Rev. Rolf Preus| Catechism
Midweek Lenten Sermons for 2009
The First Chief Part of Christian Doctrine: The Ten Commandments
Galatians 3, 10-14 “The Curse of the Law”
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Honor thy father and thy mother, that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.
Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.
I, the Lord, thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me, and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me and keep My Commandments.
No one can reasonably argue with these commandments. Yet only Christ has obeyed them. And he is the one who is cursed. The Law gave the pronouncement: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” Jesus is the only one who continued in all things which are written in the law, to do them. No one else did. Yet Jesus is the one who is cursed. Why? Why should the only one who has earned the blessing of the law be cursed instead of blessed?
It was for us. “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’)”
During these six midweek Lenten services we will be considering each of the six chief parts of Christian doctrine in light of Jesus’ suffering. The Ten Commandments are the first of the six chief parts of Christian doctrine. The order in which they appear in the Catechism is not arbitrary. We begin with the Ten Commandments because we cannot know God except as God is gracious to us and we cannot know God’s grace if we don’t know our own sin and we can’t know our own sin until we know the Ten Commandments.
On one can reasonably argue with these commandments. To worship a false god is to deprive the one and only true God of the honor he alone deserves. To misuse God’s name is to take liberties that are disrespectful, to say the least. And should we not all set aside time every week – indeed, every day – to find rest in the words that God speaks to us? Who can defend disrespect toward parents? Surely, we should do nothing to hurt our neighbor physically. The marriage bond is sacred and ought to be honored by everyone. Our neighbor’s property is not ours to do with as we please. Neither is his good name. We should be content with what we have and not seek to gain more at the expense of others. These commandments require no more than what any decent person would agree should be required.
That is why when these commandments condemn us we feel the pain so acutely. It would be a different matter if they were harsh and unreasonable expectations from a cruel and implacable deity. But they are not. They are sensible. They are good. If everyone obeyed them how much better a place this world would be! The Ten Commandments make sense. We agree with them. Most people do. And they pronounce God’s curse upon us all.
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law. To redeem means to set free. But payment must be made. The payment to set us free from the curse of the law was bearing that curse for us. That’s what Jesus did. He was cursed for us. He became a curse for us.
The law spoke divine threats against us. It threatened to curse us for our disobedience. We could not turn aside that curse unless we did everything the law required. We failed.
Our failure was not simply on the matter of certain ceremonial details where we omitted this or forgot that. No, our failure to obey the law was with respect to the very essence of the law. We failed to love. That’s really all the law every required of anyone. That’s what we did not do.
But we don’t like to know this. Idolatry becomes multiculturalism and who is to say who know the best way to pray? God is Allah or Allah is God because, after all, isn’t Allah just another name for God? Christ, Muhammad, Buddha, or perhaps some other religious figure are exchanged one for the other, depending on your religious preference, and idolatry is defined away.
Saying that God said it when he didn’t is not regarded as a sin against the Second Commandment but rather as a legitimate expression of one’s religious opinion and who is to say whose opinion is valid and whose is not?
And the Sabbath! We go to church if and when and where it won’t interfere with work or play or getting a good night sleep.
And don’t you dare make me feel guilty! Don’t you dare judge me! I will believe as I choose and worship as I choose if and when I choose and this is between God and me. So don’t tell me what I must and must not do!
So cries out the guilty conscience that can find no rest or peace. For the conscience will prefer to avoid the pain rather than face it. But it must be faced. Running away from the law is a futile gesture. The curse doesn’t go away just because you cry out your defiance against it. Oh no. It will not only lay its burden on your conscience it will claim your very life and will bind you hand and foot and throw you into prison until you pay a debt you cannot pay.
Repent! God is a jealous God and has every right to be. He visits sin upon sin. When he says that those who do not continue to do everything written in the book of the law are under the curse of that law he is not talking just to hear himself talk. We cannot run away from this curse. We cannot silence it by offering our disobedience and pretending it is obedience. We need to be delivered and we need to be delivered from ourselves.
That’s what the Ten Commandments teach us. That’s what they show us. And if we’ve memorized the Ten Commandments and their explanation in the Catechism and have not learned to see ourselves as sinners who need to repent of our sin then we haven’t learn the lesson. The way to God is not by means of obeying the law. To try to find God in your obedience to the law is to embrace the law’s curse and to bear that curse.
