IN NOMINE JESU
As far as the events in Jesus' life are concerned, it is still Tuesday in Holy Week. Jesus had just taught His disciples about the importance of giving and doing so from the heart, as the poor widow did with her two mites. Following this teaching the Lord left the temple. He left the temple for the last time. Yes, the very presence of God had departed from this house of worship. The presence of God had its home in the person of Jesus Christ, who would, in three days, be Himself sacrificed on the altar of the cross. No doubt the Lord had the last things on His mind. One of His disciples marveled at the beauty of immense size of the temple and all its buildings. This was the temple that King Herod began to have built during his reign, though he would not live to see its completion, a temple that Herod had built as a political gesture toward the Jews, whom the Romans conquered. Yes, the temple was a large and an ornate and elegant structure for its day. The disciples had good cause to marvel over its size and beauty.
Have you, in your travels, ever come upon a church building that was so large and beautiful that you wanted to stop and take a look at it and inside it? There is one church building that continues to impress me to this day. It belongs to one of our sister congregations in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It is St. Paul Lutheran Church, one of the first congregations of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The building is a cathedral; it is very long and very tall. The balcony wraps all the way around the nave, coming to an end before reaching the chancel. The altar is neo-Gothic in style, complete with statues, similar to what one might find in many older, rural Lutheran church buildings, only taller. This structure, constructed in the late nineteenth century, is still a thing of beauty today. Another of the beautiful Lutheran cathedral churches in Fort Wayne is Zion Lutheran Church, which, in my estimation comes in a close second in its architectural might and beauty. I am also impressed with many of the older, rural Lutheran church buildings that dot the landscape. Perhaps the exterior has seen its better days, but on the inside is a simple, yet grand beauty that I cannot begin to describe. I have also come to love the ornate-ness of the Norwegian Lutheran stave churches. It pains me to think of any of these structures, these houses of worship, will one day face deterioration or even destruction. Yet this is what Jesus said would happen to the temple in Jerusalem. Less than forty years later, in 70 AD, Jerusalem was again destroyed.
Then, while at the Mount of Olives, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked when this and the end of the world would take place. The Lord does not answer this question directly, but He does indicate what will happen before the Last Day. As you heard the Holy Gospel for today, which is the text for today's sermon, you heard a lot of things that are happening yet today. You see, we have been living in the last days ever since the Lord's ascension into heaven. The Church has known for almost 2000 years that her Bridegroom will come again in all His glory on the Last Day, to judge both the quick and the dead. The writer to the Hebrews encourages us in our Epistle, saying, "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Heb. 10:24-25). How will we know that the Day is surely drawing near, the Day of which we sang in the sermon hymn? The Lord tells us what will happen before the Last Day comes. A lot of these things have happened and continue to happen today. There will be false messiahs, leading many away from the true faith. Do you remember Jim Jones? David Koresh? The Heaven's Gate cult? The leaders of these cults lured many unsuspecting people away from the Church and brainwashed them, that they would follow these evil leaders and children of the devil. There are countless others who have lied and deceived in God's Name, thereby misusing His Name, taking His Name in vain. This has been the case for centuries and still is true today. As the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun. Something else that is not new is hearing of wars and rumors of wars. In the 6000-year history of the world, wars and rumors of wars have been a part of every age. Our nation is embroiled in a war right now—a war against terrorism to keep our nation safe, that we may continue to enjoy the liberty our Lord has given us through our government, for God has ordained government to care for His people and for people of every land. This is what we have come to know as God's kingdom of the left. In the Prayer of the Church, we will pray today "for the nations, that tyranny and oppression would give way to justice and peace." Yet wars continue to be waged and fought. But our Lord tells us to not be alarmed, for these must take place. However, this does not mean that the world will now end; it has not yet come, "for nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom" (v. 8a). What is more is that there will be, and have been, earthquakes and famines, and these will devastate many people. The Lord tells us that these are the beginning of the birth pains. In other words, we have not seen anything yet. Things will get much worse before the Lord comes again. What is to follow will affect us on a much more personal level. As we heard today from the prophet Daniel, "There shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time" (Dan. 12:1b).
We have seen the beginning of these troubles, especially over the past 40 years. In 1962, the United States Supreme Court agreed with an atheist and decided that prayer in the public schools is unconstitutional, a decision which I firmly believe began our nation's accelerated slide into the moral decay that plagues us today. No longer are students permitted to observe a moment of silence in school. No longer may prayers be offered up before an athletic event. No longer may we ask for God's blessing upon a high school's graduating class. And now some federal judges have determined that we can no longer pledge to be one nation under God. I am convinced that this disastrous court decision of 41 years ago led to the infamous Roe v. Wade decision of 30 years ago, legalizing the murderous practice of abortion, allowing the killing of living human beings while they are still inside the temples of their mothers' wombs. Yes, these wombs are temples, for in each womb is a sacred life, a life created by God, ordained by Him to live in this world to His glory, in service to Him and to one another. In the legacy of these two godless, sinful, Supreme Court decisions, we have become a culture of death. We do not respect life as we once did, nor do we as we ought. We do not respect life because we do not respect the Author of life, the Lord Himself. We do not fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. We thus do not show respect for what He has created, what He has given us to care for. This lack of respect for human life has permeated all facets of society, including its basic structure, the family. This is especially true in families where unbelievers are pitted against the faithful, brothers against brothers, fathers against children, children against parents. Millions of parents have had their pre-born children put to death, and countless times have there been reports of parents abusing their children, whether these are done physically, verbally, emotionally, or sexually. And there are even more cases of these kinds of abuse that are not reported. How often have we heard of adult children dumping their parents in a nursing home and leaving them to die, only to visit them as seldom as humanly possible? How often outside of Sunday mornings do we pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are homebound and shut-in, placed in nursing homes for the remainder of their lives? Do we go and visit them? Have we even bothered to send them a card, letting them know they are not forgotten?
