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Luke 16:19-31 (Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 21—Series C)
“Hearing Moses and the Prophets”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
September 25, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel appointed for the day, recorded in Luke 16:
19Now there was a certain rich man and he clothed himself in purple and fine linen. He enjoyed himself splendidly every day. 20Now a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21and he longed to be filled from what fell from the rich man’s table. Yet the dogs came and licked his sores. 22And it happened that the poor man died and he was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23And in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham from afar and Lazarus at his side. 24And he called out and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus so that he might dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.” 25But Abraham said, “Child, remember that you received your good things in your life, and Lazarus likewise bad things. Now he is comforted here, but you are in agony. 26And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who wish to go through from here to you are not able, nor should they cross over from that place to us.” 27Then he said, “I beg you, Father, that you should send him to my father’s house, 28for I have five brothers, so that he might bear witness to them so that they also should not come into this place of torment.” 29Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets. Let them hear them.” 30But he said, “No Father Abraham, but if someone from the dead should go to them, they will repent.” 31And he said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”
Within the next several weeks, members of Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer will receive their annual stewardship letter and pledge card. I’m not always sure what produces more audible groans, the word “stewardship” or “pledge card.” Neither one really should, but we have this strange aversion in the church to these things. This distaste has to do, more often than not, with a misunderstanding of who we are as Christians and what our God-given responsibilities are. And much of that misunderstanding has to do with ownership.
The opening verse of Psalm 24 tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1 ESV). We read in Haggai, chapter 2, “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts” (Hag. 2:8). The Word of God teaches us that God is the owner of everything. All of creation and everything in creation belongs to Him. That means what we each call “mine” really isn’t “mine.” “Stewardship” means managing something on behalf of the actual owner. Christian stewardship is managing all that belongs to God on His behalf and using it as God wants it to be used.
You and I, then, are to use everything in creation according to God’s wishes because it all belongs to Him. But how do we know what those wishes are? We hear “Moses and the Prophets.” “Moses and the Prophets” means the Scriptures. Jesus used this phrase as a reference to what we call the Old Testament, God’s Word to His people written down by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit through Moses and the other writers, predominantly the Prophets. Now, you and I are blessed to live on this side of Jesus’ death and resurrection so we have the New Testament as well. The Holy Bible—both Old and New Testaments—is God’s full and complete revelation to us about our salvation from sin and death through the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. It is in these Holy Scriptures that God also reveals to us how we are to go about caring for His creation and using His possessions. The Bible tells us how God desires that we use money, possessions, time, abilities, and even our very lives.
We learn from the Bible what the use of God’s things should look like. Isaiah 58, “Share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, . . . cover him” (Isa. 58:7 ESV). The prophet Micah wrote, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8 ESV). In Jesus’ End Times discourse in Matthew we read, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me’” (Matt. 25:34-36 ESV). James the brother of our Lord shares this, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (Jas. 1:27 ESV).
Of course, these are just a few examples of how we are to manage the things of God on His behalf. Failure to do these things which show love and mercy to others would be a failure to use the things of God the way He wants them to be used. This would also demonstrate a failure to listen to “Moses and the Prophets,” a failure to be both hearers and doers of God’s Word (James 1:22). And we know what this failure looks like from Jesus’ parable today. There’s a rich man who is really, really rich. How rich is he? He’s so rich, that he can afford very costly purple garments and the finest of linens. How rich is he? He’s so rich that he enjoys himself splendidly every day—every day is a humungous feast! Now, what does this son of Abraham do with the things of God that have been entrusted to his care? Takes care of himself. Thinks only of himself. He doesn’t show love for God or for his neighbor who is the poor beggar Lazarus, the one who was at the front gate of his expensive mansion-like-compound every day. The rich man’s failure to be a hearer and doer of the Word is so bad that when he dies and goes to hell he continues only to think of himself, asking if Lazarus might cool his tongue with some water.