So we repent of our sins. We confess them. God points us to him who became a curse for us. He who was hanged upon a tree and became the curse in our place has removed that curse from us. He sends us his Spirit. He leads us to faith. He quenches our thirst for righteousness by giving us his own.
Repentance is a wonderful gift. It sets us free. When we are no longer trying to justify ourselves but trusting instead in him who redeemed us from the curse of the law we find true rest and peace. The Holy Spirit persuades our hearts that the curse of the law is as far removed from us as the East is from the West. When Jesus bore our curse for us he took away the law’s power to condemn us. The law cannot condemn those who are forgiven by the blood of Jesus and who are justified by faith alone.
The law does not rule over us. Instead, it serves us by telling us how we may please the God who has delivered us from its curse. The law teaches us how to express the love that we have for the one who has redeemed us. We don’t need the law to make us righteous. Jesus has taken care of that without any help from us. We need the law to tell us how we who are righteous through faith should live out our lives of faith.
True, the law will always accuse us and we will never find any comfort in it. But we will not be without comfort. For we have him who became a curse for us and set us free. No one can take him away from us. Amen
The Second Chief Part of Christian Doctrine: The Apostles Creed
Matthew 26, 31-35 “Confessing and Denying”
Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.” Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And so said all the disciples.
I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell, the third day he rose again from the dead, He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Jesus said, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me.” In the old King James Version Jesus says, “All ye shall be offended because of me.” In the New International Version and the New American Standard Bible Jesus says, “You will all fall away on account of me.” The Greek word that is translated as stumble, offend, and fall away is where we get the English word scandal. You will all be scandalized because of me.
They confessed their Christian faith with confidence. Then they denied it when they were faced with the prospect of paying a price for their confession. Bold confession is followed by shameful denial. And it was not only Peter. Jesus said, “All of you will be made to stumble (will be offended, will fall, will be scandalized) because of me.” All of them denied that they would be. All of them were.
We confess the faith in church. When we were baptized we confessed the Apostles’ Creed. If we were baptized as babies we didn’t confess with our own mouths. Our sponsors confessed for us. But then we learned to make that confession and we made it. We learned it in church and at home. We learned who God is and what he does. He is our eternal Father. He created us. He is the only begotten Son of the Father. He has redeemed us. He is the Holy Spirit who proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son. He sanctifies us. We learn that the Holy Trinity is the one and only God and all other gods are idols. We learn to confess this true God as our God.
We confess here at church. Confessing here at church is confessing to the world. We confess together as the church. This church is devoted to the teaching of God’s written word, the Holy Scriptures, in their truth and purity. We confess Luther’s Small Catechism as divine truth because it is taken from the clear Scriptures. We subscribe unconditionally to the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church because they faithfully set forth the teaching of God’s written word.
We confess that God made us in his own image just as the Bible says he did. We confess that he provides for all our needs and cares for us as a Father because he is our true Father.
We confess that we fell into sin when our first parents disobeyed God’s command. We confess that Jesus came into this world to save sinners. We confess that he lived a holy life and died a holy death and that he did so as our substitute. He fulfilled the law for us and redeemed us from its power to accuse us. He died for us and rose from the dead and intercedes for us as our high priest. He will return to judge the living and the dead.
We confess that the Holy Spirit brings us to life again by kindling in us true faith that receives forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and eternal life. We cannot make ourselves into Christians. We confess that the Holy Spirit calls us by the gospel, enlightens us with his gifts, and sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith.
We confess that we are born again through Holy Baptism. We confess that we are absolved by God himself when his minister absolves us by his authority. We confess that the sacramental bread and wine are the body and the blood of Jesus, given and shed for us, for the forgiveness of our sins and for the strengthening of our faith.
We confess together here at church. But we don’t live here at church. We live out there. Confessing at church is easy. We are surrounded by others who confess the same thing. It is confessing out there in the world that is more difficult.
When Jesus was with them the disciples made bold confessions. Then he was taken away. He was betrayed, arrested, and brought before the Roman authorities who had him whipped and beaten. The Shepherd was struck. And the sheep scattered. It was just as Jesus said it would be.
Have you ever failed to confess? You were given an opportunity to confess the true Christian faith and you kept your mouth shut? You had all sorts of good reasons but none of them was a real excuse. You could have confessed the faith. You should have confessed the faith. But you didn’t confess the faith.
