Monday, April 30, 2012

Introducing Aegidius Hunnius

I recently finished working on a Latin translation project, a 1597 document written by Aegidius Hunnius, one of the chief orthodox Lutheran theologians in Wittenberg. It's a collection of 214 theses—short statements combatting the errors of Samuel Huber in the areas of election, justification and Baptism. It is published through Repristination Press and now available on Amazon:

Here's the publisher's book description from Amazon:
    Aegidius Hunnius (1550–1603) was among the “Champions of Lutheran Orthodoxy” who served on the faculty of the University of Wittenberg and was one of the early signers of the Formula of Concord. During his service at Wittenberg, he was also superintendent, and oversaw the visitation of the churches of Saxony, coauthoring the Saxon Visitation Articles (1592). In this work, Hunnius contends with the theology of Samuel Huber (1547–1624), a former Calvinist who was called to the University of Wittenberg in 1592. After arriving in Wittenberg, Huber introduced his own novel terminology and theology which put him at odds with the Formula of Concord and his fellow professors. Huber made the situation worse by accusing his colleagues of Calvinism when they did not assent to his theological opinions. In this book, Hunnius refutes Huber's errors regarding the doctrine of justification; as Hunnius wrote in the dedication to this work, “we propose ... not only to wash away the charges he has made, but especially to refute his shameful errors concerning the eternal election and predestination to eternal life, not only of the children of God, but also of the children of the devil (that is, all the impenitent); similarly, his errors concerning the universal justification of all men—of unbelievers no less than believers; concerning also the regeneration of hypocrites in Baptism, which is said to be conferred on them in that very act of treachery and impiety.”

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Intrepid Lutherans Conference Agenda

Greetings Readers!

Some have inquired about a more detailed run-down of the presentations at our up-coming conference in Oshkosh, such as the order of presentations, time, and length.

You will find the complete Agenda below.

We look forward to seeing many of you at the conference. If you haven't done so yet, please do register as soon as you can. Thank you and God bless!

Intrepid Editors

Intrepid Lutherans

Church & Continuity Conference
Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Oshkosh, WI
June 1st & 2nd, 2012


Friday, June 1st
5 PM – Board of Director's Meeting for Intrepid Lutherans, Inc.
6 PM – Intrepid Lutherans Dinner with after-dinner speaker, Rev. Robert Koester
8 PM – Gemütlichkeit

Saturday, June 2nd
9 AM – Opening Matins service

9:30 – Welcome, Announcements, & Introduction, Chairman Rev. Paul Rydecki

9:40 – Presentation: "What Has Brought Us Here?" Historical overview of the past 30 years in WELS and current issues, moderator – Rev. Steven Spencer; panel – Mr. Brian Heyer, Mr. Rick Techlin, and other laymen from the area, with discussion

10:15 – Presentation: "Why Is This Happening to Us?" How the culture wars have become religious wars among us, Mr. Douglas Lindee, followed by discussion

11:30 – Lunch provided on site

12:00 – Presentation: "The Consequences of Church Growth Theology" What it is, where it is, and why it is dangerous, Rev. Luke Boehringer, followed by discussion

1:15 – Presentation: "The Beauty of the Western Rite" How the complete Divine Liturgy fulfills the spiritual needs of our Pastors and people, Rev. Michael Berg; discussion

3:00 – BREAK

3:15 – Presentation:"Do We Want to Be Dresden Lutherans?" What it means to be tied to the Book of Concord rather than to a church body, school, family, or ministerium, Rev. Paul Rydecki, followed by discussion

4:15 – Open Forum

4:45 – Preliminary planning for next conference

5:00 – Closing Vesper Service

Registration fee - $25/person; $15 for "signers"

Thursday, April 19, 2012

NEEDED - One Good Shepherd!

(Preached a few years ago on Misericordias Domini at Trinity Orthodox Lutheran Church, Sierra Vista, Arizona)

Homily on John 10:11-16

"I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd."(NASB)

Christianity is NOT all about Christians. Christianity IS all about Christ! To many who claim the name "Christian," this religion revolves around them: their ideas, their needs, and their feelings.

This could be seen clearly in a newspaper article in Friday's paper. The article was about how various churches here in town carried out "evangelism." One Pastor — it doesn't matter who — said that asking people if they're "saved" wasn't very useful. Rather he wants to know if people are being disciples of Jesus. "Of course, Jesus is the Savior too," he said, almost as a throw-away line, "but what's really important is whether or not they are living as Jesus' followers."

Now, that is taking the Bible and turning it inside out and upside down. You could say the same thing about any and every wise man or philosopher who ever lived, and any religion on the face of the earth!

Look again at the words of Jesus from John 10. Does he talk mostly about the sheep, or about the shepherd? Where is the focus? Is it even on the behavior or feelings of the sheep, or is it on the behavior and feelings of the Good Shepherd? The answer is crystal clear. If we ask —

God answers, Yes!
We Need A Shepherd To Die For Us!
We Need A Shepherd To Protect Us!

What is the main message of the Good Shepherd? Once again, it has very little to do with the sheep. People ARE sheep. They are foolish. They are easily led astray. They are stubborn. They are more often than not disobedient. And, they love to wander. Thus, just like sheep, people need a shepherd. The fact is, they need a Savior! This isn't just PART of Jesus' work, and a minor part at that, as some seem to think. The work of paying for our sins is the main and most important work of the Good Shepherd.

As I said, we have a lot of sins to pay for. We have to pay for them because God, our Maker, deserves complete and total respect and obedience, and will not and cannot tolerate anything less. This isn't a matter of His "feelings," or about Him being picky or overbearing. This is a fact of His existence that He cannot deny, no more than He could lie. The fact of our existence is that we have not, indeed, cannot give God what He rightfully deserves — complete holiness and righteousness. Thus, we owe a tremendous debt that we could never hope to repay, not even with our very lives.

So, the entire message of Christ, and of the whole Bible, is a simple one of "transference:" By grace through faith God transferred our guilt to His only Son, and made Him pay the ultimate price, and also transferred Jesus' perfect righteousness to us. Then the Father raised His Son from the dead to put His own seal on the deal. This was the promise given to Adam and Eve, and to the Patriarchs, Kings, Prophets, the people of Israel, and nations of the world.

So, the message of the Good Shepherd is not about us — unless it's about our sin and our inability to remove it ourselves. No, the message is all about the work: the life, preaching, miracles, and entire ministry of Jesus Christ. We really DO need a shepherd, and He is the BEST!

But neither does our shepherd simply fight one battle for us and retire to the old shepherd's home! He stays with the flock, and each and every individual member of the flock to fight every day, and every hour of every day to protect us from the only real evil there is — hell!

Here again, look at some shepherds today. Far too many refuse to fight. They have become spiritual "draft-dodgers," religious "peaceniks," and "objectors" to Biblical warfare without a "conscience!" They take no stands, offend no one, confront no sins, and proclaim no eternal truths. They want people to have the peace of Jesus without giving them any piece of the real Him at all!

Note what Jesus calls these kinds of shepherds, "hired hands!" They are not the owners, nor do they even belong to the owner's family. At the first sign of trouble or difficulty or danger, they run away as fast as they can. In other words, they are only in the "religion" business for the money, and even then only when that good.

So, why do so many people follow such worthless shepherds? Remember — people are sheep! And most of these shepherds themselves are "lost sheep," who do not have Jesus as their Good Shepherd!

But Jesus is always with us. Not only is He among us with His spiritual presence. He is with us and within us through His precious Sacraments. And He is beside us with His ever-powerful Word, to lead us against our common foes: fear, doubt, worldly wisdom, false teachings, Satan's lies, and our own temptations. The Bible is indeed Christ's very own "rod and staff' that comforts and guides us through life and death. Without a pure, true, and completely trustworthy Bible, we would once again be wandering sheep.

