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The Things That Make For Your Peace

Luke 19:41-48
Trinity 10

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    We’re always looking for what will bring us peace and contentment and happiness.  We try to find it in getting stuff, in having that relationship or that experience we’ve always wanted, in our work, in hobbies and trips, in some new philosophy of life or some new medication or some new diet or workout.  But it still always seems to be just out of reach.  Where do you find your peace?

    Our Lord Jesus is approaching the city of Jerusalem.  Within the name “Jerusalem” is the word “salem.”  And “salem” is a form of the word “Shalom,” meaning “peace.”  So there is clearly a sad irony in Jesus’ words in the Gospel when He says, “If you had known, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!”  The Prince of Peace had come to them.  But the city of peace did not recognize or receive Him.  They were looking for their peace elsewhere.

    And so as our Lord is about to enter Jerusalem for the last time before His death, He weeps over her.  He cries as a parent cries who sees that his child has gone wrong.  He cries as a husband cries over the wife that has rejected him for another.  He weeps out of love for His people who were blind to who He was and what He had come to give them.  Our Lord is not a cold, dispassionate, detached person.  Not only did He take on our human flesh and blood but also our human soul and spirit and mind and emotions.  His heart aches when His people turn away from Him.

    In particular Jesus laments over what is going to happen to them.  In the year 70 A.D., just forty years after this Gospel, Jesus’ prophetic words were fulfilled.  Jerusalem was attacked and laid siege by the Romans.  Tens of thousands were killed or died from famine and plague.  Those not worth anything to the empire were executed, adult and child alike; their dead bodies piled up to block the lanes and the streets of the city.  The strong men were kept alive and forced to work in mines or become slaves.  The Jewish historian, Josephus, wrote that 97,000 young men were taken away as slaves.  He also reports that Titus, the emperor Vespasian’s son, sent a great number of captives into the Roman provinces, as a present to them, that they might be destroyed in their theaters and coliseums by the sword and by wild beasts.  Above all, the temple was utterly destroyed and laid waste.  All that is left of the temple in Jerusalem today is the wailing wall.

    This was the judgment of God.  The Romans were His instrument in executing the sentence.  For Israel had rejected the Messiah.  They did not know the time of their visitation, when God Himself visited them and walked among them.  It was their day, and they missed it.  The things that made for their peace with God were hidden from their eyes by their own unbelief.  The weeping of God eventually becomes the judgment of God for those who will not repent.

    And it’s not as if the Jews weren’t religious.  St. Paul says in the Epistle, “I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.  For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God” in Christ.  They were passionate for God, but they tried to get right with Him on the basis of their own keeping of God’s Law.  They foolishly trusted in their own obedience and holiness rather than humbly and penitently relying on the grace of God revealed to them in Christ and receiving His righteousness as a free and undeserved gift.  And so they ended up rejecting the very one their Law prophesied.  All their religious passion was for nothing.  They wanted something flashier and more glorious than this lowly Jesus.  In fact it offended them to think that’s how God would visit them.  They stumbled at this stumbling stone of the Gospel, and so the stones of the temple and the city were demolished around them.  Their lives were taken from them.

    All of this is a clear and sobering call to repentance for you still today.  For it shows that God’s judgment is real and is nothing to be played around with.  What happened to the Jews in Jerusalem in the 1st century is a miniature picture of what will happen to all the unbelieving world on judgment day.  Consider, then, how things stand with you.  Are you passionate about moral topics or the social decay of our nation, but ho-hum about learning Scriptural doctrine and meditating on God’s Word?  Are you relying on your own religious efforts and spirituality to bring you into God’s favor rather than Christ alone?  Then your religion is like the false, man-centered religion of the Jews, and you must repent.  Do you look for God primarily in mysterious signs and supernatural occurrences instead of in His humble but sure Word?  Is divine service something that has become passe’, that you could do without for weeks at a time?  Then you are like the Israelites who did not know the time of their visitation; you aren’t seeing how God Himself visits you in the scandalously lowly means of preaching and the sacraments, and you must repent.  Are you one who wants to use religion as a means of personal gain or as a way of getting God to bless you financially?  Then you are like those who bought and sold in the temple, and you must repent.

    Turn away from all that, and turn to Him whose heart still weeps out of love for His people.  Trust in Him who continues to cry out, “If you would know, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!”  Christ Himself is your Peace.  He is the One who brings reconciliation between you and God, who brings you back into fellowship with God and gives you that peace that passes all understanding.  This is your day, the day of your visitation, as it is written, “Behold, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.”  This is the moment in which Christ is coming to you in His Gospel sounding in your ears.  Believe in Him; trust in what He has done; seek His righteousness.

    For our Lord has cleansed the temple.  When Jesus drove out the moneychangers in righteous anger and purified the temple as a house of prayer, that was a sign of what He was about to do at Calvary.  For there on the cross Jesus Himself experienced the righteous anger of God against the world’s sin and drove it out in the temple of His own body.  Jesus made Himself unclean in your place.  He took all of the greed and the self-righteousness and the pollution of every sin that you’ve done or that has been done to you, and He made it His own dirty mess.  By His holy suffering and death He took it away from you and cleansed you forever.  

    Jesus had said of His body, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  Though the temple in Jerusalem remains destroyed, Jesus could not remain in the grave.  He is now bodily raised in glory and honor, the new and eternal dwelling place of God for you.  Jesus is your temple.  You have entered into the temple of Christ through baptism, and so His holiness and cleanness and righteousness are all yours.  In fact Scripture says that you yourselves are now the body of Christ.  And therefore you all together are the temple of Christ’s Spirit, who dwells in you through your baptismal faith. You are safe from divine judgment.  For you are in Him who took the judgment for you.

    The full meaning of the name Jerusalem means “He shall see peace” or “He shall provide peace.”  2000 years earlier on this same mount, before the city was built, Abraham had said, “The Lord will provide.”  Now on this mount, just outside the city gates, the Lord provided peace for you with God.  His holy tears have washed you clean; the blood He shed purified you to be own treasured people, the holy Church.  In Christ Jesus, you have shalom, peace, completeness and wholeness that will be revealed to all people in the resurrection when He returns on the Last Day.

