Alien Righteousness

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity based on Matthew 5:20-26

Dear forgiven saints covered by Christ’s righteousness: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Law kills. That’s its job. God did not give us the Law to save us or make us live. God gave us the Law to show us our sin, so that we would recognize our sinfulness, repent of our sin, and cling to the Gospel, which is the free forgiveness of sins on account of Christ’s death for us.

The Pharisees did not understand this. The Pharisees sought to fulfil the Law in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. They added additional laws to God’s Law, which they thought would help them in keeping God’s Law.

The Pharisees separated themselves from open sinners and pagans and they took God’s Law very seriously. They studied it. Their scribes meticulously laboured to make more copies of the scrolls of the books of the Bible by hand to make it available to more people. They had to be accurate so that they would not alter the meaning of what God had given the prophets to write. They thus were very familiar with Scripture; they knew it well.

Really, Pharisees are what we want in our communities and churches. Pharisees weren’t crooks, adulterers, or murderers. They paid their taxes. They gave to the poor. They went to church every week and gave 10% of all their income to support the church. They contributed to society and to law and order, and were upstanding citizens, living quiet and decent lives.

What more can you ask of man? You would not be able to find any fault in the way the Pharisees lived their lives. From every judgment of man, we would have to say that they were good, honourable, upright, virtuous, and righteous.

However, Jesus says to you, “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” That puts you into a bind. Your righteousness cannot possibly exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. You cannot do more good than they did. You cannot avoid evil more than they did.

And Jesus goes on to show that you are not even as righteous as you think you are. You say you have kept the Fifth Commandment because you have not physically murdered anyone, but Jesus says you have broken the Fifth Commandment and deserve hell because you got angry with your brother, insulted him, and called him a fool. Yes, calling him an idiot for breaking something that belongs to you means you are liable to judgment.

This is why the Law kills us, for it condemns us because we are guilty of breaking it. Our sin starts in the heart, and from the heart it spreads to our lips, and to our actions.

The Law says we are guilty. We have no hope to be made righteous by the Law. Even if we managed to behave and do as much good as the scribes and Pharisees, it would not be enough. Our righteousness must exceed theirs in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Clearly, our righteousness cannot come from us. Our own righteousness will never be enough. We need righteousness from outside of us in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (alien righteousness).

The prophet Jeremiah, speaking of the promised Saviour, writes, “This is the name by which He will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” (Jer. 23:6)

The Lord is our righteousness. That’s the answer to our sin. That’s the answer to the accusations of the Law. That’s the answer to our failure to be righteous. Jesus Christ is our righteousness.

Jesus is the only one whose righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. He is the only one who obeyed every single Law of God in thought, word, and deed. He never even had a sinful thought against anyone; not even against those who shamefully mocked Him, spit on Him, hit Him on the head with a reed, pushed a crown of thorns over His head, whipped Him, and crucified Him. Jesus prayed for them saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Jesus fulfilled the Law of God for us. Everything we have failed to do, Jesus fulfilled. And He paid the price of our sins by suffering and dying for us. His perfection and righteousness cover our sin. Our Baptism was into His death and resurrection, so in our Baptism He covered us with His righteousness. Thus, He is our righteousness. His righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, thus we will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Being thus reconciled with God, Jesus gives us instructions to reconcile with our brother: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Your offerings and prayers are not pleasing to God if you are harbouring a grudge or refusing to be reconciled with someone.

Thus, if someone has sinned against you, go and tell him between you and him alone and be reconciled with him. If you have sinned against someone, go and express your sorrow over your sin and be reconciled with him.

It is far easier to simply never see that person again or to ignore the sin and pretend it doesn’t exist between you, but that is not reconciliation. Jesus warns us to reconcile before it is too late, that is, before we die. If we refuse to be reconciled with our brother, Jesus says we will be handed over to the judge and then put in prison. He’s not talking about civil authorities here, but about Judgment Day and hell.

Why do we wish to harbour anger and not forgive our neighbour, while God has forgiven us so much? There is no comparison between how much we provoke God and how much our neighbour may offend us (J. Gerhard).

Therefore we must also be reconciled with God before it is too late. Being reconciled with God and receiving His forgiveness is what then enables us to be reconciled with our neighbour and forgive him, or to humble ourselves and ask for his forgiveness. God’s forgiveness flows through us to others, reconciling us with them.

Here too, we rely not on the Law to bring about reconciliation, but on the Gospel. The Law tells us how we should treat our neighbour, speak of him, and think of him, but when we fail, as we do so regularly, the Gospel of forgiveness is the only solution.

God freely forgives us, so we can freely forgive each other. Christ is our righteousness, so He is the one who reconciles us with the Father and also with each other. God has forgiven us our mountain of sins, so we can in turn forgive our brother his sin against us.

The Law kills. That is its job. But the Gospel gives life. That’s its job. The Gospel saves us from the Law and gives us eternal life.

The Law reveals the guilt of sin

And makes us conscience-stricken;

But then the Gospel enters in

The sinful soul to quicken.

Come to the cross, trust Christ, and live;

The Law no peace can ever give,

No comfort and no blessing.


Faith clings to Jesus Christ alone

And rests in Him unceasing;

And by its fruits true faith is known,

With faith and hope increasing.

For faith alone can justify;

Works serve our neighbour and supply

The proof that faith is living. (LSB 555 st. 8-9) Amen.

