A Sermon for Christ the King Sunday

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“The Shepherd King,” preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Advance, NC, November 26, 2017

Ezekiel 34:11–16, 20–24; Psalm 95:1–7a; 1 Corinthians 15:20–28; Matthew 25:31–46

In the 16th Century, the Geneva Bible was the favored Bible of the people. It was the Bible of the Puritans, the 1591 Cambridge edition is the Bible that the Pilgrims brought to America, where Scots was the main language at that time. One of the innovations of that Geneva Bible was that it was the first study Bible. It had marginal notes by notables like John Calvin, John Knox, and Miles Coverdale—each one a Reformer.

In 1522, Martin Luther published his German New Testament and William Tyndale, an Englishmen, got his hands on one that same year. He was inspired to translate the entire Bible into English. The Catholic Church was not happy about it, thinking it should only be in Latin, ordered him to stop, and after he refused, forced him to flee the country. He landed in Worms, Germany. Sound familiar? Luther was a continuing inspiration and help to Tyndale. But he was eventually hunted down, captured, and imprisoned.

Miles Coverdale, one of the authors of the study notes in the Geneva Bible, took up the task of finishing Tyndale’s translation of the Old Testament into English. In 1536, Tyndale was strangled to death and burned at the stake for his so-called heretical English translation, which was the entire New Testament but only about half of the Old Testament. Fires evidently did not scare Coverdale, who picked up the gauntlet and his pen and finished the work of translating the Old Testament.

John Knox, a Scotsman who ended up founding the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, was first exiled to England for his trouble-making, reforming ways. He then moved to Geneva where he met John Calvin.

John Calvin, was a French theologian and the Reformer of Geneva, Switzerland. Philip Melanchthon, the author of so much of the Lutheran Confessions, sometimes seemed to favor Calvin’s theology nearly as much as Luther’s.

These three—Coverdale, Knox, and Calvin—wrote much of the study notes in that Geneva Bible—a Bible that King James, himself a Scotsman, hated with a fire redder than his own hair. Why? Because the notes are harsh regarding words that refer to a monarchy. Although the Geneva Bible uses the word “king,” the Puritans were so anti-monarchical that its marginal notes repeatedly employ the word “tyrant” when commenting about a king. The word “tyrant” would not find its way into the King James Bible, but it appears in the Geneva notes over 400 times. The translation favored by the Puritans must have been very popular at the court of England.

Let us pray: Sovereign Lord, at the end of time your eternal reign will be fully revealed, and all will stand in awe of your Son, the King of kings. As we gather in your holy presence, nourish us with word and water, bread and wine, that we may go forth making his kingdom known through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Indeed, I think one of the driving forces behind the Scotsman who became King James was not just to have a Bible that would unify Great Britain, but that would unify it around its British king. That could never happen with that anti-monarchy Geneva Bible.

Kings can certainly be a problem, if only for being self-centered. Still, the Apostle Paul urges us to pray for kings and others in authority, adding that this pleases God (1 Tim 2:1-3). This is because God wants us to live peaceably and because all authority comes from God, existing rulers and powers receiving their authority from God (Rom 13:1). So, even kings, emperors, and presidents are subjects of a greater ruler, that great King above all gods, as the Psalmist calls him in our Psalm today. Even greater powers than kings and presidents are subject to God. Powers like sin, death, and the devil must also answer to him. As the Second Reading asserts: all things will be subjected to him—even death, which will be destroyed forever.

How does God enforce this; how does he accomplish his authority? He does so in a way no one would have dreamed. He comes to earth as a man who would become a shepherd like his great-grandfather, 13 generations removed, King David. Ezekiel says that God himself will seek out his scattered sheep. What kind of king goes in search of lost sheep? A shepherd king does. Jesu doess. He is the one who has made his wandering sheep lie down and rest so that he may dress their wounds and strengthen them with his own hand. The psalmist says that “we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.”

