Sunday, July 20, 2014
Luke 5:1-11; 1 Peter 3:8-15; 1 Kings 19:11-21
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
One of the repeated themes at the Higher Things youth conference we attended two weeks ago was that there is nothing particularly attractive or exciting about Christianity when you get down to its nuts and bolts. After all, as Americans, we extol freedom – and, by freedom we mean the freedom to do whatever we want, whenever we want, so long as it doesn’t hurt or harm or interfere with someone else’s freedom, for the most part. However, Christianity actually inhibits that kind of freedom. There are explicit things that Christians are commanded to not do. Christianity goes against the grain of our permissive culture and even our own flesh.
Moreover, the doctrines and beliefs of Christianity are, well, quite simply, absurd to human reason. We worship a God whom we confess to be one, but also three. And, for a God who is supposedly all-powerful and good, He sure doesn’t seem to do much to prevent evil and suffering in the world. And, where is He anyway? Why doesn’t He make Himself visible and demonstrate His power for all to see? Then we’d believe in Him, right? Of course, Christianity teaches that He did make Himself visible once. But, consider the circumstances: He was born of a virgin mother who had never had sexual relations with a man. Yeah, right. He spent His time hanging around the low-life and the riff-raff of society – prostitutes, tax collectors, the poor, and the diseased. He kept talking about a kingdom that He was ushering in. Oh, they crowned Him king alright; they put a purple robe on Him, beat Him, crowned Him with thorns, then stripped Him naked and nailed Him to a cross for all to see. Pathetic. Unattractive. Foolish.
And, the same goes for so-called Christians themselves. They preach about meekness and humility, being charitable and forgiving, and loving their enemies, but look at how so many of them live. They chase after wealth and possessions, power and prestige just like everyone else, except they are hypocrites about it, play-acting like they’re so noble and pious and it’s everyone else that is selfish, self-serving, ambitious, and cut-throat. What’s worse, though, is how they are so quick to judge and condemn others when they lie, cheat, and steal to get what they want, when their marriages end in divorce at the same rate as non-Christians, when they give in to their passions, desires, and lusts for drug and drink, food, sex, power, money, and whatever else. Then, they are so quick to judge what’s right and wrong, good and evil, and to make rules and laws that limit or take away the freedoms of others, all the while crying that their own precious religious freedoms are being threatened and attacked. Pathetic. Unattractive. Foolish.
Satan knows this about you, and he uses it as a lure and as a weapon to get you to take his bait and to choose to listen to a voice and a word other than God’s. That’s what he did to Eve in the garden: “Did God really say?” “Hmmm? Now that you ask the question, I know what God said, but somehow, now it just doesn’t sound right.” That’s what he tried to do to Jesus in the desert: “Go ahead! Throw yourself down from the temple spire. God’s angels will catch your fall.” “Yeah, well, you kind of left out that part about walking in God’s ways and not putting Him to the test.” The question, the doubt, exposing the absurdity – that’s the lure. When you choose to listen to a voice and a word other than God’s – And, I ask you, whose voice and word would that then be? – you take Satan’s bait, hook, line, and sinker, and you choose to act upon your will – which means that you are not acting upon God’s will – and you break the First Commandment: You worship a false god before or in place of the true God; you worship yourself, and by worshipping yourself you worship Satan.
Alright, so maybe that sounds a bit dramatic. I just want you to think about the seriousness of those sins that you like to think of as “little,” “minor,” or “white.” While the only un-forgivable sin is unbelief – the outright rejection and refusal of the Holy Spirit’s work in you – there are no little, minor, or white sins. Sin is sin, period, and a single sin of thought, word, or deed merits you eternal death and damnation. This is why St. Paul says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and, quoting the Psalmist, “There is none righteous, not one.” Indeed, the purpose of God’s good and holy Law is to show you just that – that you are a sinner, curved in upon yourself, whose every thought, word, and deed before God’s grace is corrupted by evil, unholy, and unclean. The Law is meant to break you, to crush you, to kill you so that you stop trying to justify yourself, stop trying to make God’s ways fit according to your ways, stop trying to force His wisdom to submit to your fallen and corrupt wisdom. For, only then can you receive the Gospel – the Good News God loves you anyway and that He forgives you and restores you to holiness, not because of anything good, or evil, that you do, but because of the perfect and holy good that He has done for you in His Son’s selfless, sacrificial suffering and death upon the cross.