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

Fishing with the Word

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity based on Luke 5:1 – 11

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

Peter knew how to fish. It was his life’s work. Through years of experience he and his partners knew where to fish, how to fish, and when to fish. But on this night, they had fished all night and caught nothing.

Jesus told Peter to go out into the deep and let down their nets. Simon Peter answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” Since Jesus said it, Peter did it.

The result of Jesus’ Word was that the nets got filled with fish. They got filled to the point that they were breaking. Help was needed from the other boat to haul in the catch. And even so, the boats were so full that they began to sink.

But Jesus wasn’t giving Peter a fishing lesson. Jesus wasn’t teaching him a better time of day to fish or a better location to fish. Jesus was teaching Peter the power of His Word. At Jesus’ Word, the nets were filled with fish to the point that they were breaking. What these fishing experts would have least expected to be successful, was extremely successful. In fact, it could not have been more successful without completely breaking the nets and leaving the boats at the bottom of the lake. And that would be no success at all.

And then, Jesus called Simon Peter to follow Him saying, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Again, Jesus wasn’t teaching Peter to fish. He was teaching Peter to catch men. Peter would be sent out as an apostle to fish for men. But how? With what? That’s what Jesus was teaching Peter. The power to fish for men is Jesus’ Word. That is the Word Peter was to preach.

Preaching is in some ways like fishing. Sometimes we’ve fished all night and caught nothing. We might be tempted to change our fishing strategy. Let’s use bigger nets. Let’s get bigger boats. Let’s use some new lures. This might work for fish, but it doesn’t work in the church.

In the church it sounds like this: Let’s add more razzle dazzle to our Sunday mornings. Let’s get rid of the liturgy and the liturgist and get some entertainment. Let’s get some catchy beats and a great big screen. Let’s get a band that uplifts the mood. Let’s not preach the Law that kills or the Gospel that makes alive, instead let’s talk about things that make us feel good about ourselves – that’s what people really want to hear.

But this is all wrong. The focus with all of this is on us and what we do. It completely ignores the power of Christ’s Word. We don’t need attractions to draw people into the church. The power is in the Word of God.

Sometimes to us, it might not feel so powerful. There are many congregations that are shrinking. Some are closing. All are struggling in one way or another. The question is: Is God’s Word being preached in its truth and purity? If so, then it is being done right, and we wait patiently. God will provide the catch. We should not get impatient and desire to find a new fishing strategy. If we start to try and draw people in through attractions and entertainment, then we are no longer bringing people into the church, but rather into an entertainment venue that cannot compete with other forms of entertainment.

But we have the Word of God; the Word of power. St. Paul writes, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).” This Word is folly; it is foolishness to the world. It is the foolishness of dropping your nets into the deep after having fished all night and catching nothing.

To those who are perishing, the Word of forgiveness is foolishness. Those who are perishing look for what is attractive and successful. What’s attractive and successful about a church that is greying and shrinking? What’s attractive about pouring water over the head of an infant? What’s attractive about a little wafer of bread and a sip of wine? To those who are perishing, these are foolishness; they are utter nonsense.

In the ancient world, the cross was shameful and offensive. Only criminals and disobedient slaves were crucified. Yet the cross is the centrepiece of the Christian Church. God’s Son came to earth in order to be charged as a criminal. God’s Son was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver – the price of a slave. Christ took the form of a slave and died as a criminal – for you! This is foolishness to those who are perishing.

But to you who are being saved, the word of the cross is the power of God – the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). God’s Word has the power to save because it does what it says it will do. When God says I make you my child in Baptism, then you are His child. When God says He forgives your sins through the word of Absolution, then you are forgiven. When He says, “Take eat, this is my body,” and, “Take drink, this is my blood for the forgiveness of all your sins,” then you are forgiven, because God’s Word does what it says it will do.

Peter was called to preach that folly, that foolishness; the foolishness of the cross. Because the word of the cross is the power of God unto salvation. There is no power for salvation in entertainment or in razzle dazzle. There is no power for salvation in our ideas, bright or dim – none of those can save a single soul. There is power only in the word of the cross.

And our witness to the world is then through the world calling us fools. We are considered fools by the world for trusting in God for every need of body and soul, whether rich or poor, whether in joy or grief. We are considered fools for relying on the Word of Christ. But as St. Paul writes, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world (1 Cor. 1:20)?” “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Cor. 1:27 – 29).”

The world can think the word of the cross is foolishness, but it is the word of the cross that saves from hell. The Word that filled Peter’s nets with fish is the same Word through which the universe was created, and it is the same Word by which you were baptized, and by which you are absolved and communed.

At Jesus’ Word, we do what He has instructed us to do, knowing that His powerful Word has caught us in the nets of His Church and will bring us safely to our eternal home. His Word will do it all, so we cling to it and trust it to do what Jesus has promised us it will do. His Word will save us eternally. Amen.

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

To Judge or Not to Judge

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity based on Luke 6:36-42 (Gen. 50:15-21)

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

We heard the world’s favourite Bible passage in our Gospel lesson. It is quoted all the time, especially by the most hardened pagans. “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” They have no idea what Jesus said before or after, and quite frankly, they don’t care, but they think they know what Jesus is saying.

They think that it means that if you say that their lifestyle is sinful, it is you who will be judged. They think that with this one sentence, Jesus is allowing them to do whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want, and Christians better keep their mouths shut. They think that Jesus is saying that public sin and false teachings must be tolerated so as not to be “judgmental.”

