Gospel For The Filthy

Sermon by the Rev. Steve Schave
Acts 15:6-11
The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should
ear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
You can’t deny that Jews and Gentiles were distinct. The covenant belonged to God’s people, and the lineage of the Messiah was theirs.  While those Gentiles worshipped all sorts of idols and chased after false gods. Yes, Israel had the commandments, the prophets, the purification rites, the holy temple…  and the Gentiles were unclean unholy pagans. So is it any wonder that the brothers were concerned about the Gentiles breaking rank to be numbered among God’s people?  Surely, they will never be at the same level of holiness!  And if those heathens wish to be saved they must follow the custom and Law of Moses perfectly, right?  That’ll show ‘em if they think they belong! 
But it has been a long time now, since our brother Peter was chosen by God to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, it has been a long time now that they have been receiving the same Holy Spirit and cleansed hearts to show, there are no distinctions by heritage – and yet the resistance and debating continues.  Those Judaizers, am I right? They will always see us and them, second class citizens in the church, putting God to the test by placing the yoke of legalism on the neck of the disciples – that even their own fathers were unable to bear.  Tempting God to weigh so heavily upon the second-class disciple that they will not have the strength to reach their level of holiness, to be of the same Spirit.
But what of us? Will we put God to the test? As Lutherans we are not bewitched by a false gospel that requires works of the Law for salvation.  We were taught that we did not have to perform great deeds in order to become inheritors of the Kingdom.  We understand that we are branches grafted into the family tree of Abraham by grace through faith alone.  Surely, we would not fall for some false understanding of second-class citizens in the Christian church, with some of us on a higher spiritual plane than others.  Certainly, we would not show some distinction like the Judaizers in the early church, or like the very pillars of the church there in the holy city who question Peter and Paul for who they associate with and how to make disciples.  But do we really desire that by Peter’s mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the Gospel and believe?  Guys like Peter and Paul have been spending their days in those God forsaken cities… gentile capitals… the worst of the worst centers for worshipping heathen gods among pagan people. To sit at table with the lowest of the lowdown filthiest sinners? Would we put God to the test, with prejudice against certain zip codes or certain people groups? Would it make your stomach queasy at the thought of sharing the table with someone really unclean, or unfit to be a member of the household of God because they are not of the right pedigree? Would you have God put a yoke on their neck to drive them to the ground?  What if God put His yoke on you to reach His level of holiness? I think we all know that we would be crushed under the weight of His perfect Law. We would soon see that there is no distinction in our heritage: pimps and prostitutes, heroin addicts and drug dealers, human traffickers and gang members… and us… we are all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.  We all have unclean hearts filled with prejudice and disdain for our fellow man.  Not one of us can carry the weight of the Law or keep our heart clean from sin.
No, the only way we will be saved is if God will put His love to the test. Betrayal, trials, denials, scourging, lashing, piercing, suffocating… blood and sweat and tears… the love of God is put to the test. And His love alone will prevail, for us all. Christ stepped into our zip codes, reclined at table among sinners, spoke to us at the temple and at our wells, preached to us in the temple court and from our mountainsides… for all who had ears to hear.  Jesus died on the cross without distinctions, He suffered and died, and carried the yoke for the sins of Jews and Gentiles alike, unworthy sinners that we may be.  And now the Spirit has told us to go, making no distinctions – to go where the Spirit sends.  To the small towns and the big cities alike, to the rich and to the poor, making disciples of all ethnos – here at our doorsteps and to the ends of the earth.  To see in all people, fellow sinners that God desires to add to the family tree, to have a seat at His table.   Sent into every home to proclaim the message that saves, baptizing these whole households with the Holy Spirit.  As even those we would least expect are welcomed into the family of God.  To stand in awe of the grace of God as the same gift that was given to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, is given to even the least and the lost among us. That we might have the joy of bringing these gifts, even if it is to the chagrin of those who are offended by whom we associate with. As we too have been on the receiving end of mercy that we could never deserve, and yet nothing would stand in the way of Christ’s love for us.  And so, as we bring Christ in these dark and latter days to a broken and dying world, we will simply say, “Who am I to put God to the test, as to who might be saved, when His love was tested for us all upon the cross?