Jesus’ target audience, the Pharisees, like us, had “Moses and the Prophets.” It was the very Word of God that showed them His heartfelt desire that people show love and mercy to others by using the things over which the Lord made them managers according to His Word. Jesus’ parable was a big message to the Pharisees, who we are told, were “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14). The Scriptures told them that God desired them to use money and possession to love others and show mercy to others. They did not. The only conclusion for the Pharisees was this: if they didn’t stop scoffing at Jesus’ preaching about hypocrisy and the proper use of the things God had entrusted to them, they would find themselves with the rich man in eternal torment.
That’s an important message for you and me as well. Misuse of God’s possessions—money, talent, time, things—indicates that we have not always heard Moses and the Prophets. And we have not always been faithful hearers and doers of God’s Word. We have failed to always love God and do what He desires us to do . . . love our neighbors with mercy using His possessions to help and support them in every need.
So what is God to do? He should punish us with death and eternal torment in the fires of hell. But He chose to have mercy on us. He sent His One-of-a-Kind Son, true God, to become a man. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9 ESV). Jesus, the owner of everything, gave up His throne in heaven and took on our human flesh. He lived in poverty. His earthly life was dependent on the care of others. In His earthly life, Jesus demonstrated the love and mercy which He desires His people to have in the use of time, talents, treasures, and possessions as He served the poor, the widow, the tax-collector, and the sinners. Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus confirmed His Word recorded in “Moses and the Prophets” as to how believers are to be stewards and managers of the Lord’s possessions. Jesus’ the Word-Made-Flesh lived His Word with His words and actions.
But it wasn’t enough for Jesus simply to model or to be an example. He came to be the Savior of those who fail to always hear and do the Scriptures. He came to be the Savior of those who have failed to always use what belongs to Godin accordance with His desires—to show love and mercy to others. For that sinful failure and for all our other sins, Jesus was nailed to a cross. He suffered God’s punishment of death and hell for us on the cross so that we would not have to face the torment and the fires of eternal damnation. Jesus shed His blood to purchase our complete forgiveness and eternal life.
As forgiven “new creations” in Christ Jesus, we now have the power of the Gospel at work in us through God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, working through the Word and the Sacraments of Baptism and Lord’s Supper, empowers Christian stewardship which is really just Christian living. The Spirit enkindles and increases the hearing and the doing of God’s Word in our lives as we live as managers of God’s things. We really are able, then, to regularly go to God’s Word, to hear His desires for how we are to use the Lord’s things, and then actually use them that way. We use His money, possessions, time, abilities, all His gifts in showing love and mercy to our neighbors as they have need.
In our life of faith and love that God has given us in Jesus Christ, you and I search out opportunities to use what belongs to God in acts of mercy on behalf of our neighbors. We give monetary gifts in Jesus’ name to our congregation to support the ministry of the Word and the outreach and human care opportunities that we have in our community. There are volunteer opportunities within the congregation and in our town. There are opportunities to share food and drink, clothes, and personal care items. There are chances to mow someone’s lawn, rake leaves, and shovel snow. There are moments to read a book to someone whose eyesight has dimmed or who is blind. As we consider our congregation as a group of managers of God’s gifts, especially the gift of the Gospel, how will we, in accordance with His Word and will, use the Lord’s things in the year to come, in the next five years? Likely, there won’t be something as obvious as a “Lazarus” laid at our doorstep, but with much prayer and time spent hearing “Moses and the Prophets,” we will discern God’s will for us in matters of both congregational and individual stewardship.
May God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit grant us His blessing as we, His people, with faith in Christ, seek to grow and become ever more faithful stewards who show love and mercy to those in need. Amen.
1 Timothy 2:1-7 (Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 20—Series C)
“Prayers for All People”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
September 18, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Epistle lesson recorded in 1 Timothy 2:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
“The Prayer of the Church is so long. We stand there while prayers are said for the government and the military, for the poor and the needy, the hungry and homeless, for schools and communities, for the victims of natural disasters, for the sick and dying. It seems like the special intercession list never gets any shorter; it only gets longer. Why do we have to pray for so many people and situations? Why do we have to pray for people I don’t know? Why do we have to pray for people I don’t even care about?”
Have you ever felt that way about the Prayer of the Church? By the time we get to the prayers the worship service is about ¾ over. You know you’re getting close to the end of the service and you are maybe thinking about getting on with the rest of the day. If the prayers were shorter, we would get to communion faster, and if we get to communion faster, church will be over sooner and we can move on to the other things we want to do with our day.
