Sermons, Uncategorized

A Perfect Man

waitingfortheperfectmanClick here to listen to this sermon.

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (James 3:1-2).

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

There once was a man who, while listening to a sermon in church was convicted of his sin, and he set out to do better. “I have sinned against [God] in thought, word, and deed,” he’d said week after week, but this day he especially sensed it was true. He reasoned that his evil thoughts often caught him off guard and might be difficult to change. His evil actions, he decided, were often a product of his thoughts and words. So he would first focus on his words; his words were more likely something he could change. If he could catch himself before he said something he’d regret, he would also have more control over things he did and, in time, perhaps eventually even over the things he thought.

For a while, the man was very successful. He always took his time. He didn’t speak without first considering what he would say. Oh, he wasn’t perfect, but then who is? As time went on, though, he found himself back to his old habits. He hurt people with what he said. He created problems for himself with what he said. “I’ll try even harder,” he thought, and he committed himself to being more diligent. But the harder he tried, the more he failed, or so it seemed. Finally, he gave up.

The story, really, is the same for every one of us, isn’t it? The only question then is this: What do we mean when we “give up”? Are we simply defeated? Or is there a “giving up” that’s really moving forward?

Again this morning (evening), the Epistle confronts Christians of every age—and so also each one of us—with the inconsistences between faith and actions. The warning we hear this morning (evening) is very clear, and what’s also clear is that no one is immune. “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (James 3:5b-6).

We need to respect the mighty power of the words we speak. “Talk is cheap,” people say. “Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you.” James strongly disagrees. Although words seem to be merely moving air, although the tongue is just a three-inch muscle, wet, floppy, and only partially visible, it is tremendously powerful. Like a tail that wags the dog, the tongue drives our lives. James gives examples of little things that have big effects:

  • The bit in horses’ mouths. That little piece of steel in a horse’s mouth, when managed properly, can control a 1,500 pound animal with the lightest touch.
  • The rudder on a ship. That little shaped plank, most invisible beneath the waterline, enables a captain to control the course of an immense ship filled with cargo, crew, and passengers.
  • A spark in a forest. Under control, a spark can make a small fire to warm cold travelers and cook their food. Out of control, a spark can cause an inferno that can reduce thousands of acres of mighty trees to blackened, smoking stumps.

James thinks it urgent that people learn to control their mouths, not only to avoid hurting other people emotionally and spiritually. But an uncontrolled tongue can also turn on the uncontrolled talker, corrupting the whole person, poisoning his or her mind, and plunging the body into the dangers of the fires of hell.

In last week’s Epistle, James addressed the issue of favoritism, but many of us may have dismissed ourselves from those charges. “Not me; I would never show favoritism in church!” But now, his charges run deep and should cut deep into the heart of everyone who hears. Your tongue is an agent of harm. It is on fire with the fire of hell. “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue” (James 3:7-8a).

No fallen human, not one, is innocent—not you, not me, no one. And to drive the point home, 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 leave here cursing His most precious creations—other people. We praise God one moment, and then the next the very same tongue, can utter such filth about others and even to others. “Look what he’s doing! What a hideous man! Look at her! Imagine what God must think about her! O God, I thank you that I’m not like those people!”

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. His proof is your tongue. Ours are tongues that cannot be tamed. Sure, we try. We try and we try. Just like the man in the opening story, 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.

James offers the hypothetical perfect man: “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:2b). It is as if James is saying, “If anyone could do this without flaw… well, that guy would be perfect in every way, wouldn’t he?” But I am not a perfect man. Neither my tongue nor my body is bridled. With St. Paul, I must confess: “Wretched man that 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 very same words of the Epistle point us toward the victory that is ours in the battle. The battles rage on, but the war is already over. Listen again: “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle His own body” (James 3:2b).

And here is the good news of God’s grace toward imperfect men and women such as you and me—He sends us the perfect man. Isaiah writes of Him:

For He grew up before Him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:2–7).

There is one who bridled his tongue and bridled his whole body. There is one who lived the perfect life you and I cannot live. There is one who deserved  none of what He received at the hands of those who hung Him on the cross, but silently suffered every moment as He bore the burden of our sinful tongues.

That perfect Man, our Savior Jesus Christ, lived and died and rose exactly because our tongues are “a fire, a world of unrighteousness” (James 3:6). He bridled 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. We live by giving in.

Talk is not cheap. Words do wound. Words can build 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 cause suspicion or build trust. Words are powerful. But God’s Word is even more powerful.

God’s Word is His means to rescue people from hell. A sermon, a Bible study, a catechism lesson, or an evangelism visit all look tame and ineffectual. But God’s power to save people, to create and sustain saving faith, rides with words, with His spoken and visible Word.