Last Words of Rev. Aaron Simms

These are the last public words of our faithful brother in Christ, Rev. Aaron Simms.  Keep St. John the Apostle Lutheran Church and the Simms family in your prayers as they continue to make known the Gospel of our risen Lord Jesus amidst the heartache and pain of this mortal life.  The everlasting victory belongs to our brother who faithfully taught God’s Word and confessed the all-sufficient work of Christ throughout His life.  Glory to God for the work that our Lord did through his servant, Aaron.

Rev. Aaron Simms writes,

He has risen (Luke 24:1-12).  This is the reason that we are celebrating today.  We are rejoicing in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ for us. 

Three days ago, on Friday, Christ died for your sins, being perfectly obedient to the Father and fulfilling all things.  He spilt his blood on the cross to atone for your sins; our great High Priest made the all-sufficient sacrifice of himself on your behalf.  On Saturday, yesterday, the Sabbath rest, the Lord’s body was sealed in the cool, stone tomb.  

But, now that rest is over and the Son has arisen.  Today is a new day, the eighth day of Christ’s Passion week, the first day of the beginning of the new creation.  In the original creation, God created in six days and rested on the seventh, and when the first day of the new week dawned things were all very good.  Now Christ has come to restore His fallen creation by working the six days of Passion week (culminating in the finishing work of the crucifixion), resting on the seventh, and rising on the first day of the new week so that all things can again become very good.

So, this is the Lord’s Day, Sunday, when Christ rose from the dead, the day of the empty tomb when Christ conquered death by rising to life, leaving the tomb behind, vacant and devoid of power.  And where death is conquered, sin is conquered as well, because it is sin which led to the intrusion of death into this world.  It is sin, the sin of Adam and Eve, which corrupted God’s good creation by bringing evil into it, including decay and death.   But, Christ has defeated all these; he has been victorious.

Therefore, Christ’s death and resurrection has far-reaching consequences that extend beyond our present lives.  For, it is not for this life only that we hope in Christ.  Christ did not die and rise for us so that we could have more money, more friends, or even more happiness in this life.  He didn’t die for us so that we could have our best life now.  

How often, though, are our hopes so small, so shortsighted, that they only encompass the span of our lives and end at our deaths.  St. Paul says that if this is the content of our hope, this life only, then “we are of all people most to be pitied.”  For if we look to Christ simply for blessings in this life, then we are missing the point.  For our best life now is not the content of our hope.  In fact, often times, we as Christians endure ridicule, suffering, persecution, and death for our faith; our lives now are often anything but peaceful and good.  Even today, Christians in Sri Lanka were killed at Easter worship services, just as Christians have been killed for their faith throughout history.  If this weren’t enough, we still have the temptations and pull of sin, still suffer decay, and still succumb to death, because although Christ has conquered, and although we have a foretaste of the “good,” things are not yet fully restored to as they should be.  Things are not yet “very good.”

So, St. Paul’s point to the congregation in Corinth, and to us as well, is that our hope does not end in death, because the proper object of our hope is the one who has died and yet has risen from the dead and now lives (1 Corinthians 15:19-26).  We trust in the one who has conquered sin and death on our behalf, so that just as we too will die someday we will yet live for eternity; our best life is yet to come in the restoration that he is bringing with him upon his return.  We will then be reunited with all the Church, including those Sri Lankan Christians who went to the grave today.

So, it is in this Jesus Christ, the one who died and yet rose on this day, that we truly have hope.  We were all born into the sin of Adam, cursed by decay and mortal death from the moment of our conception.  Our lives lead into death and destruction, and all the things we accumulate in this life go to someone else after we die.  If we want plenty of rest, the grave is where it is found, because this life is not easy, nor is it leisurely; we live by the sweat of our brow.  

But, Christ has a true rest in store for you that is not in the bed, nor is it in the grave.  For, Christ has died for your sins and conquered death for you.  It is through his work on the cross and empty tomb that you are saved and brought into the Sabbath rest. 

And Christ is the firstfruits of what is to come.  The firstfruits of a crop provides assurance that the rest of the crop is going to come in.  Christ is the firstfruits of the bodily resurrection, because he rose from the dead and therefore he is the guarantee and guarantor of your own resurrection.  The point is that because Christ died and rose, you can be sure that you will also rise, although you die.  So, your hope in him is not for this life only, but rather extends out into eternity where you will have rest from all your works and from sin and from death.  This is the grace and mercy of God that we see on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, that Christ has died and risen for you.  Friday we see the consequences of sin and death, as the sinless one died on our behalf; Sunday we see the consequences of God’s grace and power as that sin and death is defeated and life and light breaks into the darkness.  