I once heard a story about a prayer group in a congregation. They wanted to get together and pray for the congregation, the world, and those in need. They opened up their group to requests from the congregation and the congregation gave them prayer requests—a whole lot of them—for people in the church, for friends in Florida, for an uncle in Arizona, for a neighbor’s son in the Marines, for this, for that, and for the other. At the prayer meeting, one of the members was heard to say, “This list for prayers is too long. We’ll be here way over the half-hour we had planned. We need to put a limit on who people can request prayers for, just members of our church, and nobody else. We don’t have that kind of time to include all these extra people and situations.”
If Christian congregations do not pray for the world, who will? If individual believers in Jesus Christ, you and me, do not pray for people, who will?
God in His mercy and grace desires that all people should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. It is God’s longing that every person comes to know his or her sinful, lost condition, to realize their helplessness to change that condition, and to repent of their sins by the power of the Holy Spirit while trusting in faith that Jesus Christ is their only Savior from sin, Satan, and death. All of humanity is on the Lord’s radar screen for forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. Not one individual is ever left out from God’s free offer of grace, mercy, and peace in Jesus Christ. Christ Jesus gave Himself as a ransom, not just for some people or certain people, but for all people.
“Ransom” is a word that evokes the image of the marketplace, particularly the slave market. The ransom was the price paid to purchase a servant or slave from indenture or slavery. Jesus is the One who came to pay the price for securing freedom for those in slavery to sin, death, and the devil. Jesus Christ Himself is also the price paid, the ransom price required to secure our freedom.
Picture yourself, and all other people, as helpless slaves, chained in the marketplace on the town green, standing on the auction block with no hope of freedom. For all you know, you will be purchased by an evil taskmaster as bad as the one in whose chains you now stand. Amazingly, along comes Jesus. He takes His place among you and the rest of the slaves. He fully identifies with all of you as He becomes one of you. Then He pays the price for your freedom, and incredibly, the price is His own life. Jesus’ precious blood is poured out on the auction block of the cross. What a powerful image! You look up and there stands Jesus, giving Himself for you, standing in your chains, shedding His blood for you, buying your freedom and the freedom of everyone else in the whole world. “You are all free!” the auctioneer says. “The price has been paid.” The eternally valuable blood of Christ, the priceless perfection of His obedience in life and in death, and the precious treasury of His merit on the cross—this was the payment to buy freedom for you and for the entire world, freedom from all sins, from death, and from the power of Satan.
But not all people receive the gift of this freedom in Jesus Christ. Not all people are saved from their sins, from death, and from the devil’s power. It’s not because their forgiveness and freedom have not been acquired for them by Jesus. It’s not because their forgiveness and freedom are not available to them through the Gospel. Not all people are saved because not all people want the free gift won for them by Jesus. They reject the Gospel truth of God’s Word and the free gifts of forgiveness and life purchased and won for them by Jesus. People resist the working of the Holy Spirit through that Gospel Word. Tragically, those who reject saving faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord also throw away the privilege to call upon the one, true God in prayer. Only those who believe in Jesus Christ may pray to God and expect to be heard. Only Christians and the Christian Church—believers in Jesus Christ—can effectively pray.
Christians owe it all to Christ that we can approach God in prayer, presenting our requests before Him. Only when a person trusts in the merits of the Savior who won our forgiveness will our prayers touch the heart of God. We read in our Lutheran Confessions that “prayer relies upon God’s mercy, when we believe that we are heard for Christ’s sake. He is our High Priest, as He Himself says, ‘Whatever you ask in My name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it’ (John 14:13-14). Without this High Priest, we cannot approach the Father” (Ap. AC V 212). And that’s what we read in our Epistle text, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and people, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all.” For this reason, the prayers of unbelievers, however sincere, are altogether in vain. Before a person can truly pray to God, he or she must trust in Christ alone as their one mediator.
This, then, brings us back to the questions of the day. If Christian congregations do not pray for the world, who will? If individual believers in Jesus Christ, you and I, do not pray for people, who will? The answer is no one. Christians, the Church, we are the ones who alone can come before God to pray for unbelievers (the world), and expect to be heard for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Mediator.
