Sermons

The Song of Simeon by Pastor Roger Rohde

The Song of Simeon

Luke 2: 29-32

In a Peanuts cartoon by Charles M. Schulz, little Lucy threw up her arms in despair and cried out: “For months we looked forward to Christmas.  We couldn’t wait until it came, and now it’s all over!”

While Christmas can be a very busy time for all of us, we do look forward too much that surrounds us this time of year.  We enjoy listening to and singing the Christmas hymns and songs.  We delight in the delicious goodies that come out this time of year.  We love seeing all the beautiful decorations brightening the landscape.  Most of all we enjoy the opportunity to get together with family and friends.  Most of this is now behind us as Lucy notes.  Oh, there may be a few more special events taking place, but in another week or so all the wrappings of Christmas will be packed away, and family and friends will have returned home.

This, however, does not mean that the real beauty of Christmas is behind us.  We do not have to sit here this morning or in the next week and join Lucy declaring that Christmas is now over.  The true significance of Christmas lives on even when the presents are gone, the lights taken down, and the family members have gone home.  At the heart and center of Christmas is the Babe of Bethlehem and what He brings to the world.  This is what Simeon’s song is all about.  It is about the peace and joy we can take with us from Christmas into the new year, because “unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.”

This song of Simeon is founded upon God’s Word of promise.  Simeon was told “that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”  How long Simeon waited for this promise of God to be fulfilled we do not know.  But Simeon waited, and as he waited he continued to devote himself to worshiping the Lord.

He actually was at the temple the day God’s promise to him was fulfilled.  Mary and Joseph had made the six mile trip from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to fulfill God’s Law of dedication and purification.  It was when Mary and Joseph came to the temple with baby Jesus that Simeon was privileged to take Him in His arms.  It is then that Simeon’s song flowed from his lips.  In the Christian church this song is known as the Nunc Dimittis, which comes from the first two words of this song in the Latin language.  The words mean, “Now You dismiss.”  Simeon could now face life and even death with the peace of knowing that the Savior had come.

Our coming to this place to hear God’s Word and receive His Supper is important for it is through these means that Jesus presents Himself to us with His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  As we receive the Lord’s Supper He prepared for us, we like Simeon can depart in the peace that our eyes have seen Christ’s salvation.

These words are truly appropriate for us today as we stand between Christmas and a new year.  The significance of Christmas does not have to be packed away with the decorations.  The Babe of Bethlehem is still with us.  He is our Immanuel.  Yes, even if we will walk through the valley of the shadow of death in the year ahead, we need not fear because the Lord will be there right with us.  In death He promises to be with us and take us safely to our heavenly home.  The external celebration of Christmas may be over, but the meaning of Christmas lives on throughout the New Year.

Today then is not a day to throw up our arms about the uncertainties that come with a new year.  Rather at this altar today Jesus reminds us of His saving work, and assures us that He has hold of us so that we may move forth in the peace and joy of the Lord.  Live in the blessings of His salvation and have a blessed New Year in His name.  Amen.

Zechariah’s Song Concerning His Son by Pastor Roger Rohde

Zechariah’s Song Concerning His Son

Luke 1:67, 76-79

This morning we look at the second half of Zechariah’s song which speaks of his son.  You may recall that the first half of Zechariah’s song dealt with Jesus.  If you think about that for a moment, that is quite amazing.  Even though Zechariah’s wife experienced a miraculous conception, for she was well beyond the age of child-bearing, yet he started his joyous song not with his son, but with his Savior.  This brings to mind something Jesus said during His earthly ministry: “Anyone who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me”            (Matthew 10:37).  In his song, Zechariah gets everything right by first celebrating the coming of Jesus Christ, and thereafter singing of the gift of his son and the work he was to do.  Today we look at how Zechariah speaks of his son and under the power of the Holy Spirit addresses the significance of John the Baptist’s ministry in our lives.

Zechariah speaks of the fact that his son will be a spokesman for God.

John the Baptist’s ministry was not about speaking the thoughts and ideas of men, but proclaiming the eternal truths God wanted revealed.  What God wanted to accomplish through John the Baptist’s ministry was to prepare the hearts of people for the coming of Jesus Christ.  John the Baptist is referred to in Isaiah chapter 40, when it speaks of “the voice calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.”

These words picture what took place in ancient days when a king was coming to town.  The authorities of the city would order all the roadways the king would travel to be repaired.  All ruts and holes would be filled, and all high spots would be leveled.  Everything was to be ready so that when the king came there would be an easy transition.

In Zechariah’s song, his son, John the Baptist is described as the preparer for the King.  Through the preaching of John the Baptist an easy transition was to occur in the hearts of the people as Christ the King would come on the scene.

For this transition to occur John the Baptist’s preaching was to center on two things.  First, it was to center upon the reality of sin within people’s lives that they might repent from their sinful ways.  One will see no need for a Savior if one believes everything is right with him.  This is reflected in Jesus’ words to the Pharisees when He said: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17).

The idea that Jesus poses here is not that some people are righteous and do not need to repent.  Elsewhere in the Scripture the Lord clearly tells us that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).  The point Jesus is making to the Pharisees and to us is that people don’t go to the doctor when they are healthy, and they won’t look to Jesus for salvation, if they are not aware of their sins.

The God-given task John the Baptist had was to declare God’s Law so that people would see their need for a Savior.  Are you aware, my friend, of the sin that is in your life right now?  Have you looked into the mirror of God’s Law and seen the sinful motives of your heart, the sinful words that come from your lips, the sinful attitude of your mind, and the sinful actions of your hands and feet?  “Repent!” was the message John the Baptist proclaimed, “for the kingdom of God is at hand.  Look not unto the sins of others, because that will not bring you any closer to the Great Physician, Jesus Christ.  Reflect on the sins that disease your body and soul, and draw nigh unto the Lord with repentant hearts that He can heal and restore you.

Second, John the Baptist centered his God-given message on the person and work of Jesus.  Zechariah’s song states that his son was to give people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins by talking about the Rising Sun Who would come to us from heaven.  This Rising Sun refers to Jesus, the Light of the world, Who came down from heaven to shine upon us and deliver us from the darkness of sin and death.  We cannot appreciate this Rising Sun unless we recognize the darkness of our sins and the hopelessness of our lives without Christ.

