Lutheran Bible Translator’s Sunday – 2021 LSB #’s 973, 658, 923
Text – Jeremiah 36:23
Paper shredders range in size & price from small & inexpensive units meant for a few pages, to large machines used by commercial shredding services that cost thousands of dollars. Regardless of size, make & model, you probably know something about paper shredders.
Today we meet Mr. Paper Shredder himself – King Jehoiakim. The text is Jeremiah 36:23 (ESV), “As Jehudi read three or four columns, king Jehoiakim would cut them off with a knife...” Jehudi is in Judah of Jerusalem in 604 BC reading the book of Jeremiah while Jehoiakim shreds it with a knife!
Our paper shredders destroy bills, credit cards, bank statements & other sensitive documents. But Jehoiakim shreds God’s Word. Who in their right mind would cut up & shred the Word of God? Especially God’s Word in Jeremiah? It is loaded with Gospel promises. Take a look:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, & he shall reign as king & deal wisely, & shall execute justice & righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, & Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’” (Jeremiah 23:5–6 ESV)
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare & not for evil, to give you a future & a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV) “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3 ESV)
“Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, & the young men & the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, & give them gladness for sorrow.” (Jeremiah 31:13 ESV) “For I will forgive their iniquity, & I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34 ESV) What got into Jehoiakim that he shredded God’s Word? You know. So do I. This is the work of The Paper Shredder. We don’t know him by that name, though. Instead, we know him by the names of liar, deceiver, destroyer, devil, serpent, & Satan.
The old evil foe does not want us to have delight in God’s Word; power in God’s Word; hope in God’s Word; life in God’s Word; forgiveness in God’s Word. That’s why Satan shreds the Word of God every chance he gets. Do you want proof? A recent George Barna survey of Christians found these stunning results:
58% didn’t know who preached the Sermon on the Mount. 52% didn’t know that the book of Jonah is in the Bible. 70% did not know that “God helps those who help themselves” is not in the Bible. 15% agreed that the Gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luther, & John.
Why does Satan shred God’s Word? So he can shred our lives! Satan meets us in the morning & says, “This day is hopeless; go back to bed.” He sees us in the bathroom & says, “You are ugly. How could anyone love you?” At the end of the day he says, “You are a sorry excuse for a Christian. God is finished with you!”
Without God’s Word to push back against those lies, Satan chews us up & spits us out. That’s his strategy; keep people from God’s Word. Here is the strategy of Lutheran Bible Translators. Get people into God’s Word. Their mission statement – “LBT makes God’s Word accessible to those who do not yet have it in the language of their hearts.”
Every day LBT launches a frontal attack against the Paper Shredder. And why? Over one-billion people worldwide do not have the full Bible in a language that touches deeply – that is, the language of their heart. An estimated 165 million do not have a single verse of Scripture translated into their language. The Paper Shredder has 165 million people with no Word of God!
Martin Luther knew about the Paper Shredder. He writes in A Mighty Fortress is our
God, “The old evil foe, now means deadly woe! Deep guile & great might are his dread arms in fight. On earth is not his equal.” That’s why Luther embraced God’s Word – full throttle, especially in Romans: “For all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God, & are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (3:23–24 ESV)
“He was delivered over to death for our sins & raised again for our justification.” (Romans 4:25 ESV) “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1 ESV) “Where sin increased grace abounded all the more.” (Romans 5:20 ESV) Luther found forgiveness & comfort in the Word of God.
The old evil foe then enlisted another paper shredder to do his destructive work. In 1517, an Archbishop named Albert of Brandenburg set out to silence Luther. Albert was selling indulgences to pay off his debt to the pope. What are indulgences? The pope taught that pieces of paper purchased by people & signed by the church lessened a person’s time in purgatory.
Luther’s 95 Theses taught that indulgences were bogus. Because people began to believe Luther instead of the church, Albert was taking a big hit in the wallet! His response? Luther’s writings about God’s Word must be shredded!
In July, 1519, a debate took place in Leipzig, Germany. John Eck upheld Rome’s position – that people are saved, in large part, by what they do. Luther still would not budge on salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, for Christ’s sake alone. After the debate, Pope Leo X excommunicated the Reformer.
