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The Beauty, Comfort and Power of the Doctrine of Objective Justification

August 26th, 2012 2 comments

It has come to my attention that there are some laypeople who read my blog, and follow my Facebook page, who have had the unfortunate experience of stumbling across very negative and harmful discussions on the Internet of what is called the doctrine of “objective justification.” There is a former Lutheran pastor who has made it his life’s mission to attack this comforting doctrine. I urge and warn all those who read this blog and my Facebook page to avoid any such discussions and to flee from any false teachers who would rob you of the comfort of the Gospel. They like to insert themselves everywhere they can on various forums where justification is discussed. Pray for their repentance and restoration to a true and living faith. They are the very kind of persons whom the Apostle warns us about when he urges us to make sure we are “keeping Faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith” (1 Timothy 1:19). Mark and avoid anyone who casts doubt on the doctrine of objective justification, and particularly mark and avoid any pastor who does so Do not be deceived. Cling to the truth.

Rejoice in this beautiful explanation of the doctrine of objective justification written by the Rev. Dr. Robert Preus, in 1981.

“The doctrine of objective justification is a lovely teaching drawn from Scripture which tells us that God who has loved us so much that He gave His only to be our Savior has for the sake of Christ’s substitutionary atonement declared the entire world of sinners for whom Christ died to be righteous (Romans 5:17-19).

“Objective justification which is God’s verdict of acquittal over the whole world is not identical with the atonement, it is not another way of expressing the fact that Christ has redeemed the world. Rather it is based upon the substitutionary work of Christ, or better, it is a part of the atonement itself. It is God’s response to all that Christ died to save us, God’s verdict that Christ’s work is finished, that He has been indeed reconciled, propitiated; His anger has been stilled and He is at peace with the world, and therefore He has declared the entire world in Christ to be righteous.

THE SCRIPTURAL SUPPORT
“According to all of Scripture Christ made a full atonement for the sins of all mankind. Atonement (at-one-ment) means reconciliation. If God was not reconciled by the saving work of Christ, if His wrath against sin was not appeased by Christ’’ sacrifice, if God did not respond to the perfect obedience and suffering and death of His Son for the sins of the world by forgiveness, by declaring the sinful world to be righteous in Christ -–if all this were not so, if something remains to be done by us or through us or in us, then there is no finished atonement. But Christ said, “It is finished.” And God raised Him from the dead and justified Him, pronounced Him, the sin bearer, righteous (I Timothy 3:16) and thus in Him pronounced the entire world of sinners righteous (Romans 4:25).

“All this is put beautifully by an old Lutheran theologian of our church, “We are redeemed from the guilt of sin; the wrath of God is appeased; all creation is again under the bright rays of mercy, as in the beginning; yea, in Christ we were justified before we were even born. For do not the Scriptures say: ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them?’’ This is not the justification which we receive by faith…That is the great absolution which took place in the resurrection of Christ. It was the Father, for our sake, who condemned His dear Son as the greatest of all sinners causing Him to suffer the greatest punishment of the transgressors, even so did He publicly absolve Him from the sins of the world when He raised Him up from the dead.” (Edward Preuss, “The Justification of a Sinner Before God,” pp. 14-15)

OBJECTIVE JUSTIFICATION AND JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH
“The doctrine of objective justification does not imply that there is no hell, that God’s threats throughout Scripture to punish sins are empty, or that all unbelievers will not be condemned to eternal death on the day of Christ’s second coming. And very definitely the doctrine of objective, or general, justification does not threaten the doctrine of justification through faith in Christ. Rather it is the very basis of that Reformation doctrine, a part of it. For it is the very pardon which God has declared over the whole world of sinners that the individual sinner embraces in faith and thus is justified personally. Christ’s atonement, His propitiation of God and God’s forgiveness are the true and only object of faith. Here is what George Stoekhardt, perhaps the greatest of all Lutheran biblical expositors in our country, says, “Genuine Lutheran theology counts the doctrine of general (objective) justification among the statements and treasures of its faith. Lutherans teach and confess that through Christ’s death the entire world of sinners was justified and that through Christ’s resurrection the justification of the sinful world was festively proclaimed. This doctrine of general justification is the guarantee and warranty that the central article of justification by faith is being kept pure. Whoever holds firmly that God was reconciled to the world in Christ, and that to sinners in general their sin was forgiven, to him the justification which comes from faith remains a pure act of the grace of God. Whoever denies general justification is justly under suspicion that he is mixing his own work and merit into the grace of God.”

THE REALITY OF OBJECTIVE JUSTIFICATION
“Objective justification is not a mere metaphor, a figurative way of expressing the fact that Christ died for all and paid for the sins of all. Objective justification has happened, it is the actual acquittal of the entire world of sinners for Christ’s sake. Neither does the doctrine of objective justification refer to the mere possibility of the individual’s justification through faith, to a mere potentiality which faith completes when one believes in Christ.

“Justification is no more a mere potentiality or possibility than Christ’s atonement. The doctrine of objective justification points to the real justification of all sinners for the sake of Christ’s atoning work “before” we come to faith in Christ. Nor is objective justification “merely” a “Lutheran term” to denote that justification is available to all as a recent “Lutheran Witness” article puts it – although it is certainly true that forgiveness is available to all. Nor is objective justification a Missouri Synod construct, a “theologoumenon” (a theological peculiarity), devised cleverly to ward off synergism (that man cooperates in his conversion) and Calvinistic double predestination, as Dr. Robert Schultz puts it in “Missouri in Perspective” (February 23, 1981, p. 5) – although the doctrine does indeed serve to stave off these two aberrations. No, objective justification is a clear teaching of Scripture, it is an article of faith which no Lutheran has any right to deny or pervert any more than the article of the Trinity or of the vicarious atonement.

