Our King Comes

Sermon based on Mk 11:1-10 for the First Sunday of Advent

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

In some ways, the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was not totally unique. In fact, it wasn’t that different in outward appearance from the entry of others kings before Him. Previous kings of Israel had similar entries into the city at their coronation, riding in on similar animals, such as a mule (1 Ki. 1:32 – 40). The people also laid down their cloaks underneath these kings in that day’s version of red carpet treatment (2 Ki. 9:12 – 13). Jesus had the royal privilege of riding on a donkey that had never before been ridden, and was received with loud shouts of people rejoicing and following Him, as people had received other kings of Israel. Palm branches also were regularly used at previous celebrations and times of rejoicing (Lev. 23:40, Neh. 8:13 – 17, 2 Macc. 10:5 – 8), and were now used to celebrate this triumphant King riding into Jerusalem.

One focus of the Season of Advent is the coming of Christ as King, thus it is fitting that our Gospel reading is the royal entry of Christ into Jerusalem. But even though Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was similar to that of other kings, we need to step back and see that there’s more going on. This was no ordinary king riding into the royal city.

Our Old Testament reading starts with the words, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.” This prayer from Isaiah was prayed in expectation of the Messiah’s arrival. They prayed that the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth would tear open the heavens and descend, delivering His people. Isaiah reminds us of God’s presence at Sinai, where He made the mountains and earth quake at His presence. The people trembled and were afraid. Nations tremble at His presence.

Isaiah also speaks of the sin of the people and God’s anger. He writes of the uncleanness of Israel because of sin; of the fact that their righteous deeds – the best works that they could do – are nothing except a disgusting, filthy rag. But God is holy and powerful, sitting on His throne, filling the earth with His glory. God is holy and perfect. Man is sinful and unclean.

Knowing this, how would you expect the Lord of heaven and earth to come to us? As a King coming to crush those who oppose Him? In might and power, tearing open the heavens and making the earth shake and the people tremble? Certainly not as a baby born of a young virgin girl. Not as a humble servant coming to serve us, sinful man. Not as a man riding a humble beast of burden.

Jesus, who is God Himself, left the glory and joys of heaven and took on human flesh. He who created the heavens and the earth came into creation as a man. He humbled Himself to serve us. And He didn’t come in all of His glory and power. Entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He rode a borrowed, lowly donkey instead of a majestic horse. He did not come to be crowned with a crown of gold, but with a crown of thorns. He did not come to ascend an earthly throne but instead was lifted up on a cross. Seeing the royal privilege of riding on a donkey that had never before been ridden, He came also to have the royal privilege of being buried in a tomb in which no one had yet been laid.

Jesus did not come to be an earthly king. Thus, when He was on trial before Pontius Pilate, the governor, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (Jn. 18:36) Everything Jesus did was for our eternal kingdom. He didn’t come to earth to prepare a kingdom for us here. He didn’t come to conquer our earthly enemies or to make His followers here on earth rich and famous.

Jesus came to earth to win us into His kingdom. He conquered death and the devil by His death and resurrection. He came to save us from our lives here on earth. He came to save us from sin. He came to save us from suffering and sickness; from depression and loneliness; from trial and temptation.

Unlike the Israelites kings of old and their war campaigns to save the people and conquer the enemy, Jesus saved you by suffering. He conquered by dying. Jesus won the battle and the victory has been accomplished. His death defeated death for us. It is finished.

This is what we can miss about the triumphal entry if we merely compare it to other kings who entered the city in similar fashion. Jesus came into the city with the purpose of suffering and dying for us. This King gave up His life to save us, His people. God the Father sent Him to save us.

O, wondrous Love, what have You done!

The Father offers up His Son,

Desiring our salvation.

O Love, how strong you are to save!

You lay the one into the grave,

Who built the earth’s foundation. (LSB 438 v. 3)

            Yet Jesus also rose from the dead. He conquered death for us by His death and resurrection. So we can join the Palm Sunday crowd in singing, “Hosanna,” which means “save us!” This we sing in our communion liturgy in the Sanctus. We sing, “Hosanna. Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” (see the Sanctus in the LSB). This is fitting to sing as Christ comes to us in His true body and blood. It is fitting to sing as He comes to save us.

