of the most obscure in the Old Testament.” Although there are elements of this wrestling match that are difficult to understand and to explain, there are some basic truths that are immediately clear.

Jacob is struggling with God in earnest prayer. This struggle involves a spiritual striving with God for His blessing, but it involves a physical struggle as well. Jacob’s opponent, at first referred to “a man,” later identifies Himself as God.

But why should God appear to one of His children as an opponent, as an enemy fighting against Him? Surely not to crush the life out of him. If God so wanted, the wrestling match would be over in half a second. In the heat of the struggle, Jacob may be tempted to think of God as his enemy; in that case God would not want to bless Jacob. But God has promised to bless, and Jacob knows that God cannot lie. Yes, God is an opponent, but He is not the enemy.

The struggle continues until Jacob’s divine opponent, by merely touching Jacob’s hip, throws the entire hip socket out of joint. Now Jacob can’t continue the painful struggle any longer, so he throws his arms around his opponent and holds onto him. His opponent says, “Let Me go, for the day has broken.” He is delighted to hear Jacob answer, “I will not let You go unless You bless me.” God doesn’t want Jacob (and He doesn’t want us) to be timid with Him. He delights to let us win victories over Him on the basis of humble believing prayer. Jacob clings in faith to God and to God’s promise, and he receives the blessing he desires.

“What is your name?” the Lord asks him, not because He has forgotten but because He wants to remind Jacob that he has been born a “heel-grabber,” one who takes unfair advantage of a rival. But that old name no longer fits this man, and so God gives him a new one. “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Bible names often serve as more than convenient labels for people. Here Jacob’s new name describes the new nature and character the Spirit of God has patiently and painstakingly created in him. No longer will he rely on his own cleverness to overcome anyone who opposes him. The heel-grabber has become the persistent fighter who clings to God’s promise and wins God’s blessing legitimately. He has learned to lean on God.

God apparently feels that Jacob needs a memento of his victory, as a warning against relapsing into his old nature. So, as Jacob leaves the scene of the wrestling match, he is limping. All of God’s children need to learn that in and of ourselves we have no strength, no power with God or man. Our only strength, like Jacob’s, lies in holding on for the blessing, on holding firmly to God’s promises.

For Jacob another blessed fruit of this mysterious struggle is that he is freed from the terror that has gripped his heart since he learned Esau was coming for him with four hundred men. With the Savior’s promise ringing in his ears, he is now ready to meet Esau, ready for whatever surprises the new day might bring.

God still appears to His people on occasion as though He is an opponent. Each of us has known dark hours when we were unable to see God’s blessing and have seen only a face that looks angry. Jacob holds on to God even when He appears as his opponent, and he wins a blessing. We will have that same experience when we learn how to say, “My Savior, I will not let you go unless You bless me. Keep holding on for the blessing!

Jacob learned the hard way a lesson we all need to learn—in and of ourselves we have no power with God or man. We are much like helpless babies. Our only strength lies in holding firmly to what God has promised and crying out to Him for help. Apart from Jesus, we can accomplish nothing spiritually. Without the Holy Spirit, we do not know how to pray or for what to pray.

Unlike babies, we do not outgrow this helplessness. We never become spiritually self-sufficient but grow in our dependence. If there is one thing we discover as we mature spiritually, it is that before God we are nothing but beggars. In the face of death and God’s judgment, we can only cry out to Jesus as beggars did in the ancient world: “Lord have mercy!” Or as Jacob did in our Old Testament lesson: “I will not let You go until You bless me!”

Yet that experience of helplessness is the best thing for our spiritual growth. As long as we can manage quite well by ourselves, we have no need to pray and never learn to praise God. But when we have come to the end of our own rope, our only hope lies in prayer. Only those who are helpless can truly pray. Only those who have been helped by God in answer to their prayers can really praise God.

You are on a journey through this fallen world to the Paradise of God. You live in a land where there are temptations, and in which you have fallen often. Perhaps it is pride that keeps you awake in the darkness before the coming dawn. Maybe it is slavish fear in the middle of the night. You are alone as you wrestle with your past, with your conscience, and with that ever-increasing load of guilt.

Then the Lord permits you to wrestle with Him throughout the darkness of this world’s night. He may reach out His finger and touch your heart or your home or a loved one. There is instant pain and it continues. You hobble around and, in spite of the hurt and suffering, with strength and determination that can only be from above, you hold on until you have God’s intended blessing.

