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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.

A Tongue that Is Taught

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“The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary” (Isaiah 50:4).

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

Many philosophers have said many things about holding your tongue and watching what you say. Among my favorites is Thumper: “If you can’t say some’tin nice… don’t say nothin’ at all.” Then there’s: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.” (Variously attributed to Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, and Samuel Johnson). And finally: “That mouth of yours is going to get you in big trouble some day!” (Spoken by countless mothers and fathers throughout history).

Controlling the tongue is neither simple nor easy. It is not simply a peripheral issue on the edges of Christian life, but it is the key to controlling the whole self. Someone who is careful with their words and has learned to exercise self-control has earned the privilege to be listened to.

Although the tongue is just a three-inch muscle, wet, floppy, and only partially visible, it is tremendously powerful. To underscore this point, James gives us a few examples of little things that have bigger effects. One of them is the bits we put in the mouths of horses. That little piece of steel in a horse’s mouth, when managed properly, can control a huge animal. The rudder on a ship, that little shaped plank, mostly invisible beneath the waterline enables a captain to pilot an immense vessel. A third example is a spark in the forest. Under control, a spark can make a small fire to warm cold travelers and cook their food. Out of control, a spark can ignite an inferno that devours thousands of acres of woodlands.

Learning how to control your tongue is important, not only to avoid hurting other people emotionally and spiritually, but also to protect yourself. An uncontrolled tongue can turn on you, corrupting the whole person, poisoning your mind, and bringing your body down to the fires of hell (James 3:7).

Talk is not cheap. Words do wound. Words can build up or destroy a person’s self-confidence. Words can turn someone’s proud achievement into humiliation. Words can create or destroy relationships. Words can spread hate or love. Words can sow truth or plant lies. Words can cast suspicion or build trust.

Words are also God’s means to rescue people from hell. A sermon, a Bible study, or an evangelism visit over coffee all look tame and ineffectual. But God’s power to save people, to create and sustain saving faith, rides with words.

Commenting on our text, August Pieper writes: “Concretely then, the tongue taught of God is the tongue of the prophet, preacher, teacher, a tongue that has been enlightened by the Holy Spirit. The Servant is speaking of His endowment for His prophetic office… His mouth is a sharp sword, a polished arrow, shaped by the Holy Spirit. He proclaims the mysteries of God with the tongue of a master, and therefore with the power of God to convert… His words are spirit and life.”[i]

It is vital for Christians, and especially for us who speak in the Church’s name, to let God’s Word control our words. People hate hypocrisy. “Double-minded” Christians praising God and cursing one another, drive people away from the Savior. That is why James is particularly hard on those who would be pastors: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).

Christ has placed a very particular message on the tongues of His preachers. He has sent pastors to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name, teaching the baptized to obey everything He has commanded. There is no room for preachers who seek to replace the Word of Jesus with their own agendas, ambitions, or ideas. Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life and no one gets to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).

Let’s be honest: When it comes to taming and teaching the tongue, we have all failed. Not once of us is innocent—no one, not you, not me. And to drive home this point, James reminds us of what we are all too capable of doing: we can sit here in the Divine Service, praising our God in heaven, and then the next moment with the very same tongue, can utter such lies and filth about others.

St. Paul writes: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). James would agree wholeheartedly. His proof is the tongue. Ours are tongues that cannot be tamed. Sure, we try. We put our mind to fixing the problem. After all, we are children of God. Such a fiery tongue is not befitting us. Wouldn’t God want us to tame it so that it speaks only words that glorify Him? Sure, He would. He does. But the harder we try, it seems, the worse we do. St. James adds insult to injury when he writes: “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (v 2b).

But I am not a perfect man. Neither my tongue nor my body is bridled. To borrow more words from St. Paul: “Wretched man than I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).

So, is there nothing we can do? Are we doomed to live this life in a never-ending battle against a tongue that would just as soon destroy us as it would honor the God of our salvation? Well, in  a way, yes, and in another, no. The battle will go on for each of us. But the words of the Epistle point us toward the victory that is ours. Listen again: “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (James 3:2b). And here is the good news of God’s grace toward sinners such as you and me: the Perfect Man.