After John the Baptist showed people their sins and called them to repentance, he said unto them concerning Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  John the Baptist had said that he was not worthy to touch Jesus’ sandals.  Yet, this Lamb of God touched our lives when in the prime of His sinless life He died the sinner’s death and poured out His lifeblood on the cross to wash away all our sins.  In Jesus alone there is salvation and eternal life.  Do you daily give thought to what Jesus Christ the Lamb of God did for you and live the new life He gives you to His honor and glory?

A man was tending to a movable railroad bridge over a waterway.  He had opened the bridge so that a large ship could pass.  Now a train was coming and the bridge needed to be closed so that the train could have safe passage over the waterway.  There was only one problem.  The man’s young son was climbing among the gears that needed to be put in motion if the bridge was to be closed.  What was this man to do: Keep the bridge open and spare his son’s life, or close the bridge so that the people on the train could safely pass over the waterway.  Without hesitation the man closed the bridge ending his son’s life so that the people on the train could go safely on their journey.  The greatest tragedy was not that the man’s son died, but that the people on the train knew nothing of the sacrifice that was made to save them.

The second half of Zechariah’s song is about his son, John the Baptist, and how he would make known the sacrifice God gave in saving mankind from their sins.  In this season of Advent, a penitential season in the church year, let us hear the voice of John the Baptist calling for our repentance.  Let us take time, real time, to focus on what sins are in our lives right now that are impeding us from having a closer relationship with Christ and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  Repent!  Repent of these sins and look to the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.

 

The Song of the Angels by Pastor Roger Rohde

The Song of the Angels

Luke 2:13-14

As we continue our reflection upon the songs of men and of angels found around Christ’s first coming, today we are taken to the plains of Bethlehem on that first Christmas night.  The shepherds were tending their sheep when suddenly a great multitude of heavenly host praised God and said: “Glory to

God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to men.”  It is this song which today is still heard in Christian churches throughout the world.  Here at St. Paul’s the hymns wed sing this morning reflect this song of the angels.  It is appropriate in the moments we are here to behold the treasure that is found in this song of the angels.

The song of the angels is a song that centers on praising the Lord.

There is an irony here, because so much of our Christmas centers on family gatherings, Christmas dinners, lights, and the giving and receiving of gifts.  Christmas can become so much of these things that Christ is not an active part, let alone the center of our Christmas celebration.

The song of the angels declares that Christmas is to focus on the Lord, giving Him all honor and praise.  Notice that this is not a prayer asking that we may glorify the Lord.  This is a message telling us that God is to be given all honor and glory in our lives.  He is to be at the center of our Christmas and the center of our lives, because that is rightfully His place.  He is the Creator of our lives and the source of all the wealth and blessings that surround us.  He is at the heart of our salvation; the reason heaven is our home.  Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one can come to the Father, but by Him (John 14:6).  The One Who comes in human flesh at Bethlehem is the One Who made us and now comes to save us.  He is at the heart of our being, our life, and our salvation.  We are to recognize this by offering Him our thanks and praise.

The song of the angels speaks of the reconciliation Christ brings between God and man.  Through the Christ born in the manger at Bethlehem peace would come to the earth.

This peace that would come is not the peace we often think of when we think of the efforts of the United Nations, or peace treaties being established between nations.  This peace is the peace which comes between God and man.

After man’s fall into sin, there was no longer the unity between God and man that existed after the six day creation.  Once man sinned he lost the image of God, his heart was filled with sinful desires, and he sought to hide from God.  Man knew he had violated God’s will, but he could not correct it.  No matter what works he sought to do or sacrifices he attempted to make, he could not bridge the gap that existed between God and man because of sin.

Into this world came God in the flesh, the baby Jesus born in Bethlehem.  This Child’s birth brought more than the normal excitement that comes with a baby, for this Child was not only human but divine.  He is the Word made flesh.

His coming was not to fulfill God’s initial command to be fruitful and replenish the earth.  His coming was to bring man the gift of eternal life.  Jesus came to pay the debt of our sins and to reestablish a harmonious relationship between God and man for eternity.  This is why Jesus is called, “The
Prince of Peace.”  God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ” (II Corinthians 5:19).  Paul told us in this morning’s Epistle Reading: “In Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”  As we receive the body and blood of Christ today, He says to us: “You are forgiven of all your sins.  Live in the peace and joy of My salvation.”  That is something for which we can sing praise to God and glorify Him with our lives.

The song of the angels also speaks to the fact that God wants what is best for us.  Jesus’ coming shows His goodwill to us.  Paul wrote in II Timothy 2:3, “God wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”  Jesus came to save all people.  He wishes all people to be with Him in heaven.  He gave His life for everyone, because He has the eternal interests of all people at heart.

God’s plan in sending Jesus to save us shows us His heart by which He is willing to do whatever it takes, even giving Himself, that we may spend eternity with Him.  It is as we behold this immeasurable love of God for us that we can face each day and every situation in the peace and joy of the Lord.  Most certainly not all things are to our liking, but Jesus says that all He gives us and lets us go through are for our eternal benefit.  He reminds us in Hebrews 12: “’My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lost heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and he punishes everyone He accepts as a son.’  Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons…. Our human fathers discipline us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness”                     (Hebrews 12:5-7a, 10).

Peace is what Jesus came to give the world that first Christmas and it is His peace that He seeks to give us today through His Word and His Supper.  This peace is not the peace of having no problems, but resting in complete contentment even in the midst of unrest.  It is knowing that Jesus brought peace between God and men as He paid for the debt of our sins upon the cross, and that He does all things for the eternal wellbeing of His children.  May this Christmas peace be our New Year joy.  Praise the Lord!  Amen.

