A beautiful, logically presented sermon creates a receptive atmosphere. Hearing the Bible explained and having difficult passages open up to us increases our store of spiritual knowledge and deepens our understanding of God's administration of grace. But when we are troubled we need the simple proclamation of the Cross, a message of comfort;There are many comforting passages in the Bible. One especially comforting portion of Scripture is Romans 5:6-11. When our sins accuse us, it is difficult to believe that God is merciful specifically to us. At times like this we are ready to believe that God is merciful to everyone else, but not to us. God, however, does not want us to think like that.
In the above-mentioned portion of Scripture Paul comforts troubled hearts by explaining what Christ has done in our behalf. "For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom. 5:6). Are you helpless, without strength to rid yourself of sin, unable to atone for it? Are you ungodly, having no communion with God, hopeless in regard to yourself? If you are, then behold what Christ has done for you. He has died for you and atoned for your sins.
You cannot find this kind of love anywhere in the world, " God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). This means that Christ's blood was shed as a payment for our sins and because of this God has forgiven all our sins. God has therefore already forgiven us, He has forgiven those very sins that are troubling you. The blood of Christ that fell to the ground is a guarantee of this.
This is how God loved us already when "we were God's enemies" (Rom. 5:10). God has first loved us. And what are we like? Paul uses these words to describe us: "helpless" (v. 6), "ungodly" (v. 6), "sinners" (v. 8), "God's enemies" (v. 10). You cannot exclude yourself from this list. Nor can you exclude yourself from the love of God, which has already been bestowed upon you. Just trust in God's grace. Cling to it so firmly that you will not lose your grip when tribulations come. Trusting in Christ you have salvation and everlasting life.
In the words of the Bible you can join in confessing: "Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1).
The preaching of repentance is not often heard today even though Jesus has given a special command concerning it. After He had arisen from the dead, He told His disciples: "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations - beginning from Jerusalem" (Luke 24:46,47). Every generation should continue the preaching once begun by the Apostles. "All everywhere should repent" (Acts 17:30). But just what is this repentance that must be preached to everyone, and is necessary for everyone? We can learn the answer to this question by observing how the Apostles preached repentance.
Peter preached repentance in this way: Jesus "ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name every one who believes in Him has received forgiveness of sins" (Acts 10:42,43).
Paul preached repentance like this: "Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses" (Acts 13:38,39).
The heart and core of this preaching was forgiveness of sins for the sake of Jesus Christ. The Savior, you see, commanded that repentance be preached for the "forgiveness of sins."
Repentance is: 1) The conviction of one's own unworthiness before God, accusations and terrors of conscience, guilt because of sin; but not only this; it is also 2) trust or faith that God is merciful to us because of Christ and forgives us all our sins through His atoning blood.
Repentance is therefore sorrow for sin and faith.
It is often thought that in essence repentance means to improve one's life. But our old Adam does not improve. It must be crucified daily in penitance and faith. The Greek word for repentance means change of mind, turning around and returning to God.
A better life is a result of repentance. In other words we receive forgiveness of sins just as we are. Forgiveness is not based on our works, but on Christ's work of reconciliation. God justifies the ungodly.
Fighting against sin, forsaking unrighteousness and evil are indications that a person has returned to God. It is all a result of faith, "fruit in keeping with your repentance" (Matt. 3:8). God also want to see this in us. Strength for this comes from the assurance that our sins have been forgiven.
The reddish color of the mountain ash in the fall captures the attention of people and causes them to admire this tree, which the Finns of ancient times considered to be a holy tree. They recognized the beauty of the tree, but erred in worshiping the created instead of the Creator.
Now too, people see the artistry in Nature and cannot but admire it. But do we see in Nature the results of the Creator's paint brush, and do we honor Him?
The mountain ash in the fall reminds us of another tree, which is incomparable in its beauty. This tree also has a reddish color. We can truly call it a holy tree. It is the cross of Jesus, God's Son. It has been colored by His blood. From this tree the crucified, suffering and dying Savior of the world looks at us, His heart filled with love, and says: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). This love revealed in the Gospel transforms a cruel and shocking scene into a scene of beauty before which our heart becomes calm and opens up to the word of the Gospel.
The mountain ash in the fall reddens before its winter death to awaken to new life in the spring. Jesus' Cross was red because of death, but it was the red of atonement and subtitionary death. "One died for all" (2 Cor. 5:14). The primary cause of death, sin, has now been conquered. Christ lives and everyone who believes in Him lives with Him. The Cross is the tree of life.