Because Jesus died for all people so that all people might be saved, Christians respond to His great love and grace in their lives by praying for all people. Because it is good and pleasing to God who commands us so to pray, we offer requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for all people. We pray for our governmental leaders as authorities instituted by God who deserve our honor and respect even if we are in disagreement with them. We pray for the sick and dying, for the needy, the lonely, and the hurting. We pray for the high and the low in society, for the good and the evil. We Christians must do this, not just for one another in the household of faith, but especially for the non-believers. All people, but especially those who do not know Christ as their Savior, need the prayers of the Church, the very people who have the “ear” of God and are heard by Him because we have received the gift of faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ.
No one else can pray for people like you can because you are a Christian. No other group of people can pray like you can as a Christian congregation. You have the honor and privilege of praying not only for the Church but also for those outside the Church, for the world and all people according to their needs. What an awesome responsibility God has entrusted to you! What a joyful task we have as individuals, as prayer groups, as a congregation, to take the time to pray for all people. And it doesn’t matter how long it takes, how much time it uses up in our day, because our prayers are of eternal value. We are praying for many who cannot pray for themselves and their own needs since they do not confess Jesus as Savior and Lord. We are praying for many who cannot pray for their own salvation. So we pray that they too might come to the knowledge of the truth of Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of the Gospel.
So maybe the Prayer of the Church isn’t too long after all. Perhaps the special intercession list ought to get longer. After all, we get to pray for so many people and situations! We get to pray for people we don’t know, for people we don’t like or perhaps even care about. We are privileged to pray for people who don’t yet know Jesus Christ by faith! ‘Cause if we don’t, who will? Amen.
 Illustration taken from Just Words by Jacob A.O. Preus, St. Louis: Concordia, 2000.
Do you hate dirty bathrooms, spots on the kitchen floor, debris on the carpets? Just like your home, our church needs to be cleaned regularly. We rely on our members, like you, to volunteer a few hours of their time, a couple of times a year to come in and clean prior to the Sunday services each week.
Right now, our sign-up sheet for 2016 is blank, and January is fast approaching. Please consider volunteering once per quarter, twice per year…either alone, with your family, or with another member.
Dry mop the church floor (use the Swiffer or dry mop on the altar floor)
Wipe up spills on the church floor with damp soapy rag.
Wipe up spills on the altar floor with the cleaning solution for wood floors in the utility closet.
Dust and vacuum the hallway, annex and church office.
Utility Closet: The utility closet is just inside the doors to the sanctuary, opposite the kitchen door. You should find everything you need to clean in that closet.
Dumpsters: Trash dumpsters are outside the back doors off the hallway.
Acts 10:34-48 (Sixth Sunday of Easter—Series B)
“The Spirit Does it Again!”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
May 10, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the First Lesson recorded in Acts 10:
So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” 44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.
We interrupt our regularly scheduled sermon to bring you breaking news out of Caesarea. Our sister station, WROM, is reporting that the Holy Spirit has done it again! Not many days ago we brought you the report of Philip who was preaching the Gospel to all the towns until he reached Caesarea. It was Philip who broke that story that an Ethiopian eunuch had heard the proclamation about Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, and that the Holy Spirit created faith in the Ethiopian’s heart to believe in Jesus as his Savior from sin and death. Having come to faith through the Word of the Gospel, when Philip and the Ethiopian came to some water, there was no reason why this man could not be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. So Philip baptized him.
Now we have an eyewitness report that the Holy Spirit has again created saving faith in Jesus Christ through the Gospel and an entire household of Romans has been baptized into the Christian faith, just like the Ethiopian official.