So, what is Christianity all about? Is it about people doing good, being nice, living right, having faith in the goodness of people, and trying to be like Jesus as much as possible? NO! Christianity is all about Jesus Christ, God's Son, and Him horribly crucified for all the rotten, dirty, nasty, disgusting sinners in the whole world. It's about His message of forgiveness and peace with the Father through His sacrifice, which is ours only by faith. It's about the Means of Grace He left behind to create and strengthen saving faith — the Gospel in Word and Sacraments. It's about His Church, commanded by Him to preach ONLY His Saving Word to the world. It's about His Ministry, set up by Him to serve believers with the Means of Grace and announce the Gospel to all people. And, finally, yes, it is about believers, working together to preserve His pure Word and being used by the Holy Spirit to extend the kingdom of His Word.

Those other churches may not need a Good Shepherd to die for them, or to protect them from a very real and deadly devil, but we do. We Really Do Need A Shepherd – A Good Shepherd! Praise God we have one, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Amen.

Pastor Spencer

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Announcing the 2012 Intrepid Lutherans Conference: "Church and Continuity"

Greetings Dear Reader!

It has been two years in coming, but we are finally announcing the very first annual Intrepid Lutherans conference.

2012 Intrepid Lutherans Conference:

Church and Continuity

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Oshkosh, WI
June 1st and 2nd

Registration cost: $25

On Friday evening, June 1st, we’ll be hosting a dinner, with Rev. Robert Koester (WELS) giving an after-dinner presentation entitled, Adelphos: Discerning Bible Translations.” The cost for the dinner is included in the registration fee.

Then all day Saturday, June 2nd, we will gather for worship and presentations. These are the themes and the speakers we have lined up for Saturday:
  • “What Has Brought Us Here?” Historical overview of the past 30 years in WELS and current issues, moderator – Rev. Steven Spencer (WELS); panel – Mr. Brian Heyer, Mr. Rick Techlin, and other area WELS laymen.
  • “Why Is This Happening to Us?” How the culture wars have become religious wars among us, Mr. Douglas Lindee (WELS).
  • “The Consequences of Church Growth Theology” What it is, where it is, and why it is dangerous, Rev. Luke Boehringer (WELS).
  • “The Beauty of the Western Rite” How the complete Divine Liturgy fulfills the spiritual needs of our Pastors and people, Rev. Michael Berg (WELS).
  • “Do We Want to Be Dresden Lutherans?” What it means to be tied to the Book of Concord rather than just to church body, school, family, or ministerium, Rev. Paul Rydecki (WELS).
The cost of the entire conference, including Friday dinner, Saturday continental breakfast and lunch, is $25 per person.

Any and all are welcome!

We're counting on our readers to help us advertize the conference in your congregations and districts. We hope you're as excited about it as we are!

Click here to register!

Promotional posters and brochures will be forthcoming. Stay tuned for more information!

Your Intrepid brothers,
Mr. Brian Heyer
Rev. Paul Lidtke
Mr. Douglas Lindee
Rev. Paul Rydecki
Rev. Steve Spencer

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead - Sermon for Easter Sunday

This sermon was written for the saints at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to be preached on Easter Sunday, 2012.

Mark 16:1-8 + Psalm 16 + Job 19:23-27 + 1 Corinthians 5:6-8

Brothers and sisters, fellow believers in Christ Jesus: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia! Jesus lives!

He really does, you know. He lives – not in our hearts, not in our dreams or in our imagination. The real Son of God, with his real flesh and blood, born of the virgin Mary, who truly suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried has really come back to life, stepped out of his tomb, and appeared to his disciples, who were all very surprised and overjoyed to see him alive again.

It really shouldn’t have surprised them quite as much as it did. He told his disciples how he would be killed and rise on the third day, which was the very same thing that was prophesied about the Christ in the words of King David in Psalm 16 a thousand years before, “I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to the grave, or let your holy one see corruption.”

As the apostles pointed out to the Jewish crowds later on, King David, who wrote those words of the Psalm, most certainly died and most certainly decayed in his grave. But the Holy One about whom he was writing, the Son, the offspring of David, the Christ – he was not abandoned to the grave or left in the tomb. He was raised from the dead.

That’s what the angel announced to the faithful women who went to the tomb that first Easter morning to finish taking care of Jesus’ body, which, they assumed, was already beginning to be corrupted by decay.

How wrong they were! Instead of the big stone blocking the entrance to the tomb, they saw it rolled away and an angel waiting there to give them the good news. Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.

Wouldn’t you like to have seen it, too? The place where they laid him? The stone rolled away, the empty tomb, the folded linens, the angel sitting where Jesus had been? Or what if you had seen the empty tomb? Then what? Then you would have been just as alarmed, just as terrified as those women were. Because an empty tomb, all by itself, isn’t good news.

The fact that Jesus’ tomb was empty, the fact that the offspring of David, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, rose from the dead is neither good news nor bad news. It just is. It’s a fact. It happened. But what does it mean? Is it a fact that saves or is it a fact that damns? The only way to know what it means is to hear what God reveals about it in the preaching of the gospel.

And what does God reveal in the gospel about the offspring of David, Jesus Christ, risen from the dead?

In the words of Psalm 2, Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. So those who take refuge in the risen Son of God are blessed! But those who do not seek refuge in him will perish.

According to the gospel, then, the empty tomb of Jesus means that his enemies and all who hate him had better be very afraid. The resurrection of Jesus is terrible news for the devil and his demons. It’s terrible news for the one who wants to get to heaven by serving some other god, or by offering God his own merits. It’s also terrible news for all who refuse to repent of their sins. Because if Jesus is dead, then you get to decide what’s right and wrong for your life, and then when you’re dead, you’re dead. That’s it. But if Jesus is alive, then there will also be a resurrection of all the dead and a Judgment Day for all. So for the impenitent and unbelieving, the empty tomb of Jesus is cause for fear.

But for those who want a sure refuge from God’s wrath, for those who want to be reconciled to God, for those who want Jesus for a Savior, the gospel reveals this truth: that Jesus was delivered up for our sins and raised to life for our justification. His death was sufficient payment for all sin, for every sin, for the worst sinner, for his most bitter enemy; and his resurrection means that all who hope in him, all who trust in him, all who look to him for forgiveness of their sins are absolved before God’s courtroom in heaven. The empty tomb means the justification of all who believe in the risen One.

And with justification comes every gift and benefit of Christ: the adoption as God’s children, the full acceptance into eternal life, the daily forgiveness of sins in this Christian Church, and the promise of your own empty tomb when Jesus returns, for judgment against all who refused to repent, and with salvation for his believing people.

No, Jesus’ empty tomb all by itself is still a scary thing, and those faithful women who visited Jesus’ tomb on Easter Sunday remained afraid until, later that day, they saw Jesus for themselves and, more importantly, heard his gospel, his word of peace. Then they rejoiced with a joy that even the bitterest persecution couldn’t take away.

You have to see Jesus for yourself, too. But not with your eyes. Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed, Jesus said. Believed what? Believed in the empty tomb? No. Believed in God’s promise of forgiveness in Christ. Believed in his Gospel. Believed in the word of God the Father who emptied Jesus’ tomb by raising his Son from the dead. This word from God that he has commissioned me to preach to you today is better than seeing a thousand empty tombs. Because here in the Word you don’t see the place where Jesus isn’t. You actually get to see Jesus. Because here in the Word of God, here in Sacrament of Jesus, the risen Lord Jesus comes to you today with a message intended for you: “I was delivered up for your sins and raised to life for your justification. Repent and believe in the good news that He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

All week long in our Holy Week services, I’ve been giving you certain things to remember above all else. Today it’s very simple. Today I tell you, as I told our confirmand last Sunday, in the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy, Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.