Do you think this is anything new? You’re not alone in your failure. Consider the apostles. They were put to death for their bold confession of Christ. They have been set before God’s people as heroes of the faith for nearly two thousand years. How did they begin? What were they doing when Jesus was being taken away to be crucified? They were denying their Lord and Savior – that’s what they were doing.
Do you think that your past failures to make a clear Christian confession mark you as a certain kind of Christian who just doesn’t have what it takes to stand up and be counted when it comes to the truth of God’s word? Where did the first Christians get the courage to confess the true Christian faith clearly, boldly, and without compromise at every opportunity?
Jesus said: “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.” When he met them, after his resurrection, he patiently explained to them why he had to die. He said:
Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24, 46-47)
He promised to send them the Holy Spirit. And he did. The same Spirit of truth comes to us and gives us the same confidence he gave to the first Christians.
It was while the disciples were all shamefully denying Christ that Christ was gaining for them full forgiveness for their shameful denial. From the passion of Christ flows God’s grace. In it God is revealed.
The Father sends the Son to the cross to die for us all. The Son willingly bears the cross to take away the sin of the world. The Holy Spirit directs our faith to look to Christ’s passion. For it is there, as Jesus is lifted up on the cross to suffer and die, that our sins are forgiven, we are at peace with God, true fellowship with God is restored, and we gain the courage to confess the faith into which God baptized us.
We confess our faith. We do so with sincerity and conviction. And then we stumble. We fall. We are offended. We look at the cost of being Christ’s disciple and we are afraid. We said we would faithfully confess. Then we fail, like Peter, fail. Like Peter, we repent, Like Peter, we are restored.
Jesus goes ahead of us. He rises from the dead, ascends into heaven, and there he intercedes for us. His holy prayers are heard. He sends us the Holy Spirit who fills us with confidence. It is the confidence that rises out of the knowledge that our sins are forgiven. We can confess the faith. We don’t need to water it down, amend it to meet with stylish opinions, or confine it within the walls of a church building. We can stand and confess the truth by which we are rescued from sin and guaranteed everlasting life. We will not run away from Christ’s suffering. We will confess it as our true glory.
On my heart imprint thine image
Blessed Jesus, King of grace
That life’s riches, cares, and pleasures
Have no power, thee, to efface.
This the superscription be:
Jesus crucified for me
Is my life, my hope’s foundation
And my glory and salvation! Amen
The Third Part of Christian Doctrine: The Lord’s Prayer
Luke 22, 39-46 “Prayer and Christ’s Passion”
Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. When He came to the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow. Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”
Our Father, who art in heaven
Hallowed be Thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever and ever. Amen
Christians often lament about how people often don’t bother praying to God when things are going well but then presume to pray to him when things are falling apart. Well, that’s better than not praying at all. Sometimes God sets the stage for prayer by undercutting whatever foundation we have built our lives upon. When we face suffering we just might be open to bringing our troubles to God in prayer.
When God became a man he became a man of prayer. We learn from Jesus how to pray. We learn from Jesus what to pray. We all it the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. It is the perfect prayer. It covers every topic. It encompasses every need. It is perfectly balanced. Nothing necessary is omitted. Nothing superfluous is included. If we could learn to pray this prayer and this prayer alone we would be masters of this art.
The art of prayer isn’t taught in any ordinary school. It is taught by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience. But not just any experience. Some experiences drive us away from prayer. Where the Christian really learns how to pray is from the experience of the cross.
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16, 24 He said, “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14, 27 It is from the cross that we learn how to pray.
The Christian’s cross is incomprehensible apart from Christ’s cross. Suffering is pointless, cruel, and of no benefit at all apart from the suffering of Christ. Only if Jesus has suffered for us can our own suffering be good. For Jesus suffered for our sins. Jesus suffered for our redemption. Jesus suffered to set us free from the burden of guilt that we bear. He suffered and he died on the cross.
Jesus’ cross is where human suffering finds true meaning. He is the God become man who suffered for the sin of the world. His suffering sanctifies our suffering because his suffering takes away our sin and guilt. If we suffer as guilty sinners we suffer what we deserve to suffer. Then suffering is nothing but punishment, pure and simple. And if God is punishing us, how can we cry out to him as to a loving Father who wants nothing but good for us? If we think that our suffering signifies God’s displeasure with us we will run away from God when we suffer.