The information comes to us by way of one of the household slaves named Servitus. He says that four days ago his master, Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, was praying in his home. Cornelius believed in the God of Israel. We are told that he was a devout man who gave alms generously to the people and prayed continually to God. (Acts 10:2, 30) While he was praying, Servitus reports, a man stood before him in bright clothing and said, “Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter.” And Cornelius did just that. When Peter arrived from Joppa, the whole household, including children and servants, gathered together in Peter’s presence to hear all that he had been commanded by the Lord. (Acts 10:31-33)
It is then that Peter opened his mouth and said that he now really understood that God doesn’t show favoritism. God doesn’t have any favorites between one nation and another, between one race of people and another, but anyone who fears the Lord and acts rightly is acceptable to Him. Servitus says that this, in itself, was great news. God didn’t count the Gentiles, non-Israelites, as second-class believers. But there was a word sent to Israel about Jesus of Nazareth, who Himself is Lord of all, that the household of Cornelius needed to hear. Peter was a witness of Jesus’ anointing with the Holy Spirit and power, just as Isaiah the prophet had spoken about the promised Messiah, “The Spirit of the Lord Yahweh is upon me, because Yahweh has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Yahweh’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God.” Jesus had read these words in the synagogue in Nazareth and proclaimed them fulfilled in His ministry.
Servitus then went on to say that it was this very Jesus, the Servant of Yahweh, who was put to death on a tree, on a Roman cross. But God raised Him from the dead on the third day! And Peter and the other apostles saw Jesus alive. They ate and drank with Him. And Jesus commissioned them to proclaim to the people and to testify solemnly that He is the One appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. Jesus is the One to whom all the prophetic writing of the Scripture point, and everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through His name!
And then it happened! Again! While Peter was still speaking the Good News of Jesus to us, Servitus said, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the Word! As He did for the Ethiopian, through the means of the Gospel Word about Jesus the Son of God, the Son of Man, Cornelius and the whole household received the gift of the Holy Spirit who created saving faith in Christ in their hearts. They spoke in other languages and exalted God who had loved them so much that He gave His only Son to die for their sins and win their forgiveness! It was like the Day of Pentecost for these Gentile Romans! Seeing what God the Holy Spirit had done through the proclaimed Word of Jesus Christ the Savior, Peter commanded that the entire household who had come to faith by the power of the Spirit should receive Christian baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What a great and amazing God and Savior who desires all people, no matter who they are or what their background, to come to saving faith in Jesus Christ and receive the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. Truly, we should all thank God the Holy Spirit who so powerfully uses the Word of the Gospel to deliver these gifts of Jesus to us. This has been a special report from Caesarea. We return you now to your regularly scheduled sermon.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear this kinds of news today? But is it truly newsworthy what God does in bringing people to saving faith in Jesus Christ? Should people know about how non-believers hear the Good News about Jesus and, through the hearing of the Word, receive faith, forgiveness, and salvation? Apparently we should hear and know of these things because Luke recorded it for us here in Acts. Even today the works of God the Holy Spirit should be praised and honored as He works through the Means of Grace—the Gospel, Holy Baptism, and Lord’s Supper—to create saving faith in Christ, to sustain saving faith in Christ, and to deliver to us personally forgiveness and life. Martin Luther wrote in his commentary on Galatians, “Faith . . . is a living spiritual flame, by which hearts are set afire, born anew and converted through the Holy Spirit, so that they desire, will, do, and are exactly what the law of Moses expressly commands and requires.” (AE 36:200-201) Isn’t this noteworthy? Is this not cause for rejoicing? God the Holy Spirit changes hearts and lives from death to life. People are radically changed by the Spirit from unbelief to faith, from condemnation to complete forgiveness. When you and I speak God’s Word of Gospel faithfully to others, while we are “speaking the fire of the Holy Spirit” He will “inflame the hearts of [our] hearers and immediately make them warm and eager to carry out all [we] are teaching.” (Origen)
That’s great news! That’s amazing grace! God the Holy Spirit uses your proclamation about Jesus Christ the same way He used the preaching of Philip and Peter—to create saving faith in the hearts of those who hear the Gospel, delivering forgiveness and salvation to all in the name of Jesus Christ.
So why aren’t we more excited about it? Why don’t we celebrate and rejoice more over what God does in bringing people to faith through the sharing of His Word? I don’t know that I have a good answer to this yet. Sometimes it seems as though we as the Church lose the passion for being the Church. Our excitement over the things of God wanes as we become more engrossed with the mundane things of this earthly life. The waves of riots and unrest, natural disasters, racism, hatred, and bigotry come crashing down around us. The breakers of disease and pain, anxiety and depression roll over us. The changes and chances of life flood the joy of the Spirit.
