Third Sunday of End Time – Saints Triumphant
November 17, 2019
Hymns: 225, 207, 214, 331
First Lesson: Isaiah 65:17-25
Psalm 150 (page 122)
Second Lesson: Revelation 22:1-5
Gospel Lesson: Luke 20:27-38
For Saints Triumphant, It Will Never End Where It All Began
I. In God’s garden
II. Without sin’s curse
III. Before God’s face
In the name of Christ Jesus, who will take all who trust in Him to be with Him in Paradise forever, dear beloved by the Lord,
It’s a theme that’s been used ever since people started telling stories. The scene starts out serene – on a happy farm, in a content tent, by a cozy fire. Then sorrow strikes or tragedy invades; the happy, content, cozy lives are threatened. In most stories, either by daring determination or riveting rescue or unexpected luck, the good folks survive and end up right where they began – on their happy farm, in their content tent, by their cozy fire.
The pastor is not implying that the Bible is only a story, a mere legend. It is God’s Word! But did it strike you how this lesson from the last chapter of the Bible sort of ends up where the first two chapters of the Bible began?! And what lies between Genesis 2 and Revelation 22? Tons of trouble. Sordid sins. Wicked ways. Deserved damnation. And the most dramatic rescue ever! All of that is written not to fit a familiar plot, but to tell about stubborn, sinful man and the mighty, loving Lord.
The relationship between God and His people lasts throughout eternity. That thrust in our Saints Triumphant Sunday lessons is the Lord’s comfort for His suffering saints – sinners whom He has set apart, sanctified, made saints through faith in Him. He says, “Look at how it ends! Only, dear sinners for whom I shed My blood to buy back to Myself, life with Me never ends! For you saints triumphant, it will never end right where it all began!” Where is that, Lord? we ask. He answers here, “In My garden and without sin’s curse and before My face!”
Many Bible students think the book of Revelation is a calendar used to calculate when the Last Day will be and a commercial for what heaven will be like. The truth is that much of this last book of the Bible is a slide show of the attacks by Satan, the sinful world, our sinful nature – attacks happening right here, right now – against us, and of the victory by Jesus over them for us who hold to Him. But Revelation Chapters 21 and 22 do show the forever future we’ll have in heaven. In these two chapters, God had a holy angel take Revelation’s writer, John, on a tour of the blessed abode for the blessed forever.
And as you read what the Holy Spirit showed John and had John write here, you can’t help thinking back to Eden, God’s garden in which He placed our first parents. God had four rivers water Eden. Here we see “the river of the water of life, which was as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb” (v. 1). God placed the Tree of Life in Eden. Heaven is shown having “a tree of life” so huge it was both “in the middle of the city’s street and on each side of the river” (v. 2). That seems horticulturally and physically impossible. But this is a picture of heaven, the forever abode of God and for the saints triumphant. God invited Adam and Eve to eat fruit from all but one of Eden’s trees. Heaven’s tree of life “yielded twelve kinds of fruit…fruit every month, and its leaves are for the healing of the nations” (v. 2), all people.
The details here are hard to grasp, but the overall picture isn’t. God created people to live in total joy, perfect peace, unending happiness, talking face-to-face with Him – a literal heaven on earth! That was Eden. But all that was ruined when Adam and Eve desired the devil’s lies over the Lord’s love. The results? Difficult life and daily trouble. Sorrow and sickness here, then death. Man lost the paradise God had made for all people. And it would have remained lost forever had God not sent His Son. The very night Adam and Eve sinned, God promised to send Jesus to sacrifice Himself to reconcile sinners with the holy God, and thus to forgive every single sin of every single sinner.
Because Christ came, His Word can close the way it opened. Do you see it? The picture of a beautiful park as the forever home for the saints triumphant! For saints triumphant, life will never end right where it all began. That’s not a garden on earth, of course, but God’s new garden for His faithful people. So much of this life is unpleasant, awful, sad, sinful. “Look,” our Lord says, “at what is coming! I have life for you with Me in a place so pleasant, so beautiful, so holy, so perfect you can hardly imagine it! But it is real! And it really will be your home forever. Hold on to Me! I am the only Way to get there!”
We’ve heard a lot lately about quid pro quo, something for something. Many see life with God that same way, I’ll give God obedience, then God gives me heaven. That’s not the way it works with God. Between Genesis 2 and Revelation 22 God warns, “Sinners can’t make a deal with Me. I must give them what they need to be Mine forever!” For saints triumphant, it will never end right where it all began – without sin’s curse.