Those who can expect even worse treatment are those who are within the Church, those who confess the Name of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we can expect persecution. We have seen it happen through the courts. We have witnessed the gradual erosion of our religious liberties by those who claim to be "politically correct." They are not theologically correct, though, for they demand that we hold to their false notion that all religions are equal, that all paths lead to heaven, and that there are many different names for "God," based on different religious traditions, no matter how false they are. They demand that we cave in and say it is okay to pray with pagans. Even within our beloved Missouri Synod, those who hold to the scriptural teaching that there is one God, one true God, the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—to whom alone we pray have been called the "Taliban" of the Synod by people within our Synod! These name-callers have fallen for the devil's bait. They accuse faithful pastors and laypeople of being unloving, uncaring, and intolerant for believing, teaching, confessing, and living the true Gospel, that our salvation rests in Jesus Christ alone. They have shown themselves to be unloving, for guiding people into the truth of Jesus Christ that they might believe and be saved is a most loving thing to do; allowing them to worship false gods and hold to false beliefs is not being loving at all, for it leads them further down the path to condemnation. These accusers are themselves intolerant, for they are intolerant of the faith they have been taught and once vowed to uphold even unto death. An ecclesial supervisor once told me that, if he had to choose, he would rather have a "friendly" pastor than a faithful one. This statement distressed me because a faithful pastor is a loving pastor, caring for the souls of his flock, feeding them on the pure Word of God and on His Sacraments, while a "friendly" pastor is not necessarily loving, especially if he continues to take the path of least resistance and cave in to the unrealistic demands of some very vocal antagonists, thereby diminishing the Gospel and stroking people's egos instead.
The time will one day come where we will be called upon to give an account of our faith before hostile unbelievers, to give a defense for the hope that is in us, to explain why we believe as we do. Our Lord tells us to not be afraid, saying to us in our text, "When they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit" (v. 11). And Saint Peter, one of the disciples who asked the Lord when these events would transpire, says to us in his First Epistle, "But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed" (1 Pet. 3:14-16 NKJV). The Lord Himself promises us in the Beatitudes, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Mt. 5:10-12 NKJV).
So, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, when we are called upon to give a defense of our faith, whenever or wherever that may happen, we need not fear, for God has blessed us, even in the face of persecution. A mighty Fortress is our God, and He will defend us from all danger and guard and protect us from all evil, including the evil of terrorists who seek to destroy us on account of our culture, our economy, and, most importantly, our faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Our Lord was with the prophets, apostles, and martyrs who lost their lives on account of their faith in Him, and they are reaping their eternal reward, for to live is Christ, and to die is gain, as St. Paul reminds us. If we should also die for the faith, we will also receive the greater gift, eternal life in heaven. Not all Christians are martyrs, in the modern sense of the word, but the Greek word for martyr literally means "to witness." This is what the Lord calls us to do. This is what St. Peter exhorts us to do. It is not that we have to tell the Good News about Jesus, but we get to tell it, wherever we may be, whatever situation is set before us. We may be ridiculed for it or even, in the most extreme instances, persecuted. But even if we do die for the faith, we will be part of the long procession of prophets, apostles, and martyrs who lost their lives for Christ's sake and for the sake of the Gospel. Why did they face persecution? Why would we endure persecution? The faithful have been persecuted because the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, was Himself persecuted. He was opposed most vehemently by Sadducees, Pharisees, scribes, and elders. They rejected His preaching a message of repentance. They rejected His teaching that the kingdom of God has come in Him. They rejected Him as the long-promised Messiah, the Savior of mankind from its sins. The rejected Him as the Fulfillment of the Law. They persecuted Him, accusing Him of blasphemy. They knew the Scriptures in their heads but not in their hearts. In their hatred, they crucified the Christ, but only because He went willingly to the cross so that He would die for the forgiveness of the sins of all mankind, including your sins and mine. By the shedding of His blood on the cross, our Lord forgave the iniquity of His people and covered all our sin, as we prayed in the Introit this morning. Again, as we prayed in the Introit [from Ps. 85], our heavenly Father withdrew all His wrath, and He turned from His hot anger; He has shown us His steadfast love and granted us His salvation. As we heard in our Epistle, "When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet. For by a single offering He has perfected for all time all those who are being sanctified" (Heb. 10:12-14). By His resurrection, our Lord has made it possible for us to endure to the end, for He has sent us His Holy Spirit. We need not fear. Yes, heaven and earth shall pass away; even the mighty cathedrals and rural church buildings will one day decay, but our heavenly Father will not abandon our souls to the grave, to Sheol, nor will He let His Holy One, His Son, see corruption. He has made known to us the path of life, and in His presence there is fullness of joy; at His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:10-11). God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake. Amen.
"Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight; through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen" (Heb. 13:20-21 NKJV).
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Rev. Mark A. Schlamann Our Savior and Redeemer Lutheran Churches, Pettibone and Woodworth, ND
To be Christian is to be Trinitarian. To be Trinitarian is to be Christian.
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