How can they possibly think this considering everything Jesus says that is contrary to such thinking? Because they do not care what He says. They just take this one sentence and misapply it without understanding, because they like what they think it means.

What does the Bible say elsewhere about judging? Jesus says, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (Jn. 7:24). We are not to believe every spirit, but to test the spirits to judge whether they are from God (1 Jn. 4:1). Jesus says, “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” (Lk. 12:57). Paul tells the Corinthian church that he has already judged the sexually immoral man in the congregation, and that man is to be purged from the church and delivered to Satan, being expelled from the communion of the church (1 Cor. 5:3, 5, 13). That sounds awfully judgmental. That’s because it is. Finally, Paul writes, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:9) This too, is judging.

Clearly God tells us to judge, but there is judging that is wrong, and there’s judging that is right. Certainly all judgments must be made according to the Word of God. All Christians are called to judge what is right and what is wrong. All Christians are called to judge doctrine.

If you hear a gospel other than that of Scripture, you are to judge it as false doctrine. Paul goes so far as to not only judge the false doctrine, but to judge such a false teacher as accursed. This is really no different than Jesus saying that it would be better for false teachers to have a millstone tied around their necks and to be cast into the sea rather than causing others into sin (Luke 17:2). We are not told to tolerate and compromise on what is right and wrong, but to judge what is right and wrong. What God has revealed in His Word cannot be altered. The Gospel of God is the power of God unto salvation, so if this Gospel is replaced with a different gospel, it surely leads to be accursed in hell for eternity. We must continually judge right from wrong, truth from error, God’s Word from lies.

So, what judging does Jesus forbid us? We have to look at what else Jesus says in the context. He says, “Be merciful, even as your heavenly Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; Condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Then he asks why you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye.

Jesus is talking about showing mercy and forgiving, rather than being a fault-finder and finger pointer. Wrongful judgment is unmerciful and unforgiving.

Consider Joseph. His brothers tore his special coat from him, threw him into a pit, and then sold him as a slave to Ishamelites that were passing by, who in turn sold him in Egypt. They brought his coat covered in goat’s blood to their father, to suggest that he had been killed by some wild animal. God blessed Joseph, and over time, through prison and hardship, he became the ruler of all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself.

Joseph had the opportunity to get revenge. Not just revenge, but justice. He was the ruler of the land. He ruled over his brothers and had power over them. His brothers knew that it was in Joseph’s hand to punish them and that they would deserve it. They said to each other, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.”

According to every dictate of human reason and justice, Joseph had every right to punish his brothers, who asked him for forgiveness. Joseph responded by saying, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” Joseph forgave them their heinous crimes against him, even though he was in a position to punish them for their wickedness.

This is mercy. Joseph did not give his brothers what they deserved. That would have been unmerciful. Joseph showed them mercy. Mercy is not just ignoring sin or turning a blind eye to it. Mercy is not pretending that everything is ok. Mercy is confronting sin head on, exposing it, and forgiving it. Mercy is not judging our neighbour, but forgiving him, as God in Christ Jesus has forgiven us.

God rules over us, and He has power over us. According to every dictate of human reason and justice, God has every right to punish us for our sins. But instead, He has mercy on us. God the Father turned His anger and wrath away from us, and poured it all on His Son, His only Son. He showed no mercy to Jesus, who suffered and died in our place, so that He would show us mercy.

Be merciful, even as your heavenly Father is merciful. This mercy which God has shown to us, we are to show to each other. We are not to be fault-finders and finger pointers. We are not to be unmerciful and unforgiving. Rather, we are to forgive as God has forgiven us. We are not to seek revenge or remain angry when others sin against us. We are to recognize our own sins, those logs in our eyes, and ask for forgiveness from those against whom we’ve sinned. We are to forgive our brother’s sins against us, which are nothing more than a speck in their eyes compared to the logs of sins in our eyes which we have committed against God.

God is merciful, so for the sake of Christ, He will forgive us. We don’t have to wonder if He might forgive us. He will forgive us.

God is merciful. This is not an empty hope to which we cling. God Himself has told us that He is merciful. It is His very nature to show mercy and compassion on us, His dear children.

You cannot see His mercy or compassion better anywhere than the cross of Jesus. The Father gave up His only Son into death for you, to pay for your sins, and show you mercy. God the Father was unmerciful to His Son, judged His Son, condemned His Son, so that He would show you mercy, not judge you or condemn you, but forgive you.

God does not just ignore your sin or turn a blind eye to it. God does not pretend that everything is ok. God, through His Word, confronts your sin head on, exposes it, and forgives it.

This forgiveness He once again today gives to you in the body and blood of Jesus. God shows you mercy and compassion. He gives you the forgiveness of sins. Amen.

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


Jesus Sinners Doth Receive

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity based on Luke 15:1-10

Dear lost sheep who have been found: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

What a scandal, the Pharisees and scribes thought. Jesus received sinners and ate with them. These people’s sins were known to everyone. They were known thieves, traitors, and prostitutes. They were those who had made bad decision after bad decision, and found themselves living a life against the Word of God and as pariahs and outcasts of their community.

Jesus received them and ate with them. Onlookers thought this meant that Jesus approved of their sin. This was not the case. Jesus received them and ate with them to call them to repentance. This is why Jesus told the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. As the shepherd searched for His lost sheep and the woman searched for her lost coin, so Jesus searches for lost sinners.