So, all that plagues you in this life – illness, sorrow, decay, temptation, sin, grumbling, conflict – Christ has already defeated these through his cross and empty tomb.  These evils came into the world through the sin of Adam, but Christ defeated these enemies of his good creation.  And he has also defeated the ultimate enemy, which is death.

Death is still here with us, of course, in this life, but it is no longer the last word.  Death is our enemy and it is the enemy of God’s good creation, because it is not meant to be here; it intruded into creation through the sin of Adam.  But, this is not how things are meant to be.  God created you to live with Him forever, but sin got in the way and brought death and the other evils with it.  

However, as we have seen and heard, Christ – the new, perfect Adam – has defeated death; he rose from the dead, he left the tomb behind.  And he is returning to raise you up also.  

We confess we believe in the “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”  Thus, wherever your bodies are on that last day of this age, the day of his return, Christ will make you alive, body and soul reunited together.  If your ashes are in an urn or scattered over field or sea, Christ will make your body alive.  If your bones are in a grave, Christ will make you alive.  If your body is fallen on some battlefield far away from home, Christ will make you alive.  And if you are still alive in the body when Christ returns, he will make you truly alive.  For you will live for eternity.  And if it were possible for someone to peer into your graves and look for your bodies at that time, they would hear what the angels asked the women at Jesus’ tomb: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

Because when Christ returns he will take death, which he has already defeated, and destroy it forever so that neither sin, nor death, nor the devil can plague God’s good creation any longer.  So, as the prophet Isaiah who saw that day says, no more will an infant live but a few days or an old man die, because death will be no more (Isaiah 65:17-25).  There will be no more war, no more sorrow, no more death, and the “wolf and the lamb shall graze together.”  There will finally be peace, eternal peace.

And you will finally meet in person the Church that has come before you and the Church that comes after you.  And you will all then live eternally in the glory of the Lord in a new, restored creation – a new heavens and a new earth.  The former sorrows and pains that you had, and death that you experienced will be no more, nor will they be remembered or come to mind.  For you will inhabit the new Jerusalem, with no sin or evil or death in it; just the Lord and His people dwelling together forever and enjoying God’s good and perfect creation.  

All this because Jesus Christ has risen from the grave.  And this victory is yours, because He has willed it to you through the testament of his blood.  

So, Easter morning when Christ rose is the day we celebrate every Sunday, and indeed every day as we live out our lives together, as his people, in the light of his victory and in the hope we have in him.  

“This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”   He is risen!  He has risen indeed, Alleluia!  

Amen.

April 14 Arrives Soon!

Trinity Lutheran Church has its first service in Norcross, Georgia on Palm Sunday, April 14!  All is set and ready for the preaching of the unmerited grace of God in Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord!  This is a new place at a new altar where people can gather and receive the eternal treasures of the Triune God!  This is a place where our Lord will snap the idolatrous chains of Satan that keep people trapped in spiritual death (Ephesian 2:1-10).   This will be a place where burden and guilt will be lifted off the shoulders of troubled souls by the forgiveness of sins in our loving Savior, Jesus (John 20:20-23).  We give God thanks for the mission heart and support from the Atlanta North Circuit for the purchase of the new hymnals and catechisms.  We also thank our Lord for our Florida-Georgia District who have given a generous gift to cover the cost of rent at Norcross Elementary School for 6 months.  It is time.  If we continue to wait until our weak sinful natures are ready enough to engage in the Great Commission, we will never move.  But our Lord Jesus Christ says “Go (Matthew 28:18-19)!” We trust the power of the Word of God to bring all the results.  We trust the Holy Spirit Who brings new life when and where He wills (John 3:3-7).    “Behold, now is the favorable time (kairos); behold now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2)!”

Pastor Belton at Stepping STone Pic for Kairos Network black and white

The schedule for the day will be:

  • The Divine Service at 9 AM with Dr. Victor Belton preaching (pictured above left).
  • Bible Study for all ages at 10 AM.
  • The Divine Service in Korean at 11 AM with Rev. Min Soo Kim preaching (pictured below with his family).
  • Bible Study for all ages in Korean at Noon.
  • Food and Fellowship for all at 1 PM.

