For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—
as in all the congregations of the saints. 1 Corinthians 14:33

Living in a world of chaos and we can take comfort knowing that our God likes order.  Listen to Pastor Hessler’s Sermon, “Order in the Court” you may also follow along reading the Sermon Manuscript below.

T In the Name of Jesus T

 

                                                        Order in the Court

                                                 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—

                                         as in all the congregations of the saints. 1 Corinthians 14:33

Introduction

I love to have things just so. I love directions, rules and regulations. That’s because I am an Organizer.

  • Most of you know that tools and I don’t always get along too well; but if I purchase something that requires assembly, I follow the directions to a “T”. Recently I got Janis an outdoor bench for our backyard. After I put it together, carefully following all the direc-tions mind you, it didn’t fit together right. Either the pieces had been warped or it had been damaged in shipping. So guess what? We sent it back to the factory to get a replacement.
  • I love sports, and even though I’m too old to play any organized sports now, I love watching sports—especially anything relating to Michigan: the Tigers (even though their season is done, I still watch them), the Lions (some say I’m a glutton for punishment), and the University of Michigan—Go Blue! I think my love of sports is based on how all the games follow a very structured set of rules. Janis teases me saying I remember all the significant moments in our lives by recalling what particular sporting event took place then—like, “Yea, that was the weekend Maglio Ordoñez hit a three-run homer against the Oakland A’s and sent the Tigers to the World Series.”
  • And I dislike sitting in meetings when the business at hand begins to drift and we get sidetracked into peripheral issues. “Come on, people,” I want to shout, “Let’s just stick to the business at hand so we can finish the meeting and get home.”

I don’t like disorder and chaos. I like to know what is going to happen, when it’s going to happen, and how it’s going to happen. That’s because I’m an Organizer.

I am not alone; I think God is an Organizer, too. Just take a look at the created order. When you get home later today, take out your Bible and read through the first two chapters of Genesis. Note how organized and structured the Lord is as he calls the universe into being. “Let there be. . .and it was so” reads like a litany throughout the account. One thing builds on another: light, sky, land, seas, stars, planets, vegetation, animals, and finally the crown of God’s creating activity—human beings. And it’s still that way today. Scientists can go back thousands of years and know exactly where the sun, moon and planets were. They know exactly when eclipses are going to occur—like tonight’s total lunar eclipse. Everything very structured, everything care-fully arranged, everything very organized. No wonder the psalmist wrote that the “heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Ps. 19:1).

Or, read through the first four chapters of the New Testament and note how carefully Matthew ties the coming of Jesus together with the Old Testament Scriptures. Count how many times Matthew notes that all “this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet” (Matthew 1:22). I noted at least seven—seven times that Matthew indicated a fulfillment of a specific Old Testament prophecy. It’s things like that which caused St. Augustine to note, “The New is in the Old concealed; and Old is in the New revealed.” In other words, the New Testa-ment is concealed in the Old, and the Old Testament is fully revealed in the New.

Or read through today’s Old Testament Reading again. There was disorder and chaos in the camp of the Israelites. God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt by systematically attacking all of Egypt’s so-called gods through a series of ten plagues. When there was little or no water for the people to drink, God provided some. When there was little or no food to eat, God gave manna—bread from heaven. But the people grew tired of God’s provisions:

“If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:4-6)

Even Moses became troubled, confused and disorganized. He complained to the Lord:

“Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to dis-please you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their fore-fathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me.” (Numbers 11:11-14).

So what did the Lord do? He brought order out of disorder. He had Moses assemble seventy of Israel’s elders in front of the Tabernacle, and then the Lord poured out his Spirit on them so they could assist Moses in his task.

Yep. God is an organizer, like this week’s “Fruit of the Spirit” Bible passage reads: “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33). After you’ve reread today’s Old Testament Reading, read through today’s Epistle Reading and note the different ways in which God can bring order out of disorder right here at FAITH—God’s congregation of the saints:

