[1 Thessalonians 5:1-11] 1Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
Knowing the End Gives Peace in the Present
How will the world end? Or what pending event will end humanity’s time on earth? Will it be nuclear war? Disease, a bigger pandemic? Will it be climate change? Natural disaster? An asteroid? Or something we haven’t even heard of yet?
The imagined possibilities of what could end humanity’s life on earth, end the world, or bring great disruption to your way of life, are probably endless. Proposed solutions – seeking peace and security – in the face of these possibilities are also many and sometimes extreme.
Fear of what could happen drives man to desperate extremes and anxiety filled efforts to save the world. Political ideologies are clung to in the belief that humanity’s future depends on them. Kids are burdened with the expectation that they will grow up to “change the world” by their careers.
Saving the world is a burden too heavy to bear. The belief that it depends on you to stop the asteroid; or that it depends on you to preserve the turning of the seasons, necessary for sustaining life; or that it depends on you to prep enough food and gear to endure an apocalyptic event.
Or that it depends on you to ensure justice in the world – or that it depends on you to preserve basic institutions of life – this belief that it depends on us fuels the idolatry of ourself and sets us in God’s place.
We have a role, but we don’t have His role. We can’t handle the throne we set ourselves on when we believe man’s welfare and the world’s longevity are up to us. It leads to anger and bitterness, frustration – sometimes even violence – against those deemed to be on the “wrong side”.
But if I know the end – and if I know the One in charge of both the end and the present – then I can face life’s challenges with a reasonable mind and without falling into extremes.
How will the world end? Let’s remember God’s promises. One is that this world will continue on until the end – “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” [Genesis 8:22]. The sustainability of life will not end. The God-ordained turning of the seasons, cold and heat, planting and harvest, will continue to the end.
We’re also told in Scripture that war will not be the end of the world. “And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet” [Mark 13:7].
The same is true of natural disasters. Natural disasters happen between now and the end but are not the end [Mark 13:8]. They cause fear and despair in the world [Luke 21:26]. But this world is preserved, and the promise of our daily bread [Matthew 6:11] remains to the end.
What is the end? It’s not a natural event. It’s not a human event. It is an appointed day that God has in His hands alone. The end is the day of judgement, and of salvation, and of new heavens and a new earth. The end, the final day, is the return of Jesus Christ.
The day of the return of Jesus Christ is sudden, all at once, and will be known to the whole world. There is not a silent rapture of believers first then His return later. And Jesus does not describe us as avoiding any of the tribulations of this world.
Instead, Jesus returns loudly and visibly – those who have fallen asleep rise first, then our bodies are transformed too – all this after we have endured in the faith to the end.
“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” [Matthew 24:27].
When Christ returns, all the dead are raised. There is a resurrection unto life and a resurrection unto judgment. “For an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” [John 5:28-29]
When the Last Day will be is known to God the Father alone. “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” [Matthew 24:36]. Those who present timelines for the end times are therefore engaging in false teaching.
Because there is an appointed Last Day, we know that every day between now and then will remain. We don’t have to save the world. The world’s continuance does not depend on us but on God who sustains us and the world until the Last Day.
The Last Day is also a day when all wrongs are righted: “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”[Romans 12:19]
Therefore, we don’t need to run around like drunk men, crazed or burdened beyond our ability to do the impossible, to save the earth, to right every wrong. Instead, we can live soberly, being good stewards of the world and one another, created and ruled by God. We can face the world’s challenges, and life’s challenges, with a reasonable mind, knowing God’s promises.
More than that, we live our lives mindful that there indeed is a God and there is a judgment. On our own, because of our many sins, the Last Day would mean condemnation for each one of us.
Because God’s judgement is in our future, we need God’s appointed Savior in our present. What matters most is that God has sent Jesus to be your Savior.
On the cross, Jesus already faced the Last Day in your stead, wearing your sins – so that you can face the Last Day wearing His forgiveness. In Jesus, by faith in Jesus, you have already passed from judgment to life because He has died for your sins. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” [John 5:24].
What matters most in the present is having the Savior. Or, more accurately, the Savior having you. He has you in your Baptism. In Baptism, you are His.
Because you belong to the Savior, what can you expect on the Last Day? The fulfillment of God’s promises: “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” [Isaiah 65:17]. “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us” [1 Thessalonians 5:9] – and who is risen and returning.
Because we know our end, which is secured for us by our Savior Jesus Christ, let us have peace in the present. Amen.
[Matthew 9:18-26] While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. And when Jesus came to the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went through all that district.
Not Dead but Sleeping
Jesus said to the mourners, “The girl is not dead but sleeping.” “And they laughed at Him.” The world laughs at the Lord for the good works He has come to do for them. And the world laughs at you for believing in the Savior’s works.
“The girl is not dead but sleeping.” We use a number of expressions to say that a person has died. We say they have “passed away” or “passed on”, for example. A phrase used in Scripture for those who have died in the Lord is “fallen asleep.”
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep” [1 Thessalonians 4:13]. “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” [1 Thessalonians 4:14].
When Lazarus had died, Jesus said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” [John 11:11].
When Jesus died on the cross, the earth shook, the tombs were opened, “and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” – and they appeared to many after Jesus’ resurrection [Matthew 27:51-53].
Two decades later, the Apostle Paul writes that there were more than five hundred witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, “most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep” [1 Corinthians 15:6].
The girl in today’s Gospel is dead. She died. But to die in the Lord is only to fall asleep. It’s to lie down to rest, only to rise again. Because He lives, we too will live again [John 14:19].
Just as you live under the promise of your Baptism and pass that promise on to your children in the font, the man who came to Jesus in today’s Gospel, whose name was Jairus [Luke 8:41], lived under the covenant of circumcision and raised his family in the faith, trusting in the Christ, the Messiah, who was to come – and who now had come. Jesus.
