Sunday, November 23, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
I will thank Yahweh, in all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will praise Your Name, Highest One. In the turning of my enemies backward; they stumble and perish from Your face. For You establish my justice and my cause; You sit on a throne, judging righteously. You rebuked nations and destroyed wicked ones; their name You blotted out forever and ever. The enemy has come to an end of lasting devastation; and their cities you uprooted, their memory you lost. And Yahweh, forever He sits; He establishes for judgment, His throne. And He, Himself will judge the world in righteousness; He will bring justice to the peoples in uprightness. And will be, Yahweh, a high fortress for the oppressed; a stronghold in times of trouble. And they will trust in You, those knowing Your Name; for You have not forsaken those who seek You. Sing praise to Yahweh Who sits in Zion; declare to the peoples His actions. For He Who demands blood, those ones, He remembers; He doesn't forget the cry of the afflicted. Be gracious to me, Yahweh, see my affliction from those who hate me; You lift me up from the gates of death. So that I may account all Your praises; in the gates of the daughter of Zion, let me rejoice in Your salvation. Sunk, are the nations, in the pit they made; in the net they hid, their own foot has been caught. Causing Himself to be known, Yahweh established judgment; in the work of his hands is ensnared the wicked one. (Playing a zither...exalt!) Will return, the wicked, to Sheol; all the nations who forget God. For not always forgotten will the needy be; nor the hope of the afflicted perish forever. Rise up, Yahweh, do not let prevail, man; Let the nations be judged before Your face. Impose, Yahweh, fear in them; let the nations know they are but men. Exalt!
In today's Gospel, Jesus pictures you as a sheep. Now sheep are known
for being kind of *dumb*, and in our Lord's description today, we don't
disappoint. Although perhaps not stupid sheep, we are portrayed as quite
ignorant. For you, this ignorance is bliss, for it is the ignorance that
makes you a wise sheep, even though you remain ignorant of most of the
good works given you to do. "When did we do these things for you?" we
ask in our ignorance. It is in the mundane service of daily vocations.
The picture for the goats may look the same on the surface, but it is
completely different. They too have their works which appear good. Some
claim to have taught in the streets for Jesus, to have fellowshipped with
Him, to have prophesied in His Name, even to have cast out demons and
performed miracles for Jesus. But those goats who are keenly aware of
what they have tried to do for their Lord, and are counting on such
works to merit Jesus' favor, will be sorely disappointed.
What is the difference between being judged as sheep vs goats? The
psalmist today nails it. In wisdom David notes how it is God's work
alone which saves. God must establish justice for the final judgment.
His is the only pure righteousness which brings us justice. David
recounts not his own works, but those of God His Savior. He recognizes
that God alone lifts us out of the death we deserve because of sin.
David rejoices in the salvation that comes only from God's Own work.
But the wicked are fools, just like goats. Goats are so focused on what
they do that they will consume your shirt off your back without
hesitation. Like goats, wicked people are self-confident. The are sure
that they can contribute, at least in part, to their own salvation. The
wish to make themselves co-Saviors with Jesus, if they could. But they
cannot. As men, they try to prevail of their own efforts. David prays
that God will not let this happen, but instead judge these men's actions
The wicked dig a trap for themselves without realizing it. They have
good intentions, wanting to do stuff which they think is God-pleasing.
But they act from the Law, which ensnares them, since they can never do
enough, or perform with sufficient perfection to merit any favor from
God. The more they try, the more guilty they become, since their
so-called righteousnesses are but filthy rags. There works are more than
corrupted. They collect the monthly blood.of death of a child that never
Be forewarned not to fall into this same trap yourselves. Stop *trying*
so hard, thinking that your efforts can make God love you more. He
already loves you completely in Christ Jesus, for the blood of the Son
which God demanded has already been shed for you at Calvary's cross. His
grace there is sufficient. It is the one thing needful for your
salvation, which comes to you from His word proclaimed, and put into
action with water in baptism and with bread & wine in the Lord's Supper
to forgive you.
Don't fear as Jesus returns soon for that final judgment on the last
day. He will indeed judge you on works, but not on the ones you strive
to do for Him. He judges you as dumb sheep, mostly ignorant of the good
works He prepared in advance for you to walk in via your daily
vocations. Simply be glad & rejoice in the righteousness of Jesus
already given you, & in the right things He does through you.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
With these words, Moses composes, in this psalm, the biblical teaching of the works of the kingdom of heaven. The line is clear. All wrong works of sin and iniquity belong to man, who returns to the dust of death as his proper punishment. But all good works among God's people belong to God. They are His to establish & accomplish for us, in us and through us. Or as I teach my confirmands, if there is anything done right, then praise God; but if there is anything done which is wrong, then blame me!