No, the cross we must bear can be borne only through faith in the suffering that Jesus bore on his cross. His passion makes our prayer possible.
And his passion sets the focus for our prayer as well. We ask God to hallow his name. Where is God’s name most hallowed but where Christ bore in his holy body the sin of the human race, confronting all guilt with his impeccable innocence and drowning all sin by his blood?
We pray our heavenly Father that his kingdom would come to us. It is as Jesus is crucified for us that he gains his kingdom. Pilate fastened to the cross on which Jesus died the title, “King of the Jews.” That was the official designation. Pilate perhaps meant to mock him but he spoke on behalf of God himself. Jesus gained his kingdom by suffering and dying for it. It is a kingdom of grace. It is a kingdom in which we are ruled by the forgiveness of sins and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. This was gained on Christ’s cross. We pray that the kingdom won by Christ’s passion would come to us where we live.
We pray “Thy will be done” just as Jesus prayed “Thy will be done.” We see that God’s will was done by requiring Jesus to drink of that cup of human sin and suffering. Don’t pray, “Thy will be done,” and then complain that God’s will is unfair or unkind. But then if you won’t pray, “Thy will be done,” you cannot pray at all. This is because all prayer is grounded in where God’s good and gracious will was accomplished for the human race: On Calvary. Where Jesus suffered and died, there it is that God’s will toward us, what God wants for us, was fully revealed. How can we question that God wants only the best for us when he was willing to require his beloved Son to drink to the bitter dregs the weight of the whole world’s sin?
Jesus cried out in thirst. In his suffering he was deprived of the most basic bodily needs. Looking to his passion we pray for our daily bread. We pray for what was denied him. He was suffering on account of governmental corruption. In praying for our daily bread we pray for good government. We pray for pious friends. His friends abandoned him. We pray for the needs of our body as we ponder him giving his holy body into death for us. He considered every bodily need he had to be a willing loss so that we, through him, might be set free from every want of body and soul.
“Forgive us our sins.” So Jesus teaches us to pray. He teaches us to pray from the cross. There it is that he bears all sin. There it is that all sin is forgiven. No sin has ever been forgiven except by virtue of the blood Jesus shed on the cross. Forgiveness and blood go together. Forgiveness and suffering go together. Forgiveness and substitution go together. Forgiveness and death go together. It is Christ’s blood, Christ’s suffering, Christ’s substitution for us, and Christ’s death. And the forgiveness is for us. We give what we receive. When we receive it – in the very receiving of it – we promise to give it. God forgives us because of Christ’s passion and this is why we forgive those who sin against us.
“Lead us not into temptation.” So Jesus taught us to pray. “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” So Jesus encouraged his disciples. But they were overtaken by physical weariness. As Jesus sweat drops of blood, struggling against the sorrow enveloping him as he faced the duty to do what he was born to do those for whom he was doing it left him alone as they found solace in sleep.
But there will always be time for sleep. Later. Now we must pray. We must stand against temptation. It is temptation to sin. We do it. It claims us. It insinuates itself against our faith. It attacks. It is temptation to deny God’s word, to twist it, to ignore it, to run away from it. Pray that God deliver you and know that you are praying with him who endured the greatest human struggle in the history of the human race.
But deliver us from evil and from the evil one, from the author of all lies and false teaching, from the one who led our first parents into sin but whose head was crushed by the weight of the cross where all sins were borne.
Christ’s suffering is the bruising of his heel. Christ’s suffering is the crushing of Satan’s head. So God said it would be. And so it was. And this is why we pray from the perspective of the crucifixion. There all prayers are answered.
There the “Amen” to all Christian prayer receives its exclamation point. In Luther’s Explanation to the Catechism we ask the question: “What is meant by the word ‘Amen’?” We learn to give this answer:
That I should be certain that these petitions are acceptable to our Father in heaven, and are heard by Him; for He Himself has commanded us so to pray, and has promised to hear us. Amen, amen, that is, Yea, yea, it shall be so.
And there can be no doubt about it. Surely he who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all will answer every prayer his children pray in Jesus’ name. Amen
The Fourth Part of Christian Doctrine: Holy Baptism
John 19, 31-37 “Washed in the Blood of the Lamb”
Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”
What is Baptism? Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s word. Which is that word of God? Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Matthew: Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.