THE CENTRALITY AND COMFORT OF THE DOCTRINE
“Objective justification is not a peripheral article of faith which one may choose to ignore because of more important things. It is the very central article of the Gospel which we preach. Listen to Dr. C. F. W. Walther, the first president and great leader of our synod, speak about this glorious doctrine in one of his magnificent Easter sermons: “When Christ suffered and died, He was judged by God, and He was condemned to death in our place. But when God in the resurrection awakened Him again, who was it then that was acquitted by God in Christ’s person? Christ did no need acquittal for Himself, for no one can accuse Him of single sin. Who therefore was it that was justified in Him? Who was declared pure and innocent in Him? We were, we humans. It was the whole world. When God spoke to Christ, ‘You shall live,’ that applied to us. His life is our life. His acquittal, our acquittal, His justification, our justification….Who can ever fully express the great comfort which lies in Christ’s resurrection? It is God’s own absolution spoken to all men, to all sinners, in a word, to all the world, and sealed in the most glorious way. There the eternal love of God is revealed in all its riches, in its overflowing fullness and in its highest brilliance. For there we hear that it was not enough for God simply to send His own Son into the world and let Him become a man for us, not enough even for Him to give and offer His only Son unto death for us. No, when His Son had accomplished all that He had to do and suffer in order to earn and acquire grace and life and blessedness for us, then God, in His burning love to speak to us sinners, could not wait until we would come to Him and request His grace in Christ, but no sooner had His Son fulfilled everything than He immediately hastened to confer to men the grace which had been acquired through the resurrection of His Son, to declare openly, really and solemnly to all men that they were acquitted of all their sins, and to declare before heaven and earth that they are redeemed, reconciled, pure, innocent and righteous in Christ.”

Source:

CONCORDIA THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
NEWSLETTER – Spring 1981
6600 North Clinton
Fort Wayne, Indiana 46825

Let us Fix Our Eyes on Jesus: A Meditation for this Lenten Season

March 12th, 2011 1 comment

May the Lord bless you richly through the coming days of Lent and grant you repentance and the joy and peace of the Savior’s mercy and grace.

“Oh, come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before him endured the cross,
scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

–From the Gradual for Lent, from the Book of Hebrews

Here is a sermon preached eleven years ago, during Lent, by Pastor John Pless.

LENT IV     2 APRIL 2000
University Lutheran Chapel     Minneapolis, MN

+Jesu Juva+

WE WOULD SEE JESUS!     Saint John 12:20-26

Hardly a month passes without our hearing of some new picture of Jesus. Not long ago, there was an animal rights group that tried to make the case that Jesus was a vegetarian. The New Age Movement Him as a guru imparting spiritual insights that would bring His followers into mystical harmony with the cosmos. Others see Jesus as a peasant cynic who lived the life of a wandering crafter of parables. There are those who see Jesus as the proto-typical liberal, born before His time. Then there is the pseudo-scholarship of the Jesus Seminar that has achieved so notorious fame for itself these last few years. If modern day counter parts to the Greeks in today’s Gospel reading come with the question, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus?” they might be given the reply, “Which Jesus?”

In the 19th century we had the so-called “quest for the historical Jesus.” One commentator noted that those questers peered down the long, dark well of hisory looking for the historical Jesus only to see a dim reflection of their own faces. In other words, in looking for Jesus apart from the New Testament, they simply re-constructed a Jesus to fit their own philosophical ideology. Buying into the Enlightenment notion that history and faith are antithetical, they mistakenly thought that the so-called “Christ of faith” proclaimed in the pages of the Gospel could not possibility be the real “Jesus of history” who walked the dusty roads of first century Palestine. Ask them the question “Sir we wish to see Jesus?” and they show us much more of themselves than they do of Jesus!

The request of those Greek visitors to Jerusalem is not a bad question in spite of all the wrong-headed answers it is apt to receive. It is, in fact, an essential question for it is only in Jesus that we have access to God. Earlier in his Gospel, the Apostle John wrote: “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (1:18). In that same Holy Week in which the Lord speaks the words of our Gospel text, Philip comes up to Jesus with another request: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us” (14:8). Remember how Jesus answers Philip? He says to Philip: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (14:9). Because the Father and the Son are one, to see Jesus who is the very Son of God is to see the Father.

To see Jesus is essential. But not any Jesus will do. In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes of those who proclaim “another gospel” and therefore a different Christ. There is only one Jesus, one Christ and He is the Lord of whom Paul writes in I Corinthians “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3-4).

We are not told why the Greeks wanted to see Jesus. Had they heard of the miracles He had performed and thought that it would be kind of interesting to see this guy who is able to heal the sick and raise the dead? Wouldn’t it be kind of exciting to see such a famous person as Jesus of Nazareth? Just think of how the people back in Athens might react when they got home and said “Guess who we got to see when we were in Jerusalem for spring break?” We don’t know why these Greek visitors wanted to see Jesus. We don’t even know if their request was granted. We’re not told. Philip passes on their request to Andrew. Andrew in turn tells Jesus.

Jesus gives what at first appears to be a strange answer. He doesn’t say anything about setting up an appointment for a private audience or even a brief appearance. Instead He says “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” In other words, Jesus tells them that the time has come for Him to be lifted up on the cross. That is the hour of Jesus glory. He will be lifted up, just like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so that all who look to Him will receive the forgiveness of sins. That is why He came into the world. That is why the Father sent His Son into our flesh. Jesus came not to be the object of attention but to be the Savior who will bear our sins in His own body, dying to give us life.

It is that Jesus we need to see. The Jesus who comes not to put on a show, but to be our Savior. This is the Jesus who endured the mockery and the torture, the shame and the suffering that we might be reconciled to God for a life of endless tomorrows. This is the Jesus who took our sins to the killing grounds of Calvary and died under their condemnation so that we now can hear those comforting words from Romans 8, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh but the Spirit.” This is the Jesus who was raised from the tomb on the third day to give life and salvation to all who trust in Him. “There is” says Peter “no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

That is the Jesus we must see. Accept no substitutes. Don’t be fooled by a Jesus who is made up of the patch work of human imagination. Don’t be deceived by a Jesus that is more spiritual than the bady of Bethlehem and the Man of Calvary. Don’t be taken by a Jesus who is so spiritual that He could never suffer and die on a cross or be buried like a grain of wheat. Don’t be duped by Jesus who is no different from Buddha or a thousand other religious figures who have lived and died.