So far in the Gospel, Jesus had conquered sicknesses and fever, washed away a leper’s uncleanness, freed men by casting demons out of them, healed a man’s servant from afar, calmed a storm, forgave sin, and raised up a paralytic [Matthew 8-9]. He fulfilled what was spoken about Him by the prophet Isaiah, “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases” [Matthew 8:17; Isaiah 53:4].
Now Jesus will awaken the dead from sleep. He will return this girl’s living soul to her sleeping body, showing ahead of time the resurrection which waits for you and those who have fallen asleep before you in the Lord.
Why does Scripture call dying in the Lord “sleep”? First, because your departed soul does not enter a time of torment or labor after death. Instead, the soul rests from its labor [Matthew 11:28; Revelation 14:13].
The soul of the departed enters Christ’s presence – not unaware or unconscious – the soul isn’t said to be asleep; the body is – the soul enters its ease and rest from all labor and enjoys the presence of Christ. No more sin stains the soul of the baptized believer in Christ after death. In death, your soul is immediately freed from sin and death.
This is why Jesus says to the guilty thief on the cross who believed in Him, “Today you will be with Me in paradise” [Luke 23:43].
The souls of those asleep in Christ also do not enter a time period of wandering – they don’t need your help or aid getting to heaven – but, at the moment of death, they are immediately carried by the angels to God’s abode, as the poor man was in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus [Luke 16:19-31].
The soul also does not face a time of testing or of being weighed in the balances: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” [John 5:24]. Even now, you have already passed from death to life.
All this because Jesus, the Messiah who has come, has carried your sin. Jesus has already carried your sin to judgment on the cross where your sin was condemned in His flesh. Jesus has already faced the struggle – with your sins, failures, and frailties made His, clinging to Him – and He has prevailed for you.
The battle is won. “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” [1 Corinthians 15:21-22].
And Scripture testifies that even right now you have already been buried with Jesus by your baptism, and, therefore, His resurrection is already yours in that same baptism [Romans 6:3-5].
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” [Romans 8:1]. In Christ Jesus. Outside of Jesus, your sin is still yours. Outside of Jesus, death is the death of the soul. Without Jesus, you go to God with your sins and your body is raised for judgment.
In Jesus, sin is forgiven and death is conquered. Not by anything you or those who have departed in the Lord have done, but one hundred percent by what Jesus has done. He is Savior.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says to those making a big commotion, “Go away. For the girl is not dead but sleeping.” He takes the girl’s hand and awakens her to life. Her death is easily undone by the Author of Life. Though many had laughed, now the good news of the resurrection is spread abroad by those who boldly believe.
“What then shall we say to these things? 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 with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”[Romans 8:31-39]. Amen.
[Matthew 22:15-22] Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
Whose Image and Inscription?
“Hey! That’s mine!”
“I don’t see your name on it.”
Kid justice. Whether it’s the best seat at the table, or a piece of Halloween candy – if it doesn’t have your name on it, it’s not yours. Though it may be mine.
However, in our adult world, there are some things that do get our name on it, very importantly so. Your marriage license, for example. You even share a name, belonging to each other. The deed to your house has your name on it. Your checking account. Your car title. It is yours and not another’s. An online account has your name and your image, your profile picture – and so does your ID.
Name and image, showing that this one is mine.
The Pharisees and Herodians ask Jesus – not sincerely, but to trap Him by His words – “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” A “yes” will get Him in trouble with Israelite zealots. A “no” will get Him in trouble with Roman authorities. “So, tell us, Yes or No!”
Jesus answers with God’s Word truly, which is not caught up in the politics of the day but is something entirely different. “Show me the coin for the tax”, He says. “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” — “Whose image and name is engraved into it?”
“Caesar’s”, they respond. “Then give it to him!”, Jesus says. “And give to God what is God’s” — “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
The sin of the Pharisees and Herodians and zealots and Romans — and of followers professing the name of Jesus one their lips – isn’t that they were or weren’t paying taxes to Caesar. (That does matter.) But their sin – the whole lot of them – is that they aren’t giving to God what is His with their lives.
What is His? What is God’s? The coin has Caesar’s image and name inscribed on it, so it belongs to Caesar, right? So, what has God’s image and name on it?
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”, said God, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” [Genesis 1:26-28]. Man and woman, made in God’s image.
And you are baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” [Matthew 28:19]. What has God’s name and image on it? You do. You do. Give to God the things that are His. You are His. And the most essential things about you are His.
“In the image of God He created him” — “male and female He created them” — “be fruitful and multiply”, He said to them. “Let not man separate them”, Jesus said [Matthew 19:3-9].
Your self – and your male or female nature – your body – and your offspring in the womb and after – and your marriage, man and woman made one flesh – these all have God’s image on them. These are God’s things — they belong to God and are not to be changed or destroyed by Caesar or by you.
What bears God’s image is His. Your self. Your body. New life. All things. And you are made especially His because you bear His name — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — inscribed upon you in baptism as His coin in heaven’s treasure box. What is His – your whole life and self – give to Him.
“Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” [Romans 6:13]
“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” [Romans 12:1-2].
“You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” [1 Corinthians 6:18-20]. You are God’s coin. Give to God what is God’s in obedience to His commands for your body, soul, and life.
And your neighbor is God’s coin. Your brothers and sisters around you right now – and those not here – have God’s image and name in baptism. They are His precious coins, as marred as they may be, like you – and you are called to care for them and love them as God’s possessions.
Give to God what is His. Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength – because those are His. Love each other as your own self – because you are each His. God looks at the person across from you and says, “That’s mine! It has My name on it!” – “Take care of them as mine.”