    Brothers and sisters of Christ, God is indeed coming to visit.  That is bad news for the unrepentant.  To those who want something more than Jesus and His undeserved grace, God’s visitation means judgment.  But for you who believe, God’s visitation is the greatest good news.  “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!”  This is your day; right now is the time of your visitation!  Don’t miss out.  Here are the things that make for your peace, the body and blood of Christ, offered up for you for the forgiveness of your sins, for your peace, for your rest, for your restoration to the Father.  God grant you always to be like that faithful remnant in the Gospel that were very attentive to hear Jesus, so that by His grace you may be brought to dwell eternally in the new Jerusalem above.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

The Garden and the Wilderness

Genesis 2:7-17; Mark 8:1-9
Trinity 7

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    One question that even long-time Christians will sometimes struggle with, or at least wonder about, is why did God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden?  It’s one of those things that can crop up every once in a while in our skeptical minds as an unresolved issue.  If everything was good in the beginning, why did God put in an opportunity for man to mess it all up?

    God certainly wasn’t foolish or evil for doing this.  Nor was He playing games or toying with us.  Rather, this has to do with the very nature of why God made man and what it means for man to be in His image.  For the other creatures, it was sufficient that they lived primarily according to instinct, simply by virtue of the way they were made.  But the Lord created man higher than the animals.  He created us to have a unique relationship with Him.  He is the God who is love, and who desires us to receive that love and return that love freely.  And in order for love to be truly given and received, there also has to be the opportunity for that love to be rejected.  If there were no choice in the matter, it wouldn’t be love but coercion, something forced, or at least something mechanical.  But God did not create Adam and Eve to be robots or machines, but to be human.  And to be human does not mean to be sinful; it means to reflect the very nature of the God who is love in their relationship with Him and with each other.

    And so the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was there in the Garden that there might be the opportunity for such real love.  Refraining from eating its fruit was a key way Adam and Eve showed love for God and honored Him as their Maker.  Our first parents knew only good.  God alone knew what evil was, how His goodness could be corrupted and turned against Him.  We didn’t need to know that.  For us, to know evil is already to be affected and tainted by it.  You know how that is, with a movie, for instance, that has a graphic scene of sex or violence that you can’t unsee, or some traumatizing experience in your life that you can’t undo, and how those evils negatively color and affect the way you look at the world and how it diminishes life.  God didn’t want that for you.  He wanted you to be innocent of that.  He simply wanted human beings to trust in Him and His words and to enjoy His good gifts.

    The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then, was the place reserved for God alone, where our first parents would worship Him. It would have been treated with the same sort of reverence as we treat our altar.  Martin Luther said, “This tree . . . was Adam’s church, altar, and pulpit.  Here he was to yield to God the obedience he owed, give recognition to the Word and will of God, give thanks to God, and call upon God.” Luther continues, “This tree of the knowledge of good and evil . . . would have been the church at which Adam, together with his descendants, would have gathered on the Sabbath day” (AE 1:95,105).  To cross that boundary that God set would be to enter into the realm that belongs to God alone.  

    So then, one point we should understand clearly is that this tree was not some evil thing meant to trip up human beings.  To be sure, there was a curse attached to its misuse–just as there are consequences to the misuse of any good thing.  But above all, it was a place of worship, of hearing and honoring God’s Word, and of praising Him for His great goodness to them.

    Beware, then, when you are tempted to use your human reason and thinking to call into question why God did things the way He did, as if our limited understanding could critique the depths of the mind of God, as if we were over Him in a position to judge Him.  For whoever does so is engaging in the same sin that Adam and Eve did–putting themselves on the throne as judge of good and evil, trying to be God in place of God.  Is it not utter foolishness to use our intelligence and mental faculties against the very God who gave them to us?  

    Of course, in one form or another that’s exactly what has happened.  We’re often tempted to think like fools that we know better than God.  Disregarding His Word and commands, we find ourselves under the curse He pronounced, “In the day you eat of it you shall surely die . . .  Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”  The free will that man had in the beginning has been lost, just as the image of God has also been corrupted and polluted in us.  No longer are we free in spiritual matters; rather we are in bondage to corruption.  Ephesians 2 says that we are dead in our sin, spiritually stillborn.  And dead people don’t make choices or exercise free will.  We can’t do anything to bring ourselves to God or to get right with Him.  The wages of sin is indeed death and separation from God forever.

    However, the God who is love did not leave us to perish forever in our fallen state.  For the Epistle reminds us, “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  God’s love is all about the giving of His free, undeserved gifts to us.  And that was shown most fully and perfectly in the giving of Himself to us in the incarnation of Jesus.  

    What a contrast the setting of today’s Gospel reading is to Eden.  Things have gone from a lush garden to a barren wilderness, from an abundance of food to the rumbling of empty stomachs.  But notice that Jesus is right there in the wilderness with the people, enduring all of the effects of sin’s curse right along with them.  Jesus said, “I have compassion on the multitudes.”  His heart goes out to us in our need.  Jesus entered into the bleakness and the harshness of this world in order that He might undo the curse and restore you to paradise.  He went so far as to make your problems His problems.  He knows what you’re going through right now, whatever it is–not just from a distance, but first-hand.  In His great mercy Jesus came into the world to suffer with you and to suffer for you in order to take your suffering away forever.  He made Himself a part of your life, with all the troubles and mess that it is, in order to redeem your bodies and souls and renew the fallen creation in which you live.

    We see little foretastes of that renewal in miracles like this feeding of the 4000.  Remember, the curse on Adam had been, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.”  But here the second Adam, Jesus, reverses the curse and produces bread in abundance apart from any sweaty or tiring labor.  In this moment He restores the bounty of the Garden of Eden, where food is received in overflowing measure from the gracious hand of God.  Here you see God the Son beginning to break the curse of decay and death and overcome the fall into sin.  You see a small glimpse of how it was in the beginning and how it will be even more so in the new creation of the age to come.

    Jesus completed His work of breaking the power of the curse on the cross.  Since the wages of sin is death, Jesus took those wages you had coming and died your death for you.  Sin’s deathly curse was broken and undone in the body of Christ the crucified.  And notice the change in terminology–it’s no longer wages, what you’ve deserved and earned; it’s a gift, free love and grace.  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, the gift of life now flows to you and to all who believe in Him.  For if sin has been undone, so also are the wages of sin undone.  Death and hell have been taken away from you through the cross.  You have been released to a new life, free and full, through the resurrection of Jesus.

