IN NOMINE JESU
What is grace? Grace us none other than God's undeserved love for His people. It is undeserved in the sense that we do not deserve His love. As sinners we do not deserve God's love, but love is who God is. God is love. As our heavenly Father, He loves us no matter what, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to change this. And there is nothing we can do to earn His love. God's grace is a free gift. His gift is for all His people at all times and in all places. It was for those in the Old Testament who placed their trust in the long-promised Messiah, who was to come, as it was for Abraham. It has been for those of the New Testament church who have placed their trust in the Messiah who has come, who is come, and who will come again, as it is for you and for me. God's grace extended to Abraham and his descendants, which would be more numerous than the sands on the seashore. The promise of the free gift is for all who believe in Jesus Christ and confess Him as their Savior and Lord, regardless of age, gender, race, wealth, or political affiliation.
In our Old Testament reading, the Lord called Abram, as he was known then, to leave his home country for a land he did not know. Abram was to pack up and move out at the age of 75! Here in rural North Dakota, there have been numerous instances of people around that age who have moved into town from the farm or to a larger community, such as Carrington, Jamestown, or Bismarck, where medical facilities are nearby. Others moved to warmer climates. Still others are moved into nursing homes to receive the care they need. Such moves at that particular stage of life, whatever the reason, would constitute a major change in one's life, sometimes affecting the individual adversely. How would you react if you were told to move to a place not familiar to you? It is possible that some of you may be facing this situation in the near future. Such a move would truly mark a major turning point in your life. Would you resist it, or would you embrace it? Would you be able to accept the notion that such a move would indeed be in your best interest? Yet the Lord called this old man to uproot his entire family and would lead them into a foreign land. He promised to make Abram a great nation, and in him all the families of the earth would be blessed by God. Abram did not question god; rather, he moved his family to the land of Canaan. Abram trusted in God, and God counted this as righteousness. God considered Abram righteous, changing his name to Abraham, for he would become the father of many people. The patriarch-to-be trusted in the Lord. He had faith in God. On account of his faith in God, he was the blessed recipient of the promise. What Abraham received was the Gospel. The Gospel is full of promises and blessings. These things do not come from the Law; the Law only brings threats and curses. As the blessed Apostle St. Paul writes in our text: "For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, 'I have made you a father of many nations') in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, 'So shall your descendants be'" (vv. 13-18). The curse is for those who do not believe the promise or in the One who gives the promise. The curse is borne of the Law, and the Law shows us our sin.
On this Second Sunday in Lent, it is imperative that we examine just what sin is. Sin is our acting contrary to God's will and His Word. Sin is our doing what God forbids and our not doing what He commands. God has given us His Ten Commandments; yet we transgress them daily, even if it is the least of the Commandments—if such existed. We learn from Scripture: "…whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not murder.' Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law" (James 2:10-11). Sin is our operating outside of God's grace. It is our rejecting the gifts our Lord offers in His Means of Grace. Sin is our not wanting the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation Christ won on the cross and now gives in His Word and Sacraments. Sin is not only our rejection of the gifts but of the Giver of the gifts, God Himself. Sin is our acting outside the faith the Holy Spirit seeks to work in us and our acting out of our natural hatred for God. Sin is our not trusting in God's promises. Sin is our questioning God's Word and His will for us. Even Abraham did not always trust God's promises. Impatient from waiting for God's promise of an heir and at his wife's insistence, he had sexual relations with her servant, who bore Ishmael, of whom God said was not the promised heir. Abraham and Sarah would later have Isaac in their old age, but Abraham, old man that he was, grew impatient with God's promise, as do we today. We do not trust in His promises, in the Gospel, and we break His Commandments, the Law. This is sin, and the result of sin is the curse of eternal condemnation, for, as St. Paul writes later in Romans, "For the wages of sin is death" (6:23a). Sin means that we must repent; we must be born again.
This rebirth has begun; it began over there [pointing to baptismal font]. This rebirth is of water and of the Holy Spirit, as our Lord tells us in the Holy Gospel appointed for today. As the water was applied with the Word of God upon your forehead, the Holy Spirit entered your heart and began to work in you saving faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. This faith is a gift from God, and it is His work to bring you to and keep you in this faith, as He calls you by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps you in the true faith. Since God has given you the faith to believe in His Son, He also gives you the promise that is the Gospel; that is, He gives the forgiveness of sins to all who come to Him in repentance and faith, forgiving us for the sake of His only-begotten Son, who died for our forgiveness and rose again for our justification.
As Moses lifted up the bronze serpent on the pole, God the Father lifted up His Son on the cross, and Christ lifts us up through the forgiveness of sins that He won on the cross and gives to us in Baptism, in His Word, and in His body and blood. Through these Means of Grace, our Lord lifts us up and gives us His gifts, strengthening our faith so that we may look forward to the Last Day, when our Lord's promises will be brought to their completion. On that Day we will be translated from God's Kingdom of Power (this sin-filled world) and Kingdom of Grace (the Church on earth—the Church Militant) to the Kingdom of Glory (the saints in heaven—the Church Triumphant) for all eternity. As St. Paul also says in Romans 6, "the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (6:23b). We are the blessed recipients of God's gifts, for these are ours by grace, His undeserved love for us, which He gives only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us. As the blessed Apostle St. John writes: "In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. …Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him" (1 Jn. 4:9-10, 15-16). Thanks be to God!
In the Name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Send Pastor Mark Schlamann an email.