One last time on the last page of His Word God tell us how serious sin is. All who sin are under a “curse” (v. 3a). Sin isn’t a tiny smudge on a clean sheet of paper, a smudge gone after two seconds with an eraser. Sin brings a “curse”. Sin isn’t an error in judgment that I will try to avoid in the same situation next time, so now everything with God is okay. Sin results in a “curse”. Sin isn’t a different way to live, and therefore is no big deal. Sin angers God and places a ten-ton “curse” on us.
Alarmist rhetoric from a preacher? No! Sin banished Adam and Eve from God’s presence. Paradise was lost! What was that but the “curse”?! Sin is always dangerous. Sin is always serious with God, which makes it personal for us. Sin affects our relationship with the mighty God. See sin for what it really is! Because it separates us from the Lord, sin carries the “curse”!
But for saints triumphant, it will never end right where it all began: “There will no longer be any curse.” What happened? The curse didn’t melt like last week’s snow. It was removed at once when the Son of God, the promised Savior, took our curse on His holy soul. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. As it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13). In Jesus, all the consequences of sin will be gone in the perfect Paradise He prepares for us. No sorrow or sadness. No pain or pressure. No trouble or toil. No death or damnation. Again, just like it all began, so it will never end for the saints triumphant!
When we think we can’t take any more, when we wonder why the Lord lets things get so (seemingly) out of control, when we suppose life is unbearable, the Lord uses His Word to tell us what awaits the saints triumphant, awaits all who depart this life trusting His work at the cursed cross to rescue the world. “Hold to Me in faith! Sin and its curse will be no longer!”
The greatest part of Paradise is not being with loved ones who have left or will leave this life like we will – trusting Christ alone for forgiveness, life as His child, and heaven. Oh, it will be wonderful to be with them. But what the Lord of heaven says throughout His Word He repeats resoundingly in this last chapter of His Word. The greatest part of Paradise is that for the saints triumphant it will never end right where it all began – that’s not at our loved ones’ sides, but before God’s face.
Ever since Adam and Eve believers have asked it: What will we do in heaven forever? One of God’s answers is right here. “His servants will worship Him” (v. 3b). Do you hear your sinful nature? Boring! Who wants that!
The root meaning of “worship” is serve. Sin has made serving something unpleasant. We chafe at doing menial tasks for others; we’d rather have them waiting on us! But in heaven the saints triumphant “worship Him”, serve God willingly, joyfully, eternally. We don’t know exactly what that service will be. But because it is service mentioned in connection with “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (v. 3b), Jesus, it will include this unbelievably wonderful activity: we “will reign with” (v. 5) God! Does that sound tedious? Did Adam and Eve find life in Eden boring? They didn’t chafe at, but found joy in doing what God asked them to do. And, until they sinned and tried to hide from God, they delighted to be face-to-face with God.
For saints triumphant, it will never end right where it all began. “They will see His face. His name will be on their foreheads” (v. 4). Seeing God face-to-face and wearing His name are the same. Sin prevents us from looking at God. But the bodies of those who die in faith will rise on the Last Day in holiness to wear their Savior’s name. “There will no longer be any night or any need for lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will shine on them” (v. 5). The sun – s-u-n – won’t be there. God’s glory fills all heaven with all the light our risen bodies will need. There’s no time in heaven, so there’s no need to use the sun to mark days and months, seasons and years.
And don’t the last words here remind us of the blessing God used Aaron to give the children of Israel, that God still gives us as we close “worship”? “The LORD make His face shine on you and be gracious unto you!” No longer will we look away from the glory of God! We will be before Him and see His face – not be off to the side talking to loved ones – every moment!
There is much in this life we hate to see: prejudice and abuse, homeless and loveless people, cancer and crashes. But we know those sorrows won’t last. For the saints triumphant, it will never end right where it all began: before the face of God and in His perfect presence where nothing will dim our joy!
It’s our custom to mention on Saints Triumphant Sunday those who are no longer our members because they have become saints triumphant since last year’s Saints Triumphant Sunday. Your loved ones, our dear friends, who have been granted by God that status in the past fifty-two weeks include Karen Groop, Rex Hannewald, and Linda Janecke. Many of us have other loved ones and friends who weren’t members of our congregation, but who have also become saints triumphant in the past year. Saints triumphant depart this life trusting in the only Savior, Jesus, and His work for us sinners, for all sinners.