Zechariah’s Song Concerning the Savior by Pastor Roger Rohde

Zechariah’s Song Concerning the Savior”

Luke 1: 67-75

The word of God we reflect upon this morning is known as the first half of Zechariah’s song.  It, like the song of Mary we looked at last week, is a song of praise.  It is a song of praise concerning the Savior.  It is known in the Christian church by the title, “Benedictus,” deriving this title from the first word of the song found in the Latin language.  The truths found in this song are not the ideas of men, but as our text tells us the ideas of God revealed to Zechariah by the Holy Spirit.  Let us look at how the Savior’s coming leads us in praising God each and every day of our lives.

The coming of the Savior speaks to the faithfulness of God.

Immediately after Adam and Eve sinned, God pursued them to address their spiritual state.  God asked them, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”  When it was impossible for them to hide from God Adam and Eve confessed their sin, but tried to claim their innocence by blaming someone else for the sin they committed.  God did not accept their plea for innocence by trying to make someone else accountable for their sin.  But before God spoke of their sin would affect the lives of people on earth, He promised them that a virgin would bring forth a Son Who would “crush the head of Satan” as He Himself would encounter a painful death in defeating Satan.

Some 4,000 years after this promise a virgin named Mary gave birth to a Son and called Him Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).  The fulfillment of this 4,000 year-old promise is what Zechariah praises God for as he states: “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as He said through His holy prophets of long ago)…. He has remembered His holy covenant, the oath He swore to our father Abraham.”

The faithfulness of God to His every word is something that can keep a song of praise to God ever on our lips and within our hearts.  Do you know of anyone else so faithful that you can live by his every word without question or doubt?  We may know some pretty trustworthy people on earth.  Yet, every once in a while these trustworthy people may have to change what they promised because something unexpected came up.  This is not the case with the Lord.  God never reneges on His Word because circumstances have changed.  God’s faithfulness can be counted on even when circumstances do change.  The Christian’s song of praise can be endless in nature because God’s faithfulness to His promises does not change within the changing situations in life we encounter.  This is why Paul points to the coming of Jesus when he writes: “If God did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, will He not with Him give us all things” (Romans 8:32).  Christ’s coming to earth to be our Savior enables us to give thanks in every and all situations of life, because we can lean on the faithfulness of God’s promises.

A second aspect of Zechariah’s song of praise rests in what Jesus came to do.  He is described as the One Who “came to redeem His people, to rescue us from the hand of our enemies.”  Here Zechariah speaks about from what Jesus saved us.

This leads Zechariah to speak of Jesus as a “horn of salvation.”  This is an interesting term for it reflects upon the all-encompassing nature of the salvation Jesus brings us.  Thanksgiving is often pictured with a large horn or cornucopia filled with foods with which God has richly blessed us.  Jesus saves us from sin, death, and the power of the devil.  His salvation is all-encompassing.  Hence, he is referred to as a “horn of salvation.”

What is further interesting is that Zechariah speaks of this all-encompassing act of Jesus’ salvation for us in the past tense.  Jesus had not yet been born, but because of God’s faithfulness Zechariah spoke of Jesus’ saving work for mankind as having already occurred: “He has come and redeemed His people.   He has raised up a horn of salvation for us.”

Most assuredly Jesus has rescued us from the enemies of sin, death and the devil.  In Ephesians 1:7, we are told: “In Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”  In Hebrews 2:14-15, we read: “Since children have flesh and blood, Jesus too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

In this hour, what is there of which we are to be afraid?  Has not Jesus paid the debt of our sins and opened heaven’s door for us?  Has not Jesus stripped death of its power so that is no longer can separate us from God, but actually is now a mere shadow we pass through with Christ to enter heaven’s glory?  What is there that can separate us from Christ’s love and the eternal home that he has prepared for us?  The Scriptural answer is, “Nothing!”  “Nothing in all the world can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:39).Do you not find a song of praise to the Lord arising within you as you consider all that He has given to you in His faithfulness by coming to be your Savior.  He has set us free from all our enemies.

Finally in this song of Zechariah concerning the Savior, we find praise unto the Lord because of what Jesus’ saving work now enables us to do.  He has rescued us from our enemies and “enables us to serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness all our days.”

These are the very words of Scripture Martin Luther referenced when he wrote the meaning to the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed that we used us our confession of faith today.  God’s beautiful gift of salvation in Jesus Christ set us free from the burden of our sins so that alive in Christ we can now serve the Lord with joy and gladness.  Each day of life we are given on earth is a day in which we are privileged and blessed to be used by and serve our God for the expanding of His kingdom and the spreading of His saving grace.  As the Apostle Paul noted for all Christendom: “Christ died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him Who died for them and was raised again” (II Corinthians 5:15).

In the summer of 1978, a two year-old boy was walking the streets of Dallas, Texas with his parents.  It was noontime and the sidewalks were crowded.  In the mist of all the people, this little boy with all his heart sang out, “Joy to the world the Lord is come.”  People smiled and thought this little boy to be so cute.  The parents, however, did not know what triggered this song until they returned home.  As they looked at pictures of that day in Dallas, the little boy saw a picture of a global shaped building.  Once again the song rang out, “Joy to the world the Lord is come.”

Oh that we would have that childlike faith and take to heart the truths about the Savior found in Zechariah’s song.  Great are the blessings of God’s faithfulness and salvation that come in Jesus, our Savior.  May we sing His praises now and throughout our lives.  Amen.

The Song of Mary by Pastor Roger Rohde

The Song of Mary

Luke 1:46-55

There are three distinct songs attributed to women in the Bible.  Miriam sang a song of praise to the Lord for delivering the Israelites from Egyptian through the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:21).  There is the song of Hannah, which honors and praises the greatness of God as He watches over His people      (I Samuel 2:1-10).  Then there is the song of Mary that is before us in this morning’s Scripture Reading.

Today we begin a five Sunday reflection upon songs that came forth from men and angels around the time Jesus came to be born into the world.  We will see in each song a pertinent message for us to ponder and carry with us into the New Year.  Looking today at Mary’s song we see how in Christ we have joy as we behold what He has done for us and what He wishes to do through us.  Mary’s song in known as the “Magnificat,” deriving its name from the first word of the song as it appears in the Latin language.

Mary’s song is a song of celebration and praise.  It speaks of glorifying and rejoicing in the God of our salvation.  This song brings us back to the realization of why the worship of God is to be first and foremost in our lives.