In Isaiah, this Perfect Man speaks to us. He says, The Lord God has given Me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; He awakens My ear to hear as those who are taught” (Isaiah 50:4).

Just who is speaking here? This is the Servant of the Lord, whom Isaiah had introduced in chapter 42:1 as someone who was anointed with God’s Spirit. When He appeared next, He spoke and announced that Yahweh had given Him a mouth like a sharp sword (49:2). In this passage, the Servant of the Lord clarifies what He means by that: “The Lord God has given Me the tongue of those who are taught.”

Part of the Servant’s ministry will be to proclaim God’s Word. How can we be certain that the words this Servant speaks come from God? The Servant obediently listens. “Morning by morning,” that is, again and again, the Servant gives the Lord’s Word His attention. But He does not just listen to the Word and then forget the words of God, He willingly submits to the Word of God. He knows what the Lord wants, and He obeys perfectly.

And for this, the Servant suffers. For this Servant, obedience means that He will be beaten and humiliated. He will give His back to those who strike Him. He will be whipped. He will give His cheeks to those who would tear out His beard. Such treatment is a disgrace and humiliation, but the Servant will willingly allow it to take place because of His obedience to the Word of the Lord. His willing obedience will be evident in the way He endures reproach and spitting.  

The Servant who speaks in this passage must be a special individual sent by God Himself to carry out a mission that will involve proclaiming the truth of God’s Word , as well as enduring such suffering and disgrace. He must be the Great Prophet promised (Deuteronomy 28:17-18) and the Great High Priest, who will offer up Himself as a sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 7:26-28; 9:6-12). We know, of course, that He is Jesus the Christ, pictured here in prophecy.

The truth of this identification becomes clearer the more we learn about this Servant in the next verses. The suffering of the Servant is necessary. It is a part of God’s plan, which the Servant learns from the Lord God Himself. The Servant also learns that the Lord will not desert Him. This idea runs through these Servant passages like a golden thread. We are told, “He will not grow faint or be discouraged” (Isaiah 42:4). Then when the Servant Himself appears to labor for no purpose, He says, “yet surely My right is with the Lord, and My recompense with My God” (Isaiah 49:4). Now He says, “I have not been disgraced” (Isaiah 50:7). He will indeed suffer to accomplish His mission. Therefore, the Servant resolutely faces His suffering: “I have set My face like a flint.”

Hearing these words, I cannot help but recall how resolutely Jesus sets His face as He journeyed to Jerusalem to suffer and die (Luke 9:51). He tells His disciples what will happen there, but the prospect of pain and death does not deter Him (e.g., Matthew 16:21; 20:17-19). From the anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus arises to face those who had come to arrest Him. He willingly obeys the Father and gives Himself up to those who would inflict pain.

There is a note of defiance in Servant’s words here. He will endure pain and suffering, but He will remain convinced that He is doing the will of the Lord and that the Lord will vindicate Him. That knowledge will enable the Servant to defy His accusers. He asks, “Who will contend with Me? Let us stand up together. Who is My adversary? Let him come near to Me” (Isaiah 50:8). The Servant is innocent of any sin. The accusations against Him are intended to condemn Him, but they are all nothing more than a moth-eaten garment, fit only to be discarded with the trash.

So, we hear these passages with Jesus in mind. Consider His words to Annas: “Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them; they know what I said” (John 18:21). Facing the mob, Jesus says: “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture Me? Day after day I sat in the temple, teaching, and you did not seize Me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled” (Matthew 26:55-56).

What does this Servant passage mean to the people of Israel and to the world, to you and me? The Lord has graciously promised deliverance from sin, death, and hell. As God’s prophet Isaiah—yes, all of Scripture tells us, the Lord will fulfill His promise through His Servant. Because we are all sinners, we must have this deliverance from the hand of the Lord of grace. Before God, all humans stand in absolute terror of the punishment we deserve because of our sins. But the faithful and gracious Lord declares all sins not guilty because of this great Servant.