In the parable today, Jesus teaches of the works of the kingdom of heaven also. But He is not teaching anything about the works of *our* talented-ness, since no skills or qualities of the slaves themselves are mentioned. The *talent* of the story is a sum of money as valuable as a million dollars, given to each slave. No human skill is worth so much. But God's grace is. It is this priceless grace of God which is given to the Christian church for its servants–its ministers to put to work.
So it is not so much about man's sanctified good works which follow salvation. It is about God's saving works of justification by which He produces more offspring in His church. Notice that the word translated *interest* is actually the term for God's creatures being fruitful & multiplying offspring. We in the church are given the blessed task of adding to the kingdom of God by storing up treasures in heaven. Each saved soul is someone you and I will treasure forevermore in the paradise above.
How is God's grace the priceless purchase price to increase God's offspring? It comes about by Jesus' willingness to take your place under God's Law. He knew that you deserved to be consumed by God's anger. He Himself was terrified of that cup of wrath as He prayed in Gethsemane. But He willingly took your iniquities upon Himself, becoming sin–your sin, at the +. There, not millions in silver & gold, but His holy precious blood & innocent suffering and death bought you as His Own.
OK, but that was some 2000 years ago. How can the grace Jesus purchased long ago come to you? Well, it is good that for God, a thousand years is nothing, like a day. Time is no matter for Jesus. In fact, He can take you back in time through your baptism all the way to Calvary. There, sinful you was crucified with Jesus, and buried by baptism into His death. But just as He didn't stay dead, so to in your baptism did new you rise up to everlasting & glorious life as Jesus rose up Easter Sunday.
Not only that, but Jesus can take Himself forward in time from the cross as well for you today. He takes His body once given, and His blood once shed, and brings them to you in the simple bread & in the cup of the Lord's Supper. Here at the Lord's Table, appears to you the Work of your Lord Jesus, His splendor manifest to you by faith which recognizes Jesus' Own body & blood in the Sacrament. There you eat & drink the forgiveness He purchased & won for you at the Cross of Calvary long ago.
What appears to the naked eye as only human act of water washing, and people eating & drinking, is actually the work of God Himself, works He establishes to forgive your sins, to save your soul, to strengthen your faith, and to give to you life eternal. Be satisfied in the works of His loving-kindness.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
The heavens tell the glory of God; and the work of His hands the firmament declares. Day to day it gushes out speech; and night to night it reveals knowledge. There is not speech and there is not words; in (them) no voice is heard. In all the earth goes forth their line; and in the end of the world, their utterances–for the sun He has placed a tabernacle in them. And that, as a bridegroom exiting from his bridal chamber; it rejoices as a strong one to run a course. From an end of the heavens, its rising; and its circuit to their other end; and there is nothing hidden from its heat. Torah of Yahweh--flawless, restoring a soul; Testimony of Yahweh–reliable, causing to be open, a simple one. Directions of Yahweh–right, causing joy to a heart; commands of Yahweh–clear, causing enlightenment to an eye. Fear of Yahweh–clean, lasting forever; judgments of Yahweh–true, righteous altogether. They are desired more than gold, and more than much fine gold; and they are sweeter than honey, and the drippings of a honeycomb. Errors? Who can discern? From hidden sins acquit me. Also, from presumptions, keep your servant; do not let them rule in me. Then I will be complete; and acquitted from much transgression. Be acceptable to your sight words of my mouth and meditation of my heart; Yahweh, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Today begins our countdown to the end of the church year. So, our focus begins on the countdown to the last days of this world–all the way to Judgment Day. On that day, Jesus will return as He promised, from the clouds of the heavens to earth, to judge the living & the dead. He comes like a long-awaited bridegroom comes from his chamber to the home of his beloved, to take her as His wife. Jesus instructs us to be alert until that time, since we don't know when that day will be.
How do you know if you are one of the alert ones? How can you be sure that you are like the prudent bridesmaids who came prepared with enough oil? Well, your certainty can never be in what you do, for you know that you are not flawless, you are not completely perfect, and you commit some secret sins that are even hidden to your knowledge! If keeping alert and being ready for Judgment Day were something for you to do, no doubt you would fail to be prepared & probably sleep right through it.
So how do you have enough *oil* for your lamp on that last day? Some look at the oil as *faith* from the Holy Ghost. Others see it as God's *grace*. Still others view it as similar to the wedding garment of Christ's holy *righteousness*. The answer is, essentially, all of the above, since your entrance into the eternal wedding feast of heaven includes being saved by grace, through faith, not of your own effort to keep God's Law, but of His works of righteousness alone. In Jesus you are well prepared!