Let his enemies remember and repent! Let his people remember and rejoice! Amen.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Remember this day that the Lord has made - Sermon for Easter Vigil

This sermon was written for the saints at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to be preached on Saturday night at the Easter Vigil, 2012.

Welcome to this new day – the day of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead! Jesus rose on the first day of the week, which began at sunset tonight. And since then, every first day of the week has been blessed. Since then, every first day of the week has become a celebration of Easter as the Church gathers around her risen Lord in Word and Sacrament until he comes again in glory to raise all the dead and to bring us into that great wedding banquet that has no end.

Today is also the Third Day – the Third Day of the Paschal Triduum, the blessed Third Day about which Jesus said, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.”

Today has also been called “The Eighth Day” – the day of the new creation. For God made all things in six days, and on the seventh day he rested. And Christ labored for the six days of Holy Week and on the seventh day his lifeless bones rested in the tomb. But now he rests no more. Now he is risen from the dead and that changes everything. You can’t just start over again counting the days of the week as man has done since the beginning of creation, because this creation is waxing old, like a garment. This creation is destined for fire, because the sin of man – the sin of us all – has ruined it. We’ve ruined everything, and so everything must pass away; everything must be destroyed. Everything – except for the living Lord Jesus. He has already conquered sin and passed from death to immortality. He is the beginning of the new creation, a perfect creation, and the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. He is our doorway out of this dying world and our entrance into the life of the next.

And we enter through that doorway through Holy Baptism. It’s no accident that ancient baptismal fonts were octagonal – eight-sided – in shape. Because the Church understood what was really going on in that Sacrament, what was really happening in the spiritual realm. The baptized is being drawn out of this dying world and into the new creation of Christ, being clothed with Christ and with his resurrected life, the life that belongs to all of you who have been baptized and believe in the risen One.

So welcome to this day, fellow believers! Today is a new day with the dawning of new life and the beginning of the destruction of death. And whether we remember it as the first day, or the third day, or the eighth day, let us remember with the Psalmist that this is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it (Ps. 118:24)! Amen.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Remember the Spirit, the water and the blood - Sermon for Good Friday Tenebrae

This sermon was written for the saints at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to be preached in the evening Tenebrae service on Good Friday, 2012.

Now the first Holy Day of the Three Holy Days comes to a close and a new day begins now at sunset – a special Sabbath Day for the Son of God, a day of perfect, undisturbed rest for his dead body in Joseph’s tomb. And just as God rested from his whole work of creating the universe on the seventh day of creation, so the Son of God rested from his whole work of salvation on the seventh day of that first Holy Week.

It had been quite a day, with all the suffering and death that the whole world of sinners had coming to them, now poured out on the sinners’ Substitute – all in a single day. And yet, even after as he died and before he was buried, God already pointed to the three gifts that flow out of Jesus’ death. Of all the things to think about and remember as Good Friday comes to a close, remember the Spirit, the water and the blood.

With his Passion – his suffering – complete, with his work of redemption finished, Jesus breathed his last and “gave up his spirit.” Then one of the soldiers pierced his side, and out came blood and water.

The Apostle John points us to those three things in his Gospel, and explains it in his first Epistle, This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.

What do these three agree about? Well, they agree that Jesus really, truly and actually died. He gave up his spirit, and blood and water flowed out of his side when it was pierced.

But they agree on more than that. Because, John says, not that they testified when Jesus died, but that they testify now. To what?

To exactly what Psalm 130 says: If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
That Psalm is fulfilled on Good Friday, at the great “It is finished!” The Lord did redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

But how is that redemption applied to you? How is it the forgiveness Jesus won applied to you so that you may be justified? How does the forgiveness that is “with the Lord” get to you so that you are forgiven, so that you can stand before God?
It’s by the Spirit, the water and the blood.

On that very first Easter Sunday, the risen Jesus would appear to his disciples, breathe on them and say, “Receive the Holy Spirit! If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” The Spirit of Jesus hands out the forgiveness Jesus won on the cross in Holy Absolution, in the forgiving word spoken by the ministers of Christ.

It’s also by the water, by which the Spirit plunges us back through time and unites us with Christ. What did Peter say on Pentecost? Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins!

It’s also by the blood. What did Jesus say at the very beginning of that first Holy Day? “Take, eat; this is my body. Take, drink; this cup is the New Testament in my blood which is poured out for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this…”

All the benefits won by Jesus on that Good Friday, all the treasures of his life and death – forgiveness, life, salvation, victory over sin, death and the devil, a Father’s love, a place with him in Paradise – all of it comes to us now through Word and Sacrament, through the Spirit, the water and the blood. And it’s no accident that they were all there on Good Friday, just like it’s no accident that John recorded it, just like it’s no accident that you, here, in this place, have been reached by the Spirit, the water and the blood. God’s love for you and his desire for your salvation are from eternity. And just as he elected us in Christ since before the foundation of the world was laid, so he also planned Good Friday from eternity, so he also planned how and where and when the Spirit, the water and the blood would come to you to bestow on you the forgiveness purchased by the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

And just as Christ entered his Sabbath rest on that first Good Friday evening, so there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, according to the writer of the Hebrews. Let us strive to enter that rest, he says. And how will we do that? Through faith alone in Jesus Christ. And how will God sustain that faith in us until the end? Through the Spirit, the water and the blood. Remember. Amen.

Holy Week Sermons – Good Friday (by Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann)

Christ on the Cross, by Elizabeth Lindee
by Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann++

John 1:29
The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the Sin of the world’?

It is a solemn occasion which finds us assembled here at this time, for the Christian world is today commemorating the darkest day in the history of the world, the day on which the Son of God, the Lord of Glory, the Prince of Life, suffered the most shameful death of the cross; it is the day on which He laid down His life as a ransom for the sins of the world. No wonder that the Christian Church has from olden times celebrated the day with every evidence of deepest grief and mourning.

On account of this fact we have chosen our present text for a meditation of the significance of the day for us. For it is a wonderful statement that we have before us in this passage; it is a sermon which was delivered by one of the most successful preachers of all times. If we but look at the few words contained in our text, John the Baptist may not seem to have said much in this one sentence, yet this one sentence is one of the most remarkable Lenten addresses to be found in the entire Bible. Let us then, in this solemn Good Friday hour, look at the individual words of this wonderful sermon and apply them to ourselves.

BEHOLD! St. John calls out. He wants to rivet our attention upon that unique spectacle presented to our eyes on Calvary's dread mountain; he wants us to concentrate with supreme devotion on its significance. His call reminds us of the words in the Lamentations of Jeremiah, words which have been included for centuries in the liturgy for Good Friday, since they so well portray the sorrow which must have filled the heart of the Savior as He hung there upon the cross in unspeakable shame and disgrace: “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger” (La. 1:12). The words of John the Baptist are like those of the soul-searching hymn:
    See, world, thy Life assailed,
    On the accursed tree nailed,
    Thy Savior sinks in death.
Is it not worth considering that, while Christ was preparing to die also for them, the high priests and the scribes were assembled in session to perfect plans for His murder; that even when He hung upon the cross they reviled and blasphemed Him? Is it not worth calling the attention of all the people of the world to the Savior’s atoning death on Calvary, as He is suspended there to redeem a world mad for money, mad for honor, and mad for pleasure? What an unspeakable abyss of sin opens up before us if we compare the sacrifice of the Son of God with the utter disregard for His sufferings on the part of mankind!