The mention of their names and the memory of their time among us make us sad for ourselves. We miss them! But we’re not sad for them. They aren’t missing anything! They have the blessed best! We thank God for the victory He’s granted them in Christ. We ask God to sustain us in our sorrow on earth, to help us in our troubles each day, to keep us in our God-given faith that trusts Him alone. We ask God to do that until we – like they – are given the life that will never end right where it all began: with Him in holiness “forever and ever”. Amen. Pastor David A. Voss
Second Sunday of End Time - Last Judgment
Second Sunday of End Time – Last Judgment
November 10, 2019
Hymns: 337, 211, 206 & 208, 219
First Lesson: Jeremiah 26:1-6
Psalm 90 (page 99)
Second Lesson: 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10
Gospel Lesson: Luke 19:11-27
The Son of God Is Coming Back
I. He wants us to use His gifts until He does
II. He will judge every sinner when He does
In the name of Jesus, the King of kings, the Son of God, who came to earth to save the world and who will return from heaven to judge the world, dear fellow redeemed.
In cartoons, people who take the Last Judgment seriously are drawn with long hair, unkempt beards, ancient clothes, and a sign warning, Doomsday is near! Repent! What’s the upspoken message? Only those who are out of touch with reality, whose religion has ruined their minds, think about the Last Day!
But it is reality. Either our life will end in death, or we will live until the instant Christ returns to end time here. Whether one takes that seriously or not doesn’t change the reality that it will happen. That’s one of the points of this parable – two different versions of which Jesus taught. This version He spoke as He got “near Jerusalem” (v. 11) the weekend of Palm Sunday. The other version, in Matthew 25, Jesus taught at the temple grounds the Tuesday before Good Friday. The Redeemer repeating the parable within days is His way to say, “It’s coming! Be ready! Keep working!”
You might be disappointed to hear that. You might want to hear what the Last Day will be like. A few parts of God’s Word describe that, but this isn’t one of them. This parable teaches God’s people how to live until the certainty of the Last Day. We don’t know when that day will be, so we live each day as if it’s our last – and today might well be our last day, due to death or the Last Day. The Son of God is coming back. His desire is that we use His gifts until He does. His decree is that all sinners will be judged when He does.
Jesus had just eaten in Jericho at the home of Zacchaeus, whose life Jesus had just changed forever. The Lord’s mission doesn’t get much clearer than what He said at dinner there. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
Now Jesus was going to Jerusalem for the Passover, which was to Jews of His day what a weeklong combination of Christmas and the Fourth of July would be to us. Some wondered, “Is Jesus going to set Himself up as king now? Will He use the might we’ve seen in Him – instantly healing diseases, miraculously supplying food, powerfully driving out demons – to rid us of the Romans?” They wanted His power for the wrong reasons.
Jesus was about to use His power as God and man. Within a week He’d suffer for the sins of world – using His might to heal sinful souls, supply total forgiveness, defeat the devil and death for all people. That wasn’t the use of His power the people that day desired – and most people this day desire. But that is His divine power that all sinners need above all else.
To show the relationship the Savior wants with sinners, Jesus here painted this Word picture of Himself. “A man of noble birth traveled to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself and then to return” (v. 12). After completing His mission here, Jesus was welcomed to heaven as the Lord over the “kingdom” – the whole world, not just the nation of Israel.
The parable doesn’t dwell on the nobleman’s trip to a distant country, but on his servants’ work while he was gone. Each servant received one mina – maybe ten thousand dollars today. The money wasn’t a gift to be used as each servant desired. The nobleman commanded, “Conduct business until I return” (v. 13). Christ’s Church isn’t a business, of course. But it is Christ’s people using His gift of the message of salvation.
The Son of God who is in heaven, but also with us every moment, is coming back. And He wants us working until He does! He wants us working with His Word of life in our homes. Is the Son of God’s Word get used in the family life He’s given us? Is He first in our conversations, priorities, and schedules?
He wants us working in worship services and education efforts with His Word of life. Does the Son of God’s Word excite us so much that a highlight of each week is these first hours of the week when we worship Him and receive His Sacrament, study His Truth here and at our school? Do we thrill to bring thankofferings to support the preaching and teaching of His Word here – and across the nation and around the world?
He wants us working among others with His Word of life. Does the Son of God’s forgiveness for us and all sinners show in the way we speak at work, act with friends, decide what is most important for us? The Son of God is coming back! What will He find us doing with His greatest gift when He does?