  • What about troubles? “Is any one of you in trouble?” James asks, and then responds, “He should pray” (James 5:13). Having been your pastor for the past 27 years now, I know what sort of troubles some of you face: physical, emotional and spiritual. I’ve sat down and talked with you, I’ve just sat and listened as you poured your hearts out, I’ve offered some pastoral advice, and I’ve prayed with you. In fact, I try to mention each and every one of you in my prayers during the week.
  • What about sickness? “Is any one of you sick?” James continues. “He should call the elders of the church to pray over him. . .in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in FAITH will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up” (James 5:14-15). I might be so bold as to say not just the elders of FAITH, but all of you can pray for those dealing with sickness or with health concerns. Use the Prayer Request sheets included in your worship service and pray for one another throughout this coming week.
  • What about ill will and hurts? “[C]onfess your sins to each other and pray for each other,” James suggests (James 5:16). We’re all members of this FAITH family, and from time to time we’re going to say things which might hurt one another or do some things that might offend others. Sometimes those things are done inadvertently, and at other times—I hate to say it—they can be done intentionally. In either case, it causes confu-sion, disorder and turmoil. But “God is not a God of disorder but of peace,” and so when we sin against each other, we can come to the foot of Christ’s cross and experiencing his love and his forgiveness, we in turn can love and forgive each other.
  • What about wandering away? “My brothers,” James continues, “if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multi-tude of sins” (James 5:19-20). All of us are in need of correction from time to time. So when you notice someone whose attendance at worship starts to lag or whose involve-ment in the congregation seems to be tapering off, it’s not wrong for you to talk with them. But keep in mind the advice of Solomon: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). You don’t have to be confrontational or use a get-in-your-face type of rebuke. That might cause more disorder. Instead, give a gentle word of encouragement or, to use the words of St. Peter, “[D]o this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

Conclusion

What do judges do when there is disorder and confusion in their courtrooms? They pick up their gavel and rap it on the bench and shout, “Order! Order in the court!” Satan likes nothing better than to cause disorder and chaos in God’s courtroom. He stands before God and points that accusing finger at each and every one of us on trial and says, “Guilty! He’s guilty! She’s guilty! They deserve the death penalty!” – which would be the eternal death penalty, by the way. But God, being the Organizer that he is, raps his gavel to silence Satan. “Order!” God shouts. “Order in the court!” And then Jesus steps to our defense. He reminds the heavenly Judge how he lived the perfect life for us, how he paid our death penalty when he suffered and died on the cross, and how he rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, victorious over Satan and his evil minions. “Not guilty!” the Judge declares. “Objection!” Satan shouts; to which God replies, “Overruled!” After all, God is not a God of disorder but of peace—peace now and peace for all eternity.

T To God Alone Be Glory T

Cross-Wise Peace

crosspeaceCross-Wise Peace

“The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”  James 3:17-18
Our Fruit of the Spirit this month is “peace.” So what is it when peace spelled vertically — P-E-A-C-E — meets up with peace spelled horizontally — P-E-A-C-E? I’m going to call that “Cross-Wise Peace” — because the two words put together like that make a cross. And the cross of Jesus is the basis of a two-fold peace: 1) a vertical peace—that would be peace between sinful human beings and God; and 2) a horizontal peace—which would be peace between people. Jesus is what makes both types of peace possible.

Click the link below to listen to Pastor Hessler’s Sermon, “Cross-wise Peace”.  You can also follow along with the manuscript below.

T In the Name of Jesus T

 

                                                          Cross-Wise Peace

 

                             [T]he wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving.

                                     Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

James 3:17-18

 

Introduction

What do you call it when north-south running streets meet up with east-west bound streets? That’s an intersection. When we lived in Berrien Springs, North Main Street, the road we lived on, actually intersected with South George Street, the road that the church was on. I‘m still at a loss as to how that could’ve happened.

What is it when the up-and-down lines in a gun’s sight meet up with the side-to-side lines? That would be the cross hairs. When you’re in someone’s cross hairs, you’d better watch out because you’ve got a great, big target painted on you.

And what is it when the vertical arm of a cross meets up with the horizontal bar? That’s the cross beams.

So imagine this: our Fruit of the Spirit this month is “peace.” So what is it when peace spelled vertically — P-E-A-C-E — meets up with peace spelled horizontally — P-E-A-C-E? I’m going to call that “Cross-Wise Peace” — because the two words put together like that make a cross. And the cross of Jesus is the basis of a two-fold peace: 1) a vertical peace—that would be peace between sinful human beings and God; and 2) a horizontal peace—which would be peace between people. Jesus is what makes both types of peace possible.

