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Disciples Abide in His Word

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31b-32

St Paul tells the baptized in Christ, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) Jesus has set you free from sin and death in order that you may live your new life in Him as His disciple, learning to observe all that He commanded (Matthew 28:16). To keep you free and to instruct you as His disciple, Jesus comes to you through His Word. So, it is in His Word where His disciples abide (remain, continue). Others may reject, avoid, neglect, or may not even know Christ’s Word. Disciples of Jesus gladly receive it, embrace it, consider it, learn it, speak it, trust it, obey it, and submit to it. 

Disciples of Jesus are called to sacrifice and submit to the will of God. As Paul states, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2) 

Disciples of Jesus are at odds with the world. As John said, “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.” (1 John 3:13) The Word of Christ is the Word of the cross, which is “folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe… Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21, 23-24)  

Rather than return to slavery by following the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, disciples of Jesus abide in His Word. As Paul warns, “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?... For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 4:8-9, 5:1)

Abiding in the Word of God is not a casual or painless endeavor, But if you abide in His Word, you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.

Why Private Confession and Absolution?

“I would not give up confession for all the riches of the world.” Luther

Sometimes referred to as “the Third Sacrament”, Luther and the reformers extoled private confession and absolution. The practice had been abused and the human work of contrition had taken precedence over the promise of Absolution. In his Large Catechism, Luther says, “We urge you…to confess and express your needs, not for the purpose of performing a work but to hear what God wishes to say to you. The word absolution, I say, is what you should concentrate on, magnifying and cherishing it as a great and wonderful treasure to be accepted with all praise and gratitude.” Absolution is a gift for the baptized that should not be despised but embraced. Luther said, “Therefore, when I urge you to go to confession, I am simply urging you to be a Christian.”

Christ brings His salvation to the lost sinner by the word of Holy Absolution. The Law of God crushes the sinner. It leaves him no way to escape his sin by his own works. But the Gospel raises him up from the judgement of the Law by proclaiming to him all that God has done for him in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. The baptized Christian “Daily sins much and deserves nothing but God’s wrath and punishment.” Holy Absolution is spoken that the Christian’s faith in Christ might be restored and that his conscience might be comforted and strengthened against the attacks of the devil, the world, and the Christian’s own sinful nature. The Small Catechism instructs, “Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it (absolution) our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.” Private absolution is the sweetest Gospel for the sinner applied to the sinner’s specific need.

In life, the baptized may lose his way and fall into unrepentant sin, including self-righteousness and pride. So, God pleads with us, through His absolution, not to despise His mercy or deny His forgiveness to any baptized sinner who may have lost his way. The Lord has sent out His ministers to seek the lost and bring the dead in sin back to life by the ministry of Holy Absolution. As the Lord says, “I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)

The rite of “Individual Confession and Absolution” is on pages 292-293 in the hymnal. Please let me know if you would like to know more.

The Lord Instructs the One He Loves

“‘My son, do not belittle the instruction of the Lord

Or become slack when rebuked by him;

For the Lord instructs the one he loves

And chastises every son whom he receive.’

Endure for the sake of instruction.”[1] Hebrews 12:5b-7a

The author of Hebrews cites Proverbs 3:11-12 in the quote above, reminding us of the love God has for us – as the love of a father for his son. Our heavenly Father instructs us because He loves us and wants the best for us. Like the congregation addressed in Hebrews, we are students instructed by God and trained by Him with His Word, so that we can run the race of faith with endurance. “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” (Heb 10:36). He teaches us so that we have eternal life with Him. 

The word used for “instruction” in the Hebrews 12 quote above is often translated “discipline”. The two go hand in hand. Instruction involves discipline, such as practice and receiving correction. The Lord instructs and disciplines us, His children, so that we gain divine wisdom to run the race of faith with endurance and so that we may share in His holiness. 