In the waters of Holy Baptism, that fire that burns from your tongue was extinguished. The Word of God that you hear fills your mind and your heart with the pure truth from God. That Word replaces all of the “other words” and gives your tongue something righteous to speak. As you receive the body and blood of Christ under the bread and the wine, in your mouth and on your tongue, by faith,  the wounds inflicted on you by the things you say 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.

There is no one perfect except Jesus. You will try to bridle your tongue and your body and your mind, but they will fail you. And though you will never stop trying, your trying must now be in Christ—giving up on yourself and giving in to Him. In Him, you receive the forgiveness of sins that goes beyond giving up. For, “all things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23b). What’s impossible for you, perfection, is yours in Christ. In the forgiveness of your sins, God makes you perfect—and thus renews you, strengthens you, and guides you according to His will.

Perfection comes only through the one perfect man, Christ, but it does come through Christ. In Christ, the story does not end for that man we heard of at the beginning of the sermon, nor does it end for you, in despair and uncertainty. In Christ, it ends in victory. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25a). All is not lost, and your tongue, though it rages with the fire of hell, will not condemn you. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.

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

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

 

Uncategorized

Glory of Christ Hidden in the Humble

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“Palm Sunday” by Octavio Ocampo

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

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

“Behold, your king is coming to you!” Were you to hear such a glorious announcement, what would you look for?

Or to make it a little easier to imagine: Let’s suppose the president of the United States is coming to town. You pack up your family and drive to the route on which you suppose that he would travel to his speaking engagement. Your family sets up their chairs at the side of the road and you wait. Others gather, many holding welcome signs and American flags.

Time slowly passes and the excitement builds. Your son notices that the traffic has begun to thin out on the road. Police officers have started to direct traffic at intersections. A helicopter flies overhead, and you wonder if that is a sign that the president is on his way.

Ten minutes later, the road is eerily empty. Occasionally a police car zooms by with its lights flashing. The president must be on his way. He will be here soon, but not yet. The highway is empty again for a while.

Suddenly, you see two police cars in the distance coming toward you. They drive by and a swoosh of air hits you in the face. Then, far off, you make out some vehicles. The excitement builds and you think you can see…

Well, what do you think you would see? After all, this the president of the United States, and he is coming to town. You know what to expect. You have seen motorcades on television. The power, the honor, and the glory of such a prestigious office is manifested in the limousines, SUVs, law enforcement vehicles.

On this glorious day of the majestic entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, God Himself enters into His glory. The very Creator of all that is, the omnipotent power of the universe, the One who was, is, and always will be, begins His triumphal trek to His most glorious and honorable day on earth. How does He enter? Like the president of the United States? Like the conquering king of a Middle Eastern dynasty? Like an A-list celebrity on the night of the Academy Awards? No.

In our scenario with your family at the side of the road, would you expect to see the president and his motorcade drive by in a rusted-out mini-van? An old Ford Tempo? Perhaps a wood-paneled station wagon? Of course not! But how did God enter into the glory that you and I see and believe? He entered on a donkey! The prophet Zechariah announces: “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (9:9).

This is our Savior? Why would God ride in on a donkey? Why would He do such a thing? Because this is exactly how He said He would come. God would do such a thing for the very purpose of His coming—salvation. The salvation of His people, the salvation of the world. The Righteous One would become the Unrighteous One. The Blessed One would be cursed. The Sinless One would bear our sin. The holy must become unholy to save us from our sins. The glory of God comes in Christ’s humility and servitude. He humbles Himself to take our sin and suffer the consequences of the eternal wrath of God as His own punishment.

But unbelievers and the world in which we live look for a triumphal entry. They look for limousines and well-armed motorcades. Or given the day and age of that first Palm Sunday—war horses and iron chariots, escorted by soldiers and accompanied by personal attendants. The world wrongly assumes a majestic and glorious entrance that reflects the honor and power befitting the Creator of the universe like any other powerful ruler.

The unbeliever, though, sees with his eyes and not through faith. The sinner looks and lusts for the excitement and honor found in the power of an earthly king. That is true of our Old Adam as well. We sinners want to win! We seek a popular Jesus that attracts more and more people or an eye-candy Jesus who makes us feel happy and important. But alas, this thinking is an entry not into Christ’s glory, but rather an entrance into hell. It is a road to the tomb with no chance of a resurrection into the presence of the Christ. Our sin—and our sinful nature!—is ever before us.

Yes, even we believers, who confess the suffering and death of our Lord for our sins, we, too, yearn for a Jesus of glory who would be popular and successful. We sinfully seek a kingdom builder of wealth and power and numbers so that we might have bigger churches for the sake of recognition or influence or just the simple hope of survival for a few more years. A Jesus who will make our church great again. A Jesus who will make our own lives great again. A Jesus who will return us to the glory days.

However, Jesus, the Lowly One, calls us not to glory, but to lowliness and repentance, to have the same humble mind as Jesus, who emptied Himself of His glory, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, who humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Following in our Savior’s footsteps, we carry our own crosses and bear one another’s burdens. Our new man rejoices in the glory of the lowly and humble. The believer rejoices in the poor, the sick, and the needy. The believer rejoices where only faith can see the glory of God: in suffering and death.