What does Baptism give or profit? It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. Which are such words and promises of God? Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Mark: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
It is fashionable in scholarly and not so scholarly circles to claim that the Gospel of St. John was not written by John the disciple of Jesus. Those who approach the Bible with the assumption that Jesus was not really God and that his disciples didn’t regard him as God have a hard time dealing with St. John’s clear and explicit assertions that Jesus is God. So they assume that John could not have written it.
But they are wrong. The author of St. John’s Gospel is none other than the disciple John who was an eyewitness of Jesus’ miracles, his glory revealed on the Mt. of Transfiguration, his suffering and death, and his resurrection from the dead. John writes of what he heard and saw. As he wrote: “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe.”
It is significant that St. John saw water and blood flowing out of Jesus’ side. It is significant for four reasons. First of all it shows us that Jesus was really and truly dead. In an effort to debunk the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead some have invented the foolish notion that Jesus fainted and was later revived after he was laid in a cool tomb. But this is impossible. Jesus was dead. The flow of water and the blood proves that. John saw it. He saw proof that Jesus was dead.
It is significant secondly because it shows that Jesus was shown no mercy. He suffered the full amount a crucified man would suffer. Frequently, the Roman soldiers would break the legs of the condemned men after they had suffered for a while. After having their legs broken they could not push with their feet and so would quickly die of suffocation and be relieved of their misery. Breaking their legs was an act of mercy. But no pity was shown to Jesus. He died before the soldiers had the chance to break his legs.
It is significant thirdly because the Bible foretold that not one bone of the Savior would be broken. He was to be the sacrificial Lamb and it had to be a perfect lamb and no bone could be broken.
There is also a sacramental significance in the water and blood coming out of Jesus’ side. The water and the blood signify for us that when we are baptized with water we are washed in the blood of the Lamb. Just as both water and blood came from the side of Jesus at his death, just so, when we are baptized we die with Christ and the water that is poured over our heads is joined to the blood that washes away our sins. The washing of Holy Baptism is a washing away of sin just as surely as both blood and water came from Jesus’ side after he died for the sin of the world.
In Luther’s Small Catechism we ask the question:
What does such baptizing with water signify? It signifies that the Old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Where is this written? St. Paul writes, Romans, chapter sixth: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
In Holy Baptism we die, are buried, and rise again. Some people teach that being buried in baptism refers to being buried in water and this means that the only valid mode of baptism is complete immersion in water. If that were so most Christians would remain unbaptized since most Christians were not immersed. But St. Paul goes on to explain what he means by being buried in Holy Baptism and rising again. He writes:
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.
Paul is not just talking about a symbolical washing. When we are baptized we are united to Christ’s death. It is as if we are transported in time and space to Calvary’s cross and we die with Jesus, are buried with Jesus, and are raised to life again with Jesus and so we have a new life to live.
Holy Baptism is not just a symbolical washing. It is a powerful act of God whereby we are joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus. It provides us with all of the benefits of Jesus’ vicarious death. Just as surely as Jesus died for us Holy Baptism unites us with that sacrificial death and seals to us what that death provides: forgiveness of sins, deliverance of death and the devil, and eternal salvation. Baptism gives these treasures to all who believe this for Jesus himself said, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.”
All we see is water. This is true. And we hear the words of the minister. We might ask the question, “How can water do such great things?” In fact, we do ask this question and here is the answer that we confess in Luther’s Small Catechism:
It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter third: [According to His mercy He saved us] By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.
God became a baby. There was no halo on his head and you couldn’t see the miracle. There was the stable, the manger, and a very humble birth. When he went to the cross you could not see any power there. You could not see victory there. You could see only humility and pain. But there it was that God accomplished our salvation. There it was that our sins were forgiven, the devil was defeated, eternal life was gained, and our eternal salvation was won.
Holy Baptism doesn’t look like much, either. It’s just a little water joined to God’s word. But it is in fact being washed in the blood of the Lamb. It is a heavenly washing that obtains its power to save from what Jesus did for us here on earth. The Holy Spirit descends upon us in Holy Baptism. He fills us. He makes his home in us. There is no baptism except baptism in water. And there is no baptism except baptism in the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit has chosen to come to us in this water.