A lost sheep cannot find its way back to the shepherd any more than a lost coin can find its way back to its owner. The shepherd and the owner need to seek out that which was lost. So Jesus seeks out sinners who are lost in error’s way, who cannot find their way to Him.

A sinner cannot find his way to Jesus. A sinner who is lost is blind and cannot see the truth. He is dead in his trespasses and sins and cannot choose life over death. Sinners need Jesus to give them sight so that they can see and life so that they can live. Jesus does this through the forgiveness of sins.

Without Jesus giving forgiveness, a sinner is ignorant of God, despises Him, lacks fear and confidence in God, hates the judgment of God, flees this judging God, is angry with Him, despairs of His grace, and places confidence in the things of this life (cf. Ap II.8).

Only through the forgiveness of sins do we learn that God loves us, and we then in return love Him. Only through the forgiveness of sins do we trust in God, love His righteous will, cling to His grace, and place our confidence in Him alone.

Our trouble with understanding forgiveness often stems from thinking that forgiveness must be earned. We therefore struggle to forgive those who have sinned against us, because we feel they don’t deserve our forgiveness. The thing is, we are right. No one deserves our forgiveness. Forgiveness cannot be deserved. Forgiveness is always undeserved.

So also we do not deserve forgiveness – not from our neighbour that we have sinned against, and not from God. Sinners don’t deserve forgiveness. Sinners deserve punishment.

Consider a cold-blooded murderer in court, found guilty by the judge. The murderer deserves to be executed. In this day and age, especially in Canada, we’ve bought into feminist notions about rehabilitating criminals and releasing them back into society only to reoffend, but that’s another story. The murderer deserves execution. That would be justice. If the judge were to say, “I forgive you. You are free to go.” That would be injustice. Even the laws of our nation, as weak and criminal-favouring as they are, do not allow such forgiveness. Neither does God’s Law allow forgiveness.

God’s Law accuses us. It finds us guilty. It says we deserve punishment. There is no forgiveness from the Law.

Forgiveness comes from the Gospel. The Gospel is Jesus stepping into the courtroom where we stand tried, convicted, and found guilty, and taking our punishment for us. It is not merely a statement from the Judge saying, “I forgive you. You are free to go.” For there to be justice, the punishment still had to be carried out.

Jesus willingly took the punishment for me and for you. The punishment that we deserve for our sins was put on Jesus. His brutal suffering and death was for our sin, so that we stand before the Judgment Seat as not guilty, acquitted of all charges against us; as forgiven saints of God.

This is why Jesus received sinners and ate with them. He received them not to approve of their sin, but to give them forgiveness – free, unmerited, undeserved forgiveness.

Another error we sometimes think is that God loves us less when we sin. While it is true that our sins sever us from God, God seeks to breech that gap by forgiving us. He loves us so much when we sin, that if He needs to discipline us like a loving father to turn us away from sin, He will do it. He loves us even in our weaknesses and sins, continually turning us in repentance to Him for the forgiveness of sin.

Jesus seeks His lost sheep. He seeks His lost treasure. He seeks us sinners when we have strayed.

Christ does not eat with sinners today, but He feeds sinners today. He receives sinners and gives to us His body and blood.

Some might call it a scandal – sinners gathered to eat and drink the holy body and blood of God in the flesh. We don’t deserve it. He gives it to us by grace. He gives us free, unmerited, undeserved forgiveness in His body and blood, and heaven rejoices. There is more joy before the angels of God in heaven over us sinners repenting, than over the whole world who thinks they don’t need repentance. There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.


Jesus sinners doth receive;

Oh, may all this saying ponder

Who in sins delusions live

And from God and heaven wander!

Here is hope for all who grieve:

Jesus sinners doth receive! (LSB 609 st. 1) Amen.

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


Only Beggars go to Heaven

Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity based on Luke 16:19-31

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

Only beggars go to heaven. This does not mean that the poor and sick Lazarus went to heaven because he was poor and sick or that the rich man went to hell because he was wealthy and well-dressed. Rather, Lazarus went to heaven because he recognized that he is a beggar before God. The rich man went to hell because he didn’t want anything from God.

You either approach God like a beggar, asking for Him to mercifully give you everything, or you think you have all that you need and ask God for nothing.

The rich man’s god was his belly. He lived for himself. He lived for pleasure. He thought that everything that he wants and desires is the greatest good. He loved himself so much that he had no love for God and no love for Lazarus lying at his gate.

The world would have judged the rich man as blessed and Lazarus as forsaken by God. Man judges by what his eyes see. One man is rich, the other poor. One lives well and feasts sumptuously every day, the other suffers need and dies of hunger. One is clothed in purple and fine linen, the other is clothed in sores. The world would insist that the rich man has God’s favour, while Lazarus has His displeasure and wrath.

God judges differently. God made the beggar rich, and the rich man He sent empty away to suffer for eternity.

Don’t misunderstand – you can be poor and live for yourself and make an idol of your belly, and you can be rich and love God and your neighbour. It’s not your earthly riches that determine if you go to heaven or hell, but whether or not you approach God as a beggar.

What does it mean to approach God as a beggar? It means that you go to Him with nothing to offer Him, asking Him for everything. It is asking God for forgiveness and everlasting life, not because of what you have done and merited, but because of what Jesus has done and merited for you. It means praying for mercy, that God would not give you the eternal punishment you deserve, but instead, out of His great love and mercy, give you eternal life for the sake of Christ.