What’s also interesting about the Sanctus is that it starts out with “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of power and might: Heaven and earth are full of Your glory.” This is what the angels in heaven sing as they praise God as described by Isaiah (6:3). So in this one liturgical song, the Sanctus, heaven and earth are united. We sing “Holy, holy, holy” with the angels in heaven and we sing, “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” from Psalm 118(:26), recognizing that the glory of God is here among us as He was when the crowds sung this on Palm Sunday.

In the Lord’s Supper, heaven and earth unite. Jesus comes to us in His body and blood. “Hosanna” means “save us”, and that is exactly what Jesus does in the Supper. He gives us salvation through the forgiveness of our sins. His glory is veiled as it was during the triumphal entry. The crowds then saw a man riding a lowly donkey into the city. We see lowly bread and wine on the altar. But faith sees what our eyes cannot see. Faith holds to the promise of Christ that says, “This is my body”, and “This is my blood… for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28). Jesus truly comes to us and unites heaven and earth. Jesus truly comes to save us.

And when Jesus returns, then He will rend the heavens and come down. He will come as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west (Mt. 26:27). Jesus will not return as He came the first time, but then He will come in all His glory and the angels with Him. He will come and raise the dead and take all His own to be with Him.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem like the Israelite kings of old, but He did what they could never do. Jesus rescued us from our enemies which are sin, death, and the devil. Jesus has also triumphantly entered His kingdom after defeating our enemies, and He prepares a place for us in that kingdom. And He has promised to be with us, and to strengthen us during our time on earth through Word and Sacrament until we have our triumphal entry. We will triumphantly enter the joys of heaven. Because of Jesus’ victory on the cross, when we die from this life, we have a triumphal entry awaiting us. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year based on Matt. 25:31-46.

Dear sheep who will stand on the right side of Jesus: grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our Gospel reading can scare us to hell if read it wrong. If we think that on Judgment Day Jesus is going to judge us based on what we have done or not done, then we are in trouble. If the Judge of the living and the dead is going to judge us based on how we fed the hungry, gave the thirsty a drink, welcomed strangers, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and imprisoned, we are hopeless. We know very well that we have failed to do these things. And even when we may have outwardly done one of these things we were never completely willing. If Jesus judges us based on what we have done, we will depart from Jesus into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. But that’s not what the text says.

If we read carefully, we will notice that the first thing that Jesus will do on Judgment Day is separate the sheep from the goats. He will separate those blessed by the Father from those that are cursed; the righteous from the unrighteous; the sheep from the goats. That’s the first thing that will happen.

Only after that will the judging of deeds take place. After Jesus has gathered His own sheep on His right and the unbelieving goats on the left, only then will He judge what each has done. What verdict will Jesus pronounce to His sheep? “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Jesus will call you blessed by the Father. How can you be blessed by the Father? You cannot earn a blessing. You cannot deserve a blessing. You are blessed because the Judge has pronounced you blessed. You are blessed because Jesus says you are blessed. It is only the goats who do not belong to Jesus that are cursed.

And you don’t have to wait until Judgment Day to find out if you will be pronounced blessed like the sheep or cursed like the goats. You have already been declared blessed. In your Holy Baptism you were declared blessed. In Holy Absolution once again this morning you were declared blessed. In the Lord’s Supper you are declared blessed. By these three things the Holy God declares you holy and blessed. He forgives you all your sins and calls you His own sheep. The perfect holiness that Jesus earned by His life and His death are credited to you.

Now the Judge calls you blessed. He calls you righteous. Not because of what you have done, but because of what Jesus has done for you and given to you. You have been adopted as children of God and thus you will receive the inheritance of the children of God. This inheritance is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus tells you, His sheep, that the kingdom was prepared for you from the foundation of the world. You were not around at the foundation of the world. Thus the kingdom was your inheritance before you did anything good or bad. This inheritance was prepared for you before the foundation of the world. And an inheritance is not something you can earn. It is something that is given to you by your Father.

On Judgment Day, after Jesus separates you to be on His right with His blessed sheep, only then will you be judged on deeds. But even here, you are not judged on your own deeds. God put all of your sins on Jesus, and all of Christ’s good works on you. On Judgment Day, Jesus will say to you, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’” Jesus will tell you, His sheep, that this is what you have done.