You, mountain ash, are a tree of beauty, but more beautiful are you, O blessed Cross of Golgatha! Your message enters the heart and brings forgiveness and peace. O blessed Cross, you are a symbol, but Christ You are God and our Salvation. To You be praise and glory forever!
Truth is of God, but lying is of the devil. God's children love the truth. Jesus prayed in their behalf: "Sanctify them in the truth; Thy Word is truth" (John 17:17). He promised them the Spirit of Truth who would lead them into all truth (John 16:13). The devil is "a liar, and the father of lies" (John 8:44). His children do as their father does. It is not proper for a Christian to tell lies and to do that which is wrong. In so doing we would blaspheme God, who desires truth in the innermost being (Ps. 51:8). Liars will not inherit eternal salvation. "Outside are... the murderers and idolators, and everyone who loves and practices lying" (Rev. 22:15).
Truth must be the prevailing factor in a Christian's life, be he a pastor, a politician or a business man. The human personality is an integrated whole that cannot be divided. Some theologians have supposed that as scientists they can criticize the Bible, but as believers they should adhere to it in some way. This type of double morality reminds one of the bishop?prince of old, who was known for his cruelty as a prince. A citizen once asked him: When the prince goes to hell where will the bishop go?
People tend to defend the things they have done and left undone in the sight of God. "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us" (1 John 1:8-10).
The most serious type of lying is spiritual deceit: A person is left to depend on his own righteousness, or if he has come to a knowledge of his sin, the grace of God is concealed from him.
Once, after listening to a sermon, an aged Christian spoke to the pastor and said: "You committed a grave sin. You concealed my brother's inheritance." The pastor had failed to preach about the man's "Brother", the Lord Jesus Christ, and about the inheritance which He left us when He died. When we use this inheritance or the forgiveness of sin to our advantage, we are God's children. We want to do His will in all matters. We are aware of our weaknesses, we confess our sins, but pray that He will strengthen us, so that we will not be hypocrites, but will travel the straight road of truth.
There are two genealogies of Christ in the Bible. One in Matt. 1:1-17, the other in Luke 3:23-28. The purpose of the genealogies is to show that Jesus is the promised Messiah, and that that which had been prophesied about the lineage of the Messiah was fulfilled in Him.
Matthew wrote his Gospel primarily for Jews. The Jews were descendants of Abraham. Thus Matthew begins his genealogy of Christ from him and in this way shows that Jesus is the Seed promised to Abraham, and the Savior of the Jews.
Luke on the other hand writes primarily to gentile Christians. He does not therefore in his genealogy stop at Abraham, but goes all the way back to Adam and God. In this way he shows that all people, both Jews and Gentiles, are descendants of Adam and are all the creations of the same God. Because Jesus can be traced back to the very beginning, He is the Savior of the whole world.
The genealogies show Jesus to be a true human being, our brother, who is of the same flesh, bones and blood as we are. Jesus' birth of a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit, which both Matthew and Luke mention, proves that He is the Son of God.
The genealogies of Matthew and Luke differ from each other during the time from Joseph to David.
Matthew's genealogy continues: "To Jacob was born Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ." Matthew uses the expression "to Jacob was born Joseph", which indicates that Jacob was the real father of Joseph. This genealogy follows the succession of the ruling authority of the House of David, and shows that Jesus was the legal successor to the throne of David. The prophecies had been fulfilled. The Jews studied the genealogies diligently and they had to admit this.
Luke's genealogy travels a different road from Joseph to David. "Joseph (was) the son of Eli... the son of Nathan, the son of David." Luke does not in the manner of Matthew use the words "was born". The choice of words is intentional. Luke does not mention Eli as the natural father of Joseph. From the writings of the Jews we know that Eli was the father of the Virgin Mary. Luke's Gospel therefore also includes the genealogy of Mary and shows that Jesus was the descendant of David also according to the flesh.
But why does Luke call Joseph the son of Eli? Joseph was the son-in-law of Eli. In some instances the son-in-law was called the son of the father-in-law (Neh. 7:63), especially if the father-in-law had no male descendants and a daughter was the inheritor (Numbers 27:1-11).
The church father Epifanios (315-403) already explained this passage in this way.