God makes beggars rich. He gives us overflowing forgiveness and mercy. He brings us to Abraham’s side in the eternal joys of Paradise. He gives us eternal comfort after this life of suffering and evil.

We don’t know exactly what heaven will be like. The Bible gives us glimpses of it. We know there will be no sin, sorrow, or pain. The Bible describes it as a feast, but it won’t be a gluttonous, drunken affair, like the rich man’s feasts. It will be a place of joy and bliss eternal.

One thing that is for certain is that the only reliable information we have on heaven comes from the Bible. Don’t believe the scammers and shysters who say they have been to heaven. No one has died and gone to heaven and come back.

Abraham said to the rich man, “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” There is no more jumping between earth and heaven than there is jumping between heaven and hell.

You can’t talk to anyone who has actually been to heaven or hell to get a firsthand account. People sell books about dying and going to heaven and coming back again. What these books prove is the truth of the old adage that there’s a sucker born every minute. Religious hucksters make money off of naïve Christians who forget that the only source of reliable information about heaven and hell is the Holy Scriptures.

What this also means, is that hell is real. That’s what the Bible says. The world says, “How can a loving God send people to suffer eternally in the fires of hell?” They thus do not believe in hell. Neither do they believe in God.

The world also looks at Christians and says, “You Christians obviously don’t believe in hell either. If you did, you would be giving your wealth to support pastors in your communities and missionaries around the world so that more people would be warned about hell and be saved. Instead, you feast sumptuously like the rich man and spend this earthly wealth on yourselves.” The world has a point.

However, hell is real. Scripture tells us. But hell was not created for man. It was created for the devil and his angels. No man needs to end up in hell. God sent His only Son into the world to take on our flesh, take on our sin, and die in our place so that we would not receive the eternal punishment in hell that our sins deserve.

Christ offers forgiveness freely to all. Those, like the rich man who say they have no need of it, will end up in Hades, in torment. Those, who like Lazarus approach God like beggars, will be carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom, in the joys of Paradise.

We come before God as Lazarus came: as beggars. God makes beggars rich. That is what the rich man learned, but he didn’t learn it until he was in hell. He would never leave hell. He would never enjoy true wealth. Everything he trusted failed him. Death destroys all of our idols. We brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out. If you trust in the treasures you have in this world you are not trusting in the God who gives them. You will be broke the moment you breathe your last and you will spend eternity in hell regretting the false faith to which you clung in this life. You will be an eternally poor beggar who never gets anything good from anyone. Only beggars become rich. But begging in hell is in vain.

The rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers. Then they will repent, he said. If someone were to rise from the dead, then they would believe, he claimed. But even Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, of itself, converted no one. Only the Word of God can do that. Conversion or repentance entails two things: that you are sorry for your sins and that you believe the Gospel. Sorrow over sin means that you are sorry you have broken God’s law. You have offended God. You have not loved him with your whole heart, soul, strength, and mind. You have not loved your neighbor as yourself. Faith in the Gospel means that you believe God when he tells you that he freely forgives you all your sins for the sake of Christ’s vicarious obedience, suffering, and death. God works repentance through his Word. There is no other way. Only the Word of God can work genuine sorrow over sin and sincere faith in Christ the sin-bearer and Savior of sinners. God converts sinners through His Word.

The rich man went to hell because he despised the Word of God. He kept on despising it in hell, as we see from his conversation with Abraham. Lazarus went to heaven because God helped him. The name Lazarus means “God is my help.” The whole world ignored him. He was a nobody. He did nothing important. Important people didn’t notice him. But he trusted in the Word of God. He lived on every Word that comes from the mouth of God. He received everlasting wealth, even when he was suffering want, sickness, and hunger. When his body died, the angels carried his soul to heaven. He was taken to Abraham’s side to enjoy perfect fellowship with God, pure and eternal joy, peace, and contentment.

You don’t earn heaven by being poor. You aren’t kept out of heaven by being rich. The only way to heaven is through faith in Christ, our God and our brother, who has won heaven for us unworthy sinners by his perfect obedience to God’s law and bitter suffering and death on the cross. Heaven is God’s gift. God gives it to beggars. If you won’t be a beggar you cannot be saved.

Let us pray:

Lord, let at last Thine angels come,

To Abr’ham’s bosom bear me home,

That I may die unfearing;

And in its narrow chamber keep

My body safe in peaceful sleep

Until Thy reappearing.

And then from death awaken me

That these mine eyes with joy may see,

O Son of God, Thy glorious face,

My Savior and my fount of grace,

Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend,

And I will praise Thee without end. (LSB 708 st. 3) Amen.

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

[Some concepts and portions of this sermon are borrowed from a sermon by Rev. Rolf Preus.]


Baptism: The Way to Heaven

Sermon for the Festival of the Holy Trinity based on John 3:1-15

Dear people born again by water and the Spirit: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Nicodemus went to Jesus at night and they had a conversation about how one gets into heaven. Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus is so simple and easy that he struggled to grasp it or understand it. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Yes, the water of Baptism which gives you the Holy Spirit brings you into the kingdom of God. That’s it. That’s how you get into heaven – through Baptism.