Believers possess deep respect and awe for the Lord; therefore, we listen to His Word. We become especially interested in the Word of this Servant, the One with a tongue that is taught, whom the Lord has sent. Those who show appropriate fear of the Lord prove it by giving ear to the Word of His great Suffering Servant. All who fear the Lord and trust in the Word of the Lord’s Servant will find deliverance, forgiveness, and life.

There is one who is the Perfect Man. There is One who bridles His tongue and bridles His whole body. There is one who lives the perfect life that you and I cannot live. There is One who deserves none of what He receives at the hands of those who hang Him on the cross but suffer every moment as He bears the burden of our sinful tongues.

That perfect One, our Savior Jesus Christ, lives and dies and rises exactly because our tongues are “a fire, a world of unrighteousness” (James 3:6). He bridles His tongue even in the face of death so that we might receive His righteousness as He now lives in us. So, we need not “give up,” not in the sense of living in despair or guilt. Instead, we live as children of our heavenly Father. We live as those given the inheritance of the only Son of God, who was silent on our behalf.

In the waters of Holy Baptism, that fire that burns from your tongue was extinguished. The Word of God that fills your mind and heart with pure truth from God. That Word replaces all the “other words” and gives your tongue something righteous to speak. As you receive the body and blood of Christ on your tongue, the wounds inflicted on you by the things you say and are said against you are healed. God’s grace is a saving flood that not even the fires of hell can stand against. And what you are helpless against on your own, you conquer in Christ 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] August Pieper, Isaiah II, Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, p.389.

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Lest You Forget God’s Word

“Moses” by James Tissot

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“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the just decrees that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you. . . .

“Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon Him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and just decrees so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?

“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children” (Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9).

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

No one knows how to preach a sermon the way God does!

Moses wanted this generation to remember the sermon God had preached to their parents almost 40 years earlier. As their parents had traveled out of Egypt, they complained and disobeyed God at every step. Finally, at Sinai, the Lord interrupted the journey and called a “family meeting.” “We need to have a talk.” What a talk it was! Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, billowing up from it like from a furnace; the mountain shook violently as a trumpet blast grew louder, and above it rumbled the voice of God. He’d certainly gotten their attention! Out of that dreadful display the Lord’s voice spoke His Ten Commandments.

Yet that first generation of Israelites had quickly forgotten God’s powerful Sinai sermon. None of them made it to the Promised Land, except Joshua and Caleb. So, Moses tells their children: “Be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget.” He wants them to learn this and pass it on. “Teach them to your children and to your children’s children,” Moses says.

Moses’ words are direct. Do God’s Law, and you will live. He also tells the people, “Keep [the Lord’s statutes and just decrees] and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’” (Deuteronomy 4:6).

Life, fame, wisdom, understanding—don’t these all sound great? Let’s get to it then. Dig deeply into God’s Word. Read, ponder, and inwardly digest it so we don’t miss anything. Learn the Commandments, the statutes, the rules, the judgments, and the testimonies. Learn them and do them, and you will live. God takes His Word seriously. Life or death seriously. Blessing or curse seriously.

Moses emphasizes this with the powerful charge that Israel neither add to nor subtract from God’s Word, a warning that is repeated throughout Scriptures. Agur son of Jakeh writes, “Every word of God proves true; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you and you be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:5–6). The apostle John concludes the Revelation, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (22:18–19).

Jesus criticized the Pharisees for adding a burdensome body of rules and regulations to the Scriptures: “For the sake of your tradition you have made void the Word of God” (Matthew 15:6).

The Old Testament prophets condemned their own generation for ignoring God’s Word when it spoke to their sinful sexual habits, their hollow worship practices, or their corrupt business tactics. The Lord spoke through Hosea: “Hear the Word of the Lord, O children of Israel, for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed… My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to Me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hosea 4:1-2, 6).