It’s amazing, isn’t it? Striving with God and men… and prevailing. Suffering. Enduring hardship. Hearing the accusations of the Law. All the time, holding God to His gracious promises in prayer. Holding on for the blessing.

“The wages of sin is death…”

Yes, Lord, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“The soul that sins shall die…”

Yes, my Lord, but He was wounded for our transgressions.

“There is none that does good; no not one…”

Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.

Why does the Lord engage in such a wrestling match with you? Why does He inflict or permit a variety of painful injuries, horrid diseases, and awful injustices that might dog you the rest of your earthly life? In order that you might hold on for the blessing. In order that you might turn from your prideful independence to humble dependence upon Him. And in Christ you are! In order that He might bring you forgiveness. And in Christ you are forgiven! In order that your slavish fear might be replaced by godly fear. And in Christ you are! In short: In order that He might bless you! And in Christ you are blessed!

The Lord provides you with His Word and Sacraments, not only to bring you into the Israel of God, but to sustain you in His Church. Recall your Baptism daily by drowning the Old Adam through contrition and repentance. Declare to Satan: “I am baptized. And if I am baptized then I belong to Christ.”

Know yourself… both the sinner and the saint. Know God’s Word… both the Law that accuses and the Gospel that forgives. Listen as the absolution is announced and take it to heart. Receive the true body and blood of the Incarnate Son of God, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin and the strengthening of your faith. Through these means of grace, the Holy Spirit gives you the strength to endure whatever the Lord God may permit to come your way and to remain faithful unto death and be given the crown of life.

This literal encounter between Jacob and God provides an object lesson for our prayer life. We wrestle with God in prayer. It isn’t always easy. Eager as He is to hear us and help us, God is no pushover. He is no magic genie at our beck and call. Often He must oppose us when our sinful will is out of sync with His perfect will. He challenges, convicts, judges, evaluates us and our requests. But when our will is in accord with His, God graciously lets us prevail. Graciously, He gives us the blessing we ask for.

Like Jacob, may you continue to hold onto the Lord even in those dark hours when you are unable to see God’s mercy and see only a face that looks angry. May you learn to say in prayer, “My Savior, I will not let You go unless You bless me.” Indeed He does bless you. He soothes your suffering spirit. He calms all your fears. And He gives you peace and comfort even in the midst of strife.

In Christ, you are blessed. That is to say: 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 Godly Woman Raised Alive: Sermon for the Funeral of Hilda Uilk

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

Like most congregations, Trinity has a church book that contains a running record of all of the marriages, baptisms, deaths, and confirmations. With Trinity observing its 125th anniversary this past year, it was a book that was turned to quite often in order to recall important events and people in the history of the congregation. At our celebration, Hilda was recognized as our oldest living member and she was so happy to be able to join us for that day. Little did we know that one of the names entered into that book during this year would be for Hilda.

With her departure, a godly woman, a mother and grandmother and great-grandmother is no longer here—a friend and sister in Christ and faithful member of Trinity is not among us now. Were it my duty to paint sadness and sorrow, it would be easy to point to the reality of these mortal remains and let them speak louder than any words. But I am not here to cause tears of sorrow, but rather to give tears of joy. I am not here to show the victory of death; but rather the victory of a dear Christian—not to show the darkness of the grave, but the Light of the world that shines from the empty tomb on Easter morning into the graves of those who trust in Jesus as their Savior.

Still, the hurt is there for you and me who have suffered a great loss. I would encourage you to look to the Lord for your comfort today and in the days and months ahead. Let His Word enter into our hearts and soothe our sorrow and heal our wounded spirits.

For this purpose let us now go to the Word. This text came to me when it became evident that Hilda was going to receive the full measure of the blessings of eternal life. Listen to these words from Acts, chapter 9 as we consider “A Godly Woman Raised Alive.”

Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner (Acts 9:36–43).

There she was—a woman who had done so much in the congregation as she served the Lord. She had been known by many as one who was a follower of Christ Jesus who trusted Him as her personal Savior. As a response to the faith which the Holy Spirit worked in her heart she was a woman who was filled with works of charity. She had been active and alive in Christ. She was the kind of person who was willing to work very hard and for long hours in the service of the Lord. No wonder, many church women’s groups that serve the poor have taken her translated name for theirs—perhaps you’ve heard of Dorcas Societies.