The excommunication began with these words from Psalm 80:13, “Arise, O Lord, a wild boar has invaded your vineyard.” Who was the wild boar accused of invading the church’s vineyard? Martin Luther! Rome’s response was that Luther must be silenced & shredded! It all came to a head at an imperial assembly in Worms, Germany. On April 17, 1521, the Roman Catholic Church demanded that Luther recant. Luther asked for an evening to think about it. The next day, the Reformer announced, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot & will not recant! Here I stand!” Luther took his cue from 1 Peter 1:25, “The word of the Lord endures forever.” Rome responded. God’s Word must be silenced, censored & shredded.
Luther’s courage, spine & conviction came from the central teaching in God’s Word – Christ crucified for sinners. Christ crucified means every one of God’s Gospel promises in Jeremiah are now yours. Christ is your righteousness. Christ has plans to give you hope & a future. Christ loves you with an everlasting love.
Because of Christ crucified, God changes our mourning into joy & sorrow into gladness. And because of Christ crucified, God forgives our iniquity & remembers our sin no more. That’s because a Roman governor named Pontius Pilate gave Jesus over to professional shredders.
They ripped the skin off the Savior’s back, preparing him for the biggest, most industrial-grade shredder of the day. And what was that called? Mors turpissima crucis – Latin for what Rome called its shredder – “the utterly vile death on a cross.” Jesus was shredded – crucified, dead, & buried. The end? It was not!
“Then Jeremiah took another scroll & gave it to Baruch… who wrote on it at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had shred & burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them.” Let me repeat the last line. “And many similar words were added to them!” (Jeremiah 36:32 ESV)
Jeremiah says, “Mess with my sermon & the next time I will add to it!” God resurrected Jeremiah’s scroll – & then some! All of which was the prelude to another resurrected Scroll – & then some! Christ, the Word made flesh, rose from the dead. What do we call that? Easter! Those who saw Christ alive were beside themselves. Mary cried out, “Rabboni!” The Emmaus disciples exclaimed, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road?” Thomas confessed, “My Lord & my God!” Alive with the life of Jesus & with the breath of the Holy Spirit God’s Holy Word is the living voice of the Gospel.
For you, right now, it announces forgiveness for all your sin, showers you with grace, & rekindles resurrection hope. God’s Word announces that weakness is power, loss is gain, & servanthood is greatness. Wherever God’s Word is preached, studied, memorized & read it is victorious over every satanic foe that seeks to destroy its Holy Spirit power.
That’s why Lutheran Bible Translators does more than produce Bibles. LBT’s goal is production – to be sure, but production is not an end in itself. Bible production opens doors so there can be transformation – new life in Jesus.
You see, LBT works with pre-literate & semi-literate peoples. To produce a book is only the beginning because books aren’t a part of these people’s culture. LBT missionaries, therefore, establish long-term relationships. They gain trust. Learn the language. Embrace their culture.
They learn to love individuals, families & congregations, so people not only hear & read God’s Word in their heart language, but so they also interact with Scripture so it goes down into their “insidest-inside” – deep within their hearts & minds. The result? Production leads to transformation! And transformation leads to dedication.
As Luther said, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot & will not recant. Here I stand!” The Reformer took his stand upon 1 Peter 1:25 (ESV), “The word of the Lord endures forever.” In Latin, Verbum Dei Manet In Aeternum. The initials = VDMA.
Luther & his followers sewed VDMA on their coat sleeves & cloaks. Today we place VDMA deep in our hearts & minds. To all paper shredders we boldly confess, “Verbum Dei Manet in Aeternum. The word of the Lord endures forever. We will help translate, publish & send this Word to the ends of the earth. Here we stand!” Amen.