 

I

Now last week I examined the vertical peace: the peace Jesus gives that is between our heavenly Father—a just and righteous God who demands absolute perfection and us—sinful human beings who deserve nothing but God’s “wrath and eternal punishment.”

I used the example of people who get near the end of their lives and start paying more and more attention to their life’s gas tank, so to speak. They realize that they haven’t been the people God called them to be:

  • In their younger years, they hadn’t honored their fathers and their mothers the way God wanted them to.
  • As husbands, they hadn’t loved their wives as Christ loved the church; and as wives they hadn’t submitted to their husbands the way the church does to Christ.
  • As parents, they hadn’t been faithful in bringing their children up in the “training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
  • As adults they focused more and more of their attention on their careers or their families than they did on worshiping Jesus and acknowledging him in their lives.

When they realize that their life is drawing to a close, they start paying more and more atten-tion to their gas gauge, so to speak. They wonder how much time is left for them to make up for all the bad things they’ve done in their lives. They keep peeking at their gas gauge over and over again worrying whether or not they’ll have enough gas to enable them to cancel out all the bad things they’ve done in their life. Their scared to death of dying, wondering, “What side of Jesus am I going to end up on in the final judgment—his right side or his left? Will I find my-self among the cursed goats or the blessed sheep? Will I spend eternity in heaven or in hell?”

But in Romans 5:1, the apostle Paul reminds us of the vertical peace that sinful human beings have with a holy, righteous God:

[S]ince we have been justified through FAITH, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

As sinful human beings, we don’t have to worry about making up for all our sins and short-comings; Jesus did that for us when he lived the perfect life of obedience in our place. We don’t have to worry about paying the awful penalty God exacts on account of our many sins, because Jesus paid the penalty for us when he offered his perfect life up on the cross in our place. We don’t have to worry about defeating the devil and all his evil forces, Jesus already did that when he rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, victorious over sin, Satan and death. And Jesus now lives to share his victory with all who put their FAITH and trust in him. The cross of Jesus is the means that establishes a vertical peace between us sinful human beings and the just and righteous heavenly Father.

Therefore, since we have been justified through FAITH, we have peace (that vertical peace) with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

II

And not just a vertical peace, but the cross of Jesus also establishes a horizontal peace down here on earth—peace between sinful human beings.

Sometimes that horizontal peace is a peace between nations. Ever since Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, there’s been turmoil between nations. There hasn’t been a time when the world in which we live in has been at peace.

  • The earth has seen two devastating wars—World War I and World War II—and today is fighting another kind of war, a world-wide war against terrorism.
  • Our own country has fought through a Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, a bitter Civil War that pitted brother against brother and nearly divided our nation, the Korean Con-flict, the Viet Nam War, Desert Storm, the War with Iraq, not to mention a host of other skirmishes along the way and the current fight against terrorism.
  • Day after day we hear of persecution of Christians and planned pogroms against ethnic minorities and religious sects.
  • The Middle East is a powder keg waiting to be ignited, and Israel fears for its very exis-tence should its enemies gain access to nuclear weapons.

What can be done? Oswald C. J. Hoffmann, former speaker of the Lutheran Hour, once said that there will never be peace in the Middle East until they acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” I’d be so bold as to expand that by saying there will never be peace in the world until people acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That’s because only the cross of Jesus can bring that horizontal peace between nations. It’s like Paul says in Galatians 3:26-27:

You are all sons of God through FAITH in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Sometimes that horizontal peace is between members of a family. One day I got a phone call from a couple who had what I’d say was a somewhat marginal connection with the church. The husband had been confirmed in the congregation, but the wife had little or no church back-ground. So I sat down with the couple and listened as they shared with me the struggles they were going through in their marriage. The wife admitted that she had had an on-going affair. Amid her sobs and her tears she confessed how sorry she was to have hurt her husband and their kids so much. The husband, on the other hand, was struggling to come to grips – not just with his wife’s unfaithfulness, but also with reestablishing that trust level between them once again. And both of them admitted freely that they had been unfaithful to the Lord, and to Jesus who had blessed their marriage in the first place and who had promised to be with them until “death us do part.” We talked and we prayed, and the couple recommitted themselves to each other and to the Lord. Both of them pledged to work hard on rebuilding their damaged marriage and on reestablishing their relationship with Jesus Christ.