Now, it may not seem like you have a very good spot to lie down and rest. It might seem a bit rocky or uneven to you. Life may be treating you pretty roughly, perhaps unfairly from your perspective. Whenever this seems to be the case to you, you may be assured that you are at that moment, lying in the wrong place. For the green pastures where he makes us lie down are none other than the Good Shepherd himself. Any tougher turf in life is made comfortable because the Shepherd gives you rest—not an easy life. He satisfies your needs—not affluence, good health, and the applause of people. It is the hand of the shepherding God who upholds you through this life, not the platforms of presidents or the councils of kings.

We are carried by the Shepherd King’s mighty hand through the valley of death, for it is but a momentary shadow. We will pass through in the flitting of the eyes, as though awakening from a peaceful slumber. Because our Shepherd King was the firstfruits of the dead, we who believe will be raised as the latter fruits. Paul’s image in our Second Reading is taken from the Jewish celebration of Passover. Passover was both a remembrance of their deliverance from bondage in Egypt, and a barley harvest festival. The Law states:

“When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, so that you may be accepted” (Lev 23:10–11).

At Passover, the barley was threshed, dried over fire, exposed to the wind so that the chaff would blow away, then ground in the mill, and offered to God. Just so, Jesus had to be offered to God and raised from the dead, the firstfruits of the dead, a second harvest is coming when all who have fallen asleep in the Lord will rise and be caught up with the Lord into heaven. Our shepherding King rose victoriously from the grave, and he will raise us too. Having put all things in subjection to Christ, God will destroy death at the last. We who were bound to die because of Adam’s sin within us, will be made alive forever because we are bound in faith to the King who overrules sin and death.

But kings do not only pardon; they also judge. The Shepherd King will sit on his glorious throne, and there separate the sheep from the goats, the favored sheep sent to his right hand, the goats to his left. Sheep and goats were pastured in mingled flocks, just as we live in this world with unbelievers. It takes a king who is a shepherd to tell the difference between the two. What is it that the Shepherd King will be looking for in distinguishing these similar species? While we cannot infer from this story that we will be justified because of our good works, for we are saved by grace alone. Yet we do see that the Shepherd will be looking for evidence of that faith. That evidence is illustrated by a variety of good works, done to the less fortunate whom Jesus identifies with so strongly that to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome a stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned is to do so unto Jesus himself. These are the righteous deeds of those who have true faith, the acts of the faithful sheep of God’s right hand.

Our great Shepherd King is no tyrant such as Calvin, Knox, and Coverdale wrote about, but his judgment is keen nonetheless—make no mistake. Bear fruit in keeping with repentance, the Baptist admonished. That is what faithful sheep do, for they know they do it unto their king.

For these sheep of God, these people of a real and living faith, are the ones whom Ezekiel’s God will go in search of, seeking and rescuing them from the dark places of sin, death, and the devil. He will rescue them from these evils and feed them in good, rich pasture.

He has set a table before you in the presence of these enemies. This holy table embodies his promise that his goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life, that the Shepherd King has prepared his house for you to dwell in forever. Fear no evil, for the Good Shepherd King is with you. Be comforted at his table. Come!

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A Sermon for the Twenty-fourth Sunday After Pentecost

“The Seventh Petition,” preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Advance, NC, November 19, 2017

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

The seventh petition of The Lord’s Prayer asks God, “But deliver us from evil.”

The Small Catechism asks, “What does this mean?” Here is Luther’s answer:

“We pray in this petition, as in a summary, that our heavenly Father would deliver us from every type of evil — whether it affects our bodies or souls, property or reputation — and at last, when our hour of death comes, would grant us a blessed end to our earthly lives, and graciously take us from this world of sorrow to himself in heaven.”

Let us pray… God of light and life, illuminate our lives with your Word and Spirit so that we may always be prepared for the coming of your Son. Grant that we may bear the light of your love to a world in need, that others may know of your justice and mercy, and themselves be ready for your breaking into the world anew; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

When I was a police chaplain, it usually wasn’t much fun riding along with officers and detectives during the daytime. But doing ride-alongs at night? That’s a different story. People lose their inhibitions after the sun goes down. That’s usually because nighttime is when they start drinking. Once some people start drinking, it isn’t long before they’re drunk and doing stupid things that they wouldn’t do during the day time.

In fact, Thursday will be a particularly busy time for police departments. On Thanksgiving Day, families will get together, and some of them, not wanting to be with their families, and will drink more than usual, which always ends up in a brawl with a family member, and a call to the police to come break it up. This evil is basic to societies all over the world.