Nor is this all that the word behold brings to our attention. The Church rightly sings: Stricken, smitten, and afflicted See Him dying on the tree! Yes,

Thus did Pilate, the unjust judge, call out, probably with at least some degree of pity for the prisoner, knowing that the high priests had delivered Him for envy. Remember: it was our sins that drove the nails through His hands and feet, even as they had caused the cruel thorns to lacerate the tender skin of His head; it was our sins that caused the patient Sufferer to cry out in the agony of an eternal rejection by God: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46, Mk. 15:34). Yes, let us in this hour behold the Lamb of God; let us behold the wrath of God over the sins of mankind; but let us also behold the unsearchable depths of God’s mercy!

“Behold the LAMB!” calls the Baptist. He well knew what he was saying in these words. For centuries, as long as the Tabernacle and the Temple of the Jews were used as their centers of worship, every morning and every evening a lamb was offered to the Lord, and on every Sabbath two lambs, both in the morning and in the evening. These sacrificial animals had a definite significance. Every member of the Jewish Church in the Old Testament well knew, just as does every believer of the New Testament, that the blood of a lamb in itself cannot take away sins. It was only by virtue of the symbolism connected with this sacrifice that it had any value; it was because every lamb thus sacrificed was a type and symbol of the one unique sacrificial Lamb which was to come in the fulness of time.

And this was true in a much greater measure of the sacrifice offered on that one great festival of the Jewish church year, when millions of believing Jews assembled at Jerusalem for the Passover. It was the one great day of the year when every Jewish householder made use of the privilege and prerogative of offering his lamb in person in the priests’ court of the Temple. Every paschal lamb of the Old Testament was a type of the greatest, the most unique Lamb of all, of which St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Co. 5:7). He is the Lamb of whom Isaiah, in chapter 53 of his prophecy, writes in such a remarkable fashion: “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Is. 53:7). And the Evangelist clearly identifies Christ as the one true Passover Lamb, when he applies the statement: “Not a bone of him shall be broken,” to the incident which took place at the cross, when the bones of Jesus were not crushed by the cruel mallet of the soldiers (Jn. 19:36).

And why did all this take place? Because the Savior was God’s Lamb, as St. John the Baptist tells us. “Behold the Lamb of God,” he calls out. When Christ died on Calvary, He died as a sacrifice which had to be made to satisfy the holiness and the justice of God. God Himself had so planned it before the foundation of the world, for He foresaw the unspeakable misery which would come upon all mankind as a result of sin. Every member of mankind has merited eternal damnation for his sins, and eternal damnation would be the inevitable lot of every human being that ever lived on this earth if Jesus had not been offered as the sacrifice in our stead. Every sin committed by man calls down upon him God’s wrath and displeasure, temporal death and eternal damnation. The justice of God can demand no less than a full obedience, and the justice of God must therefore insist upon a condemnation which meets the full demand of righteousness.

And yet this same holy and just God was directly interested in the sacrifice of Jesus, for the Lamb of God, in offering up Himself upon the altar of the cross, made an adequate sacrifice, a sacrifice which completely atoned for all the sins of all mankind and thereby made it possible for the mercy and love of God to turn once more to fallen mankind and to receive all men as His dear children in Jesus Christ, their Savior. The Apostle Paul writes that God Himself “was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Co. 5:19). As God had from eternity conceived the plan to have His Son become the substituting Christ, the Lamb of atonement, so He fashioned the course of His Son’s life on earth, so that all the prophecies of old were fulfilled, one after another, until the work of redemption was completed. God planned the coming of the Lamb, God was with the Lamb, God offered the Lamb as the sacrifice, God accepted the sacrifice of His Son. By God’s determinate counsel His Lamb was delivered for our offenses, for the transgressions of the whole world.

This fact is brought out by John the Baptist in the most beautiful manner when he says, in his great Lenten sermon: “Which taketh away the sins of the world.” It is very interesting and comforting, in this connection, to know that the word used in the original language of the New Testament has a double significance. It means, first of all, that the Savior bore, that he carried on His back, the sins of the world. The situation is well depicted by the great hymn-writer Paul Gerhardt, when he has Jesus respond to the call of His Father to bear the sins of the world;
    “Yea Father, yea, most willingly
    I’ll bear what Thou commandest;
    My will conforms to Thy decree,
    I do what Thou demandest.”
And another hymn-writer, ]ohann Heermann, puts it in these words:
    “Whence come these sorrows, whence this mortal anguish?
    It is my sins for which Thou, Lord, must languish;
    Yea, all the wrath, the woe, Thou dost inherit,
    This I do merit.”
Yes, Jesus bore the sin of the world. He died for the denial of Peter, which He took upon Himself; He died for the betrayal of Judas; He died for the thousands of transgressions with which we have burdened our consciences throughout our life. As Isaiah tells us: “The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:6). He bore the sins of His enemies: He bore the abuse and the blasphemy of the high priests and scribes in the palace of Caiaphas, of the soldiers in the palace of Pilate, of the servants in the palace of Herod. And, what is more: He bore the mockery and the blasphemy of the thousands of men and women who today refuse to accept the redemption gained through His blood.

And He not only took upon Himself, He not only bore our sins, but, as the second meaning of the verb assures us: He took away these sins. The Church of the Old Testament had a very striking ceremony which was a type of Christ’s sacrifice. On the great Day of Atonement in the fall of the year there was one peculiar double sacrifice, namely that of two goats. The first goat was the goat of sin-offering, sacrificed with a bullock, and its blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat, to make an atonement for the children of Israel. In a special prayer the sins of the people were laid upon the goat, so that the animal bore the iniquities of the whole congregation. Thus Jesus was the sin-offering for all mankind. The second goat of the festival was known as the scapegoat, and it is expressly stated that the high priest should confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat. And then the scapegoat was sent away into the wilderness, symbolically laden with the sins and iniquities of the people. This ceremony was clearly to signify the complete taking away of the people’s iniquity. Thus Jesus, of whom the scapegoat was a type, took away our sins on the cross, when He was condemned to everlasting damnation in our stead and carried our sins, as it were, into the wilderness of hell. St. Paul writes that Jesus “blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Co. 2:14). It was the Savior’s sacrifices that took from us the curse which the fall of Adam and our sins had brought upon mankind. He took away our sins when He wrestled with His heavenly Father in His importunate prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane; He took away our sins when He endured the pains of eternal hell while He hung for more than three hours on the cursed tree of the cross.

The Lamb of God, as John the Baptist says, took away the sin of the world. And here is the very heart of the Good Friday message. For unless we realize the damnableness of our sins, the miracle of Calvary has no significance for us. We must acknowledge, without excuse or reservation, the actuality of our sins, together with the penalty which the righteous God must demand from us. We must realize that we sin a hundred, a thousand times a day, in thought, in word, in deed, in the hidden motions of sin in our mind, in the sins of commission, in the sins of omission. We may think that we have made some headway in sanctification with the help of the Lord, but when we think of the many possibilities for showing kindness, for doing good which we have missed, we are bound to find that our sins and transgressions mount up before us in staggering total. And all this the Savior took upon Himself. He took away the folly, the deceitfulness of sin. He knew from the beginning how easily men are led into sin by its beautiful appearance. He knew how quickly Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden had listened to the voice of the Tempter. — He took away the wickedness of sin. Every sin is not only a mistake or an error; it is a transgression of God’s holy Law; it is a rejection of God as the one Lord; it is an insult to the Holy One, who has said: “Be ye therefore holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Le. 11:45,19:2,20:7; 1 Pe. 1:15-16). One of the most wonderful words of the Bible is that which tells us: God “made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin” (2 Co. 5:21). God transferred to Jesus, the great Lamb of sacrifice, the iniquities of us all, so that He bore, He took away, their guilt. He was regarded by God as the greatest sinner that ever lived, because in Him all the sinners that ever lived in the world are personified.