Yet in the course of time, Tabitha became sick and this was a sickness which was extremely serious. After a while she died. Then she was prepared for burial and laid in a room until the time came for her to be placed in her grave.

In the meantime, they sent for the pastor—two men went to tell Peter of the news and to ask him to come to where she was. When he arrived, the widows were weeping and showing Peter and one another some of the coats, garments, and things which Tabitha had made.

Perhaps you, like me, thought about some of the things that Hilda had sewn—quilts, aprons, teddy bears and many other things she had made for her family, charities, and church functions. The faith that she & Herman modeled and nurtured among their children and which has been passed on to succeeding generations. Up until very recently, Hilda was a regular at Bible study and Ladies Aid. Her children remember that as they were growing up they had to be at family devotions and even if friends had come to pick them up they couldn’t leave until they were finished.

Hilda had a great sense of humor and like to have fun and make people laugh. At family gatherings and bridal and baby showers Hilda always made sure there was some fun game or skit that everyone participated in, often something she had written herself. The staff of Sunrise Village mentioned her quick wit. Whenever I came to visit her, she had a wisecrack or quick comeback.

For many years, Hilda was a very busy lady.

But there came a day when she could work no more—when age had sapped her strength and when needle and thread could not be picked up. It was at such a time when all the acts of charity and all the good works must be laid down. It was time for what was really important. Hilda found joy in her family. Even in the last days of her life, Hilda still enjoyed the comfort of children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Even in her last days, Hilda shared her faith and hope even as her family returned the favor.

Tabitha and Hilda share much in common. Just as Tabitha was a disciple, so was Hilda. She became one early in her life when the Holy Spirit worked faith in her heart beginning on January 6, 1924 with the washing of water and regeneration of Holy Baptism at her home at Olivet, South Dakota. She publicly confessed that faith in the Rite of Confirmation on March 21, 1937 at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Boyden, Iowa. She remained faithful to her Lord—trusting Jesus. Hilda  regularly gathered with her brothers and sisters in Christ to hear the Word of God and receive the blessed Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of her sins and strengthening of faith. When she could not longer make it to the Church the Church came to her as I visited her at Jasper Sunrise Village.

Tabitha and Hilda are like so many Christians who have been touched by the Lord’s promise of eternal life. The temptation might be to stop at this point and say no more. But to do so would be incomplete—it would be wrong.

Let’s go back to the Scriptures with Tabitha for a moment. She had been prepared for burial, which was not in accordance with the will of the Lord at the time. God used Peter to make the command that Tabitha should arise and that is just what she did. Death could not hold that woman because when Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the tomb, death was defeated and eternal life was guaranteed for God’s people.

As with Tabitha, so also Hilda’s mortal remains have been prepared for burial. But the grave will not be able to hold them either. God will send His angel and with the sound of the trumpet on the Last Day they shall arise. Take comfort in that and know that those who fall asleep in the Lord will be raised and reunited with loved ones who also remain faithful.

Keep with you, all you who are children of the heavenly Father the assurance and the confidence that Jesus proclaimed in our Gospel: “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” (John 11:25–26a).

I began speaking of a book which our church uses to keep track of the acts of the congregation. Hilda’s name will be entered into that book and I am quite confident that in the future more names will be written in the blank lines of that book in the days and months and years to come. Who will they be? I cannot say. Only that Lord knows that information.

But I do know this: Unless the Lord Jesus comes to end all history during our lifetime, then you and I will most certainly occupy a place similar to the earthly remains of Hilda. Are you ready for that to happen? I can’t tell you when that will be, but I can inform you most certainly that it will take place. Is your spiritual relationship with the Lord such that when your time arrives the Lord will have your name written in the Book of Life and will proclaim to you: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master!”? It was for Hilda and I pray that it may be for you. Or have you been ignoring the Lord Jesus; doing your own thing and starving yourself spiritually? Have you been drifting away from God, or, have you never really known Him? Each day, each hour and each minute you are moving closer to a time when a group of people will be gathered around what will be left of you, just as you and I are gathered around the earthly remains of our departed sister in Christ. I pray that you will be ready for that day!

Hilda has entered into her rest—she has been taken from battle to victory, from struggle to triumph, and from sorrow to gladness. After her pilgrimage here on this earth she has been called to the eternal city of the Lord. She is in everlasting joy as she has been taken into the bosom of the Lord. Behold, a godly woman made alive!