So we return to our baptism every day of our lives. We claim the promises God gave us when he adopted us. We claim the name of the only true God. We are his and he is ours. And should any doubts arise within our hearts as to our true identity and destiny we will confess our baptism against those doubts. We are baptized. We are washing in the blood of the Lamb – the perfect Lamb, the sacrificial Lamb. We are children of God. We are united to Christ’s death and we have risen with him to new, innocent, and everlasting life. We are heaven bound. Amen
The Fifth Chief Part of Christian Doctrine: Keys and Confession
Luke 23, 33-34 “Father, Forgive Them”
And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
What is the Office of the Keys? It is the peculiar church power which Christ has given to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of penitent sinners, but to retain the sins of the impenitent as long as they do not repent. Where is this written? Thus writes the holy Evangelist John, chapter twentieth: “The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.” What do you believe according to these words? I believe that, when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, especially when they exclude manifest and impenitent sinners from the Christian congregation, and, again, when they absolve those who repent of their sins and are willing to amend, this is as valid and certain, in heaven also, as if Christ, our dear Lord, dealt with us Himself.
What is Confession? Confession embraces two parts. One is that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution, or forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, and in no wise doubt, but firmly believe, that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven. What sins should we confess? Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even of those which we do not know, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer; but before the pastor we should confess those sins only which we know and feel in our hearts.
During these midweek Lenten services we have been examining each of the six chief parts of Christian doctrine in light of the suffering and death of Jesus. The Ten Commandments show us our sin and why Jesus had to suffer for us that we might be forgiven. The Creed confesses the Holy Trinity who is most perfectly revealed in the suffering of Jesus for us. The Lord’s Prayer receives its power from Christ’s suffering where he gained for us the right to pray. Holy Baptism unites us with Christ’s death even as the water of baptism washes us with the blood of Jesus. What about the office of the keys and confession? What does this have to do with the passion of Christ?
Simply put, Jesus has purchased the authority to forgive sins by his innocent suffering and death.
The authority of the keys is the authority to forgive the sins of those who are sorry for their sins and the authority to retain the sins of those who are not sorry. Jesus gave this authority to his church on earth. The forgiveness of sins is the key that unlocks the door to heaven. If you are forgiven of your sins then heaven is open to you. The retaining of sins is the key that locks the door to heaven. If your sins are not forgiven then heaven is closed to you. Everything depends on you having the forgiveness of all your sins.
We confess our sins to God. Who else should hear our confession but the One against whom we have sinned? All sin is against God. Therefore, all confession of sin should be made to God.
God forgives penitent sinners freely for Christ’s sake. How can Jesus pray, “Father, forgive them” and his Father refuse to do so? This is impossible. The Father cannot deny the Son his prayer. Jesus prays as the high priest. He is the intercessor. He who bears all sins prays for all sinners. He prays for their forgiveness. His Father hears his prayer.
God forgives sinners for Jesus’ sake. Jesus died for the sin of the world. Therefore God forgives all sinners for Jesus’ sake.
But where is this forgiveness to be found? We cannot fly back to Calvary. The cross on which Jesus died is long gone. Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. We cannot go back in time. We live here in our own time. We live burdened by sins of thought, word, and deed. Where does God give me the forgiveness of my sins so that my faith will have something concrete upon which to rely?
It was on the cross that he prayed, “Father, forgive them.” It was on the day he rose from the dead that he said to his disciples: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20, 22-23) The Father answered his prayer for forgiveness. He raised him from the dead. That was the public absolution of all sinners. But this absolution must be given to specific sinners and specific sinners must receive it through faith. Jesus established the office of the keys for that very purpose. The same forgiveness for which Jesus died and for which he prayed while he was dying Jesus bestows through his Holy Christian Church on earth.
Christ and his church go together. The keys and confession are a church power. Only the church has this power. The state does not have this power. It is a church power to forgive sins and to retain sins by the authority of Jesus Christ himself.
When Jesus gave this authority to the church he also established an office to exercise it. We call this the pastoral office or the office of the ministry. Ministry means service. God serves us through his ministry of teaching us the gospel and giving out his sacraments. This is Christ’s ministry among us. God sends men to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments in Jesus’ name. Since the office of the keys belongs to the church the call of the church is the call of God.
The pastor is to preach Christ crucified for sinners. He is to preach the law in all of its severity. Those who are holding on to their sins in impenitence need to be told that their sins are bound. God forgives penitent sinners. He does not forgive the impenitent. The office of the keys requires the preaching of the Ten Commandments. Without the law we cannot learn to know ourselves as sinners. Sin is transgression of God’s law. He says to do it and we do not do it. That’s sin. He says not to do it and we do it. That’s sin. Even the desire to sin is sin and the preacher must preach this.
