Sermons, Uncategorized

A Lesson in the Art of Dying

“Presentation at the Temple” by Giovanni Bellini

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“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’” (Luke 2:25-32).

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

A man of mystery waits in Jerusalem. We don’t know that much about him. We don’t know his age or occupation or marital status. We do know his name is Simeon. He is righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel. In other words, he is part of a remnant of Israel, faithful men and women, who are still looking for the coming of the promised Messiah, the One who will bring comfort and hope to God’s people.

Simeon is Spirit-filled and Spirit-led. The word Spirit is used three times to accent the revelatory character of Simeon’s words. The Spirit is upon him. The Spirit reveals the promise of seeing the Messiah before he would die. And the Spirit leads him to the temple as Mary and Joseph bring Baby Jesus to present Him to the Lord on His fortieth day (Luke 2:25-27). Since the Holy Spirit was with Mary (Luke 1:35), Elizabeth (Luke 1:41), and Zechariah (Luke 1:67) at moments of great revelation, this places Simeon in the select company of those who early on receive or announce the presence of God’s salvation in Jesus.

Seeing the Child, Simeon takes up the infant in his arms and praises God with the song commonly called the Nunc Dimittis. We continue to sing this song as part of our communion liturgy and in our Vespers service. “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” (Luke 2:29-32).

Simeon is not really making a request of the Lord—he is making a statement of fact, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace.” Simeon’s service in the temple as a watchman waiting for the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises is at an end. The watch is over; the servant can depart in peace. With the eyes of faith, Simeon sees more than a Babe in arms; he sees salvation for all people. Whatever might happen in his life from now on, no matter how long that may be, he can depart in peace according to the Lord’s Word.  

What would it take for you to depart in peace? I am not talking about exiting the worship service today (although I pray that is the case for you). Neither do have I in mind finally leaving behind 2020. I am talking about dying. Unless the Lord returns first, you and I will depart. Some of us sooner than we may expect. We need to be ready. In this way, we need to become like Simeon. Having seen the Lord, he was ready to depart in peace. His song may be the perfect tune to lodge in your ears and hearts on this first Sunday after Christmas. We will consider it today under the theme, “A Lesson in the Art of Dying.”

In the fifteenth century the Black Death killed up to 60% of Europe’s population. A genre of devotional literature arose called ars moriendi (art of dying). People needed help getting help ready to die. Robert Kolb notes that these works were “…designed as tools for both parish priests and laypeople… that could be used, especially during a plague, to guide the dying to a spiritually satisfactory departure from life.”[i]

The medieval instructions on “the art of dying” before the Reformation presumed believers had to remain uncertain of their salvation to the very end. It was thought to somehow be conceited and arrogant to be sure of your salvation. This is, no doubt, related to the false understanding that man is at least partially responsible for his salvation by good works.[ii]  

Luther’s teaching on the justification of sinners by grace through faith brought about profound changes in death culture. He sought to comfort the dying with the assurance that God’s promise, based on Christ’s work, has restored them to God’s favor. He emphasized that when God promises to be the gracious and forgiving Father of a sinner, He will remain true to His promise.[iii]

To be sure, in line with his distinction between Law and Gospel, Luther proclaimed judgment upon the baptized who were indulging in sin, who were living in impenitence. He afforded them no word of Gospel and grace. But the repentant could without doubt trust in the faithfulness of Christ, who had died and risen to bring them to a life of trust and to the gift of salvation.[iv]

I have (here) an English translation of one of these works. The Holy Art of Dying was written by Martin Möller, a German Lutheran pastor during the late 16th century. Dr. W.H.T. Dau describes it well in his review of this work: “A book of this kind can never outgrow its usefulness in the Christian Church. The sad subject with which it deals is an ever-present reality with mortal men. And Möller is a most excellent companion to the dying Christian. The theology which was able to produce this book three [now four] hundred years ago would obtain scant recognition in our day among ‘theologians.” It is not scientific. Nor is death, nor hell, nor paradise. But this book exhibits the practical habitude of the mind to understand and to apply to men in their sorest needs the correction and comfort of the divine Word, which only God can bestow and which alone constitutes a person a theologian.”[v]

Möller uses a series of questions and answers, Bible passages and simple prayers, to prepare his readers [and us] “to live like a Christian and die [a] blessed [death].”