But now, thank God! we can add the last word of our text, for the Lamb of God, as St. John tells us, bore and took away “the sin of the world” The same Apostle who recorded the sermon of the Baptist in our text, writes, in his First Epistle: “Jesus Christ the righteous... is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn 2:2). St. Paul likewise, in a passage of singular power and beauty, assures us that we are justified freely by the grace of God through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood (Ro. 3:24-25). Even as God loved the whole world and sent His Son to pay for the sin and for the guilt of the whole world, so Jesus died for all (2 Co. 5:15), for all men without exception. As we belong to the world of sinful men, we may rest assured that the sacrifice of the Lamb of God has effected our redemption. This assurance is so great that it serves to console us even if our sin is as great as the adultery and murder of David, as the denial of Peter, as the blasphemy of Paul. The Apostle tells us: “Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things” (1 Jn. 3:19-20). And therefore we and all men everywhere should gladly receive the assurance given in the wonderful Lenten sermon of the Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” It means that each and every person in the wide world, although under the condemnation of the Law as a sinner, may freely accept and make his own forever the redemption gained for all men by Jesus through His death on Calvary, so that we may joyfully confess, with the explanation of the Second Article: “Christ has redeemed me, a lost and condemned sinner, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil. This is most certainly true (SC:II:II).
    Behold the Lamb of God,
    The Lamb by God appointed,
    Himself the Sacrifice,
    Himself the Priest anointed;
    He came from heaven’s throne
    To share our misery,
    That we might share His joy
    Through all eternity.

    Behold the Lamb of God
    That bears the world’s transgression,
    That we of heaven's joys
    Might have the full possession;
    On Him the Father laid
    The burden of our guilt;
    To save our souls from death
    His precious blood was spilt.

    Behold the Lamb of God!
    For our sins He was given;
    For us the crown He bore,
    For us His side was riven.
    The guilt of all the world
    With Christ hung on the cross;
    His death brought grace and peace,
    Restored the aweful loss.

    Thou gracious Lamb of God:
    We meekly bow before Thee;
    For thy great victory
    We praise Thee and adore Thee;
    We pledge ourselves to Thee
    Forever to be Thine
    That Thy sweet beams of grace
    May ever on us shine.




Remember that it is finished - Sermon for Good Friday Chief Service

This sermon was written for the saints at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to be preached during the hours of the cross on Good Friday, 2012.

John 18 - 19 + Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12 + Psalm 22

The Word of the Lord through the prophet Zechariah: Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. (Zech. 3:8-9)

Today we remember that single day, that day of once-and-for-all atonement, that day of redemption called Good Friday.

So many things to remember from Good Friday: The before-sunrise trials before Annas and the high priest Caiaphas. The false witnesses. The spitting and mocking and striking. The early-morning trials before Pilate and Herod and Pilate again. The ripping of Jesus’ back to shreds. The purple robe. The crown of thorns. The Gentile governor’s attempts to free an innocent man. The Jews’ insistence that their king be crucified.

Of course, it’s Jesus’ six hours or so on the cross that we remember most of all. And it’s that striking Psalm, 22, that painted the picture for us a thousand years before the events took place. I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. They have pierced my hands and feet. They divide my garments among them and for my clothing they cast lots. All who see me mock me. He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him! All my bones are out of joint. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws. You lay me in the dust of death. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Isaiah has already told us why. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

But even as Jesus cries out from the cross in agony, he is directing us back to the Psalm. And what we find there is not the hopelessness of despair and guilt and punishment, but faith in God in the midst of the deepest agony, the hope of an end to punishment, an end to suffering, and the ushering in of salvation. For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.

It was about the 9th hour – about 3 PM when Jesus cried out from the cross, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?” And it was about at the 9th hour – 3 PM on that Day of days when Jesus was delivered, his suffering ended. His Father delivered him, delivered him to death, but through death, to Paradise for his worthy soul, and to a Sabbath Day’s rest for his weary bones.

One perfect life had been lived. One perfect death had been died. A life of obedience and trust in God from start to finish – the life and death of the Man who is also God. It is finished!, Jesus cried. And was it ever! Satisfaction made. Redemption finished. Forgiveness won. For every sin of every sinner, including you.

This atonement finished by Jesus, this payment for sin made by Jesus is the firm footing for our faith. This is what is preached in the Gospel. This is what is delivered to us by God in the means of grace. Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Jesus Christ with his perfect righteousness, the only righteousness that avails before God. Jesus Christ with his finished work of redemption.

Now, what sin can the devil throw in your face and say, “Oh. That one’s too big. I’m sorry. Even Jesus’ blood can’t cover that one”? “Oh. You did that? You harbored a thought like that in your heart? And you call yourself a Christian? No forgiveness for you – not if God finds out about that.”

Foolish devil. And foolish you, if you believe him. It is finished, Jesus said. There is no sacrifice or payment for sin left to be made. Once for all, it is finished.

Or, what good work will the fool devil fool you into doing in order to make God “happy”? What good Christian sacrifice will you make for him, to hold it up next to Jesus hanging on the cross, “See, God! Well, Jesus did all that, but I did this! Look here! Look at me! I’m a good Christian, aren’t I?”

You might as well be one of the damned Pharisees who called for Jesus’ crucifixion. Because if you dare to hold up another righteousness before God than that of Jesus, if you dare to rely on any sacrifice but the sacrifice of Jesus, then you will be locked out of the heaven Jesus won for you. It is finished, Jesus said. God’s law has been satisfied. Don’t try to satisfy it some more.

Instead, trust in the satisfaction Jesus made! Trust in the crucified One. Hold his sacrifice up before God and say, “See! Look at this! Look only at this! Accept me because of this! Because of him!” That’s faith. You really want to make God happy? Then remember that it is finished, that God is already appeased by the sacrifice of Jesus, and happy with all who put their faith in him.

As the Psalm says, All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. Yes, the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, even as the Church has remembered for some 2,000 years, even as we are doing today. It is God’s will that you remember this Day of days, Good Friday, that you remember Jesus Christ and him crucified, that you worship him and tell of him to the next generation. But of all the events of Good Friday, of the crucifixion itself, God wants you to remember this, that it is finished. Salvation has been won, for you. Amen.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dear Pastor: What are our congregation's policies for promoting non-denominational ministries?

    Email Subject: What are our congregation's policies for promoting non-denominational ministries?

    Email Body:
    Dear Pastor [name here],

    I'm just curious what those policies might be. For example, I know that we often have literature out for "Time of Grace," even though they explicitly state, and want to be known as, a ministry that is not affiliated with any denomination (a recent Journal Sentinel article featured "Time of Grace," where they highlighted this very point). They even have men on their Board of Directors with whom we are not in fellowship (at least one -- they are required to have an LCMS member on their Board of Directors to maintain RSO status with LCMS). If our policy is quite open, I can think of several non-W/ELS organizations to promote in our congregation, which are still "Lutheran." Let me know.


    [Your name here]

Dear Laymen,

The above email is a brief form letter for you to use, to inquire with your pastor regarding policies governing the distribution of promotional material. We provide it for your convenience. If you should use it, and discover that your congregation's policy is quite open, we at IL are developing some "promotional materials," which will be available beginning next week, for you to post in your congregation. Even if the policy is open to review, we can scarcely imagine that promoting organized activities of fellow W/ELS laymen and clergymen would be refused in our case, especially given that we endeavor to actively promote a robust Confessionalism among orthodox Lutherans.