He must also preach the gospel in all of its comfort. The gospel tells us that God forgives us our sins for the sake of the vicarious suffering and death of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior. The gospel isn’t just information telling us about Jesus. The gospel is God imparting to us the forgiveness of our sins. The gospel does not tell us what to do to be forgiven. It forgives us.
When the penitent confesses his sins to the pastor and seeks absolution from him he is in fact confessing his sins to God and seeking absolution from God. God forgives us for the sake of Christ’s suffering. God forgives us through the speaking of his ministers. To reject the voice of Christ’s minister is to reject the voice of Christ. Jesus said to those he sent: “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” (Luke 10, 16)
“Oh, I don’t need to confess my sins to a preacher.” No, you don’t. But you do need to confess your sins to God. And you need to hear God’s word. You need to hear the gospel. This is why Jesus established the office of preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments and why he calls men into this office. It is for the benefit of his sheep. They need to be fed. The forgiveness for which Christ prayed while he was suffering must be given out to those in need of it. This is the purpose of the holy ministry of the word.
In the Divine Service on Sunday we confess our sins together and the pastor absolves us all. Christians may confess privately and receive absolution privately. Whether publicly and corporately or privately and individually it is the same absolution from the same Christ purchased by the same blood and obtained by the same intercessory prayer: “Father, forgive them.”
A Christian has the right as a Christian to go to his pastor privately, confess his sins, and to receive absolution from the pastor as from Christ himself. If there is any specific sin that bothers your conscience confessing it privately and hearing Christ’s words of forgiveness of that particular sin can bring a good deal of comfort. The pastor is obliged by his ordination vow never to reveal to anyone anything that anyone confesses to him. The confession is made to the God who dismisses our sins, removing them from us as far as the east is from the west. Sins that are forgiven are not revealed. They are covered by the blood of Jesus.
The impenitent need to be confronted with God’s law. They must be shown their need for forgiveness. The penitent must be consoled with the gospel. God wants to give them forgiveness through the words his servants speak. The cross reveals God’s anger against sin. See how Jesus suffered! It also reveals the forgiveness of sin. See Jesus take sin away! So we look to Christ’s suffering and death to understand the keys and confession. Amen
The Sixth Chief Part of Christian Doctrine: The Sacrament of the Altar
1 Corinthians 11, 26 “Proclaiming the Lord’s Death”
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”
What is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself. Where is this written? The holy Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul [the Apostle] write thus: Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread; and when He had given thanks, He brake it and gave it to His disciples, saying, Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me. After the same manner also He took the cup when He had supped, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins. This do, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.
What is the benefit of such eating and drinking? That is shown us by these words, “Given and shed for you for the remission of sins”; namely, that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things? It is not the eating and drinking indeed that does them, but the words here written, “Given and shed for you for the remission of sins”; which words, besides the bodily eating and drinking, are the chief thing in the Sacrament; and he that believes these words has what they say and express, namely, the forgiveness of sins.
Who, then, receives such Sacrament worthily? Fasting and bodily preparation are indeed a fine outward training; but he is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, “Given and shed for you for the remission of sins.” But he that does not believe these words, or doubts, is unworthy and unprepared; for the words “for you” require all hearts to believe.
This is the sixth is a series of six sermons on the Catechism. During these midweek Lenten services this year we have examined the six chief parts of Christian doctrine in light of the passion and death of Jesus. It’s easy to see the relationship between the Lord’s Supper and Christ’s death. The Lord’s Supper is the body that he gave up for us and the blood that he shed for us on the cross. The connection between the Lord’s Supper and Christ’s death is crystal clear. St. Paul says that whenever we eat and drink the sacramental bread and wine we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Whenever we talk about the Lord’s Supper we are talking about two related and inseparable things: what it is and what is its benefit. The Lord’s Supper is the body and the blood of Jesus, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. That’s what it is. What it is determines its benefit. The benefit of the Lord’s Supper is the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. What the Lord’s Supper is and the benefits of the Lord’s Supper stand together. If the Lord’s Supper is really Christ’s body and blood then it gives us what Christ’s body and blood give us. But if the Lord’s Supper is just bread and wine, it gives us no more than what bread and wine give.