Let me give you a brief example:

“2. What, then, is a Christian life?

“A Christian life is that a person rightly learns to know God the Lord and himself.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24; Psalm 76:1; Exodus 20).

“First, God the Lord, that He is one God in His essence (Deuteronomy 6:4), and three-fold in persons (Matthew 28:19), namely, God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (Psalm 67), and that of these three persons the middle one, the Son, was sent into this world, took human nature to Himself, and became our Savior (John 17:3; 1:14).

“Next, each person must rightly learn to know himself, namely, that we are poor, great sinners in God’s sight, and must be eternally lost (Exodus 20; Ezekiel 18:20ff.) if we are not converted, believe in Christ, become new men, and from the heart serve God and our neighbor unto our end.”

And then he closes with prayer:

“O one, eternal, almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, threefold in person and one in essence! I pray Thee, teach me rightly to know Thee and myself, grow daily in such knowledge, so that I may employ this my brief wretched life in praising Thee, serving my neighbor, and not being eternally lost myself, but live a truly repentant Christian life in Thy sight. Amen.”[vi]   

Möller goes on to say: “To die blessed means to conclude life in the true faith, to commend one’s soul to the Lord Jesus Christ, and with heartfelt longings for eternal salvation gently and joyfully fall asleep and depart hence”[vii] and then he refers to our text for today (Luke 2:29-30).

In the rest of the book, Möller, gives detailed instruction on living “a daily, Christian, repentant life,” including:

  1. recognizing one’s sins and repenting of them;
  2. not despairing your sins, but believing in Jesus Christ who has paid for our sins; and
  3. that he also show his faith with new daily obedience, both toward God and men.[viii]

He then offers six chief parts which belong to a Christian, God-pleasing life.

  1. Hold fast daily to God’s Word, and learn rightly to understand it, rightly to divide it, and rightly to use it;
  2. Remember daily your Holy Baptism;
  3. Partake of the Lord’s Supper often and diligently;
  4. Learn to prepare yourself properly for the cross and suffering;
  5. Remain in your calling;
  6. Pray without ceasing.”[ix]

Möller concludes his little book with “many beautiful sayings from Holy Scripture, as well as some devout prayers and sighs which a person should read to the dying. It also tells how the bystanders should conduct themselves who have waited and prayed with the dying.”[x]

Notice how preparing for death and “the holy art of dying” is focused so much on the means of grace, God’s Word and Sacrament. How do you prepare for death? Read, study, and meditate on God’s Word in daily devotions and Bible study. Live in your Baptism through daily contrition and repentance. Come to worship. Hear the Word of God proclaimed, the absolution pronounced. Receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Pray without ceasing. Be faithful to God and serve your neighbor with joy.

Kolb summarizes: “A life lived within God’s callings in accord with God’s commands prepare the baptized to die well.”[xi]

While it may seem a bit of a downer to focus on death two days after Jesus’ birth, the hallmark of Christian preaching is its brutal honesty. The appointed reading about Simeon presents us with an opportunity. Being honest about death, not only at funerals, is part of my calling to tell the truth.

Kolb shows how Luther faced death head-on.

“Although we do not wish to call the life we have here a death,” said the reformer, “nevertheless, it is surely nothing else than a continuous journey toward death. Just as a person infected with a plague has already started to die when the infection has set in, so also because of sin and because of death, the punishment for sin, this life can no longer properly be called life after it has been infected by sin. Right from our mother’s womb we begin to die.”[xii]

It’s not hard to take seriously the concept of death this year. All jokes of moving past 2020 aside, this year has been a global wake-up call about the fragility of life for all ages. This has led to much fear and angst. This is not helped by that fact that we live in a culture that seeks to insulate us from death and tries to hide death and the process of dying as much as possible. We live in a day and age when many assume that science and medicine and money can take care of any problem. But death is no respecter of political or philosophical opinions. It is relentless, cruel, harsh, and horrible. Now, many people are thinking about death seriously for the first time in their life. People are dealing with their own mortality, the possibility of losing their own friends and family members. Many do not know how to do so. It’s no wonder that there is so much upheaval.