(BTW: If you, your pastor, or your acquaintances would like evidence that LCMS requires that a voting member of the Board of Directors of an RSO ministry be a member of the LCMS, and specifically in the case of "Time of Grace," you can refer him to these two documents, Minutes of the LCMS Board for Communication Services (BCS), which approved Time of Grace's application for RSO status: 012709 BCS Minutes APPROVED.pdf and 042709 BCS Minutes APPROVED.pdf. These official documents were retrieved from the LCMS website early last year before it was "relaunched" and all older documents like these removed.)

Stay Tuned!

Remember the cup of salvation - Holy Thursday sermon

This sermon was written for the saints at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to be preached on Holy Thursday, 2012.

Exodus 12:1-14 + Psalm 116 + 1 Corinthians 11:23-32 + John 13:1-15

Tonight begins the first of the Three Holy Days, from sunset to sunset, according to Creation Time – first evening and then morning each day. It would take a full twenty-four hours – or maybe just a lifetime – to do justice to all the events that took place during the twenty-four hours of that very first Holy Day that began at sunset on Maundy Thursday and ended at the eerie sunset of Good Friday.

So many memorable and meaningful events took place on that Thursday night. The love of Jesus on display as he washed his disciples feet. The command for them to walk in his footsteps of love, self-sacrifice and lowly service. The Passover meal. The predicted betrayal, abandonment and denial. The High Priestly prayer of Jesus – for his disciples back then, and also for his disciples now. The Garden of Gethsemane. The anguish of Jesus’ soul.

My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here and watch with me.” And then, with sweat dripping like blood, Jesus prayed three times to his Father to “take this cup” from him, “if it is your will. My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

And the Father’s will was done. Jesus drank from the cup. And that brings us back to the one thing I would ask you remember tonight, or at least, the one thing I would ask you focus your attention on. On Palm Sunday I asked you to remember one thing above all else – to remember Jesus riding on a donkey. Tonight, as we begin the first of the Three Holy Days, remember the cup.

We sang about it already in the Psalm this evening, and since we’ve been considering the Psalms throughout our Lenten journey this year, let’s include them for the Three Holy Days, too. In Psalm 116 we sang the words of the Messiah, “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.”

Now the interesting thing about the Messianic Psalms is that, though they were written hundreds of years before Jesus was born, they were written from the perspective of the Messiah both as the events are transpiring in his life, and also as he looks back on it all after it’s all over.

Listen to the words of Jesus in Psalm 116, “I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.” You see the perspective of the Messiah there? It’s as if Holy Week is already over and done and the Father has already heard him and delivered him from his enemies on Easter Sunday. But the Psalm gives us a window into what Jesus was going through as Holy Week was happening.

The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of the grave laid hold on me. I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the LORD: O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!” Sounds just like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, doesn’t it?

Then he gives thanks to the Lord, “For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living.” Sounds like Easter Sunday, doesn’t it?

But see what had to happen in between. A cup had to be drunk. In order for sinful mankind to be able to drink salvation from God’s cup, the sinless Son of Man had to first drink the cup of wrath, the cup of punishment, the cup of torture and death. And when he asked his Father to take it from him and his Father didn’t do it, what did Jesus do with that cup? Oh, he could have thrown it down on the ground and let God’s wrath against sin be poured out onto sinners. Remember, he said in the Garden when Peter drew his sword to defend Jesus, “Put your sword away… Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

Instead of dropping the cup, Jesus drank it – drank it down to its dregs. He had to be brought low, lower and lower and lower, down to the point of death, even death on a cross.

But as he says in the Psalm, “When I was brought low, he saved me.” The cup of wrath and suffering for sin had been emptied. And now the cup of Jesus is filled to the brim with salvation – not just for himself in his glorious resurrection, but with salvation that he pours down the throats of his people.

What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.

That’s not just a figurative expression. Jesus literally poured his salvation – his forgiveness and his life, into a cup on Maundy Thursday and gave it to his disciples to drink, not just once, but to do this in remembrance of him, to lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, to drink from it often and to proclaim his death again and again until he comes.

Do you still sin after your baptism? Yes, you do. Do you still have bitter enemies who can attack your faith in Christ and beat it to a pulp? Yes, you do. But you have been given a cup of salvation, filled with the precious blood of the Lamb of God, filled for you to drink.

It’s not a symbol of Jesus’ blood. By the power of Jesus’ word, it is his blood. It’s not a symbol of salvation. By the power of Jesus’ word, it is salvation and forgiveness and life for all who believe in the words and promises of Jesus – given for you, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. No sin is wicked enough, no enemy is strong enough to undo Jesus’ words of promise. He pours his salvation into this cup, and so administers a lethal dose to death.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. Even your death is precious to your Father in heaven, because you have been united to his precious Son, Jesus Christ, whose death was also precious in the Lord’s sight, precious enough to satisfy God’s wrath against every sinner. Your death, when it comes, will be precious to your Father in heaven, because you have drunk from his cup of salvation, week in and week out, and so you have received the medicine of immortality, a better Tree of Life, God’s seal and pledge that, though you die, you will live.

And isn’t that what that other Psalm says, too? You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Ps. 23:5-6)

Remember the cup of Jesus – the cup that he drank, and the cup that he has filled with his salvation, with his blood, poured out for you. The table is ready. Drink from his cup and live. Amen.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Royal Banners Forward Go - Vexilla Regis

This ancient hymn, written by Venantius Fortunatus, has been sung by Christians for some 1500 years to various chant tones and melodies. The melody below is the one from The Lutheran Hymnal composed by John Hampton (text and tune in the public domain). Lutheran Service Book includes the hymn with a different melody. I don't know why it didn't make the cut for Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, but it didn't.

In case there are any churches that wish to use the hymn on Good Friday but don't have copies of The Lutheran Hymnal handy, I've created the graphic below that can be inserted in service folders. Right-click the link below and "Save Target As..."

TLH #168 - The Royal Banners Forward Go

The embedded mp3 plays all seven stanzas of the hymn.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The journey to the cross and the empty tomb - a Lutheran translation

I always appreciate the invitations to “journey to the cross this Holy Week,” or to have a “blessed journey to the empty tomb.” Those invitations come from every corner of the Christian world. But when Lutherans say such things, they mean something different, something more than what the sects mean. At least, one hopes.

How is one to “journey to the cross” or “to the empty tomb”? Obviously pilgrimages to the Holy Land are not going to cut it.

How, then?

For the non-sacramental sects, one makes such a journey mentally and emotionally (they would mistakenly say “spiritually”) by reviewing the Holy Week events, like relearning a valuable lesson, like reminiscing about an old friend who isn’t around anymore, like rereading a good book, like watching a rerun of a favorite show or a classic sporting event on TV. To make it really special, they may jazz it up a bit with dramatic readings or reenactments – whatever it takes to make watching a rerun less boring and more emotionally stirring, more “meaningful.”

For the non-sacramental sects, Holy Week is a time to remember Jesus, and by remembering Him, to have a sort of “spiritual” communion with Him up in heaven. They may even have a snack of crackers and grape juice to celebrate Maundy Thursday, the empty shell of a Supper in which Jesus is merely remembered, with an empty seat at the table in honor of an absent Guest.

That’s what a lot of Christians understand when they hear about a journey to the cross and the empty tomb.

Lutherans mean something better.

For means of grace Lutherans, the journey to the cross and the empty tomb is not a journey we make by thinking really hard about Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s not a journey we make by trying to muster up the right feelings of horror or of guilt or of joy. In fact, it’s not really a journey we make at all. It’s a journey that the Holy Spirit takes us on through the means of grace, the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. Instead of a rerun, the Holy Week Gospel is a live feed, back through time to the actual events in history that purchased our redemption.