May God grant that we may be aware of the necessity of watching, praying, worshiping, and being ready for that day as well. 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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Seek to Show Hospitality: A Devotion for RSTM Welcoming Workshop

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Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:9–18).

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

Social media was abuzz this week with a photo of Ellen DeGeneres sitting with former president George W. Bush having a good laugh in the Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones’ private suite. Twitter users were surprised at the unusual seating arrangement, and some were angry to see, as DeGeneres put it, “a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president.” She took a lot of heat for this particularly from the LGBTQ community.

“I’m friends with George Bush,” DeGeneres explained Monday on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” “In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have.” “We’re all different, and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s OK.” “Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them.” “When I say be kind to one another, I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”

Obviously, Ms. DeGeneres and I part ways on a number of important topics. But I think she has a very reasonable point about just being kind and cordial—something this world could use more of.

Now, I don’t bring this up to hold her as a role model, but to make a point. Ellen was just talking about basic civility and human decency and many people were scandalized. St. Paul describes something even more scandalous: genuine Christian love, love not only for the fellow Christian, family member, but for the stranger!

This is a Welcoming Workshop. I presume you are here because you wish to learn how to help your congregation be more welcoming—unless you’re like one of my elders who told me: “I wasn’t sure I could make it, but I’ll come because it seems to be real important to you, Pastor.” Whatever your reason, I’m glad you’re here and we will be focusing on welcoming today.

As I started preparing this devotion, I did a search for various Bible passages that speak of welcoming. I didn’t really find any that fit what we are focusing on today. Then I thought of the word “hospitality,” after all, that is what we’re really trying to do, isn’t it? We’re trying to learn how to be more hospitable.

The Greek word usually translated “hospitality” is filozenia, “love of strangers.” It is this kind of love St. Paul mentions in our text, along with filadelfia, “brotherly love,” filostorgos, “familial love,”  and agaph, “love.

Paul’s God-given understanding of love stands in sharp contrast with what much of our world perceives love to be. All too often, our love degenerates into something like “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” In other words, love becomes a response to favorable treatment from someone else or a least depends upon such a response in return. Otherwise, love is withheld. Paul calls such conditional love “hypocritical.” Thus, he encourages us to love “without hypocrisy,” that is regardless of what comes back in return, whether good, evil, or nothing.

As sinners living in a fallen world, such love does not come to naturally, but must come from outside of us. We are by nature, hypocritical, self-centered, loveless. Love for neighbor, love for family, love for friend, love for the stranger—even one’s enemy!—must come from outside of ourselves.

Much theological hay is made of the many Greek words for love and their distinctive nuances you’ll find in our text. But richer by far is the observation that all uses of the noun “love” (agaph) thus far in Romans communicate the love of the triune God—the Father (5:5, 8; 8:39), Christ (8:35), and through the Spirit (5:5) for us. The same is true of the verb “to love” (agapaow). Only here does Paul begin to use agaph of the Christian’s love. Love from God in Christ through the Spirit to us then serves as the foundation and motivation for all responsive Christlike behavior. This follows what 1 John 4:19 says: “We love because He first loved us.”

Origen summarizes the theological basis for what follows using Paul’s language:

It happens that we hate things we ought not to, just as we love things we ought not to. We are ordered to love our brothers, not to hate them. If you think someone is ungodly, remember that Christ died for the ungodly. And if you think that because your brother is a sinner you do not have to love him, remember that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.[i]

Love is the sum and summary of all God’s Law, His commandments. Love for God and love for neighbor. Jesus, citing Leviticus 19:18  says to the rich young man who wanted to know what good deed he must do to inherit eternal life (Matthew 19: 16 ff). “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Everything we want someone to do for us, we should do for them. Everything we realize helps us so much: a helping hand, a kind word, a little attention, silent understanding in sorrow, and sincere participation in our joy. It’s things like that we should do for our neighbor.

Love needs to be made concrete and apparent in this way. It’s so easy for us to think that love is a general feeling of kindness. Love is not the same thing as decency or kindness. It goes way beyond that! Love must hate what is evil. It must “hold fast to what is good” (Romans 12:9), even if no one else does. Love has its own image that sometimes doesn’t fit in modern society at all. It can have a completely different, biblical view on abortion and divorce and how to spend your Sundays than other common, well-meaning people do, and it can do that without despising anyone. It prays for those who persecute and does favors for its enemies and is at peace with everyone, “if possible, so far as it depends on you” (Romans 12:18).