The intrusion of death into the lives of people of all ages highlights the singular and central significance of Jesus’ resurrection. Contrary to so many memes, our hope is not in getting to 2021. Even during Christmas, the good news is founded only on the empty tomb (1 Corinthians 15). This was how Luther,  Pastor Möller, and so many other pastors throughout the centuries have prepared their hearers to die well. They proclaimed the promise of resurrection for all who, by faith and their Baptism, are united to the crucified and risen Christ. It is my job (and joy) to proclaim this promise to you. The One who has overcome death has shared His eternal life with you.

This is a lesson in the art of dying. This is what the Holy Spirit did for Simeon before his encounter with Jesus. “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26). As Simeon sang, let us sing a song of defiant and hopeful confidence to close out a year characterized by death and despair. “Lord, now You are letting Your servant[s] depart in peace, according to Your word; for [our] eyes have seen your salvation that You have prepared [for us] in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.”

You have seen the Lord’s Christ. You’ve heard His words of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Depart in peace. 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] Kolb, Robert. Luther and the Stories of God: Biblical Narratives as a Foundation for Christian Living. (Baker Academic, 2012), 169.

[ii] Kolb, Robert. Luther and the Stories of God: Biblical Narratives as a Foundation for Christian Living. (Baker Academic, 2012), 168-9.

[iii] Kolb, Robert. Luther and the Stories of God: Biblical Narratives as a Foundation for Christian Living. (Baker Academic, 2012), 168-9.

[iv] Kolb, Robert. Luther and the Stories of God: Biblical Narratives as a Foundation for Christian Living. (Baker Academic, 2012), 168-9.

[v] Dau, W.H.T. Heilige Sterbekunst (Theological Quarterly). (Concordia Publishing House: St. Louis, 1910) 254-255.

[vi] Möller, Martin. Preparing for Death (An English Translation of Handbuchlein zur Vorbereitung auf den Tod, oder Heilige Sterbekunst), Translated by Pastor Arthur E. Schulz, 6.

[vii] Möller, Martin. Preparing for Death (An English Translation of Handbuchlein zur Vorbereitung auf den Tod, oder Heilige Sterbekunst), Translated by Pastor Arthur E. Schulz, 6.

[viii] Möller, Martin. Preparing for Death (An English Translation of Handbuchlein zur Vorbereitung auf den Tod, oder Heilige Sterbekunst), Translated by Pastor Arthur E. Schulz, 10.

[ix] Möller, Martin. Preparing for Death (An English Translation of Handbuchlein zur Vorbereitung auf den Tod, oder Heilige Sterbekunst), Translated by Pastor Arthur E. Schulz, 17-18.

[x] Möller, Martin. Preparing for Death (An English Translation of Handbuchlein zur Vorbereitung auf den Tod, oder Heilige Sterbekunst), Translated by Pastor Arthur E. Schulz, 57 ff.

[xi] Kolb, Robert. Luther and the Stories of God: Biblical Narratives as a Foundation for Christian Living. (Baker Academic, 2012), 169.

[xii] LW 1:196. Quoted in Kolb, 171.

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Sermons, Uncategorized

Invited to the Wedding Feast

“The Wedding Banquet” by Eugene Burnand

Click here to listen to this sermon.

Again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come” (Matthew 22:1-3).

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

If you start out wrong when you read a parable, you’re going to end in the wrong place. And generally, people start out wrong. They focus on what all the sinful people are doing in the parable, trying to find a moral lesson to follow. But when Jesus tells a parable about the kingdom of heaven, the focus of the parable is on the King of heaven. Jesus is not seeking to tell you what to do but proclaiming what great things God has done for you. Therefore, as we look at today’s parable, we don’t focus on the wedding guests, even though we’ll get to them. No, this parable is about the King and His invitation to His Son’s wedding feast.

On the surface, it’s a simple story. The king has arranged a marriage for his son, and he is sparing no expense. He sends out the invitations to those whose company he desires—and who is going to say no? This is the king! At worse, you accept his invitation because you want to avoid offending the king. At best, this is going to be the celebration of the year. But inexplicably, the guests decline.