But it gets even better than that.

For means of grace Lutherans, the satisfaction that Christ made for sins on the cross actually comes through the live feed and is applied to penitent sinners here and now. The goodness and mercy of Christ, the righteousness of our Substitute, the love of a Father, are communicated to us here and now, forgiving sins in the present tense. The Spirit of Christ comes through the words to us, whisking us away through baptismal waters, back before the court, onto the cross, into the grave and out again. The means of grace brings the risen Savior to us and stirs up faith to cling to Him in a way that even faithful Mary was not allowed to do on that very first day of the week.

But it gets even better than that.

Means of grace Lutherans have something better than a peek inside an empty tomb on Easter Sunday. We are given a glance at the One who once occupied the tomb, whose glorified body and blood now grace the Altar, to be handed out to the faithful for the forgiveness of sins. This brief moment of reclining at table with the risen Savior is far more than a remembrance of the living Lord Jesus. It’s a reception of Jesus Himself, a communion in the life of the Living One, and therefore, a life-giving medicine.

I once heard it suggested that, in our Christian freedom to not offer Holy Communion on any given Sunday, maybe Easter Sunday is the best time to exercise that freedom for the sake of our Easter visitors. Such a practice would fit right in with the non-sacramental sects and their “spiritual” journey to the empty tomb, but it would seem quite unnatural for means of grace Lutherans who believe that, in the Holy Supper, we truly “proclaim Christ’s death until He comes,” for means of grace Lutherans who know that this “remembrance of Him” is, in reality, the personal appearance of the Risen One in our midst.

So pastors, if, for some reason, you decided that Easter Sunday was the perfect time not to offer the body and blood of the risen Savior to your people, the ideal time not to offend potential believers in Jesus with the real presence of Jesus, there’s still time to rethink it. So what if bulletins have already been printed and musicians already lined up? Your organist already knows at least one setting for the Service of the Sacrament. Your people will understand, too, if you explain to them that there’s one way and one way only by which a means of grace Lutheran actually makes the blessed journey to the cross and to the empty tomb – through an abundance of the means of grace.

As Lutherans, we sometimes need to remember how many shorthand phrases we use, both for our own sake as well as for the sake of others. Even “means of grace” means very little to those on the outside. Holy Week is a fine time to invite your friends and neighbors to accompany you on a blessed journey to the cross and empty tomb. Just be sure they know the Lutheran translation.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Holy Week Sermons – Palm Sunday (by Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann)

by Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann++

(Introit, Ps. 22:19)

Jeremiah 6:16
Thus saith the Lord, ‘Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.’ But they said, ‘We will not walk therein’

For most Lutheran Christians, Palm Sunday occupies a unique position among the Sundays of the church year. This is true not only because the day ushers in the solemn contemplations of Holy Week, with the reading of the Lenten story, not only because the Gospel lesson of the day tells us of that unique incident in the life of our Savior, His entry into Jerusalem, but also because in most congregations the day has been set apart for the solemn act of confirmation. Palm Sunday has for many centuries been the day on which new members were received into the Christian congregation, when they made a public profession of their faith and were declared ready to receive the last instruction in Christian doctrine before being admitted to the Lord's Supper. For that reason Palm Sunday is a day of solemn memories for many hundreds of thousands of church members, a day on which they quietly and definitely renew the baptismal vow as they repeated it on the day of their confirmation. And even if a Christian was not received into adult membership into the Christian Church on Palm Sunday, he will readily join the other church members in remembering the solemn occasion when he made his vow to be faithful to the Triune God and His Word, and specifically to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Such a solemn renewal of the vow by which a person declares his allegiance to the Savior is particularly necessary in our day, when so many difficulties have arisen to endanger the simple faith of Christians. It is true that the Christian Church, in its outward appearance, has apparently made much headway in recent years. The number of church members, according to available statistics, has increased by many per cent over the gains recorded a few years ago. Over 60% of the people of America now profess adherence to some church**. It is most unfortunate, however, that in many instances, this outward membership is not the expression of a full and complete adherence to the full truth of the Word of God. There is a good deal of formal Christianity, including a fairly regular attendance at the chief service on Sunday morning, chiefly because this is considered rather fashionable. But when one inquires about the attendance at other church services, at Bible hours, and at meetings in which further progress in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ is the goal, there are bound to be great disappointments. And if we should go one step farther and inquire about regular worship in the home, and about daily Bible reading by the individual, the disappointment would be increased in considerable measure. It is truly a sad phenomenon, but one which cannot be denied, that many congregations, especially in the large cities, have, for the majority of the membership, degenerated into social clubs with a religious veneer, and that the call of the Lord: “My son, give me thine heart” (Pr. 23:26), is falling upon deaf ears.

And there is another point which must be added here, namely that of the attitude taken by a great many people who disdain to be reckoned with churchgoers, many of whom even are out-and-out enemies of the Bible and its soul-giving truths. Somehow people have gotten the notion that Christianity, the Christian religion, the Christian faith, are on trial, that the truth of the Bible has been cited before the tribunal of men and has been found wanting.

Is this true? Is the Christian religion failing? Has it been arraigned before the tribunal of men’s justice and found wanting? — Nothing can be farther from the truth. To all who entertain such notions the Bible calls out: “Nay, but, O man, who art thou that thou repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, ‘Why hast thou made me thus?’” (Ro. 9:20). Or: “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Co. 1:18). Hence it is not the truth of God that is standing at the bar of justice, but the foolishness of man. It is the people of this country and of every city in it who are standing at the crossroads; it is they who should be found in great searchings of heart. For those who reject or ignore His Word and who foolishly criticize the eternal verities of Holy Writ the words are written: “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.’ He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure” (Ps. 2:1-5). It is the almighty and all-wise God who calls out to men, in His holy Word: “This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left” (Is. 30:21). It is also He who speaks to us, in the words of our text:


Let us, under the gracious guidance of the Holy Spirit, meditate on these words for a few minutes.


It is a solemn warning that lies in these words, just as solemn as that which we find in Christ’s own words: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat” (Mt. 7:13). Truly, many are they that go in thereat. Many are they who are listening to the seductive voices of men who profess to be leaders to everlasting life, but whose way leads far from the path of heaven to a dreadful uncertainty which leads to everlasting destruction. Who are they who presume to put up their pitiful manmade theories over against the eternal verities of God’s Word? Ah, they glibly prate of scholarship and of the latest results of science. They presume to pick the Bible to pieces and to substitute for its divine truth the flimsy threads of human arguments. They fill the hearts of our growing boys and girls, of our young men and young women, with doubts concerning the wisdom before which the greatest achievements of man’s mind pale into insignificance. They speak of mistakes in the Bible, though nine out of ten have never even read the Bible. Yea, they lead men and women, or try to lead them, into new and strange paths, into paths where the truth of the creation story is ridiculed, where the inerrancy of the inspired Record is set aside, where the deity of Christ is declared to be non-essential, where nothing is left of the Bible but a shell and a hollow mockery.

But what saith the Lord? Let us repeat the words of Ps. 2:4: “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.” And the Prophet proclaims: “The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord; and what wisdom is in them?” (]e. 8:9). And again we read: “Thus saith the Lord, ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord’” (Je. 9:23-24).