Yet, if you were to reject any one of these essential elements of your salvation, your oil runs out. If you place confidence in yourself instead of trusting in Christ Jesus, you would find yourself locked out of the heavenly wedding banquet. If you seek to earn God's favor by your own fithly rags of righteousness, instead of relying on His grace to save you, you will find the Bridegroom claiming to have never known you. For only by Christ acquitting you from much transgression are you saved.
For this is what it means for Christ Jesus to be your LORD, your Rock and Your Redeemer. As your LORD, Jesus is God come down in the flesh, to be your righteousness under the Law in His 1st stay on earth. As your Rock, Jesus alone is the foundation-stone of your faith, upon which you are built as a living stone. As your Redeemer, Jesus paid the full ransom price for you at the cross of Calvary, by His body given unto death and His blood shed for you there for the forgiveness of your sins.
By His Word & Sacraments, Jesus does you one better than to simply invite you to attend His heavenly wedding. He comes to be your very own Bridegroom, coming forth from the bridal chamber with His loving-kindness, having already wed you to Himself forevermore in Holy Baptism. The psalmist David compares the sun shining in the heavens to this Bridegroom, as evidence to all of God in action. Jesus' instruction restores your soul to everlasting life with Him as His beloved bride.
So don't fear that you will miss out on the heavenly wedding feast. Jesus has prepared you well by His saving love for you. And He would not find it proper to celebrate without you, His bride, at the Festival. If that were not enough assurance, know that you are invited to the foretaste of the feast to come as you eat Jesus body and drink His blood here in the sacrament of the altar. The marriage feast is waiting; the gates wide open stand. Arise, O heirs of glory; the Bridegroom is at hand. Amen.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Are you ever at the end of a job, running out of gas, hastily finishing up, you say, *good enough*. For some tasks, I suppose, that's alright, if they are relatively unimportant ones. But what of the task of salvation–the task which makes you a saint? How much is truly *good enough* to make you holy in God's sight? Some would want to rely, at least in part, on the efforts of lazy, imperfect man to make himself holy before God. But the sin-tainted works of man are never good enough for sainthood.
Some would want to view God as a kindly teacher in the classroom. They want to assume that He would grade on the curve, and raise up grades that are close enough, awarding an *E* for effort that would otherwise have gotten an *F* for failure. Others want to see God as the teacher that would give extra credit opportunities for us to make up for failures with a 2nd chance effort. But God doesn't offer any easy way out. He expects complete righteousness, pure & perfect in order to be saved.
When God's Law reminds you of how strict your Lord is in demanding perfect holiness in all His saints, you may get a little distraught. But this is good, since God wants you to feel hopeless & helpless in and of yourselves when it comes to righteousness. For the Lord does not want you to look for some sort of inner-righteousness of your own by which you can save yourself. After all, you are not your own savior. Instead, He wants you to seek an alien righteousness from outside of you.
In fact, God gives you a hunger and a thirst for a righteousness that is not yet within you. By faith, He makes you desire a perfect righteousness, a pure holiness, that can be found only in one place–in Christ Jesus your Savior. For He alone kept all of God's commands without fail. He kept all the works of the Law necessary to earn salvation for you. Jesus kept himself pure from any sinful thought, or word or deed. He did everything right, His entire life here on earth, in order to earn heaven.
Yet He Who was perfectly pure did the oddest thing. He allowed Himself to become your sin. He bore the burden of your iniquities at the Cross, suffering there the death you deserved. Your judgment of condemnation, that's what He Himself received in His body on the tree of Calvary at midday on Good Friday. Your unholiness He took upon His Own Person there and was forsaken by His Father, in your place. His Own holy righteousness, He gave up, in exchange for your sin and the death you earned.
And that same righteousness which Jesus willingly gave up at the cross, He gives to you as pure gift. Credited to your account by faith, Christ's righteousness is given to you now as your own! The alien righteousness you desired, hungered & thirsted for by faith, is now your own righteousness by which God the Father judges you worthy of eternal life in heaven! You didn't have to do it on your own, for such a burden was impossible for you. Instead, you rested in the Lord & waited patiently for Him.
And your Lord Jesus didn't disappoint. He fed you with His Own faithfulness in the Lord's Supper with His body & blood given & shed for you to forgive you your sins. You yourself were purified, even as Christ is pure, by the washing of water & word of Holy Baptism which now saves you. You hear the gospel word, that it is God Himself, in Christ Jesus, Who brings forth your righteousness as light, since He Himself is the Light of the World, the Light Who brings life everlasting to you.
So how much righteousness is *good enough* to make you a saint? You know that your own efforts at doing the right things will never measure up. But humbly and meekly wait on the Lord and His efforts at holy righteousness in Christ Jesus. Be still in Him and rely on His efforts to save you. Commit your Way to the LORD, for Jesus is the Way. Trust in Him, and He Himself will accomplish it.