The Lost are Found

Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 15:1-10

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

The scribes and Pharisees had a problem with Jesus. They complained that Jesus received sinners and ate with them. Jesus hung out with sinners whose sin was known by everyone: tax collectors who everyone knew were thieves, prostitutes who made their livelihood through fornication, drunks who spent all their families’ resources on booze, scam artists who conned widows, and other lowlife liars, thugs, and troublemakers. If you’re known by the company that you keep, what does this say about Jesus?

Such sinners destroy the fabric of society with their indecency, immodesty, and immorality. Their peddling of vice spreads and influences the entire community. The scribes and Pharisees thought that certainly such sinners did not deserve to have their sins forgiven.

Here, at least, they were right. Such sinners do not deserve to have their sins forgiven. No sinner deserves to have his sins forgiven. We have no merit or worthiness in us that we should receive anything from God, least of all His forgiveness.

Misunderstanding this is why we sometimes have difficulty in forgiving others. We have a hard time forgiving because we think that whoever has hurt us does not deserve forgiveness, and until they do, we will not forgive. But no sinner deserves forgiveness – our forgiveness or God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness can never be deserved.

Jesus told parables in answer to the grumbling of the scribes and Pharisees – the parable of the shepherd who seeks the lost sheep and the parable of the woman who seeks the lost coin.

A lost sheep is helpless against predators and is unable to find its way back to the fold. The lost sheep may not even realize that it is lost. Thus the shepherd goes to find the lost sheep. The lost sheep cannot find the shepherd.

The lost sheep does not deserve to be found, having again wandered from the shepherd and the rest of the fold. However, the shepherd values the sheep, so he goes in search of the lost sheep. Likewise Jesus values sinners and seeks them so that they might be brought into His fold.

A lost coin also cannot find its way back to its owner. Jesus uses an inanimate object here to show just how helpless a lost sinner is to go to Jesus. A sinner cannot turn himself away from his sins and go to Jesus any more than a coin can find and go to its owner. The coin has value to the owner, so the owner diligently searches until the coin is found.

As the shepherd has joy over finding his lost sheep and as the woman has joy over finding her lost coin, so there is joy in heaven over a lost sinner who is found. Or, in Jesus’ words, “There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

This is where Jesus makes it clear that His association with sinners is not simply to turn a blind eye to their sin. Jesus didn’t sit around with sinners because He was fine with their sins. Jesus doesn’t tell sinners to remain in their sin, rather He says, “Repent!”

Repentance, however, doesn’t come about because a sinner decides that he’s going to be better. Remember, sinners are the lost sheep and the lost coin that cannot find their way back to the shepherd and the owner. The shepherd needs to go find the lost sheep, bind up its injuries, lay it on his shoulders, and carry it back to the fold. The owner of the coin needs to go find the lost coin, shining a light and sweeping the floor until the coin is found and washed. Likewise, repentance is not our work. Repentance is the work of God in our hearts.

Repentance comes about through the Word of God. First the Law reveals sin by saying: you shall not steal, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder. The Law reveals sin by saying, “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (I Cor. 6:9-10)

But the Law alone is not the answer. The Law only tells us what to do, but it does not give us the ability to carry it out. The Law shows us our sin but does not take our sins away.

The Gospel takes sin away. The Gospel forgives the sinner his sin that he does not deserve to have forgiven. The Gospel tells us that Jesus took what we deserve so that we get what He deserves. Yes, the Gospel tells the thief, the prostitute, the drunk, the scam artist, the liar, the thug, the troublemaker: your sins are forgiven, and all the company of heaven rejoices over the sinner who repents.

Sinners do not deserve forgiveness, but because of Jesus’ death for all sin, for all sinners, God forgives everyone who believes in Him. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, seeks out lost sheep in order to save them. Jesus does this because He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He took on our flesh so that He could die in our place. He was the sacrificial lamb led to slaughter without complaint. He is our Passover Lamb who was sacrificed so that we can eat His body and drink His blood and the Angel of Death passes over our door instead of coming in with judgment. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who seeks out lost sheep and rescues them from where they have wandered.

When we sinners fall into sin again because of our great weakness, will Jesus forsake us? Will Jesus stop forgiving His children because we have again fallen into sin? Jesus will not stop forgiving us. Jesus will not leave His sheep out to wander and remain lost. We have value to Jesus, so He will come and find us.