But there is another matter which ought to concern us most seriously at this time, one which is not connected, except indirectly with the attacks that have recently been launched against the Bible. It is a situation which confronts every one of us in a manner that ought to challenge our attention. It is the universal abandonment to selfishness which characterizes our times, the hectic seeking after the gratification of various appetites, the eagerness for sensual and sensuous delights. It was not in this manner that the kingdom of David and the Church of the Lord was built up through the preaching of the Lord’s prophets. It was not thus that George Washington became the “father of his country”; it was not thus that Abraham Lincoln, under God, was fitted to become its savior. It was not thus that the individual state in our great commonwealth was established, each so remarkable in extent and powerful in riches. And, above all, it is not thus that the Lord would have us live our short span of life, as it is allotted to us in this vale of tears. Shall we spend the money which comes to us as a gift from the hands of a kind Father for the pursuit and gratification of momentary and fleeting delights? Shall we waste our God-given strength in the vain pursuit of pleasures which sap our God-given energy and weaken the stamina of our nation? Shall we prostitute the liberty which is ours as the children of God into a license which endangers our soul’s salvation? — Ah, if there were fewer white lights burning to show the way to questionable and dangerous amusements and more white lights of consecration glowing within the hearts and souls of men in the interest of that which is good and elevating or, as the Apostle puts it, of “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report” (Ph. 4:8); if there were less strength dissipated in yielding to the vices of our day and more strength used in building up the homes and the nation and the churches; if there were less money spent in useless and dangerous luxuries and more for the sound establishment of things which are enduring for the welfare of home and Church: how much more would the pleasure of the Lord rest upon those who call themselves Christians! Does not the Lord say, in the Book of His eternal Truth: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world”? Yea, and He continues: “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 Jn. 2:15-17). And another Apostle writes: “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (Ja. 4:4).

Are we then, my friends, following the allurements of the world's wisdom and of the world's temptations? Have we listened to the voice of the tempter and placed our souls in jeopardy? Oh, let us hear the warning cry of our God: “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein.” Mark what the Lord says through His inspired Prophet: “Behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark, and they say, ‘Who seeth us?’ and ‘Who knoweth us?’ Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay” (Is. 29:14-16). The world passeth away, and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.


And this last promise is of such great importance in our present meditation. For we find that, in addition to the warning contained in our text, we have also a most loving appeal, a fatherly call to all men, for while the Lord admonishes us: “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein,” He adds the beautiful statement: “And ye shall find rest for your souls.” So we see that even the first part of the sentence contains an implied promise, for it says, in effect: If you will keep on standing in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way. The Lord thereby indicates that He presupposes such conduct on the part of all those who are truly His children. This being the case, we can appreciate the promise all the better: Ye shall find rest for your souls; namely, by following the right way and walking therein.

We know where the true path may be found; we know which is the right way to heaven. The Savior of mankind has said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me” (Jn. 14:6). Christ is the Way, because He has prepared the way into the presence of our heavenly Father through the blood of His cross. Does the false wisdom of this world throw up its hands in horror over the doctrine of the redemption, an idea which our oversensitive generation can no longer accept? We ignore all objections to the eternal truth, for we know that we have redemption through the blood of the Lamb, the forgiveness of sins.

Let us, therefore, give the closest attention to the words of our text, to the glorious promise included in the words of the Lord: And ye shall find rest unto your souls. The inspired writer of the Letter to the Hebrews states it as a simple fact: “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God” (He. 4:9). And in the same letter we find the encouraging question: “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (He. 9:14). That is the truth of God: The blood of Christ has purged our consciences from dead works to serve the living God, to walk in His ways. How then can any one, knowing Christ and the atonement through His blood as the only way, neglect to keep on seeking the one and only Way to heaven? Now, Jesus is found in the Word of grace, and in the Word alone. It is He who says, in the Book of eternal Truth: “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (Jn. 5:39). It is He who inspired His holy writer to call out: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.” And again: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:9,105). And let no one think that these passages refer merely to a sanctified life, for there can be no true sanctification without a knowledge and acceptance of the way of justification based on the redemption wrought by the Savior.

Have we been heeding His call: “...thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (De. 4:29). It is God Himself who draws men to the Savior, namely by creating willing hearts, such as are willing to be led and guided by Him, eager to learn more and more about the way to heaven through the acceptance of His promise: “Ye shall End rest for your souls.

Have you been searching for Him in His Word? How often have you read the Bible, the Book which has rightly been called “God’s love-letter to all mankind”? There are less than 1200 chapters in the Bible and, by spending fewer than ten minutes a day on the average, or far less than one per cent of your time, you can easily read the Bible through once every year. Have you been observing a family worship hour, in which you and your loved ones spend some time daily with your Redeemer, in order to learn ever more about the way of salvation through Christ and His blood? There are 168 hours in the week: do you suppose that you could spare two of these hours in becoming acquainted with the eternal verities which are essential for your eternal happiness? O friends, as we value the great and the lasting things of this life, as we look forward to the life beyond the grave, as we desire to spend eternity in the company of our one and only Savior, let us heed the call of the Lord in our text: “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.
    Thy grace brought me to faith
    In my Redeemer’s blood;
    Thy grace was sealed upon my heart
    In Baptism’s holy flood.

    Thy grace has kept me firm
    Against unnumbered foes;
    Thy grace sustains my trembling heart
    In tribulation's throes.

    Thy grace shall be the theme
    Of my unending songs,
    For my eternal gratitude
    To Thee, my Lord, belongs.

    Yea, when in heaven’s halls
    I stand before Thy throne,
    This shall I sing, that I am saved
    By grace, and grace alone.


    This is an interesting statistic cited by Dr. Kretzmann. His sermon was written in 1956, and according to then "available statistics," roughly 60% of America's population "confessed adherence to some church." One may assume that at that time the term "church" was limited to a church of some Christian confession. Of further interest with regard to this statistic is that it had recently "increased by many percent," perhaps giving some reason for Christian boasting. Dr. Kretzmann's further warnings and lamentations in this paragraph, however, make it clear that such increases, in and of themselves, were no cause for confidence as, “in many cases, outward membership [was] not the expression of a full and complete adherence to the full truth of the Word of God.” Moreover, church attendance and membership was generally known to follow from human weakness, as people tended to use church as a way to indulge their need to be “fashionable.”

    In contrast, according to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Christian was 76% – a statistic which represented nearly a 15% numeric increase since 1990, but, due to population growth over the same period, also represented almost an 11% decline as a percentage of American adults. Granted, as stated, this is a slightly different statistic than the one cited by Dr. Kretzmann, who cited “confessed adherence to some [Christian] church,” yet, I would presume to say that identifying oneself as “Christian” in 1956 would have been tantamount to confessing “adherence to some church,” whereas today, given the growth of the Emergent Church over the past 15 years and the growing rejection of organized religion, “confessed adherence to some church” can no longer be said to be equivalent to self-identifying as a “Christian.”

    If one accepts that these statistics are roughly equivalent in nature, then even with a relatively much higher percentage of professing Christians in America today, and with raw numbers of Christians in America measurably increasing, it is curious to notice that today’s attitude toward Church attendance, even among those professing to be “confessional Lutherans,” has shifted that much further away from that of Dr. Kretzmann, who indicated that such increases were not necessarily cause for rejoicing, given that “full and complete adherence to the full truth of the Word of God” was not the confession of the adherents. Today, among advocates of the ubiquitous Church Growth Movement (CGM), the primary matter of concern is the health of the organization (whether it be the Congregation or the Church Body to which it belongs), where the health of the organization is measured in dollars. Since such organizations are non-profit and rely primarily on donations, this means essentially one thing: “butts in seats.” More numbers means more donations, and more donations mean a healthy church (or “church body” as the case may be), while fewer numbers thus means an unhealthy or “dying” or “ineffective” congregation or church body. Today, more than ever, to get "butts in seats," churches of the Church Growth Movement exploit the same apparently long-known human weaknesses – the human need to persue what is judged "fashionable" in the eyes of the World – as we observe them having thus “degenerated into social clubs with [little more than] a religious veneer.”


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