Advent 1 2012 – Jeremiah 23:5-8

02. December 2012
Ad Te Levavi
Jeremiah 23:5-8

In the beginning, God created man in his image. He had all the characteristics of God. He was upright, truthful, sincere, honest. He lived in accordance with God’s design. He did not backbite with his tongue, nor did evil to his neighbor, nor would he take up a reproach against his friend. (Psalm 15:3) Man was right with God. And so, God’s righteousness was man’s righteousness.

When sin entered the world, so unrighteousness, and consequently death. Every child born of woman breathes this poisoned air and drinks from the polluted well of this world. Children, yes even they, act according to their selfish, envious, and prideful heart. We see moments of greatness and even a pale kind of rightness—men with greatness and women with virtue. Still, the infection has permeated everyone. The works of the flesh are evident: all manner of evil, rebellion, and finally mortality. Thus we have God’s righteousness presented in stark contrast to our lack of righteousness.

This lack of righteousness is catastrophic. When we stand at the last days in judgment, how will we be judged? “Behold! The days are coming, says the Lord when I will send a righteous branch to execute justice. How will the righteous branch judge you, oh Jerusalem? You recognize that your peril is not in this world but the next. Your fear of judgment is not of what you have done in this world but what you have failed to do for the next.

Faced with this reality you have a few choices. You could make excuses. The woman made me do it. I couldn’t resist. You made me this way (a sinner). You could try to change the standard. Faced with God’s perfect rule, you want to find some way to fudge the math, fix the system, cheat the Powerball, and win. You could despair, to throw up your hands and exclaim, “To hell with me, I’m damned anyway.”

All attempts to reconcile yourself to God’s holy ideal fail. Excuses won’t cut it. Despair is a start but still leads to death. The not-so-little secret of our faith is that the bet is rigged, the system overruled, the math fuzzy. The promise made to Abraham, that lopsided covenant, is in your favor. The Seed was promised to our mother redeems, rescues, and saves mankind. Every faithful parent of old—Seth, Noah, Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob, Judah, David, and Joseph—trusted that God would reconcile us to Himself.

No excuses are needed, only forgiveness received. There is no despair for we wait in hope. The covenant is fulfilled and your end of the deal is to believe: God has reconciled you to himself as a free gift. In this midst of these dark and latter days, Christ comes to keep the Lord’s promise, to save rebellious Judah and give security to Jerusalem. Christ Jesus is the light than banishes all fear! Christ comes to offer comfort, security, rest, and peace. The true salvation of Judah and the true safety for Jerusalem. By this one man’s obedience, even to death on the cross, you are made righteous.

We have been hearing for the last three weeks of Christ’s judgment. As this new church year begins, we take the expected turn towards the Nativity, Christmas. Before we arrive at the manger, this season takes us through prophecy and the Passion. Even today, we heard our Lord ride on in majesty, riding into the old Jerusalem to die. Lost in the pre-Christmas shuffle, the many manger scenes, the cheery seasonal jingles, is the reality that Jesus comes to us to save us. He comes in judgment of sin but this is his foreign work. He comes chiefly to execute righteousness. God promised to Eve a seed who would crush the serpent. Jeremiah tells the promised coming of a branch. The seed promised to Eve will grow from David into a branch, a righteous branch. He comes to pronounce his people righteous.

A dark cloud hangs over the manger scene, the long shadow cast by our Lord’s passion. Righteousness comes by His Christmas incarnation and by His body agony, His innocent suffering and death, His three-day rest in the tomb, His glorious resurrection, and His ascension into heaven. Christmas points to the cross, where the God-made-man dies our death to make us righteous.

In Christ’s suffering, our unrighteous relationship to God is healed and we are recreated, made right before God. In the resurrected flesh of Jesus, peace is made between God and man over our sin. God himself came in flesh to make all flesh right! God was born as man to recreate man… to restore his creation! He comes not so that you may call him righteous but so that you, his new Jerusalem and rescued Judah may be named “the Lord our righteousness!”

Now all baptized believers have our advocate and surrogate in the divine court. When Christ comes to execute his judgement, he will not see our fallen faces but his own reflection. We were named his in baptism and put on Christ as our garment. Before the judgement seat, our appearance has none of the self-righteous, self-made appearance. No, before Christ we are now a reflection of His own image. The character of God is made right with the character of Man.

We need not fear this coming judgement. “Our righteousness” is for the body of believers. This righteousness unites, equalizes, and levels the playing field. In Christ we stand together before God, as one body of believers. We have one faith… expressed in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. In Christ, our innate desire to elevate ourselves above others is put to death. Now we are all brought up by Christ to His standard… the standard of the Law…. the standard of His righteousness. His righteousness is our righteousness.