When considering Holy Baptism, the Keys and Confession, and the Lord’s Supper we ask who is doing what? What is God doing? What are we doing? What does the Bible say?
If we listen to the inspired words of the Holy Scriptures we see that the Lord’s Supper is not something that we offer up to God. It is something that God offers to us. It is not a sacrifice that we offer to God to take away sin. Jesus took away all sin on the cross. The Lord’s Supper is the body and the blood that Jesus gave up once and for all for us on the cross. Jesus gave his body and blood for us on the cross. He gives his body and blood to us in the Sacrament. He purchased forgiveness for us on the cross when he offered his body and blood up to God as the sacrifice for sin. He gives this forgiveness to us when he gives us his body and blood to eat and to drink in the Lord’s Supper.
God is the one who is doing what needs to be done. Some imagine that the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper are merely bread and wine and the communion that takes place is between the believer and the absent Jesus as the communicant ascends to heaven by faith to commune with Jesus there. This rather bizarre teaching was promoted by a brilliant theologian by the name of John Calvin and is held by millions of people to this day. Calvin couldn’t figure out how the sacramental bread and wine could really be Christ’s true body and blood so he rejected what he couldn’t understand.
But we don’t understand in order to believe. We believe in order to understand. Any child can understand that the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper are the body and the blood of Jesus. What nobody, no matter how brilliant, can understand is how this is so.
Thomas Aquinas was another brilliant theologian who lived a few hundred years before Calvin. He came up with an interesting theory about how the bread and the wine could be Christ’s body and blood. He knew that the Lord’s Supper was Christ’s body and blood but he couldn’t figure out how bread could be bread and Christ’s body at the same time. So he said that the bread and the wine were not really bread and wine anymore. They only appeared to be. The substance of bread and wine were no more. This theory has a fancy name called transubstantiation.
But we don’t need human theories to explain a divine mystery. We just take Jesus at his word. We know we are eating and drinking bread and wine because the Bible says so. St. Paul writes, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes.” So we are eating bread and drinking wine. But we also know that the bread is Christ’s body and the wine is Christ’s blood. How can this be so? We don’t know. Is this so? Of course, it is so. Jesus says so. What he says is always so.
And so we eat and we drink. We believe Jesus’ words. We receive what Jesus says. Now even if we ate and drank in unbelief, rejecting both Jesus and his body and blood and denying that the sacrament was anything more than mere bread and wine, we would still be eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood. It is what it is and this not because of our faith but because of God’s word. God’s word doesn’t depend on our faith to be true. Our faith depends on God’s word.
But if we were to eat and to drink without faith we would be eating and drinking to our own judgment. Yes, we would receive Christ’s body and blood but it would not be for our forgiveness – just the opposite – it would be to our judgment. St. Paul writes, “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” The Lord’s Supper is not to be taken by those who do not believe that the bread and the wine are really and truly the body and the blood of Jesus. It is not to be taken by those who do not want to repent of their sins but want to continue in them. It is to be taken by those who hunger and thirst after righteousness and know that they need the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation that Christ’s body and blood provide.
And whenever they eat and drink they proclaim the Lord’s death until he returns again in glory. We cannot climb up to heaven by our sturdy faith. Heaven comes down to us and we eat and we drink. And we preach. Yes, we proclaim the sermon of the angels!
The Communion rail is the people’s pulpit. Whenever you kneel, eat, and drink, you preach a sermon. You preach Christ’s death. You preach Christ crucified for sinners. You preach the forgiveness of sins. You preach to God your “Amen” to his promises to you. You preach to your brothers and sisters in Christ who eat and drink with you. You preach to yourself. This is given and shed for me. Yes, for me, no matter how unworthy. It was for me that God became flesh. It was for me that he died. It was for me that he gave his body and shed his blood. It is to forgive me my sins. And so it is to me that Jesus says, “Take eat, this is my body, take drink, this is the New Testament in my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
What can we say to that? How can we improve upon it? What greater gift could God give to us in our need? God does the giving. We receive. In receiving we preach. We proclaim his death. It is a sermon. We preach together. Here where the wine is the communion of the blood of Christ and the bread is the communion of the body of Christ we commune with Christ. We are one with him. We are one with one another. We are one body. All sin is forgiven. We preach together. We commune only at altars of churches whose teaching we know to be true. In this way we preach together a beautiful sermon in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Preached during Lenten midweek services by Pr. Rolf Preus, Lent, 2009