But Jesus, the Crucified and Risen Lord, says to us in His Word by the power of the Holy Spirit, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV) John, writing the Word of God by the inspiration of God the Spirit, says in our Epistle this morning, “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5)
You, the baptized people of God in Christ Jesus, have overcome the world by grace through faith. Christ has conquered sin, death, and the devil for you. His blood-bought forgiveness brings you eternal life and peace with God the Father in the power of the Spirit. Jesus’ victory is your victory. It is victory in the face of the effects of sin and death. It is victory that comes to you feely in the Word and the Sacraments of Christ. And it is a victory that you can share and celebrate with others! In the original Star Wars, A New Hope, Princess Leia sends a message via R2-D2 to Ben Kenobi, saying, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” People suffering in their sins and lost in unbelief are calling out to the Church, to you, the baptized, “Help me. You’re my only hope.”
You as a Christian are peoples’ only hope to know Jesus Christ. You have the Good News of
the Savior to share with others. You have the proclamation of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that you can speak to others so that, as you share the Word of the Gospel just as Peter did, God the Holy Spirit will have opportunity to create trust in Jesus in the heart of that person or family, deliver the forgiveness of sins to them, and unite them with Jesus’ death and resurrection in the waters of Baptism.
In Acts 11, Peter shared his story that the Gentiles also had received the Word of God. He concluded, “If then God gave the same gift to them as He gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” Take note of the reaction: “They glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” By the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, do not stand in the way of God’s Word. Share it. Proclaim it. Live it. Share your stories when you tell others about Jesus so that we can all rejoice in what God does through His Word in bringing those who hear that Word to faith in Jesus Christ, giving them repentance that leads to life. Amen.
Matthew 16:13-20 (11th Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 16)
“Who Do You Say that I Am?”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
August 24, 2014
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Matthew 16:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
One of the songs we learn during our Pre-School chapels is called “Who is Jesus?” It’s sung to the tune of “Are You Sleeping?” The song goes like this: “Who is Jesus? Who is Jesus? He’s God’s Son. He’s God’s Son. Born to be our Savior, Born to be our Savior. Follow Him. Follow Him.” This little song is a simple way of teaching pre-school students who Jesus is. That’s also what our Gospel lesson focuses us on this morning. Who is Jesus? But the Gospel contribution of our text doesn’t stop with that. Not only do we find out who Jesus is, but we also learn how we find out who He is and what we do with what we find out about Jesus.
First, who is Jesus? That’s the question He puts before His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Notice that Jesus is not asking the disciples’ for their opinion; He asks for the opinion of the people. Why? In order to contrast the opinion of the people with the disciples’ answer to the second question, “But who do you say that I am?” Jesus’ enemies (the Pharisees) had called Him a lunatic, a glutton, a drunkard, or a tool of Satan. But the ordinary people generally thought Jesus to be John the Baptist (raised from the dead), Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other Old Testament prophets come back to life. Today people answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” by calling Jesus a humanitarian, a wise teacher, or a charismatic leader. The irreverent answers of the Pharisees as well as the complimentary, partly correct answers of people are all ruled out. Jesus is not John the Baptist or one of the famous Old Testament prophets come back from the dead. He is not a mere humanitarian, wise teacher, or charismatic leader. He is, in the clear words of Peter, “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus is God. He is the promised Messiah-Savior. In fact, after our text, Jesus foretells His death and resurrection to the disciples. If Jesus were not the Christ, not God, His future suffering, death, and resurrection would have little practical value. But since Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah), and since He is God, His suffering, death, and resurrection are of infinite value, paying for the sins of the whole world.
So Peter got the answer right. Jesus doesn’t correct Him or tweak His answer. Jesus celebrates the answer that Peter spoke on behalf of the Twelve, “Blessed are you, Simon, Son of John!” It was as if Jesus had said, “Praise God that you have given the good answer, the accurate and correct answer. I am the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” But how did Peter know that? How do we find out who Jesus is so that we also give the good, accurate, and correct answer? Jesus tells us how.