Above all, however, love is not a principle or theory or teaching. It’s a way of behaving in a concrete situation. Paul gives us a long list of examples: you’re appreciative toward people and take note of what they do; you aren’t apathetic. Instead, you gladly help others. You’re anxious to show hospitality and don’t regard your home as a private domain that you keep to yourself but understand the happiness that exists in sharing the comfort of a home with others. You’re happy when others are happy without feeling envious but delighted that it’s going so well for them. You can cry with those who cry and suffer with them, not with conventional phrases and meaningless clichés , but as a friend who understands and experiences how others feel in a way that can be felt and experienced without words.

Love for your neighbor assumes there is a neighbor, a tangible human being. Love doesn’t exist in general. It’s always a question about living human beings. It’s about the people we see around us in need of love. Love is an essential motivation and quality for becoming more welcoming congregations. May God grant us to grow more and more in our love for one another and all our neighbors. Amen

Let us pray:

Help us, Lord Jesus, to see not with cold eyes that see only indifferent people we want to avoid or dismiss as quickly as possible. Help us to see our neighbor whom You’ve put in front of us. Help us to be the kind of neighbor You want use to be for that person. Be with Amy, our presenter for today, give her words of wisdom and insight and a reminded of your love and grace. Help us in our congregations to be welcoming, to sincerely love one another with our hearts so we can help one another, support one another, carry one another’s burdens, and gladly do what we can to reach out to the lost and lonely. May we be joyful in hope, patient in suffering, and steadfast in prayer. For Your name’s sake. 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] Origen, Romans (Bray, Romans, ACCS NT 6:315), quoting in italics Romans 5:6 and 1 Timothy 1:15.

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He Remains Faithful

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“The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful—for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-13).

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

Let’s face it: We have not been all that faithful to God. Need proof? Let’s run through the Commandments. As we do, I ask to examine your own heart and life. How faithful have you been?

The First Commandment: You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

Have you loved God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength? Do you see your worry and fretting as sin against trusting God? Do you complain about the troubles, people, work, and suffering God lays on you? Do you love the things God gives more than you love Him?

The Second Commandment: You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thinks.

Have you used God’s name cheaply or for oaths that are frivolous or false? Do you pray with fervor in times of trouble? Is your life, marked with the Name of God in Baptism, characterized by thanksgiving and prayer?

The Third Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

Do you strive to make the day of rest holy, that is, set apart for God? Do you care about holy living? Do you honor the Word of God highly by studying it gladly, learning it by heart, and living it? Do you despise the Word of God by neglect, paying no attention to it when it is read or preached? Are you quick to make excuses for neglecting worship because of what someone else has said or done, or to do other things you like more?

That’s just the First Table of the Law—your love to God. What about the Second Table of the Law? Have you been faithful to your neighbor?

The Fourth Commandment: Honor your father and your mother. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.

Have you taught your children, prayed for them, brought them to worship, and instructed them in the baptismal life as God’s children? Has the fear and love of God shaped your honor and obedience to parents and others in authority over you? Do you pray for parents, leaders of the nation, schools and church?

The Fifth Commandment: You shall not murder. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.

Have you treated your neighbor’s body and life as great gifts of God to him? Have you avoided giving help to your neighbor or getting involved with him in his difficulty? Do you abuse your own body with neglect of health care, excess use of food, drink, tobacco, or drugs?

The Sixth Commandment: You shall not commit adultery. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.

Have you used for your own pleasure your ears to hear stories that ridicule marriage or incite craving for the body of one who is not your spouse? Have you indulged your eyes in looking with longing for your sexual satisfaction from a man or woman who is not your spouse? Have you dishonored marriage by ridicule, divorce, or neglecting to encourage others to be faithful in the fear of God to their spouses? And have you neglected to worship, pray, and follow the fear and love of God in times of sexual temptations? 

The Seventh Commandment: You shall not steal. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.

Have you been lazy at work, doing poor work in school or at the job, or working hard only when the boss was around? Have you been stingy in paying your workers? Have your worked for yourself, rather than for Christ and for the benefit of your neighbor? Have you cared for the property in the neighborhood, school, or church, so that it was improved? Have you been greedy when it comes to returning to the Lord a generous portion of your money as a thankoffering?