We keep working with His gift given us to use, His good news! Emotions don’t get His work done. Buildings and programs don’t change hearts. Sinner’s don’t pay for sins. After God’s law smashes our hearts in pieces and shows there’s no way to save our sinful selves, God’s Gospel of the Savior’s sacrifice for all sinners repairs hearts and renews souls. The Son of God tells us to keep working with His good news. When He comes back, what will He find us doing with His greatest gift to us?
Jesus knows now our every act, word, thought. He won’t first find out when He comes back. He teaches here, What you are doing when I come back is evidence of what you think of Me and trust about Me. No one escapes that! The Son of God is coming back, and He will judge every sinner when He does.
In the parable, the nobleman returned and called his servants to account. Only three of the ten are mentioned. That does not mean that seventy percent of people will avoid the Last Judgment. As in many Bible passages, “ten” here means totality. The three mentioned represent all people. All will be called to account before the Son of God in the Last Judgment.
Some will be welcomed to heaven when Jesus returns. They will know it wasn’t their efforts, but His power of His holy life and innocent suffering for sinners that did the work. “Master, your mina, not my faithfulness, has produced…more” (vv. 16,18). Not the human messenger in pulpit or classroom, at the table or by kids’ beds, in a dorm room or friend’s house, but the Lord, by His saving work and Gospel Word, is the power!
Those who trust the Savior and His salvation now will be raised to eternal life in the Last Judgment, shown here as being given charge of cities. Different results were reported from working with the mina; one “ten more” (v. 16), another “five more” (v. 18). But is that surprising? The results Isaiah and Paul report when Jesus returns will be more than the results we report, right? But the boasting isn’t how many souls we reached by our work. The results are the Redeemer’s. Our joy is spreading His Word where we go, and supporting its spread where we can’t go. Our glory is being with God forever, not our working!
Will we receive that at the Last Day? Or will our soul get it sooner? That depends. A person’s dying day is the person’s Last Judgment. At death, the soul leaves the body, God judges the soul on the presence – or absence – of faith in Christ, and God either welcomes the soul to heaven or sends the soul to hell. Then on the Last Day, the person’s body will be reunited with the soul, rise from its grave, be changed into body-and-soul for eternity, be placed with either all other believers or all other unbelievers, and be taken body-and-soul to heaven or hell – where the soul had already been. But billions will be alive on the Last Day. What of them? They’ll be taken off the earth and set by God with the right group – believers in Jesus or rejecters of Jesus, their bodies likewise changed into eternal bodies, then also bodyand-soul be taken to heaven or sent off to hell.
Because of what Jesus did to cleanse us by His blood and suffer the hell we deserve for every sin – we know now in which group we’ll be then. That’s why we’re so eager for the Son of God to come back! We aren’t frightened by the Last Judgment because we know our verdict, all thanks to the Triune God!
But some sinners, many of them!, will be sentenced to hell when the Son of God comes back. They will offer all sorts of panicked excuses and pious-sounding reasons why they didn’t trust in Him or have time for Him or care about Him. They will be very sorry about all of that. They will hope God understands all of that. But none of that will change where they’re headed. The foolish servant said, “I didn’t do anything with your mina, master. You are a demanding man who wants results, so I hid the mina!” The nobleman shouted, “That’s ridiculous! I will judge you by your own words (v. 22)! You knew I wanted you to use my mina, but you didn’t?! You weren’t faithful!”
The point is so clear. Some who once had the Gospel have now set it aside, focus on other things, forget it, figure they can get back to it later. Some who once belonged to Jesus through faith in Him have decided, like Jesus said here, “We do not want this man to be king over us (v. 14). We want a king to make life more fun, more prosperous, less strict, less spiritual!”
What happens if the Son of God comes back to get them before they get back to Him? “Those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them, bring them here and kill them in front of me” (v. 27). That’s how the parable ends. The condemned before God will wish they could be killed at the Last Judgment. Instead, that day will bring unending death, forever separation from God in hell. Souland-body plunged into the fire that never ends! Soul-and-body cut off from the gracious Lord and from every blessing forever and ever! That will be their judgment. And it will never, ever change!