“How can these things be?” Nicodemus asks. Surely it must be more difficult than that. Surely I must do something. There must be rules for me to follow to distinguish myself from others. Surely I must make some grand confession before witnesses, study the Scriptures, and go to church. Jesus says, no. The way to heaven is by being reborn of water and the Spirit.

How can these things be? Because Jesus says so. Because Jesus gives you the forgiveness of sins through Baptism. He puts His name on you and claims you for Himself in Baptism.

Heretical spirits will say that Baptism is not important; that it is a useless ceremony. We are saved by faith alone, they say, so we don’t need Baptism.

We have God’s Word and command that have instituted, established, and confirmed Baptism. What God institutes and commands cannot be useless (LC IV.8). Thus, God promises, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16)

What is faith without Baptism? Faith in what? Faith must have an object – faith must have something to believe – something to which it can cling and upon which it may stand (LC IV.29). Faith clings to God’s promises. God promises, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” Faith clings to God’s promise that we are baptized into the death of Christ, and we therefore get all the benefits of Jesus’ death through our Baptism into Him (Rom. 6).

Of what use is Jesus’ death on the cross if you do not receive the benefits of His death? If you do not personally receive the forgiveness of sins Jesus earned by His suffering and death, His death is of no advantage to you.

How important is Baptism? Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” If you’re not baptized, you’re not getting into heaven. That’s how important Baptism is.

If Baptism is so powerful and gives the forgiveness of sins and saves from sin, death, and the devil, and brings us into Christ’s kingdom to live with Him forever, why do we need anything else? Why do we seek to follow God’s commandments? Why do we need God’s Word, Absolution, the Lord’s Supper? Why do we go to church?

We seek to follow God’s commandments because they are for our good. They are God’s good and perfect will for our lives. There is no better way to love God and your neighbour than following the commandments of God. There is no better way to live than the way God created you to live.

We need to hear God’s Word so that we can hear His commandments and how He wants us to live. In His Word we also hear His promises, including the promises He connects to Baptism. God has given us Absolution and the Lord’s Supper to continually give us forgiveness because we fail to follow His commandments perfectly. He uses them to continually strengthen our faith to life everlasting. These things God gives to you in His Church on earth, and that’s why we go to church.

This is why parents and baptismal sponsors make promises to bring the child to church and eventually to the Lord’s Supper. The faith given in Baptism will die if it is never nurtured by God’s Word. Jesus didn’t give us His Word and institute the Sacrament of the Altar because we don’t need them and don’t benefit from them. He gave them to us because He knows we need them to bring us to everlasting life.

Do not neglect the means of grace that give you life. They are for your benefit. Baptism is what has brought you into the kingdom of God. God’s Word and the Lord’s Supper keep you in the kingdom of God. That’s why your salvation is sure. It is not up to you. It is up to God.

God has brought you into His kingdom here on earth and keeps you in His kingdom so that He will also bring you into His kingdom of heaven. His kingdom here on earth is His Church. Through His Church on earth, He brings you into His kingdom of heaven, because through His Church on earth He baptizes, feeds, and nourishes you with His Word and the body and blood of Jesus.

Jesus’ suffering and death for the sins of the whole world doesn’t benefit you if you are not actually receiving forgiveness. That is why Jesus instituted the church and the means of grace – the ways that He gives you forgiveness, which are His Word and sacraments. They are not useless ceremonies, but they are the miraculous way that Jesus gives you forgiveness and brings you to eternal life. Amen.

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


The Day of Pentecost

Sermon for the Day of Pentecost based on Acts 2:1-21

Dear believers who have the Holy Spirit: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Christians long for another Pentecost; another Peter to rise up and call sinners to account for their sins so that they are cut to the heart and ask, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (v. 37) Another day with lots of Baptisms. Another day when three thousand souls join the church after hearing one sermon.

Especially as churches are closing, Divine Service attendance is dwindling, and people are just plain getting bored with hearing God’s Word, we may wonder why the Holy Spirit doesn’t come with the sound of a mighty rushing wind and fill this room and cause tongues of fire to appear and rest on our heads while granting us to speak in tongues we have never before studied or spoken.

The first thing to clarify, is that there will not be another Pentecost. Pentecost was the fulfilment of the prophecy found in Joel as Peter preached, and was the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit who would guide the apostles in writing the New Testament, in preaching God’s saving Word, and to work in the hearts of those who would hear the Word, which is for all peoples of all languages. Those prophecies have been fulfilled.

Secondly, don’t need another Pentecost to receive the Holy Spirit. We have the Holy Spirit. He continues to call sinners to repentance and faith through the preached Word as He did on Pentecost. Does that mean we will see three thousand souls saved in one day, after hearing one sermon? It doesn’t seem to be happening today, but He certainly could do so again.

What we need to realize is that the Holy Spirit works faith where and when it pleases Him. We might think He should work faith in our community and fill our church. He will do it if it so pleases Him.

We cannot control the Holy Spirit or tell Him what to do. We cannot manipulate Him by our own efforts or schemes. He is working wherever the Word is heard. He continues to call sinners to repentance. Will they heed His call? We will have to see. The question for each one of us is not “Will others heed His call?” but rather, “Will I heed His call? Will I turn away from my sin and repent, or will I harden my heart to His call?”

What we should realize is that even while the Holy Spirit is calling sinners to repentance and faith through the preached Word, hard, sinful hearts are rejecting His call, today just as they were on Pentecost. Yes, three thousand souls where saved, but how many heard Peter preaching? How many mocked the apostles and called the miraculous preaching of the Gospel in many languages nothing more than drunks babbling? Hard hearts will always reject the Holy Spirit’s call to repentance and faith.

