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.

Mustard Seed Defeats Millstone

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 17:1-10

Dear believers with faith like a grain of mustard seed: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Do not cause one of Jesus’ little ones to sin. Jesus says it would be better for you to have a millstone hung around your neck and be cast into the sea than to cause one of His little ones to be scandalized and fall away.

How do you cause one of Jesus’ little ones to sin? Jesus mentions two ways: failing to rebuke him, and failing to forgive him.

Jesus says, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him.” If your brother sins, you are to rebuke, reprove, and warn your brother so that he does not fall away. You must point out your brother’s sin to him so that he will turn away from his sin. If you do not reprove his sin, he may become hardened in his sin and turn away from God. If you do not warn him of his sin and the danger of hell, your brother may end up in hell because of your failure to do what Jesus commands you to do. If you do not rebuke your brother who sins, it would be better for you to have a millstone hung around your neck and be cast into the sea.

That’s not what the world tells you to do. The world tells you to live and let live. Be tolerant. Be easy-going, non-judgmental, and accepting of sin. The world claims that the loving thing to do is to accept your brother and the depravity in which he is engaged.

That’s not the loving thing to do! Your failure to warn your brother could mean that he goes to hell. How loving is that? Of course, the world doesn’t believe in hell, only in heaven, and they think that everyone ends up in heaven with or without Jesus, but that’s why they’re not going to heaven.

The loving thing to do if your brother sins is to rebuke him. If you love your brother and don’t want him to go to hell, warn him when he sins. That’s what Jesus tells you to do. No, don’t go tell your neighbours. No, don’t go tell your friends. No, don’t go tell your pastor. Go to your brother who sinned and tell him. Show him his fault between you and him alone (Matt. 18:15).

Are you going to let your brother die eternally without concern? Are you not grieved at all, even though impenitence is the true death of the soul? Do you look on without concern? Do you show careless neglect? Then it’s back to the millstone for you.

Jesus continues, “and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

This can be difficult, especially if he has badly hurt you, repeatedly. It’s difficult enough to forgive one sin. The memories of hurt can still linger years after the fact. We can still remember sins against us even if the offending party has passed away. This memory of sin leaves a wedge between you even if it is forgiven, because it is remembered.

Jesus speaks of continuing to forgive, even if the offender continues to sin against you. Each time he asks you for forgiveness, you must forgive him. If you do not forgive him, we are back at the millstone again.

To top it all off, Jesus says that if you do these two things perfectly, then you haven’t done anything special; you’ve only done what you were commanded by your master. If you’ve lovingly rebuked every sinner and forgiven everyone who has sinned against you (grievously or otherwise, repeatedly or not), then you have only done your duty. Jesus says you’d still be an unworthy servant. Do not expect God to give you any thanks for doing what you are supposed to do as His servant.

No wonder the disciples responded to Jesus by saying, “Increase our faith!” They recognized how impossible this is. They realized how often they turned the other way when their brother sinned because they didn’t want a confrontation. They recognized how difficult it is to forgive at all, and even more so to continuously forgive a repeat offender who says he repents but shows no sign of repentance. They were cut to the heart and understood that they deserve the millstone hung around their necks.

But more faith is not the answer. Faith like a grain of mustard seed is the answer. The tiniest speck of faith is all it takes. Why? Because faith gives you all the benefits of Jesus fulfilling what you cannot fulfil. Faith gives you the forgiveness of sins because it clings to Jesus not to your own attentiveness to rebuke your brother’s sin or your own ability to forgive those who sin against you.

Faith realizes that your sins of holding your tongue when you should rebuke and struggling to forgive were already punished. Jesus already took the punishment for your sins. Jesus already took your millstone, my millstone, and every millstone and was plunged into the abyss of death for us.

It is faith that enables us to avoid causing Jesus’ little ones to sin. It is faith that enables us to rebuke now where we have failed to rebuke and to forgive now where we have failed to forgive. It is faith that can give thanks for the rebukes we ourselves have received and for the forgiveness we have received.

And God’s forgiveness is not like the forgiveness of man. God completely forgives and actually forgets your sins even if your neighbor cannot forget and you cannot forget. God says, “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Is. 43:25). He says, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34; cited also Heb. 10:17).

What this means is that each time God forgives you your sin, it is like the first time that He forgives you. He is not counting up your sins on a tablet throughout your life. He doesn’t add your sins onto His scales of justice, weighing them out for punishment. Every time you are absolved, your sins are wiped clean and removed from you as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). Every time you receive the true body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins God treads your sins underfoot and throws them into the depths of the sea (Mi. 7:19). Your sins are washed away and God remembers them no more.

God’s forgiveness is perfect. It is complete. Jesus’ death was the perfect and complete sacrifice for all sin and all sinners, so no sin remains for those who are in Christ. Jesus crushed the scales of justice since He took the weight of and paid the price of everyone’s sin. God throwing your sins into the depths of the sea is like Him taking the millstone from your neck, tying it to your sins, and throwing them altogether into the sea.