There is in reality but one Jesus and He is the One who was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, the One who suffered under Pontus Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. He is the One who descended into the very pit of hell to proclaim His triumph over Satan and raised on the third day never to die again. This is the Jesus into whose death you were baptized. This is the Jesus who gives you His body and blood to eat and to drink that you might be one with Him and He with you in an intimacy that cannot be broken even by death itself.

Someone has said that the quest for the historical Jesus ends not by looking down that deep and dark well of history, but by looking into the communion chalice where we receive the very blood of Christ. It’s true. We need not go back in history to see Jesus. We need only come to where His Word is proclaimed and His body is given us to eat and His blood is given us to drink. Here we have Jesus. And in Him we have peace with God.

Listen again to the words of the Lenten Gradual from the Book of Hebrews:

“Oh, come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus,
the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before him endured the cross,
scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.

“A Struggle with the Devil” — The Ongoing Relevance and Need for the Augsburg Confession

August 16th, 2008 1 comment

Martens
This is a sermon by the Rev. Dr. Gottfried Martens. Dr. Martens is the pastor of St. Mary's Lutheran Church in Berlin-Zehlendorf, a member congregation of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany. You can read more about Pastor Martens' ministry in Berlin, in an article that appears in the seminary magazine For the Life of the World. This sermon was translated by Pastor Peter A. Bauernfeind. I went to the church's web site and am enjoying hearing one of Dr. Martens' sermons on "wellness propaganda"! Hearing Law and Gospel proclaimed so clearly, in Germany, brings a particular joy to my heart. In the Berlin area, for instance, only 4% of the population attends any worship service at all, and of that number, far fewer are blessed to hear the faithful proclamation of God's Holy Word, such as is delivered by God through His servant, Pastor Martens. Thanks be to God. Consider then the enormous challenge of ministry in modern-day Germany and realize how even more unique it is to hear such a message, challenging all us to recognize the ongoing relevance of the Augsburg Confession.

Pursue
righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight
the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you
were called and about which you made the good confession in the
presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who
gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony
before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment
unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus
Christ, which he will display at the proper time – he who is the
blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who
alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one
has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
(ESV)

Today we examine another confession, not the Apostles’
Creed, which we have spent the the past few months looking at. Today is
about the unaltered version of the Augsburg Confession, which was
delivered 478 years ago today at the Diet in Augsburg to the Holy Roman
Emperor, and yes, there is also an altered version of the Augsburg
Confession that contains problematic content! The pastors of our
Lutheran Church to this day will still bind themselves at their
ordination to that unaltered version, just as the congregational bylaws
of St. Mary’s Church cite the unaltered version as the basis for all
our doctrines and confessions. Yes, the Augsburg Confession is the only
confession in our Lutheran confessional writings which the Church year
has given its very own day of commemoration, and so this evening we
will again reflect on what we actually confess and what the Confession itself says.

Read more…

Categories: Lutheran sermons

An Aversion to Private Confession and Absolution and the Forgiveness Spoken to Us by Every Christian

October 8th, 2007 6 comments

To ponder…from a book that if you don’t have, you simply must have.

"Many upright Lutherans have an aversion to private confession and absolution. This is because, first of all, they regard its institution partly as something new and partly as a return to papal institutions. But this is not true. Private confession was in use long before the rise of the papacy, and until the 18th century, it existed in all Lutheran congregations in all countries. Only a few enthusiasts openly rejected it, and only after the Rationalists (that is, the preachers of reason of the new age) had increased in the Lutheran churches was private confession abolished and the general confession introduced in its place.

"A second reason why so many inveigh against private confession derives from their belief that the Christian Church does not have the power to forgive sins on earth. These individuals have become just like the Pharisees, who, after hearing of One who forgives sin, thought, “This Man is blaspheming!” (Matthew 9:3), for “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). Either such people do not believe in God’s Word or they do not consider that forgiving sins in their own name and in the name of God are two different things. In His own name, of course, only Christ could speak the absolution, for only to Him did God say, “Sit at My right hand” (Psalm 110:1), but in God’s and Christ’s name, the servants of the Church also loose and bind, for Christ Himself has commanded them to do so. Therefore, Saint Paul offers the words of today’s text. What further proof does one need?

"A third reason why so many fail to recognize the special comfort that lies in private absolution is that they do not vividly recognize their sins. They may say: “I have no need of this. I can sufficiently comfort myself with the general absolution.” However, is it not possible that a true Christian would not at times be so weighed down by his sins that from his heart he would gladly hear the voice, “your sins are forgiven you”? Or are there today Christians with the kind of strong faith that people sought in vain at the time of the Reformation? Indeed, is there anything more lacking today than strong faith? Everyone who wants to be sufficiently comforted should examine himself closely to see if this contentment has arisen from the strength of his faith or if it has resulted from his own disregard for his sins. It is no wonder that thoughtless Christians do not desire private absolution. The wounds of their sins do not burn them, and thus they do not desire the soothing balm.

"A fourth reason why so many do not want to use private confession is because it was not generally introduced into the contemporary Church. Instead, private absolution was granted mostly to gross sinners who returned penitent. “Therefore,” one may say, “is not every Christian free to use or not to use the human institution of seeking private absolution before every use of the Holy Supper?” This is truly a part of Christian freedom. Therefore, no Christian should and can be compelled. But we might well ask ourselves if that which a person can do is also godly.