Preserve Your Word, O Savior, to us this latter day, & let Your kingdom flourish; enlarge Your Church, we pray. O keep our faith from failing; keep hope’s bright star aglow. Let nothing from truth turn us while living here below. Preserve Your Word & preaching, the truth that makes us whole, the mirror of Your glory, the power that saves the soul. Oh, may this living water, this dew of heavenly grace, sustain us while here living until we see Your face. Preserve in wave & tempest Your storm-tossed little flock; assailed by wind & weather, may it endure each shock. Stand at the helm, our pilot, & set the course aright; then we will reach the harbor in Your eternal light. Amen. LSB 658:1, 4-5.
Receiving the father
17th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 20) LSB #’s 558, 851, 725
Text – Mark 9:37
Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, & whoever receives me, receives not me but Him who sent me.
RECEIVING THE FATHER
What is the #1 priority at this stage in your life? Many of you are already retired & trying to maintain a certain standard of health & a standard of living for as long as possible. Others of you are still working, whether full-time or part-time, & you are most likely looking forward to the day when you can retire.
The economic realities of life have a tendency to take 1st priority in our lives. It’s a simple matter of the curse that God placed upon man after the fall into sin:
“And to the man He said, ‘Since you listened to your wife & ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.’” (Genesis 3:17 NLT) Because of man’s rebellion against God, the economic realities of life will weigh heavily upon us throughout time.
Therefore, it will always be a struggle, & we should expect it to be a battle to keep straight our priorities in life. And when we do keep those priorities straight that moves life toward its God-given purpose. Keeping our priorities straight demonstrates to our Creator that we love Him.
As the cross of Christ remains the center of our daily living then our decisions keep in step with the Lord of life. Jesus did not take a shortcut in order to bypass the cross. He went right through it. Jesus promises no shortcuts for those who follow Him. You & I should expect our daily lives to be a battle because sin never stops trying to lead us astray.
The cross of Jesus was given to us to be the anchor of Christian living, because those
who partake in Christ’s suffering share also in His glory. In heaven we will see that clearly. For now, our calling is to live by faith, not by what we see. The heavenly Father’s promise to us is not a life of ease & pleasure, here on earth. That will be heaven. Yet God the Father does promise to take us through our suffering to the resurrection from the dead.
What does all that have to do with the child that Jesus put in the midst of His disciples? On their own, children have no power, wealth or connections with which to take shortcuts or bypass the suffering of this life. However, important people can use their connections, power & wealth to take shortcuts & bypass much of the suffering of this life.
The parable Jesus tells about the Rich Man & Lazarus illustrates this truth. As the Rich Man was asking Abraham for relief from the pain of hell, he’s told this, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, & Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, & you are in anguish.” (Luke 16:19-31 ESV)
Lazarus was a poor man, who laid at the Rich Man’s gate. He was covered with sores & the dogs licked his wounds, but he was the one who entered heaven. He did not bypass the suffering of this life, & kept the heavenly Father as his top priority. The Rich man who bypassed this life’s suffering did not give God priority until it was too late.
If we’re honest, all of us struggle with that parable because none of us want to be lying on the ground waiting for dogs to come around & lick our sores for relief. Each of us would rather be in the mansion than starving at the gate. We want to feel like our lives are important, & worthwhile & accomplishing things. We want to be respected & thought well of.
Jesus knows that our desires are a trap Satan uses to put us in danger. He knows who has faith in Him as Savior from sin, but He also knows that we suffer from thinking too highly of ourselves. Jesus wants us to take care that we not lose the faith & the Kingdom through pride & arrogance. It is in the best interest of all believers, because we still have the sinful nature, to be admonished to accept little children, & all who are unimportant according to the world. Above all, before God we should be truly humble, but also should make ourselves subject to each other. Each of us should be a servant of the people whom God places in our lives. As Jesus said:
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, & whoever receives me, receives not me but Him who sent me.” (Mark 9:37 ESV) That is how we receive our Father who is in heaven. We do so through receiving Jesus, & since Jesus is not with us in the flesh, we do that through receiving our neighbor, especially those of lowly status.
Jesus knows that keeping our priorities straight is helpful, even crucial, as we take up our cross & follow Him. In the Gospel reading, the disciples had been arguing among themselves concerning who among them was the greatest. Jesus then teaches them that being great involves being the least & the servant of all.
