Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The Old Testament Book of Ezekiel, Part 24

Church: This Has to Stop

The mission of the Church is not to impose the Law of God on others. Such attempts at imposition were what the Pharisees, those first-century Judean legalists, were guilty of and that Jesus so often condemned.

The mission of the Church is to proclaim God's Word, both Law and Gospel, so that all people can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, receive the gifts of repentance and saving faith in Jesus Christ.

It's through the proclamation that Jesus Christ, God the Son, has died and risen to save sinners like you and me from the eternal death sentence we deserve, that God gives faith to us. It's through such God-given faith that people have eternal life with God.

I have repented for a past in which I, as a pastor of Christ's Church, engaged in partisan politics.

While individual Christians are free to be as involved in politics as they wish, the Church and its pastors should not, except in rare circumstances, get involved politically.

We are seeing today in the US and Europe the tragic results of pastors and churches adulterating the proclamation of God's Word by indulging the vain conceit that their political preferences come straight from Christ. People are turning away from Christ because they think there's some actual connection between the Lord we claim to follow and the politics some Christians push.

Whether the agenda of these Christian legalists is politically conservative or liberal, it's a lie, an idolatry of self or of ideology that, whether intended or not, pushes Christ from His throne and gives people an excuse not to listen to God's saving Word about Christ.

It has to stop. For Christ's sake, it has to stop.

Monday, May 22, 2023

The Savior Who Prays for You

[Below you'll find livestream video of this past Sunday's two worship services from Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio, as well as the message shared during the services.]

John 17:1-11

There are many remarkable things about today’s gospel lesson.

But maybe the most remarkable is that, just before He knew He would be betrayed and crucified, then suffer and die, Jesus prays for us…for you.

As Jesus faces the cross, He prays for you.

Now, there’s no debate to be had as to why Jesus went to the cross.

He did it because you and I are sinners who stand condemned for our sinful nature and our sinful acts and thoughts from the moment we are conceived.

If you and I are going to be saved from the condemnation and death that sin brings, our salvation will not and cannot come from us. It can only come from God.

And because God loves us, Jesus, God the Son, was sent by God the Father, to save us for all eternity.

But because God is just and good and His Word is unchangeable, a price still had to be paid for our sin.

Jesus doesn’t save us by sweeping our sin under a rug and telling us, “It’s OK.” Sin is not OK. And the only appropriate price for our sin, all the ways we fail to love God or love others, is death.

The one who sins is the one who will die,” God’s Word tells us. (Ezekiel 18:4)

“The wages of sin is death,” it says elsewhere. (Romans 6:23)

For God to be consistent and trustworthy then, death must be exacted from sinful humanity.

This is where Jesus, true God and true man, comes in. He offers His sinless life for us, taking the condemnation, death, and separation from God that we deserve so that we can have the life free of sin and death that only God can give.

In today’s lesson, by praying to be glorified, Jesus prays that He will faithfully bear the cross, then be raised from the dead, first of all, so that those who hear His Words and believe them–not “obeyed” them, as our translation wrongly puts it–will be one with God.

Now, you and I may have reasons to doubt that God hears our prayers. I have had more than one person say to me over the years, in one way or another, “I feel like every time I pray, my prayers bounce off the ceiling back down to the floor.”

Although we may be baptized believers in Jesus, we who are saints by God’s grace are also sinners by birth and inclination. There’s nothing more intrinsic to our human nature than to doubt that God has made us His own in Holy Baptism. Or to doubt that His Word gives us the capacity to confess Jesus as Lord. Or to doubt that we receive His body and blood when we receive the bread and wine of Holy Communion. Or to doubt that God will hear and answer our prayers offered in Jesus’ name. All these free gifts from God, graciously given, seem too good to be true.

But, as Pastor Brian Wolfmueller asked in a sermon on this gospel lesson six years ago, can any of us doubt that God the Father hears the prayers of His Son, Jesus?

Jesus, after all, is the One of Whom the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)

So, if Jesus prays, as He does in today’s Gospel lesson, that we would be and remain connected with Him even after He has physically left this world, can we doubt that God the Father will answer that prayer?

Can we doubt that even death itself will be unable to separate us from our unity with God and His people?

God the Father and God the Holy Spirit will always glorify God the Son Jesus just the way Jesus has glorified the Father and the Son–and saved us–through His death, resurrection, and ascension.

So, of course, God will answer Jesus’ prayers that we will remain one through God in this life where we still sin, struggle, suffer, doubt, die. And we will be one with Him also in the perfect life to come where all who believe in Jesus with repentant faith will see Him face to face.

There’s still more good news than that for us though.

God’s Word tells us that Jesus hasn’t stopped praying for us. Jesus, the book of Hebrews tells us, “always lives to intercede for” those who turn to Him in faith. (Hebrews 7:25) That’s Jesus’ mission. He is risen and ascended to intercede for us!

Jesus, the One Who already died and rose for you, is praying constantly on your behalf that the Father will protect you from temptation, sin, and other dangers to your oneness with God.

And, as we’ll celebrate next Sunday, Jesus has also sent the Holy Spirit, not only to make it possible for us to believe in Jesus, but also take the mishmash of thoughts, emotions, and mixed motives that often go into our prayers in Jesus’ name into something that God can do for our good and the good of all for whom we pray.

When my father was dying, I knew he was at a point of no return. COVID was going to kill him. And I have to tell you, I offered up the most confused mishmash of praying you can imagine. “I want him here, Lord. I want him to see his great-granddaughter,”--born just the day before he died. “I want him to be OK and not to have to suffer, with every breath he breathes right now a struggle. I…what? What?” That was my prayer in the end: “What? In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness,” the apostle Paul tells us. “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)

So, when you don’t know what to pray for, know that as you turn to God in Jesus’ name, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are praying with you in accordance with God’s will. They will bring order out of the chaos of your prayers.

“And we know,” as Paul also says in that passage from Romans, “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Friends, whatever this life brings to you, Jesus, your great high priest, Who died and rose to set you eternally free from sin and death so that you can live with God forever, is still praying for you and your eternal good, still keeping you one in your fellowship with God.

Jesus Christ, God the Son, is your prayer partner. Amen

God's Law and Gospel, May 21, 2023

Sorry for the reversed image.