The Son of God wants to use to reach them before it’s too late for them! The Son of God will come back – and we long for the Day He does! Until He does, He strengthens us with His Word about what He’s done to cover our guilt and to remove the curse of hell from us. Each day we work with His good news until He comes to take us with Him! Each day we look eagerly for Him to come back and take us with Him! Amen. Pastor David A. Voss
First Sunday of End Time - Reformation Sunday
First Sunday of End Time – Reformation Sunday
November 3, 2019
Hymns: 199, 200, 280, 203
First Lesson: Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 46 (page 84)
Second Lesson: Romans 3:19-28
Gospel Lesson: John 8:31-36
Christ’s True Disciples Observe THE Reformation Every Day
I. By remaining in divine truth
II. By reveling in real freedom
In the name of Jesus, who is the Way and the Truth and the Life, who is the true Way to life with God, fellow redeemed, fellow heirs of the Lutheran Reformation, Five hundred two years ago last Thursday Martin Luther posted his 95 statements on Wittenberg, Germany’s public bulletin board – which was also the door of the large church in town. All Wittenberg’s citizens would go through that door the next morning for the annual All Saints Day service. Luther intended his sentences to invite Catholic clergy and scholars in town to discuss his beloved church’s teachings. Luther wrote from his heart to expose those teachings of his church that went against God’s Word. That October 31st event wasn’t the climax of the Reformation. The climax of the Reformation was 18 months later in Worms. Luther was called before church officials and the Roman Emperor. They asked, “Do you…repudiate your writings and the false teachings they contain?” Luther answered, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and clear reason, my conscience is captive to the Word of God, I cannot and I will not recant! Here I stand! I cannot do otherwise. God help me.” The devil didn’t get Luther to give in to error. But the devil didn’t quit. As he was long before Luther, so still today Satan tries to mislead believers. He wants us to give in to the popular religious idea spouted by so many: It doesn’t matter what you believe or do, as long as you believe in Jesus Christ! What does Jesus Himself say? It remains what He said here two thousand years ago. “If you remain in My Word, you are really My disciples” (v. 31). Christ’s “Word” is all of Scripture, not just the parts we like. We are not called to line up with Luther – a sinful human used by God as His messenger, but to follow Christ – the sinless Son of God and Savior of the world! Christ’s true disciples observe the reformation every day by remaining in divine truth and by reveling in real freedom.
We conservative Christians who hold to everything the Bible teaches are sometimes accused of idolatry. Yes, idolatry! “We believe in God. But you worship, you believe in, a book!” We don’t disagree the Bible is a book. But it’s no ordinary book! From Genesis 1, written by Moses more than fourteen hundred years before Jesus was born, to Revelation 22, written by John seventy years after Jesus died and rose, the Bible is God’s Word, even though men wrote it. How can that be? “Men spoke from God as they were being carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21), and “All Scripture is God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). Elijah’s confidence before King Ahab and Paul’s confidence before Roman authorities, Luther’s confidence in Worms and our confidence in conversations with those who question what we believe, is, “God has given us His truth (v. 32)! The Bible isn’t a collection of religious essays that are interesting to read. It is the truth from God given by God. It’s divine truth!” Here, Jesus spoke to people who trusted in Him as the promised Messiah. For believers to grow in trusting Jesus as the promised Savior, for them “really (v. 31) to be His followers, Jesus said, “Remain connected to My Word”. Isn’t that something?! He has the power to still storms, feed hungry thousands in an instant, heal sickness, even raise the dead. His miracles had an impact on people and drew many to listen to Him. But how does Jesus make “disciples” (v. 31), create in stony hearts true faith in Him? He teaches them about Himself. How does He keep “disciples”? He connects us to Himself by His Word! It is not a mark of true disciples of Christ to trust what He did at the cross, yet question other parts of His Word. The mark of true disciples of Christ is remaining true to His Word – all that He teaches. Jesus teaches that He is God sent from God to save us from sin and Satan, from death’s grip and hell’s fire. Jesus teaches that sinners who can’t save themselves by what they do have forgiveness in the blood He shed for them. Those truths “set us free” (v. 32). Christ’s true disciples observe the reformation, they re-form their hearts, when they “remain in” His divine truth every day. Why that’s so necessary is clear from how this very verse is often misused. We see this verse etched in stone on the exterior of college buildings, public libraries, courthouses. We hear this verse quoted in speeches by politicians and philosophers. False teachers isolate the words “the truth will set you free” (v. 32) and suggest any idea which makes you feel you have “the truth” is what you should live by each day. That’s not “the truth”! The only truth that sets sinners free and saves them is “the truth”, divine truth, truth from God, the truth about God! Christ’s true disciples are attacked by Satan every