But what a poor and sorry image of God we really make. And how often do we sully His good name with our poor behavior. Maybe we’re God’s belongings like the trash I take to the road is my belongings. What makes us glisten? What makes us gold coins? Who we’ve been? What we’ve done? Or Jesus alone?
Image and name. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” [Colossians 1:15]. “Christ, who is the image of God” [2 Corinthians 4:4]. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” [Hebrews 1:13]. Jesus alone.
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name”[Philippians 2:9] — “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named” [Ephesians 1:21].
Also, “your sins are forgiven for His name's sake” [1 John 2:12]; and “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” [Romans 10:9]. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” [Acts 4:12].
In Jesus alone you glitter and glisten as gold because He is the perfect image and name of God which surrounds and covers your sins. Jesus crucified for you, who forgives you in full right now, and who will change you forever when He returns.
Caesar and this world leave you as you are. “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” [Philippians 3:20-21] – made perfect in His image and name when He returns.
You are His now – His name is on you. May His image and name be engraved all the more deeply within us as we wait. Amen.
[Matthew 5:1-12] Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
You Are Blessed in Jesus
There were two daughters from a large family, who tended to get their all-white Easter clothes dirty. Mud stains, grass stains, blood stains from scraped knees. But this year there was an Easter ball, an Easter banquet. To attend, your clothes must be white. No marks or stains. These two so wanted to attend, but how would they get in?
One of them never intended to become so stained, but it kept happening nevertheless. The other had many stains from intentional slides in the grass and jumps in the puddle. What was to be done? To their surprise, at home, their mother had just unpacked a new delivery – a new washing tub. (These were days before electric washing machines.) And she opened new soap. And a new wash board.
These two, peeking from around the corner into the back room where their mother set up for laundry, watched as she took ahold of piece after piece – their dad’s shirts, stained with dirt from work in the fields – their brothers’ clothes, stained with sweat and spilled drinks – servants’ clothing – grandmother’s old clothing – even their neighbors’ stained and dirty clothes.
They watched as their mother scrubbed and washed each piece. They watched her techniques and methods closely. They observed how hard she worked at it. And, as the laundry hung in the sunlight, drying, they saw how dazzling white it all was. No stain. No blemish. What once was filthy was now as white as the light itself, like freshly fallen snow. Fit for the Easter feast.
Now they knew the way. They knew exactly what to do. They each went out and bought their own wash tub and scrubbing board and roller and soap. They put in their stained clothes. And they washed. The same way their mother did. Same technique. For as long and hard as they could.
And, putting them on the line to dry, they saw hanging there clothes – their clothes – still stained. Still marked up with brown and green and red – only more deeply set in. In contrast with the sunlight, they only saw all the more how unclean their clothing really was. They wondered, “What went wrong? We did all we were supposed to do?”
One of them despaired and gave up hope of entering the ball. The other tried all the harder, convinced herself her clothes were finally clean, and flaunted them all around town – while everyone else could still see the stains – eventually to her embarrassment.
Going to their mother, their mother told them, “Dear ones, you had it all wrong. I didn’t stand there washing laundry that day so you could go and wash your own. I was there for you to come to me. I’m the one who makes your stained clothes white. I am here for you to come to me.”
In our Gospel this morning, Jesus goes up on the mountain, opens His mouth, and speaks of the sainted life, the blesséd life. “Blesséd are _______”
The crowds listen. Some go and say, “This is what I’ll do. He’s set the example. He’s told us the technique and method. He’s described the virtues. I’ll do these things and become blesséd.”
Some try and, still seeing their stains after a long time, despair and decide they don’t believe. Others walk around as if they’re virtuous, as if they’re displaying these beatitudes or meeting the bar better than others – but God sees that you’re only fooling yourself.
And He will say, “You’ve had it all wrong. Jesus didn’t go up on the mountain that day giving you the list of methods by which you make your own robes clean. No, by these holy words, you should see how deep your stains really are. He came so that you might come to Him.”
In the heavenly banquet, there’s a number that cannot be counted – from every nation and tribe and people and language – who heard these words of the Beatitudes, “blesséd are ____”, and said, “that’s not me.” That’s not me. But it is Jesus.
Jesus came to save sinners. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” [1 Timothy 1:15]. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” [Mark 2:17].
On the mountain in today’s Gospel, Jesus shows us the sainted, blesséd life in words which He alone fulfills. On another mountain – mount Calvary, Golgotha – Jesus does not climb up, but is brought up, and is hung upon a cross. There, He washed your stained robes white by His blood.
Those many crowds around His throne at the banquet, they are those who knew their stains and laid their dirty robes at the feet of the only One who could wash them. They “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” [Revelation 7:14].
Like the woman who set up her laundry tub to wash away her family’s stains, Jesus was set up upon the cross as the Lamb sacrificed for the sins of the world [John 1:29]. In baptism, your life was sprinkled clean by the blood of His cross. You are washed, no spot or blemish visible to God’s eyes – “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more” [Hebrews 10:17; Jeremiah 31:34]
In a twist, those who know they don’t meet the measure of the blesséd life in the Beatitudes are the only ones who start living them:
So, hear these Beatitudes which show you the blesséd life and run, not to yourself and your performance, but to the only Righteous One who has set up the washtub of His cross, His font, and His Supper, by which the deepest stains of your robes are washed as white as His light. Amen.
[Read Romans 3:19-28]
The One and Only…
There are roughly 8 billion people on earth today, about half of which are men and half woman. Which means a man may see upwards of 4 billion women all around him, but his wife is his one and only.
Likewise, in the Church, there are countless denominations. Countless names to choose from: Catholic, Lutheran, Orthodox, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian. There’s even a denomination that calls itself non-denominational.