For the last few weeks under the “end of the church year” our theme has been Christ returning in judgment. Now as we enter advent and the beginning of the church year, our eyes look at judgment through the babe in the manger and through the cross towards the judgment. God’s promise is made manifest, delivered to you just as He said. Through his gracious will, you have eternal rest of Christ. In him, you are safe. In Him, you are secure. In Him, you are named His own. His righteousness is your righteousness. Christ is our Emmanuel. He ransoms captive Israel, saving you from the depths of hell. He gives you victory over the grave. You see God’s gracious action—His promised son sent for you—so that His righteousness is your righteousness.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

The Sunday of Brotherly Love ’12 – Matthew 5:20-26

15. July 2012
The Sunday of Brotherly Love
Exodus 20:1-17; Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 5:20-26

You are tempted to believe that your many violations of God’s holy law are excusable because they were mostly harmless. Sin is not just between you and God. Sin affects your neighbor. There are those that sin and those that are sinned against. There is no excuse to sin, not in mind, by the tongue, or in deed. Sin corrupts you and corrupts your neighbor.

The Fifth Commandment is no exception. No one here is a murderer in deed, at least that I know of. Yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone of us holds some deep-seated anger, resentment, or hatred. Jesus says: I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. From Jesus’ perspective, we’re all murderers.

That doesn’t stop us from trying to get off the hook. We’re pretty good at excusing ourselves with every kind of rationalization. We’ve convinced ourselves that we can hold a grudge without sin. We think that secret hatred won’t affect anyone else. We tell ourselves that we were right and thus there’s no cause for repentance.

Perhaps you only were angry in your mind and thus think it affected no one. Perhaps this anger resulted in only a flippant word, a casual dig against the neighbor, or a bit of unpleasantness that could be glossed over later, smoothed out, or paid off. Surely, you never took the sword and sought to slay your neighbor, to murder him, right?

No, all have sinned, all have murdered. You sin because your flesh is sinner, just as natural in this fallen world as the eating and excreting. It is what your corrupted and wicked flesh does and has no choice but to do. You are captive to this flesh, utterly unable to overcome its every evil desire, intent, and action.

Holy Scripture refers to the life of the sinner as  self-made slavery. Life in this Egypt of our making ain’t bad? Bondage to Pharaoh has its perks. At least we sit by our fleshpots, engorging ourselves on the meat of idolatry, adultery, and greed; at least we are comfortable and secure in ourselves, right?

God’s Holy Word tells another story. He tells us how this life of the flesh, bound to sin and Satan, hurtling towards death, is not good. He tells how our flesh is truly captive to sin, to death, and to the evil one. Slaves do as slaves are told. There is no overcoming this bondage. The chains are too heavy, the shackles too tight. The evil taskmaster is to strong.

Not only that, our perverse flesh enjoys bondage. We actually like living in sin. We’re so twisted that we like hating, degrading, and enraging our neighbor. We like how it makes us feel. We like murdering their flesh by ignoring their physical need. We like how it makes us feel and in a warped way, how it ruins our neighbor.

Some part of us still knows such sin is wrong. Yet, our flesh is especially good at dealing with this problem. We’re all Pharisees at heart. We say to Jesus, “All these commands I have kept from my youth.” I have not murdered. I’ve never taken the sword. I’ve never killed unjustly. So, your internal scribe and Pharisee says to Jesus. Nothing to confess here, move along. Off the hook, no problems. Fifth Commandment, check!

Jesus says: Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribe and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. The scribes and Pharisees are legalists. They have understood God’s holy Law in such a way that they think they have kept it. Their strict legal code is perfectly attainable, even by sinners. In other words, they understand the Law so that they keep it.

Pharisees and scribes like Egypt. They like bondage in sin. They delight in their wickedness. But as it is said: “Scratch a legalist and underneath you’ll find an antinomian.” Scratch the lover of the Law and underneath you’ll find they really hate it. It is true: Pharisees and scribes hate the Law while putting on pretense of keeping it. They can’t stand the truth and so have relaxed the Law so as to keep up appearances. In reality, they love themselves more than God. Their standard is better than God’s standard. They love the life of sin and will not allow the Law to ruin their unholy and profane party.

How is your keeping of the Law of God going? Have you kept it perfectly or relaxed it to think you have?Let’s examine ourselves according to the Fifth Commandment, LSB p. 321.

The Fifth Commandment. You shall not murder. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.

So, how have you done? Surely, you have not murdered. Have you hurt or harmed your neighbor? The Pharisee (legalist) in you is probably saying “no.” Have you helped and supported your neighbor? Have you provided for the sick, the needy, the homeless in our community and world?