After a few months went by, a neighboring pastor contacted me and inquired about the couple who had started attending his congregation and had both enrolled in his Adult Information Class. Without going into detail, I shared how I had sat down with them and counseled them, to which he said something like, “Well, I don’t know what you said to them, but you sure lit a fire under them!” People, it wasn’t me; it was Jesus. The cross of Jesus was the means that brought peace to that struggling couple and their family. So Paul writes in Ephesians 5:21:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Peace between nations, peace within families; the cross of Christ can even bring peace among church members—yes, even among FAITH’s members. So allow me to get personal here and speak to you as pastor to people. There are a lot of things that I love about being a pastor.

  • I love leading corporate worship services, administering Baptism and Holy Communion, preaching God’s Word and applying it to your lives. Part of my daily prayer for God’s people here at FAITH is that the Holy Spirit would enable me to proclaim God’s Word in its truth and purity, and that the Spirit would open your ears to hear that Word, would prepare your hearts to receive that Word, and then would empower you in your day-to-day lives to bear the fruit of that Word.
  • I love teaching a Confirmation Class or an Adult Bible Class. It’s an absolute joy for me to see the look on a confirmand’s face when a Biblical concept clicks in their mind, or to see that look in someone’s eyes when a particular truth of God’s Word hits home.
  • I love being involved in people’s lives, especially at some of what I call those critical times—being invited to family functions, celebrating the birth and baptism of a child, rejoicing at the joining of a man and a woman in holy marriage, even comforting families at the death of a loved one. I consider it a privilege that you permit me and Janis to be a part of your lives, and I cannot tell you how much that means to me.
  • I love being the face of FAITH Lutheran Church in our community and among our local Lutheran churches. Do you know that I am the longest tenured pastor in both the Saginaw and Frankenmuth Circuits here in our area of Michigan—almost 27 years now, and counting. I love representing FAITH church and bragging about you guys.

I love being a pastor: my grandfather was a pastor, my dad was a pastor, my son-in-law is a pastor, but there’s absolutely no pressure on any of my grandsons to be a pastor!

But to be completely honest with you, I must admit that there are some things about being a pastor that I do not like.

  • I don’t particularly like the meetings, especially when we get down to the end of the business at hand and the question is asked, “Does anyone have anything else?” I don’t appreciate the potshots that people take when given an opportunity.
  • I do not like it when someone questions my pastoral judgment, especially when it’s in front of other members or when together with other people. I would hope that after 27 years you would value my opinion instead of questioning my motives or thinking that I don’t understand or that I simply don’t care.
  • And I do not like it when members bicker and fight and quarrel and argue with one another. I do not like it when members do not explain each other’s actions in the kindest possible way, or—to quote Martin Luther—when they do not “put the best construction on things.” And I absolutely detest it when I sit in meetings and listen to people criticize or berate or question someone else’s thoughts or opinions or actions.

There are times when I think James was writing these words from today’s Epistle Reading to the members of FAITH Lutheran Church, Bridgeport:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill (maybe not literally but mentally or emotionally) and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:1-3)

Now granted, people often fight worst with the people they love the most. People in a fit of anger will say things to their spouses that they wouldn’t dream of saying to total strangers. Siblings can say the meanest things to each other. And members of FAITH church can quarrel with one another, fight with each other, and be downright mean to one another. Why? Because spouses and siblings and fellow church members love each other enough to know that their love for each other will not be taken away.

And where do that love and that trust come from? That’s right: Jesus. The cross of Jesus is the means that causes the love of family and church to endure. So James can write:

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:17-18).

Every time we come together as a family of FAITH, we can confess our sins before God and one another, and implore God for the sake of his Son Jesus Christ to have mercy on us, to forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in God’s will and walk in His ways to the glory of Christ’s holy name.

 

Conclusion

Eddie Fox was the general secretary of World Methodist Evangelism. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the communist governments of Eastern Europe, Fox observed a sign placed in the churchyard of a little Methodist church in Prague, Czechoslovakia. The sign went up the very first day after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It read: “The Lamb Wins!” Then Fox noted: “Not the bear, not the lion, not the tiger, but the Lamb—the Lamb wins!”[1]

Whether it’s the vertical war between a just God in heaven and a sinful people down here on earth, or the horizontal conflict between people in nations, families or churches, what is it that brings peace? It’s the cross, the cross where the Lamb of God sacrificed himself for the world and for you. It’s the Lamb that wins the war and brings peace. So, has the Lamb won in your life? Amen.