IMG_8912 (1)

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;

Praise Him, all creatures here below;

Praise Him above, ye heavenly host:

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Amen!

~Thomas Ken

 

 

Evil and God

The question about evil continues to pop up as a reason for people to “not believe.”  It is very common for people to say that “I cannot believe in a God that allows suffering or evil.”  This all concerns the question of theodicy.  Theodicy basically probes the question “why does a loving God allow evil in the world?”  This is a legit question and people are very often legitimately asking this because they are seeking answers.  So . . . how do we respond?

Oddly enough, this question is concretely answered in Article XI of the Formula of Concord!  Crazy!   Thanks to Rev. Wolfmueller for putting this in front of us so succinctly!

 

Why Plant a Church?

Why should any of us be so concerned about planting a church?  Aren’t there plenty of Christian churches already around us?  Aren’t there churches with much better facilities?  And much more effective programs?  Wouldn’t they be better at helping people understand the Gospel and find a church?  Why do we need to be so concerned about what we are doing?  Read Matthew 28:19-20.  The words are “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have observe all that I have commanded you.”  Christ clearly commands us to go to baptize all nations and to teach all that He has commanded us.  The tense of this Greek word “Go!” basically says “having already gone,” baptize and teach.  This is not a job we ever walk away from.  It is protocol for the entire Christian Church on earth.  Also, we are assured here that until the close of the age, Jesus says there will be a holy Christian people with whom He will dwell.  He says “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  The question is, “how can these holy people be found or recognized?”  Martin Luther writes that these holy Christian people can be recognized by these seven things:

  1. Possession of God’s Holy Word in its entirety (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
  2. Holy Baptism rightly administered (Acts 2:38-41).
  3. The Sacrament of the Altar rightly administered (Acts 2:42).
  4. The Office of the Keys exercised publicly (John 20:23).
  5. The Office of the Ministry called pastors who administer the above four things (Acts 20:38).
  6. Prayer, public praise, and thanksgiving to God (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
  7. Possession of the sacred cross in proclamation and participation (Galatians 6:14).

Luther’s Works, Volume 41, Pages 148-165.

Ask yourself.  Where can you find all these things in one place?

Although there are churches around us, these precious things are not all around us.  And yet these things are the reason for our courage.  Although we are sinners whose only consolation is the mercy of the cross of our Savior, time and time again we are steadied by our convictions in the Word of God and the necessity for the people around us to hear the eternal Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ clearly (Romans 1:16).  We are moved by our conviction of God’s mighty power in Holy Baptism (Romans 6:3-5), the necessity of the forgiveness of sins (John 20:23), and the great benefits of the Lord’s Supper (John 6:54).  People need the Good News of Christ in these days!  They need His concrete means of grace!  The Holy Spirit has given us the desire for others to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4).  The result of these 7 marks of the Church is Christian love empowered by the Holy Spirit.

So . . . Trinity Lutheran Church is going into Norcross.  They will bring these blessings to the lost and also disciple the saved.  Keep them in your prayers as things begin on April 14, 2019!  Glory to God and salvation to man!

Holy Trinity Lutheran Logo with Schedule

 

 

Mission Field: USA in Georgia

LCMS-Mission-Field-USA-Page-Banner-Image

Beginning on May 8, 2019, there will be Mission Field: USA training offered at Living Faith Lutheran Church in Cumming from 9 AM – 4 PM.  This training is for pastors and lay people interested in starting a new Lutheran congregation, being a part of a church plant, or learning more about the process.

This training for doing missions is structured around the 7 marks of the Church (Luther’s writing on Church and Ministry III) and the framework of Witness, Mercy and Life Together.  For more information, go to http://www.lcms.org/how-we-serve/national/church-planting.  The Rev. Steve Schave will be onsite leading us on May 22.

The schedule is as follows:

9 AM – Order of Matins

10 AM – Bible Study on the Gospel of Mark

11:30 AM – Study in the Catechism and the Lutheran Confessions

Noon – Liturgical study

12:30 PM – Lunch Break

1:30 PM – Mission Field USA

2:30 PM – Pavement Pounders

 

Feel free to come for as much of it as you can!  Glory to God!  Salvation to man!