Notice the response of the sheep. They don’t lay claim to having done any such thing. They say, “When? When did that ever happen?” They don’t remember any such good works. They remember the sins that they have committed. They remember their shameful thoughts, words, and deeds. But the Judge will not mention any of those things because you are His sheep. Jesus took all your sins on Himself and took your judgment for you. None of your sins will be charged to you. Not a single one. Jesus took them all. You will only get credit for the good works of Jesus.

The cursed goats, on the other hand, are an arrogant and prideful bunch. When the Judge of the living and the dead will tell them that they did not feed the hungry, give the thirsty a drink, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned, they dare to respond, “When? When did we not minister to you?” They ask this because they think they have taken every opportunity to help those in need. They had a ministry to the homeless and imprisoned. They volunteered at the soup kitchen. They supported veterans. But they just don’t get it. It’s not about what they have done or not done. It’s about what Jesus has done for them. But they don’t care about what Jesus has done for them. They only care about what they themselves have done. They think that they’ve done so much that what Jesus has done doesn’t matter. They think that they don’t need Jesus’ forgiveness. Because they reject Christ’s forgiveness, they are goats. They are cursed. They will depart into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

For you who are Jesus’ sheep, Judgment Day is also not about what you have done or not done. It is about what Jesus has done for you. Your sins will not be charged to you because they were charged to Jesus. You will not be punished for your sins because Jesus was punished for your sins. Instead, you will be credited with the good works of Jesus. This is because Jesus has already declared you blessed and righteous. He has already declared you to be His holy sheep in your Baptism. He has already declared you to be His holy sheep in Absolution. And He continues to declare you holy through His holy Supper.

Finally, it should be noted that Jesus does not want anyone to end up in the eternal fire of hell. Hell is not for us. Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels. There’s no reason why any man, woman, or child should have to end up there. No matter how many evil deeds you have committed. No matter how long your list of sins. No matter how few good deeds you have done. Because it’s not about what you have done or not done. It’s about what Jesus has done for you. Jesus died for all your sins and took your punishment. Jesus has done every good deed for you and He has covered your evil deeds.

So to you, His sheep, you can have no doubt that Jesus will say to you on Judgment Day, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Settled Accounts

Sermon based on Mt 25:14-30 for the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

Dear servants of the Lord: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Lord, our Master, has entrusted us with talents. To some He has given more, to others He has given less. He has entrusted to us what is His, so that we would use it faithfully. He will return at a time we do not know and settle accounts with us. He will examine what it is that we have done with His property; He will scrutinize our faithfulness with what He has entrusted to us.

Some things stand out in what Jesus says in our Gospel reading. First is that the master gives His own property to his own servants. The talents belong to the master. Jesus says that the talents are the master’s property. Second, the master gives differing amounts of talents to the servants, to each based on his ability. One received five talents, one received two talents, and one received one talent. Finally, the master doesn’t compare what one servant has done relative to the other servants, but each is examined relative to what was entrusted to him.

The servant who received two talents wasn’t given five talents because he did not have the ability to put all five to good use. Likewise the servant who had the ability to put five talents to good use was not given only two because the master wants to maximize his return. He knew the servant has the ability to put five talents to good use so he gave him five talents. So also to the servant who received one talent. The master knew that the servant had the ability to put the one talent to good use.

The faithful servants put their master’s talents to work, each according to his ability. As faithful servants, they desire their master to receive the benefit of their labour, so that he might see some return on his property entrusted to them. The wicked and slothful servant does not put the master’s property to work. It’s not that he used his master’s property for personal gain. He didn’t steal his master’s talent. He didn’t squander it in reckless living like the prodigal son. He just buried it. He hid his master’s talent instead of using it.

When the master returns, he isn’t being unreasonable in expecting the servants to have earned him profit. They are his servants. He gives them his property. It is not unreasonable for the master to expect them to be faithful over what has been entrusted to them.

The faithful servants receive their reward – they are invited to enter the joy of their master. They are also given more. “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” The master says that everything that was entrusted to them is little compared to what they will receive now.

These faithful servants did not look at their master as a hard man. They enjoyed the benefits of being in his service. They were blessed with talents that he gave them, giving their lives purpose. Then, the master gives them more blessings by inviting them into his eternal joy simply for being his faithful servants.