“Think of all the spiritual advantages the people of Israel enjoyed! Theirs wasn’t a musty collection of myths about the misadventures and misbehavior of their gods, which happened ‘once upon a time.’ God revealed Himself in their national life with power and purpose. He rescued them from slavery, journeyed with them through the wilderness, responded with awesome power to their prayers, and shaped their lives with a one-of-a-kind covenant.”[i] St. Paul understood the spiritual privileges His people enjoyed. He asked the church at Rome, “Then what advantage has the Jew?” Then answered his own question, “Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:1–2).

He told the Corinthians: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:1–4).

Along with a knowledge of what the Lord wanted, the Spirit of God also gave His people willing hearts to respond to His commands. The Israelites could observe them and follow them, and the nations around would see and be drawn to the Lord God through them. Jesus taught the same thing: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden… In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16).

If you were asked to list the great spiritual advantages the Savior has given us, what would your list include? For many of us, a godly mother and father who told us about Jesus, prayed for us, and set an example of a faith-filled life. For many of us, a community of believers who provided opportunities for worship, education, and encouragement in the faith. For many of us, the privilege of growing up in a country where religious beliefs were neither legislated nor forbidden, but where we could believe and live our faith as we wished. Those are great blessings!

Who would not want their children and grandchildren to receive the same?

None of us, it might seem. Time and again, God’s people did what is evil in God’s sight and turned toward other gods. Over and over, they tested the Lord’s patience. Every time they repented and returned to the Lord, it never took them long to forget God’s Word and fail to teach it to their children.  

Sadly, with a few exceptions, we have not passed on this teaching to our next generation, either. We have not kept God’s Word sacred and gladly heard and learned it. We have not loved God with all our heart and strength and soul and mind. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We’ve let the priorities of the world crowd out our faith. And our next generations are suffering the most for it.

No wonder our church pews are empty. No wonder only 1 in 4 Americans is considered to be a practicing Christian—someone who identifies as a Christian, agrees strongly that faith is important in their lives, and has attended church within the past month—when only 20 years ago almost ½ of all Americans fit this category.

We’ve forgotten God’s Word. We’ve failed to listen to His teaching and do what it says. We’ve foolishly turned away from the wisdom of God’s Word. We’ve added to God’s Word and subtracted from it when it has suited our own purposes. We’ve forgotten the wondrous works of God we have seen and failed to make them know to our children and our children’s children. We’ve failed as a group, and we’ve failed as individuals.

Dear friends, what then shall we do? We have not remembered God’s statutes and rules. Our hearts are inclined to any and every evil thing. We have stumbled time and again, falling away, falling into sin. Hearing the Word of God today, we are reminded what our sinful natures have tried so hard to forget; we are sinful, we are lost, and we are dead in our sins and transgressions. We have failed to teach God’s Word in all its purity to our children.

Can there be any more desperate need? Is there any more urgent time of trouble than this? Cry out then in your distress, for our Lord God has promised to hear you. “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon Him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7).

Confronted with God’s holy and righteous Law, we cry out to Him: “Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy! You have promised to be near to us in our hour of need, and this it!”

What God promises, He will do; what He says is true. He promises to come near in our time of trouble, and so He has. Near to us, even “God with us.” Here He is. He is not hiding or concealing Himself. He is Immanuel, and in Jesus, God, the Word made flesh, is with us!

“What great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us?” When God is with us, He brings freedom and redemption. When God is near to those who call upon Him, His enemies and all who threaten His people are devastated and His people are set free.

God was with His people at the Red Sea. In pillars of cloud and fire, He protected His people and destroyed their enemies beneath the waters. In the time ahead, God would be with His people to vanquish armies with His own hand, to shut mouths of the lions, to bring His children through the fiery furnace, to guide the stone from David’s sling, to lead His people back from exile, and finally, He would be with them—with us—in the flesh and flood of Jesus, who makes all things new again.