Paul uses this image in our Second Reading today. He does so as a way to remind us how we ought to live the Christian life. The apostle tells us that we should be prepared folks, like five out of the ten virgins in our Gospel Reading from last Sunday—the five who had sufficient oil in their lamps as they waited for the bridegroom’s return. Those who have the oil of faith, as Jennifer explained it to us, will always live the prepared life. They are being delivered from evil every day—and will be delivered from the ultimate evils of death and the devil on that great and glorious day of the Lord.

But those who will not live lives of faith, who will not walk soberly in the light, preferring the darkness and its evils, cannot and will not be ready when the Lord, our Bridegroom, returns like a thief in their darkness. They are secure in their spiritual stupor; they are content in their ignorance. They imagine that all is well, that everything is as it ever has been; nothing ever changes and all is right enough with the world.

This is the same person who hides his talent in a dark hole in the ground. The Church is full of such souls. Instead of putting God’s gifts to work in his service, their lives are wasted, spent only in pursuing what they imagine profits themselves. But our Lord requires more of his servants. And as each and every believer is his servant, God gives us each talents, according to our abilities, expecting us to use them for a profit—for his profit, the profit of his kingdom.

These ancient talents were measures of silver or gold, and were no small sum to invest. A single talent of silver was equivalent to 15 to 20 years wages. Imagine spending 15 or 20 years of your life with nothing more to show for it than what was initially given to you. But that is precisely what so many—too many—do with the gifts God has given. That is a serious evil run amok in the Church.

Statistics show that 20% of folks do 80% of the work in just about any institution. The Church is not exempt from this 20/80 statistic. You don’t have to be told the common reply when a church member is asked to serve on a committee—let alone on Council. Now imagine that God calls to the mission field. How many go? Maybe 20%?

But it isn’t just serving on committees or answering a call to ministry. It used to be that 40% of a congregation’s membership could be expected to be regular in worship. It’s less than that now. Indeed, in my experience, many who serve on Church Councils only worship once a month or less. Yet they contend that they know how God would have them lead his Church.

Deliver us, O Lord, from this evil. Is this living the prepared life? Aren’t we concerned that these folks may be caught off-guard on that Day? We would be wise to expect more of folks before making them our leaders.

Indeed, Lord, deliver us from ourselves.

Christians are expected to be delivered from evil, as God has promised to “strengthen, increase, and support to the end the good work that He has begun in them (Phil 1:6), if they cling to God’s Word, pray diligently, abide in God’s goodness, and faithfully use the gifts they received” (Formula of Concord).

But here is that same evil problem in the Church. How will God deliver us from evil, if we do not cling to his Word? If we hardly know it, how would we be much comforted? This is tantamount to crying, quoting Paul, “There is peace and security!” Those who have no need of a steady diet of God’s Word must be similar to those whom Jeremiah said insisted, “Peace, peace when there is no peace” (Jer 6:14). If one does not need the constant reminder of God’s promises, he must be living in a dark land filled with this false peace. If one does not require the gracious uplift of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, she must be drunk on some other fare. If one does not believe in the fellowship of believers, the communion of saints, he must be carousing with some other sort of souls.

Let us hear with ringing—or if need be, jarring—clarity what Paul has admonished. “Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” We are children of the light, expected to live lives filled with God’s grace, so that on that Day, we will not only not be caught unawares but, be glad for that day. For Christians are not to be slumbering dolts but wide awake, dressed in faith and love, and capped off with the confident hope of salvation.

So, I pray that your Thanksgiving this week will be full of fine times with family and feasting. Even more, I pray that all your days may be filled with faith, love, and the hope of salvation so that whenever the Day of the Lord might come, that you are prepared.

The Lord may return tomorrow or even before this service of worship concludes. Then again, the Day of the Lord could be in another 2,000 years. Like the Thessalonians, you don’t need to know when the Lord is returning. You’re ready when he does return. Your lamps are full. So, we can say with St. John the Revelator: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:20).

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen” (Rev 22:21).