Ever the gracious host, the king sends out servants to invite them personally. “All the work has been done, and all things are ready! It’s all free for you! Come to the wedding feast of my son!” Once again, who would say no? You’d have to be a fool, or hostile to the king to skip this invitation. Yet some beg off, saying things like they must keep working on the farm or at the business. It’s irrational, it’s ridiculous, but it seems some people would prefer to muck out the cattle stalls or taking inventory than to spend a day feasting with the king.

And this is where the story takes an ugly twist: rather than merely say no to the king’s servants, some seize them, treat them shamefully, and kill them. The king invites them to a party in goodwill, and they RSVP with the blood of his servants. Such treachery must be dealt with; so it should come as no surprise that the king sends out his army and destroys those who killed the messengers of good news, those subjects who want nothing to do with him.

But what now? The plans are already set. The marriage has been arranged and declared, and the king will not go back on his word. Even though the guest list proved hostile, he will still have guests at his son’s wedding. He says to his servants, “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.”

The servants go out and find whoever they can. It is, no doubt, a sketchy  crew—not the sort of people who you’d normally find around the king. They often have lower incomes and checkered pasts. They’re held back by one problem or another—a lot like you and me! Nevertheless, the servants extend the king’s invitation, and the wedding hall is packed with guests.

They would be an unimpressive lot, maybe even laughable to the king’s enemies, but the king takes care of everything. Why, the king even gives each guest a wedding garment to wear. This is his son’s wedding, and he spares no expense. Whoever receives his invitation and comes to the wedding receives clothing, lodging, food, and drink by the king’s doing. Once they’re in the feast, they’ll all look like the king’s own children, because the king provides everything.

And yet, when the king surveys the wedding hall, there is one man who isn’t wearing a wedding garment. Please note, this isn’t because he couldn’t afford a new suit; it was the custom of Israelite weddings to provide all the guests with wedding garments. The king has provided clothing for all. Rather, the guest’s actions, if not his words, say, “I will go to the king’s hall, but only on my terms.”

His appearance is a sign of disrespect to spite the king, and the king does not take the offense lightly. “Friend,” he says, “how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” And when the man has no response, the king commands his servants, “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

It is an honor to be in the presence of the king, and certain decorum is required. It is a great pity that the man is unprepared, since the king sought to give him everything he needed to be ready. But if he does not desire to be the king’s guest on the king’s terms, then he has no place at the wedding feast.

It seems odd, but it will be the king who will come under attack when this account is heard. He will be criticized for destroying the first set of guests, even though they killed his servants who came with good news. The headlines will be all about how he throws out the one guest into darkness just for failing to follow the dress code. People will ask, “How could a loving king cast out anyone?”

In fact, while many notice such aspects of the parable, they’ll miss the amazing, wonderful point: the wedding hall is packed full of undeserving people who had no idea they would be guests of the king. If you’re one of the originally invited guests who scoffed at the king’s generosity, then you’re not going to like this story. But if you started out as a commoner on the byways, this parable has a delightful ending. When the day began, you were a nobody out on the streets. Now, the king has given you all good things. And as long as this feast lasts, you are the king’s people, members of his household.

And here’s some more good news: the feast is going to last forever. Remember, this parable is about the kingdom of heaven. In Revelation 19, heaven is called the “marriage of the Lamb” (v. 7): it’s a wedding feast! And the Lord goes on to say, “Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19:9).

Here is your reason to rejoice, today and always: The Lord calls you to that marriage supper. He has done all that is necessary to prepare it. Rather than kill the fat cattle, He has sacrificed His own Son: The Son must die for the bride to be delivered. He has also raised His Son, Jesus Christ, from the dead: the wedding will take place. The marriage feast will happen.

Throughout the centuries, our Lord has called out His invitation. To Israel in the Old Testament, He sent prophet after prophet. The words might have been different, but the invitation was always the same: “Israel, I have promised to send a Savior, and I will keep My promise. Because He will die for you, heaven is yours. Therefore, turn from your false gods and idols that cannot raise you from the dead. Forsake those sins that keep you from Me. Do not try to dress yourself with your own works of righteousness. The wedding feast is coming, and it is all for you!”