"A fifth and final reason why so many oppose the use of private absolution is because they suppose that it must be preceded by a detailed confession of their sins. “How,” they say, “should I uncover to a man the secrets of my heart, in whose experience or honesty I perhaps have no confidence at all? Must I not fear that a dishonest father confessor would misuse my confession?” There is no demand that the special absolution be preceded by a special confession of sin. Does not Christ absolve the paralytic without such a confession? Was it not enough for Him that the paralytic came to Him as a poor sinner with a believing heart? In the same way, an enumeration of sins is never demanded by a right-believing servant of Christ. Indeed, it is forbidden, as the words of the 25th article of the Augsburg Confession make clear: “And it is taught about confession, that one should not compel anyone to specify the sins.”

Note also:

"It is not appropriate for a person to fold his hands in his lap and say, “Now then, if the absolution was so richly poured out for us, if the whole world is full of it, we have nothing else to do but to enjoy this and to hope for heaven.” That is not so! What would it help a prisoner if he heard that he is pardoned but then refused to leave the prison and exercise his freedom? It would not help him at all. So it is with the forgiveness of sins, which can be spoken to us both by every preacher of the Gospel and by every Christian. If we want to use this forgiveness rightly, we must depart from the prison of our sins. We do this by heartily accepting our absolution, by comforting our self in it. In other words, it is by maintaining a firm and certain faith. If we hear the preaching of the forgiveness of sins, let us believe that this preaching is God’s forgiveness for us. If we hear a Christian comforting us with the forgiveness of sins, let us accept this as God’s comfort. If a servant of the Gospel speaks forgiveness to us, let us receive this as a word from God Himself."

Source:
CFW Walther
God Grant It
CPH: 2006, p. 787-789, 792-293

Categories: Lutheran sermons

Lutheran Sermons

June 12th, 2006 Comments off

A friend has created a web site for Lutheran sermons….take a look:

Categories: Lutheran sermons

Living Vine, Fruitful Branches

May 19th, 2006 Comments off

Living Vine, Fruitful Branches
Sermon by Pastor William Cwirla

I am the Vine, you are the
branches.  He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much
fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  (John 15:5)

Jh155c
Jesus
the vine; we the branches.  He the source of life, we the ones who live
in Him.  The image takes us out to wine country, to the rolling
vineyards lush with grape vines.  Fruitful branches thick with grapes
growing on an old, gnarled vine with roots that reach deep into the
ground.  Jesus is that true vine, the only vine planted by God.  His
roots go deep down into Israelite soil and God’s covenant promise to
David, to Isarel, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all the way back to
Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, the place our origin.

The
Father, Jesus says, is the vinedresser, the gardner.  The guy with dirt
under his fingernails and pruner’s clippers on his belt.  Watch the
vinedresser in action.  Watch how he cuts off every branch that doesn’t
bear fruit, while every branch that does he prunes so that it will be
even more fruitful.  These aren’t random, hacking cuts he’s making.
These are selective, strategic cuts, precisely just above a tender
bud.  He carefully distinguishes green wood from dead wood.  He has but
one purpose:  To make the branch even more fruitful.

Look at an
unpruned vine sometime, one that hasn’t seen the pruner for several
years.  On the surface there is a lot of lush green growth, but deep
inside it’s mostly dead wood.  And there’s very little fruit on such a
vine.  Fruit happens on new growth, on buds that have been spurred into
action by careful pruning.  That’s the first point of this analogy this
morning.  The Father prunes us for fruitfulness.

Before we can
understand this image fully, Iwe need to understand precisely what the
“fruit” is that Jesus is talking about.  I’m going to invoke the
general editorship of the Holy Spirit here, and suggest that “fruit”
generally means the same thing, no matter who says it, whether Jesus,
John, or Paul.  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul says that the
“fruit of the Spirit” at work in us through the Word is this:  love,
joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,
self-control.  It’s a singular fruit, not multiple fruits.  This is the
fruit I think Jesus is referring to when He talks about His disciples
being fruitful branches joined to Him. 

“Being fruitful” isn’t
about how much work you can do for Jesus or how many disciples you can
notch for the kingdom.  Jesus isn’t giving His disciples a punch list
of things to do.  He’s telling them what flows from a heart that trusts
Him, that clings to His death for life, that believes His Word:  love,
joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,
self-control.

Fruit happens more or less automatically when
the branch is healthy and properly pruned.  I have a grape vine growing
in my backyard that produces a lot of fruit without a lot of effort.
It seems to come more or less automatically.  I can’t imagine a branch
agonizing over its fruit production, or trying to squeeze out fruit
from a dead branch.  If the vine is alive, and the life of the vine is
flowing out to the branching, fruit happens.  it happens so much that
you have to thin out the fruit too. 

Now if anything impedes
the flow of juices from the main vine to a branch, the branch will
wither and die and become fruitless dead wood.  Dead wood is what the
Father’s pruning clippers are after.  Going back to Galatians, we might
say that the dead wood is our own sinful self which gets in the way of
Jesus having His way with us.  Paul calls these things the “works of
the flesh,” and give us some examples, sex outside of marriage,
homosexuality, adultery, immoral living, idolatry, witchcraft or
sorcery, fighting, arguing, jealousy, anger, selfishness, divisions and
the spirit of division, envy, drunkenness, carousing, that sort of
thing. 

These are the things that Jesus died to take away from
us.  These are the things we died to in our Baptism.  This is what
Jesus absorbed into His death and buried in His tomb.  These are the
dead works of unbelief, of the death of Adam at work in us and in the
world around us.  “In Adam we die.”  These things need to be cut away
and burned up.  And so the Father prunes away the dead wood, whatever
gets in the way of Jesus life flowing through us.

Pruning can be
painful.  The branch suffers loss and injury.  When I prune that grape
vine in winter, it’s not a pretty sight.  When I’m done, all that’s
left are a few short stubs with a couple of buds on each of them.  But
that’s where the growth comes that makes fruit.