I know. Your flesh, your reason, your wisdom, and the so-called reason and wisdom of the world cries out, “Foul! It can’t be that easy! It doesn’t make any sense! That’s ridiculous! That’s absurd! That’s not fair! That’s not how justice works!” Indeed, thanks be to God! All that thinking and offense, all that scandal – that’s the way of your fallen sinful flesh which, at once, hates the Law of God, but also seeks to justify itself according to the Law. That’s why the flesh seeks out any other gospel but the Gospel of Jesus Christ – not that there is any other gospel. That’s why most of the denominations of Christianity other than confessional, orthodox Lutheran doctrine, work in just a little bit (or a lotta bit!) of your own work, your own choice, your own merit, your own decision, and your cooperation with God in your justification and salvation. But these are the teachings of demons, says St. Paul. They are the lies, deceptions, and temptations of Satan to lead you back into the bondage of sin and the Law and to keep you in chains there forever.
By nature, man is a theologian of glory, because Satan is a theologian of glory. “But, I thought glory was a good thing? What’s a theologian of glory, and why is that a bad thing?” Good question! A theologian of glory refuses to accept things and believe things the way there truly are, the way God has ordained them to be. To use Luther’s words to Erasmus in the Heidelberg Disputation, “A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil.” Thus, a theologian of glory looks at the Trinity, which is good, and calls it preposterous, ridiculous, foolishness. Likewise, a theologian of glory hears God’s command to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and says that God’s command is unfair, unjust, even evil. And, worst of all, a theologian of glory looks at God’s plan of salvation in Jesus Christ crucified and dead upon the cross and exclaims, “Pathetic. Unattractive. Foolishness.”
All of you, according to your fallen and sinful flesh are, by nature, theologians of glory. In contrast, God calls you to be theologians of the cross who do not call evil good and good evil, but who call a thing what it is. The fall into sin was rebellion, apostasy, and real and damning sin. Jesus’ crucifixion and death was Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and Satan, and the glory of God. The kingdom of God is not powerful and glorious according to the wisdom, reason, and reckoning of the theologian of glory, but to the theologian of the cross it is a glorious kingdom and reign of grace, mercy, and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
The theology of the cross does not come easily to us theologians of glory. Indeed, when Jesus began His ministry and called His first disciples, they were theologians of glory too. They vied for positions of honor, power, and glory in Jesus’ kingdom and they asked when Jesus was going to restore glory to Israel. Yet, even His disciples were not honorable and glorious in the eyes of their contemporaries, but they were fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot, and others of common, ordinary, and even low estate. Still, the Lord worked through them and with them to establish His kingdom and reign of grace and mercy and to establish His Church, which remains to this day and will remain until the day of His return. They often stumbled over Jesus’ ways, trying to send away the children, the women, and others in need who were drawn to Jesus. They refused to believe Jesus when He taught them about His Passion and resurrection. They all abandoned Him when He was arrested and crucified. And, when He died and was buried, they were despondent and without hope, believing that they had made a great mistake in following Him. They were theologians of glory, calling good evil and evil good. But, at Pentecost, Jesus made them to be fishers of men and theologians of the cross when He poured out His Holy Spirit upon them and His Church.
There isn’t much that is attractive or exciting about you, O Christian, or this little outpost of Christ’s Church in Pawling, NY to which you belong and worship. However, you have been given a new mind, new reason, new eyes, ears, mouth, and soul to know the kingdom of God for what it is, the power of the God for the salvation of all who believe. Your fallen reason and wisdom, the world’s ungodly theology of glory, looks at Christ’s Church and cries, “Pathetic. Unattractive. Foolish.” But you, O theologian of the cross, call a thing what it is, God’s kingdom of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness breaking in and spreading throughout this world, reclaiming it for God in Christ Jesus.