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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions

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Revelation 5:8-10

From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession

Concerning the Mass 

Malachi speaks about these sacrifices: “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering” (Mal 1:11). Our adversaries misconstrue this passage, applying it to the Mass, citing the authority of the Fathers. A response, however, is easy. Even if this were a reference to the Mass, it would not follow that the Mass justifies ex opere operato, or that it merits the forgiveness of sins by transferring it to others. The prophet says nothing of that sort the monks and scholastics shamelessly concoct.

Pulling It Together

            The Lord’s name is great throughout the earth because of the preaching of the gospel. The Spirit produces faith in individuals through the Word (Rom 10:17). The result is that God’s priests (1 Pet 2:5, 9; Rev 1:5-6; 5:10)—all believers—offer the Lord true sacrifices of worship and praise. Still, these services do not save from sin and death. We will continue to proclaim, as did the Lutheran Reformers 500 years ago: only Christ saves. Our works can never merit forgiveness, justification, or eternal life. 

Prayer: O Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, give me the courage and joy to sing of your victory. Amen.

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The Basics of the Christian Faith is an edition of the catechism that is aimed at seekers, visitors, and those that may not come from a Lutheran background. It is recommended for use in outreach, as a visitor welcome gift, or in new member packets.

 

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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions

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Romans 12:6–8

From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession

Concerning the Mass 

But Scripture is full of such passages which teach that sacrifices do not reconcile God ex opere operato. Accordingly, since Levitical sacrifices have been abrogated, the New Testament teaches that new and pure sacrifices will be made, namely: faith, prayer, thanksgiving, confession, and the preaching of the Gospel, suffering on account of the Gospel, and similar things.

Pulling It Together

Having been moved to faith, the Spirit of God begins to transform us through the Word, worship, and testing. He gives each believer a gift or gifts of the Spirit that should be used in service for God. This service is a sacrifice, rendered along with sacrifices of worship and prayer. Yet these services or sacrifices do not save us; they are the reasonable services of all people who have been saved by the grace of God.

Prayer: Thank you, Holy Spirit, for giving me gift and a place in your Church. Amen.

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I Am Who I Am is a six-week study that explores what it means to “not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” (Exod 20:7), while at the same time trusting the promise in Christ that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).

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1 Samuel 15:22

From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession

Concerning the Mass 

Psalm 40:6 says: “Sacrifice and offering thou dost not desire; but thou hast given me an open ear.” That is, God has offered us his Word that we would hear it, and that he requires us to believe his Word and his promises, that he truly desires to show us mercy and help. Likewise, “For thou hast no delight in sacrifice… The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psa 51:16-17). And, “Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord” (Psa 4:5). He commands us to trust, and says that this trust is a righteous sacrifice, meaning that other sacrifices are not true and righteous sacrifices. Further, “I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord” (Psa 116:17). They call prayer a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

Pulling It Together

“According to His Word, God wants to repay works gloriously, but first He wants us to confess that we are sinners and to entrust ourselves to His mercy” (Luther’s Works, vol 12, 345). Works are things that God rewards, to be sure, but something else is more certain. God does not reward our good works with salvation. Put your trust in this: God rewards faith alone with eternal life, and he does so without cost of any kind other than that which was paid by his Son at Calvary.

Prayer: As you have offered me you word, give me faith to believe. Amen.

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The goal of Personalities of Faith, a ten-session Bible study for youth, is to encourage young people to commit themselves to follow Jesus in discipleship by becoming "personalities of faith". Using biblical examples of people who have followed—or failed to follow—God's call, participants will be prepared to better follow the Lord in their own lives.

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Hebrews 13:15

From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession

Concerning the Mass 

Psalm 50:13, 15 rejects sacrifices and requires prayer. It also condemns the notion of ex opere operato. “Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?” “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” The Psalmist testifies that calling upon God from the heart is true worship and honors him.

Pulling It Together

Do good but do not depend upon your good works. Depend upon God, upon his word and his promises. Though they please him if done from the heart, God does not require your sacrifices. He does require faith. Only wholehearted belief will trust God’s promises when it cannot trust its own works, services, and sacrifices. Such faith in God honors him alone and is genuine worship.

Prayer: O Lord, I rejoice in your salvation. Amen.