day. He twists divine truth to make sins sound attractive – and acceptable! – to God’s people. Each day we need the Savior to use the power of His truth to re-form us, to change our hearts that are more eager to follow Satan’s seductive lies than the Savior’s saving “truth”. Each day our sinful nature follows its nose to the devil’s den, thinking, I must get right with God by keeping His commandments to make up for my breaking His commandments. I am on God’s side because I belong to one of His congregations. The congregation grows best when members get what we want instead of what we need. I don’t need to hear the Word; I have my own beliefs and understanding with God. That sounds good. Some of that even sounds Godly. But none of that is divine truth. We re-form our hearts and lives every day when we hear Jesus repeat what has always been the sign of those who are “really My disciples: remain in My Word”! Christ’s “truth” is that sinners are right with God by His undeserved love poured out in Christ, that sinners obey God’s commandments to live thanks each moment to God for saving us, that the Holy Spirit uses the power of the Gospel in Word and Sacrament to turn hard hearts rejecting the Savior into loving hearts trusting the work of Jesus. Christ’s true disciples use divine “truth” to re-form their hearts every day, rubbing off the sharp points of pride in what we think we do to please God and thus earn points with Him, filling in the low spots of life when we wonder how God could love rebels like us, tightening our grip on Him and His truth. That’s the real re-formation, the real re-forming, that we observe – and live! – every day.
But what does the truth, even if it’s divine truth, give us? A cramped, confining, conservative, drab, dreary, monotonous life? Being religious robots with no mind of our own? Christ’s real disciples observe the reformation every day by reveling in real freedom that only divine truth can supply and empower. In promising to “set us free” (v. 36), Jesus teaches that we are not “free” from birth. The Jews resented that! They argued, “We…have never been slaves of anyone” (v. 33). Really? Hadn’t the Jews been slaves in Egypt, in Assyria, in Babylon? Weren’t the Jews, even as Jesus spoke, under the thumb of the Romans? The Jews meant they didn’t live like slaves on some master’s estate. But Jesus wasn’t talking about physical slavery. He meant that sinners live under slavery to sin. So true! What is our greatest problem? Sin! Sin bring guilt and the curse of hell. Ponder the sinful thoughts, words, and acts that polluted our lives last week. Every bit of that deserves hell! Sin is our greatest problem because we can’t cut ourselves free from sin and its consequences. “Everyone who keeps committing sin is a slave to sin” (v. 34). Think of the pet sins that trip you up each day. You try to cut them out of your life, but they keep coming back! Every time you fall, you deserve hell! The only freedom from that is Christ. The truth of what He’s done for us “sets us free”. We area saved before we lift a finger to please God or call on Him in prayer. Only those who trust they’re set free from sin by Christ alone are really “free”. Jesus used a picture to teach that. “A slave does not remain in the family forever” (v. 35). Servants were part of a household, even getting benefits from the household – food, drink, shelter. But their connection to the family didn’t last. They were sent away whenever the head of the house grew tired of them. But “a son does remain forever” (v. 35). He belongs to the household; the household belongs to him. He is “family forever”! The Jews were connected to Abraham in the physical family that God called His chosen people. But their rebellion made them slaves. To be free, they needed the Son from the heavenly Father – born from their people! – to set them free from sin and its consequences. In Jesus – but only in Jesus – are sinners set free and given the benefits of God’s spiritual family. We are free in Jesus, as are all sinners – Jews and Gentiles – who trust Him as the Savior who freed them from sin and its consequences. In Jesus we live in – revel in – that freedom. We don’t worry ourselves sick – as Luther did the first half of his life – about what will happen to us when we die. We know we are free from the guilt of sin, free in Him who took our sin and hell on Himself. We know heaven is our home, so we live here the wonderfully free life that comes from that. We are free in Jesus. We gladly live and work for Him to thank Him for that! Christ’s true disciples observe that re-formation every day. We revel in the real freedom He has won. Satan leads us to grumble about going to church. Freedom in Jesus leads us to rejoice to be in His house and to hear His truth. Satan wants us to think it’s OK to brush off God’s Word. Those free in Jesus delight to “remain in His Word, the truth that sets us free”. We real disciples of Christ don’t have confidence in the fact that we’re Lutheran, but in the fact of God’s work to save us. We call ourselves Lutherans to distinguish ourselves from those in Christianity who don’t take their stand on all divine truth. We real disciples of Christ hear and read, study and ponder “the truth” He gives us, then we live and think and act and “remain in” the freedom He gives us in His blood, and all He reveals in His Word. We real disciples of Christ re-form our stubborn, sinful hearts with His divine truth and very real freedom – which is really our unending freedom in Him. Amen. Pastor David A. Voss
19th Sunday After Pentecost - We, Too, Have the Word of God!