    That’s why it’s a key fact that it was on the third day that this miracle was performed in the Gospel.  Jesus had led these people on a three day journey into the wilderness to teach them.  So also Jesus leads you on a journey into the wilderness, into your daily callings in this desert world, so that as you serve your neighbor with all the difficulties that can bring, you may learn ever more deeply of your desperate need for Jesus’ mercy, so that you may learn to hunger for His Word and His righteousness.  And then on the third day, that is, here in divine service, He fills you with manna from above.  We bear his cross in the world, fasting in spirit with Jesus, often enduring affliction and trouble.  But then the fast is broken and here we take part in the feast of the living and resurrected Christ, the Bread of Life.

    Jesus took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to His disciples to set before the people.  In the same way still today, Jesus speaks His words of thanks and consecration,  and His ministers distribute the blessed Sacrament of the Altar on His behalf.  The seven loaves were multiplied to feed and fully satisfy 4000 people.  In the same way still today, Jesus uses seemingly insufficient bread to multiply His grace and feed and fully satisfy the church with His very life-giving body.  Jesus said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”  “He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”

    When all had eaten there was more left over than when they started.  Seven small loaves became seven large baskets.  That’s how it is with the Lord.  The more He gives, the more He has yet to give.  His mercy toward you, His gifts don’t run out.  There’s always more; there’s always better.  The seven loaves stand for the seven days of creation.  The seven large baskets stand for the even greater creation to come at Christ’s return.  The Lord isn’t simply restoring you to the deathless perfection of Eden, He is exalting you to a status even greater and better than Adam and Eve.  The place being prepared for you in heaven far surpasses even the Paradise of Eden.  For by sharing fully in your humanity, Christ has lifted you up to the very throne and glory of God.

    So, you may sometimes wonder whether or not God’s creation of man was worth it, with all that has gone so terribly wrong since the fall, with all that God knew He would have to do to save and restore us.  But that’s not for us to dwell on.  What we should dwell on is that you are worth it to God, worth the price He would have to pay to have you in His love forever.

    Baptized into Christ, you are now given permission to come into God’s presence to eat.  There is here for you the tree of life, the cross bearing Christ’s body and blood.  From it you are given to eat and never die, never to be separated from God.  As you receive this living bread that came down from heaven, you are being given a taste of paradise.  For heaven is where Christ is, and Christ is here for you.  “The poor shall eat and be satisfied.”  “For the Lord fills the hungry soul with goodness.”

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Judge Not

Luke 6:36-42; John 8:1-11
Trinity 4

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Jesus teaches us in today’s Gospel, “Judge not, and you shall not be judged.”  So what exactly does that mean?  Unlike what the world thinks, Jesus does not mean that we should be OK with false teaching or ungodly living and never speak against such things.  After all, He also teaches us to beware of false prophets (Matt. 7:15), which means we have to judge what they say and avoid listening to them.  And He also tells us not to be ashamed of confessing His Word “in this adulterous and sinful generation” (Luke 12:8; Mark 8:38).  Speaking the truth of God’s Word sometimes requires saying that what is contrary to it is wrong and false.  Christians should never give in to the ridiculous notion that no matter what our family or friends do or believe, we should “support” them.  We should still love them and bear with them.  But we uphold and support God’s living words above all.  1 Corinthians 13 reminds us, “Love does not rejoice in iniquity but rejoices in the truth.”  We are given to speak the truth in love.  So “Judge not” never means ignoring or minimizing what is good and right and true.

    No, what Jesus means is this: there are two ways of dealing with others–in a way that finds fault, or in a way that explains everything in the kindest way.  Especially with those whom we are closest to–spouses and children, co-workers and relatives and friends–it can be easy to fall into a pattern of judging and fault-finding.  For since we’re close to these people, we know them very well.  We see their weaknesses and failings.  And over time, those things can become bothersome and annoying.  Then we get this narrative running in our head that they’re uncaring or lazy or frigid or greedy or impatient or selfish.  And then we start looking for things which prove our point and fit that narrative.  And before long that’s all we can see about the other person.  We view everything through that judgmental lens.  We look for reasons to condemn them and prove we’re right and justify our withholding of mercy.  All of this breeds resentment which kills relationships.

    But Jesus here calls us to turn from those old, fallen ways and to follow His higher ways.  Not only does He want you to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  In this Gospel He’s taking it a step further, “do unto others as you would have your heavenly Father do unto you.”  Do you want God not to judge and condemn you?  Then don’t be judging and condemning others.  Do you want God to forgive your sins and give you richly all things to enjoy?  Then let go of your grudges, and stop being stingy.  That’s the gist of Jesus’ words.

    Our old Adam rages against those words and resists them.  He thinks that if you don’t look out for yourself, who will?  He doesn’t trust that vengeance belongs to the Lord or that what others mean for evil God can work for good.  The old Adam thinks it’s foolish to believe the Lord’s words that it is better to give than to receive.

    However, you have been claimed by Another, haven’t you?  You have been marked with the sign of the cross, and you now belong to the New Adam, to the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. You’ve been baptized into Him.  You now get to share in His life and live it.

    This life of Jesus which you’ve been given to live is not one of judgment and condemnation.  For Jesus came to rescue you from the judgment of death which you deserved.  It is written in Romans 8, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Think about that!  Through your baptismal faith in Jesus, there’s nothing left to condemn in you.  Not a single thing.  Jesus didn’t come to pay you back for your countless rebellions.  He came to pay the price for them, bearing them Himself under His Father’s judgment as He hung on the tree.  “Father, forgive them” is the prayer that rings out from the cross to the end of the age.  All who take refuge under His cross are just that: forgiven.  Jesus came not to take from you but to give to you–rich measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over–pouring into your laps abundant mercy and acceptance.

    And I think a perfect example of our Lord’s mercy is the account of how He dealt with the adulterous woman.  Do you remember that account?  “The scribes and the Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery.  And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.  Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned to death.  What do you say?’ . . .  But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.”  

     Isn’t that wonderful?  Even though this woman did indeed deserve to be stoned to death for her sin, to return to the dust that Jesus stooped down to write in, yet Jesus does not listen to the accusation of the Law against this woman.  For He is the fulfillment of the Law.  He silences the Law’s accusation against you.  He is deaf to its judgment for the sake of His own mercy.  “So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.’  And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.  Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last.”  Jesus’ words brought these men to see that in their eagerness to condemn this woman, they were also condemning themselves.  Judge not, and you shall not be judged.  The older ones especially knew that they were not without sin, that they, too, needed God’s mercy.  