The Eighth Commandments: You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

Have you gossiped, delighting to tell others about the faults or mistakes of another? Have you found ways of explaining in the best possible way those works or actions of others that hurt you? Have you defended your neighbor when things said about your neighbor have made others think badly of him or her? Have you been faithful in keeping the secrets entrusted to you in confidence?

The Ninth Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.

Have you longed for the honor, wealth, happy life, or what seemed the ease of the lives of others? Have you rejoiced with a generous and good heart in the good things that come to your neighbors? Have you lived in grudging discontent with whatever God has given you, restless about what you don’t have and neglectful of thankful generosity with what you do have?

The Tenth Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.

Have you wanted your neighbor’s spouse, his workers, or his property to be yours? Have you urged friends and spouses and workers to go back to their calling, holding their friendships, marriages, or work together?

God says of all these commandments: “I the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (Exodus 20:5-6)

What does this mean? God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them. But He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore, we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands.

So, how did you do? Are you a little faithful? Pretty faithful?

It doesn’t really matter, does it? God’s standard is 100% faithfulness. And none of is perfectly faithful. And a person who isn’t perfectly faithful is a sinner. And the truth be told, none of us sinners is as faithful as we ought to be. And that statement is true for all of humanity, from the fall of Adam and Eve to this very day.

But that’s not quite right, is it? History has seen one single, special, solitary exception to that rule. That exception is Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the world’s Savior. This is good news for you. “If we are faithless, He remains faithful.”

Read through Scripture and you’ll see how faithful the Lord is. God created everything and declared it very good. But Adam and Eve turned away from God’s will and accepted Satan’s sinful suggestions. Their disobedience brought death and darkness into the world, even as it made certain that we could never again, by our own power, be reconciled with God. Our sins guaranteed we would never be more than “pretty faithful people” destined for hell. That’s the way it was, and that’s the way it would have remained if God hadn’t intervened and promised to send His Son to be the sinner’s substitute and Savior. Much of the rest of the Old Testament tells of how God, in spite of what His people did, remained faithful to His promise.

When His people refused to enter the land He’d promised, God remained faithful and waited for the Holy Spirit to raise up a generation who would obey. When His people preferred to follow other gods, He faithfully brought them back. When they forgot the promise they’d been given, God remained faithful and sent prophets to call them to repentance. No matter what His people did, God stayed faithful and committed to sending the Savior, who would bring forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption.

Then, when the fullness of time had come, God faithfully kept His promise to send His Son, our Savior. He remains faithful.

Jesus remains faithful to His neighbor.

Jesus honored His father and mother. At age 12, even though He knew He was to be about His heavenly Father’s business, when Mary and Joseph found Him in the temple, He went with them back to Nazareth and was submissive to them. Even as He was dying on the cross, Jesus made sure that His mother was taken care of. He submitted to earthly authorities even as they planned His death.

Jesus helped and supported His neighbor in need, showing compassion to the hungry and healing the blind, deaf, sick, and lame. When His disciples asked, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” Jesus rebuked them. When one of them cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Jesus healed the man.

Jesus instituted marriage in Eden, honored marriage at Cana, and offered marriage as an earthly picture of His love for His bride the Church.

During His temptation, Jesus was offered the riches of the world, but He turned them down and lived in poverty that you might be spiritually rich.

Jesus defends and praises the “sinful” woman who anoints Him at Simon’s house (Mark 14:3-9). He praises the widow’s sacrificial giving (Mark 12:41-44).

Jesus does not covet what His heavenly Father has not seen fit to give Him. When hungry after forty days in the wilderness and tempted to turn stones into bread. Jesus tells Satan, “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Luke 4:4).

Jesus remains faithful to God. Only He has loved the Lord perfectly with all His heart and with all of strength and with all of His soul and with all of His mind.

Each Sabbath you could find Jesus in the synagogue or temple, holding God’s Word sacred, gladly hearing and learning it. When Satan tempted Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall not worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’” In agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”

Jesus remains faithful to God unto death, even death on the cross.