When we reflect upon our lives is the Lord Jesus Christ first and foremost?  Is magnifying the Lord our top consideration as we make decisions and involve ourselves in activities?  Is it not true, more often than we would like to admit, that our lives are more centered upon ourselves and what we want and desire than they are centered on the will and way of God for our lives?  Many times Jesus is not the focal point of our living and breathing.  Let us then look at Mary’s song further and consider why her glorification and praise of God was front and center in her life.

Mary sang a song of celebration and praise as she recognized what God had done for her.  This point is very important for us to note, because some within the church wish to worship Mary for something she was not.  Mary did not become the bearer of the Christ Child because she was holy and without sin.  She was not favored by God because she was better than other human beings.  Mary acknowledged this in her song of celebration and praise to the Lord: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”  Mary does not refer to Jesus as her Son, but rather she refers to Him as her Savior.  Mary’s song was not a song to magnify her among men, but to testify to the truth of God’s mercy coming to her and all people.

As we look at Mary’s song we see that she was mindful of her own unworthiness before God.  “Being mindful of her humble state,” as Mary puts it, speaks to her recognition that she was a sinner like everyone else, and that she needed to be saved from her sin just as you and I do.  She saw in Jesus’ coming through her womb an act of God’s mercy and grace to her and all mankind.  He was coming to save her and all of us from our sins, death, and the power of the devil.  Mary sings this song of celebration and praise to the Lord because she delights in God’s mercy toward her.  She stands in amazement that God would come into the flesh to save her and all people who are of such low estate.

Does a lack of magnifying the Lord exist in our lives because the heart of the Christian message has become common place to us?  Do we sometimes not rejoice in the God of our salvation because we have neglected to recall from what God has delivered us and what we now have in Him?  The confession of sins we make each Sunday morning is meant to remind us that we are poor miserable sinners who deserve nothing from the Lord except temporal and eternal punishment.  The blessings that surround us are undeserved.  The forgiveness of sins through the blood of Jesus is nothing we have earned.  The place we now have in heaven is a pure gift God gave us through His Son, our Savior.  Acknowledging the reality of our sins and what we deserve because of them can open our eyes to the amazing nature by which Christ in His mercy came down to earth to save us.  God help us to recognize and live in the truth of what God has mercifully done for us in sending Christ to be our Savior.

Mary’s song is also a song of celebration and praise because she recognized what God was doing through her.  Mary recognized that as she was to be the bearer of the promised Messiah the Lord wanted to accomplish great things through her.  Through her God was going to extend His mercy and grace unto all generations.

Martin Luther reflected upon this section of the Magnificat by writing:  “God looked upon this poor, despised, lowly maid, when He could easily have found a rich, high noble, mighty queen, a daughter of princes and great lords; so he might have found Annas’ and Caiaphas’ daughters, who were the highest in the country, but upon Mary God cast His purer, good eyes and used such a lowly, despised maid that no one should boast before God.”

How like Mary we are.  There is no great economical or physical reason why God should have called us to serve Him in His kingdom.  Most of us do not come from wealthy families.  Most of us are not known much beyond the communities in which we live.  Our names will not be found in history books.  Yet, like Mary, God chose us common, ordinary people to be used by Him that His salvation may be brought to all mankind.

Are we humbly submitting as Mary did to the calling God has given us?  Do people know Christ better because we have used the mercy of God He has shown us to humbly be used by the Lord in His kingdom?

Mary’s song is a song of celebration and praise recognizing how God’s mercy brought her salvation and used her as a vehicle to bring God’s saving work through Jesus Christ to the world.  May we too sing for Jesus through our words and deeds, living the new live we have in Christ and being of service to God in bringing that message of salvation to others.  Amen.

The Final Round-Up by Pastor Roger Rohde

The Final Round-Up

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

When our son, Andrew, was in college, a friend asked him to go home with him during Easter break.  This request was very important to Andrew’s friend because his folks told him he was not to travel home unless he had a friend to go with him.  Andrew spent a week on a cattle ranch in Nebraska.  Among the unique experiences he encountered was to join in rounding up cattle for the purpose of branding and castrating them.

This kind of round-up, which is something most of us may only see through western movies, is a picturesque description of what the Lord is talking about in today’s text.  Many times in the Old Testament the prophecies of the Lord have an immediate and a long range meaning.  The prophecy before us is of such a nature.  It is a prophecy that speaks about the Lord bringing the people of Israel back from Babylonian captivity.  A more futuristic aspect of this prophecy is that it refers to the Last Day of this world’s existence.  This second aspect of this prophecy is what we consider on this the last Sunday in the church year.  What will this final round-up conducted by Jesus, the Good Shepherd, on the Last Day be like?

It will be a time when Jesus gathers together all people.  The Lord says in our text: “I Myself will search for My sheep…. I will rescue them from all places where they were scattered…. I will gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land.”

The thought presented here parallels what we heard in this morning’s Gospel Reading.  There Jesus said: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory.  All the nations will be gathered before Him.”

When the Good Shepherd conducts His final round-up both the living and the dead will be included.  Jesus said in John 5:28: “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out.”  This includes both believers in Christ as well as unbelievers.  All who are in the grave will rise on the Last Day and be gathered together with all who are living on earth at the time.  It will be the final round-up.

It will be at that time when God will administer His perfect justice upon all people.

We often times speak and cry out for perfect justice in our day.  But do we understand what is at the heart of God’s perfect justice at the final round-up?

God’s perfect judgment will not look at the outward successes of man or his accompishments.  Rather God’s perfect judgment delves into the heart of man, what moves him to do what he does and how the truth of one’s faith in Christ is revealed in one’s living.  Jesus tells us in our text that He “will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.”  The fat sheep may have all kinds of worldly successes and recognition.  They may have pushed around the weaker sheep to gain their success.  Yet, it is the weaker sheep that will experience the positive side of God’s perfect justice.

This perfect justice of God occurs as God looks into the heart of man.  When Jesus beholds a repentant heart that trusts in the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ and lives by that forgiveness, Jesus will grant that person the blessings of the heavenly kingdom.