“Why do bad
things happen to good people?” we ask.  Why do bad things happen to
me?  Why does God permit tragedy to occur?  Why does He let people lose
house and home and job and honor?  The answer from today’s reading
comes this way:  He prunes every branch in Jesus that bears no fruit,
while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be
even more fruitful.  You’re being pruned, not punished.  Pruned by the
Master Gardner to produce greater love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control that you could ever
imagine.

And that is the experience of many Christians.  It
isn’t until they experience suffering and loss, until they’ve done some
“Job time,” that they discover a depth of love, joy, peace that would
have remained hidden.  Two weeks ago, a series of tornados ripped
through a small town in Missouri and completely devastated the town,
including a large church.  There was a picture in the paper last week
of the congregation worshipping outdoors, in front of the rubble of
their church.  They set up hundreds of folding chairs set up in front
of a large, makeshift altar.  They were caring for each other instead
of for a building.  The tornado had pruned away their property, but a
whirlwind can’t take Jesus away, or His Spirit.

You’ve seen it
yourself, or maybe even experienced it for yourself.  Someone who is
basically a wallflower Christian, barely recognizable, distracted
maybe, suffers some loss – loss of health, or work, or property.  And
there’s great grief and sorrow.  But instead of shaking your fist at
God, or cutting Him off, you turn to Him in your misery.  You embrace
the loss and accept it.  You turn to the Word.  You commune more
intentionally.  You come to confession.  And you find that the most
difficult and painful times in your life are also the most fruitful,
spiritually speaking.  There’s room for the implanted Word to grow and
blossom.  And you find a joy and a peace and a softening of the heart
that you can have no other way.

No branch can bear fruit by
itself.  It must remain joined to the vine.  Apart from the vine, it
will wither, dry up, and die.  “Neither can you bear fruit unless you
remain in me.…apart from me, you can do nothing.”  That’s the second
point.  This is not about you, but about Christ at work in you and you
living in Christ.

Last week, I was cleaning up a patch of
olalliberries in my backyard.  Olaliberries are a big, dark, juicy
berry.  Great on cereal.  Mine grow on a long vine tied to the wall.
Olaliberries have this nasty habit of rooting whereever they touch the
groundm making them almost a weed.  I hadn’t done much pruning on them
last year, and so many stems had touched the ground and rooted, setting
up new clusters of plants.  As I was pruning and untangling things, I
accidentally cut a long branch at both ends.  Here was this perfect
branch, with flowers and fruit on it, cut off at both ends from its
source of life.  I noticed my mistake within about ten minutes, as the
leaves began to wilt in the morning sun.

Apart from Jesus, we
can do nothing.  And yet we try.  We who ought to know better, we
baptized believers in Jesus, yet we try to go it alone.  I don’t know
whether it’s our rugged individualism or our old Adam.  I suspect it’s
some of both.  We try to have the Spirit’s fruit without Jesus.  The
unbelieving world certainly does.   It has all sorts of programs and
religions that promise peace and joy and fulfillment, but can’t
deliver, because it’s all up to you in the end.  “The energy for change
is all inside you,” they say.  “You just have to tap into it.”  But
when you try to tap into it, you find the well to be dry.  The truth is
there is no diet, no mantra, no exercise that will make you fruitful in
the way we are talking about.  There is no twelve step program to give
you love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, and self-control.  These things don’t naturally flow from
our hearts.  What comes naturally are lies and theft and slander and
gossip and immorality and murder and threats.  Not the fruit of the
Spirit but the sin of Adam.

Good fruit comes from Jesus, out of
His perfect, sinless life.  Out of His innocent suffering and death.
Out of the open, empty tomb of His resurrection.  It comes from the
life of Jesus flowing into each of you, joined to Jesus.  He is the
Vine, remember.  We are the branches.  We are not each vines unto
ourselves.  We are branches joined to the Vine, drawing our life from
Him, our strength, our frutifulness.

Grafted into Him, hanging
on to Him in faith, we bear much fruit.  Our lives are filled with
love, with joy, with patience, with kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, and selfcontrol.  That’s what Jesus does in us with His
Word.  Remaining in Him, we hear His Word, we eat and drink His Body
and Blood, we hear and cling to His Word of forgiveness.  What happens
here in the congregation each Sunday morning is “vine and branches
stuff.”  Jesus the Vine, feeding and nourishing and refreshing the
branches to be fruitful.

When we cut ourselves off from the
Vine, when we refuse to hear or don’t make the time to read His Word,
when we stay away from the sacrament of His Body and Blood, when we
refuse the gifts Christ sets before us, why are we then surprised when
we feel dried up, withered, fruitless?

Sometimes we barely
notice it in our day to day habits. We just kind of slip away, lose
touch.  We’re not at the Lord’s Table as often, we don’t read the Bible
as much, we go through the motions of religion but we’re not hearing.
And what happens?  We dry up.  Faith withers, like that Olaliberry
branch cut off from its source of life.  We live small, puny, trouble,
discontented, empty lives.  And it’s all so unnecessary. 

God
has done everything – embraced us in the death of His Son, baptized us,
forgiven us, welcomed us to His table. He grafts us to the true Vine
and prunses the unproductive branches.  So don’t blame God if you’re
all dried out and fruitless.  It’s not God’s fault, it’s our own
fault.  The Vine is always there, giving us life.  We’re the ones who
cut ourselves off and say no.  But Jesus is always faithful, always
forgiving, always urging and welcoming.  “Come to me.  I am the Vine,
you are my branches.  I will fill you with my life, with my strength,
with my forgiveness.  Apart from me there is only death and
destruction.  And the hell of it is that it’s all unnecessary.  I died
for you.  I embrace you in my death.  I remain in you, now you remain
in me.  That’s where you’re fruitful and alive – in me.  Not in
yourselve, but in me.”  Jesus is saying that to each of us here this
morning.  Remain in me, as I remain in you.