There are countless churches, but is there a one-and-only? Does the Lord have a one-and-only Bride? The One-and-Only Church. We confess in the Creed that we believe in “one holy Christian (catholic) and apostolic church.” And Scripture says there is “one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism…” [Ephesians 4:4-6]. Who is the Lord’s ‘One and Only’?
The Lutheran Reformation, which took place in the 1500’s, centered in and around Germany, led to some of these various names of churches – yet also gives us a uniquely Biblical and satisfactory answer to this question. And it’s not a self-serving answer.
What makes the Church the Church? What makes it one, holy, catholic, and apostolic?
First, what doesn’t make the Church the Church? What doesn’t make it His ‘One and Only’? Is the Church the Church because it has the right kind of building? Is it the Church because it has a cathedral? Is the Church the Church because it is decorated best or has the best kind of music?
Does language make the Church Christ’s One and Only? German? Latin? English? Does national identity make the Church the Church of Christ? Does your ethnicity make it the Church?
Is the Church the Church because it has a Holy City in the world? Or a Holy Land?
Does the true Church have a certain way of dress or a certain kind of hat? Or a certain diet?
Does history make the Church? Is that Church Christ’s ‘One-and-Only’ which has the right linkages to the past? Does a certain authority structure make the Church, or lack of it?
Does a family name make the church?
None of these make the Church the Church. And, the lack of one or more of these things doesn’t make the Church. There are many things – good or bad – which don’t make the Church the Church.
The church is neither a historic nor a modern institution of human society but is directly the institution of the risen, living, present Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever – and whose kingdom is not part of this world but is something entirely different.
What the Church isn’t is easy: It’s not the frail, breakable, or corruptible outward structures and authorities. Not in Lutheran synods nor in other church bodies. In each, clearly there is much that cannot be called “holy” or “apostolic” (i.e.“from the apostles”). Much that isn’t of the Lord.
Instead, just as Adam’s ‘One-and-Only’ Eve came from his rib and flesh, Jesus Christ’s One-and-Only comes from those things which are of Him – “One faith, one baptism” – His one-and-only Gospel.
Before Christ comes to us, we are all found drifting astray, unanchored, in the same sinking ship. We are all racked through with sin. We cling to ourselves to float, but we are the sinkers.
God’s commandments – His law – show us what is right but do not give us the ability to do it. “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” – “so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” – so that we come to know our need for a salvation not depending on us.
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets (the Old Testament Scriptures) bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified – reckoned righteous, counted righteous – by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation – a sacrifice that puts away God’s anger – by his blood, to be received by faith.”
Jesus Christ has carried the sins of the world – all your sins and your sinfulness – in Himself, counted them as His own, and stood before God. Though innocent, He hung condemned and forsaken on the cross in your stead for your sins.
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” [1 Peter 3:18]. Jesus died for your sin to bring you to God.
This Gospel is “to be received by faith.” His ‘One-and-Only’ is that body – which will always exist in the world until the end of time, and which rests from its labors in heaven – which hears and believes this Gospel which proclaims that we are counted righteous (“justified”) apart from our own work and by faith alone in the work of Jesus Christ.
“For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’” [Romans 4:3-8]
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” [Ephesians 2:8-9].
And it is this salvation through faith alone that, alone, remakes us into those who do God’s work, by God’s craftsmanship: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” [Ephesians 2:10].
This Gospel is His one-and-only Gospel: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” [Galatians 1:8].
This one-and-only Gospel is the truth that sets us free [John 8:31-32].
Christ’s ‘One-and-Only’ is not His because of the name “Roman” or “Lutheran” or “non-Denominational” or because of any other name. She is His because she bears His name by Baptism - baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Like a bride, His Church is that people which bears His name.
And His Church loves Him and therefore holds fast to all of His word, all Scripture, the Bible.
His Church is not anchored to any city except to the “Jerusalem above.” “The Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother” [Galatians 4:26]. “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come”[Hebrews 13:14]. Neither Rome, nor Jerusalem, nor Wittenberg, but the true faith.
Jesus’ One-and-Only is where Jesus is. Jesus is where His word is preached [2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 10:17]. Jesus is where His name is used in Baptism [Galatians 3:27]. Jesus is where His body and blood is present in His Supper [Matthew 26:26-28]. Jesus is where His forgiveness is spoken to the penitent [Matthew 18:18; John 20:21-23]. Jesus is where two or three are gathered in His name [Matthew 18:20].
In the Lutheran Reformation, we therefore give this answer to the question, Who is the Lord’s One-and-Only? Who is His Church?: “It is also taught that at all times there must be and remain one holy, Christian church. It is the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel…” [Augsburg Confession, Article VII, Concerning the Church]
“God be praised, a seven-year-old child knows what the Church is: holy believers and “the little sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd.” [Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article XII, Of the Church]
There are countless institutions of man, but the Lord has His One-and-Only. Where the preaching and confession of faith is in accord with His Word of Scripture, where Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are administered according to His command, that is where His Church is, His One-and-Only, which will always stand to the last day. Amen.
[Read Matthew 22:1-14]
Wearing the Wedding Garment Supplied
“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 22:1-14]
You may be able to excuse yourself from the wedding of a cousin or an acquaintance you haven’t seen in a while, but there are some weddings you are truly obligated to attend.
Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who throws a wedding feast for his son. Throughout the Bible, this imagery is used – the Lord is the Groom, His Church is the Bride. The two become one flesh. So, you are called the Body of Christ.
The marriage union of man and woman points us to this greater union [Ephesians 5:31-32]. Christ’s marriage union with His Church is the basis for the everlasting feast of heaven.