Jesus will continue to forgive us and turn our hearts away from sin. His forgiveness gives us the desire to do what is right so that we fight against sin. His forgiveness strengthens us so that with the help of the Holy Spirit we resist sinful temptations. His forgiveness keeps us in His flock and strengthens us not to wander away from Him.

Jesus knows our weaknesses and how prone we are to wander. That’s why every Sunday He absolves our sin. That’s why ever Sunday He offers His body and blood for the forgiveness of sin. That’s why He comes after us when we are lost until He finds us, and rejoices with all the company of heaven in our repentance. Amen.

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

A Place of Honour

Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 14:1-14

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

We love places of honour. We like to be recognized as being important and distinguished. Who is there who would not like to receive a public award or recognition? Who is there who does not desire respect and admiration? Who is there who would not like to sit at the head table at a banquet; a place of honour at a feast?

At first glance it might even seem like Jesus is giving us advice on how to get the admiration and respect of others at a party. When you are invited to a wedding feast, He says, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher.” Then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at table with you.

Before we say that Jesus is teaching us to pretend to be humble so that we will be exalted or that Jesus is teaching us how to look good in front of others, let us note how this teaching starts. “Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honour.” Jesus told a parable.

Parables are earthly stories that teach eternal truth. Jesus used parables to teach about the kingdom of God. He used earthly things to represent heavenly things. In the parable of the sower, Jesus is not teaching us how to farm. In the parable of the net, Jesus is not teaching us how to fish. In the parable of the hidden treasure, Jesus is not teaching us how to be treasure hunters. Just so, in this parable Jesus is not teaching us how to be honoured at parties. Jesus is teaching us about the kingdom of God. Jesus is teaching us about humility and the wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end. Jesus is teaching us not to boast before God, but to be humble.

The example of humility for us is of course set by Jesus. His humiliation includes that He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died, and was buried. Our Lord humbled Himself to the point of suffering and death on a cross.

Even invited to this banquet, Jesus did not choose a place of honour. He sat across from a man who had dropsy. Dropsy is called edema today, an illness in which your body swells with retained water, disfiguring it. No one wanted to sit by this disfigured man. I assure you he was not sitting in a place of honour. His illness made him unclean and no one wanted to be near him. His disfigurement undoubtedly made others around him cringe and turn their heads away from him. But his disfigurement didn’t turn Jesus away. Jesus reached out and touched the disfigured man. Jesus took him and healed him. Jesus took away his uncleanness and made the man clean.

Your uncleanness because of your sin does not turn Jesus away from you either. Your sin which has spiritually disfigured you will not keep you out of the Lamb’s eternal wedding feast. Your sins which would make those sitting around you cringe and turn their heads away do not turn Jesus away. Jesus reaches out and touches you. Jesus takes you and heals you. He gives you His own body and blood to eat and drink, healing you and removing the disfigurement of sin.

This is where humility before God comes in. Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) Those who think that they are not disfigured by sin have no use for Jesus. Those who see the sins of others but think that they themselves are good and righteous do not come humbly to Jesus. They exalt themselves above others.

Entry into the Lamb’s feast is not about comparing yourself to others and determining who deserves more honour or a better place. You will not even enter the Lamb’s eternal feast if you think you deserve to be there because of what you have done or left undone. If you look around and all you see are sinners worse than you; if you look around the world and see horrible sinners who deserve a lower place than you, you still don’t get it. Each one of us should say of ourselves, “I am the chief of sinners.” My sins are the reason Jesus died. I am guilty and disfigured by my sins and I do not deserve eternal life because of them. This is humility before God: seeing our sin and realizing we deserve only temporal and eternal punishment.

What does God say of the one who humbles himself? God says “everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.” Everyone who recognizes his sin and comes to the eternal feast not based on his own merits but the merits of Jesus will receive eternal life. He will be exalted. He will receive a place of honour in the wedding feast of the Lamb which has no end.

Jesus gives you a place of honour. Not because you’ve earned it, but because He has earned it for you. His life was for you. His humiliation was for you. His suffering and death were for you, so that you will receive a place of honour in eternity where God Himself recognizes you as important and exalted.