A person's deeds and outward bearing may tell us what type of a person he is. But the outward appearance may also deceive us. Under a rough surface there may be a soft and tender heart. Neither is all that glitters gold. The devil wants to appear as an angel of light - without changing his habits. In God's sight every person has a corrupt heart. The core is evil. "Out of the heart come evil thoughts" (Matt. 15:19). Even a believer has a heart like this by virtue of his old Adam. It gives us no peace, but must be crucified through daily repentance.
God is righteous. There is no wrong in Him. He always does what is right. God does not gently stroke the head of the evil doer, nor does he minimize the seriousness of sin. "For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things (1 Thess. 4:3?6). God knows the human heart. He desires truth in the innermost being.
But how can we be reconciled to God?
We are not acceptable to Him as we are, and we cannot make ourselves better. We find the answer in God's heart, which He has revealed to us: "I have loved you with an everlasting love", He says (Jer. 31:3). God is not just a God of wrath, but also a God of grace and love. The love that burned in His heart was so great that He gave His only Son to bear our sins and to atone for them. In Jesus Christ "we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph. 1:7).
Do not look for peace in your own heart but rather look into the heart of God. You will see God's heart revealed to you at Golgatha, where Christ shed His blood as the payment for your sins. You will see Christ in the Word of the Gospel and in the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Christ has once and for all suffered the wrath of God in our behalf. He is now our Mediator and by trusting in Him we can reach our heavenly home. "He who believes in the Son has eternal life" (John 3:36). No one is acceptable to God without Christ, but having been baptized into Christ, we have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27), and in His righteousness we are acceptable to God.
People often speak as if Christian doctrine and Christian life are diametrically opposed to each other. They believe that the Christian faith is life, not doctrine.
Which is it then, we ask: Doctrine or life?
Let it be said at the outset that the Bible does not ask this question. The posing of the question itself is alien to the Christian faith, because both doctrine and Christian life are included in the Christian faith.
Christ's mission command is also a teaching command: "Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them... and teaching them to observe all that I commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20). The Bible always speaks highly of Christian doctrine. The Apostles defended it by denouncing false doctrine. As necessary qualifications for those men who were chosen as pastors of congregations they prescribed that they "hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that (they) may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict " (Titus 1:9).
By doctrine the Bible does not mean the hairsplitting of words. Doctrine is rather God's own revelation to us. It is a proclamation, Law and Gospel, to our conscience and heart. The Christian faith is not just any condemning, understanding, approving or forgiving. The Christian faith has a content or doctrine that God Himself has given it.
Christian doctrine creates life.
A person with a troubled conscience because of his sin finds comfort in Christ's Gospel. We have forgiveness through His blood. Through faith in Him we have received everlasting life. Christ's obedience became a counterbalance to our disobedience. With joy we hear and study God's Word wich tells us of all that He has done in our behalf and of all that He has promised us. The different doctrines of the Christian faith become dear to us. "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). We defend what we love. We do not want to lose that through which God gives us a new life and through which He gives us the strength to continue in it. Continuing in the doctrine is a matter of life and death. Pastors remember the Apostle's exhortation: "Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching. Persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you" (1 Tim. 4:16).
God's children want to obey God's Word. For this reason too they need the teachings of the Bible, so that they will know what are good and proper deeds in the sight of God.
I vividly remember an elderly man in one of my congregations. I served as his pastor in the 60-ies during the last years of his life. Although he was over eighty years of age he came to the worship services on a bicycle. A distance of five or ten kilometers was nothing to him. When his physical strength began to fail, I proclaimed the Word of God to him and his wife at their home. They listened intently and accepted the Word in faith. They always greeted me warmly, but it was so cold in their house that after I left I often shivered in my car while waiting for it to warm up. The wife would sleep between sheepskins in the bed and the husband on the floor by the stove, fully dressed in his outdoor winter clothing and wearing felt boots. When one side of his body would get cold, he would turn and face the other way so that the cold side would be nearer to the stove. He would keep changing positions in this way all night and would get up very early to begin his day's work.
When his wife died, his health also failed. He was hospitalized, one of his legs was amputated and he was then sent to a Rest Home. In the Rest Home this eighty?five year old man, who had been the head of his household until now, was content. His heart overflowed with gratitude. He had never had it so good. But he was especially thankful that God had given His only Son to be his Savior and the Savior of all mankind. He could not stop marveling over the fact that God had been willing to sacrifice His only Son. This was his testimony shortly before his death after his other leg had also become gangerous.