On this side of heaven, we attend that feast in the Divine Service – the service of hearing and receiving His Word and Sacrament. The wedding feast of heaven is hidden under earthly elements, bread and wine. And His Word is our Bread of Life upon which we also feast by hearing and believing it.
The first half of our Lord’s parable talks about those who skip this feast – “they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business” – while others “seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.”
This describes Israel’s reaction to the prophets and to the Messiah, Jesus. And it describes so much of His church’s reaction ever since – either not prioritizing the hearing of His Word or reacting angrily against it when it pricks at us – and therefore neglecting attendance at the feast.
There are real excuses. But understanding this feast to be a very important family wedding reception tells us what kind of reasons really count and which excuses don’t really fly.
Having spite or anger toward God’s Word or toward His messengers for preaching it – or neglecting to attend this feast because we don’t give it priority – these things anger God and bring His judgment against us: “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.”
Sometimes we stop here. But there is a second portion of this parable. It talks about one who does attend the wedding feast but does not wear what is referred to as the “wedding garment”.
The king said to the servants, “Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
“Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” This isn’t about your jeans or your suit jacket. This wedding garment is given to you when? When you are baptized. It’s the garment of Christ’s righteousness that covers all your sin. It’s Jesus covering you.
We are not fit for this feast. We are each sinful and unclean from within. “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” [Mark 7:21-23].
The “wedding garment” is the purity and righteousness of Jesus Christ alone which covers us – clothed in the robe of Christ’s righteousness. By this covering, you are counted pure and pleasing to God.
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered” [Romans 4:7]. “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” [Isaiah 61:10].
“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her – present her holy – having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word – baptism – so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish”[Ephesians 5:25-27].
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” [Galatians 3:27]. You come to the feast wearing Jesus. He is your covering, your wedding attire.
The man in the parable who was said to be without the wedding garment came to the feast based on his own merits. He came believing what he was was good enough – instead of being clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
To wear the wedding garment means to trust alone in Jesus’ righteousness to cover my sin. Therefore, I can confess my sins to be sinful. I can call myself wrong. Because I’m not trusting in me. I’m trusting in Jesus. I don’t have to make myself out to be good. He is good. He forgives me and covers me.
Second, to wear the wedding garment means to walk in it. To walk according to what I’m wearing. They say that dressing up for work improves your performance even if no one else sees you. We sort of become the uniform we’re wearing.
Jesus has become our clothing that covers us. He is our uniform which shapes how we walk. We are growing up into the garment God has laid on us. This includes walking in Christ’s kindness, forgiveness, and love. It also includes walking in His purity, self-control, and obedience to God’s Word.
In short, as we have put on Christ, let’s also walk in Him and live lives of holiness. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” [Romans 13:14]. “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt…” [Ephesians 4:22-23]. “Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” [Ephesians 4:24].
We say it the same way in our Small Catechism: What does such baptizing with water indicate? “It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” [Luther’s Small Catechism, Baptism, Fourth Part]
We are mistaken when we conclude that because we’re all sinners and Christ covers us, therefore, there’s nothing wrong with living this way or that way. Believing that the Gospel means we can safely continue in sin is a way of coming to this feast without the wedding garment.
Therefore, it says, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” [1 Corinthians 11:28]. Because “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord” [1 Corinthians 11:27].
Let’s come to the feast covered and dressed – wearing Jesus Christ who covers all our sin and seeking to grow up into this righteousness in which He has clothed us. Amen.
[Matthew 9:1-8] Getting into a boat, Jesus crossed over and came to his own city. 2And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” 3And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” 4But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? 5For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 6But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 7And he rose and went home. 8When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.
The Core Issue
A group of four men [Mark 2:3] had a friend in great need. Their friend was paralyzed, living his life cast down on a mat, having to be carried by others. These men hear about Jesus who had a growing reputation for healing – healing the sick, cleansing the unclean, making the crippled well.
These men carry their friend to the house where Jesus is. Such a crowd had gathered in the house that they could not get through the door, so they remove tiles from the roof, dig through, and lower their friend down to Jesus on his mat [Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26].
These four men bring their paralyzed friend and entrust him to Jesus in the house where Jesus is teaching. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.’”
Jesus doesn’t even address the obvious, at first – the man’s paralysis – but says, “Your sins are forgiven.” “Take heart” – be of good cheer – “you are forgiven of your sins.”
Very likely, paralysis, the man’s bodily problem, is what was on his mind and his friends’ minds that day. Our anxieties may be laser-focused on this or that problem – a bodily problem, or a difficult circumstance, or an inward issue – but Jesus speaks to our truest need, to our core issue, even when that’s not what we’re looking for.
For us, the symptoms, the effects, are the most obvious problems that we cry out about. By His words, “Your sins are forgiven”, Jesus heals the underlying injury and illness.
The paralyzed man is not paralyzed because of some specific sin he committed [John 9:1-3]. It’s not karma – that’s not how these things happen. But we do exist in a broken condition – physically and morally – and the root cause is that we are fallen in sin.
From the time of our conception, we are inclined toward the wrong. We don’t naturally fear, love, and trust in God who made us. We are tilted away from Him from our very start – “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” [Psalm 51:5].
None of us come from a blank slate. When Adam, our first ancestor, sinned, we all fell because we are all made from his fallen nature. Body and will, flesh and human soul – every part of me has in it this sin-fallen corruption. It affects everything about us, bodily and spiritually.
“Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin and so death spread to all menbecause all sinned” [Romans 5:12]. We call this “original sin” or “hereditary sin”. It is the source of our physically and morally broken condition, in each of us, which becomes manifest in sins, in disease and illness, in tragic conditions or situations, and in death.