This kind of perfect justice surprised people when Jesus implemented it during His earthly life.  We have the historical account in Luke chapter 7 where a prostitute came into the house of a Pharisee.  She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears of repentance and then anointed His feet with expensive perfume.  The Pharisees called this reception of the prostitute by Jesus as an act of injustice.  They declared: “If He were a prophet, He would know who is touching Him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.”  The Pharisees judged this woman by her reputation and past sins, and thought her no good.  Yet, Jesus judged her by her repentant heart and act of thanksgiving for His goodness and mercy.  He declared her pardoned of all her sins (verses 36-50).

There will be a lot of people surprised at the final round-up with the perfect justice of God.  Many who think they were good people and should enter heaven will be sentenced to eternal punishment because they did not possess true faith in Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior.  There will be others who will be declared righteous in the sight of God through faith in Christ Jesus as Savior.  All this leads us back to the words of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount we look at three weeks ago: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:3-4, 6).

Our text goes on to speak of how the repentant person who encounters Jesus’ perfect justice will be blessed.  The final round-up will be for him the time when he will experience the blessings of heaven forevermore.  The Lord promises: “I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land…. I will tend them in a good pasture…. They will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture…. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…. I will save My flock, and they will no longer be plundered.”

Using the imagery of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, His final round-up brings all believers in Christ into the glories of heaven.  Heaven is here described as the height of complete joy where all our injuries and weaknesses will be no more.  We shall be refreshed by the Lord’s grace in ceaseless fashion, and the battles of life with the forces of evil will be no more.  Here we will have perfect peace, which is not only an absence of all that is evil, but a dwelling in full communion with God forever.

This final round-up will bring all believers in Christ into the eternal bliss God always wanted us to have.  It is not a day to be feared, because it will be the day when the righteous prevail.  Let us make ourselves ready for this day as we with repentant hearts turn from our sins and live by faith in Christ as Savior.  Amen.

Who Are the Blessed? by Pastor Roger Rohde

Who Are the Blessed?

November 1st has been designated as All Saints’ Day in Christendom.  Since we did not have worship services on that day, we observe the All Saints’ Day celebration on this Sunday.  Through the appointed lessons for this occasion, we hear the Lord speak to us about the saints in heaven, who trusted in Christ while they were here on earth.  The Gospel Reading, which is the basis of our sermon, focuses upon the saints now living on earth who trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Our Gospel Reading is the opening portion of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount.  The words before us are known as the Beatitudes and speak of the characteristics that the saints on earth possess.  What Jesus has to say about them stands in conflict with what the world would consider blessed people to be.  Then again, the world looks at life from a temporal viewpoint, while Christians view life from the perspective of eternity.  Let us hear how Jesus describes those people who are blessed.

First, Jesus notes that the blessed ones are those who are broken and live by faith in Christ.  This concept is foreign to the world’s emphasis on self-esteem.  Jesus says that the “blessed are those who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”  What message does Jesus have for His disciples here?

Notice that Jesus is speaking of being “poor in spirit.”  Jesus is not talking about living in physical poverty, but about the importance of recognizing our spiritual poverty.  Jesus taught in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican in the temple that he who supposes himself to be good and righteous before God will depart the temple in an unjustified state.  He who is blessed by God acknowledges with a repentant heart, “God be merciful to me, a sinner”          (Luke 18:9-14).

It is significant that in our Lutheran worship we open most of our worship services by acknowledging that we do not deserve to be in God’s presence.  We properly confess that we are “poor, miserable sinners” who have sinned against God and deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment.  Those who are blessed with God’s saving grace in Christ are those who come to God with “broken spirits and contrite hearts.”  The Psalmist wrote: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

A blessed person is one who hungers and thirsts after the righteousness that comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  God blesses the repentant sinner with the forgiveness of sins.  Through God’s Word and Sacraments such a person clearly and personally receives deliverance from the guilt of sin.

Have we reached that point in our spiritual development where we have seen ourselves like the repentant thief on the cross?  That repentant thief had been touched by Jesus and rebuked the other criminal that was crucified with him by saying: “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.  But this man, referring to Jesus, has done nothing wrong.”  Then he prayed to the Lord: “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.”  Jesus answered him: “Today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:41-43).

He is blessed who see his sins, mourns his sinfulness, and with a humble heart looks to Jesus and His righteousness.  He shall be filled.  He shall be comforted with the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life in heaven.

Second, Jesus notes that the blessed are those who have been shaped by God’s love.  They are merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers.  These qualities exist in the blessed, because God has bestowed these blessing upon those who have been changed by God’s love in Christ Jesus.

The change of life with which God blesses the believer in Christ is described in the following passages: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought; but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:3).  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).  “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another” (I Peter 5:5).

The challenge in living out our Christian faith is that the Christian faith is contrary to the ways of the world and our old sinful flesh.  We have a tendency to think of ourselves first.  We want things done our way.  Yet, God calls us out of the darkness into His marvelous light not only to bless us with the gift of salvation, but to give us a new life so that we can to live for the Lord, so that people might see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven (I Peter 2:9; Matthew 5:6).

Has the love of Christ shaped us so that we are about bringing the message of Jesus’ saving work to others through our words and deeds?  Blessed are we as God’s mercy, holiness, and peace shape our lives to be ambassadors for Christ.  As Paul told the Christians in Rome: ‘Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to Him as instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13).

Third, the blessed are those who stand up for Christ as all costs.  Jesus in His Sermon of the Mount speaks not only about being blessed by the forgiveness of sin in Christ Jesus and walking in the new life that we have in Christ, but He speaks of us testifying of the Lord in every and all situations in life we encounter.

Jesus is not here telling us to intentionally stir up opposition by sharing the Christian faith, but He is instructing us never to back down from the truth of God’s Word and the difference that Christ Jesus can make in a person’s life.  He tells us that those who are persecuted for belonging to Christ are blessed with heaven’s glory.

One of the problems we face in life is that we want immediate gratification.  Trusting in Christ and living for Him doesn’t always bring about immediate gratification.  As we live out our faith, people will shun us, call us names, and sometimes do bodily harm to us.  Most of the original twelve disciples who heard this sermon saw their lives filled with beatings, imprisonment, and even death.