By His Word Jesus
remains in us, and by faith that Word we remain in Him.  His Word makes
us clean, His Word makes us frutiful, His Word shapes our words of
prayer.  First we hear, then we speak.  That’s the order.  The Vine
comes first, then the Branches.  Jesus says, “If my words remain in
you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”  That doesn’t
give us some magic formula to get whatever we wish.  This is no carte
blanche guarantee for prayer.  Instead, Jesus is saying that when His
word has had its way with us, when it has gone into our hearts and
struck our minds and our hearts so that we trust Him, His Word will
shape every word that comes out of our mouths.

Jesus wants each
of us, all of you, to be fruitful, to live large in His life, to live
freely in His forgiveness.  He desires that for each of you.  It’s to
His Father’s glory that you bear fruit, much fruit, that your lives be
filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and that you be His disciples,
trusting Him all the way in life, in death.  You are the branches; He
is the Vine.  In Him you are fruitful.   

In the name of Jesus, Amen

Categories: Lutheran sermons

Temptation: Christ’s and Yours

March 9th, 2006 Comments off

Temptation_1A sermon from Pastor William Cwirla.

Mark gives the temptation of Jesus only a few short sentences in his version of the Gospel: 

The
Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  And he was in
the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild
beasts; and the angels ministered to him.
It
goes by so quickly in Mark, you almost miss it. Still dripping wet from
His baptism in the Jordan, Jesus is cast into the wilderness by the
Spirit.  Just as Israel emerged from the parted water of the Red Sea to
a 40 year wilderness journey to the promised land, so Jesus – Israel
reduced to One – begins His journey to the cross.  Forty.  The number
of days the rain fell in the Flood.  The number of years the Israelites
wandered in the wilderness.  The number of days Elijah trekked through
the wilderness to return to Mt. Horeb.  Jesus – God’s Israel, His
Servant, His Son.

Matthew and Luke fill in the details.  Jesus
was hungry.  He hadn’t eaten for forty days.  He was having His Lent.
Don’t you try that at home in yours.  This is uniquely His to do.  He
was tempted by the devil, Satan.  Tempted by miracle:  Turn these
stones into bread.  Tempted to test the Word:  Throw yourself off the
temple.  Tempted by religion and power:  It’s all yours, Jesus; just
bow down and worship me.  Tempted in every way we are tempted, except
for one thing.  Jesus did not sin.

Satan tempted Jesus not to be
what His baptism said He was:  the Christ, the Son of God.  “If you are
the Son of God….  You are, aren’t you, Jesus?”  So sly, so subtle.  A
snake in the garden.  “Did God really say it?  How can you be the
Christ if you are rejected and crucified?  Is that any way to start a
successful religion?  Is that any way to reform the masses?  Is that
any way to solve the problems of this world?  Be crucified?  That’s not
what the world is looking for.  They want miracle, they want invincible
power, they want celebrity.  They don’t call it “American Idol” for
nothing!  Give them what they want, Jesus.  And maybe then, you can
give them what you want.”

Why did Jesus have to be tempted this
way?  Ever wonder?  Why go through forty days of hunger, of isolation,
of temptation?  Why even bother with the devil, that old liar?  It goes
back to the garden and the threat that was a promise:  “I will make
enmity between you (the devil) and the woman, between her seed and
yours.”  There’s going to be war.  One on one.  In the wilderness.
What the devil did to humanity would be undone by God enfleshed in
humanity.  Where the devil’s lie was successful in getting Eve and then
Adam to disobey, he would fail in the second Adam, the new head of
humanity.

This is part and parcel of Jesus’ mission to seek and
to save.  It flows right out of His baptism.  Immediately He is driven
by the Spirit into the wilderness.  This is part of the package, to
confront the great liar in our human flesh armed with nothing more than
what you and I have – the Word of God.  Whereas we’re willing
accomplices, He is not.  He faces the great temptations that warp our
lives and turn us against each other and against God Himself.  He
trusts His Father and the Word.  That’s all Jesus has at His disposal
in this barren wilderness with the wild beasts all around Him and the
devil hot on His heel.  Nothing but the Word.

Abraham trusted
the Word of God, the Promise that he would be the “father of nations.”
He trusted the Word even when God told him to offer up his only son.
Can you imagine the anguish of that man?  Talk about confusion!  God
against God.  God gives him a son of the promise and then says, offer
him up to me on Mt. Moriah.

Abraham trusted the promise, even
against the law, God’s command.  He took his son, left the servants
behind, trudged up the mountain with the wood and the fire and the
knife.  Oh, and how the question must have burned him like fire, cut
him through like a knife.  “Father, where’s the lamb for the burnt
offering?  The fire and the wood are here, but where’s the lamb?”  How
but by the grace of God did Abraham even manage to say it?  “God will
provide the lamb, my son.”

Abraham builds an altar, arranges the
wood, ties up Isaac, and lays him on the altar.  He reaches back for
the knife and is ready to slay his son, when Christ calls out from
heaven, “Abraham!  Abraham!  Stop.  Don’t touch the boy.  Don’t do
anything to your son.”  Off in the thicket is a ram caught by its
horns.  The substitute.  The lamb for sacrifice.  YHWH will provide.

God’s
Lamb walks alone in the wilderness – your Substitute – hungry with your
hunger, thirsty with your thirst, tempted in weakness to go another way
than the cross, to seek another joy than your salvation, to refuse the
shame and the pain in favor of power and glamor and cross-less,
painless, feel good, be happy religion.  But then He would not have
been the Lamb of sacrifice.  He would not have been tempted as we are.
He would not have laid down His life to save you.  And you would be
like Isaac without a ram, with the law of God dangling over you like a
knife.

Trials and temptations will come your way.  That is
certain.  You can expect them.  You are baptized, after all.  Look at
all the trouble Jesus’ baptism caused Him.  To be baptized is to live
as marked men and women.  You bear Jesus’ mark, and the devil hates
that.  So does the unbelieving world.  A servant is not greater than
his Master.  The cross is always there for the baptized.  The very next
thing that Mark tells us is that John was put into prison where he
would die.  And with that, Jesus goes up to Galilee and announces good
news:  The kingdom of God is near.  Repent, believe – trust the good
news of Jesus.