The wicked servant had completely the wrong picture of his master.  He thought his master was a hard man, even though nothing indicates that it is true. Because he did not view his master rightly, he hid his master’s talent instead of using it. According to the master’s own words, the wicked servant would have been faithful even if he had just deposited the money with the bankers so that the master would have gained some interest. But he did something that required more work. The wicked servant did more work to dig a hole and bury his master’s talent under the ground than I would have required of him to deposit it with the bankers.

The wicked servant had the wrong understanding of his master. His master was not a hard man. Look at what he gave to his faithful servants merely for being his servants. What the master gave them wasn’t based on how much they had returned to him, but that they had taken what they were given and actually served the master. But the wicked servant did not see the love and mercy of the master but only thought him to be a severe man, and he was unwilling to serve him.

Are you willing to serve God with your talents? Are you giving to God what is His property? Or are you hiding what He has given you and not using it for the benefit of His kingdom? Or worse, are you squandering what He has given you in reckless living?

To those under the Old Testament covenant, who were not giving offerings to God, God said, “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.” (Mal. 3:8-9) These Israelites looked at God as being a hard master and did not give to Him what was His. Yet, God sought to show Himself not as a hard master, but as a generous, loving, and merciful master. Thus He continues, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.” (Mal. 3:10-12)

We are not under the Old Testament covenant which required tithing – the giving of ten percent of income to the Levites and for the upkeep of God’s house (Nu. 18:24). We are simply God’s servants to whom He has given His property. But God does not want us to look at Him as a hard master. He tells us to give not begrudgingly or to impress others, but freely and generously out of a cheerful heart (2 Cor. 9:7). Give to God and, “Put [Him] to the test… if [He] will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”

There is no blessing in clinging to what God has given you and burying it in the ground. Use it for God’s work. Support the congregation. Let’s increase our mission budget which goes to spread the Gospel around the world. Let us test God and see if He will not open the windows of heaven for us and pour down for us a blessing until there is no more need.

See, God is not a hard master. He’s not demanding to see a high return on the talents He has entrusted to you. He simply desires you to be a faithful servant. He has done everything for you. He sent His Son to earn forgiveness for you. Jesus died to pay the penalty of your sins. Jesus even died for your sins of burying God’s talents that He has entrusted to you. He died for your misuse of His talents. God is not a hard master. He wants to set you over much. He wants you to enter His eternal joy. And on top of it all He has given His talents to you so that you can cheerfully use them in generosity and without coercion.

See, your account has already been settled. Jesus paid off your account. Everything that was required of you has been fulfilled. Jesus fulfilled everything demanded of you by the Law. He died to pay for your sins. He died to give you eternal life in the joys of paradise.

Everything that has been entrusted to you is little compared to what you will receive when Jesus returns.

Do not look at God has a hard master. Enjoy the benefits of being in his service. You have been blessed with talents that He has given you. And the master gives you more blessings by inviting you into his eternal joy simply for being his faithful servant. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Keep Your Flask Filled

Sermon based on Matt. 25:1-13 for the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

Dear believers who await the return of the bridegroom: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Three pastors got together for coffee and were discussing the problem they each had with bats in their respective church buildings. A large amount of bats had gathered in the lofts and attics of their churches. The first pastor said he had tried everything to get rid of the bats, and finally, in his frustration, he tried shooting them with his .22 calibre rifle. The only result was holes in the ceiling but the bats remained. The second pastor said he also had tried everything he could think of. He had called in exterminators and had the church fumigated several times, but the bats just would not go away. The third pastor said, “We don’t have any problems with bats anymore.” Surprised, the other pastors asked, “Well, what did you do to get rid of the bats?” The third pastor responded, “I used the method that has proven most effective throughout my years of ministry: I simply baptized and confirmed the bats and I have not seen them in the church since.”

Perhaps you’ve heard that one before, but it points to the same problem to which the Gospel lesson points: like the foolish virgins, there are many who will not have oil in their lamps when Jesus returns.

Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven once again in our Gospel lesson of the week, thus He makes it clear that He is speaking of the Church. All ten virgins were together awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom. All ten had the fire of faith in their lamps. All ten were to meet the bridegroom in the great marriage feast. Then all ten fell asleep; that is, they all died, since the bridegroom did not return immediately.

What was so different between the two groups of five? Both groups were supposed to be at the wedding feast. They were waiting for the bridegroom together. They are all believers in Christ, awaiting His Second Coming. They all knew the bridegroom and had faith that He would return. Why did the flames of the five foolish virgins go out? They ran out of oil. They didn’t take more oil with them as the wise virgins did.