Later, Jesus would demonstrate that principle by laying down His life for the lives & for the sins of the whole world. In the world’s order of things, the leader is first & others do things for him. They work in service to him. In the Church of Jesus the reverse is true. The humbler a person is, & the more willing to serve, the higher he will stand in God’s kingdom.
In order to bring home this lesson, Jesus took a little child & told the disciples that in rendering a service to one of these little ones they were rendering that service to God’s Son. And a service rendered to Him is credited in heaven as though it were rendered to Yahweh Himself.
This striking lesson in true humility & service is needed urgently in our lives. The false ambition that was found in the midst of the disciples is rampant in the Church today, threatening to render much of the preaching of the cross as invalid. For that very reason, & for many other sins like it, Jesus ascended the cross instead of a throne. Jesus was born on earth in order to serve, not to be served. His life on earth was to be a sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – along with my sins & yours.
Before the dawn of the time that was the #1 priority of the Son of God. Before the universe was created, the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity was focused upon saving sinners from their sins. He saved us so that we could love others as you & I were created to love.
In the brokenness of our sinful world that love is clearly demonstrated through receiving people of the least importance. In so doing, we receive our heavenly Father along with the life & wholeness & all the other blessings which come with our heavenly Father.
What is the #1 priority at this stage in your life? I pray that it would be receiving the Father through receiving the least important people in our lives. After all, Jesus came to live & to die in our place that one day we would again experience a perfect relationship with God.
Jesus has already paid for all our failures to love & receive others. It is a shame to let that blessing go to waste. Amen.
Wondrous honor You have given to our humblest charity in Your own mysterious sentence, “You have done it all to Me.” Can it be, O gracious Master, that You deign for alms to sue, saying by Your poor & needy, “Give as I have given to you”? Lord of glory, You have bought us with Your lifeblood as the price, never grudging for the lost ones that tremendous sacrifice. Give us faith to trust You boldly, hope, to stay our souls on You; but, oh, best of all Your graces, with Your love our love renew. Amen. LSB 851:3-4.
HELP MY UNBELIEF
16th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 19) LSB #’s 839, 720 tune 710, 587
Text – Mark 9:24
Immediately the father of the child cried out & said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
HELP MY UNBELIEF
Television shows & movies which are based on mysteries are common & successful. People wait with anticipation to find out who done it. That moment of revelation, if the script is well written, is meant to be a highpoint of the show.
Parents these days have gender reveal parties as they announce whether their child to be born is a girl or a boy. For many of the family that moment of revelation is just what they’ve been waiting for.
The joy of opening Christmas presents is about that same moment of revelation. Children look forward to it anxiously, for many weeks. There is power in that moment of revelation & the beauty of the gospel reading this morning is that it reveals Jesus as Savior not only for those who are strong in faith. Jesus also comes for those who are weak in faith.
Jesus comes as Savior not only for those who are running towards Him. Jesus also comes as Savior for those who are drifting, or walking, yes even for those who are running away from Him. In the 14th chapter of Mark, after the arrest of Jesus, we read: “Then all His disciples deserted Him & ran away.” (14:50 NLT) Still, Jesus died & rose again for their sins.
The beauty of the gospel reading today is how it reveals Jesus as the One who comes not only for the strong in faith but also for those who are weak & walking away. Have you noticed how struggles in our lives can bring faith into view? 9/11 did that for many of us 20 years ago.
You see, when everything is going well, our faith can run on autopilot. Church & prayer are part of a routine. Because things are going well, we fail to even notice. We simply do what we normally do. When things begin to fall apart, that is when faith comes into view. Like a flashlight shining in a dark room, troubles can make our faith visible again. Pain comes because sin has brought suffering into this world, but the Holy Spirit is able, through His supernatural power, to use the pain we suffer for bringing good into our lives.
Anthony, who had stopped going to church, suddenly comes again. Why? Because his daughter left home without leaving a forwarding address. Kathy’s prayer life has increased dramatically. Why? Because the doctor found a spot on her lung. Troubles, like a flashlight, can bring moments of revelation where we see God with us through it all.