    But let us be clear that God’s mercy is never a license to sin or a condoning of sin.  Unfortunately, that is what many people think “Judge not” means, that we should affirm sinful behavior and false beliefs and accept all sorts of sexual perversity.  But they are wrong.  That’s certainly not what Jesus ever did.  For notice how Jesus calls this woman to a new life and to leave her sin behind: “When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, ‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours?  Has no one condemned you?’  She said, ‘No one, Lord.’  And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’”  This woman was forgiven, released and freed from her sinful way of life.  For Jesus Himself would stand condemned for her.  He would be lowered to the dust of death, for her sin and the sins of the whole world.  He would lie dead on the cold stone of His tomb.  Just as Jesus here raised Himself up from the dust, so also He raised up this woman to a new life.  He gave her His own life.

    And that’s the same life He has given also to you in your Baptism.  As Jesus defended and delivered the adulterous woman, so also He speaks up on your behalf and delivers you from the death you deserve for your sins.  Jesus is your Advocate with the Father, who protects and defends you and saves you.  The devil and even your own conscience may accuse you.  But Jesus Himself is the atoning sacrifice for your sins.  Jesus says to you, “Where are your accusers?  The devil’s head has been crushed.  Your sins have all been answered for.  There are no stones left to throw.  You are free.  Be at peace.”

    The Christian life, then, is this pattern of drowning your old Adam with all his desires, confessing that you have a plank in your eye, and then receiving absolution from Jesus who took and carried away that plank when He bore the wooden beam of the cross up to Golgotha.  When you see yourself rightly as one who has been rescued like that, who has been given an undeserved pardon and reprieve, then you are someone who is ready to be of some use to your neighbor!  Once you’ve dealt with your own issues before God, then you’re better prepared to help your neighbor in a way that truly flows from love. You get to carry the good news of Christ and give His free pardon to others.  And instead of finding fault, you get to find ways to cover up one another’s faults.  For it is written, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”  

    The love of Christ has covered the multitude of your sins forever.  That love is given to you here and now in the holy supper.  Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over is put into your bosom in the grain which is Christ’s body and in the cup that runs over with His mercy, His holy blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.  Such is the generosity of our God.  It’s beyond measure.  It’s always spilling over, so that you may be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

God is My Help

Luke 16:19-31
Trinity 1

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Unbelief makes a person blind.  All the while he thinks he’s being religious and doing the right thing, he can’t see that he’s really still self-absorbed and in rebellion against God.  Just consider the rich man in today’s Gospel.  Even after he dies, even after he knows that he has separated himself from God forever, notice that nothing really changes with him.  The same beggar that he apparently ignored while he was alive, he now still treats selfishly, wanting to use and control him for his own purposes.  “Send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.”  “Send Lazarus back from the dead to my brothers, so that they don’t also come here to this place of torment.”  Lazarus was still not fully a person in the rich man’s mind, just someone who could be used to do something he wanted done.

 Of course, it is a good thing that the rich man was thinking of his brothers.  He could at least care about his own flesh and blood.  But even here, we see most profoundly how the rich man was still an unbeliever.  For after he begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to his brothers, he completely rejects Abraham’s holy reply.  Abraham says to him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let [your brothers] hear them.”  In other words, “Your brothers have the Scriptures, the Word of God, which alone has the power to bring about true repentance and saving faith.  That’s what they desperately need to listen to.”  But the rich man actually has the gall to contradict our father in the faith.  “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”  The rich man is still the rebellious child, thinking he knows better.  No, father Abraham.  I don’t believe you; I don’t trust in the power of God’s Word to help in this situation.  My brothers need something better, something more than the Scriptures.  No, they need to see a miracle, something to shake them up to really make them repent.

    This reveals the rich man’s fundamental problem.  He doesn’t have faith in God’s Word, before or after death.  Take note of this; this is key:  It’s not as if once an unbeliever dies, he suddenly becomes a believer, but it’s just too late.  No, the lack of love for God and the lack of trust in God remains.  During his life, even though the rich man probably would have gone to hear God’s Word on the Sabbath as a good citizen, he was blind to its message, blind to the presence and power of God there to save, and blind to the Messiah it spoke of.  And so he was also blind to the need of his neighbor laid right there at his gate.  All he could see were the things that helped out his business, how his religious living helped to give him a good reputation and honor in the community, how secure he felt having the things he had come to possess.  In the end, because he lived without the Lord in any real way, he also dies forever without the Lord.  He only sees from the greatest distance and never experiences or knows the Lord’s goodness that had been freely offered him.

    There is a rich man also in every one of you, your old Adam; and he too is blind.  All he can see is what he wants to see, what fits in with his way of thinking, what serves his purposes.  When there’s a problem, your fallen nature thinks, “if only my spouse or my friends or co-workers would just see things my way, then everything would be better; everything would be right.”  Ironically, we selfishly want everyone else to repent of their selfishness.  Your old Adam is always trying to lead you to avoid those who can’t do anything for you.  He finds his security and happiness in having a cushion in the bank account, and can’t seem to feel any love for God when the finances go south.  It is that old nature in you which likes religion, but only to the extent that it brings success or makes you look good to others and feel better about yourself.  It is that part of you which still believes that a key factor in how you get into good standing with God somehow has to do with the fact that you’ve tried hard to live a decent life.

    Repent of this.  Take your place not with those whom the world loves, but with humble Lazarus.  Return to your baptism and drown the old ways.  Your old Adam is not the real you, not in God’s sight.  He has given you a new life in Christ.  That is your true identity; that is who you are, a beloved child of God.  With empty, open hands, receive the good gifts God freely places into them.

    Lazarus is one who most certainly heard Moses and the prophets in true faith.  Stripped of all the entanglements of this world, there was nothing to blind him to his true condition or the only place where there was real help for him.  The Word of God was his hope, as his name indicated– “Lazarus” which is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Eliezer, meaning “God is My Help.”  Even though Lazarus longed for crumbs from the table like a dog, even though the street dogs were his company and licked his wounds, even though in this world Lazarus had nothing–not even his health–in truth, Lazarus found what he was seeking.  He found mercy that endures forever.  He received Living Water and Bread from Heaven. He obtained perfect satisfaction and health.  It was all there for him in Moses and the prophets.  For there in Moses and the prophets was the Messiah, Jesus, his Help and his Savior.  