“Lead us not into temptation,” Jesus taught His
disciples to pray.  God doesn’t tempt anyone.  That’s the devil’s
doing.  He does test, as He did Abraham.  And He’s promised never to
test you beyond what you are able to bear, and in Christ you are able
to bear much more than you may even think you are able.  That’s the
“secret” the apostle Paul learned when he wrote, “I can do all things
through Him who gives me strength.”  In our temptations, we are never
alone.  Christ is with us, by our side, “with His good gifts and
Spirit,” as we just sang.  And He’s the One who was tempted for us and
did not sin.

The baptized life is not an easy life.  Christians
are granted no special immunities from disease, no exemptions from
suffering, no special passes that allow us to go around the
wilderness.  You can only go through it, you can’t go around it.   The
season of Lent symbolizes that for us.  Forty days of sober, somber
preparation – a fast before the feast of Easter.  It is “symbolic” in
the sense that we choose the time and the place and even the
“suffering,” if you can call it that.

The reality is that our
wilderness is this life that we’re in; and the sufferings and
temptations are real, not some self-chosen discipline.    Were it not
for Jesus, we wouldn’t make it.  We wouldn’t even take a first step.
But there is a promise stretched out like an umbrella over you that
reads:  “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
You do not walk in this wilderness alone.  God does not leave you alone
to wrestle with the devil, the world, and your own sinful self.  And if
God is for you, who can be against you?  If God gave His Son for you,
if that’s what you are worth to God, do you think He would possibly
abandon you in your time of need?  If Christ died for your sins, who
can bring any charges against you?  If God has justified you in Jesus,
who can condemn you?

Do you realize what that means?  You walk
in this world justified by God, forgiven, restored, redeemed by the
blood of Jesus who is at the right hand of God interceding for you.
The Son of God, the crucified and risen Lord, is interceding for you.
“Father, forgive them,” showing His wounded hands and side.  There is
literally nothing in this world that can drive a wedge between you and
God.  Nothing.  Not trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness,
danger, sword, global warming, Islamic terrorists, tsunamis,
hurricanes, cancers, stray bullets, clogged arteries, killer viruses,
or holes in the ozone layer.  Not angels, demons, the present, the
future, powers, nothing in the heights or the depths.  Not even the
worst of your sins can separate you from the love of God in Jesus.

Not when your sins have been washed away in Baptism. 
Not when your sins have been forgiven by the word of Jesus. 
Not when you have received the broken Body and the shed Blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. 
Not when you have Jesus on your side, the One who resisted the devil for you with a word.

We
really do face death all day long, as Paul says. We’d rather not
admit.  We’d rather live in denial of it.  Yet Paul says in all these
things – things that signal death, things that the world fears and
maybe you do too – in all these things we “hyper-conquer,” we conquer
above and beyond conquering, through Jesus who loved us to death and
who conquered sin, death, and devil for us.  Only in and through Jesus
can you say that, because only Jesus conquered death itself by dying on
a cross.  And the proof of that:  His risen body, His empty tomb.

The
Lord will provide, as faithful Abraham once said.  And He has in Jesus,
the sacrificial lamb.  And He will provide, through Word and Water and
Supper as you make your wilderness way through this Lenten life and on
to endless Easter.

In the name of Jesus,
Amen

Categories: Lutheran sermons

You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

February 22nd, 2006 4 comments

Great sermon by Pastor Cwirla

Mark 2:1-12 / 7 Epiphany B / 19 February 2006 / Holy Trinity-Hacienda Heights

In Nomine Iesu

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The crowd was huge, filling the little
house to overflowing.  Jesus was in town.  The people flocked to hear
him.  All kinds of people – the curious, the devout, the skeptical, the
religious.  They were all there, packed into a little house, spilling
out onto the street.  And Jesus did what Jesus always does – He
preached the Word.

Four men came to the house.  They were
carrying their paralyzed friend on a pallet, a kind of flat board with
handles.  No motorized wheelchairs back then.  No handicapped access.
No way to push through the crowd to Jesus.  They decide to dig through
the roof and lower the man on his pallet down with a rope to the feet
of Jesus.  Imagine being the owner of the house.  Mark says that Jesus
“came home.”  Perhaps it was back to Peter’s mother-in-law.  You invite
Jesus to your home, next thing you know the whole town is in your
living room and some strangers are digging a hole through your roof.
It takes all the romance out of “house church,” doesn’t it?

Jesus
is impressed.  He sees their faith, their stop-at-nothing, determined
trust in Him, that He could do something for their paralyzed friend.
He does a surprising thing, an outrageous thing, something He hadn’t
done before.  He says to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  He
absolves him.

Do you think that’s what the four friends had in
mind when they carried their paralyzed buddy to Capernaum and dug
through the roof and lowered their friend to Jesus?  Is what what they
had in mind?  An absolution?  “Your sins are forgiven?”  No, they were
thinking healing, miracle.  They were expecting Jesus to lay His hands
on their friend and say the healing word and their friend was going to
walk home.  Or perhaps climb up to the roof and help them fix the hole.

What
did you expect when you came to this house today?  A miracle perhaps?
Answers to your problems?  Peace in your life?  Success?  Happiness?
What did you hear?  What did Jesus say to you?  “I forgive you all of
your sins.”  Scandalous, outrageous.

“Blasphemous!” say the
religious types, the teachers of the Torah.  Who does this Jesus think
He is?  God?  Only God can talk like that.  Only God can forgive sins.

Absolution
is an outrage to our religious sensibilities.  That’s why a lot of
so-called “progressive churches” have stopped using it in their
services.  You don’t hear confession and absolution talk anymore. 
People say, “That’s no way to start a service.  What a downer.  Admit
that your a sinner.  And then some guy in a bathrobe says, ‘I forgive
you all of your sins.  What’s up with that?”