In the face of the accusations and condemnations of our enemies—sin, death, and the devil—and of our own sinful nature, God comes near to us, steps into the flesh of all mankind, and Jesus submits to the same Law of God that was binding on us. He fulfills it perfectly, and then He dies for all of us who didn’t. And since He came near to us, actually becoming one of us, in His accomplishing all things for you, all your enemies are vanquished, and you are set free and redeemed. Because Christ came near to fulfill God’s Law, you are free. That is the Gospel, God’s Word of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and life in Jesus Christ.

God does not want His Word to be adulterated by human wisdom or skirted over in the interest of social harmony. Yet the Church in both Old and New Testament times (and even today) has suffered from groups and individuals who sought to add to, and take from, God’s Word. This happens when legalistic prescriptions bind people’s consciences where God has not, and when that which God calls sin is not condemned but embraced as good and right.

By Jesus’ day, so much had been added to and taken from God’s Law that it was hardly recognizable. Those wanting to justify themselves happily added law upon law so that they could declare themselves clean by all they have kept. Those who would rather eat, drink, and be merry gladly tamed the Law with excuse after excuse, taking from it God’s benevolent authority.

Regardless of what had been added to it or taken from it. Jesus sets it right once again. More than that, He purifies it and then transcends it. The Word made flesh takes back from the unrighteous the Word of God, His very Word and His very self. He declares that it is not what goes into a person that defiles him or her but what comes out the defiles.

Jesus has come to set you free and give you the forgiveness of sins, so He sets God’s Law free from all that man’s sin had added and taken from it.

As Jesus thus declares all foods clean on account of His blood and righteousness, He, too, declares you clean and holy. God has come near to you this day, here in His house as you eat His body and blood, and as you hear His life-giving Gospel, you are just as He declares you to be: forgiven, 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] Mark E. Braun, Deuteronomy: People’s Bible Commentary. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005. p. 49.

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This Is a Hard Saying

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When many of His disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” But Jesus knowing in Himself that His disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?” (John 6:60-62).

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

The Bible has two basic, primary doctrines—the teaching of the Law and the teaching of the Gospel. The Law is Lord God Almighty’s holy will. The Law demands what we do and not do, what we say and not say, and what we think and not think. The Law is directed to the activities of man. The Law always accuses our old sinful self. Even one violation of one commandment condemns to everlasting separation from God and Paradise, “for whoever keeps the whole Law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). Each of us has broken God’s Law. You know it. I know it. You and I deserve nothing less than God’s punishment and banishment, both now in time and also later in eternity.

The other doctrine of the Holy Scriptures is the Gospel. This is the Good News of God in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of all sins. This is God’s gracious gift of salvation because of what Jesus did when He suffered and died for the sins of the whole world and when He rose again from the dead. The Gospel makes no threats, issues no demands, and forces no obedience. It is God’s sweet, comforting, soothing message of complete pardon, full forgiveness of sin, giving of eternal life and bestowing of salvation by and through His Word. Given through Baptism, the forgiving Word, and the Lord’s Supper it bestows grace, mercy, peace, and life.

Our Gospel Reading begins just after Jesus finished teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. His teachings were about those two eternal truths—the Law and the Gospel—the consequences of sin and about salvation and the way to be with God in heaven. These doctrines, though simple to know in terms of what He said, were not at all easy to understand and accept. Many were offended by what Jesus said about Himself and why He had come into this world.

So what causes people to be offended at Jesus? What is the scandal of Christianity—the Law or the Gospel?

The offense is not the Law for we find forms of Law outside of Christianity. Human nature, as it relates to God, seeks to earn God’s favor by doing something and by being “good.” Cain sought God’s favor by making an offering. It didn’t get the job done and he utterly failed. Judas sought to undo his sin by an offering in the Temple. It seemed like the right thing to do but the faithless act only condemned him further and led the betrayer to die in sin and suffer eternal death.