    In the Scriptures, Lazarus found a Messiah whom he could identify with.  Isaiah prophesies that the Christ is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, despised and rejected by men, one without any attractiveness that we should desire to be near Him.  Jesus Himself said in the Psalms that He was surrounded by unbelieving dogs who mocked Him in His pain, who pierced His hands and His feet.  And yet, Isaiah says, “He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses. . .  And by His wounds we are healed.”  The blood that flowed from those wounds cleansed us of our sin and bought our eternal healing, the restoration and resurrection of our bodies to glory on the Last Day.

    Truly Jesus made Himself to be just like Lazarus for us.  For notice how Lazarus is comforted there in the bosom of father Abraham, laying on his chest.  That is a clear picture for us of the first two persons of the Trinity, the eternal Father and Son.  John 1 states, “No one has seen God at any time.”  But, “The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known.”  Jesus made the love of the Father known and manifested it to us by coming down from heaven into the midst of our poverty and affliction.  He did this in order to raise us up and bring us back with Himself to the Father’s embrace and the true riches of heaven, which do not pass away.

    Lazarus was a real son of Abraham, not only by blood, but also because he had the same faith as Abraham.  Remember how the elderly, childless Abraham was told by God that he would be the father of many nations, that his descendants would be as countless as the stars.  And even though Abraham had no evidence or experience to go on, he believed God’s promise, and God credited it to him as righteousness.  Abraham was righteous by faith alone.  And so was Lazarus.  Lazarus, too, trusted in God’s promise that He would not forsake the lowly, that no one who puts his trust in Him would ever be put to shame, that the Lord saves those who have a humble and contrite and penitent heart.  Even when all of the evidence and experience of Lazarus’ life said that God had forsaken him, he still clung to God’s promise.  By that faith he was accounted righteous before God.  He was saved.

    And here’s where it all comes home, then, also for you.  The evidence and experience of your life may seem to suggest that God doesn’t like you, that He’s forgotten you.  You may have this nagging feeling that you’re not going to heaven, that there’s no way to escape hell because of what you’ve done or because of the things that have happened to you.  But don’t judge God by what you see or feel.  Instead, go by His Word and His promises.  Trust that what He says is true and real.  For God does not lie; He does not break His Word.  He will come through for you–maybe not the way you want right now; maybe not even in this life.  But most assuredly He will do so in the life to come.  For He has conquered your sin and death by His own death and resurrection.  Through faith in Him, you are accounted righteous before God.  You are holy in His sight, without a single flaw.  The comfort and happiness of heaven is yours, entirely by the grace of God.  You don’t have to earn it by your works.  It’s all a gift of Christ’s rich love for you.  Believe it.

    Those who are like the rich man refuse to believe this.  They want a god who rewards people based on merit, and so they get what they deserve, the fire of hell.  Abraham reminds us that even if someone like Lazarus were to rise from the dead, that wouldn’t cause anyone to believe who didn’t already believe Moses and the prophets.  In fact, some have suggested that this Lazarus is the one that Jesus did raise from the dead right before Holy Week.  That miracle caused the rich Pharisees and chief priests to plot Jesus’ death even more fervently.  So beware of desiring miracles and signs, needing to see such things before you’ll believe.  Miracles don’t create faith.  If God gives them, they only confirm the faith that He has already worked through His Word and Spirit alone.  

    The unbelieving rich man is given no name by Jesus.  But like Lazarus, you have been given a name by God in holy baptism as His beloved child.  The Lord did more than dip the tip of His finger in the water; He reached in with His whole self and doused you with His Spirit, that you may know that God is your Help.  Let us, then, be like Lazarus in spirit–poor, weak, dependent on the Lord, satisfied with no other food than what comes from His holy table, eating the rich crumbs of the Bread of Life that satisfy completely.  Then you may die unfearing; for God’s own angels will bear you home to His side in Christ.  And in the resurrection you will with your own eyes behold the Son of God’s glorious face, your Savior and your fount of grace.  

✠ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Blessed Be the Holy Trinity

John 3:1-17

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Every year on Trinity Sunday we say the words of the Athanasian Creed, words which speak about the catholic faith.  And I’m sure every year, some of you think to yourselves, “Why do we still have to use that word ‘catholic?’  We’re Lutherans!”  You remember, of course, that there’s a big difference between Roman Catholic with a capital “C” and catholic with a small “c” as in “the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church,” which was the original wording of the creeds.  In the other creeds we use the word “Christian” rather than “catholic” to avoid confusion.  But the two words really mean the same thing.  The catholic faith means the one true faith delivered through the apostles and prophets and recorded for us in the Scriptures, the one, universal faith which has been confessed by the true church in all places at all times, the faith which trusts in Jesus Christ alone as the Savior, which worships the Blessed Holy Trinity as the only true God. 

    This is the faith we hold to and which every generation of Christians has held to before us back to the time of the apostles and Christ Himself.  We will settle for no other; we will allow no compromise.  Any one who confesses something different is not catholic; which is to say, he’s not Christian, whether he is Lutheran or Baptist or Roman Catholic or the pope himself.  The fact of the matter is that in several important respects, the pope is not catholic.  For instance, he teaches that there can be salvation for those who do not hold to the Trinitarian faith, including some Jews and Muslims–even though Jesus specifically said, “He who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”  Anyone who utters words other than what has been delivered to us from the apostolic Scriptures is not uttering the words of the catholic, Christian faith.  

    That’s why the Athanasian Creed is very particular on this doctrine of the Trinity.  On the basis of the Scriptures, it says this, “Except a man believe (this) faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.”  There is no salvation, no eternal life apart from faith in this Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; this Jesus, the Son of God who became flesh to redeem us.  You cannot be saved if you trust in something different than this.

    And this is where we bump up against our culture.  It sounds exclusionary to talk this way, especially in a context where everything is about diversity and inclusion.  It may even sound a bit arrogant to some, as if we’re better than everyone else.  But that’s not at all what we’re saying; in fact, just the opposite.  We speak this way because we know that there is only one way for humans to be reconciled with God, and that is through Jesus, who is both God and man in one undivided person.  It’s not about us, it’s about Him, the only Son of the Father, through whom the Holy Spirit is given.  This faith is not exclusionary, since it is a free gift for everyone who believes, no matter who you are or where you’re from.  But it is a faith that cannot include falsehood or embrace false, diverse gods; for to do that is to reject Him who is the Truth incarnate.