Other times, however, we see a darker picture. Instead of faith getting stronger, it weakens. When trouble comes & illumines the darkness, we find our faith huddled in a corner, shrinking & surrendering & dying.
Yes, many people have come back to the church during a family dispute, but just as many have walked farther away. Yes, illness has led some to pick up their bible, but it has led others to look elsewhere for healing.
When troubles reveal faith, the experience is not always positive. Instead of a strong & vibrant return to Christianity, we may see a deeper questioning of God & a growing reluctance to believe in anything at all. Faith wavers. Prayers are questions filled with anger. Hope is just a dreamlike fantasy from which people are starting to awaken.
Today, Mark helps us see & name these situations. He calls us to stop pretending that faith is always going to get stronger, & to recognize that sometimes faith weakens. Mark wants you & me to come face-to-face with this ugly reality, so he can bring us instead face-to-face with Jesus, our beautiful Savior.
The beauty & power of the gospel reading today is how it reveals Jesus as the One who comes not only for the strong in faith but also for those who are weak & drifting or walking or even running away. Consider the moment when the father stands before Jesus. At first, the father’s heart was filled with hope. He brought his child to the disciples for healing. They had cast out spirits & his son has a spirit, but they were unable to help. His hope was crushed.
Then, the religious leaders begin to argue & his heart fills with frustration. While his son suffers, they debate religion: “Who can cast out demons – where, when, & why?” By the time Jesus arrives, the father has had it. His heart is nearly empty of faith!
His son is brought before Jesus & the spirit, demonstrating its power, throws the child to the ground. The father’s son is rolling at Jesus’ feet, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asks how long this has been happening & the father tells his life story.
For years, his son has been tormented by this spirit. Sometimes, the it throws him into water to drown him. Other times, the spirit throws his son into fire to burn him. Always, the spirit seeks to kill him. This spirit has taken the joy of childhood & replaced it with suffering, the joy of fatherhood & replaced it with fear & the power of faith & made it seem foolish.
Finally, the father reaches deep into his heart & brings out his very last plea. He says to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us & help us” (9:22). Suddenly, Jesus is troubled by something more than the evil spirit or the child rolling on the ground. Jesus is troubled by a father falling away from the faith.
So, before Jesus does anything for the son, He speaks with tough love to the father: “If you can?” He wants the father to hear his doubt. Jesus brings the father face-to-face with his faith, which is failing, so he can stand face-to-face before his Savior who succeeds!
The beauty of grace in this text is how Jesus holds on to people who are letting go. The father believes, but he does not believe. He tries, but he has given up trying. He holds on, but he also lets go. Finally, he confesses to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief” (9:24). With those words, this father brings all of our weakness & stumbling, all of our doubting & grumbling, all of our drifting & running & he sets it before Jesus... & Jesus, when face-to-face with our ugliness, brings us face-to-face with the power of His beautiful grace.
Jesus is a Savior who has come to save. A bruised reed, He will not break. A smoldering wick, He will not snuff out. A weak faith, He will not deny. Jesus has died for all people; those who are strong in faith & those who are weak in faith & for those who have no faith at all.
When Jesus dies on the cross, He dies for the sin of unbelief so that, when He rises, He brings forgiveness to everyone. The magnificence of this text is what it reveals about our Lord. Jesus holds on to people even as they are letting go.
Faith is a relationship with the One strong enough to save even from sin. It is not about how tightly you hold on to Jesus but rather how tightly He holds on to you. Salvation is about God’s strength, not ours. And, as Jesus tells His disciples in John, all the Father gives Him He will save. No one will be able to snatch them out of His hand (John 10:28).
Today, we can be honest about our struggles in faith because Jesus has come with His all-powerful grace. He knows “how to sustain with a word him who is weary… Morning by morning He awakens our ears to hear as those who are taught.” (Isaiah 50:4) “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” with the revelation that comes from hearing Your Word. Amen.
We walk by faith & not by sight, no gracious words we hear from Him who spoke as none e’er spoke, but we believe Him near. Help then, O Lord, our unbelief; & may our faith abound to call on you when You are near & seek where You are found. Lord, when our life of faith is done, in realms of clearer light we may behold You as You are, with full & endless sight. Amen. LSB 720:1, 3, 5.