Jesus remains perfectly faithful in doing all that is needed to forgive your sins and save your soul. That means He didn’t respond when He was spit on, when He was beaten, when He was whipped, and when He was crowned with thorns. And if that isn’t incredible, when He was nailed to the cross, He forgave those who had put Him there. Look in the Gospels. Verse after verse shows us that Jesus remains faithful. No matter what others do, Jesus is always perfectly faithful in fulfilling His Father’s promise to save sinners. “If we are faithless, He remains faithful—for He cannot deny Himself.”

It is a faithfulness that continues today. Today, risen and ascended, the living Lord is still fully committed to calling and keeping His people in the faith. He is there in the adoption service we call Baptism. He is present to bless the vows of bride and groom. He sits beside every family that mourns. He provides faith as we hear His Word and receive His body and blood. He is here, even now, for you. Faithfully, He hears your prayers, understands the great concerns of your heart, and wishes to calm your fears. He is here now, even as He will be here tomorrow and the next day and every day until that day He returns for you.

He remains faithful—for He cannot deny Himself.

Go in the peace of the Lord. 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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Depart in Peace: Sermon for the Funeral of Melvin Brockberg

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

Now that he now longer is here on this earth, we have only our memories of him. We close our eyes and can almost picture him, can’t we? No flashy, fancy clothes, no big, expensive car, no excesses of luxury, no political aspirations. He was an ordinary man, devout in his faith, humble in his attitude. You didn’t read about him in the newspapers all the time, but his name was written in the Book of Life. He knew of his salvation—that it was not something he could bring about. Like each of us, he had broken God’s commandments. He had failed to do the good he should do and had often done what he shouldn’t. But, by God’s grace, he had heard the good news of the Savior and believed it. He did not look to himself for his own righteousness or eternal salvation. Rather, the Lord was his hope; the Lord God was, and is, his future, his eternity.

We know for certain that he was a righteous man, though we also know that his righteousness was not from himself. Rather, when he was brought into the Church through the Word of God, then the Lord’s righteousness was given to him as a gift. Forgiveness of all sins, eternal life, salvation from death, and deliverance from the Evil One are all part of the blessings that God had declared to him. He became an heir of heaven and all the riches of the Lord God Almighty.

As he faced an uncertain death, he might well have agreed with the Apostle Paul as he thought about continuing to live in this world of disappointment and suffering, or to simply die. Paul said, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain… Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:21-23).

How many times had he thought of the 23rd Psalm? How often did he recall and rely on the part where the writer speaks, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me?” How often had he awakened in the night thinking of his life and thinking of the Promise of God, which had been given to him?

We don’t know, do we? For those thoughts of his are like yours and mine—very personal, known only by oneself and by the Lord. What we do know is that the Lord was with him during his travels through all of the valleys, at his bedside when he had bad dreams, with him when he received news that was less than comforting, and keeping him close even at the moment of his death.

Dear family and friends of our departed brother in Christ, Melvin: the only thing that is able to keep us going in tough times is the promise of God given to us in His Son. That promise was given to that man I’ve been speaking of, the man from the Bible named Simeon, the man who is now with the Lord in heaven. And it sustained him during his entire life. It is his story in Luke 2:25-32 that provides our text for today under the theme: “Depart in Peace.”

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now You are letting your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.’”

In a special revelation given by the Holy Spirit, Simeon had been given the promise of God that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. That special day came for Simeon when Mary and Joseph entered the temple with the Christ Child. Simeon was given the wonderful privilege of actually holding Jesus. What the universe could not contain was held in the arms of one man. Simeon embraced his Savior, his Salvation, his Redeemer, his Lord. He held eternity in his hands.

Dear people, is a baby able to be that and to do that? Well, this was not just any baby being held. This was the Baby—the Son of God, begotten of the Father from eternity and the Son of Man, born of the Virgin Mary. The Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head. This little One would grow up to tell you that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life … that no one is able to come to the Father except by Him … that He came to lay down His life for you.

This Baby held in Simeon’s arms, would grow up for the specific purpose of taking his place and ours upon the cross. No, He did not look forward to His own death. Unlike you and Melvin and me, Jesus knew exactly how He was going to die. Jesus knew He would experience hell itself. Why, He even prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

Jesus lived a perfect, holy and righteous life in our place. He died our death and atoned for our sins. He suffered hell so that we might not have to. He rose up from His grave as He defeated death. The tomb could not hold Him; nor will it hold those who fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. He promised to be with us, always, even to the end of the age, as He ascended into heaven to His rightful place as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

From there, in Paradise, He awaited Simeon. He awaited Melvin. He awaits you and me. The Lord looked down from above and knew that Simeon would not see death until his eyes had seen the Lord’s Christ. Having stood in the Temple and seen Him, Simeon could depart in peace. And, no doubt, one day Simeon did depart in peace, according to the Word and will of the Lord.