The five foolish virgins looked at the flame of their own faith and said, “That is enough. This nice flame will not go out easily. I have faith. I am baptized into Christ.” Further, they looked at the oil already in their lamps and said, “I’ve got lots of oil. I don’t need more. I’ve been baptized and confirmed. I don’t need more forgiveness. I had the Lord’s Supper last week, why would I need it again this week? I’ve got nothing to worry about.” This type of faith got the foolish virgins to refrain from getting any more oil for their lamps.

On the other hand, the wise virgins looked at the flame of their faith and said, “This flame is burning right now, but I don’t know when the bridegroom will come. I don’t know how long this oil will last. I don’t know what I will have to face. How much oil will I need? Can I ever have too much? Yes, I am baptized and forgiven, but I am weak. I sin daily. I need God’s grace and forgiveness as much as possible. God forbid that the bridegroom should come and I am stuck without oil in my lamp.” This type of faith got the wise virgins to get more oil for their lamps.

We do not know when Jesus will return. We do not know when we will die. For some, death comes very suddenly in a tragic accident or sudden illness. Even for those who suffer from illness for a prolonged period of time, death still seems like a sudden shock. So we should always be prepared to die. We should always have oil in our lamps and more oil in our flasks. After death, it’s too late to get more oil for our lamps.

So how can our flame of faith be kept burning? We confess in the meaning of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” The Holy Spirit calls us to faith by the Gospel – the good news that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. It is this same Gospel that keeps us in the one true faith.

So what do you think happens if you are not regularly hearing and receiving the Gospel? The Holy Spirit keeps faith alive only through the Word and Sacraments. The Word of Absolution you hear gives you more oil in your lamp. The forgiveness you receive in the Lord’s Supper gives you more oil in your lamp. Reading and hearing the Word of God in daily devotions gives you more oil in your lamp.

So do not take the Word of God for granted. Do not take the Lord’s Supper for granted. Do not take forgiveness for granted. Do not take for granted the wisdom of having more oil in your lamp; of having a flask filled with oil as you await the return of Christ, who is the bridegroom of the Church.

We know what happens when we are not constantly receiving forgiveness. We risk the fire of our faith being quenched. When going to church is just another social event that we do from time to time and is secondary to work, hockey, or any other activity; when we don’t read the Bible ourselves at home and with our families, then we start to run out of oil. We stop even seeing the importance of having oil since our lamp is already starting to go out anyway.

A new study out says that if their parents talked about their faith at home, showed that their faith is important to their children, and were active in church, 82% of their children became similarly faithful as adults (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2014/11/discovery-of-how-to-keep-young-people-in-the-church/). This is in contrast to the 1% of children active in their twenties if their parents did not show this same importance to their faith. This shouldn’t be a shock to anybody.

It is only through Word and Sacrament that we are kept in the faith. If they are not important to us and we neglect them, what do you expect the outcome to be? Our sinful nature will not leave us until we are dead. It continually causes us to sin. Because of our sinful nature, we do not do the good we want to do, but the evil we do not want to do is what we keep on doing (Rom. 7:19). We do the very thing we hate (Rom. 7:15). Our flame of faith is weak. We need forgiveness continually.

The church of the apostles’ time understood this well. Acts 2:46 indicates that they celebrated the Lord’s Supper every day as part of their Divine Service. Since the time of the apostles, for 1700 years, the Christian church celebrated the Lord’s Supper at least every Sunday. But then came heresy. Those who denied the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, and denied that forgiveness is actually given and received, started to celebrate the Lord’s Supper less frequently. They denied the benefits, so they discarded the practice. We have nothing in common with this false teaching.

Then, in the 1700s, a dangerous movement called Pietism swept through the Lutheran Church in Europe. They placed so much emphasis on their personal feelings about the Lord’s Supper that they would not attend until they had spent a long time developing the right attitude. In Lutheran churches where Pietism took hold, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper became as infrequent as in those churches that denied the real presence.

In the next century, things only got worse. Rationalism swept in and invaded the church. Rationalists don’t believe in things like sin, miracles, or heaven. They thus denied Christ’s words: “This is my body” and “This is my blood” because they would require a miracle to be true.

But these are Jesus’ own words. He created the world through the power of His Word. He can certainly make His body present in His Supper as He promises. Christ Himself says eating His body and drinking His blood is the way to receive the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is no liar. So when Jesus says, “This is my body” and “This is my blood” we know that He speaks the truth. And we know that “Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” (SC VI) In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives us the medicine of immortality!

If we truly believe that Jesus gives to us what He says He gives to us in His Supper, we would cling to it as the greatest gift on earth! If we believe the plain and clear words of Jesus, skipping the Lord’s Supper on a Sunday makes no more sense than skipping your medicine for the day thinking that it will make the next day’s medicine more special. You should be calling me and e-mailing me, begging me to give this forgiveness to you every Sunday. You should call the elders of the congregation to make sure we talk about it at our meeting this week.

You do not want to be a foolish virgin who thinks your faith is so strong that you don’t need any more oil for your lamp. How much oil is enough? I don’t know. When will Jesus return? Well, then maybe we should stock up! The last thing we want to hear upon arrival at the closed door of the marriage feast is Jesus say, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”

The Lord’s Supper fills our lamps and our flasks with oil so that the flame of faith is not quenched. Through Word and Sacrament God gives us the forgiveness that Christ won on the cross for us. He gives us the forgiveness we so desperately need. So parents, show the importance to your children. Grandparents, show the importance to your grandchildren. Confirmation students do not forget: This is a matter of receiving forgiveness. God desires to overfill your flask with oil so that it runs over. He is gracious and merciful. He doesn’t want to lose you. He wants to continually strengthen you through His Word and the Lord’s Supper, so that you will have plenty of oil when Jesus our Lord returns. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Blessed are the Saints

Blessed are the Saints

Sermon based on Mt. 5:1 – 12 for All Saints Day

Dear saints in Christ: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

You may feel a little uncomfortable being called a saint. After all, you obviously haven’t met a martyr’s death like Saint Peter and Saint Paul. You are not one of the twelve disciples whom Jesus sent out like Saint Matthew and Saint Mark. You haven’t stood up to the pope and his heresy to the point that a bounty has been put on your head as the sainted Martin Luther did. Even today, there are those alive who have dedicated their lives to mission work and acts of mercy in harsh conditions around the world – maybe they can be called saints, but no, not me. And then you hear Jesus preaching the Beatitudes, saying that the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart are blessed – they are saints. But that doesn’t sound so much like me.

The Beatitudes show us that based on what we think, say, and do, we are not saints. We prefer pride to meekness. We hunger and thirst for all kinds of things, but righteousness isn’t one of them. We avoid the needy so that we can avoid showing them mercy. We certainly aren’t pure in heart, but conjure up all kinds of selfish thoughts from the depths of our hearts. We prefer strife to peace as long as it means we get our own way. How then, can we be blessed? How can we be saints?

Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” To receive the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven – and thus be a saint – we are to be poor in spirit. How does one become poor in spirit, and what does it mean?

As Matthew records, Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand [4:17].” The Beatitudes are exactly that – Jesus preaching repentance, starting with the first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” What does it mean to be poor in spirit but to realize that you are spiritually poor – spiritually bankrupt in fact; to realize that you have absolutely nothing good in your natural self? Looking at the demands of the Law, you despair in yourself to fulfil the Law. You see that you are no saint.

Those who do not despair in their own righteousness – those who think that they’ve earned sainthood – they do not have the promise of the kingdom of heaven. To the Pharisees and scribes who grumbled that Jesus would eat and drink with sinners, He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” [Lk. 5:30 – 32]. To those who think that they don’t need a Saviour; to those who are self-righteous in themselves, thinking that they have kept the Commandments perfectly, Jesus gives no blessing or promise of the kingdom of heaven.

In fact, concerning the scribes and Pharisees, those who lived by the letter of the law – those who by all appearances were leading a holy, honourable, and saintly life, full of good works – concerning them Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven [Mt. 5:20].” All their righteous deeds were not enough. Their external saintly appearance meant nothing. They did not see their sin or their need for a Saviour, and thus the kingdom of heaven is not theirs. They were not poor in spirit, but rather full of themselves, thinking themselves to be rich in their own saintliness.

But those of us who see our sin and see that we do not deserve to be called saints are blessed. Crushed by the Law of God, we are poor in spirit. We realize our helpless condition, and that we justly deserve God’s present and eternal punishment.

This realization leads us to mourn and to humble ourselves, which are the second and third Beatitudes. We mourn, filled with sorrow over our sin, grieving over our thoughts, words, and deeds. We mourn over our own spiritual death, in meekness and humility realizing that we need help from outside of us – to save us from ourselves. We thus hunger and thirst for righteousness. The righteousness that we realize we do not have in ourselves becomes something for which we crave. We see our need for redemption and long for it. We see our spiritual poverty and seek to be filled.

According to Jesus, it is exactly the poor in spirit, those who mourn over their sins, those meek in their own ability to save themselves, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – according to Jesus, these are the ones that are blessed. Theirs is the kingdom of God. They shall be comforted. They shall be satisfied. They shall inherit the earth.

Jesus is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the anointed one who proclaims good news to the poor [Is. 61:1, Lk. 4:18]. This good news is that Jesus took our spiritual poverty on Himself and nailed it to the cross. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus saved us from the kingdom of the devil and brought us into the kingdom of heaven. Those that mourn over their sins are comforted by the good news of forgiveness in Christ. Those who humbly despair in themselves and look to Christ will receive the promised inheritance of the kingdom. Those who hunger and thirst for Christ’s righteousness – because they have none of their own – are the very recipients of His righteousness. Jesus is the bread of life that fills us [Jn. 6:35]. He satisfies our hunger and thirst by giving us His righteousness. He gives us the reward of the kingdom of heaven which He earned for us.

This is the same reward enjoyed by the saints who have gone before us, those saints we remember this day. These also are saints not because of what they have done but because of what Jesus did for them. They have already received their reward, while we have not yet fully realized ours. They have already passed through death, while we still live in death. But your time will come; the time when you will no longer have sin; the time when you will no longer face sickness and hardship; the time when you will join your loved ones who have died in the faith.

So, just like the saints who have gone before you, blessed are you who are poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven. Note that this is present tense. Jesus does not say that yours will be, but that yours is the kingdom of heaven. This we can understand when we realize that the kingdom of heaven is not primarily a place, but rather the reign of the king that takes place wherever the king is. The reign of heaven is in Jesus. The good news of Jesus’ proclamation is the good news of the kingdom, of His reign [Mt. 4:23, 9:35].

While the saints who have gone before us have a fuller realization of the reign of Christ, we believers in Christ are also in the kingdom of heaven with them already. We have the blessings of the kingdom of heaven: forgiveness and communion with Christ.

All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptized into Christ’s death, and our old sinful self was crucified with Him [Rm. 6:3, 6]. So we have the benefits of His death already now. We stand before God forgiven. We stand before God as saints! And as saints, we have communion with one another and with Christ [1 Jn. 1:7].

In the Lord’s Supper, we also have communion with Christ and with each other [1 Cor. 10:16 – 17]. Thus we confess in our Communion liturgy, “Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven” – that is the saints that have gone before us – “we laud and magnify Your glorious name evermore praising you and saying…” We then sing the same words as those sung in heaven when we sing the Sanctus, “Holy, Holy, Holy” [Is. 6:3, Rev. 4:8]. As the saints in heaven worship and praise God, so we, the saints on earth, join in. We worship and praise God together with our loved ones who have died in the faith.

And we, the saints on earth, are also part of the great multitude that no one can number in our first reading from Revelation, clothed in the white robes we received in our baptism [7:9]. This is a glimpse into the heavenly celebration of eternal rest and peace as if it were already a present reality. And thus it is a sure promise to the saints here below that they will indeed find their eternal rest as described by John:

Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes [Rev. 7:15 – 17].

Dear saints of God, that describes you! You are part of the multitude that John saw in heaven. You are those whom Jesus calls blessed in the Beatitudes. This is the main point of the Beatitudes – you who have nothing to offer God but sin – yours is the kingdom of heaven. You who mourn over your sin – you will be comforted. You who are brought low by yours sins and hunger and thirst for righteousness – you will be satisfied. The blessings of the Beatitudes are for you, because Christ earned them for you and gives them to you, just as He has given them to the saints triumphant. May God grant us to rejoice and be glad, for our reward is great in heaven, where we will fully realize the blessings promised to us. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding, will keep rour hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.