 

T To God Alone Be Glory T

[1] As quoted by Dr. Hal Brady, Dallas, 21 May 1995.

Divine Conundrums

So if your salvation is a gift from God and your good works play no part in it, then what do you make of James’ words in today’s Epistle Reading?

Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:17)

Listen to Pastor Hessler’s Sermon.

In the Name of Jesus

Divine Conundrums

Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

James 2:17

Introduction

A Lutheran minister and a Catholic priest ended up sitting next to each other on an airplane flight. It was obvious that the Catholic man was a priest because he was wearing his collar; but not so with the Lutheran minister who was wearing a tie and sport coat. Eventually during the course of their conversation, the topic got around to work.

“And what do you do for a living?” the priest asked.

“Actually, I’m in the same business that you are,” came the reply. “ I’m a Lutheran minister.”

“Really!” came the priest’s somewhat surprising response. And then he added, “You know, I’ve always envied you Lutherans.”

“Why?”

“Because you Lutherans don’t have to do anything to be saved.”

You see, the Catholic church has always had an emphasis on good works. In fact, their insistence on good works was one of the factors that lead to the Protestant Reformation back in the 16th century. Martin Luther took a stand against good works, insisting that good works have nothing to do with one’s salvation. One doesn’t earn salvation by what one does; salvation is a gift one simply receives from God. It’s like the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through FAITH—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

So if your salvation is a gift from God and your good works play no part in it, then what do you make of James’ words in today’s Epistle Reading?

Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:17)

It’s a conundrum; and Webster defines a conundrum as “any puzzling question or problem.” Typical examples of conundrums would be:

  • What came first: the chicken or the egg?
  • If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one around, does it make a sound?
  • If all the nations in the world are in debt, where did all the money go?

Even the Bible contains some conundrums:

  • How can the first be last and the last first?
  • How can one save one’s life by losing it?

And of course, today’s divine conundrum:

  • If one is saved by grace through FAITH and not by works, then why is faith without works dead?

I guess the simplest answer to that conundrum would involve a two-fold explanation:

  • First: one’s salvation was earned by Jesus who lived the perfect life God demanded of fallen human beings, who took human sin on himself and paid the penalty sinners de-serve when he suffered and died on the cross, and who defeated sin, Satan and death when he rose in victory on Easter Sunday.
  • And second: when one comes to saving FAITH in Jesus Christ, the works one does do not earn their salvation but are a living proof of their salvation.

That’s it: the works a Christian does do not earn one’s salvation; the works are a proof, a visible example or demonstration, of that salvation. In other words, when one comes to saving FAITH in Jesus Christ, one can’t help but do good works. Good works are a natural by-product, a fruit, if you will, of that FAITH. Or, to use the words of James: “I will show you my FAITH by what I do” (James 2:18).

Martin Luther catalogued the good works a Christian does into three basic categories:

Domestic good works – Everyone is born into a family, and there are some basic responsibilities members of the family have toward each other:

  • Husbands and wives are to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21); and they are to do so by looking to each other’s needs and by satisfying and fulfilling each other’s physical and emotional needs and desires.
  • Parents are to bring their children up “in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). My daily prayer for the parents of FAITH congregation is that they see to their children’s 1) physical needs—providing them with food to eat, clothes to wear, and a loving and safe environment in which to grow and develop; their 2) emotional needs—teaching them that they are not the center of the universe but members of a family, a church, a school, a community, even members of a global world; their kid’s 3) mental needs—encouraging them to develop their talents and abilities to prepare them to use those gifts in a life of service to others; and finally their 4) spiritual needs—teaching them who Jesus is and what he has done for them.
  • Children fulfill their domestic responsibilities by following the Fourth Commandment: “Honor your father and mother” (Eph. 6:2). I pray that the children of FAITH imitate the example of the 12-year-old Jesus who “went down to Nazareth with [his parents] and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51).

So Christians give evidence of their FAITH by recognizing their place in their family and by faithfully carrying out their various domestic duties.

In addition to domestic good works, there are civic good works – In addition to being members of a family unit, everyone is also a citizen of an earthly country. Paul reminds us in Romans 13 that the civic “authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1).