Jesus already now gives you a place of honour. In the Lord’s Supper Jesus gives Himself to you. Jesus Himself serves you and gives you a foretaste of the feast to come. He gives you His perfect and holy body and blood to cleanse you of your uncleanness and forgive you all of your sins. The place of honour at the altar rail is for those who come in humble repentance over their sins who recognize their need for a Saviour.

Jesus feeds you with Himself to strengthen you until He takes you to be with Himself at His eternal feast. There you will receive your place of honour and your host will not ask you to give your place to anyone else. There you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at table with you. There God will exalt you, because Jesus humbled Himself for you. Amen.

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

God’s Punishment is Patient

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 9:51-62

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

Jesus sent apostles ahead of Him to a village of the Samaritans, but the village wanted to have nothing to do with Jesus. The village would not receive Jesus. By rejecting Jesus’ messengers, the village rejected Jesus. After all, Jesus says concerning His messengers, “The one who rejects you, rejects me.” (Luke 10:16)

James and John don’t think this is right, and it’s not. It is not right that these people rejected Jesus, so James and John asked Jesus if they should tell fire to come down from heaven and consume the inhabitants of the village that would not receive Him.

Maybe James and John were thinking about how Elijah had called fire down from heaven to consume soldiers sent by a godless king to arrest him (II Kings 1:10-12). Maybe they were just contemplating the fact that the earth is stored up for fire and that the ungodly will be destroyed along with the earth (II Peter 3:7). Is that not a just punishment? Those who reject Jesus certainly deserve to have fire come down from heaven and consume them and they deserve to suffer in the fires of hell eternally. Those who harden their hearts and will not receive Jesus certainly deserve to receive such punishment.

We can relate to James and John. We see how evil the world is around us, and we wonder why God has not cast fire down from heaven to consume the wicked. We hear of calamity befalling sinners like the massacre that took place in Orlando, and perhaps sinfully are pleased in what we see as God punishing sin. We might think that it would be a good thing if God struck down sinners the world over and made this a better place to live.

Jesus, however, rebuked James and John. Jesus rebuked His disciples’ sinful anger and their desire that sinners be punished. Jesus rebuked their impatience with God’s justice.

God’s justice will come in His good time. He will overthrow the wicked. Those who reject Jesus and want nothing to do with Him will be cast into hell. Those who say that they follow Jesus but live impenitently in the works of the flesh, including the examples from our Epistle lesson, will not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21). On Judgment Day, God will cast down fire to consume this world along with the ungodly.

God has told us that He will do this, but as Saint Peter writes “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (II Peter 3:9) God is not slow in carrying out justice; He is patient. He patiently and generously gives time so that His Word will work in the hearts of sinners so that sinners would turn from their sins and receive forgiveness. God doesn’t want anyone to receive punishment for their sins. God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell. That’s why Jesus hasn’t returned yet. God is still giving sinners time to repent. That’s why Jesus didn’t want James and John to call down fire from heaven and consume the village in Samaria. He was giving them time to repent.

God is giving time right now for the world to repent. Every calamity we hear about is another reminder of the final judgment of God. But the call to repentance isn’t just for the world outside the church. The call to repentance is also for the church. The call to repentance is for you.

The life of a Christian is a life of daily repentance – daily turning away from sins and evil desires; daily asking for forgiveness; daily contrition and sorrow over sin and yet at the same time faith that sin is forgiven and grace is obtained through Christ daily.

God will not deny you forgiveness because you have again fallen into sin. He will not say that you sinned one time too many to be forgiven. He doesn’t count how many times He forgives you. Every time He forgives you is the first time He forgives you because when you are forgiven, He removes your sin from you as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). He treads your iniquities underfoot and casts your sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). He has promised to remember your sins no more (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 8:12).

Luke records that in the time of Saint Paul, sinners in Samaria did repent. Luke writes that the church in Samaria was being built up and multiplying (Acts 9:31). The patience of God resulted in people turning from their sins and receiving forgiveness. God continued to send messengers with the word of repentance and the Good News of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus, and the Word of God accomplished what the disciples had given up on happening – God’s Word turned sinners away from their sins toward Jesus and His love and mercy.

God is patient and merciful. He continues to send His Word which shows us our sin so that we would see our need for a Saviour. God continues to send us His Word which tells us of our Saviour who did come and take the punishment of our sins on Himself. Jesus has taken our punishment, so no punishment remains for us who are baptized into His name. The fire and wrath from heaven consumed our sins when Jesus died for us on the cross and now we have the promise of eternal life.