Essential to this is regular participation in the Divine Service through which God makes and keeps us holy. And we have His Holy Scriptures to instruct and discipline us throughout the week. We pray, as in The Collect of the Word, “Grant that we may so hear them (all Holy Scriptures), mark, learn, inwardly digest them that, by patience and comfort of Your Holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life”.

To coincide with the new church year, we are beginning a monthly challenge to encourage congregational discipline and instruction. For December, you are challenged to pray Luther’s Morning and Evening Prayers every day. For your convenience, these are both included in the “Guide for Prayer and Meditation” bulletin insert (They are the last prayers listed in bold type under the “Morning” and “Close of the Day” columns).


 


[1] Translation by John W. Kleinig, Hebrews, Concordia Commentary, Concordia Publishing House, 2017

New Every Morning

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

No matter how badly you have messed up in your life, you always get to start over with God! Every morning you wake up, the steadfast love of the Lord is there waiting for you. It was there yesterday, and it will be there every morning that you wake up. It does not grow old or stale. The mercies of God that never end are new every morning. Every day, God gives you the opportunity for a fresh start. 

If you are wondering why you would want to start over, consider the sins of your life and the cumulative effects of your rebellious, selfish, and foolish tendencies. Like the cumulative effects that aging, a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle have on a body, our lazy, selfish, and hard-hearted habits over time can cause us to grow cold and hard-hearted to God and to others. This can lead to spiritual death – the inability to believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord. 

But how can you start over after so many years of neglecting God and the life He has called you to? Jesus, of course. That’s what He does. It is the powerful force of His Word that kills and makes alive. The eternal gospel of Jesus Christ crucifies your sinful flesh and resurrects the new you, the eternal “you” He has made you to be. God the Creator is also the Re-Creator! This is what He does every day through His Word and Sacrament!

Look how creation itself testifies to death and resurrection cycles observable in nature. As winter approaches, leaves fall, flowers wither, and grass stops growing. Through the cold, dark season, trees and flowering plants will appear dead. But next year, like every year, Spring will come and new life will burst out all over again. Like the sleeper rising from their unconscious nighttime rest when the sun appears, we observe death and renewal cycles in God’s creation. These point to the Resurrection. But for certain assurance of the Resurrection, we have God’s Word. 

Jesus has promised that He will return, and when he does, we will rise in our new resurrected bodies to meet Him in the flesh! Because He has covered us with His righteousness and declared us innocent by His blood, we look forward to that day when He will welcome His holy bride, the Church, into His presence to celebrate the wedding feast. Until then, He invites you to a foretaste of this feast in His divine service. He invites to hear life giving words of forgiveness. And He invites you to start fresh in His steadfast love and never-ending mercies which are new every morning. 

Work Out Your Own Salvation

“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” (Philippians 2:12b)

When Paul writes to the church in Philippi to “work out” their own salvation, it sounds like he expects them to excerpt some effort. And he does! They had work to do. And so do we! Until we reach the safety of heaven, we must be kept safe in a dangerous world. 

We certainly are saved by grace alone by baptism and conversion. We did not work for it. Christ did. Salvation is now ours as a gift from God, but it must be kept ours. New life is born in us, and God nourishes this life to build up the strength He gives us. We hold on to salvation by faith. This hold must be strengthened, so we “work out” our own salvation.

A Christian who grows lazy and idle in working out their salvation is in danger of losing it. Their hold can become so weak that they eventually let go. You may know of someone like this who has stayed away from church for some reason. They stopped hearing God’s Word, so their sinful flesh was no longer killed by hearing God’s Law. And they no longer received forgiveness, life, and salvation through the Gospel – Christ crucified and risen for them. So, disconnected from the source, without nourishment and working out their salvation, their faith in Jesus as the crucified and risen Lord weakened, maybe even to the point of losing their salvation.

But God wants all to saved. Jesus died for all. We receive Christ and the salvation He won for us through His Word and Sacraments. And it is through these Means of Grace that He strengthens our hold on salvation. So how do we work out our salvation? Through constant and faithful use of His Word and Sacrament, the means by which we receive the Gospel, the power of salvation (Romans 1:16), to renew and increase our hold on salvation. 