These men bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus, but none of them truly realize how serious their condition actually is. We are all more than paralyzed. We are dead in sin as we walk in it – “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” [Ephesians 2:1-2] – and there is sin that you are walking in.
Our God and Lord became flesh – human body and soul – Jesus, who saves His people from their sins [Matthew 1:21]. He has carried your sin – your sins committed and that hereditary corruption – to the cross, in His flesh, where He suffered death and punishment in your place. He died that you would live.
“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness – His righteous death for you – leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.” [Romans 5:12,18-19]
When you find yourself lying paralyzed in this life’s many troubles – in body, in soul, in guilt, in desperate circumstances – Jesus is the Savior who has healed the core trouble, has forgiven your sin, and therefore is able and willing to untie the knots in your life and lift you up.
“Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” – maybe that’s not what these men nor their paralyzed friend were looking for from Jesus, but it is what was needed most.
But to some in that house, it was blasphemy – “This man is blaspheming;” “Who can forgive sins but God alone” [Mark 2:7].
These Pharisees not only fail to recognize that Jesus is God and Lord but also that the Lord who has become flesh does exercise His power to forgive sin through men – through those called into His ministry of preaching the Gospel.
Jesus proves His authority to forgive sins by raising this paralyzed man from His bed – “which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home.”
After this, the crowds marveled, and, it says, “they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.”Amazingly, the text doesn’t say “to a man”, singular, but “to men”, plural. Scripture here is pointing to the ministry through which the Man, Jesus, delivers His saving Gospel – and forgives sins – through men. God has given such authority to men.
Jesus says as much after His resurrection when He says to the disciples, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you… If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them…” [John 20:21-23]. And elsewhere, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” [Matthew 18:18]
This why, when you’re lying on your hospital bed, or in the nursing home – or at home shut in or recovering – a man sometimes shows up to see you, comes in, and tells you, “Take heart; your sins are forgiven.”
You have your doctors. You have your nurses and aids. What do you need a pastor showing up for? Through the mouth of His ministers, and through their giving of the Lord’s Supper, His true body and blood, Jesus meets your truest need in that hour – He forgives your sins. That’s not always what we think we need, but Jesus gives it nonetheless.
“Take heart” also means something like “Be of good cheer” [KJV]. Remarkably, Jesus tells the man to be of good cheer even while he’s still paralyzed. That God has forgiven my sins through Jesus is cause enough for joy.
Yet Jesus still takes care of those other needs too, according to His wisdom and perfect timing. He is our ever-present help in every need [Psalm 46:1]. And He is returning to bring perfect health and righteousness to our bodies in the resurrection [1 Corinthians 15:51-55].
Here and now, be where Jesus comes down to us – through His ministry of the Gospel – in His house, right here. And, above all, be a friend. Like those four men, take every measure to bring a friend. Carry them to where Jesus gives them what they most truly need. Amen.
[Matthew 22:34-40] When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Where You Hang Your Hat
It’s probably not a very common expression in everyday speech, but there is an expression “where you hang your hat”. Where a person hangs his hat is what? It’s where he lives.
So, I’m from Michigan, but I hang my hat in Scarsdale. A lot of men and women are from somewhere else but hang their hat in New York. When I was a kid, I remember hearing a country song – the singer said, “All my exes live in Texas, and that’s why I hang my hat in Tennessee.” I had no idea what that meant.
Where you hang your hat is where you live, dwell, reside. And, you can hang your hat on an idea, a way of thinking, a theory, a philosophy, a worldview, a faith, a religion, etc. To hang your hat on one of those means you depend on it. In that idea or faith is where your mind lives, where your heart dwells. You’ve made it your home.
Who cares, right? Unless you were to read today’s Gospel lesson in the old King James Version. Some of you wish I had. So, I will, just this one time:
A lawyer asked Jesus, What is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” [Matthew 22:37-40 KJV]
“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” ‘Law and the prophets’ means ‘the Old Testament’. The whole Old Testament scripture hangs its hat on those two commandments.
“All Scripture” – all the Old and New Testament – “is breathed out by God” – is God’s same Word [2 Timothy 3:16] – and it all hangs its hat in two commandments: dedicated love for God with all soul, mind, and strength; and sincere love for neighbor as oneself.
What does that mean? It means the commandments of God – you shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; don’t bear false witness; you shall not covet – honor your father and mother —>
—> have no other gods beside Me; you shall not misuse God’s name; you shall keep His holy day – and all the other moral commandments of God reside, dwell in these two great commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and love your neighbor as your own self.”
Which means what? It means these commandments are not my payment to earn heaven from God nor to earn favor from man. Instead, keeping the commandments flows from a heartfelt love for God because He has so loved me – so loved me that He gave His Son for me.
And, love for my neighbor flows – not from my neighbor’s treatment of me – but from the knowledge that God has created and loved my neighbor just as He has created and provided for me.
“We love Him because He first loved us” [1 John 4:19]. “If a man says, ‘I love God’, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from Him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” [1 John 4:20-21]
All of Scripture – therefore all the commandments – hang on the hat hook of love for God and love for neighbor. Therefore, we have an answer to the questions, “How do I love God?” “How do I love my neighbor?” Does a feeling of love fulfill these commands? How do I know I’m doing the right thing?
“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not grievous.” [1 John 5:1-3]
In other words, love for God doesn’t mean feeling a loving feeling for God, but then not worshiping Him and not living by His express commands. Love for God loves all of what God has said and commanded.
Love for my neighbor is not a feeling that I then carry out according to my own reason or desire. Love for neighbor loves my neighbor as a creature of God. That love is carried out by me doing what God has commanded me to do toward my neighbor.