Jesus took the punishment that our sins deserve, so now we get forgiveness of sins which we do not deserve. Jesus continues to absolve us of our sin. Jesus continues to give us His true body to eat and His true blood to drink so that we know that His forgiveness is for us. We know for certain that we receive forgiveness in His holy body and blood because He has promised it to us.

He is ever patient with us, ever feeding us with His Word and with His body and blood, so that we will be with Him in the home He is preparing for us in the new heavens and the new earth. He will come again to judge the living and the dead, and to take us to be with Him at the time that He knows best.

Until Jesus returns, let us pray that those outside the church would be brought to repentance along with us. Let us pray that God would continue to be patient with sinners and continue to call them to repentance. Let us take no joy in seeing the destruction of sinners, just as God has no joy in punishing sinners.

And let us heed the call to repentance. Let us turn from our sins and trust that sin is forgiven and grace is obtained through Christ. Amen.

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

How to Respond to Disaster

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent based on Luke 13:1-9 (Ezek. 33: 7-20; I Cor. 10:1-13)

Dear fig trees in God’s vineyard: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

What horrible sinners those victims of the La Loche shooting must have been that God would allow them to die in such an awful way. Or the victims of the mass shootings this week in the U.S – what sinners they must have been that they died so tragically. And surely the victims of tornadoes and flooding that we’ve heard about must have been worse sinners than other people since an act of God would kill them in such a way, right? No, says Jesus. That is not how we are to look at the disasters around us. We are not to look at the disasters around us and think about the sins of others. The fact that someone dies in a disaster is no indication of whether or not they were punished by God for their sins. Disasters around us are not a call to repentance for those who died. They are a call to repentance for us. Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

Jesus was told about some Galileans who Pontius Pilate killed while they were offering sacrifices to God. Surely that must be a sign that God was displeased with those sacrifices and He punished them with death. Jesus responds, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Very well then. But surely when an act of God takes place, there can be no other conclusion then that God killed such people for their sins, right? Surely those on whom the tower of Siloam fell were horrible sinners. Towers don’t just fall over. God must have knocked it over on them because of their sins, right? Jesus responds, “Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Disasters around us are not a call to repentance for those who died. They are a call to repentance for us. Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

Yes, of course. The whole world needs to repent and join us here in the church. If you’re still hearing it like that, you’re still hearing it wrong. This call to repentance is for the church. This call to repentance is for you. This call to repentance is for me.

The barren fig tree of which Jesus speaks isn’t out in the wilderness somewhere. It is in the vineyard – the symbol of God’s chosen people. The fig tree which God threatens to cut down and throw out of the vineyard is in the Church.

This is what Saint Paul is talking about as well in the Epistle reading when he says of the Old Testament people of God, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.”

The New Testament equivalent would be that those who God overthrew in the wilderness had been saved from the slavery of sin through Baptism. They had heard the words of absolution spoken to them. They had eaten the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink of Christ’s true body and blood. Nevertheless, God was displeased with them and killed them. Why? Why was God so displeased with His own people? Saint Paul writes that it was because they were idolaters; they were sexually immoral; they were grumblers complaining about Moses and Aaron, the spiritual leaders God had given them (Nu. 14).

So here, in this case, we do know that the people were punished because of their sins. And we are told that these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. These things are written for our instruction. They are written so that when we see disasters around us, we hear them as a call to repent. Unless we repent, we will all likewise perish.

God says, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die?” (Ezek. 33:11) God is so serious about His preachers preaching repentance that He threatens them. God threatens His own preachers whom He has sent. He says, “If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.” (Ezek. 33:8) Pastors who do not tell people to turn away from their sins have blood on their hands and will have to answer to God for their faithlessness. Such faithless pastors are punished along with those they did not warn to repent.

We still need to understand, however, that no amount of turning from sin will cause God to forgive our sins. We can mourn and lament over our sins day and night; we can sit in sackcloth and ashes for all of Lent; we can cry ourselves to sleep filled with regret over what we’ve done and failed to do. None of this moves God to forgive us.

God is moved to forgive us because of the life and death of Jesus alone. That is the only thing that moves God’s heart to be forgiving towards us. God the Father is moved to forgive us because in His life, Jesus fulfilled everything that the Law demanded of us. God the Father is moved to forgive us because in His death, Jesus paid the penalty of all of our sins.