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 20, 2019
Hymns: 224, 210, 458, 606
First Lesson: Amos 6:1-7
Psalm 146 (page 120)
Second Lesson: 1 Timothy 6:6-16
Gospel Lesson: Luke 16:19-31
We, Too, Have the Word of God!
I. The guide for using our possessions
I. The means for changing our hearts
In the name of Jesus, our Savior from sin and our Teacher for life, fellow sinners redeemed by His life and death and rising, Aesop’s famous fables were written not just to tell good stories, but also to teach important lessons. The Tortoise and the Hare tells folks never to give up, get cocky, be lazy. The Goose with the Golden Eggs shows what greed will do to a person. Even more, the parables of Jesus were spoken and recorded not to entertain listeners, but to instruct sinners. We’ve been hearing some of His earthly stories with heavenly meanings for more than a month. The Rich Man and Poor Lazarus is one of His most well-known, and most frequently misinterpreted, parables. Is the lesson here that after you live in wealth on earth you go to hell? If so, most of us would be in eternal trouble because most of us would be counted among the top 25 percent when it comes to income in the world. Are we being taught that only if you suffer in poverty or from disability you go to heaven? If so, most of us would be left out of glory everlasting. Neither of those can be correct. They contradict the clear truths of God’s Word. The key to understanding what the Son of God teaches here is at the end of His parable. “They have Moses and the Prophets. Let them listen to them…If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (vv. 29,31). “Moses and the Prophets” was the term the children of Israel used for the entire Old Testament, all of Scripture that had been written by the time of Jesus. What He taught that day, He teaches this day. We, too, have the Word of God as the guide for using our possessions, and as the means for changing our hearts.
You know the rich man. Jesus didn’t name him here. But you know him. You know the desire which drove him: “I want even more wealth!” You know the joy which filled him: “Look at all I own!” You know the feeling which haunted him: “I need still better clothes, a more modern house!” Those were the goals of the rich man’s life. “I want to enjoy lavish luxury! I need to live the good life!” He used his possessions selfishly. You know the poor man, too. Jesus named him “Lazarus” (v. 20), which is a form of the Hebrew name Eliezer, which means, My God helps. You know his situation – and his attitude about it. “I don’t have much money. But my God helps me with all I need. I wish I could walk instead of having to be laid (v. 20) at this estate’s gate. But my God gives me what I need to live. Due to my disability I don’t have a job, so I need to beg for scraps of food left over by others. But my God blesses me with what He wants me to have. I’m too helpless to shoo away these wild dogs. But my God protects me from danger to my soul.” Not many people would choose the Lazarus’ life over the rich man’s, would they? We would – and do! Lazarus had the Word of God guiding his life. That made him rich in the only ways that last. The rich man ignored God’s guidance for his life. That made him among the poorest people in the world before God. We, too, have the Word of God to guide us as we use the possessions God has given us. For several weeks now we’ve heard God warn us not to use those possessions as an end in themselves, as the fulfillment of life, as the ultimate source of joy and pleasure – as though we pile up our own possessions. God tells us not to use those possessions selfishly – refusing to offer a dime for those less fortunate than we are, instead spending thousands on our own comforts, projects, and fancy gadgets. God also guides us to use those possessions His way, not our way. The Lord unselfishly allows us to manage the wealth and resources He created and gives us. He expects us to use them unselfishly. We have the Word of God, the guide for using our possessions to take care of our family’s needs (not luxuries), to support the government as we “give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”, to assist the needy like Lazarus (which we do in America largely through the portion of tax money marked for welfare and social service programs), and to support the spread of God’s Word across the world as we “give to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). We have the Word of God to guide our spending. We do not assume the selfish spirit of this rich man who thought, “It’s my money to do with as I want!” Every penny we have comes from God, so we are accountable to God for how we use each penny. Using our possessions is a battle we fight every week. “It’s my money. Why should I give it to the church?” It’s not our money, and we don’t give it to the church. It’s the Lord’s money, and we give it to Him, offering to God a God-honoring portion of our God-given gifts to be used to spread His Word. Some get peeved when the preacher talks about money. But it’s not the peracher. It’s the Savior – in this parable and many other parts of His Word. One of His lessons here is clearly, “You have My Word! Use it to guide your use of the possessions I’ve given you! When you cherish all I’ve done to bless you and save you, you won’t cling to things so greedily!”