    And so in a world which tries to blur distinctions and encourages acceptance of false belief, it is good that we confess the Athanasian Creed.  We don’t worship a single-person god, as do the Muslims and the Jews; we don’t believe in multiple gods, as do the Mormons; we don’t believe in a god who is just an impersonal force in the universe, as do Buddhists and Hindus and New age types; we don’t even worship a generic god, “the man upstairs,” as so many of our neighbors do.  We worship the three-in-one God who is love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the God who creates and sustains us, the Son of God who became the Son of Man to deliver us from sin and death, the Spirit of God who sanctifies us and gives us everlasting life.

    It’s not easy for us to confess that faith out in the world, is it?  It’s easier just to keep quiet and avoid possible trouble.  We don’t want to be stereotyped; we don’t want to be thought of as weird.  And so we often keep what we believe secret, unless we’re sure it’s safe.  We’re tempted to think and talk one way in here and another way out there.  That’s what Nicodemus was doing in today’s Gospel.  He came to Jesus at night.  It is written elsewhere in the Scriptures that Nicodemus was a follower of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews.  Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish ruling council.  And that council saw Jesus as trouble, a rabble rouser and a blasphemer who needed to be silenced.  And so Nicodemus felt the pressure to conform and maintain the status quo, even as we know all too well the pressure to conform to this world and follow its ways, especially this month.

    But Nicodemus was beginning to be drawn in by the words of Jesus.  Those words of life were beginning to penetrate his heart.  He was beginning to want something that he didn’t have, just as every sinner, whether he admits it or not, knows that he’s missing something without Christ.  Our hearts are indeed restless until they rest in Him.

    So Nicodemus comes with his restless heart to Jesus by night.  And he says, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”  Nicodemus reasons that Jesus must be from God, because He’s able to do these signs and miracles.  And so Nicodemus figures that Jesus might be able to help him to get his spiritual life together, get his religion right.  But Jesus responds in a way that shows that this teacher of Israel didn’t understand and was really missing the point.  The Christian faith is not about getting your life together, it’s about getting a whole new life.  It’s not doing something of yourself to get in touch with God, it’s about being reborn in Christ.  Jesus said, “Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

    In your fallen state, you cannot see God and live; you cannot behold or be a part of His kingdom.  And so your old life must pass away and you must be born again.  You must receive a new and holy life that is acceptable to stand in God’s presence and to enter His kingdom.  And that life is given to you by Christ.  For He lived a life that is perfectly holy and without sin.  He fulfilled the commandments entirely and kept the Law of love completely, even to the point of laying down His life.  Now He is risen from the dead in the flesh to pour out His life by the Holy Spirit on all who believe.  Jesus said, “Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  

    It is in holy baptism, then, that you are reborn in Christ through the seed of the living Word.  You are not born again through some decision of your own, any more than you had a part in deciding to be born the first time.  Rather, you are born again as children of God purely by the gracious will of your heavenly Father.  Just as our Lord Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so you are conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Church in the waters of baptism.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and passes away.  But that which is born of the Spirit is spirit and does not pass away.  Therefore, the old Adam, the perishable sinful nature which still hangs with you, must be put down and drowned through daily repentance.  Then walking by faith in the risen Christ, He will daily emerge and arise in you to live before the Father in righteousness and purity forever.

    Later this same night, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”  We hate coming to the light; it’s easier to hang around in the shadows, because in the light all the blemishes of our sin are exposed.  It’s not easy to come to confession; it’s not easy to kneel at this altar rail as a sinner needing help.  But when you come to the Light with penitent faith in Jesus, just as Nicodemus came through the darkness to Him who is the Light of the world, Christ will not castigate and reject you.  For if we confess our sins, God if faithful and just to forgive our sins.  He cleanses us from all unrighteousness by giving us His purifying blood and holy body at His table.  “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”  What good news that is!  Jesus did not come to damn you but to rescue you.  He did not come to convict you but to pardon you.  Jesus did not come to lay new rules and requirements on you, but to take your burdens and sins on Himself and put them to death in His body on the cross, that you may have life and have it abundantly.

    “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  There is no one to whom that verse does not apply.  God so loved you that He gave His only begotten Son for you, that believing in Him you shall not perish but have everlasting life.  

    This is why we hold tenaciously to Scriptural confessions of faith like the Athanasian Creed and reject anything that is contrary to it.  It’s not out of an arrogant “We’re right, everyone else is wrong” kind of attitude.  Rather, we know that this is the only true God who is love; this Jesus is the only one who is the way, the truth, and the life.  And no one comes to the Father except through Him.  Here’s the only medicine that can heal you.  All the others are just quacks.  Ultimately it is out of love for our neighbor that we reject all false religion, so that they may know and believe the saving truth of the Holy Trinity–the Father who created us and who loves even us fallen creatures, the Son who demonstrates that love by taking on our flesh and redeeming us with His precious blood, and the Holy Spirit who pours out that love upon us by means of His words and sacraments.  This is our God.  This is our Lord.  We desire no other.

    Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the Undivided Unity: let us give glory to Him because he has shown mercy to us!  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.

Scars of Blessing

Luke 24:44-53
The Ascension of our Lord

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    We know we shouldn’t focus on it.  And yet whenever we see a person with a noticeable scar or some sort of disfigurement, our eyes are initially drawn to that.  That first glance isn’t necessarily intentional.  In fact, we feel a twinge of guilt when we realize what we’re doing.  But before we can think about it, that’s where our eyes go–and not just with strangers, but even sometimes with the long-time acquaintance who lost part of a finger or the friend who has that burn scar or the relative who had to get all those stitches.

    There’s a story behind every scar that will often tell you something important about that person.  Of course we know, too, that many scars are invisible, and yet they run deep into the heart and soul of a person.  Everyone has these scars. Even the prettiest woman, the most handsome man, the most self-confident people have scars that cause them hurt or anger or shame–emotional scars.  If you really want to know a person and love them, very often those scars are what you need to pay attention to.