Even for those within Christendom it is the natural inclination to try to earn one’s salvation, to merit heaven. Entire religious systems are built around a form of the Law… of manageable law. Many demand that a God-pleasing decision be made. There are those who connect and condition one’s faith to a faith-offering. Adherents of one religious group are obligated to do penance in life in order to earn absolution and to suffer after death in order to earn paradise. Others must conform their wills, words, and actions to the merciful one’s unmerciful justice. Still others slave under the ladder-climbing litany of reincarnations and progressions. In the midst of all this, the individual soul—people just like you—one whose days of this life are ticking off, ponders what eternal place will be your abode when the last day is at hand and checked off.

The natural questions surface: How much does God’s gift “cost me?” What must “I do to earn” God’s grace? In other words, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). Just tell me what I must do to be right with God. What are the hoops I must jump through? You see, people are not offended by a system of laws. We’re used to laws. What astonishes them is that they can’t do it… can’t earn it… can’t get the job done. Why? Because if eternal life and salvation are to be earned then God demands perfection from day one to the last breath in this world. Man’s reply is swift, “No one is perfect.” Scripture replies: “If a Law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the Law” (Galatians 3:21), but “by works of the Law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the Law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).

No, friends, the scandal of Christianity is not the Law, it is the Gospel. In our text for today, this truth is demonstrated. Jesus proclaimed the Gospel and hearing it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

Consider what had scandalized these people who had followed Jesus.

First is the scandal of who Jesus is. This is the offense of the Incarnation of the Son of God; namely, that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus said that He is the Bread of Life who is come down from heaven (John 6:38). Jesus declares the Good News that He is the Messiah… the eternal Son of God “incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary” (Apostles’ Creed). Jesus the Christ is the Savior, “God of God, Light of Light, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father… Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven” (Nicene Creed). This is the Gospel, and it is offensive to many in this fallen world. “When many of [Jesus’] disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’”

Second is the scandal of the work of Jesus. This is the offense of what Jesus has come into this world to do. Many want Jesus to be a new Moses handing out more commandments and showing us how to accomplish our own salvation. But that is not what the Messiah was born to do. The Son of God came, not to be a Law-Giver, but to be the Sin-Bearer. The Good News is that Jesus kept His own Law perfectly, never once sinning… always doing, saying, and thinking what was, is, and will be absolutely perfect. In other words, Jesus kept the Law perfectly, and He did this in your place, crediting His righteousness to you.

In addition, Jesus paid the eternal price under the wrath of God for every sin and therefore, for all your sins. He shed His blood for all and therefore, for you. On the altar of the cross, God gave His body for you in order that you might believe in and be fed on Him who is the Bread of Life. Jesus gave His Spirit for you in order that you might be refreshed and not thirst in your soul. The Son of God suffered hell that you might not spend one second in that God-forsaken place. This is the Gospel, and it is offensive to many in this fallen world. When many of His disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

Third is the scandal of the resurrection. This is the offense that many take at Jesus being raised from the dead. Jesus experienced death at the separation of His Body and Soul—when His Spirit was received by the Father and His lifeless Body was suspended from the cross. His Body was placed in a tomb but three days later, Jesus physically rose from the dead and He told those who heard Him that on the last day He would raise up the dead. This is the Gospel, and it is offensive to many. While the crucifixion and the resurrection were still ahead of Him on the day Jesus spoke these words, He did speak of giving His Flesh and Blood for the world and of His return to heaven, for “Jesus, knowing in Himself that His disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?’”

Fourth is the scandal of the Word of God. This is the offense that God works through His Word to bestow faith and grant His blessings of forgiveness of all sins, eternal life, and salvation. He does this by the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace. Jesus said it this way, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray Him.) And He said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father.’”

The Gospel—the Good News—is that salvation is not by or because of our works, but only by the grace of God alone through faith alone in Christ alone—in His Person, in His Work—given to us and coming to us by means of His Word that the Holy Spirit uses to give life.

There is the Word of Christ in the water that is a Christian Baptism, for “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4–7).

There is the Word of Christ in the announcement of forgiveness, whether of one Christian forgiving another… or of the pastor announcing forgiveness during private confession… or of the called servant of the Word publicly standing in the stead and speaking the words of Jesus to His congregation by absolving the penitent in the Name of the Triune God.