There are a hundred different ways that everyone uses the excuse – essentially – that “all love is love.” But not all feelings are godly love. “God is love” – true love that comes from God is expressed in His commandments. Feelings – of passion or of compassion – that would compromise God’s Word are not love. Covetous desire – for people or for things – is not love.
Also, mere good feelings don’t take the place of actual works. Love for God worships God. Love for neighbor behaves morally toward a brother or sister. Love for neighbor takes actions for the benefit and aid of my neighbors.
In short, just as all Scripture hangs on the two great commandments – love God above all and love your neighbor as yourself – so also true love for God and neighbor always hangs its hat within the commandments of God. Love lives in God’s commandments.
Who has done it, and how can this begin to be done in you? Jesus has done it. And Jesus dwells in you to begin this love in you.
“By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight…” for, in us, the commandments – including those commands to love – bring “the knowledge of sin”, our sin [Romans 3:20].
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” [Romans 3:23-24]. In Jesus “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” [Ephesians 1:7].
Jesus, who is the Son of David according to the flesh – born of the virgin Mary – and is the Son of God and David’s Lord and our Lord from all eternity – is the Righteous Man who has loved God with all His heart, mind, soul, and strength, even unto death upon the cross [Philippians 2:8] and has loved His neighbor – you – by becoming a man and giving Himself as the once-and-for-all sacrifice in your place [Hebrews 7:27].
Jesus has perfectly kept God’s commandments and has perfectly loved His neighbor by becoming your Redeemer. All of God’s commandments hang completed and fulfilled in Jesus. His perfect life has been offered on the cross as the God-pleasing sacrifice in place of your life.
Jesus, who has done this, is risen from the dead, to never die again, and now hangs His hat within you – through baptism. Jesus dwells in you. The love for God and neighbor that He has in Himself is now beginning to take form in you as He hangs His hat within your heart.
Jesus is from the highest heaven, yet hangs His hat within His baptized people. We are sinners in whom the Righteous One now dwells. His love residing in you looks like a change in your life, the day-to-day drowning of sin and raising up of a new man or woman – as He dwells in you more and more richly through your receiving of Him in His Word and Sacrament.
Hang your hat, every week, where He comes to dwell among you. “And I am sure of this,” the Scripture says, “that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”[Philippians 1:6]. Amen.
[Luke 7:11-17] Soon afterward [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.
Getting Them Back
I don’t know, in New York traffic, what percentage of drivers stop for a funeral procession. Though I could take an educated guess. (It might be a low number.) Nevertheless, in theory, when you’re one of the ones grieving, that funeral line is a blessing. You have a crowd. You’re not going on your own. You don’t have to watch every turn so closely. You’re being guided along.
If you’ve ever been the bereaved, hopefully you’ve experienced the fullness of all those things that go on around you that are meant to help. Family or friends bringing meals. Sympathy letters in the mail. The funeral home and all the work they do to make things happen. Your congregation and the prayers offered. Visits and phone calls. Also, a sufficient crowd at the funeral and graveside services.
Sometimes all this happens. Other times it doesn’t. Yet, even when it does – even when all that crowd around you does all they can – as much as that may help – they still can’t do for you the one thing you really want. They can’t give your deceased loved one back to you. They can’t even give you one more minute with that person. What you really want, they cannot give.
The dear woman in our Gospel reading this morning had a good-sized funeral procession leading her out of town to the grave site. The Lord does stop for her.
Towns then were often closed in, secured in some way. You went in and out through the gates. As Jesus and His disciples are nearing the gates from the outside, this woman and the crowd around her are heading out through the gates.
The woman is a widow – husband deceased – and pallbearers are carrying her one-and-only son, dead, on what is called a “bier” (pronounced like ‘beer’) – which was essentially a stretcher. Her son is lying on top wrapped in linens.
The crowd processing out with this woman is called a “considerable crowd” – from the Greek you might call this a sufficient crowd. In a good way, this crowd is sufficient. This woman has all the support she could rightly expect from her community on this tragic day.
Maybe this crowd will stick with her for the days to come. Or, maybe she’ll be quickly forgotten. But no matter what they do – no matter how good they may be to her – even the most sufficient crowd is still insufficient for what she really needs. She needs her son back. He’s dead. She wants him back. The crowd cannot do that for her.
But this is exactly what Jesus, the Son of God – God who has become man for us – can do. And so He does. Jesus gives him back.
“When the Lord saw her – when He saw the grieving mother and widow – He had compassion on her – the word means gut-wrenching compassion, the kind you can feel in your stomach – and He said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And He said – He spoke to the dead man – ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”
Jesus gave him back. The voice of Jesus penetrates the dead ears and gives life. “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out” [John 5:28-29].
The Lord has always been raising the dead. He raised the widow’s son in Zarephath [1 Kings 17:17-24] when Elijah called upon His name. Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from death [Luke 8:40-56] when Jairus called upon His name. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead when Lazarus had been buried four days [John 11:1-44]. And Jesus raised this widow’s son. She got him back.
It’s noteworthy that in today’s Gospel, it doesn’t say, “Jesus had compassion on the deceased man” – though certainly He did – but it says, “Jesus had compassion on her”, on the mother. “When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her…” and then He said to the dead man, “Arise”. In the same way, Jesus does not ignore your grief.
The resurrection of our bodies is the answer to our anxieties about death – ours and that of others. Jesus’ own death and resurrection is the answer to our grave.
On my own, death would hold me forever. When Jesus died, death could not hold Him. Instead, the bonds of death were burst apart by His resurrection. Death and the grave now lie broken open forever. Upon His return, the voice of the Son of God will awaken our bodies and we will exit.
We fear physical death and the grave and the failing of our bodies. Yet, there is an even worse death, the threat of which is much more imminent. Death comes from sin. There is physical death and there is spiritual death. Our sins are killing us daily, even as we live. There is resurrection unto eternal life and resurrection unto judgment [John 5:29,24].