God’s Word and Sacrament are our spiritual food and strength which bring about our “good works”. We Christians must keep going to God whose continuous grace will move us to will and to work, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:13) We are completely dependent on God for our salvation, and through His Word and Sacrament, He will bring us to keep on willing and working.

There is no uncertainty when we’re holding fast to the Word of life (Phil 2:16a), but only assurance that God is the very One to supply all that we need.

Engaging with Our Lord

Jesus Christ loves you. There is no ambiguity. There is no reason to doubt this. He has come to you specifically in the waters of Holy Baptism where you were joined with Him. You are part of His body, the Church, His bride.  You have been made holy and clean by the washing of water with the Word. Your sins have been forgiven. You have been rescued from death and the devil. You have received eternal salvation. You were sealed with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus purchased you with His blood, brought you into Himself, and made you a new creation. You are part of God’s holy family, adopted as a son, a joint heir with Christ. Because of Jesus, you will be raised incorruptible and live with Him and all the saints in the New Heaven and Earth without sin, death, and evil.

Though we cannot do anything to merit the grace and mercies God has poured upon us in Christ, there is an appropriate response in our lives now. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 11:36-12:2) And the Lord enables our response, bringing to death our sinful flesh and raising us up in Christ. 

Our Lord Himself actively engages with us through the ministry of the Word. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12). He does not avoid doing what is necessary and good for us. This includes confronting us in our sin and putting to death the sinful flesh that clings to us, so that He may raise up in us the new life that will continue in eternity. We will not get this from the world, which does not love us or care about us. The world will encourage you to do whatever you want to do and be whoever you want to be. But this is a lie. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20)

When we avoid engaging with the Word of God, whether at home with our Bible or in the Divine Service where His Word is preached and administered in the Sacraments, we are avoiding our Lord. However, when we engage with God’s Word and Sacrament, we are engaging with our Lord!

One Thing, and Only One Thing...

One thing, and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom. That one thing is the most holy Word of God, the gospel of Christ, as Christ says, John 11[:25], ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live’; and John 8[:36], ‘So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed’; and Matt 4[:4], ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ Let us then consider it certain and firmly established that the soul can do without anything except the Word of God and that where the Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul. If it has the Word of God it is rich and lacks nothing since it is the Word of life, truth, light, peace, righteousness, salvation, joy, liberty, wisdom, power, grace, glory, and of every incalculable blessing. This is why the prophet in the entire Psalm [119] and in many other places yearns and sighs for the Word of God and uses so many names to describe it.”

-Martin Luther

Yes, the Word of God is necessary! It is a priceless treasure. We who have it are truly blessed and rich beyond measure. And yet, “finding” the time or desire to take in God’s Word can be a challenge. 

As an encouragement and practical advice, I suggest that you simply make reading the Bible part of your daily routine. Make it a priority, knowing how necessary it is. Pick a time of the day that works, especially if you are doing this with others in your household, and stick to that same time every day. Start small and easy if you want with shorter readings and prayer to help establish the routine. When you miss a day, just pick it up the next day. Find a method or devotional resource that works for you. Our congregation’s weekly “Guide to Daily Prayer and Devotions” is intended to help you in your devotions, whether you use all or parts of it. It can also connect members around the same scripture and catechism lessons. (Since the readings correspond to the daily lectionary in our hymnal and the “Treasury of Daily Prayer”, it also connects us to Lutherans around the world going through the same text.) 

If you would like help finding a resource or developing a routine, please let me know. I am also happy to discuss with you any observations you make or questions that arise from your time in the Word. 

And, in addition to Sunday divine services, you can take in God’s Word at Sunday morning Bible class, Wednesday at the 9:30am study of the upcoming readings, and Wednesday at the 6:30pm divine services. Your soul will appreciate the nourishment.

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