It is a most wonderful thing that our forgiveness depends not on us, but on Jesus. Otherwise we would be hopeless. We turn away from sin only to fall into it again. Forgiveness cannot depend on us. Jesus knows this. That’s why when the owner of the vineyard wants to cut down the barren fig tree, Jesus intercedes. He says, “Forgive him this year also, until I dig around and put on manure.” Jesus says that He is going to work on the barren tree. He says, “I will dig. I will fertilize.”

Jesus is going to work on the sinner. He is going to dig with His Law. He is going to fertilize with His Gospel. He’s going to do it even more. He’s been doing it up until now, but He’s going to do it even more. He is going to remind you even more that you are baptized into Him. He is going to absolve you even more of all your sins. He is going to give you His body and blood for the forgiveness of all your sins even more. He’s going to give you more forgiveness because He doesn’t want you cut down and thrown out of the vineyard.

There’s no question of whether or not we deserve to be cut down and thrown out of the Church. But Jesus pleads for more time for us. He’s going to work more through His Word in our hearts. He’s going to turn our hearts more. He’s going to keep heaping forgiveness onto us every time we fall into sin. He’s going to give us a desire to read His Word more which strengthens our faith. He’s going to give us a desire to receive His body and blood more for the forgiveness of our sins. He’s going to heap so much forgiveness onto us that we cannot help but bear fruit; we cannot help but keep turning away from sin; we cannot help but want to remain in His vineyard, the Church, where He digs and fertilizes so that we will live forever.

At some point in time we will all face death, whether through a disaster or otherwise. That death or disaster will be harmless to us because of the work Jesus does in us in turning us away from sin and the work He has accomplished in forgiving us all of our sin. So even disaster is nothing for us to fear. Even shocking tragedies don’t remove us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Even a disastrous death is not a judgment for those who are in Christ, but our death is always the door to heaven. So do not fear disaster; Jesus will work in you and you will live forever. Amen.

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

True vs. False Repentance

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent based on Luke 3:1-14

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

Advent is a season of repentance. But what does it mean to repent? This is what the crowds asked John the Baptist. When they were told to repent, they asked, “What then shall we do?”

John did not suggest today’s typical idea of repentance, which is to respond along the lines of, “I’m sorry, but this is just the way I am” or “I was born this way.” People who have this false idea of repentance may say things like, “I’m sorry, I’m just an angry person; I’m sorry, I just have a bad temper;” “I’m sorry, I’m just a worrier.” But this is not repentance. It is excusing sin. It is attempting to explain why you do what you do, but it is not repentance. True repentance is not an excuse or explanation of your sins. True repentance is a desire to be free of the sin; it is a hatred of the sin; it is turning away from the sin.

This we can see from John’s response to the crowds when they asked him what they should do. John doesn’t tell the crowds, “I see that you are sorry that you are selfish, but I understand that’s just the way you are so whoever has two tunics had better hide his second tunic from his brother in need and whoever has food should gorge himself on it so that a brother in need will starve.” John doesn’t tell the tax collectors, “Hey, I see that you are sorry for charging more taxes than are owed so that you can fill your own pockets, but I understand that’s just the way tax collectors are.” John doesn’t tell the soldiers, “I see that you are sorry for extorting money from people and threatening them and accusing them falsely, but you were obviously born with a little more aggression than most civilians, so I understand, that’s just the way you are.”

No, John tells everyone to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. He says, “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 into the fire.” Repent! Repent so that God doesn’t cut you off from Himself and condemn you to eternity in the fires hell. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your excuse “this is just the way I am” will cover your sins. Don’t fool yourself into thinking for a second that any explanations or excuses for your sin mean anything before God. Your explanations and excuses will not cover your sin. This false repentance will only get you God’s punishment.

Very well, then. “I’m sorry; I’ll do better,” we say. “Next time, I won’t fall into the same sin. I take full responsibility for my sin and I will try harder.” That may sound noble. That’s bearing fruit in keeping with repentance, isn’t it? Actually no, this also is false repentance. This false repentance seeks to offset sin by doing good. It sets your good works against your bad works as if the good works you do can cover your sin. They cannot. Further, this type of false repentance turns you inward, to look at yourself for the answer to sin. “If only I can do better, then everything will be okay.”