You know what happened. Time and time again, the people refused the invitation. When the Lord continued to send prophets to call them to the wedding feast, they began to beat them, persecute them, scorn them…yes, even kill them. Eventually, the Lord had enough. He allowed first the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, to conquer and captivate Israel. If people did not want His help and protection, He would not force them to be safe. Because they rejected Him and killed His messengers, they and their cities were destroyed.

The Lord still faithfully sends out His messengers today: not just to Israel, but to all nations. Around the world, pastors publicly preach, in the stead and by the command of Jesus, the Good News that all are invited to the feast of heaven for Jesus’ sake. All around the world, Christians share the Gospel as they have opportunity in their daily vocations. All around the world, the Holy Spirit works by that Word—calling, gathering, enlightening, sanctifying, and keeping in the faith. People hear and believe by the Spirit’s work, and so they are numbered among the wedding guests for eternity.

But sadly, many also do not believe. In fact, many seek to persecute the Church for the message of Jesus. Insulated and protected as we are, it is difficult to believe that Christians suffer, and suffer terribly, for proclaiming the Gospel. Houses are lost, children are kidnapped, and Christians are killed for the faith. Even today, the king’s messengers die for inviting people to the feast.

In America, we are still relatively safe, perhaps suffering a snub in the neighborhood or the loss of a job for our faith. But should you witness such trouble or be its victim, beware: the devil will use it to turn the screws. He will seek to convince you to abandon Christ, lest you suffer hardship for the faith. When you are tempted to moderate your faith to avoid trouble in this world, confess the sin and be forgiven. For the sake of Christ, the eternal feast is yours.

As you go about your life, beware of one more temptation—it is the temptation of the guest without wedding clothes. When the Lord invites you to the wedding, He gives you all good things. By His Word, He gives you the faith to believe and thus He transforms you into His own. By Holy Baptism, He clothes you with Christ and His righteousness (Galatians 3:27); by water and the Word, you are prepared and robed for the wedding. By His Holy Supper, He keeps you fed and nourished until the marriage feast of the Lamb in heaven; and indeed, each Holy Communion is but a foretaste of the feast to come. Jesus is present here though unseen, His body and blood in bread and wine. In heaven, we will stand in the glorious presence of the risen Savior, and the feast will go on forever.

Therefore, do not sin by seeking to wear your own clothes to the wedding. Old Adam will always tempt you to believe that heaven is yours because you have done enough good, or haven’t done enough bad to be kept out, or you’ve been doing better than others and so God should cut you a break. No matter how you slice it, such temptations say that you go to the wedding by your own efforts. They say that your righteous works are proper attire to wear in the presence of God.

But the Word of the Lord reminds us: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). The one who seeks entry into the eternal feast by his own efforts seeks to wear filthy rags of his own works righteousness to the wedding. In doing so, he snubs the Savior who died to clothe him in Christ’s righteousness; and he will be cast out into hell.

That is why you rejoice daily to confess your sins and rid yourself of filthy rags; and that is why you daily rejoice in the forgiveness of Christ, who clothes you with His righteousness for the wedding day. For this is the Good News: you have a place at the marriage feast of the Lamb, and the feast will last forever.

Here’s more Good News: you’re not just a guest. You’re a member of the Church, the bride. St. Paul writes, “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”  

It would be more than a blessing to simply be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord, but the Lord has bigger plans for you. You are not a wedding guest, but God loves you so much that you are the bride of His Son, and He has cleansed and prepared you, made you pure and holy by Christ’s own holy, precious blood, and His bitter suffering and death.

You’re not just invited to an everlasting marriage feast. You’re invited to your own wedding, where you are united with Your Savior forever. In Christ, the banquet feast of heaven is yours, for He has made it so. In 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.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Depart in Peace: Sermon for the Funeral of Melvin Brockberg

Click this link to listen to this sermon: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1skddtLleyX_RGiVZIy_9UZiNFyhtwEce/view?usp=sharing

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

The Question Jesus Never Answers

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“[Jesus] went on His way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to Him, ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’” (Luke 13:22-23).

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

This week’s Gospel reading begins with a question. Luke does not tell us who asked it. But it’s a good question. “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”

The questioner in the text was probably asking about the people of Israel. There seems to have been debate about which behaviors among God’s people would result in loss of salvation, and it is possible the questioner had this debate in mind. This would also make sense within the context in Luke’s Gospel. He has been highlighting the increasing opposition between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, which will reach its climax when Jesus finally finishes His journey to Jerusalem.