That which drew them to fight the good fight, finish the course and keep the faith was God’s promise that whoever remains faithful unto death will receive the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).

All Saints’ Day is a time for us to remember the “great cloud of witnesses” that have gone to eternal glory having fixed their eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2).  This not only includes such people as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  It also includes the father who saw his primary purpose in life to raise his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  It is the mother who imparted to her children a life of prayer and study of God’s Word.  It is the spouse who was a spiritual light and encourager in the marriage relationship.

Today we celebrate God’s grace in blessing us with people who influenced our faith in Christ and have now gone to glory.  We also rejoice in the blessings God has given us that we might bear the Christian torch of the Gospel that others may be blessed by God’s saving grace in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Christ Grants Lasting Glory

Christ Grants Lasting Glory

Revelation 21:15-22:1-5

My children have often said that it is important that we don’t build anything up too much, lest when we come to experience it there will be a letdown.  This can happen when speaking about a movie, a television show, a restaurant, among many other things.  We can speak so highly about something that when other people experience it, it isn’t as great as they were led to believe.

Today as we reflect upon heaven, we don’t have to worry about building it up too much.  Rather our concern is to be that we don’t try and understand heaven from an earthly perspective, lest we lesson its true beauty and glory.

Heaven is a very important aspect of the Reformation and Lutheran theology as noted by Martin Luther’s seal.  Luther closed out his letter to Lazarus Sprengler on July 8th, 1530, by referring to the gold ring that encircles the outer part of the seal.  Luther wrote: “And around this field of blue is a golden ring, symbolizing that such blessedness in heaven lasts forever and has no end.  Such blessedness is exquisite, beyond all joy and goods, just as gold is the most valuable, most precious and best metal.”

Our text for today describes heaven, and we pray that as we look at this text and its symbolization in Luther’s seal we may properly behold heaven’s beauty, and eagerly await the time when heaven’s beauty will be our eternal experience.

At the center of heaven we find the Lord Himself.  The Lord revealed to John that in heaven “there is no temple, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”

It sounds strange, but in heaven we are not going to find any church buildings.  Why?  Because the original temple and all church buildings after that time were built to recognize that God was with His people and that God wanted to bless them in that place.  In heaven this concept of a worship center is no longer needed because we will be in full fellowship with God.  In heaven the original fellowship between God and man prior to the fall will be restored.

Paul states in I Corinthians 13:12: “Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”  Our spiritual sight in this world rests in seeing Jesus by faith through His Word and Sacraments.  However, when we enter heaven’s gates faith will be replaced by sight and we shall see God as He is.  We shall behold the glorified Savior with the redeeming marks that scared His body for the payment of our sins.

Heaven is bright for the greatness of our God illuminates this place.  The Lord reveals through John: “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is it lamp.”

References to darkness in Scripture often refer to the spiritual ignorance of mankind and the darkness of his ways.  For example, in Job chapter 5, man’s natural spiritual state in this life is described this way: “Darkness comes upon them in the daytime; at noon they grope as in the night” (Job 5:14).  Isaiah speaks of man’s natural state on earth in similar fashion: “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the people” (Isaiah 60:2).

When we get to heaven this darkness of spiritual ignorance and sin will be removed from us.  In heaven we will behold the answers to all the questions about God and His ways of leadership that we have struggled with in this life.  In heaven we shall see clearly the glory of the Lord in all things and the wonderful pattern He designed for us in the events of our earthly sojourn.

The next point we note is that heaven is free from all the effects of sin.  The Lord reveals to us through John: “Nothing impure will ever enter it…. No longer will there be any curse.”  Practically speaking what this means is addressed by John in Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  In heaven all sin and its consequences will be forever gone.

This is why the circle around the outside of Luther’s seal is gold.  Gold not only was used to describe heaven earlier in our text, but gold stands for the most valuable, precious metal on earth.  Nothing is better than heaven, because in heaven we will never need medicine, corrective eye wear, canes or wheel chairs.  In heaven we will fully be healed from all afflictions, and we will be delivered from our own flesh with its sinful desires.  In I Corinthians 15:44, we are told that in heaven we will have a spiritual body.  This does not mean we will not have flesh and blood.  Our resurrected body will be like Christ’s, which can consume food and be touched.  Having a spiritual body in heaven means that the old sinful desires within us will be no more.  We will be restored to the perfect image of God man originally had in the Garden of Eden.  We will be in full communion with God, always walking in His ways and doing His will.

Finally, we see from out text that heaven will be our eternal home.

The circle of gold in Luther’s seal not only points to the beauty and value of heaven, but to its everlasting nature.  The circle has no beginning or end, indicating that heaven will be an eternal experience where we will have everlasting peace and joy.

There is a song I have shared with the children in children’s church about heaven.  It goes like this: “Heaven is a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace.  I want to see my Savior’s face, ’cause heaven is a wonderful place.  I wanna go there.”

Heaven is a wonderful place, better than anything else you and I could ever know on earth.  This is why Paul said: “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23).  Luther illustrates heaven’s wonder and beauty with the gold ring encircling his seal.

But what is it that brings us to this beautiful place of lasting glory?  Go back to the center of Luther’s seal and we are reminded that heaven is ours through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Luther through his seal leads us to search our hearts and minds to see if Jesus really lives in our hearts.  Do we truly place our trust in Him for our salvation?  Do we truly believe He gave His body and shed His blood in payment for our sins?  Does our life reflect this faith by blossoming for the Lord where He has planted us?