We poor sinners need the glory of the God who died. We need a God who suffered. We need the glory of the cross. That is the irony of the Gospel. It is a scandal to sinful thinkers. That is the hidden truth that eyes cannot see, but only faith can believe and confess. The glory of God that saves us is, ultimately, the death of God!

The glory of God that saves us is in the scandal of His conception, the humility of His birth and His life, and His suffering and endurance of the wrath of God—all of this in our place. Our sin did this to Him. Your sins, your hidden sins, your silly sins, your big sins, in fact, your entire sinful life was given to Christ. He endured what we could not. It is really insulting—shameful, even!—that God Himself gave up the holiness, power, and glory in exchange for our sinful, lowly, and suffering existence. However, there is where we see the glory of God. There is where we see the extent of His love and grace.

Well, then, how do we see the glory of God in our lives? We do not—that is, we do not see His glory. Rather faith confesses and sees the glory of God where He has told us He hides it. Our eyes do not see the glory; our faith does.

“How does that work?” you ask.

God’s Word teaches us where to see His glory. In the lowliness of this sinful world, God hides His glory. Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem was humble and lowly—swaddling clothes and a manger for a bed. His entry into Jerusalem was humble and lowly—riding on a donkey. His death was humble and lowly—crucifixion, the cursed death reserved for slaves and the most dangerous criminals. That is how Jesus accomplished the work of salvation—His glory hidden in humility and lowliness. In the same way, Christ’s glorious and triumphant entry into your life hides in the reality of your humble, everyday life.

God has called you according to your vocation to do what you do. He calls you to be a mother or father, a son or daughter. God calls you to be a teacher or a student, an employer or employee or retiree, a neighbor or friend. He calls you in so many ways, and you do what He has given you to do—love and care for your neighbor, that person who is in need of your love—for there is the glory of God.

“But, Pastor, it doesn’t look like the glory of God. It looks like, well, normal daily life. At best, it is mundane and routine, but it is often more draining—emotionally, mentally, and physically—sometimes, it’s more overwhelming, or just plain scary than it is glorious.”

That’s it! Now, you’re getting it! The glory of God is generally found in the in trials and troubles, in humility and servitude through your daily call. It’s not flashy or popular. It’s not big and powerful. It rarely makes the nightly news or social media. It is most often found in the normal grind of daily life. However, it is still the glory of God.

Getting the children up and ready for school reveals the glory of God. Loving your wife and caring for her needs is the glory of God. Washing clothes and changing diapers is the glory of God. Going to work and bringing home money to support your family is the glory of God. Giving your neighbor a ride to church or the grocery store is the glory of God. Praying with your neighbor who has just gotten a bad report from the doctor is the glory of God. Reading a book to your grandchildren or great-grandchildren is the glory of God. Picking up your room without making a fuss when your mother tells you is the glory of God.

How can this be? Because our Lord makes your work holy by His grace and His call for you to be His own in your Baptism. He gives you the faith that receives the holiness Jesus earned on the cross. Therefore, you are holy through faith in Christ. All the works done for your neighbor are holy and done to God’s glory.

The glory of God is seen through the eyes of faith trusting in God’s Word. As Christians, we confess our Lord and His glory in our normal, sometimes painful and hurtful life. Christians also understand that God and His glory come into our lives in the least of these Christ’s brothers—in the poor and the sick, in the lonely and in the hurting, even—and especially—in death.

Our Lord’s death on the cross is His greatest glory. There in all humility He served our most desperate need, the payment of our sins. On the triumphant day of entrance into Jerusalem, our Lord Jesus sat on a donkey in humility. In that triumphant entry, He entered the way of the cross. That entrance took Him to His most glorious moment: His death on the cross.

Through the glory of the cross, our Lord gives to us and teaches us to see His glory in the hidden reality of our faith. When we turn to our lives and see them in faith, we see the glory of God in our suffering, in our humility, and in our servitude. He calls us to love Him and others. But once again, our love for God is hidden in our love of our neighbor. When we love our neighbor, we love God.

So the love of God and His mercy come to you hidden in the waters of your Baptism and in the eating and drinking of bread and wine, Christ’s body and blood. These bring the glory of the kingdom of God to you for your salvation. Like the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, they are lowly, humble, and simple means. But there is exactly where He brings us to the triumphal entry into His kingdom, in everlasting joy and blessed righteousness. Through these humble means the Lord strengthens you in faith toward Him and fervent love toward one another. By them you have forgiveness, salvation and eternal life. Indeed, through these means and for the sake of the glorious death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, 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.

 

This sermon is an adaptation of a sermon by Ronald R. Feurhahn, published in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 16, Part 2, Series B, Concordia Publishing House, 2005.