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The Cross and the Crown is an eight session study in Lutheran Basics, using the word "sola" to get the big picture right: that salvation is all God's doing.

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Hosea 6:6

From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession

Concerning the Mass 

The Old Testament prophets condemn the popular opinion about the ex opere operato, teaching instead the righteousness and sacrifices of the Spirit. “For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them, ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God…’” (Jer 7:22-23). How should we imagine that the Jews received this announcement, which seems to openly dissent with Moses? It is clear that God had given the fathers commands concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices, but Jeremiah is condemning an idea about sacrifices that had not come from God, namely, that these services pleased him ex opere operato. The prophet adds that God had commanded faith. “Obey my voice.” That is, believe that I am your God; that I wish to be known in this way when I show mercy and assist you, for I do not require your sacrifices. Believe that I wish to be God, the Justifier and Savior, not on account of your works, but on account of my word and promise. Truly and sincerely seek and expect help from me.

Pulling It Together

The Hebrew word for “obey” can also be understood to heed, listen, or hear. For to truly hear is to obey. If you do not obey, you have not really heard. How many times do parents cry out, “Did you hear me?” And when their child responds, “Yes,” reply with exasperation, “Then why didn’t you do what I said?” To have experienced this parental exasperation is to begin to sense the frustration of the Lord with his children.

Our parents did not wish for us to do the dishes or take out the trash or clean up our rooms, with the hope that they might love us or help us. If they were good parents, they already loved us and were more than willing to give us all the assistance we required. They did not want us to obey in order to be loved; they wanted us to obey because they already loved us. We understand this natural equation far better than we comprehend the spiritual. But there it is: God wants us to believe that he cares for us—that he is gracious and merciful—not because we have done him some service but, because he loves us.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your steadfast and abundant mercy, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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A Latin phrase meaning “Scripture Alone,” Sola Scriptura is one of the traditional Lutheran slogans used since the time of the Reformation. It expresses our confession that Scripture is “the only rule and norm according to which all doctrines and teachers alike must be appraised and judged.” Using the familiar phrase as its title, Sola Scriptura is a new, advanced-level Bible Study in a two-part series, of six chapters each, on the functional authority of Scripture. For those who would like to cover the topic in detail, there is enough material to cover one chapter in two sessions, making each part a 12-week study.

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Romans 12:1–2

From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession

Concerning the Mass 

These are the sacrifices of the New Testament, as Peter teaches: “Like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5). Spiritual sacrifices, however, are contrasted not only with animal sacrifices, but even with human works offered ex opere operato. “Spiritual” refers to the movements of the Holy Spirit within us. Paul teaches the same thing: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). “Spiritual worship” is that service in which the spirit knows and apprehends God, as happens when one fears and trusts God. This is therefore contrasted with Levitical service in which cattle are slain, and also with a service in which a work is imagined to be offered ex opere operato. The Epistle to the Hebrews teaches the same thing: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God” and adds the interpretation, “that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Heb 13:15) He commands us to offer praises, that is, prayer, thanksgiving, confession, and the like. These are valid because of faith, not ex opere operato. This is understood by the phrase, “Through him then let us offer,” in other words, by faith in Christ.

Pulling It Together

We are to offer sacrifices but the Lutheran Reformers wanted to be clear, not only what those sacrifices are but, what they accomplish. There is no sacrifice that we can offer or that can be offered for us—at the altar or elsewhere—that accomplishes the forgiveness of sin, grants eternal life, or reconciles us to God. That has already been done for us, and may only be received in faith. In other words, you do not do anything to get God to forgive. God’s mercy toward us through Christ already made these gifts freely available to all who believe, not through any works, services, or sacrifices we render.

But there are other sacrifices that all Christians should offer; and these sacrifices, as has been stated, do not avail for salvation, forgiveness, and justification before God. These sacrifices of the new life in Christ are spiritual sacrifices, true worship in which the Spirit of God testifies with our spirits (Rom 8:16). This is how all believers are priests before God (1 Pet 2:5, 9; Rev 1:6), offering sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. In this service of worship, we become living sacrifices to God. This transformation does not save, but instead is simply the reasonable service or spiritual worship of all believers.