“Lord, will those who are saved be few?”

Some of the rabbis of the day taught that all Israelites would have a share in the kingdom to come. After all, they are the chosen people of God. Descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Others taught that, yes, Israel is God’s chosen people, and He saves all of those who observe the civil, ceremonial, and moral aspects of the Law. The Pharisees emphasized their traditions, some 600 plus rules that “helped” you keep the Torah, the Law given through Moses. Jesus answers the question in quite a different way. As He often does, Jesus replies with a parable.

Several of the parables of Jesus compare salvation to a great feast, or banquet, given by a king. That is also the picture He uses here. Entrance into the banquet hall is by a door. The first thing Jesus says about that door is that it is narrow. A narrow door prevents great crowds of people from entering all at once. Entrance into the banquet is gained by going through the door one at a time.

That narrow door is a symbol for Jesus Himself. One enters the banquet hall by way of Jesus. Jesus urges His hearers to “strive to enter through the narrow door.” A Greek word is used in the original text which suggests a contest or struggle to enter. The struggle is not against other people but rather against our own sinful flesh and the temptations of the devil.

Jesus has something else to say about that door. The time will come when the Master of the house is going to close that door. There will be some who come knocking on the locked door demanding entry. But just knowing the Master of the house will not cause Him to open. Jesus is obviously picturing Himself as the Master since the people speak of His teaching in their streets. Just as the time will come when the unfruitful tree will be cut down (Luke 13:9), so also the time will come in each individual’s life and in the history of the world when the entrance to salvation will be closed. The message is plain: don’t delay but strive to enter now.

Finally, we have a description of the people sitting at the banquet tables. As is to be expected, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets are there. But then comes a surprise: many of Jesus’ contemporaries will find themselves on the outside looking in. Weeping and gnashing of teeth will express their disappointment and shock. They will see that other people from all over the world will be sitting in their places at the banquet of salvation. Those who first had the opportunity to respond to Christ’s preaching will find themselves left out; those at the very ends of the earth who hear the Gospel message last will find themselves honored with choice seating at the heavenly banquet.

But theoretical questions framed in the third person “put off repentance and do not lead to faith.”[i] Jesus will not let a questioner examine others without first examining himself. So Jesus makes it personal. He responds with direct warnings in the second person: “[You] strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:24). “When … you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’” (Luke 13:25). “Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’” (Luke 13:26). “When you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out” (Luke 13:28-29). These warnings seem to say, “O questioner, don’t worry about the others at this point. The more pressing question is will you be saved?”   

“Strive to enter through the narrow door,” Jesus urges. “For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24). The command to “strive” does not mean “that moral effort is necessary in order to enter the kingdom,”[ii] nor does it mean entrance is gained by exercising “human responsibility.”[iii] Rather, the struggle through which one enters is repentance, which is a work of God in the human heart. The struggle is produced when the Word of God—such as the teaching of Jesus here—calls one to repent and trust in Christ, but sinful human nature wars against God’s Word. The struggle is resolved as the old Adam is put to death by the Law and the person of faith is raised to new life with Christ by the power of the Gospel.

Entrance through the narrow door is gained not en masse by nationality or religious affiliation, but rather, individually, one sinner-at-a-time, by those who repent and see in Jesus the Lord of the eternal heavenly banquet.

But the question still stands. How many will be saved?

Jesus doesn’t answer it directly. Instead, He focuses attention on the Master. The people who are excluded, who are “evil,” literally “unrighteous” (not declared righteous by faith), are not known by the Master (Luke 13:27). Twice the Master says He does not know where they come from, even though they ate together and listened to Him teach (Luke 13:26).

The baptism of John and the preaching of the kingdom by Jesus had provided them with a narrow but opened door. Because they refused to repent and recognize Jesus as the Master of the banquet, they now stand on the outside. He denies that He knows them, even as they have failed to confess Him. He will not open to them, for the time of patient forbearance, of preaching and catechesis, when they were invited to know (believe in) Jesus, is finally over.

Jesus does not really answer the question that He is asked. Rather, He is saying to all who will listen, “Just be sure that you are going to be saved.”