Jesus’ love for you is also seen in His command to your brothers that they rebuke you and forgive you. Jesus is looking out for you through your brothers in Christ, by having them rebuke you when you sin, and by having them forgive you when you sin.

The answer is not more faith. The answer is the faith that we already have, faith like a grain of mustard seed, and clinging to the promise of forgiveness for Christ’s sake who has taken our millstones and our sins away. Amen.

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

What You See Is Not What You Get

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent based on Luke 1:39-45

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

What you see is not always what you get, especially when it comes to God. Take Mary in today’s Gospel reading. Our Gospel reading is a tiny little slice of the pre-Christmas story. It’s maybe one of those events that could even be overlooked as it falls between the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she will conceive and bear Jesus, and Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat, which we’ve been singing every midweek Advent service. But this tiny slice of history is so profound, it will amaze you as you come to grips with what happened.

            The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she will be with child. She immediately ran with great haste to see her relative, Elizabeth. The trip from Mary’s home in Nazareth to the town near Jerusalem where Elizabeth lived could not have taken more than a few days. So most likely, Mary was visiting Elizabeth within a week of conceiving Jesus, since the text says Mary went with haste.

            At one week along Mary couldn’t see any signs of her pregnancy. No baby bump, no weight gain, no cravings. Anyway she was a virgin; she naturally couldn’t be pregnant! But Mary believed the angel’s word. In her excitement she ran to see her relative Elizabeth.

            As soon as Elizabeth heard the voice of Mary, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy! John the Baptist, 6 months old in his mother’s womb, leaped for joy because he heard the voice of the mother of Jesus, who was one week old in His mother’s womb! That’s incredible! Jesus was only a little speck of cells in Mary’s womb yet His very presence causes great joy in the unborn baby John.

That is faith in the unseen. That is faith in the promises of God. That’s why we baptize infants because as Scripture clearly teaches, infants can have faith. God gives them faith in the same way He gives us faith – through His Word and through Baptism. Just as an infant can trust his mother, so he can trust his Creator even if he can’t put words to that trust. Through the Word of God, the unborn John had faith!

What comfort this is for mothers who have had miscarriages. God’s Word isn’t powerless to save. God’s Word isn’t hindered by age or by the fact that a baby hasn’t been born yet. God’s Word can save the unborn just as well as it can save those with dementia or Alzheimer’s, just as it saves us. What you see is not always what you get.

Mary believed that despite what she could see and feel, God’s promise to her through the angel Gabriel was true. Because God keeps His promises. He had promised 800 years earlier, through the prophet Isaiah, that a virgin would conceive a bear a Son. And here, in the womb of Mary, that promise was fulfilled. Mary believed God’s promise, even though she had no evidence of it. John the Baptist believed that promise, even though he was a 6-month old unborn baby.

So you too can believe God’s promises despite what you see. What you see is not always what you get, especially when it comes to God. You see change and decay. You see sickness and disease, crime and terrorism. You see death. But despite what you see, you can believe in the promises of God.

You know that this life is not all that there is. Jesus is preparing a place for you in eternity, even though you cannot see it yet. Jesus will raise you from the dead and give you a perfect resurrected body even though you cannot see it yet. And you belong to Jesus even right now, although you cannot see it. It’s all based on God’s promises to you.

In your Baptism, all that the witnesses saw was water poured over your head as they heard the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But in Baptism, God put His name on you. He claimed you as His own. He promised you that He will never leave you or forsake you. You were baptized into the death of Christ, so you were baptized into His resurrection also. Thus you have the promise of eternal life.

What you see is not always what you get, especially with God. So despite the fact that you cannot see these things, you believe them because God has promised them. God always keeps His promises, even if we don’t see the fulfilment of them all yet.

Hebrews 11 tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (v. 1; cf. also Rom. 8:24) In other words, faith trusts in what is not seen. Faith is trust in the promises of God even though we haven’t seen them.

Faith isn’t an opinion. Faith isn’t an empty hope based on our feelings, ideas, or experiences. Faith is the gift of God which gives us trust in the promises of God. God keeps His promises so we can fully trust them.

And He promises you the true body and blood of Jesus your Saviour in the Lord’s Supper. He promises you the forgiveness of all yours sin through eating and drinking Jesus’ body and blood. No, you cannot see it, but you know it’s true because God promised it. All you see is bread and wine. But what you see is not always what you get. The Lord’s Supper is overflowing with forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. The Lord’s Supper nourishes you and strengthens you in the faith God has given you. Holy Communion is spiritual medicine for the soul that brings you to eternal life.

Despite what we see, we can trust in God’s promises. Just as surely as Mary could run with haste to share the excitement with Elizabeth of God’s promise being fulfilled even though she had no evidence of it, so we too can run with haste to share the promises of God with our relatives even though we have no evidence of them being fulfilled as of yet.

God’s promises are for the young and for the old; for the unborn and for those near death. God’s promises are for you. Amen.

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