Luther’s seal reminds us that the heart of Christianity is faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for our salvation, and living out of that faith until Christ brings us to eternal glory.  Let us then keep in mind these words of our Lord: “The sufferings of this present life are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).  “All men will hate you because of Me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22).  “Be thou faithful until death, and I will give thee the crown of life” (Revelati

Christ Provides Me with Perfect Peace

Christ Provides Me with Perfect Peace

John 14:27

We continue our reflection upon Luther’s seal and the Scriptural truths that it illustrates.  Today we focus in on the white rose and the blue background.  In Luther’s letter to Lazarus Sprengler referring to this aspect of the seal Luther wrote: ‘Such a heart (which we looked at last week), such a heart should stand in the middle of a white rose, to show that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace.  In other words, it places the believer into a white, joyous rose for his faith does not give peace and joy like the world gives (John14:17).  That is why the rose should be white not red, for white is the color of the spirits and the angels (Matthew 28:3; John 20:12).  Such a rose should stand in a sky-blue field, symbolizing that such joy in spirit and faith is the beginning of the heavenly future joy, which begins already, but is grasped in hope, not yet revealed.”

The words from Scripture that will help us to understand this second aspect of Luther’s seal are found in John 14:27.  Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid.”

The situation in which Jesus speaks these words is significant.  Jesus and His disciples are gathered in the Upper Room just prior to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.  Jesus has told His disciples that His time with them is almost over.  They are frightened and confused.  Yet, Jesus speaks of leaving them with a special peace, a peace not known to the world, but a peace that can calm their troubled hearts and still their fears.

Surely this peace of which Jesus speaks is something that would be well for us to possess.  After all, this world we live in is in utter chaos.  There are threats of nuclear war.  Hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanoes have left many people with nothing.  There are shootings and acts of terrorism.  Many marriages are ending in divorce and there is disunity even within the family of God.  There is great confusion and unrest all around us.  Yet, Jesus still speaks of peace.

This peace has as its source Jesus Himself.  Jesus is the source of peace.  “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.”

Jesus is the source of true peace, because He is the only one that can deal with the real cause of unrest, which is sin.  Adam and Eve lived in harmony with God and each other until sin entered the world.  Since that time man has known unrest and dissatisfaction.  His conscience tells him that he is not right with his Creator, but he has no idea how to rectify it.  This describes Luther in his early years as he knew the guilt of sin, but could not ease that guilt by acts of self-denial or acts of hard labor.  Nothing he did brought him a peace of heart and mind.

Luther knew no peace until he was able to read a Bible and learn that peace with God is not something you earn, but it is something granted you through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus grants us peace through His death and resurrection.  The prophet Isaiah declared: “Christ was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 9:6).  This is why Jesus is called the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).  Jesus died on the cross for our sins.  He paid the penalty for all our wrongdoing and He paid it in full.  We are now declared justified, not because we are innocent of sin, but because Jesus paid for our sins in full.  Hence, Luther has the cross in the middle of the white rose for the source of true peace is found only in Christ.

Jesus blesses us with this peace through His Word and Sacraments.  God’s Word and Sacraments are our spiritual fuel pumps.  Just like we have to fill up our cars at a gas station to keep them going, Christ refreshes, renews, and fills us with His peace every time we stop to hear His Word and be blessed through His Sacraments.  For instance, in our receiving of the Lord’s Supper that we are renewed and refreshed with the forgiveness of sins as Jesus says to us: “This is My body given for you.  This is My blood shed for you for the remission of sins.”  Every time we receive the Lord’s Supper we can depart from His table singing the song of Simeon: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word” (Luke 2:29).

Our text reminds us that this peace of Jesus blossoms in a world of unrest.  Luther noted that the rose is white because it is a holy peace unlike the peace that the world seeks to give us.

The world’s peace is centered on outward experiences.  When we speak of peace from the human perspective, we speak of no wars and rumors of wars; marriages that are lived out happily ever after; a lifestyle where there is plenty of money and pleasure to do all that one wants to do.  This description of peace is a fairy tale type of peace.  It is superficial and comes and goes as circumstances in life change.

The peace Jesus gives is lasting and enduring no matter what situations in life one is experiencing.  This is the case because while worldly peace is situational, God’s peace is founded in Christ.  The peace that Jesus gives begins and ends with Him.  It is founded on the fact that Jesus Who died to pay for our sins rose again from the grave.  He ascended into heaven and lives and reigns in behalf of His people.  Sin is paid, death is conquered, and Satan is defeated.  In Jesus we are a victorious people.

This, of course, does not mean we will not have any trials and troubles, hardships and persecutions in our lives.  When Jesus speaks of giving us peace it is not as the world gives.  That is to say, Jesus’ peace is not centered on circumstances, but on His saving grace.  When Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you,” he is not talking about us never having any external problems.  Rather He speaks of a peace that dwells within us even through the problems of life.

Jesus has told us there will be wars and rumors of wars.  He has spoken of how families will be divided because of Him.  He even noted that there would be divisions within the church.  In spite of that all, Jesus says we can have peace.

We can have “the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guarding our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).  In Jesus we are assured that “all things will work out for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:18).  God through Paul tells us: “In all things we are more than conquers through Him Who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).  The peace God gives us in Christ is eternal.

It is this peace can lead us to be bold in our testimony and witness for Christ.  This is what happened to the disciples after Pentecost.  They became bold in testifying of Christ Jesus even when it meant imprisonment or death.  It is this peace of Christ that led Luther to stand up to those who called for him to denounce all the Biblical truths that he had stated during the Reformation.  He said to them: “I cannot submit my faith either to the pope or to the council, because it is as clear as noonday that they have fallen into error an even into glaring inconsistency with themselves.  If, then, I am not convinced by proof from Holy Scripture, or by cogent reasons, if I am not satisfied by the very text I have cited, and if my judgment is not in this way brought into subjection to God’s Word, I neither can nor will retract anything; for it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience.  Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me” (Imperial Diet of Worms, 18 April 1521).   It is this peace that is also meant to blossom in our lives like a rose and lead us to be bold in our testimony and witness for Christ.

Luther concludes his description of God’s peace by noting that this white rose stands in a sky-blue field.  This illustrates that the peace of Christ given us on earth is a foretaste of the peace that awaits us in heaven.  Because we are saved in Christ we need not fear death nor the grave for “there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus”(Romans 8:1)  “Whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Jesus, Who is the only true source of true peace, blesses us with His peace as He surrounds us with His Word and Sacraments giving us a foretaste of the bliss that awaits us in heaven.  Looking at Luther’s seal let us keep in mind these words of our Lord found in Isaiah 26:3-4: “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in You.  Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.”  Amen.