There is the Word of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. For, on the night when Jesus was betrayed by the one whom He knew would betray Him, “Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:26–28).

This is the Gospel and it offensive to many in this fallen world, and sadly, this occurs within the congregation of those who are called disciples. How they leave the Lord when they depart from Baptism by changing it from a Gospel gift given from God above to a Law fulfillment by man below! How they howl at the forgiveness of sins announced and utter the words of the unbelieving scribes who asked, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7)! How they neglect the true, clear Word of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar, departing from the Presence of the Lord and denying Christ’s Body and Blood that grants forgiveness, bestows salvation, and gives eternal life, hope, peace, and joy!

This is really no different with many today as it was when Jesus said that His words are Spirit and life, as well as when He told them the truth that “no one can come to [Christ] unless it is granted him by the Father.” We behold the reality today of what the Bible states, namely, that “after this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” Look at the Church today and you see the reality of this taking place because people are scandalized by the Gospel. Lonely pews bear witness to many who have gone away.

And what of those who have not left but still believe in the Lord Jesus and follow Him? What of you? Listen, for Jesus is speaking. He asks a question to be asked even of the faithful as they behold so many others leaving the Presence of the Lord and abandoning the Body of Christ. It’s a question for you, dear faithful, for “Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’”

Are you going to be offended by the Gospel and go away? Are you going to be scandalized because Christ’s Word is proclaimed to you that you are baptized in and you are forgiven of all your sins in Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit? Do you desire to depart because of the hard saying, “This is My Body; this is My Blood”?

Listen, for Simon Peter is answering. He speaks the confession of the faithful in response to the hearing of the words of Jesus that are Spirit and Life. “Lord, to whom shall we go; You have the words of eternal life, and we have come to believe and we know that you are the Holy One of God.’” 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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Sermon for the Funeral of Sandy Carstensen

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[Jesus said:] “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:1–6).

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

The tension was thick that night. The mood was somber because death was near. Repeatedly and increasingly, over the weeks and months, the Lord had told them that He was going to Jerusalem to be crucified. Now the betrayal was underway and His alarming prophecy would come to pass in less than 24 hours.

So, what would the Eleven do? As long as Jesus was with them, they were disciples of the Christ, the Son of the Living God. But if He were dead, what were they, then? Nobody. They were absolutely nothing without Jesus, but lost sheep, with no hope and waiting to die. They could look back at the good ol’ days for a bit of comfort, but that would give them no help for the future.

So Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”

But did they? Did they know the way? Jesus was leaving via the grave. How would they be reunited again? Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” What sort of path led from life, through death, to beyond? What would they have to do to get there?

Jesus replied, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

They needed to know Jesus, and that was all. Why? Because when it came to their salvation, He was going to do all the saving. They didn’t have to climb any stairway to heaven—Jesus is the Way to heaven. They didn’t need to seek out some sort of hidden knowledge, because Jesus stood before them to tell them the truth that He would die for their sins and rise from the dead. They didn’t need to find some miracle medicine, some fountain of youth somewhere, because the risen Jesus would give them life. By His death on the cross, He would deliver them from sin. By His resurrection from the grave, He would deliver them from death. He was already getting ready a place for them in heaven forever.

He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life for them; and He would keep His promises. No wonder He said to them, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”

Of course, as long as the disciples lived in this sinful world, they’d still be troubled. While Jesus underwent trial and cross, they’d run away, hide, deny, and despair. They knew the way, the truth, and the life because they knew Jesus, the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; but their eyes saw terrible things that filled them with fear.

No matter their fearful doubt, though, Jesus rose three days later. He made His way to them, spoke His truth to forgive them and give life. He sent them out to tell the world that He is the Way to His Father and heaven. Of those apostles, all would die—all but one a martyr’s death. Even then, however, salvation was sure, and the hope was certain. When bodies were wracked by pain, hearts were still not troubled. They knew Jesus because Jesus knew them. By His death and resurrection, He had prepared a place for them. Forever.