    During this Easter season we have seen that Jesus, too, is known by His scars.  That’s how the disciples first know the risen Jesus as the crucified conqueror.  Even after His glorious resurrection, Jesus retains those scars in His hands and feet and side, because they are the everlasting signs of His sacrificial love.  It’s the story behind those scars that tell us who Jesus is for us.  This is how He wants to be known.  These are scars we definitely should focus on.

    And that point is emphasized in our Lord’s Ascension.  Don’t let your picture of the Ascension get too sentimentalized and fuzzy with puffy clouds and flowing robes.  For what did Jesus do as He was parted from the disciples?  It says that He lifted up His hands and blessed them.  In other words, He presented His scars, the wounds by which we are healed in both body and soul, the wounds that cover our scars and the disfigurement of our sin.  It is from those nail-scarred hands that the blessing of forgiveness and life flows.  That is the final visible picture that Jesus leaves us with before He comes again on the Last Day.  He ascends to the right hand of the Father to bless us eternally, to present those scars forever to His Father and to us.

    Always hold on to that truth of the Ascension, that Christ the crucified is Lord over all things for the blessing of His beloved church.  For when we forget that truth, that’s when we can sometimes begin to succumb to doubt, to wonder if the Lord is even paying attention, that all of our troubles and difficulties are escaping His notice.  When we stop looking to His scars, we start wallowing in our own.  Or we can begin to behave as if the Lord doesn’t see what we’re thinking and doing at all, that we can pretty much get away with living as we please.  Like a little child, we think that if we can’t see Him, He doesn’t see us.  That is when the scars from what we’ve done and from what others have done to us multiply and fester.  And then we meditate on the scars and become bitter.

    Repent of all of that.  Look away from yourself to the scars of Jesus that He presents to you with outstretched arms from heaven’s throne.  God’s Word proclaims to you that right now, Jesus is speaking on your behalf with the heavenly Father by virtue of those scars, so that your scars and sins might be covered as with a beautiful garment, and healed and taken away.  It is written, “Christ Jesus, who died, more than that, who was raised to life, is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”

    You may recall that in ancient kingdoms, it was the job of the “right hand man” to receive petitions and requests and pass them on to the king.  In the throne room you would not address the king directly, but would speak to the king through the “right hand man.”  So it is with Christ.  He is the Father’s “right hand man” who receives your prayers and petitions and intercedes on your behalf with the Father.  And because of His Son’s righteousness, because of Jesus’ sacrificial scars, God the Father hears and acts upon your prayers according to His wisdom and mercy.  It is written in 1 John, “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  And He Himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.”

    This is why Jesus’ ascension is so important.  It means that your salvation is complete and secure in Him.  It is written in Hebrews, “After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”  You cannot purify yourself of your sins.  No  amount of “clean” living can do that in the sight of a holy God.  But Jesus provided purification for you on the cross.  As it is written, “The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purifies us from all sins.”

    And Jesus’ resurrection and ascension show that the Father has now accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for you.  His being seated at the Father’s right hand demonstrates that Jesus accomplished the mission He was given.  God the Father has embraced and honored His Son’s redeeming work and has received Him back to His side.  Your human nature has been fully restored and exalted in the ascended Christ.  Because Jesus has been received into heaven, so will you also who believe in Him.  Jesus’ ascension has paved and opened the way for you to receive everlasting life.  His death means that you have died to sin.  His resurrection means that you have been given new life.  And His ascension means that you also will ascend to glory in God’s presence.

    In fact, the truth is that in Christ, you have already ascended into heaven.  Ephesians 2 says, “Even when we were dead in trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up together and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”    Those are truly amazing words if you hear them clearly.  Heaven is already yours, Paul says, because Jesus is already there, and you are baptized into Him.  Colossians 3 puts it this way: “You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”  The baptized have died to the sin and Satan and the world at the font, Christ has now become the very life of those who believe.  Therefore, what is true for Him is true also for you.  Your flesh and blood is on the throne of God.  Your blood brother Jesus is there, and therefore you who are members of His body are there, too.  

    That is your comfort and your healing for the wounds and the disfigurement that sin inflicts on you in this fallen world.  When you begin to waver in your Christian hope, when you aren’t sure whether or not God loves you or has saved you, just remember Jesus’ Ascension; just remember that you are a member of His body by your baptismal faith and cling to that truth.  You’ve already gone to heaven, for Jesus is at the right hand of God as the Mighty Conqueror.  It is as Romans 8 puts it: “If God is for us, who can be against us? . . .  In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, . . . nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  The Lord, who has begun His good work in you, will bring it to completion in the Day of His return.

    And even when life just seems to be random and chaotic, no clear sense of purpose, the Ascension of our Lord is a reminder that He is still directing all things toward the ultimate well-being of His people, including you.  It is also written in Romans 8, “God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are the called according to His purpose.”  That’s you, the called ones, the baptized.  Therefore you may know and trust that the Lord will never forsake you.  The Ascension of Jesus to the right hand of the Father is a call for you to believe that He is working even now for your eternal good.  Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords for the Church, for you.

    The two angels said, “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come again in the same way you saw Him go into heaven.”  Jesus ascended and a cloud received Him out of their sight.  And Jesus said of His return,“They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”  Your hope, then, is centered not in this world but in the one to come.  Your life is in Christ.  Therefore, the Scriptures exhort you, “Seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. . .  When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”

    And all of that because of Jesus’ blessed scars, the signs of His love and self-giving which reconcile you to the Father and to one another.  Pray, then, that the Holy Spirit would always give you eyes to see Christ’s scarred, sacramental hands raised in blessing over you.  Fix your eyes on them.  For in His hands are the marks of life.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

I Have Overcome the World

John 16:23-33

In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

    In the Gospel appointed for today, our Lord Jesus makes reference seven times to the Father.  On the secular calendar, today is the occasion in which we honor our mothers.  But there is no conflict between the two.  For not only are motherhood and fatherhood inseparably connected with each other, both are instituted and given by God.  Our Lord gave tremendous honor to motherhood by being born of woman. 1 Timothy 2 even goes so far as to say that woman is saved through childbearing; for every birth points us to the birth of Christ our Savior in the flesh.

    The early church father Cyprian said that you can’t have God as your Father without having the church as your mother.  Martin Luther said, “The Christian church is your mother, who gives birth to you and bears you through the Word of Christ.”  