Meanwhile, hearts that are convicted of sin cry out with those on Pentecost, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter’s response was, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself” (2:38-39)

Repent and be baptized, every one of you. Already baptized? God be praised. Repent and return to your Baptism. Circumcise your hearts. Turn from your sin. Throw yourself upon God’s mercy. Confess your sins because you are baptized. You have been named with God’s name. You belong to Him. But then, if that is the case, He also belongs to you. He cannot and He will not refuse your call. He has promised to be your God. You have access to Him through prayer, confession and absolution, His Word, and holy communion. Return to His name, His way, to His promise. Return to Holy Baptism where the Holy Spirit was poured out upon you and where God’s own Word was made your inheritance. There you will find a Father eager to accept and welcome you home (from a Rev. David Petersen sermon for Pentecost).

Longing for the Holy Spirit to turn sinners to faith is a good, Christian desire, even if we will not have another Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is working through the Word to call sinners to repentance. The work that He does in others we can leave to Him. The work that He does in us, we can also leave to Him.

What work does the Holy Spirit perform in us? He calls us to repentance. He convicts us that we are sinful and need a Saviour. He also grants us faith through the Gospel, when we hear that we do have a Saviour, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. He gave His life as a ransom for us. He died for our sins. He has saved us from everlasting condemnation by being condemned in our place.

The Holy Spirit still works in us through our Baptism, reminding us that we were adopted as children of God through Baptism. He strengthens our faith and nourishes us to life everlasting through the body and blood of Jesus, which take away all our sin. And finally, on the Last Day, He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true. Amen.

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

We Confess that Christ Reigns

Sermon for the Ascension of our Lord based on Mark 16:14-20

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

Mark writes that upon His ascension into heaven, the Lord Jesus sat down at the right hand of God. This we confess in all three of our creeds.

At the time of the Reformation, Zwingli and other radical reformers used this as an argument that Christ cannot give us His body and blood in the Lord Supper, since His body and blood are at the right hand of God in heaven. Luther wrote an extensive response to these fanatics, showing how the right hand of God is not a localized physically confined space, as if Jesus is incarcerated on a throne in heaven and cannot leave.

This is shown in Ephesians, where it is written, “When [God the Father] raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (1:20-23)

This passage shows that to be at God the Father’s right hand, though referring figuratively to a place, far from being confined to a space, it represents a power that is working everywhere; a power that is above all power, all rule, authority, and dominion. Thus, Luther contends, if God’s right hand is an image for His almighty power and if God’s mighty power can be shown to be at work in all places, then the right hand of God to which Christ is appointed is also everywhere. And if Christ in His almighty power is everywhere and fills all in all as Scripture says, He is certainly also in the bread and wine of communion as He has promised to be.

That Christ sits at God’s right hand means that He rules over all things. He has all power and authority. He is no longer in the state of humiliation, to suffer poverty and hunger with no place to lay His head, to be beaten and suffer and die. He accomplished all these things for us and our salvation, but now He lives and reigns forever.

If sitting at God the Father’s right hand meant that Jesus was stuck someplace in heaven, He also would not have promised us saying, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20) and “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20) Jesus is with us. He is wherever His Word is.

Two Sundays ago, we heard Jesus say that it is to His disciples’ advantage that He go away because He would then send them the Holy Spirit. This morning, we also heard His promise of sending the Holy Spirit. It is to our advantage that Jesus ascended into heaven and has sent us His Holy Spirit to give us faith through the Word of God.

It is also to our advantage that Jesus has ascended into heaven and rules over all things, especially His Church. As we heard from Ephesians, Jesus is the head of the Church, which is His body. As the head of the Church, He rules through His Word. His Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps 119:105). His Word is eternal and will not wither or fade any more than Christ’s reign over us will wither or fade.

This is the confession Brooke will be making this morning. She will be confessing that her ascended Lord Jesus Christ rules over all things. She will be confessing that she believes what He teaches in His Word even if all the rest of the world forsakes His Word. She will promise that she would suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from this confession and Church.

That is a rather huge promise and confession to make. One might even ask, “How can the church ask her to make such a confession and promise?” The answer is that it is Jesus who says, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 10:32) Romans 10:9, which is Brooke’s confirmation verse, tells us, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

The other reason we ask for such a confession is that which one of you can see her heart? Which one of you can see what she believes? You cannot. But you can hear her confession when she tells you what she believes.

This is why the church has always based admission to the Lord’s Supper upon confession. No pastor can see your heart, but he can hear you confess what you believe.

Every member of this congregation has confessed and made the same promises that Brooke will confess and promise. Those who have not made such a confession and promise therefore are not admitted to the Lord’s Supper at this altar. Why? Is it because a judgment is being made against their faith? No, not at all. Remember, no one can see another’s faith. Rather it is because their confession of faith has not been heard. Or, if it was heard some years ago, it has since changed.

The confession of Lutheran Church Canada says that the Scriptures are the inspired Word of God. This means that we do not believe that as society changes, we should follow society, but continue to follow the Word of God. There is thus necessary conflict between what our church believes and what the world believes.

