May 15, 2016
“The Treasure of the Church”
St. John 14:23-27
"If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me. These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. St. John 14:23-27
We celebrate Pentecost as the birthday of the church. In fact, the church has been here since the beginning of the world. Adam and Eve fell into sin and God promised them a Savior. They trusted in the Savior to come. Through that faith they became members of the church. The church is the assembly of the saints. It has existed since the gospel was first proclaimed. Pentecost is when we celebrate the birth of the New Testament church. It was on that first Christian Pentecost that Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on his disciples as he promised he would do.
St. Luke records the wonderful events of that day. There was a sound like a rushing wind, tongues of fire settled above the heads of the apostles, and they spoke God’s word in languages they had never learned. Through miraculous displays of power God revealed that the Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life. The Father sends him. The Son sends him. He fills his church and reveals to her the truth about Christ. In Luther’s great creedal hymn we sing about the Holy Spirit, saying:
The church is the ark of salvation. In the days of Noah, only those in the ark were saved from destruction. When Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, only those in the church will be saved from destruction.
The church is our mother. She bears children through the power of God’s word that is entrusted to her care. Just as Jesus entrusted his mother, Mary, to the care of the apostle John, even so, Jesus entrusts our mother, the church, to the care of the apostolic word.
Today, on the basis of the Gospel Lesson for Pentecost, we will answer three questions about Christ’s church.
First: how do we identify members of the church?
Second: how do we identify the church?
Third: what is the treasure of the church?
How do we identify members of the church? Let Jesus answer this question for us. He says:
The church is the assembly of saints. We become saints, that is, holy people, through faith in the gospel that tells us that for Christ’s sake our sins are forgiven. We are holy through faith alone. Only God can see faith in another.
We cannot see faith, but we can recognize the true confession of faith. To keep God’s word is to believe it, hold onto it, and cherish it as our greatest good. That’s how we identify Christians. It’s not by their popularity, not by their wealth, not by their religious status, political power, or any other popular measurement. We identify Christians by their confession of God’s word. This is how we express our love for Jesus and God the Father. It is by what we confess.
We cannot see faith. We can see its denial. Jesus says, “He who does not love Me does not keep My words.” To deny Christ’s words is to deny Christ. To adopt the false standards, false pieties, and false teachings of the world is to deny Christ. True faith holds to the word of God. Faith isn’t a free floating sentiment that latches onto whatever religious philosophy is in style. Faith keeps Christ’s words. It holds onto what Christ says. This is how faith and love become bound together so that, while we distinguish between them, we cannot separate them from each other. God’s love is revealed in his word. To hold onto his love we must hold onto his word. If you love God you hold onto his words. If you don’t you don’t. God the Father and the Son are one. Their words are one. To love one is to love the other.
How do we identify members of the church? Charles Porterfield Krauth, one of the greatest American Lutheran theologians of the nineteenth century, put it succinctly:
To keep God’s word marks us as Christians. It identifies us as members of the church.
Second: how do we identify the church? We cannot see into anyone’s heart. Only God can. Faith makes us members of the church. Only God can see faith. But we can identify the church. How? We identify the church by what the Holy Spirit uses to make her what she is. What is that? Jesus says:
We identify the church – we locate her and recognize her –by what she teaches. Where Jesus’ teaching is taught is where the church is. If the gospel is purely preached, there is the church. If the sacraments are rightly administered, there is the church. The Holy Spirit doesn’t call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the holy Christian church by means of false teachings, human opinions, legal impositions, or emotional manipulation. He teaches what Christ says. We find the church by finding Christ’s teaching.
Jesus is talking to his apostles here. He says to his apostles that the Holy Spirit will teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all things that he said to them. That’s what happened. Beginning on Pentecost and throughout their ministry on earth, the Holy Spirit reminded the apostles of what Jesus had taught them. He taught them all things the church would ever need to know. They wrote it all down in the New Testament. This is why the written word of God, the prophetic word of the Old Testament Scriptures and the apostolic word of the New Testament Scriptures, is the only standard by which all teachers and teachings in the church are to be judged. We identify the true church by the true teaching of God’s word.
The word of God is taught rightly in Luther’s Small and Large catechisms. It is taught rightly in the Augsburg Confession and the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. It is taught rightly in the Smalcald Articles, including the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. It is taught rightly in the Formula of Concord. These confessions of our church faithfully teach what the Holy Spirit taught to the apostles. This is why we bind our pastors to teach in accordance with these written confessions. In this way we bind them to teach the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. The true church is identified by the true teaching and that teaching does not change with the times.
Third: what is the treasure of the church? Jesus says:
The Holy Spirit guides his church into the truth. He teaches the truth. He reminds the apostles of the truth Jesus taught so that we in our day would know this truth.
Not all truth is of equal value. There are many things that are perfectly true but irrelevant to our lives. Everything the Bible teaches is true is important, but somethings it says are frightening. The truth that Christ teaches us, that he sends the Spirit to teach, that the Holy Spirit, the Comforter impresses on our minds, is about the peace that Jesus gives us.
The peace that Jesus gives is different than the peace that the world gives in three respects. First of all, the peace of the world is only temporary, whereas the peace Christ gives lasts forever. Second, the peace of the world is an imperfect peace, while the peace Jesus gives removes all conflict, war, fear, and dread completely. Third, the peace of the world depends on the law, whereas the peace Christ gives depends on the gospel.
The peace of the law requires obedience. That’s where we all fall short. Husbands and wives, fathers and sons, brothers and sisters get into quarrels. This person’s will clashes with that person’s will. Conflict produces more conflict. Compromise, change the rules, enforce more rules, lay down the law, and settle it. Right? Sure, until one gets tired of chafing under the forced peace that really is not peace at all.
Christ’s peace is the peace of the gospel. It is the peace of sin forgiven. Christ established peace between the holy God and us sinners by offering up his life, his pure, spotless, perfectly obedient life, to the justice of God on the cross. God’s law could find no fault in Jesus. Jesus received God’s punishment for the sin of the world. As Isaiah writes,
The peace of the cross is permanent. It is perfect. It is peace between the holy God and all of his creation. This is the peace that Jesus leaves with us. This is the peace the Holy Spirit brings to us. This is the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. This is the peace that heals our souls, mends our broken relationships, brings us into fellowship with God, and sweetens every bitter cup we must drink in this life. Those at peace with God can live at peace with one another. When the gospel of peace is proclaimed, believed, and confessed, there it is that Christians live in harmony.
The peace of Pentecost is the greatest treasure Christ has left us. The last word God speaks to us every Sunday here in his house is peace. He makes us wealthy with the treasures of the Church.
Rolf D. Preus