It is said that the people of our age do not understand the Bible or sermons. This aged man, who had not even received an elementary school education, read the Bible, read books by Luther, the Lutheran Confessions and listened to the sermons of a pastor, who was a half century younger than he was. He had a good understanding of matters pertaining to faith and made a thorough study of that which needed clarification. The Holy Spirit enlightened him and led him to know Jesus as the Savior of sinners. Through the teachings of the Lutheran Confessions he refuted those who asked him to be "re-baptized" and held fast to his Infant Baptism. When we trust in Jesus Christ the Bible will also open up to us and we will learn to love God's Word.
The Bible is not some kind of incomprehensible jargon, but a clear guide to eternal life. All experience proves that the opinion - that the Bible is incomprehensible to modern educated people and therefore needs to be modernized - is a childish fancy. The real reasons why people do not understand the Gospel are: the lack of a desire to study, a bad conscience and resistance of the Holy Spirit.
Christ, the Son of God with all power, had made an apostle of Saul, a former persecutor of the Church. Known by his new name, Paul, Saul went from city to city preaching repentance and faith in Christ, who had atoned for the sins of the world. He himself knew the joy of salvation, and he created such joy in the hearts of others who received the Gospel in faith. But although he created joy without using coercion or pressure, he himself was hated and persecuted. Paul well knew that mankind would reject its Benefactor. He himself had done the same.
Man's corruption is so deep?rooted that without the Holy Spirit he hates the Gospel. He does not want to hear the message of grace because he loves sin - let it cause him whatever kind of suffering it will. Man does not want to be a condemned sinner before God, but rather wants thanks for his sins from God. For this reason the good news of Christ's substitutionary atonement is not acceptable to him, at least not as it is revealed in the Bible. He changes it to suit his own desires - changes it to his eternal damnation. All of us are inclined to do so. We may love the Gospel and its messengers only because the Holy Spirit has through the Law and Gospel converted us.
So, it was no wonder that Paul was imprisoned because of his faith and put in chains while he was in Rome. From Rome he wrote his "letter of joy" to the Philippians. In this letter he analyzed the situation he was in.
Either a sentence of death or freedom awaited him. He wrote: "But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. And convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith" (Phil. 1:22?25).
A sentence of death would have meant a far better mode of existence for Paul. He could have gone to "be with Christ". That would have been a life of perfect bliss. This is not some sort of existence without any knowledge or sensation of any kind, because Christ lives. Paul's soul would not have ceased to exist in death, but could have been with Christ. This is the kind of a blissful state Paul longed to enter.
This type of longing is a sign of faith also in Christians today. Paul, however, had not yet completed the work God had called him to do. The congregations and missions still needed his preaching and teaching. For this reason "to remain on in the flesh" was still necessary. He was content with whatever God willed for him. "But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering... I rejoice", he wrote and added: "And you too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me" (Phil. 2:17,18).
Jesus once spoke about a wise man who built his house on a rock (Matt. 7:24-27). The person who hears His Word and lives according to it is like this man.
On the other hand he who builds on sand is foolish. A torrential rain will cause his house to fall. A person like this hears Christ's words, but does not live according to them.
On what kind of a foundation are you building your faith?
If you build it on your own works, your building will collapse. But if you build on Christ, you will endure. He was attacked by all of our enemies. He successfully resisted the devil's flattering promises of power and honor. To the very end He traveled the road of humiliation that His Father sent Him to travel. Death and the whole world with its full weight of sin stormed against Him. Even the holy Law of God condemned Him - not because of His own sins for He had none - but because of our sins, which were attributed to Him, so that we might go free. He experienced what it means to be forsaken by God in His body and soul. But with His death He earned us life, with His suffering He earned us glory, and by placing Himself under God's wrath He earned us the fathomless love of our heavenly Father.
Christ is a tried and tested foundation. All of our enemies have already attacked Him and failed. When we do as Christ's Word tells us to do (Matt. 7:24), or in other words when we trust in Him, we are on a firm foundation. We ourselves will remain weak. Even our faith wavers. The main thing is that the foundation endures. If we build on some other foundation we will not be able to bear the trials of this life let alone the events of the Last Day. Along with the works of all mankind, our works too have been tested. The bodies of millions have been buried in the earth. Our bodies too will one day be laid to rest. But we ourselves do not have the power to arise as Christ did. We have the hope of resurrection only because of what Christ did in our behalf. In Him we have a sure hope, not just a wish or a dream. Jesus says: "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son, and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:40).