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Held Accountable to God under the Law

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“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 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. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

“Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:19-28).

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

No slogan summarizes Reformation theology as well as the one drawn from our text: Justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It was the motto upon which all the doctrines and beliefs of the Reformation stood. It was the very fortification and foundation upon which nearly half of the Western world at that time staked their lives and, indeed, upon which many lost their lives. Justification mattered so deeply. It was a matter of life and death. Heaven and Hell. The chief article of our faith. It must be preached and taught that way.

Especially today.

Because today it seems irrelevant. Few care about or discuss or even preach justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It is seen as a nitpicking, dull, divisive dogma that went out of style with the advent of megachurches and religious subjectivism. Simply put, the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone is immaterial to American Christianity since many believers seem more concerned about having a better life now than following the doctrines of the Christian faith.

Sadly, it does not occur to people today that they might be justified, or even need to be justified before God, much less to consider how they might be justified. So the Romans Paul was addressing and all whom Luther was addressing in the 16th century, do not seem to be the same people we encounter today, the same people who purchase Joel Osteen’s book by the millions to find out how to live their best life now, or who hang on Oprah’s every word about how you can “be the change” you need to have a better life. In modern American Christianity, there is nothing at all about justification, unless you include self-justification.

What does it mean to be justified? It means to “to be put right,” “to be lined up straight.” Think of a newspaper, magazine, or even a Bible, where the text of each column or page lines up precisely on both the left and right margins. The text is justified, set straight, put right. For a person to be justified it means that they are put right with God. They are set straight and nothing in the person’s life—as far as the judgment of God is concerned—is out of place. They are justified in His sight.

In the days of Jesus’ earthly life, people understood the need to be justified before God. “Justification” was the foremost concern of the Jewish people. All too aware that their lives were not right (not where it counted in the eyes of an all-seeing and holy God), they did everything to put themselves right, to “justify” themselves. Some, like the Pharisees, added their own “traditions,” hundreds of rules and regulations to make sure they could keep God’s law.

In saying, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be accountable to God,” the apostle proceeds to his logical conclusion by what we might call an argument “from the greater to the lesser.” Paul reasons: If even God’s chosen people, with all their advantages, have no inherent or earned righteousness, then certainly no one else can have any either.

Paul makes an important point regarding the law, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight.” No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by doing law works of any kind. It makes no difference which legal pattern people may choose to be under, whether it be Gentiles following the natural knowledge written in their hearts or Jews observing the Mosaic code. Neither group has any righteousness to offer at God’s bar of justice.

In fact, Paul goes even further when he declares that providing righteousness for people is not the law’s real function. It serves quite another purpose. He writes “through the law comes knowledge of sin.” The law’s most notable function is to lead to an awareness of sin.

Here’s our dilemma: We are all held accountable to God under the law. The standard is perfection. But not one of us can keep it perfectly as the law requires. We are all law-breaking sinners. Sinners cannot provide the righteousness a holy God justly requires. We can try, but never get there. Acquiring such righteousness is possible only by the grace of a loving God, who gives righteousness freely as a gift through faith in Jesus Christ. This exchange whereby God takes away the guilt of our sins and credits us with the righteousness of Christ is called justification.

How is one justified? “One is justified by faith apart from works of law.” The standard is perfection. Perfection never comes from law because it is a mirror of those who are imperfect and a lot worse in every way. Faith however brings perfection—the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus for all who believe.

Faith, in the sense of trust and confidence in God’s promise, is the channel  through which righteousness comes to the believer. Or, to use a slightly different picture, faith is the hand that receives this righteousness from God.

Righteousness comes in only one way, and it comes in the same way to all: by faith. When Paul says, “to all who believe,” he is not limiting the scope of God’s righteousness, as though it is intended only for some and not for others. Paul stated earlier that God shows no favoritism in dealing with sinners. Those who are disobedient (which is everyone, Jew and Gentle alike) are under His wrath. But that same impartiality also shows itself when God deals with people in grace and mercy. In that aspect of God’s dealing “there is no difference” as well.

How can he say that? On what does he base his statement? By inspiration the apostle supplies the rationale for his bold assertion: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift.”

God justifies (declares people righteous) “by His grace as a gift.” Because no person has any merit to bring, justification must come as a gift. Being declared just is something that is done to or for the sinner. It’s not something he does for himself. Therefore, receiving justification as a gift is the only way justification works—and that’s also the way it always works.