Our own sin – our sinfulness, our sinful hearts and minds – along with the wrong we do and the good we fail to do – these kill us daily.
Just as I cannot dig my own way out of the grave, I also cannot free myself from my sinful condition. I need – and have – a Savior. Jesus, God’s Son, suffered both your physical death and your spiritual death - in your place - in His agony of both body and soul on the cross.
Just as Jesus spoke to the dead man in today’s Gospel, and His voice raised the man to life, so Jesus speaks His Word to you and raises you from the death of sin. He speaks to your spiritually dead ears, “I forgive you”. This powerful word of the Gospel raises your soul back to life daily.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” [John 5:25]. Jesus, every day, has the power to raise the dead. To return you to Himself. And to return to Himself, and to you, those estranged because of sin – theirs and yours.
Jesus is able to do “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” [Ephesians 3:20]. He doesn’t pass us by. He stops for this crowd here every week, restores us to life, and gives us all we need for our grief. Thanks be to God. Amen.
[Matthew 18:21-35] Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Forgiven Much and Many Times
How much and how many times? How often? “Up to seven times?” “No”, Jesus says, “but seventy seven times.”
Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wishes to settle accounts with his servants. As he settles accounts, there is a servant who owes him “ten thousand talents.”
Ten thousand talents. These are not “talents” like when you’re good at somethings. Talented at floor hockey, or talented at math. No. A “talent” here is a measurement of money. We have dollars and cents. They had “talents” and “denarii” and other measurements of money.
A denarius – the plural is denarii – was a day’s wage for a laborer like the servant in this parable. A denarius a day. This servant owed his master ten thousand talents. So how much did he owe?
Doing the math – which I didn’t do; but historians have – doing the math, ten thousand talents is equal to about 200,000 years of wages for a laborer like this servant. Quite a debt!
The point is this: It’s an un-payable debt. His works will never pay it off. Yet it is owed. So, he will lose everything. It will cost him his wife and children – and he will still owe. Unending years after his death, he will still owe. He will never be able to pay it. He will never be able to say, “It is finished”.
This “debt” Jesus speaks about isn’t about money. “Debt” is used as a word for sin in Scripture. As in, “Forgive us our debts…” [Matthew 6:12; Luke 11:4]. The debt is the debt incurred by our sin. We owe a price because of the wrongs we’ve done – and because of the wrong that we are.
There really is a God. We are created. God really does call us to account. He settles accounts and demands payment. It is right and just. We owe God our obedience to His will, His commands. Not our own ideas.
We are in ever increasing debt as we continue to fall short: “None is righteous, no, not one… All have turned aside… no one does good, not even one.” [Romans 3:10-12,23-24]
We owe a debt – a price – for our wrongs in thought, word, and deed. God has created body and soul, mind and emotions, speech and everything else about us. He commands what we are to do and what we are to be. He is judge of our whole person.
The criminal owes. The person who has done wrong owes. And we owe God.
Ten thousand talents. Two hundred thousand years’ wages. An un-payable debt. You cannot work your way out of it. You cannot bargain your way out. And God is not the God we make in our minds who fits who we are. God is the God He is – and He is right and just.
So what is there to do? Is this a forgivable PPP loan or a student loan? Or does our debt to God really require payment? Is there just a more lenient payment plan? Or, does God become our coach to coach us out of it?
Jesus continues with His parable, telling us what the kingdom of heaven is like: Since the servant could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
His master had pity from the heart. Mercy. He didn’t say, “Pay what you can. I’ll cover the rest.” The master forgave His servant in full. He loved him. The debt was gone. The servant owed nothing more. It was finished.
How? Payment is not forgotten. But God Himself provided the payment when He provided Jesus who willingly satisfied the debt with payment of His life. Instead of you, Jesus – the one who tells this parable – voluntarily paid the price.
On the cross, Jesus offered up His perfect life as the God-pleasing sacrifice in place of your imperfect life. And, on the cross, He suffered the full payment owed for your wrongs. On the cross, having paid what was was owed on behalf of the world, Jesus said, “It is finished.”
It is finished. Yet, the servant in the parable, having been forgiven so much, then went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred denarii. One hundred days wages –not a small amount. But it doesn’t even compare to what his master had just forgiven in him.
Yet this servant will not forgive. And, in refusing to forgive another, he forfeits the forgiveness he had received. So will it be for “every one of you,” Jesus says, “if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
The point is not to say that the sins committed against you are a small matter. The point is that what Jesus is asking you to forgive in others does not compare to what God has already forgiven in you.
It is a weightier matter that I’ve sinned against God than that someone has sinned against me, a sinner who deserves hell. As God has forgiven, I also must forgive.
Joseph, in our Old Testament reading, is a man shaped by this love and mercy of God. Joseph was greatly sinned against by his older brothers who, when he was a teenage, threw him into a pit, faked his death, and sold him into slavery.
Later in life, through a course of events, Joseph became a powerful man in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. In those later years, and after their father died, Joseph’s brothers feared him, certain that he must hate them for what they had previously done.
But Joseph, instead of hating them, wept for them, saying, “‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good… So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”
Our Lord Jesus is a man like Joseph, yet even greater. He is betrayed by our sins – yet He says to us, “Do not fear – My death is for your good – I have all authority in heaven and earth to take care of you and your little ones, and so I do.”
Jesus has forgiven us our un-payable debt of sin, and so we also are to forgive those who have sinned against us – much and many times – and are to care for one another. Amen.
Pastor Curtis Stephens was born in Flint, MI. He completed his M.Div. at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN and has served congregations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Pastor Stephens began serving at Trinity in July of 2023.