God established government in order to keep peace and order in a sinful world. So we, as members of the United States of America, are to recognize our civic leaders as representatives of God, as his authorities placed over us. That means we fulfill our civic responsibilities by obeying the laws of the land, by paying the taxes that we owe, by praying for and supporting our elected officials at every level—township, state and nation, and, in short, by being model citizens. Now to be sure, if the government tries to force us to do something contrary to God’s will, then we have to follow the example of the apostles and  “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), but even then we must do so in peaceful, diplomatic ways rather than using undue force and violence.

Domestic good works, civic good works, finally Luther identifies vocational good works – Vocational good works is a fitting topic for this Labor Day weekend. Labor Day should be more than the last fling of summer—a time for cookouts, barbecues, picnics, and one last trip up north before the start of school. Labor Day is a civic holiday dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers and the contributions those workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. It’s been celebrated every year since 1894, when Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

Martin Luther emphasized one’s domestic good works by stressing the “priesthood of all believers.” On the one hand, Luther insists that grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ sets people free from everything that holds them in bondage — sin, death and the devil; but on the other hand, he also asserts that through Jesus Christ, every Christian is also set free for some-thing very specific: the priesthood of all believers. Christians do not perform good works to satisfy the demands of a holy God; rather, as a response to the gift of what God has done for them in Jesus Christ, Christians offer good works in gratitude to God by serving their neigh-bors. And that has some practical implications today: each and every one of us uses the talents and abilities God has given us to praise him as we serve our neighbor:

  • I happen to use my gifts and abilities to praise God as I serve you as your pastor. And from God’s perspective, I’m not any better than any of you just because I’m a pastor; that’s just how I use my gifts.
  • You, in turn, use your gifts and abilities to praise God as you serve one another. Whether you’re a school teacher or a student, a stay-at-home parent or a member of the labor force, a doctor or a nurse, an employer or an employee, a retiree or working your very first job—you all praise God by using your unique gifts in service to one another.

And it’s not like we have to make a concerted effort to do so. Our good works, being done through our work and our specific place in life – whether it be domestic good works as members of our respective families, civic good works as citizens of our community, or vocational good works as laborers in the work force – our good works are the natural result of our FAITH in Jesus Christ. It’s like the fruit of an apple tree: just as an apple tree bears apples because it is an apple tree, so Christians do good works because they are Christians. So even though we’re saved by God’s grace through FAITH in Christ, we can’t help but do good works: it’s natural.

So what do you suppose Jesus’ vocation was? Actually, Jesus himself fulfilled all three of the vocations Luther emphasized:

Jesus fulfilled his domestic good works by being a member of his earthly family. He was an obedient son to Mary and his earthly father Joseph. As the oldest son in the family Jesus also took means to provide for his mother after he was gone. While hanging on the cross, Jesus committed Mary to the care of the beloved disciple, and “from that time on,” we are told, “this disciple took [Mary] into his home.

Jesus fulfilled his civic good works by being a model citizen. When questioned about paying the two-drachma temple tax, Jesus provided Peter with a four-drachma coin and said, “Take it and give it to [the authorities] for my tax and yours” (Matt. 17:24). When challenged about withholding taxes, Jesus advised, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Even on trial, when examined by the High Priest and then Pontius Pilate, Jesus was respectful and answered their questions.

And Jesus fulfilled his vocational good works by submitting to his heavenly Father’s will and offering his life for the salvation of the human race. The writer to the Hebrews states:

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said. . .

“Here I am. . .I have come to do you will, O God.”

And what was God’s will? It was for Jesus to live the perfect life that we are unable to live, to offer that perfect life on the cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, to rise in victory over sin, Satan and death on Easter Sunday, and to offer life and salvation to all who put their FAITH and trust in him. Perhaps Jesus summarized it best in his evening talk with Nicodemus:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17).

Conclusion

Divine conundrums. How can the last be first and the first last? How can one save one’s life by losing it? And if we’re saved by God’s grace through FAITH in Christ, and not by works, then how can FAITH by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, be dead? But perhaps the greatest divine conundrum of all is how can we have eternal life through the suffering and death of Jesus Christ? We may not be able to understand that conundrum, but thanks be to God that God gives us new life through the death and resurrection of his Son. And to quote Martin Luther: “This is most certainly true!” Amen.

To God Alone Be Glory