Jesus answered Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon, Son of John! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Neither Peter, nor you and I, find out who Jesus is through our own effort or wisdom. We come to know who Jesus is only from God Himself who reveals Jesus’ identity to us through the Holy Spirit. We confess, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. . . . This is most certainly true.”
God the Holy Spirit calls people into the right knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, using the Word and the Sacraments. Peter was in the very presence of the Word of God-Made-Flesh. Through Jesus’ preaching and teaching, through the witnessing of the miracles, the Holy Spirit created faith in Peter’s heart (and the hearts of the other disciples) to know who Jesus is. The Spirit does the same for us disciples of the Lord. Through the water and the Word of the Gospel in Holy Baptism, the Spirit created faith in us which believes Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God. It is that faith which also receives the blessings of Jesus: forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation. Through the proclaimed and read Word of the Gospel in the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit shows us who Jesus is and creates and sustains in us that saving faith in Christ, the Son of God, our Savior. In the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the Spirit is at work there as we eat and drink Jesus’ true body and blood. In the eating and drinking, with faith in Jesus’ words “given and shed for you,” the Holy Spirit strengthens our God-given knowledge that Jesus is true God and true Man who comes to us with His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and the wine for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. That is Good News indeed!
So you and I find out who Jesus is because God reveals Jesus identity to us by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word and the Sacraments. Knowledge of Jesus as the Messiah-Savior, as true God and true Man, is a gift of God. “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) Now we’ve come to the final point in our text: What do we do with what we have found out about Jesus through the working of the Holy Spirit? Jesus responded to Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Christ stood in our place in suffering the punishment for our sin. He went to Jerusalem where He suffered many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes. He was killed on the cross for us, paying for your sins and mine so that we would have the gift of forgiveness—complete release from the penalty and the guilt of sin. On the third day Jesus rose from the dead conquering death for all of us. This He did because He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He is the world’s Savior, God who became flesh and dwelt among us to serve us and to give His life as a ransom for ours. (Matt. 20:28)
Jesus thus builds His Church upon the same confession and faith which Peter had. This is our faith and confession because God the Holy Spirit has revealed Jesus to us. The Church that Jesus builds upon the saving truth that He is Savior and God is on such a solid foundation that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Because Jesus stood in for us when He suffered, died, and rose again winning our forgiveness, we now, as believers in Jesus, stand in for Him in pronouncing the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name! Our Lord said, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” As Christians, we take the knowledge of who Jesus is and what He has done for us and all people through His cross and resurrection and we use the “keys” which He has given us to forgive sins in His name.
Because we have been given the gift of faith in Jesus, since we know who Jesus is—the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior—He gives us the privilege of working to build His Church through the giving out of forgiveness. We call this the Office of the Keys. This office belongs to you who live by faith in Jesus Christ. As the Church, we are given the great task of proclaiming the forgiveness of sins to all who repent. As individual Christians within His Church, Jesus has given you the wonderful responsibility of sharing His forgiveness with others who are sorry for their sins and seek the mercy and grace of God in Christ. This is what the Christian Church is really all about—proclaiming the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus, the Son of God, who purchased and won the very forgiveness which He asks us to share with others. When forgiveness is announced, sin is removed by the blood of Jesus through that forgiveness. And not even the devil and all of hell itself can undo this.
So what do we do with what we have found out about Jesus? We freely give away the forgiveness of sins which Jesus has given us to distribute to the world! God has revealed to us the saving knowledge of who Jesus is so that we can share that faith with those who do not know Him. God has gifted us faith and forgiveness so that we can give it away in Jesus’ name. Then, many more people will experience the joy of sins forgiven and the eternal life and salvation that come along with forgiveness.
In the days and weeks ahead, give away Jesus’ forgiveness in abundance. Invite people who are burdened with sin and guilt to come with you to the Lord’s house so that they can hear God’s Word of forgiveness with other believers in Christ who will love and care for them in Jesus’ name. After all, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who has won your forgiveness. In His name, be the people of faith who give away that forgiveness to those in need of His love and peace. Amen.
Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions, Edited by Paul Timothy McCain, 330 (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005).
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