Do not be afraid or dismayed. The Lord is with you. He will never leave you or forsake you. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, July 13, 2014
Luke 6:36-42; Romans 8:18-23; Genesis 50:15-21
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Last Sunday we considered God’s love manifested as grace. Today we see it manifested as mercy to all who suffer. Grace and mercy are as two sides of the same coin; they are both manifestations of God’s love for you in Christ Jesus.
When I teach catechumens about grace and mercy, I explain it this way: Grace is when God gives us good things that we do not deserve. Mercy is when God does not give us bad things that we do deserve. One is a giving, and the other is a withholding. Both come from God: His will, His action, His love. The seeking love of God that we heard about last week, seeking, finding, and restoring the lost, is grace. Today we focus upon God’s love shown in mercy through which He works through the sufferings, pain, and losses we experience as the result of sin to preserve and keep us in His Son unto eternal life. We hear that God works man’s intended evils for good. We hear that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. And we are exhorted to be merciful to all as God our Father has been merciful to us: to judge not, to condemn not, to forgive, and to give as we have been the benefactors of such rich and lavish love, mercy, and forgiveness.
The story of Joseph and his brothers from our Old Testament lesson is a powerful example of love, mercy, and forgiveness. Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him because their father Jacob loved Joseph more than the others, being the son of his old age. To add to their burning jealousy, Jacob gave Joseph a many colored coat and Joseph had dreams in which his brothers bowed down before him. They plotted to kill him, but, after Reuben’s intercession, they decided merely to sell him into slavery. Well, as the story goes, Joseph ends up in Egypt, and, after much injustice and suffering, ends up the right hand man of the Pharaoh. When famine hit the region, indeed his brothers did travel to Egypt and bow down before Joseph and receive food and live. When their father died, the brothers were fearful that Joseph would exact revenge upon them for the wrongs they had done to him; they were afraid that they would get what they deserved for their sins. So, they schemed once again and sent message to Joseph that their father Jacob had requested Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers as his dying wish. But the lie was not necessary, for Joseph had already forgiven his brothers. Joseph replied, “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.” Joseph was merciful to his brothers, he did not give them the bad things that they deserved, but he forgave them and he restored them. They offered to be servants, slaves, but Joseph called them brothers and he gave to them an allotment of good land and provided for them and their children. This true and historical story is comparable to the Parable of the Lost Son (The Prodigal Son), told from the perspective of mercy.
In today’s Epistle lesson, we hear that the fallout of man’s fall into sin impacted not just all humanity, but all of God’s creation. All of God’s creation is in bondage and subjection to corruption, and this is bad! But, once again, we hear that God works through this evil and corruption for the good of His creation. “For the creation waits with eager longing,” says Paul, “for the revealing of the sons of God.” Dearly beloved, we are the sons of God of whom Paul speaks! The revealing of our sonship began with the Incarnation of the Son of God as the Man Jesus Christ, but the consummation of this revealing will not be realized until the resurrection of our bodies. Paul says that all of creation, that is, the entire universe and everything in it, waits with eager longing for that moment! Now, let’s address the elephant in the room: We don’t always feel like sons of God, do we? In fact, is there not pain, suffering, sorrow, and death in our lives? Do not the people we love the most hurt us and we them? Does not sickness and disease, war and violence, economic distress, fear, depression, and sadness affect us and those we love? Yes, and this is the result of sin, the wages we have earned for sin, the reaping of what we have sown. Paul acknowledges suffering, but he says to you that all of your sufferings, all of the sufferings of humanity and of the entire creation, these “are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” As bad as things might be at times, what is to come is so glorious and joyous and wonderful that there is no point of comparison between the two! Paul compares the sufferings of this present time to a woman in the labor of childbirth. There is suffering and pain in labor and childbirth, but there is such joy in the birth of a child that the suffering and pain preceding are barely an afterthought. And so, this is how you should view pain, sorrow, suffering, trial, and tribulation, as preparation, as instruction, as catechesis for the glory in which you will soon be revealed and will live forever. But, even now, that glory has already begun to be revealed in you. It was first revealed in the Incarnation of the Son of God in the Man Jesus, and in Jesus, it has begun to be revealed in all who are in Him through Holy Baptism and faith. We have already now begun to walk in the new life, for we “have the firstfruits of the Spirit,” and we “groan inwardly as we await eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
Thus, we know the divine mercy of God’s love, that He does not give us what we deserve, what we have earned for our sins, death, but, instead, He gives us life in His Son. Nothing is held against us, but all is forgiven in Jesus. How then can we judge a brother? How then can we condemn a brother? How can we withhold forgiveness from a brother? We cannot. The debt that has been forgiven us; the guilt that has been cleansed from us; the sin that has been atoned for us; these have truly set us free. How can we keep a brother in chains and bondage? We cannot. We must give and forgive as we have been given to and forgiven, for, grace and mercy are two sides of the same coin. Your forgiveness is intimately connected to the forgiveness you show others. The judgment and condemnation that is withheld from you is intimately connected to the judgment and condemnation you withhold from others. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
The Lord has prepared this feast today for His sons who are day by day being revealed. The feast, too, is a hidden glory as the Son of Man is present in lowly forms. We, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan and long, with all creation, for the glory to be fully revealed when we will feast with the Lord, not through veiled forms, but face to face. And this is a feast of reconciliation, that what was lost has been found and restored. It is a feast of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. You who come, eat, and drink do so in love, forgiveness, and mercy towards your brothers, making peace with them before you bring the gift of yourself to the Lord’s Table. It is the chains that you place upon your brother that keeps you in bondage; the Lord has set you free in Christ Jesus, do not place yourself back in chains by withholding freedom from another. He who fills the cup and satisfies the hungry heart fills you with overflowing love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness that you might shower your brothers in the same to the glory of God the Father through His eternal Son in the life of His Holy Spirit.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, July 6, 2014
Luke 15:1-10; 1 Peter 5:6-11; Micah 7:18-20
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The tax collectors and the sinners were all drawing near to Jesus to hear Him. At the same time, the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled and complained about Jesus because of the people he permitted to draw near to Him. It’s a classic case of the in making themselves to be out. For, the truth is, Jesus wanted all people to draw near to Him. He wanted all people to hear Him. We wanted to eat and drink and laugh and cry with all people. For, He came to redeem all people, all the world, from sin and death, though not all would draw near to Him.
This is the setting for three of our Lord’s great parables: The Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son (The Prodigal Son). Jesus told these parables to the Pharisees and the scribes so that they could see that the kingdom of God was a reign of mercy and forgiveness, of seeking and of saving the lost. And, Jesus told these parables to the Pharisees and the scribes so that they might see themselves amongst the lost and, likewise, be found by their Savior who was drawing near to them.
The corruption in man’s reasoning and wisdom becomes apparent when we consider the first two of Jesus’ Parables of the Lost – the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. In both parables, the protagonist, the Christ figure, leaves behind the other sheep and the other coins in order to search the one sheep and coin that is lost. The wisdom of the world thinks this a tad over-reactive, foolish, and perhaps even irresponsible saying, “Why fret over one lost sheep when you have ninety-nine safe in the fold? How irresponsible it is to abandon the ninety-nine and put them at risk for the foolish and wayward and rebellious one. And, all this fuss over one lost coin? She still had nine. Coins get lost all the time! The world’s an imperfect place!”
Man’s fallen reason and wisdom stand in stark and unflattering contrast to our Lord’s wisdom that says, “Of those whom You gave Me I have lost not one.” Likewise, Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out.” And also, “this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day.” And yet again, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”
The idea here is that the sheep and the coins all belong to our Lord. Each and every one of them is precious to Him. It is not acceptable that He should lose even one. Our Lord Jesus is no shrewd businessman. He does not budget for a loss. He does not believe that a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. He will keep the sheep and the coins that He has, and He will seek, find, and save the sheep and the coin that have become lost.
In our fallen reason and wisdom, we want to cry out “Foolishness!” “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open county, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” Jesus asks. Our answer: “No one would do this!” “It doesn’t make sense!” “That’s utter foolishness!” Clearly, our Lord’s economics and accounting are radically different than ours – Thanks be to God! The sheep and the coins are not commodities to be bargained with, a loss of some sort being anticipated and acceptable. No! You are the Lord’s beloved sheep and His precious coins. You are His charge and His treasure. He is your God and you are His creatures. He is your Father and you are His children.
So were the Pharisees and the scribes. Our Lord Jesus did not want to lose them anymore than He wants to lose you. He searched for them, found them, and suffered and died for them to restore them to His fold just as He did for you, but they refused Him and rejected Him. They would not return with Him or follow Him because they could not see, they would not confess, that they were lost! They believed that they were the ninety-nine in the open country, not the one lost. They believed that they were the nine coins safe in the purse, not the one lost under the floorboards. They thought that they were in, and they couldn’t see that they were out. Of course, Jesus wanted them in, He made it possible for them to be in by grace through faith, but they wanted to be in on their own terms, and so they made themselves to be out. What’s worse is that they judged Jesus for taking those whom they considered to be out, in.
Our Lord rejoices at finding His lost sheep, His lost coins, His lost children. All of heaven and all of heaven’s angels rejoice over every sinner who repents! But, the angels rejoice only over sinners who repent, for only sinners can repent, and all of us are sinners. The Pharisees and the scribes were sinners too, though they refused to acknowledge and confess it. They were sinners, therefore Jesus considered them to be in, but they would not confess their sin, therefore they made themselves to be out. Moreover, they judged Jesus for the company of sinners He kept – His flock, His children. They were all sinners. That’s all that they could possibly be. That’s all there was. And, Jesus was fine with that. And, Jesus is fine with that now! “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Thanks be to God! Jesus would receive and eat with the Pharisees and the scribes too, but they would not have it. Jesus came to seek the lost. Only the lost can be found. Jesus came to forgive sinners. Only sinners can be forgiven. Jesus came to raise the dead. Only the dead can be raised. Jesus came to call, not the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Only sinners can repent. And we are all sinners, every one of us, from the greatest to the least, from the Pharisee to the tax collector. According to our sinful natures, we are out. But, according to Jesus’ grace, mercy, and love, we are in. Only you can make yourself to be out.
To put an exclamation point on His teaching, Jesus then told the Pharisees and the scribes the Parable of the Lost Son (the Prodigal Son). You know that story well. A younger son asked his father for his inheritance now, while his father was still alive. This was a highly disrespectful, dishonorable, and scandalous thing to do – essentially treating his father as if he were already dead to him. Even more scandalously, however, the father gave his son what he asked. The boy then proceeded to squander his inheritance and soon found himself destitute and hungry so that he sold himself into the meanest labor feeding unclean swine and even desiring to eat the food of the pigs. The boy was lost. He had dishonored his father and wasted everything his father had given him. He had nothing. He was as good as dead. But then he thought to himself, “My father is a good, gracious, and merciful man. I will return to him and apologize and offer myself as a servant that I might work for him and pay him back and earn his good will.” And then he set off for his father’s home. However, as Jesus tells His parable, he doesn’t make it back before the boy’s father finds him. You see, the father was watching for him, looking for him all the while he was gone. Seeing him coming from afar, the father did the unthinkable – he ran to his lost son and, before the boy could make the offer of labor, he restored him fully as his son and heir.
Now, that’s the part of the parable that most Christians focus upon. However, Jesus’ parable continues with the account of the father’s older son who is resentful that his father has received, forgiven, and restored his prodigal brother. Though it cost him nothing at all, the older brother begrudges his father’s generosity and mercy towards his younger brother. Unlike the angels in heaven, he refuses to rejoice of his brother, a sinner, who has repented. He is deeply offended, scandalized, at his father’s actions – killing the fatted calf and enjoying a feast with his lowly, sinful, unclean and uncouth brother: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Who do you think the older brother represents in Jesus’ parable. You can bet that the Pharisees and the scribes knew who He was talking about.
You see, there is something very personal and intimate about table fellowship – who you eat and drink with. Those souls you commune with at table are family: Husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, etc. Jesus eats and drinks with tax collectors, liars, thieves, adulterers, rude and disrespectful children, ungrateful neighbors, murderers, lepers, the outcast, the unclean, even you. You are His family. He invites you to His table to eat and drink with Him, indeed, to commune with Him so that His flesh is united with your flesh and His blood courses through your veins. You were out, but He has made you to be in. Therefore, do not look down at your neighbor, your brother, and consider him beneath you or unworthy of a place at the table. First, the table is not yours, but your Lord’s, and second, Jesus came to seek and to lay down His life to save that man or woman just as He came to seek and to save you.
Eat, drink, and be merry! Rejoice with the angels in heaven over even one sinner who repents! Each and every Divine Service, each and every Holy Eucharist, each and every Lord’s Day is a feast day of the finest of wines and the choicest of meats. This is the Day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! And yet, as good and holy and joyous as it is, this feast is but a foretaste of the feast that is to come – the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom that has no end! This is the feast of victory for our Lord, and you are invited – all are invited! You are in! Don’t make yourself to be out. Share the good news and invite your brother, your neighbor in too. Jesus is seeking them too and He has won salvation for them too. He has died that they might have the proper wedding garment, His righteousness, and join in the feast of life and salvation too.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, June 29, 2014
Matthew 16:13-19; Galatians 2:1-10; Acts 15:1-21
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. Paul confesses that he was called to preach the Gospel to the uncircumcised. Now, the uncircumcised were Gentiles, pagans, not Jews – that is to say that the uncircumcised were people just like you and me. You might think that to such godless people Paul might lash out at them with a stern preaching of the Law and whip them into shape. But, no, instead Paul preaches the Gospel to them, the good news of their freedom in Christ Jesus. He does not lay into them with the Law because they do not know Christ – that would be required only if they were unrepentant or rejected the Gospel – but rather Paul proclaimed the freedom of the Gentiles in Christ. He told them that they were not required to fulfill the ceremonial and the dietary laws that had been set before the Jews. He told them that this was not because the Law had been abolished or done away with, but because Jesus Christ had fulfilled the Law for them, on their behalf. He told them that all they needed to do was to believe in Jesus. In short, St. Paul told the Gentiles that they were not required to become Jews, but they were to become Christians.
The uncircumcised did not have to become circumcised. This was good news indeed! But, such good news goes against our nature. We think it must be too good to be true. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, after all. What’s the catch? Surely there is something we must do. This is the way of the flesh. This is the way of our fallen human reason. Because of this reality, I’ve considered putting a sign on that tent out in the church yard saying, “Take everything in this tent for $10,” because, if I that if I put up a sign that said “Free,” no one would take it, suspecting that anything that’s free must be suspect, worthless junk. Likewise, St. Paul proclaimed to the Galatians and to numerous other Gentile city-states and communities the free forgiveness of sins by God’s grace, received through faith in Jesus Christ, only to have them revert to works and obedience under the Law soon after he left them. Where Paul cast off their shackles and chains and set them free from captivity under the Law by the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the people believed in their hearts and confessed with their mouths, “It can’t be that easy. Nothing is free. What’s the catch?” Then false teachers rose up to preach to them a religion of works, a religion of the law, and placed them under its shackles and chains once again. And the saddest thing about this is that the people submitted willingly because it made sense to them, because there’s no such thing as a free lunch and there’s always a catch.
This is most certainly true, with men, but not with God. With God, free really means free – free to you – though not to Him. Indeed, your free lunch cost God plenty. Your forgiveness and redemption from sin and death was most costly, even priceless, to Him. His cost was the life of His only-begotten Son. Indeed, your freedom is not free, but you were bought with a price – the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus Christ. Yet, the Son willingly laid down His life for you. He did this because of His great love for you and for His Father. Indeed, Jesus fulfilled the Law completely for you, even its greatest and summary commandment, perfectly loving God with all His heart, soul, and mind, and perfectly loving you, His neighbor and His brother. You were bought with a price; you belong to God through Jesus Christ. You should be a slave, but He has made you to be His son. If the Son sets you free, then you are free indeed.
Then why do you insist on submitting yourself to slavery under the Law once again? What, you think you don’t? You do! Let’s try a little experiment: If you were to die, right now, are you certain that you will go to heaven? If you are certain – absolutely certain – that you will go to heaven, then put your hand up. I’m serious, raise them up! Ok, good, that’s a little better than I expected. But, now, let me ask you this: Think of a time when you weren’t sitting in church, a time when you were really angry or had done something that you know was wrong and you were feeling guilty and ashamed – what about then? What if you were to have died right then and there, in the middle of an argument with your husband or wife, or after blowing up at your children? Do you believe that you would have gone to heaven then? Raise your hands. Put ‘em up! Ah, not so many this time. Why not? Did Jesus die for your sins, or not? Did He only die for your small sins, but not your big ones? Or, do you place your hope for salvation in something else in addition to Jesus, or even in place of Jesus? Do you place your hope for salvation in your being a good person, in your good works, in your charity, in your going to church? The Gospel Truth is this: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” – period. Every one of your hands should be up – way up! For you have been purchased in the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus Christ. You were bought with a price. Nothing can separate you for God’s love in Jesus. Therefore, do not submit yourself to the shackles, chains, and slavery of the Law. Live in the Gospel freedom of your sins forgiven in Jesus Christ to the glory of God.
St. Peter is best known for his great confession of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Our Lord praised Peter for his confession saying “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” However, Peter is, perhaps, equally, and infamously, renowned for his rebuke of Jesus moments later, unwilling to accept or believe that Jesus must suffer and die, which earned Jesus’ reproach, “Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” You see, Jesus wasn’t incarnated, Jesus didn’t become a man, in order to provide you an example of how you should live your life and how you might work your way to God, but Jesus became a man so that He might fulfill God’s Law for you, in your place, and still suffer and die for you and for your sin and guilt, thus setting you free forever. More than that, because of His obedience and His righteousness, God raised Jesus from the dead, the firstfruits of those who die in the Lord, that you will be raised up on the Last Day and live in His glorious presence in flesh, blood, body and soul forevermore.
St. Peter was far from perfect. However, just like St. Paul, that’s what makes him such a great preacher of the Gospel! Peter knew his sins and failings well. He knew how weak his flesh was and how easy it was for him to succumb to temptation and to sell himself back into slavery under the Law. Thus, when he heard the testimony of Paul and Barnabas of how the Gentiles received the Gospel, Peter proclaimed to Jewish converts and to those of the party of the Pharisees, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the Gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and He made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” “Now, therefore,” Peter continued, “why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
St. Peter knew well the grace and freedom of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He had personally experienced the weight of the Law lifted off of his shoulders, like a calf being released from the burden of its yoke. Peter knew that the same Christ who had set him and his Jewish brethren free had also freed the Gentiles. Peter knew that the Law, which neither he, nor his brethren, nor their fathers had been able to bear, could not be forced upon the Gentile converts who trusted in Christ for forgiveness, life, and salvation. And so, St. Peter and St. Paul were united in their confession and proclamation of the Gospel of forgiveness and redemption in Jesus Christ. Their ministry was one of casting off the chains and shackles of the Law, the ministry of Good News, the Gospel, in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Too good to be true? What has goodness or badness to do with Truth? The Truth is what it is – whether you think it good or bad, whether you believe it or not. And the Truth is this: “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” And so, Jew or Gentile, you are saved, not by works of obedience under the Law, but by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ who has fulfilled the Law, suffered and died for your sin, and has been raised for your justification.
No such thing as a free lunch? The Lord has prepared for you a lavish feast of forgiveness, life, and salvation in the body and blood of Jesus Christ, freely offered, freely given for you to eat and drink that you may live in Him and He in you now and forever. Your LORD invites you, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Here the poor in spirit receive comfort and nourishment, even the kingdom of heaven. You don’t deserve it. You cannot earn it. You cannot buy it. But, you can receive it, in faith, as a gift – but, only as a gift. Thanks be to God. To God alone be all glory.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.