At death, things changed for the two men here, didn’t they? Why? It was not because one had been rich and the other poor, and now God wanted each to have the opposite. That would be God contradicting Himself, and the perfect God never contradicts Himself! Why such a change at death? Because of what each man did with the Word of God. We, too, have the Word of God, also the means for changing our hearts. We have the Word of God to tell us it’s the condition of peoples’ hearts that determines whether they go to heaven or hell. Both men deserved hell. They were both sinners. Neither had earned a home in heaven. The rich man went to hell. Not because he lived in luxury on earth, but because he had rejected the Savior of the world. He had shut the Lord out of his heart and life. He loved his possessions more than the one true God. Lazarus went to heaven. Not because he lived in poverty on earth, but because he loved above all else the Savior who won his forgiveness when Jesus paid the penalty owed for every sin. Lazarus was “carried…to Abraham’s side” (v. 22). That’s Christ’s way to say Lazarus shared Abraham’s faith, went to heaven as a believer – as had Abraham. His heart wasn’t stuck on this life and the things money buys, but on that life and the redemption bought by the coming Christ. He lived this truth: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). People have all sorts of ideas about what happens at death. We have the Word of God. God says very clearly, very emphatically, “When a person dies, there’s no second chance to change his heart, to change her sentence from hell to heaven.” We have the Word of God, the only way God changes hearts. The rich man challenged that. The damned in hell know they are missing out on the bliss of heaven; that adds to their agony. The rich man’s “torment” (v. 23) in hell moved him to plead for someone to rescue his brothers on earth. Like he had, they were rejecting God’s Word. In stubborn unbelief the rich man asked that a spirit preach to his brothers. “If someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent (v. 30). That will convince them!” The rich man was really accusing God. “Your Word wasn’t powerful enough to change my heart. It’s not going to be powerful enough to change my brothers’ hearts, either! You let me down! You didn’t give me anything other than Your Word to change me! Do something more before You ruin my brothers, too!” How desperate! How defiant! How wrong! Twice he objected to the Word of God being the power to change stubborn hearts. Twice God used Abraham to tell him, “They have Moses and the Prophets! The Word of God is what they need to change their hearts. If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (v. 31). We, too, have the Word of God, the means by which God changes hearts. Sometimes we wish God would use an earthly miracle to grab by the heart a stubborn unbeliever we know or love. “God, do something to make her see the error of her ways, to shake him out of his unbelief! It will take a mighty miracle on earth or sign in the sky to change her, to convince him!” When we wish that, we’re wrong! Only the Word of God changes hearts that reject the truth that sin damns, the truth that salvation is only in Jesus who suffered what we owed. We help them most when we give them the law of God, showing them where we and they and all sinners deserve to be forever! Then we give them the gospel of God, telling them Jesus took on His holy shoulders the punishment for every sin, then He rose “from the dead”, and through Him we and they have heaven. Faith in Jesus is what we and they need. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message comes through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17) – the Word of His Christmas birth, His thirtythree years of perfectly holy living, His Good Friday innocent sacrifice for all trespasses, His Resurrection Sunday rising from death. That’s what we and they and all need for repentance and faith that leads to salvation! We, too, have the Word of God, the only way God changes hearts. His Word has changed our hearts. Will we now ignore it for several days or weeks or months until we think we need it again? That’s a damning plan! We who have the Word of God will hear it regularly, ponder it daily, study it nightly, trust it unfailingly. Others, too, need the Word of God we have, so we give it to them. If they reject it, nothing else will “convince” them of the way to heaven. Miracles on earth or signs in the sky won’t do it. Spirits returning to earth won’t do it, either. Luther said, “The Holy Spirit does not wish to work in us in any other way than through the Word and the sacraments.” And in Baptism and Communion, the power is God’s Word. This is a famous parable, a fascinating one, a favorite of many. If it’s one of our favorites, let it be for the right reasons! Let it not be the interesting details. Let it be the truths of God. We, too, have the Word of God, the guide for using possessions – for us and for all. We, too, have the Word of God, the means to change hearts – our hearts and the hearts of all. Amen. Pastor David A. Voss