POINT BY POINT
15th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 18) LSB #’s 555:1-2, 4, 8-10; 579; 918
Text – James 2:10
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.
POINT BY POINT
Ingredients: 1 cup butter, softened. 3/4 cup sugar. 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed. 2 eggs, large. 2 teaspoons of vanilla. 2 1/4 cups flour, un-sifted. 1 teaspoon baking soda. 1/2 teaspoon salt. 1 cup hickory nuts, chopped. 2 cups bittersweet baking chips.
Directions: 1. Heat oven to 375ºF. 2. Stir flour with baking soda & salt; set aside. 3. In large mixing bowl, beat butter with sugar & brown sugar at medium speed until creamy & lightened in color. 4. Add eggs & vanilla, one at a time. Mix on low speed until incorporated. 5. Gradually blend dry mixture into creamed mixture. Stir in nuts & baking chips.
6. Drop by tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheets. 7. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until chocolate chip cookies are golden brown.
When you’re making soup you can do a lot of adlibbing with the recipe. As they often say – season to taste. But when you’re baking something adlibbing doesn’t work quite as well. If you don’t follow the recipe point by point you will end up with cookies that are too big, or too small, or hard as a rock. They can even turn out like charcoal.
If you skip even one point, you might as well skip them all. When it comes to baking, have you found that out by experience? The same rule applies to keeping the commandments, or earning your way to heaven. If you skip even one point, you might as well skip them all, because you yourself are going to turn out like charcoal – ashes to ashes & dust to dust.
In many forms of religion, the value of your life depends completely upon the things you have chosen to do. Your value depends upon who you voted for & upon the causes you supported. What happens to you when you die is determined by the amount of good things you have done, & it is an ever changing culture which determines what is good & what is evil. Therefore, in many forms of religion the value of your life, & where you end up at death, are determined by other sinful beings who are using an ever changing set of values. In that system, if you skip even one point the powers that be can assign you to oblivion.
Right now, if you support the rights of a child who is still in the womb – you are being labeled as worse than the Taliban. Your beliefs are being called un-American. The cultural slogan in favor of abortion used to be, “My body, my choice,” but that only applies to abortion. When it comes to the Covid vaccine, the culture does not want you to have a choice.
If you don’t follow their recipe exactly, point by point, then your entire life has no value. Maybe you believe that God is causing climate change in order to warn human beings of the need to turn back to Him before they die. Or maybe you believe that the Covid pandemic is a similar warning. If you do, you are not following the culture’s recipe & you have no value.
Following the culture’s recipe, if you mess up even one point you might as well have skipped them all. The only way to find peace in that kind of system is to completely ignore the reality that all of us will eventually fail in one step or another.
In a recipe for baking cookies, if you forget to add the flour, you can’t make up for it by adding twice as much sugar. If you skip one step, the whole recipe is ruined. The cookies will have no value, but it doesn’t cost a lot to throw them away. However, if you treat human life in that manner, it does cost a tremendous amount to throw away a human life.
Trying to make our lives perfect is a dead end approach no matter what religion you follow. In Christianity, God gave us the Law not as a recipe for earning heaven. The Law is there to show us just how far we’ve fallen short of our Creator’s design for us. The Law is like an EKG showing us we’ve had a heart attack, & we need help. That’s all an EKG does for you. It cannot do one thing to actually bring you healing. All that it can do is to point out your failings. If we are failing to love our neighbor as ourselves, the Law is not going to help us overcome that failure. We need the Law, just like we need an EKG, but the Law is only one of the two great messages given to us in God’s Word. The other great message is the Gospel.
The Greek word used in the Bible, that English calls the Gospel, actually means good news. And the good news is actually good in more ways than one. Yes, it does tell us that forgiveness is available to erase our sins. If we skip one step in the recipe, Jesus makes sure that we don’t have to throw out the whole batch, or the entire human being.