 

Christ Within the Heart

Christ within the Heart

Romans 10:9-10

The Luther seal found on the cover of today’s bulletin and on the banner to your left is an enduring symbol of the Lutheran Reformation and the teachings of Lutheranism based upon the Bible.  This seal depicts the theology of Martin Luther as noted in a letter he sent to Lazarus Sprengler on July 8, 1530.  For the next three weeks we will look at Luther’s seal and his explanation of it, and based upon Scripture behold the truth of the salvation we have in Christ Jesus and its pertinence for our daily lives.

Today we shall consider the red heart at the center of this seal and the black cross that is placed within the heart.  Martin Luther began his explanation of his seal with these words: “Grace and peace in Christ!  Honorable, kind, dear Sir and Friend!  Since you ask whether my seal has come out correctly, I shall answer most amiably and tell you to those thoughts which now come to my mind about my seal as a symbol of my theology.  There is first to be a cross, black and placed in a heart, which should be of its natural color, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us.  For if one believes from the heart, he will be justified.  Even though it is a black cross, which mortifies and which also should hurt us, yet it leaves the heart in its natural color and does not ruin nature; that is the cross does not kill but keeps man alive.  For the just man lives by faith, but by faith in the Crucified One.”

We begin our reflection by considering the Scriptural truth that the basis of our sinfulness is found in our hearts.  Jesus stated in Matthew 15:18-19: “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

Jesus in these verses is dealing with Pharisees who believe they are holy and as long as they keep themselves away from unclean things, they can save themselves by their works.  Jesus here teaches us that we are not holy, but by nature have a sinful heart that cannot bring forth anything good.

The truth is that our hearts are the hearts of sinful Adam who wanted to be like God and disobeyed God in his attempt to improve on the perfect being God had created him to be.  The sinful desire of Adam lives in us from conception.  Paul put wrote: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Romans 7:18).   Luther rightfully noted that “man cannot be justified, freed, or saved by any outer work or action at all,” because his heart by nature is filled with “ungodliness and unbelief.”  The heart needs changing and changing of the heart cannot occur by what we do, but by what God can do within us.  This is why sinful David prayed: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

The second point of emphasis is the cross that is found within the heart.  The basis of our salvation rests on believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul wrote: “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified.”  And upon what does justifying faith rest?  Paul wrote: “Believe that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead.”

A change of heart is needed if one is to be sorrowful over his sin and believe that Jesus is the only one Who can save him from sin.  This is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Martin Luther noted this in his explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit calls me by the gospel, enlightens me with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps me in the true faith.”  Paul declared in I Corinthians 12:3 that “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”  Justification by faith in Jesus Christ is God’s work accomplished in us through His Word and Sacraments.

Now this faith in Christ as Lord and Savior is a conviction.  This is important to keep in mind because many people passively speak of believing in Jesus, but their lives show anything but a life centered on Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The truth is that we can make the statement, “I believe” very flippantly without any real sincerity of heart.  For example, I can lose my car keys and say, “I believe I left them on the kitchen table.”  By saying that I do not stake my life on it, but I am merely guessing that is where they might be.

We notice that when Paul talks about believing he is talking about a faith in Christ that molds one’s speech and actions.  This is why Luther has the cross in the center of the red heart.  The red heart symbolizes a Christian’s earthly life in which faith in Christ is at the center.  Faith never stands alone, but displays itself in one’s speech and conduct.  Jesus said: “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16, 20).  This does not mean our words and deeds save us.  No, they simply prove the faith in Christ which exists in our hearts.

This faith in Christ presents itself with a strong conviction, because true faith holds on to the true identity and works of Jesus.  In our text Paul refers to the fact that the believer confesses “Jesus is Lord” and that “God raised Him from the dead.”

Jesus is referred to as a man having a name like any other human being.  Yet, He is also acknowledged as God by being referred to as “Lord.”  Jesus is true man and true God.  He took on human flesh being named Jesus, “because He would save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).  He displays Himself as the Lamb of God by paying the debt of our sin and conquering the grave through His resurrection.  Those who know and believe in the identity and saving work of Jesus “are justified and saved.”  Martin Luther has the cross in the center of the seal to emphasize that this is the central truth of Scripture.

Luther then comments on the cross being black and the heart red.  The red heart indicates that this is a picture of a Christian’s heart while on earth, and the black cross addresses what the Christian in this life has yet to endure.  The point here is that true faith leads to a constant spiritual battle in this life.  Living the Christian faith means that we take up our cross and follow Jesus (Mark 8:34).

In this world the Christian will undergo constant spiritual battles. Luther commented on this noting that “to believe in Christ secretly in your hearts and praise Him in a private corner is not true faith.  A Christian openly confesses with his lips before everyone what he believers in his heart.  A confession may cost you your head, for the devil and men do not like to hear it.”  Yet, Christ clearly tells us: “If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).

Faith in one’s heart and confession from one’s lips is not a mere recitation of a Christian creed on a Sunday morning or a statement of faith in Christ and commitment made to Him at the Rite of Confirmation.  True faith and confession is about being so connected to Christ’s redeeming grace that one’s life centers on Christ 24/7 and is witnessed by one’s living and speaking.  Luther noted: “The man is not righteous who does much, but who believes much in Christ.  Therefore I wish to have the words “without works” understood in the following way.  Not that the righteous person does nothing, but that his works do not make him righteous, rather his righteousness creates works.  Works contribute nothing to being saved.  For this reason a Christian does not seek to become justified or glorified through works, but seeks God.”

God’s great desire for us is mentioned in Ephesians 3:19: “That we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”  Luther’s black cross in a red heart at the center of his seal is meant to remind us of the fullness of Christ that God wants to exist in our hearts.  Faith in Christ is not something we achieve, but it is a gift that God gives us through the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.  It is well for us to draw near to Him where He may be found that our faith may rest in Christ, and be nurtured and strengthened in Him, so that saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we may fight the good fight of faith, finish the course, and keep the faith, knowing the crown of glory that that awaits all those who trust in Him (II Timothy 2:7-8).  Amen.

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