Prayer: Thank you, Father, for your mercy to me through your Son, Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen.

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This booklet provides a suggested list of Bible verses, prayers, and familiar worship texts assigned to various age levels, recommended for use along with Sola Publishing’s Sunday Schoolhouse curriculum series. The order of texts matches the suggested grade levels in Luther’s Small Cat Series: elementary-aged curriculum on Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, also available from Sola Publishing. 

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Revelation 5:6–10

From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession

Concerning the Mass 

Now the rest are eucharistic sacrifices, called sacrifices of praise, which are specifically the preaching of the Gospel, faith, prayer, thanksgiving, confession, the afflictions of saints, yes, all good works of saints. These sacrifices are not satisfactions for those making them, or applicable on behalf of others, so as to merit for those persons the remission of sins or reconciliation, ex opere operato. Indeed, they are made by those who have already been reconciled.

Pulling It Together

There is only one work that saves, reconciles, justifies, atones, provides forgiveness of sin. That one work or sacrifice is not something that any human being can do. People earn nothing from God through a work that they have done (ex opere operato). Now, they may indeed offer sacrifices, but they do not merit God’s favor so as to redress their sinful condition. Those who have already been redeemed may offer sacrifices of thanks, praise, or other kinds of worship. It is right that they should do so since they have been made into a kingdom of priests. But these sacrifices do not expiate sin. Only Christ atoned for our sin. 

Prayer: You alone are worthy, O Lamb of God. Amen.

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Views of Baptism is written for a range of readers including the parent or sponsor about to baptize a child, the adult who wants to understand baptism more fully, and the professional teacher or preacher who needs the truth about baptism stated simply but backed by careful research. This books explores three views of baptism: the individual-centered view, the means-of-grace view, and the Roman Catholic view. It includes a description of how Christian baptism came to us in stages from its Jewish roots. A question and answer section addresses specific matters often raised when people contemplate baptism.

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A Sermon for All Saints Sunday

“The Seal of God,” preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Advance, NC, November 5, 2017

The Seal of God” – Revelation 7:2-17

It is appropriate, especially this being the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, that we carry on our thoughts of Luther from last week’s Reformation Sunday celebrations.

Luther had been summoned to the Diet of Worms, an imperial assembly of the Holy Roman Empire, to face charges of heresy because he taught a reform of the Church. The hearing lasted four months, from January 28 until May 26, 1521. This was not merely a judicial council of the Church; it was a formal court case against Luther, carrying the full weight of the empire. Luther stood his ground, but was finally sentenced to death, when anathema was pronounced against him. This meant that after three weeks, a period of time the Emperor allowed for getting his affairs in order, anyone could kill Martin Luther with impunity.

But Martin had a protector. While still in Worms, a scheme had been worked out by the Elector Frederick, the ruler and so-called “fox of Saxony.” He feared for Luther’s life beyond the three weeks of the Emperor’s safe-conduct. Frederick did not want to disobey the Emperor. Nor did he wish the reformer, his own citizen and the pride of his university in Wittenberg to die. His solution was to remove him from the public eye for a while and hope that things would settle down.

While on the road from Worms to Wittenberg, Frederick had Luther kidnapped and brought to Wartburg. There, he sealed him up in the castle where Luther grew a beard as a disguise and spent his days writing letters and translating the Greek New Testament into German. It took him eleven weeks, but he gave Germany a New Testament in her own tongue and the tool she needed to bring reform to the Church—and change the world.

Let us pray. Beloved God, in Christ you have drawn all your people into one, holy communion. Grant that, as we remember the saints who have gone before us, we may be sealed in the one true faith, and be strengthened for faithful service to you so that the world may know your blessed presence. Bring us at the last to the feast that has no end where all will be one; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

People are afraid. These are troubled times—just as all times are turbulent. Religious people can sometimes get a bit frenzied, pinning their hope on the wrong thing. Often, this hope is simply that soon it will all be over and they won’t have to deal with this troubled world any longer. These predictors of doomsdays go back to the time of the Reformers and still much earlier. And they are with us today.