However, the good news does not stop there. It also has the power to heal us. The Word of God reveals that all human beings are born with a condition it calls ‘hardness of heart.’ We are born not loving our neighbor as ourselves because we are not capable of it. Our hearts are hard & insensitive. They look out only for number 1.
A slogan like, “My body, my choice” is a symptom of that. I was born with a false religion, believing that life is all about me. You were born with that same religion. Regarding abortion, “My body, my choice,” is not concerned with loving the child in the womb. Slogans are never able to lovingly deal with complicated issues like an unwanted pregnancy.
In regards to vaccination, slogans like “My body, my choice,” are not concerned with loving with those who are susceptible to Covid 19. Again, slogans are never able to lovingly deal with complicated issues like who should & who should not be vaccinated. Our heavenly Father gave us an entire Bible to read & learn & believe. He did not give us just a slogan.
Yet, as Christians, we often turn our faith in Christ into nothing more than a slogan – “Believe in Jesus & you will be saved.” While that statement is true, there’s a lot more behind it when it comes to applying that to all the decisions you have to make in this life, such as wearing a mask, or getting vaccinated, or giving birth. How exactly God is calling you to love your neighbor can have a million different permutations. And each of us adults has probably a hundred different people who qualify at any moment as neighbors. Do you see how it’s impossible for you & me to love our neighbor without supernatural help?
That’s what the Law is meant to show us, & in light of that, the Gospel is meant to soften our heart & heal it. The good news is meant to give us hope in the vocation of loving our neighbor as ourselves. The Gospel is the power through which Jesus works whenever we skip a step in the recipe. The good news tells us that in Christ not one life needs to be thrown away.
In many forms of religion, the value of your life depends completely upon the things you have chosen to do. That sounds noble, but it’s a catch 22, because on that basis all of our lives are worthless – like filthy rags. To believe the good news about Jesus Christ sounds like a copout, but the voice telling us that is our pride. What comes before the fall? It’s that voice.
The consequences of our sins are used by God to soften the hearts of those He calls into His kingdom. He gave us the Law, point by point, so that we might diagnose the hopeless state of our natural condition. God the Father sends His Spirit to guide us in the diagnoses, for without the Holy Spirit we would not even know that we are lost.
Ultimately, if our Creator wanted to save us from the destruction that human beings have brought into the world, our Creator had to do the saving. That took a lot more than a few slogans. It took blood, sweat & tears, but Jesus endured hell so that we could escape it. The struggles we face in this life, as we seek to love our neighbor, are too much for us alone.
So Jesus has not left us alone. He calls us to struggle along with those who do not want to be pregnant. He calls us to struggle along with those who are afraid of Covid 19. He calls us to struggle along with those who choose not to be vaccinated, or not to wear masks. And Jesus is right there, with us & with all who are struggling & suffering. He did not bypass the suffering caused by sin, but went through it. Since we brought sin into the world, would it be right for us to bypass the suffering? Yet, God uses the very suffering caused by sin to humble us so that we look outside of ourselves for life & for salvation. Then, He gives us a new heart, a clean heart.
That clean heart does care for our neighbor & is willing to struggle & suffer along with them. As they see us suffering with them, God can give us opportunities to share His Law with them in ways that allow them to hear & to listen. Then, instead of rejecting the Law they may be able, finally, to see not just their sin, but their need for Jesus who is the Savior from sin.
Once they see that need there is hope because Jesus came to give life & He is powerful enough to work through any & all circumstances if we just believe. Recipes work fine for baking things like cookies, but there is no recipe of things you can do to earn your way to heaven. Life is found in Christ alone & He offers that to us at no cost. Amen.
The Law of God is good & wise & sets His will before our eyes, shows us the way of righteousness, & dooms to death when we transgress. Its light of holiness imparts the knowledge of our sinful hearts that we may see our lost estate & turn from sin before too late. The Law is good; but since the fall its holiness condemns us all; it dooms us for our sin to die & has no power to justify. To Jesus we for refuge flee, who from the curse has set us free, & humbly worship at His throne, saved by His grace through faith alone. Amen. LSB 579:1-2, 5-6.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet