The Word Became Flesh

Sermon for the Nativity of our Lord based on John 1:1-14

Dear people who are flesh: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Word became flesh. God became man. The eternal Son of God who made all things and without whom was not anything made that was made, joined creation by taking on human flesh, and He dwelt with us.

God the Son did not have to become man. He did not have to leave the joys of heaven and attach Himself to mankind by becoming one of us. He could have instead destroyed sinful mankind who had rebelled against Him. He could have thrown all of creation into hell after the fall into sin.

Yet, out of love for His fallen creation, He did not want to see His creation eternally punished. He became man for us, out of love for us. He loved His fallen creation so much that He was willing to become one of us. He became one of us to take on our sin.

God the Son shares in our human state. God has forever elevated what it means to be human by becoming one of us. By becoming one of us, He affirmed the goodness of creation, even if it is now marred by sin.

Christ came to take back what He had lost. Man was lost to God because of sin, but Jesus came to win us back to God. The Son of God came to pay the price of our sins, thus freeing us from the bondage of sin.

God the Son took on our flesh in order to suffer and die for us. Even now, after the resurrection, He remains man. That’s why He can give us His body and blood to eat and drink.

If God is Spirit alone, He does not have a body or blood. But God the Son became and is still man, glorified and resurrected. He gives us His glorified and resurrected body to eat and drink so that we can be partakers of His flesh.

The Word became flesh to take on our sin, and now He gives us His flesh and we take on His holiness. His body and blood take away our sin because it was by means of His body and blood that He paid the price of our sins. Jesus gives us forgiveness and eternal life through His body and blood and we are united with Him. We have been adopted as children of God through our Baptism into Christ.

We have the right to become children of God. Not because we were born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but because we were born again by the will of God through water and the Spirit. By believing in His name, that is by faith, we are the children of God.

Jesus becoming man bridged the gap between God and man. We are no longer separated from God by our sinfulness since Jesus has fulfilled the Law for us and paid the debt of our sins.

As God, the Son of God does not need to keep the Law. Whatever He does is just and good and right. Whatever God thinks, says, or does is lawful. In order for Him to fulfil the Law in our place, He had to become one of us.

Scripture tells us, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal. 4:4-5) Born as a man, Jesus put Himself under the Law and fulfilled the Law’s requirements. Jesus became one of us to do what we cannot do.

The Son of God also became man so that He could die. God has no beginning or end. Without taking on human flesh, God the Son could not die. So, He took on our flesh and blood, and gave up His life to save us and give us eternal life.

God the Son took on our flesh, so He also experienced what it means to be man. He was tempted. He suffered hunger and thirst. He became tired and slept. He cried when a dear friend died. He was sorrowful unto death.

Christ knows what we go through. He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, as He has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). Thus, we can confidently draw near to His throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16).

Christ, who is God and man, has ascended to the right hand of the Majesty on high, and He intercedes for us. There is a man sitting on the throne of heaven pleading for us, because He knows our weaknesses. He knows our weaknesses, so He has done everything to save us, leaving nothing to us.

From start to finish, it is all about love. God was willing to do this all for us out of love for us, His fallen creation. God became man to save man. We are saved and have been adopted as children of God, so we receive the inheritance of the children of God – eternal life. The eternal Son of God became man to give us eternal life. That is the Christmas story. Amen.

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

Celebrate Christmas

Sermon for Christmas Eve based on Luke 2:1-20

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

Christmas traditions can be nice ways to celebrate at this time of year: turkey, cranberries, and stuffing; Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Christmas presents; getting together with family, feasting, and maybe some spiced rum in your egg nog.

Christmas is, after all, a time of celebration. It is one of the great festivals of the church year, celebrating one of the most important events for Christians. It is the celebration of the eternal God taking on human flesh. He who created the heavens and the earth, joins us, His creation, by being made man.

These days, we may lament the secularization of Christmas. We may mourn over the worldly celebrations overshadowing what Christmas actually is. We may even grieve the Christmas traditions of our own families being at odds with what Christmas is about. Christmas is under attack.

This, however, is nothing new. Christmas has been under attack since the first Christmas.

We tend to think of the first Christmas as a peaceful, silent night. That’s what we sing, isn’t it? Silent stars going by. Everyone is filled with joy – joy to the world, right? The cattle are gently lowing and little baby Jesus, nice and cute, is asleep on the hay.

However, there is an attack on Christmas taking place already on the first Christmas. The devil is outraged that God would join us here on earth in such a way. He is infuriated that the angel choirs are singing praises and that shepherds care about Jesus’ birth enough to leave their flocks at night to worship the infant. The book of Revelation describes the devil as a great red dragon standing by waiting for the birth of Jesus, so that he might devour the infant when He is born (Rev. 12:1-6).

The attack on Christmas is seen as the town of Bethlehem becomes a hellish nightmare when the tyrant Herod sends soldiers to murder all the baby boys. Herod vents his rage on the little town of Bethlehem and Jesus flees to Egypt with His earthly parents. The attack continues to the point of thorns, nails, and spear piercing the human flesh of God.

Here, we arrive at the purpose of Christmas. God took on our flesh for the very purpose of dying. Jesus was born for this. He was born to be the sacrifice on our behalf. Jesus came to suffer in our place and to die for us.

When Jesus was born, salvation came to earth. He saved us by doing what we cannot do: He kept the entire Law of God with its demands of perfection in thought, word, and deed. Jesus then gave His life for all our sins of thought, word, and deed. His life was not taken from Him, but He laid it down of His own accord (John 10:18). He willingly gave up His life to save His creation, to save us who have fallen into sin.

Jesus doesn’t just offer His forgiveness to some. He doesn’t just offer it to those who have tried hard enough to do what is right. He doesn’t just offer forgiveness to those who have been faithful enough, who have attended regularly enough, who have given generously enough. None of us has done anything enough to earn the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is not impressed by anything anyone has done. In spite of what we have done and left undone, Jesus offers us all His forgiveness.

Jesus came to earth and took on human flesh to die for all mankind. As we sang, “Now the foe, Sin and woe, Death and hell are broken!” (LSB 360 st.2) That’s why we celebrate Christmas. That’s why we get together with our families and feast and celebrate. That is why Christmas means joy to the world and why angel choirs sing glory to God. If angel choirs sing in celebration, surely we, those people for whom Jesus came, will join them in singing praise and glory to God.

The world and the devil can attack Christmas all they want. They cannot take the joy of Christmas away from us. Now the foe, Sin and woe, Death and hell are broken. We celebrate because our sins are forgiven so we have peace with God. We celebrate because our ancient foe, the devil, has been defeated and is powerless to snatch us from God. We celebrate because death is defeated as Jesus rose from the dead and has promised us the resurrection of our bodies when He returns in glory.

So, celebrate this great festival with thanksgiving. Rejoice, for our Saviour has come and rescued us from every threat. Let the world do what it will, our Christmas joy cannot be taken away from us. Amen.

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

Christmas Joy

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent based on Matthew 1:18-25

Dear people with the promise of eternal joy: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Christmas doesn’t always feel so joyful. We may be able to remember past Christmases which were filled with joy, but times change. For some, this will be the first Christmas spent in a nursing home and they are unable to celebrate with family as in the past. Some are spending this Christmas in the hospital, reeling over a scary diagnosis. Many are spending this Christmas as widows or widowers, and Christmas just isn’t the same anymore.

The first Christmas wasn’t all joy and happiness, either. Joseph’s life was unravelling. Everything had been going well. Joseph had found the girl he wanted to marry. In fact, Joseph and Mary were betrothed, so they had already promised themselves to each other. They were already in a legally binding relationship, the first stage of marriage. They were living chaste, pious lives – not living together or sleeping together, but waiting for marriage.

Then Mary came back from visiting her relative Elizabeth for three months, and she was “found to be with child.” Joseph knew the child wasn’t his, so he assumed Mary had been unfaithful to him. What other possibility is there? Sure, she had some story about being pregnant by the Holy Spirit, but that sounded about as believable to Joseph as it would seem to a husband-to-be today.

Scripture doesn’t tell us much about what Joseph was thinking, but it does tell us that he resolved to divorce her quietly. He obviously didn’t believe Mary’s story. He must have been upset. He must have felt let down and betrayed. How could Mary do this to him? He loved Mary, but what was he supposed to do now? If Joseph kept quiet and just took Mary as his wife, then everyone would think he was guilty. The small community in which they lived would ridicule and shame him. Back then it was not as it is today, with fornication and children born out of wedlock as the norms of society. Back then, there was still a sense of shame over such sin, and the law prescribed penalty for a betrothed virgin fornicating was the death penalty by stoning (Dt. 22:23-24).

Therein lay the other problem. Joseph didn’t want Mary to be executed, either. He thought if he could quietly divorce her, then she could escape the death penalty. Yes, he thought she had acted very wickedly towards him, but he loved her and didn’t want her to die, and he didn’t want the community to shame or ridicule her.

As Joseph wrestled with these decisions, he was not joyful. There was no happiness in his life as it seemingly crumbled apart and as he thought of what the future would be. Joseph was not full of Christmas joy and cheer.

A messenger from God changed everything for Joseph. The messenger told him, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

That’s great news! Mary was telling the truth! She hadn’t betrayed him or been unfaithful to him! And on top of it all, this child is the promised Saviour who will save people from their sins!

That’s the thing about messages from God. They show us that in the middle of what seems like crisis and disaster, God is there with His people. God gives good news in the midst of sadness. In the midst of loneliness, sickness, death, and betrayal, God sends His good news through His messengers.

Even if Christmas will not be the same this year for you; even if Christmas will never again be the same as it once was, know that the Christ child came to save His people from their sins.

This is such good news that it is bound to bring joy. This good news means that the nursing home isn’t your final home – you have an eternal home in the heavens. This good news means that your stay in the hospital and your diagnosis isn’t permanent – even if God doesn’t heal you in this life, He will heal you in the life to come. This good news means that your sadness and loneliness won’t last forever – you have the promised reunion with your loved ones who have died in the faith.

Thus, we will have joy this Christmas no matter what we have to face in this life – no matter how much our lives might seem to be crumbling, no matter how bleak and sad things look, no matter how little this year’s Christmas will remind us of Christmases past.

We have the good news that God fulfilled His promise and sent us His only Son. The virgin Isaiah prophesied about did conceive and bear a Son, and His name is Immanuel, which means God with us. Immanuel died for our sins and He is still with us. He is with us in His Word, He is with us in the waters of Holy Baptism, and He is with us in His body and blood which He gives us to eat and drink.

Jesus is the bringer of joy, because He has saved us from our sins. He is Immanuel, God with us. He is with us through the heart-breaks and betrayals; He is with us through the illnesses and diseases; He is with us at our death beds. When our last hour comes, He will take us to be with Himself in eternal joy and happiness. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes and we will never again be sad or sorrowful.

Thus, Christmas is joyful. Even amidst the sadness of this life, we have the joy of Christmas, that God sent Jesus, our Saviour, who died for us, saving us from our sins. Having the promise of eternal life, we have the joy of the promise of eternal joy. Amen.

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

Sola Scriptura

Midweek Advent Sermon – Sola Scriptura (Is. 55:6-11; II Tim. 3:10-17; John 6:60-69)

Dear people who know the Truth from Scripture alone: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

How do you know what is right and what is wrong? Everyone has some basis for answering this question. Some will say, “I feel that this is right and that is wrong,” or “I think this is right and that is wrong.” Some say, “I want to do this; therefore, it is right,” or “I follow my heart on these things.”

That is of course why we have so many differing opinions on what is right and what is wrong. If everyone has a right to their own opinion and everyone has a different opinion, well then, I guess everyone can do whatever they think is right in their own eyes.

If we are following our feelings, then of course we want that which makes us feel good. We pursue pleasure because it makes us feel good. I’m not just talking about alcohol, drugs, sex, and food. I’m talking about following our feelings in life, in decisions we make, and even in what we expect from God. We want to feel good, so we want to hear cheery, uplifting music in church. We want a feel-good emotional message that uplifts us and motivates us. We don’t want any of that “I’m a poor, miserable sinner” stuff, or any depressing downers like talk about hell or sin or punishment.

The problem with following our feelings is that our feelings change. Feelings wear off. What makes us feel good one day isn’t quite as effective the next day. Also, feelings are unreliable. I recently heard of a man saying that he knew that God existed because he didn’t die in a near-drowning mishap when he was young. He based his knowledge of God on this feeling that he had when he was younger. What does that tell grieving fathers and mothers if they had a child who did drown when they were young, or died in any other way? According to his argument, it tells them that God does not exist. We plain and simple cannot follow our feelings or trust them to know the truth.

Following our thinking is no better. We may think this is right and that is wrong; this is fair and that is unfair. However, as we heard in our Old Testament reading, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is. 55:8-9) Our sinful minds cannot comprehend God’s thoughts, and we cannot find truth following our reason.

The only place to find the Truth is Scripture. Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone. We must add the word “alone,” because whatever we add to Scripture takes us away from the Truth.

If we say that we follow Scripture and reason, then we are saying that we believe what God says in His Word only if it makes sense to us. Jesus walked on water? That doesn’t make sense, so obviously, He knew where the rocks were in the water. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead? That doesn’t make sense, so obviously, the people only thought Lazarus was dead. Then really, we are only following our reason, and discarding God’s Word.

If we say that we follow Scripture and our feelings, then we are only following our feelings and discarding God’s Word. It would mean that anytime we feel like God’s prohibitions are unfair, we say that they don’t apply to us. Anytime we feel like doing something God forbids, we come up with excuses for why we’re going to do it anyway.

Second Timothy tells us, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (3:16) All Scripture. We don’t pick and choose what we like. We don’t decide what makes sense and discard what our sinful minds think doesn’t make sense. We can’t decide what we feel is right and wrong. God decides what is right and wrong. He created us and the whole universe, so He makes the rules.

The most important reason why we rely on Scripture alone is because only Scripture tells us the Gospel. Only Scripture tells us that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. Grace is God’s free gift of forgiveness which we receive through faith, which is trust in God’s promises to us. How do we know this? Scripture alone tells us.

From looking at the world, we can conclude that there is a God who is the creator. From our conscience, we can know that we have done things that are wrong, even if we can’t know perfectly what is right and wrong. From history books, we can find out that Jesus died and that many people claimed that He rose from the dead.

However, only Scripture gives us the solution for what ails us. Only Scripture is God’s Word which He has given to us to tell us of His love for us. Only Scripture tells us the reason that Jesus died – to save us from our sins. Only Scripture tells us what Jesus’ resurrection means – the He conquered sin, death, and the grave for us, and now we have the promise of the resurrection of our bodies.

The Bible is not just any other book. The Bible is God’s Word, and God’s Word has power. God’s Word created the heavens and the earth. At His speaking, it was done. God’s strong Word bespeaks you righteous. He pronounces you absolved, and it is done. God’s powerful Word has claimed you as His own in the waters of Baptism, and God’s powerful Word will raise you from the dead when Christ returns. God’s powerful Word gives us the body and blood of Jesus with the bread and wine and will bring us to the eternal feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.

There is a place for feelings and thinking. After all, God created both our emotions and our minds. However, God didn’t give us emotions and minds to decide what is right and what is wrong. He gave us His Word for that reason. Scripture is how we know what is right and what is wrong. Scripture is how we know that despite the wrong we have done, Jesus has made things right. That is why we follow Scripture alone. 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 Third Sunday in Advent based on Matthew 11:2-15

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

The kingdoms of the world grow and expand through violence. The most powerful kingdoms have had the biggest and strongest armies. It’s no coincidence. No kingdom ever became great without a great army.

Glory is found on the battlefield. Conquering other nations is the only way to increase the size of the kingdom. The strongest, the bravest, and the toughest are those who are valued. Violence serves the kingdom well… until a more powerful kingdom rises and takes dominance.

On the other hand, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence. It is the kingdom of the lowly and the weak; the kingdom of turning the other cheek; the kingdom of martyrs. The kingdom of heaven is violent to no one; it only suffers violence at the hands of the violent.

Even our King fits this description. Our King suffered violence like a Lamb led to the slaughter without complaint. Our King suffered mocking and spitting, flogging, and torture. Our King suffered violence to the point of death on a cross; God put to death by mere mortals.

This is not our way. Jesus said, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20) However, we don’t want to suffer violence. Suffering violence isn’t in our plan. It doesn’t appear it was in John the Baptist’s plan either.

When John suffered violence, he doubted. He sent word to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” How can You be the one if Your followers suffer violence and You’re not doing anything about it? How can You be the King of the kingdom of heaven if You allow Your kingdom to suffer violence at the hands of violent men?

However, while suffering violence, Jesus told Pilate, “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.” (John 18:36)

The kingdom of heaven is not competing with earthly kingdoms. It is no threat to earthly kingdoms. Yet, the kingdoms of the earth all too often afflict the kingdom of heaven with violence.

The Pharisees and Sadducees were threatened by Jesus because their only goal was having an earthly kingdom, which they tried to pervert the church into being. Therefore, the leaders of the church delivered Jesus for crucifixion. Earthly kingdoms have persecuted the church since its inception because they cannot understand anything except for earthly kingdoms and they always think that the kingdom of heaven is competing with their earthly kingdoms.

Herod, the king of an earthly kingdom, had John the Baptist beheaded because of John’s preaching concerning the kingdom of heaven. John had warned Herod that he would not be in the kingdom of heaven unless he repented. To Herod, that sounded like an attack on him as an earthly king so he threw John in prison, later to be executed.

Historical writings tell us eleven of Jesus’ twelve disciples were martyred. The kingdoms of the earth felt threatened by the kingdom of heaven, so they afflicted the Church with violence. The Church has been persecuted throughout history, and is today persecuted around the world more than ever.

The violent think that they are taking the kingdom of heaven by force. They think they are winning the battle. The kingdoms of the earth think that every dead Christian is a victory for them. They couldn’t be more wrong. They can do nothing to the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven is not of this world. It is present here, it is in this world, but it is not of this world. The kingdom of heaven is present wherever the King is present. Jesus is present here among us in Word and Sacrament, so the kingdom of heaven is here among us. The world cannot take Jesus away from us.

The kingdom of heaven is present in this world but it has no worldly ambitions. It has no desire to topple governments or take over their lands.

Further, the kingdom of heaven has no delusions that this world will be made into a world of peace and harmony. It has no expectation that wars will cease or that the kingdom of heaven will stop suffering violence in this world. Remember, “If they persecuted me they will also persecute you.” Jesus also said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18)

All is not lost, however, because the kingdom of heaven is not about hatred or about violence. The kingdom of heaven is about the victory won by Jesus on the cross.

The crucifixion may have looked like a huge loss. It appeared that not only had earthly kingdoms defeated the kingdom of heaven, but that the prince of darkness, the prince of hell, had won. The King of heaven was dead. God in the flesh was dead.

The disciples went into hiding behind locked doors. What else would they do? They were scared what the earthly kingdoms would do to them. Then Jesus appeared to the disciples behind closed doors. He showed them His hands and side, the marks of His victory over sin, death, and the devil. He proved Himself alive, risen as He has said.

The disciples came out of hiding. They went and proclaimed publicly that Jesus had risen from the dead. They no longer feared the kingdoms of the earth because they were in the kingdom of heaven. They proclaimed the kingdom of heaven to the ends of the earth, in exchange suffering violence at the hands of violent men.

Suffering violence in this time of Advent, what does the Church do? The Church waits. The Church waits for the return of her King. When the King returns, the violence will cease. Christ will return in the clouds of heaven and all peoples, nations, and languages will serve Him. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom which will not pass away or be destroyed (Dan. 7:14-15).

Then the Church will have peace. Our King suffered violence so that we have peace with God now because our sins are forgiven (Rom. 5:1), and when He returns we will have peace on earth also. Our King gloriously triumphed on the battlefield of the cross, and gives us peace: peace with God; peace in the new heavens and the new earth; peace from the enemies of the Church, and peace with each other. We will have peace and the worldly kingdoms will cease to exist. So, the Church waits. The Church waits and prays, “Come Lord Jesus. Come quickly.” Amen.

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

Sola Fide

Midweek Advent Sermon – Sola Fide (Gen. 15:1-6; Rom. 4:1-8; John 3:16-21)

Dear people saved through faith alone: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

For our midweek services this Advent we are studying the three solas of the Reformation. As we heard last week, sola means “only” in Latin, and these three solas of the Reformation clarify the Scriptural teaching concerning salvation. The three solas are sola gratia, sola fide, and sola Scriptura. What they mean is that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, as taught in Scripture alone.

Last week’s sermon was about sola gratia – that we are saved by grace alone. Grace is God’s unmerited favour and goodwill towards us, not counting our sins against us because of Jesus’ death for us.

Tonight, we examine sola fide – the Scriptural principle that we are saved through faith alone.

As we heard last week, grace is universal. That means that God offers grace to everyone. God offers the forgiveness of sins to everyone. After all, Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. However, the only way to receive that grace is through faith. Faith receives grace. Faith receives the benefits of Jesus’ death for all mankind.

Faith is trust. We can have faith in a of of different things. We can trust that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. We can trust that the roof will not cave in on us. We can trust that our pensions will continue to be there for us during our retirement. Of course, faith in such things is not the faith that saves us.

In addition to such faith, there is the more important faith – faith in something for salvation. Everyone has faith in something for salvation. Everyone believes in something. Even for the one who says he believes nothing, he still has faith that there is nothing after this life. He trusts that there is no God. He trusts so fervently in himself to know this to the point that he is ready to go to his deathbed denying the existence of God. Such a man still has faith, though. Such a man has faith in himself. He trusts his mind so strongly, that despite the evidence that he can see with his eyes, hear with his ears, and feel with his hands, he says everything came from nothing. That is faith. He has faith in his own mind. He trusts his own mind so much that he rejects Jesus’ resurrection from the dead even though it is affirmed as a historical truth. That is faith.

You can have faith so strong and fervent that you are ready to die. You can be passionate and zealous and sharing your faith with everyone, but if you believe in the wrong thing, your faith will not save you.

If you don’t believe that people can believe so strongly in something false, just look at Muslim suicide bombers. They are willing to wear explosives and walk into crowded places and murder people while killing themselves in the process. They do this because they believe they will go to heaven when they have accomplished their suicide mission. They believe that murder of non-Muslims is such a great good work that you automatically get to go to heaven if you commit the act. That is strong faith, but faith in the wrong thing. Such believers will be shocked to find themselves in hell.

Faith always has an object. That means faith trusts in something. If that something is false, or a lie, then your faith does you no good, but faith always has an object.

For Christians, our faith is in the Gospel. Our faith is in Christ Jesus and His death in our place. That is the object of our faith. Saving faith is not merely a matter of believing that there is one God. Scripture tells us even demons believe that there is one God – and they shudder (James 2:19). Saving faith is also not just a general knowledge of Jesus dying on the cross.

Saving faith is trust in the promises of the Gospel. Saving faith is trust that Jesus’ death was for me. Saving faith is trust that because of Jesus’ death my sins are forgiven. Saving faith is trust that Christ has reconciled me to the Father. Saving faith is trust that the promise of eternal life is for me.

Such saving faith receives the benefits of Jesus’ death. Such saving faith receives the promises given in Baptism. Such faith is counted by God as righteousness, and of such a believer we heard in our Epistle lesson, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Ps. 32:1-2 cited in Rom. 4:7-8).

You can have faith in a lot of things, but only having faith in the Gospel saves you. Faith in the wrong object does not save or give the forgiveness of sins. Only faith in Jesus save. “For God so loved the whole world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned” (John 3:18).

And where does this saving faith come from? Faith comes from hearing (Rom. 10:17). When you hear the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus died for you, the Holy Spirit creates faith in your heart. Even an infant comes to faith through hearing, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Saving faith is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9). We cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him. The Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel and enlightens us with His gifts. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us and keeps us in the faith (SC II.3).

Therefore, we treasure the means of grace. God uses Baptism to give saving faith. God uses His Word to give and nourish saving faith. God uses Holy Communion to strengthen and preserve saving faith.

Our faith is thus secure. Our faith is secure because it is God who gives it and it is God who sustains it. Our faith is firmly founded on Jesus Christ our Lord and what He has done for us, so it is secure. Our faith is trust in the promises of God which can never fail, so our faith is secure. Faith is trust, and we can trust in God because He is faithful. He will surely do what He has promised. Amen.

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

Preaching Fire and Comfort

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent based on Matthew 3:1-12

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

We tend to think of John the Baptist as a fire and brimstone kind of preacher; tough-as-nails, not backing down from anyone, even calling Herod the king to repentance at the cost of his head.

Certainly, today’s Gospel reading has much to do with this view of John as a fiery preacher. People are coming to him to be baptized, but instead of baptizing them, he says, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” John continues and tells them that it is of no value for them to be part of God’s people when they do not bear fruit in keeping with repentance. “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in to the fire.” John threatens these people who are coming to be baptized with the fires of hell. No wonder we might consider him a fiery preacher.

That’s not what the prophet Isaiah calls John. Isaiah calls John a preacher of comfort. Isaiah writes of John, the voice crying in the wilderness, as a comforter of God’s people, speaking tenderly to them that their warfare is ended, and their iniquity pardoned (Is. 40:1-3).

So, is Isaiah wrong? Or did John the Baptist not preach what he was supposed to preach? Or is there a problem with God or in His Word? Where is the problem?

The problem is with the impenitent sinners who went to John for baptism, and the problem is with us. The Law of God cuts us to the heart because our hearts are filled with sin. The Law of God hurts when it is preached because it exposes our thoughts, words, and deeds for what they really are: wickedness. The Law of God hurts because it reveals the desires of our hearts to be opposed to God and His will. Those things to which we cling in this life are shown to be idols but our sinful flesh doesn’t want to give them up, so the Law stings.

The Law is not the problem. The Law is holy, and righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12). The Law shows us what is already there.

John’s preaching didn’t make the Pharisees and Sadducees into sinners. The Law that John preached exposed their impenitence. John’s preaching proved that they were not coming to be baptized in order to flee the wrath to come. They were coming to be baptized for show. They had no intention of repenting and turning away from their sins. They had no intention of bearing fruit in keeping with repentance. Whatever their sins were, they had every intention of returning right back to their sins after receiving John’s baptism of repentance. That’s why John calls them out. That’s why John calls them a brood of vipers, but the problem is not with John.

John is simply acting like a physician with a diagnosis. You may not like the diagnosis of the doctor, but it’s not his fault that you’re sick. He just happens to be the bearer of the news. He’s not the one who decides that you are sick, nor is he the one who decides what kind of illness you have. He merely examines the patient and analyses the illness that is already present, and provides the diagnosis.

So also, the Law of God that we hear preached does not make us into sinners. We are already sinners. Every selfish thing we do is sin, but it takes the Law to reveal those things as being selfish. Every careless word we say is sin, but it takes the Law to show us that such words deserve God’s punishment. Every covetous or jealous thought is sin because it is against God’s will, but it takes the Law to expose our sinful thoughts as deserving to be cut down and thrown into the fire.

However, the Law is not preached with the purpose of sending the hearer to hell. The Law is preached to give the diagnosis, so that we would receive the medicine that we need. That medicine is comfort.

Unlike our medical doctors who may not have the medicine that will bring us back to health and save us, the Gospel is always the medicine that saves us. It doesn’t matter what specific sins have ailed us. It doesn’t matter how long we have suffered from their effects. Even if we have taken the medicine for granted for so long, it is here for us today.

Jesus comes to us with healing. He comes to us with forgiveness. He does this because He is the one who suffered all our diseases of sin and died for them. He is the one to whom the axe was applied. Jesus was cut off out of the land of the living for our offences. He suffered the wrath of God for our sin so that we will receive the medicine of immortality and live forever. Jesus gives us His own body and blood to eat and drink which is that medicine of immortality, which cures us of all our sins that ail us.

So, John’s fiery preaching wasn’t really bad news. The Law he preached sounded bad because it told them they were dying; that they need his medicine. But it didn’t change things. The Law just exposed them for what they were. They were dying whether they knew it or not or believed it or not. John called for them to realize their condition and receive the medicine he offered to them, with the warning that if they would not receive the medicine they would be cut down and thrown into the fire; that they would die eternally in hell. The goal of John’s preaching was to comfort the hearer with the medicine they desperately needed.

So also, the Law is not bad news for you. The Law sounds bad because it exposes your sins and what you deserve because of them. But the Law really just tells you that you need medicine. Jesus gives His medicine to you freely, without cost. He has paid the price and He give it to you freely.

You can try to fake comfort by saying that you’re not sick when you really are, but that’s not true comfort. True comfort is knowing the truth of your heart’s condition, yet knowing that Jesus Christ, the great physician, gives you healing, which gives you eternal life. True comfort is knowing that you are baptized into Christ and are covered with His righteousness. True comfort is receiving the Sacrament of the Altar which takes your sins away and heals you eternally.

Do not hear the preaching of the Law as bad news. Hear the preaching of the Law as God’s diagnosis of your sin, and receive the medicine of immortality that gives you comfort and brings you to eternal life. Amen.

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