This type of false repentance will also only get you God’s punishment. Your good works cannot turn away God’s wrath. God’s wrath will not be satisfied by your promises to do better. On top of it all, we struggle to do any better. We continue to sin and fall into temptation. We avoid one sin only to fall into another. Even if you could stop the anger, the jealousy, the gossip, the lust, the greed, the worry, and the pride going on in your heart, do you think that would be enough? Nothing we can do can turn away God’s wrath or cover our sin. False repentance clearly gets us nowhere except hell.

What then is true repentance? If true repentance is not to excuse sin, and true repentance is not to promise to do better, what is true repentance? True repentance is the work of God. God works this repentance in us through the Law and the Gospel.

The Law accuses us of sin. The Law shows us that we are guilty of not following God’s commands. The Law shows us that we have rebelled against our Creator. The Law crushes us so that we cease our excuses. The Law crushes us so that we stop our explanations and our rationalizations of our sin. Romans 3 says that the Law speaks to us so that our mouths may be stopped, and the whole world held accountable to God (v. 19). The Law shuts our mouths from excuses. The Law shuts our mouths from promises to do better.

If we respond to the Advent call of repentance by saying, “That’s just the way I am,” we are saying that we are not repentant. If we respond by saying, “I will do better,” we are saying that we don’t need to repent, but only need to do better. Clearly, neither is the answer. Instead, the Law shuts our mouths and makes us offer nothing: no excuses, no whining about unfairness, no pointing to others who are doing the same sin, no promises to do better; nothing.

And that is exactly when the Gospel comes in. The Gospel isn’t Jesus excusing your sin or helping you to do better. The Gospel is Jesus turning away the wrath of God. The Gospel is Jesus taking the accusations of the Law from you onto Himself. The Gospel is Jesus taking your punishment on Himself and dying in your place for all of your sins by taking the wrath of God on Himself. Thus Jesus went quietly to His death, like a Lamb led to the slaughter. “Like a sheep before his shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Is. 53:7) He didn’t excuse sin. He didn’t give elaborate explanations and rationalizations of sin. He silently suffered for your sins and the sins of the whole world. Jesus even died for your excuses and your unkept promises to do better.

This is why repentance is the work of God. God silences our excuses and gives us forgiveness that we do not deserve. God quiets our explanations and declares us innocent and holy. There’s nothing we can do to receive forgiveness, but Jesus has already done everything for us and He gives us forgiveness freely.

And that free gift of forgiveness changes us. We are no longer sinners enslaved to sin. We no longer have to follow our every craving and desire. The forgiveness of our sins gives us new desires and impulses – desires to follow God’s will for our lives; impulses to keep God’s commandments – not out of fear, but out of love.

But we will continue to fail. We will continue to sin. We will continue to struggle with doing what we do not want to do, and not doing what we want to do (cf. Rom. 7). That is the Christian life. Thus by daily contrition and repentance our sinful nature should be drowned and die along with all sins and evil desires (SC IV.4). We daily turn away from sin and daily cling to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. We don’t turn ourselves away from sin, but God turns us. He turns us by continuing to silence our excuses and by continually forgiving us. He turns us by continuing to quiet our explanations and by giving us the body and blood of Jesus our Saviour to cleanse us of all our sins. God turns us by continuing to declare us innocent because Jesus has borne all of our guilt.

True repentance is being killed by the Law of God and being raised to new life through the forgiveness of sins. True repentance is God turning our hearts away from sin to Jesus our Saviour. True repentance is sorrow over sin, but trust that because of Jesus’ death in our place all of our sins are forgiven. Amen.

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

Harsh Preaching

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter based on Acts 3:11-21, I Jn. 3:1-7

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

Many of those who heard Peter’s sermon undoubtedly thought he was rude, harsh, and unloving. People gathered upon seeing that a miracle had been performed and a lame man was leaping and praising God. And Peter starts berating them. Peter rips into them as they gather to see what has happened. To paraphrase him a bit, he essentially says to them, “What are you looking at? We didn’t heal this man and make him walk. You know who healed him? Jesus. Yes, Jesus whom you delivered to Pilate. Yes, Jesus whom you denied. Yes, Jesus whom you murdered. You killed the Author of Life and instead asked for a murder to be released.” Peter points the finger directly at them, blaming them for the death of Jesus. He bluntly calls them murderers! Many undoubtedly though he was rude, harsh, and unloving.