“Let not your hearts be troubled,” said Jesus once again. This time, He said it to a little girl named Sandy. “Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms, and by My death and resurrection, I have prepared a place for you.” Yes, make no mistake, Jesus said this specifically to Sandy on April 25, 1937 at St. Paul Lutheran Church here in Pipestone, Minnesota. Oh, He used different words, namely, “Sandra Jeanne Bucher, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

These words were spoken over Sandy before she was old enough to comprehend the words; but on that day, the promise to her was sure. Jesus declared that when He died on the cross for sins, He had already suffered God’s judgment for her and risen again; and now in Baptism He shared that death and resurrection with her. That day, the Lord said: “Sandy, you don’t know all that I have planned for you. No one does but Me. But this you know, because I declare it to all this day: I have already given you forgiveness and faith and eternal life. Your soul already lives in Me forever! No matter what lies ahead, rest assured that you know the end of the story. For My life and death and resurrection, I have prepared a place for you in heaven. Let not your heart be troubled.”

And having begun this good work in His beloved child, the Lord Jesus remained faithful to her. So Sandy’s life in the Lord’s hands continued, and He provided her with all sorts of gifts—including a young man named Bill. The Lord blessed this union with 61 years of marriage, four children, 12 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren (and counting). There would be days when Christ’s blessings were richly apparent, and days when there was little but anxiety and trouble and doubt. But day after day, year after year, Christ attended her by His Word, to give her more grace and strengthen her faith. Time and time again, He spoke His Gospel into her ear: “Sandy, I have made you My own and I forgive you for all of your sins. There will be both trials and joys for you, but you can be sure that My mercies are new for you every morning. My faithfulness to you is sure, and I will be your portion now and forever. “Let not your heart be troubled. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life for you.”

So the years passed by quickly, the Lord was faithful to His promises for His beloved child. But this is a sinful world, and time and age wear away at body and health. Disease and distress proclaim the wages of sin in a way more piercing than any sermon every could. And as happens to all in this life, so it came to Sandy. But as He had for so long, the Lord did not forsake Sandy. Even as foes like sickness and death circled her and sought to rob her and her loved ones of life and hope, Jesus remained faithful.

Despite the presence of these enemies—indeed, because of them, He continued to prepare a table for Sandy. He continued to say to her, “Take and eat, this is My Body. Take and drink, this is My Blood… for the forgiveness of sins.  Even though you must walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I have gone there before you and destroyed its power. I will be with you now, and I will raise you up to life everlasting.”

The Lord always keeps His promises. That is why, although you mourn today, you do not mourn without hope. Christ has died for all the world and Christ is risen from the dead. Risen from the dead, He promises forgiveness to all who repent of their sin and believe in Him. He promised this to Sandy. She believed and she was ready to go to be with the Lord. He promises the same to you.

And so He declares to you this day, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” In His Father’s house are many rooms. As He did for Sandy, by His death and resurrection, He has prepared a place for you. Christ Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Knowing Him, you know the way to heaven. Forgiven for His sake, heaven is already yours.

We do not see heaven with our eyes, only by faith. For now, our eyes see the enemies of grief and age, sickness and death. By faith, though, we see what St. John saw in Revelation 21: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’” (Revelation 21:2–4).

The holy city in Revelation 21 is the Church, the Bride of Christ—the sum total of all of God’s people in the history of the world. Throughout history, we see the Church move on, often troubled and worn and ailing. But throughout history, she lives on because her Savior is always with her. The Church doesn’t look especially triumphant in this world; but in that vision of heaven, John sees her in her glory forever, set free from sin and sorrow and crying and pain.

What is true for the sum total of believers is also true for each individual believer. Gathered here today, you mourn the death of Sandy Carstensen, and you witnessed some of the griefs that she endured. But for the sake of Jesus, her Savior, for her there is no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There is no more pain, for these are former things that have passed away. God has wiped every tear from her eye and made all things new for her.

That is the promise fulfilled for Sandy Carstensen. That is the certain hope by which you live this day. Let not your hearts be troubled. 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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