    So just as every Christian has a Father in heaven, every Christian likewise has a spiritual mother, the church.  Our Lord Jesus told us that we must be born again.  And just as our earthly mothers birthed us amid water and blood and pain and joy, so too we are given new life in the Church at the baptismal font where the cleansing water and blood flows from Christ’s side–from the pain of the Lord’s suffering and from the joy of the Lord’s resurrection.  Each one of us has been given this new birth, having a Father in heaven and a spiritual mother on earth, who continues to nurture us all our lives with the words and body and blood of Jesus, with the preached Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Christ.

    We need this ongoing nurture and care week by week throughout our lives because of a truth that Jesus speaks at the end of today’s Gospel.  He says quite bluntly and straightforwardly, “In the world you will have tribulation...”  In this life, our Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t promise us prosperity and wealth, freedom from illness and pain, or a life untouched by physical and spiritual struggle–far from it.  Of course, there are plenty of religious hustlers out there selling that nonsense.  But what does our Lord tell us?  He speaks plainly and without figures of speech, saying: “In the world, you will have tribulation.”

    Earlier in this same chapter of John 16, Jesus tells us to expect to be ostracized for the sake of His name, and that people who try to kill us will actually think they are doing a good and moral deed.  The Greek word for tribulation here literally means “pressure” or even “constriction,” like a snake trying to squeeze its prey.  Even though most of us today are not being threatened with death, we do face real pressure to compromise our faith from “respectable” and supposedly smart people who mock Christianity, who scoff at God’s Word.  We also have time pressure: the cares and worries of this life that choke out our time and energy to pray, to attend Divine Service, to teach our children the catechism, to study God’s Word, to volunteer to serve the body of Christ. And we have the pressure of the sinful flesh: our own greed and laziness that we indulge all-too quickly.  No, instead of tickling our ears with a “prosperity gospel,” the Lord Himself soberly warns us that we will have tribulations, pressures in this world.

    Back in the early 400's AD, as the unthinkable was happening and the Roman Empire was slowly collapsing, St. Augustine wrote a book called The City of God.  In it Augustine compares the world (the City of Man) with the church (the City of God).  The world, he noted, runs by pressure and force.  And just like the City of Rome eventually was overrun by Barbarians, this fallen universe is running down and will one day perish.  By contrast, the City of God is everlasting.  The Church is eternal.  It operates based on God’s mercy and grace, as our Lord said: “the Father Himself loves you.”

    Right now, you live in both worlds, both cities.  The situation for us today is not all that different that in Augustine’s day.  We see American power and influence winding down at breathtaking speed as the culture and our institutions collapse.  In Augustine’s day, the people were stunned that their country was falling.  They wondered how God could let such a thing happen. They were frightened for themselves and their children.  But Augustine did what he was called to do: to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to forgive sins, to pray for their leaders and for the coming of our Lord.  He exhorted the people to store up treasures in heaven, and not to put their trust in princes and fading earthly powers.

    For the only thing that can bring us comfort in time of tribulation is the fact that we know how the story ends.  We know that sin, Satan, and the world do not win the day.  We know that the City of God overtakes the City of Man.  For our Lord Himself said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  The Greek word that is used there is one we associate with a shoe brand, Nike, and it means to conquer.  Jesus has niked, overcome; He has conquered the world.

    So all those things that trouble you now–be it your health, your losses, your brokenness, your sinful flesh–those tribulations Jesus took into His own flesh and bones, and He crucified them at Golgotha.  Jesus knew tribulation of the worst sort, being under such pressure in the Garden of Gethsemane that He sweat blood as He prayed, even before His blood was shed.  Jesus said in the days before His death, “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say?  ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  But for this purpose I came to this hour.  Father glorify Your name.”  And the Father’s name was glorified as Jesus was lifted up from the earth on the cross, like the bronze serpent in the wilderness.  It is the glory of Christ to bear your troubles and sorrows to set you free.  Truly, Jesus did overcome the world by taking away the sin of the world.  He conquered death by swallowing it up in His own death and then rising on the third day in glory.  

    And all of this He did for you, so that your tribulations will only be temporary, so that they will not overwhelm you who believe.  Jesus’ victory has been given to you, the baptized, as it is written in Romans 8, “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”  And 1 John 4 says, “This is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith” in Christ the Conqueror.  That is how we can be of good cheer, even in the midst of tribulation.  “If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32).  In Jesus we have the sure hope of the resurrection of the body and all the gifts of the world to come.  And already now we have the comfort and the assurance that all things are in the hands of the Lord who is full of goodness and loving kindness.  Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace,” the calm assurance in your hearts that all things are made right in Christ.

    And don’t forget that even tribulation itself can be God’s own instrument to work for your good.  By it He humbles you and brings you to repentance–as He did with the children of Israel, who were turned from their sinful grumbling to cry out to Him for help.  He lays you low in order to lift you up and exalt you in due time.  Prayer happens best when we are bowed down before the Lord.

    So as Christians, let us learn to live with and even expect tribulation.  Let it drive you to pray all the more fervently.  For Jesus is the one Mediator between God and men who gave His life as a ransom for you.  He invites you to pray in His name, using His credentials, as beloved children of the heavenly Father.  Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.  Call upon the Lord in your troubles; trust in Him and cling to Him in times of trial.  For He will deliver you.  

    The Lord doesn’t promise that you will necessarily be rich in this world, but He does guarantee that you are spiritually wealthy beyond measure. The Lord doesn’t promise you that if you have enough faith, you will never suffer or struggle, but He does guarantee that you will overcome all these things by His power and grace, His might and mercy. The Lord doesn’t promise you that you will not suffer due to the burdens of your own fallen nature, but He does guarantee that the sin that lurks within you has been atoned for and will be removed from you in the fullness of time.

    Brothers and sisters of Christ, it is easy to get discouraged and feel defeated. It is easy to turn away from the faith when life in the world is hard.  But Jesus has come to bring you to the Father as beloved children.  He has come to bring you to your mother, the Church, where you are fed and nurtured and given all that you need to grow.  And Christ our Lord invites you again today to share in His victory when He says, “Take heart!  Be of good cheer!  Have confidence! Have courage!  For I have won the victory.  I have overcome the devil and the world, and in Me, you too have overcome and conquered and won the greatest victory of all.  Be at peace.”

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

(With thanks to the Rev. Larry Beane)