“Cheap grace” goes
the religious protest.  Forgiveness can’t be that easy.  You have to
earn it, right?  Repent.  Change.  Promise to be good.  What did the
paralyzed man do?  He did nothing.  He was carried by others on a
board, lowered to Jesus.  St. Mark doesn’t record a word from the
paralyzed man.  Could he talk?  No prayer, no confession, no promises.
He wasn’t even there to be forgiven; he was there for Jesus to fix his
legs.

That man is a perfect picture of each of us.  Spiritually
paralyzed, unable to move one little step in a Godward direction.  We
have to be brought to Jesus, as babies brought to Baptism.  We are
paralyzed in sin and death.  There is nothing more paralyzing than
death, is there?  We can’t move.  Sinful by nature, sinful in thought,
word, and deed.  Unable to free ourselves.  Can you say to a paralyzed
man, “You need to get yourself to a doctor, son?”  No more can you say
to a sinner, “You need to get yourself to Jesus.  You need to give your
heart to Jesus.  You need to decide to follow Jesus.”  Nonsense.  The
dead are paralyzed.

I have a little problem with the English
translation in our liturgy that has me say, “Lift up your hearts,” and
you reply, “We lift them up to the Lord.”  Lots of lifting going.
Lifting those hearts up to heaven.  Feel the burn.  Liturgical
aerobics.  The Latin simply said, Sursum corda.  “Heart up.”  And the
people said, Habemus ad Dominum.  “We have them to Lord.”  No lifting.
Just open, empty hearts waiting like the paralyzed man on his mat
looking up into the eyes of Jesus.

“You were dead in sin.”  Not
kind of sick, dead.  Not sort of limplng, paralyzed.  Laid out.  Dead.
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made
us alive with Christ even when we were dead in trespasses – it is by
grace (gift, undeserved kindness) that you have been saved.”  (Eph
2:1,4)

“Your sins are forgiven.”  Literally, “your sins are
loosed.”  The chains have fallen off.  The weight on your shoulders is
lifted.  Your sins are Jesus’ burden now.  You can’t have them
anymore.  They’re His, and He died with them.  Those are words of
freedom and life.  They lift you out of the paralysis of sin and death
and set you on your feet.  If all that Jesus had done for the paralyzed
man that day was say, “Your sins are forgiven,” that would have been
more than enough.  Remember what the Catechism says:  “Where there is
forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”  Everything you
need is in those absolving words of Jesus.

Jesus knew the
scandal of those words.  He knew what people were whispering in the
back rows of the crowd.  He knew what those religious experts were
muttering under their breath.  “Who can forgive sin except God alone.”

Jesus addresses them.  “Which is easier to say to a paralyzed
man:  “Your sins are forgiven,” or “Arise and take your pallet and go
home”?  So which is easier?  You’d say, “Well, forgiveness because all
you have to do is say words, right?”  Oh yeah?  Try it next time
someone sins against you, and you pray the Our Father, “forgive us our
sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”  To forgive isn’t easy.
It cost Jesus His life on a cross, His blood shed for the sin of
world.  Absolution doesn’t come cheaply.  It’s free to us, costly to
Jesus.  And so for that matter are the words, “Arise and walk.”  Those
words too cost Jesus His life, who bore our sicknesses and sin in His
own body. 

They are both for God alone to say.  That’s right.
And Jesus, standing in the middle of that crowded house with the hole
in the roof, is God in human flesh, the Word Incarnate, whose words are
Spirit and life.  The God who said through the prophet Isaiah:

“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”  (Is 43:25)

Jesus
looks down at the paralyzed man lying there on his board and says, “I
say to you, arise, take your mat, go to your house.”  Jesus’ words do
what they say and say what they do.  The man arose and immediately
(everything is “immediately” in Mark) he took his pallet and in full
view of a whole house full of people walked out.  And the people were
astonished and glorified God.  “We’ve never seen anything like this.”

If
we could talk to that crowd, we might say, “You ain’t seen nothing
yet.”  You think that was something?  Watch when Jesus dies on a cross
and rises from the dead three days later.  That’s how the world will
know for certain that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive
sins.  He got up and walked out of His tomb three days after He died to
pay for your sins.

In many ways this house is like that house
where Jesus raised the paralytic.  Perhaps not quite so crowded, though
we can always hope.  And we don’t have to cut through the roof to get
to Jesus.  He’s accessible to each of you in the water of Baptism, in
the words of forgiveness, in the Supper of His Body and Blood, in the
preached Word which has the authority of Jesus, the Son of God, who
died and rose from the dead.

Nowhere else can you see water be a
Baptism, a new birth, a washing of sin.  Nowhere else can you see a man
forgiving sin with the authority of Christ.  Nowhere else can you eat
bread that is the Body of Jesus and drink wine that is His blood.
Nowhere else but in the church that is gathered by the Spirit, the
congregation which is open to heaven.

It took four men to bring
that paralyzed man to Jesus, to dig through the roof, to lower him on a
rope.  Four faithful men.  Do you know what we call that?  Evangelism.
Mission work.  Bringing the sin-paralyzed to Jesus, bringing them to
the house where Jesus is.  They won’t come on their own.  They can’t.
They’re paralyzed.  They can’t come to Jesus.  They have to be brought
by those who have been given ears to hear, mouths to speak, legs to go,
arms to carry.  That’s the church scattered in mission, bringing the
sin-paralyzed to Jesus so that they too might hear those loosing words,
“Your sins are forgiven.”

What Jesus did for that paralyzed man,
He does for you gathered here today.  He forgives your sin.  And on the
Last Day, by that same Word and authority, He will raise you from your
grave.  You ain’t seen nothing yet.  Now you must hear it, and believe
it.

In the name of Jesus,
Amen

Categories: Lutheran sermons