The closest Jesus comes to answering the question is verse 29. He does not say how many will be saved, but that those who are saved will come from every direction—east and west, north and south. This reminds us that no single group has a monopoly on access to the Master. Through (and sometimes despite) us, God is reaching out to all nations. There can be no circling the wagons with the Gospel.

The Lord makes this clear in our Old Testament lesson: “The time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see My glory, and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard My fame or seen My glory. And they shall declare My glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the Lord … to My holy mountain Jerusalem” (Isaiah 66:18-20). Those nations mentioned to symbolize the worldwide gathering of the redeemed were on the outer perimeter of ancient Israel: Tarshish (modern Spain) to the west; Pul and Lud to the south (Egypt and Ethiopia); and Tubal and Javan to the north (Greece and Turkey).

Through Isaiah, God directs us to see what He would do with the believers that survive the coming judgment of Jerusalem. God will send some of the remnant of believers to be His missionaries. They will go out into the four corners of the world and bring scattered Jews to faith in the Messiah. They will convert Gentiles from all nations and gather them into the Church as well. Through their work, the Holy Spirit will gather believers into the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church will not be confined only to Jews, but all believers will be related by their faith in Jesus. Regardless of their nationalities and origins, they will be brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.   

“Lord, will those who are saved be few?”

It is an important question to be sure. All Christians ask it at one time or another. You ask it as you wonder about neighbors who are barely connected to a church. You ask it as you pray yourself to sleep worrying about your child or grandchild who has drifted from the faith. You ask it as you notice members of the congregation who seem to have fallen off the face of the earth. A majority of Americans continue to identify as “Christian” in surveys. But when you consider how many have a meaningful connection to a Christian congregation, “few” seems a more accurate answer than “many.”

But still, Jesus doesn’t give an answer. Instead, He turns attention to the Master. To be saved, to be welcomed to the feast, is to be known by the Master. Jesus does not explicitly identify the Master in this text, but His behavior immediately prior to and following this text makes it clear that He is the Master (see His healing on the Sabbath in 13:10-17 and 14:1-6). In His resurrection from the dead, He definitely shows Himself to be the Master over all things.

The question we should be asking, therefore, is not how many will be saved. But rather, does the Master know me? In business they say it’s all about whom you know. With respect to salvation, it’s all about Who knows you.

Your Master knows you. This is a gracious knowing, to be sure. The Master created you. He sees you. Despite your unrighteousness apart from Him, He still loves you. He forgives you. He lives a perfect obedient righteous life in your place. He dies on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. He rises from the dead to give you eternal life. He sits at God’s right-hand interceding for you and reigning over all things for your salvation. He sends you His Holy Spirit to give you new birth.

God has made you His own child through the water and Word of Holy Baptism. He declares you righteous, opens the door to you, and welcomes you to His table—both here and now in the Sacrament, where He gives you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. And on the Last Day, He will return to raise all the dead and bring you and all His children to live with Him for eternity and join Him in the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb. To be known and loved by the Master is a wonderful thing.

I bet for most of you one of the first Sunday School songs you learned began with the words, “Jesus loves me, this I know…” It’s a good reminder of Jesus’ love for each of His little ones, including you and me. But today I’m going to suggest a little twist on this old favorite: “Jesus knows me, this I love.”

And what about those who are not present? The neighbors and children and delinquent members who are far off? The promise in verses 29-30 offers hope: Many people will come from the four corners of the earth and recline at table in the kingdom. The last shall be first. Many who think they will be saved will not; but many whom we might not think will be there, will be there, saved by God’s rich and amazing grace.

This also offers motivation for you and me to continue praying and continue reaching out to others with the Master’s promise. “Jesus knows you,” we can assure them. “Come on in while the narrow door to salvation is still open!” And then, together, we graciously welcome them in the Master’s name.

For only in that name, do we find forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.

So go in the peace of the Lord and serve His people with joy. The narrow door is open to 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.


[i] M. Franzmann, Concordia Self-Study Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 1979) NT, 72.

[ii] I. H. Marshall, The Gospel of Luke. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 565.

[iii] J. Nolland, Luke 9:21-18:34, World Biblical Commentary. (Dallas: Word Books, 1989), 734.