Simeon reminds me of Melvin. Here was a quiet, unassuming man, so inconspicuous that few but the closest to him really knew that much about him. If you look in his scrapbook, you can see that he made the newspaper a few times in his life: when he got married to Dorothy, when he moved a big dairy barn to his farm, and when he sold a cow that had an image of Mickey Mouse on its side to Disney World. Melvin was a private man. As far as I can tell not many folks even knew he was going on the Midwest Honor Flight last week. But we do know this most important thing about Melvin: As with Simeon, the Lord looked down on Melvin and knew he would not die until he had seen the Lord.

And Melvin did see Him. Through the Word of God at his Baptism, Melvin saw the crucified and risen Christ. Having received the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, Melvin could’ve departed in peace as a tiny baby. But that was not the Lord’s will. Through the Word of God, Melvin peered into the manger and saw the Good News of great joy—the Savior of the world. He saw the sinless Son of God hanging on the cross for his sins. Having seen the Lord, Melvin could have departed in peace after his confirmation day, or when he served in the United States Army during the Korean War, or the day he married Dorothy, or during one of his bouts of pneumonia, or any time in between. But that was not the Lord’s will. None of those times were the right time for Melvin.

When would it be? Not one of us knew until last Thursday. Of course, God from on high knew when it would be all along. And He knew that Thursday was the day for Melvin to depart in peace and spend eternity in Paradise. God, in His great mercy and love, permitted Melvin to die suddenly, without lingering illness or incapacitation such a short time after some of us had joined in worship in the chapel service at Falls Landing and he told us how he so looked forward to the Midwest Honor Flight.

For Melvin, there is now, no pain, no sorrow, no suffering. No more earthly hurts, conflicts, or grudges, no more struggle with sin, no more guilt over past mistakes. He has departed in peace according to the Word of God. The promise had been given and Melvin believed and trusted in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Last Thursday all things were ready in heaven and on earth for Melvin to depart in peace.

From there in Paradise, Jesus awaits for the Last Day, when He will raise the bodies of all the dead. He’ll take all believers with Him to the new heaven and new earth, where they’ll live forever in glorious, resurrected bodies, with clean hearts and sinless souls. This promise is good whether you believe it or not. The heavenly riches are there whether you believe it or not. Jesus died for you whether you believe it or not.

For those who do believe in Jesus, trust Him, and follow Him, well, you may depart in peace because your eyes have seen Him. Oh, it’s not that Christians look forward to dying. Christians do not especially want to die any more than anyone else. I know I don’t. But a very wise Christian woman said something like this: “It is not the dying that bothers me, it is the struggle to keep on living that is so hard.” So from God’s point of view, the view that both Simeon and Melvin now have, any day is a good day to die. The Christian may, indeed, depart in peace.

Sadly, for those who never knew Jesus, or who no longer believe in Him, or who’ve wandered away from Him, there really is no good day to die. Because on that day Jesus will say to them, “Depart…. depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the Name of the God’s one and only Son.

Isaiah the prophet gives good counsel to each of us: “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call on Him while He is near.” The Apostle Paul encourages the same: “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

According to God’s Word, Melvin believed and was baptized. No, like each of us he was not perfect, he was not without sin. But by the grace of God, Melvin was declared righteous and having salvation for Jesus’ sake. With the Word, Melvin lived his life of faith in the Church. Through the Word of God, Melvin received Christ at Holy Communion. He received the very body of Jesus born of Mary—the very blood of Jesus shed on the cross. And for perhaps a thousand times after the Lord’s Supper, along with the entire congregation and all the company of heaven, Melvin sang Simeon’s song: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy Word. For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.”

How about you? Will you depart in peace like Simeon or Melvin? You can, you know! Those of you who seek the Lord, who have heard and believe the good news of our Savior Jesus Christ can depart from this sanctuary in peace, knowing you have been declared righteous, knowing that those sins and offenses you’ve suffered at the hands of others have been redeemed in the blood of the Lamb, knowing you have salvation and eternal life because are forgiven of all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. 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.