Church bodies that follow society instead of God’s Word have abandoned the confession of this congregation and church body. Sometimes people join such churches to avoid the conflict that Jesus tells us Christians will have in this world (John 16:33). Sometimes it is done without knowledge of the differences. Either way, everyone must be taken at their confession, which is made through the promises and confession you have made at the church where you are a member.

Why are we such sticklers to following Christ’s Word? Because we believe that He sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty, and that He will return to judge the living and the dead. We believe that He reigns far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and thus we fear no other power. We desire those who are lost in errors maze to hear the truth and be set free.

Most especially, we believe that Christ is our head and we are His body. Jesus, our head, rose from the dead. Do you think that we, His body, will remain dead? Jesus, our head, ascended into heaven. Do you think that we, His body, will remain here on earth? Where the head is, there will His body be also.

Jesus made sure of this by His suffering and death in your place. What is there to keep you from ascending into heaven? Your sin? You sin was nailed to the cross with Jesus and left in the grave when He rose. Your sin was removed from you in Baptism, and Christ offers you forgiveness again and again in Absolution and in His body and blood.

Since Christ in His almighty power is everywhere and fills all in all as Scripture says, He is certainly also in the bread and wine of communion as He has promised to be. Not in the same way as He is everywhere, for Christ never promised concerning anything else that in it He gives you His body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sin.

Yes, Christ who reigns at the right hand of God says, “This is my body… this is my blood… given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

Christ is not incarcerated in heaven. He reigns from heaven and is everywhere, filling all in all. He is where His name is confessed before men. He is where two or three are gathered in His name. He has promised to be with us until the end of the age. And He has promised to give us His body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.

Let the world and the devil rave and storm. We will follow our risen and ascended Lord and confess what He teaches in His Word even if all the rest of the world forsakes His Word. We would suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from this confession and Church. Amen.

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


Praying in Jesus’ Name

Sermon for Rogate based on John 16:23-33

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

Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you.” He tells us that we can pray directly to God the Father because He Himself loves us. God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father. He has promised to hear the prayers of His children and to answer our prayers.

For what do children normally ask from their fathers? Candy? A treat? A toy? Yes, children tend to ask their fathers for frivolous things. We really are no different. As God’s children, we tend to pray for frivolous things, too. We pray for prosperity, for mammon, for little trifles for this life. We might pray for a bigger house, a newer car, more prestige in the community.

Saint James writes, “You ask and you do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (4:3) Like little children, we don’t know what we should be asking for. We ask for things out of jealousy or greed. We pray for selfish things that aren’t good for us.

Our Father in heaven knows how to give good gifts to His children. While we tend to pray for earthly blessings, His desire is to give us heavenly blessings. While we tend to desire earthly pleasures, He desires to give us eternal pleasures, eternal joy. Our eternal life is what He always has in mind in what He gives and doesn’t give in answer to our prayers.

To be sure, God does also give us earthly blessings and pleasures. We can certainly pray for them. Like the child who is told “No” when asking for more candy, we may also be told “No,” but God has given and continues to give us very much more than we need for this body and life.

The thing about earthly joys is that they don’t last. A fun moment, a pleasurable dinner, a nice vacation – they all end, and then all you have left are the memories. Every earthly possession will one day break down, rust, or be destroyed. Even our bodies will one day give up our spirit and decay in the ground.

Why would we not pray for spiritual blessings? As opposed to earthly blessings, spiritual blessings are promised to us by God. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

There is true joy in having your sins forgiven and having peace with God. There is true joy in knowing that God is not angry with you over your sin, and that He will not punish you for your sin.

When you pray for forgiveness of sins, you don’t have to wonder if God will grant you forgiveness or not. The context of Jesus telling the disciples that they can pray directly to the Father in His name is Jesus speaking about His upcoming suffering and death on the cross. It is because of Jesus’ death that you know God will forgive your sins when you ask in Jesus’ name. It is because of Jesus’ suffering and death that you know that God will forgive you your sins for Jesus’ sake.

To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray with faith. It means to pray that God would give you what you ask for Jesus’ sake, relying on Jesus’ death in your place. Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, which means that He has satisfied the demands of God’s Law for us through His perfect obedience and His perfect payment for sin. Praying in Jesus’ name is relying on Jesus having satisfied the wrath of God over our sin.

Praying in Jesus’ name also means trusting that God knows what you need and will give it to you. So, pray for prosperity. Pray for mammon. Pray for little trifles for this life. Pray for a bigger house, a newer car, more prestige in the community, but pray for it all asking that God’s will be done. That is what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus taught us. We don’t pray, “My will be done,” but “Thy will be done.”

We pray that God’s will, which is good and perfect, would be done in everything for which we pray and in everything in our lives. We pray that if in our lack of wisdom we pray for something that is harmful for our spiritual well-being, God would not give it to us. If we pray for something that would lead us away from God, that would cause us to sin, that would lead us into temptation, we pray that God would not give it to us. We pray that God’s will would be done rather than our will.

God does want what is best for you. That you can know and trust. Since He has given His only Son to death for you, you know He will withhold nothing from you, but will graciously give you all good things. He who claimed you as His child in the waters of Holy Baptism, forgives your sins through Absolution, and strengthens your faith through Christ’s body and blood will give you everything you need and more.

Even sinful earthly fathers know how to give good gifts to their children. How much more does your heavenly Father know how to give you good gifts. He Himself loves you, so you can pray directly to the Father in Jesus’ name, knowing that He will answer your prayers and your joy will be full. Amen.

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