When Paul says that all are justified, we need to be careful, however, not to understand him, as though he were saying that all will be saved. That would be the false teaching of universalism. Natural man, wicked sinner that he is, retains the power to resist God’s grace. In their stubborn unbelief, many people unfortunately refuse to accept Christ’s merit, and they will be lost for their unbelief.

This has far-reaching implications. Think of what it implies for you personally. If all sinners are justified, then surely you are too—despite all the sins and shortcomings that Satan argues should disqualify you. Because “there is no difference,” God assures you that His grace is for all, including you.

Objective justification has great significance also for our outreach and evangelism efforts. If all have been justified, then there is no one to whom you cannot go with the Gospel’s good news. You can tell anyone and everyone, “Your sins are forgiven by Christ’s substitutionary death. He has earned a robe of righteousness for you. It’s there for you. Accept it; believe it.

God’s motive for justifying sinners is mercy; His method is redemption, a word that means to buy back, especially from slavery or debt or captivity. The purchase price is greater than one can raise on his own. Somebody on the outside must step in and help if there is to be rescue. And that is exactly what God did! He provided “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

God is a holy God who can’t just wink at sins and dismiss the sinner’s many infractions as if they didn’t matter. Sinners must be held accountable to God under the law. God, in His Word, is clear and direct on that matter: “The wages of sin is death.” Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Sin carries a heavy price that had to be paid—and it was! God sent His very own Son to be the substitute to die in our place. Christ became true man so that He might shed His blood as a sacrifice and die the sinner’s death, or as Paul puts it, “who God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.”

The apostle’s terminology here reflects the activity God had directed Israel to observe annually on the great Day of Atonement. God commanded this festival as a graphic reminder of Israel’s need to confess its sins, be sprinkled with the blood of the atoning sacrifice, and then symbolically transfer those sins to a scapegoat that was driven out in the wilderness, bearing away the sins of the people. God’s intent was to remind Israel of its need for a Savior and to strengthen in them a longing for the promised Messiah, the Redeemer, who would do for them literally what was being enacted symbolically: shedding His blood for the propitiation, for the forgiveness of His people’s sins.

In Christ, justice has been served. Without compromising His integrity as a just and holy God, the Father shows kindness to redeemed sinners, whose guilt has been pardoned and whose debt has been paid. In Christ, God can see the sinner as just and holy. In Christ, we are justified by grace alone through faith alone.

Here is the Good News of the Gospel, the Good News of Paul to Jew and Gentile alike, the Good News of Martin Luther to sinners who must be justified before the Almighty Judge. God Himself was in Christ, not as a judge but as a Servant, accomplishing the work of putting us right. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” In other words, God had come to us as a loving Father making us justified by faith in what He has accomplished on our behalf through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, His Son.

Paul says, “One is justified by faith in what God has done for us, apart from works of the law.” So it is that the religions of the world labor with half the truth. All seem to know the human life needs to be put right. The Buddhist tries to make it so through ascetic living, the Muslim by rigorous adherence to Shariah law, the Jew by obeying Torah Law, the Mormon by a legalistic sub-culture and the fundamentalists and charismatics and papists by doing this, not doing that, having this gift and exercising it this way and that, and so on and so on. All know the human life needs to be put right. None seem to know how this can happen apart from works of their own laws, from their own new and improved techniques.

It seems the Law is written on our hearts by nature and we crave the hidden techniques for self-enhancing, self-justification. But the Gospel of being freely justified by grace is totally foreign to us. This is why it must be preached, why someone must declare: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” There is no other way.

The quest for being right has never left us through all our modern, technological developments. Still the answer remains unchanged, too. We can be right, only apart from the works of law. It is for Christ’s sake, not because our failure is trivial and does not matter, but because Jesus has dealt with it once and for all bearing our sins in His body and nailing them to the tree of the Cross. God dealt with our sins so we could be justified while yet sinners. And justification is through faith, by believing in Jesus Christ who was held accountable to God under the law for the sins of the world—your sins, my sins.

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.

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Sermons, Uncategorized

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.

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.



Glory of Christ Hidden in the Humble

“Palm Sunday” by Octavio Ocampo

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“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.