“Scratch the legalist and underneath you’ll find an antinomian.” You love the Law only until it convicts you of hating your neighbor. Make no mistake, you have not loved your neighbor as you ought. You love your own flesh and hate him. Worst yet, you are hopeless to overcome this hatred. No amount of me exhorting your flesh to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, or shelter the homeless is going to do a lick of good.

Your flesh will either relax the Law to keep it or hate the Law and ignore it. The truth is we’re all murderers. It begins with anger in the heart, that secret place where we let our hatred stew. Eventually it always comes to a boil and our anger spews forth its sickening signs. We’re skilled to do so while keeping up appearances, with smiling facade, all the while with knife prepped to stab the neighbor in the back. Our tongues lash out and we insult each other. While we may never take up the sword, it is true that such deep-seating anger and hatred, when allowed to fester, grows and can bring about ruin of life even amongst Christians.

There’s no hope for you within you. You need is a Divine smack-down. That’s what the holy Law does to the sinner, when it is preached and taught. It doesn’t just level the playing field, it obliterates it. There’s no playing the Law gamble. The odds are never in your favor. Pharisees and scribes alike will fail at the righteousness game. All are equally bound to trespasses and doomed to failure. All are in Egypt with no hope and no future apart from corruption, the grave, and eternal fires.

Horrible news, to be true, if that was the final word. Why does God destroy your false righteousness, your legalism, your hated of the Law, your hypocrisy? Why does He put the sinner to death? The Law is given to show you your sin and curb you from doing it. If you want it to be a list of moral precepts for the flesh to keep, you’re no better than the Pharisee or Scribe. The Law is the bright mirror that brings the inbred sin to light. By its threats, we fear judgment. This is good and God’s Holy Will. Why? Because it prepares us for the Gospel.

Knowing that we are murderers to the core is good and even loving. This knowledge is rightly given to us by our God to rebuke us and discipline us. This knowledge condemns the sinner to judgment, council, and the hell of fire. In other words, because we’re all murderers, we’re all dead according to the flesh. We’re dead in our trespasses. Dead people don’t keep the Law, not one jot or tittle.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? … We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For the one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:3ff)

Baptism is the daily drowning of the sinner in waters made holy by the Word. Baptism is the death of the sinner and the new life of the Christian. While the Holy Law crucifies the sinner, placing its just penalty for sin upon Jesus Christ. Our sin was granted to our Savior when we were baptized into Him. So also, our dead body, enslaved to sin and devil, was buried with Christ. Why? In order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life. 

The slavery is over. The self-justification is brought to end. All hatred, anger, and murder is crucified, died, and buried with Christ by your baptism. Baptism lifts the condemnation for our Fifth Commandment breaking and places it upon the perfect one, from whom no murderous thought, word, or deed was ever conceived. For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Through daily contrition and repentance, the baptized saint of God has all anger, malice, and murder drowned to death. By the forgiveness of sins that is in Christ Jesus, baptized believers rise to new life again, a life dead to sin and alive to God. This is not your own doing. It is a gift of God, received in faith, and lived out in the life of the church.

This is why you ought to examine yourselves according to the Ten Commandments before the Divine Service. You will come to know by the Law schoolmaster the bondage of your flesh and your need for forgiveness. Then, as we prepare for worship through Confession and Absolution, the old flesh is crucified and by the Holy Absolution in the stead and by the command of Christ, the new man rises forth with love of God and love for neighbor.

If you there remember that your brother has something against you, that is, you have sinned against them, first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift, that is, offer your sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving in the liturgy of the Word and Holy Sacrament. So also, if you have been sinned against, forgive the fellow brother in Christ, both in your heart and also with your tongue and in deed. Even if he will not hear or admit his fault, your forgiveness will be like burning coals upon his head.

We don’t need to relax the Commandments to think we have kept them. Nor should the new man in the Christian hate the Law of God because it is so severe. We now love the Law because it crucifies in us all evil passions and prepares us to receive the blessed Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. This is the love of God, to discipline and heal.

Love includes correction, sometimes in righteous anger such as with parents or government, and always with forgiveness. We forgive because He first forgave us at the cross, crucifying our flesh’s desires, and granted new life in Him. We love because Christ first loved us and gave His life as a ransom for many. We live because He lives. Create in us clean hearts, O God, hearts that forgive as we have been forgiven.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

The Baptism of Our Lord 2012 – Matthew 3:13-17

When Jesus came to John to be baptized, John tried to prevent him. Jesus gives John a short answer “let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” What does Jesus mean? How is this unique Baptism a unique event in the whole of history? The old types and figures are assumed into Jesus. From Jesus new and saving waters spring forth. Water once destroyed, now saves. Listen: Divine Service 2012-01-13