Why does Peter come out with guns blazing? Why does he blast away with such powerful, stinging Law? He does it so that the Law would make them recognize their sin. He does it so that they would turn away from their sin. Thus he also says, “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out.” (Acts 3:19) Turn away from your sins so that they may be forgiven.

This is right in line with what John writes in his first epistle as we heard: “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness… No one who abides in [Christ] keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him…” (I Jn. 3:4, 6) A Christian does not live for the sake of sin. He doesn’t remain in lawlessness, which is rebellion against God and His Word. A Christian does not reject God’s Word or its established standards. Those who practice sin do not care what God has to say about sin, but prefer to remain in their sin instead of receiving forgiveness.

Our epistle reading ended at verse seven, but if we would have gone on and read the next verse also, we would have heard, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” (I Jn. 3:8) There’s no third option. There’s no neutral position. Either we are in Christ or we are of the devil. Either we make a practice of sinning or we make a practice of opposing sin.

Sin is no small matter. Sin is deadly. Sin is of the devil. There is no room to be indifferent about sin or to allow ourselves to hold onto sinful habits. A Christian cannot give up, give in, tolerate, condone, or ignore sin.

Unfortunately, we have become complacent. We don’t really take God’s warnings all that seriously. We allow the formation of sinful habits and believe the devil’s deception that they are not so serious.

Thus we need to hear Peter’s sermon pointed at us. We need to hear that we are murderers. Our sins killed Jesus. Our sins that we have thought are no big deal were big enough to end the life of the Son of God on the cross. The sins that we have been indifferent about killed the Author of Life.

But as Peter preached in his sermon, so I preach also to you: Despite what the people had done in delivering Jesus to Pilate, denying Him, and murdering Him, even though they didn’t know it, killing Jesus was actually God’s plan. God had planned already beforehand that this would happen. God had foretold it by the mouth of all the prophets. It had to happen to restore all things. It had to happen for the forgiveness of sins. It had to happen to pay for the sins of every single person.

Thus, Peter preaches repentance to the people. They had to turn from their sin. He had to warn them that whoever continues in sin is of the devil. If he didn’t warn them, then he would truly be the rude, harsh, and unloving person some thought he was. If Peter didn’t preach God’s harsh Law, then not only would he be unloving, but a faithless, false preacher. He would then be opposing God. If he didn’t warn those whom he had been sent to warn, then he would himself have been practicing lawlessness. Thus Peter preached the message of repentance.

This message is also for you. Despite what you have done to deny Jesus by your sinful habits and despite what indifference you have shown towards sin, yet you also are given the opportunity to repent and turn again that your sins may be blotted out. You also are given God’s harsh Law so that you would recognize your sin and turn away from it.

Because we are sinful, we will always struggle with sin. We will fall into sin. We will do the very sins that we hate (Rom. 7:15). But we cannot become indifferent about sin or allow ourselves to hold onto sinful habits. We cannot give up, give in, tolerate, condone, or ignore sin. We cannot make a practice of sinning.

We cannot make a practice of sinning because we are children of God (I Jn. 3:1). We put our hope in Jesus who is pure, and thus we are pure (I Jn. 3:3). We are in Him, and He appeared to take away sins, and Him there is no sin (I Jn. 3:5).

God gives us the strength to oppose sin by continually giving us forgiveness. Every time we fall, He lifts us up again. He reminds us that through Baptism we are His children. He absolves us of our sins through His Word of forgiveness. He nourishes us with the very body and blood of Jesus that forgives us our sins and strengthens us in our fight.

God’s Word of Law is not rude, harsh, or unloving. It shows us our sin so that we would know that we need a Saviour. And God provided a Saviour. He sent His only Son to take all our sins on Himself and take our punishment by dying in our place. Now we are adopted as His children. He has forgiven us and He will continue to forgive us until Christ appears and we shall be like Him (I Jn. 3:2). “Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (I Jn. 3:3).

Christ is pure and in Him there is no sin. When we receive His pure, sinless body and blood again today from this altar, His pure body and blood make us pure. His sinless body and blood make us sinless. What God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets has been fulfilled. Christ came and suffered for us and blots out our sin. Amen.

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