Just over a month ago, a Christian numerologist and self-published author—whom I will leave unnamed but whose prediction went viral on social media—missed his prediction of the end of the world: September 23rd—just 33 days after the solar eclipse. In fact, he based his prediction on convoluted calculations and inferences centered around the number 33—that number, those calculations, and that the planet Nibiru would pass by earth on September 23, causing earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tidal waves. He further stated that a constellation would appear over Jerusalem on that day, triggering the launch of a series of catastrophic “tribulations” that would mean the end of life on earth as we know it.

In the meanwhile, NASA had repeatedly insisted that the planet Nibiru does not even exist. I, for one, am grateful that it does not, and that the world did not end on September 23, as Susan and I would have missed our 40th wedding anniversary by one day.

Now you may think that I am making light of this doomsday prophet, or of the whole lot of these apocalyptic preachers. I suppose I am, but I have good reason to do so. In John’s letter to the churches, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, one of God’s messengers or angels rose in the East from whence the star guided the ancient magi to the newborn Messiah. This angel appeared with the seal of the living God. The wrath of God was set to be unleashed on the world. But his wrath was stayed for a time—a time much longer than the Emperor’s three weeks—until all of God’s people, those whom the Apostle Paul called the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16), could be sealed on their foreheads.

The Apostle John, the writer of the Revelation, undoubtedly takes his imagery from Ezekiel where we see a band of mercenaries—perhaps angels—who are to exact deadly justice on Israel, indeed upon Jerusalem. But there is also one there, not clothed in the garments of battle, but dressed in a more civilian linen. He has a writing case, an ink horn, tied at his waist. This one, also very likely an angel, is sent through the city to seal the faithful remnant. “And he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his waist. And the LORD said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it” (Eze 9:3-4).

Well, that symbolic remnant, the “Israel of God,” is bigger than Israel, larger than the Church, and is not yet complete. It includes those believers in days of old, friends of God like Abraham and David. The “Israel of God” or the “144,000” as John called it, includes the Christian Church too. This 144,000 who must be sealed is an interesting metaphor.

Numerologists are not all crackpots. Numerology was something John used to code his letter to the churches that we call The Revelation. He wrote that letter in an apocalyptic literary style that had fallen out of use amongst the Jews, but was still remembered. The apocalyptic genre can use numerology—and John did. We see it employed in this number 144,000. 144,000 breaks down around common denominators of 12 and 10. 12 times 12 is 144. John used these two 12s earlier in his letter to speak of the 12 tribes and the 12 apostles, but here he multiplies the OT by the NT, ending up with 144, not 24. The Israel of God is larger than we thought. God’s angelic scribe has been busy sealing the foreheads of the faithful with his own holy name.

But his scribe is not finished. Even as the two 12s were multiplied, 12 being a number of completeness in Jewish numerology, the resulting 144 is now multiplied. It is multiplied by 10s, 10 also being a number of completeness or fullness. In fact, 144 is multiplied by three 10s—three being a number of perfection. 10 x 10 equals 100…times another 10 equals 1,000. Now the Church, symbolized by the number 144 is multiplied by a number of perfect completeness, and the result is 144,000. How many will the angel of God seal? A perfectly complete number of souls, scattered throughout time, whom God will bring safely through tribulation. They will be delivered from sin, death, and the devil. Nothing can touch their faith in God, for the avenging angels, those four winds or spirits, are not permitted to touch God’s faithful remnant.

Christian, you may feel like you are pretty-much alone in the world today. Believers have almost always felt that way; after all, we are a remnant, not the common, unbelieving people. But we are not alone— not hardly. People are still coming to faith today; they are still being sealed on the forehead by the Lamb’s angel. Yet, largely due to the frenzied preaching and even popular writings of doomsdayers and Rapturists, there are a lot of people who have heard of the mark of the beast, and may even fear that they will receive it. Would that they would be more concerned about having the mark of the Lamb, of being sealed with that salvation that comes only through faith in Jesus.

For “these are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” These are the ones we remember this All Saints Sunday. Indeed, we who believe in the Lamb of God are numbered among them, that blessed 144,000 who are the sealed of God.

We too will be “before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter [us] with his presence. [We] shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike [us], nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be [our] shepherd, and he will guide [us] to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes.”

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

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