Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Fear Not

Sermon for Pentecost 10, Proper 14A, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Sunday, August 13, 2017.
    We try to convince ourselves that death is no big deal, it’s nothing to fear.  We say it’s a normal part of life, even though it’s the opposite of life.  We lie and say death is a good thing, especially when it brings an end to suffering.  We do everything we can to take the fear out of death...and yet...we still fear it. 
    We fear death.  We fear our own and the death of loved ones.  We’re afraid of how we’ll die.  Will it be painful?  Will I suffer long?  What will happen to my family when I’m gone?  These questions haunt us.  But Christ encourages us in the face of death.  He says “Take heart, and don’t be afraid,” not because death is a small thing and isn’t scary, but because He’s the Lord of Creation who saves you from death.
    The disciples feared death.  Early in the morning, before the sun was up, out in the middle of the sea, after a long night on the sea with strong waves beating against the boat, the disciples saw Jesus coming to them, walking on the water.  What an amazing sight this should’ve been, seeing their Lord performing another miracle, walking on water.  But the disciples weren’t amazed, at least not in a good way.  They were terrified, thinking Jesus was a ghost, a bringer of death. 
    Knowing their fear, Jesus spoke to them saying “Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid” (Matt 14:27).  These words of Jesus weren’t an empty platitude or shallow encouragement.  They didn’t comfort the disciples simply because they assured them that Jesus wasn’t a ghost.  No, these words comforted the disciples because they identified Him as the Lord of Creation, as the great “I am,” God Himself. 
    If we go back to the original Greek of the New Testament, Jesus identified Himself by saying “ε?γώ ει?μι,” “I am,” the very words God used to identify Himself to Moses in the burning bush.  God is the “I am.”  He’s the Creator of all things.  He laid the foundations of the earth.  He set the limits of the sea, and Jesus Christ is God.  He’s the Son, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.  All things were made through Christ and without Him was not anything made that was made (Jn 1:3).  Jesus is the Lord of Creation.  He holds it all in His hands, even the wind and waves.  The disciples didn’t need to fear a watery death because Christ was there.  He was in control. 
    Jesus’ words encouraged the disciples, and Peter asked Him to call him out onto the water.  Peter got out of the boat and walked on the sea to Jesus.  Peter was walking on the water; but seeing the wind, he again feared death, and in this fear he began to sin.  Immediately Christ grabbed Peter and pulled him from the water and said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt 14:31). 
    Why did Peter doubt?  Why did he fear death again?  The Lord of Creation was right there with him and He wasn’t going to let anything bad happen to him.  But Peter still feared for his life because of his imperfect love.  That’s why the disciples were afraid...and that’s why we fear death.  We’re afraid of death because of our imperfect love:  imperfect love for God and imperfect love for others. 
    In thesis 14 of his 95 Theses Luther wrote, “Imperfect piety or love on the part of the dying person necessarily brings with it great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater the fear.”  We fear death because our love is imperfect.  We fear it because we fail to love.  We fear death because of our sin.  We know we deserve death because of our sin and this punishment is frightening.  Adam and Eve hid after eating the fruit because they were afraid.  Children hide the lamp they broke because they’re afraid.  We try to cover up our sin because we’re afraid.  We afraid of its punishment.
    Our fear of death comes from our imperfect love for God.  Like Peter we don’t trust the Lord of Creation to protect us, to care for us.  How often do we worry about the necessary, and also the not so necessary, things of life?  He promises to take care of us, but do we believe Him?  We don’t trust His Word to do what it says.  He says faith is produced by hearing His Word, and yet we think we need to change it to get people to believe. 
Our imperfect love for God is seen in our imperfect love for others.  If we loved God, we’d follow His commands, and we definitely don’t love others as He commanded.  Our relationships are tainted with lies, hurtful words, adulterous actions, and thieving thoughts.  We deny forgiveness to others, even though we want it ourselves. 
    We should rightly fear death.  It’s the just punishment of sin.  And yet in the face of death, the Lord of Creation, Jesus Christ, comes to you and says “Take heart; it is I; [ε?γώ ει?μι], don’t be afraid.”  He says this to you not because death is a small thing or a normal part of life, but because He’s come into His creation and overcome death with His perfect love.
    The Son of God became incarnate; He left His place in heaven, and took on our flesh so that He could also take your punishment of death upon Himself.  The Lord of Creation entered creation to redeem creation.  Jesus came into this sin filled world to go to the cross to pay for your sin.  All of your sin, all of your imperfect love, Jesus carried to the cross, and there He died for it, in your place.  He received God’s wrath so that you wouldn’t.  On the cross, the punishment of sin was fulfilled.  And three days later, Jesus rose from the grave, defeating death, winning everlasting life for you and for all who believe in Him, all who have faith in Christ’s sacrificial death, all who confess that Jesus is Lord. 
    This new life God gives you in your Baptism.  Just as Christ pulled Peter out of the sea, the Lord of Creation has pulled you out of the sea of Baptism.  In that water your old sinful man was drowned, along all his imperfect love and sin, and a new man was raised with faith and love for Christ your Savior. 
    With this faith and love, you trust in your Savior.  You trust His promised words of life, “I am [ε?γώ ει?μι] the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn 11:25-26).  You trust in the forgiveness of sins that He won for you on the cross, and in the face of death, with faith, you don’t fear eternal punishment.  Instead you stand encouraged, knowing the Lord of Creation has saved you from it. 
    Does this mean we don’t mourn when friends and loved ones die?  No.  Does this mean we act as if death is no big deal?  No.  Death is still painful.  It’s still a big deal.  Death is never good.  It wasn’t part of God’s creation.  Our sin brought death upon us.  But in the face of death we don’t fear it, because our Savior has conquered it. 
Jesus took your punishment and gives you life.  His perfect love overcomes death.  Christ your Savior, the Lord of Creation, saves you from the punishment of death and with faith you take heart and fear not in the face of death, for you know that He gives you everlasting life.  In Jesus’ name...Amen.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

I think the fear of death is not simply because of the agony of the act of dying, but the uncertainty it instills in us.....now what happens? Judgment. Heaven or Hell? Saved or lost? For me, placing all those thorny and contentious theological issues on the side, it is really quite simple. I believe in my heart I am assured by Jesus Christ Himself that He has saved me from eternal damnation, that I am redeemed because He went to the Cross for me and all people. I believe I will see His face the moment my body and soul separate sometime at the appointed hour. I believe it. Millions of my brethren and sisters also believe it. To God be the glory. The victory belongs to the Lord, and someday I shall sing with the angels in the choirs of heaven, just one more sinner saved by His grace.

Anonymous said...

Following are 5 excerpts from this sermon:
“We lie and say death is a good thing…
We know we deserve death because of our sin and this punishment is frightening…
We should rightly fear death.
He received God’s wrath so that you wouldn’t. On the cross, the punishment of sin was fulfilled.
Death is never good.”
None of these is true. Each one will cause the faithful to doubt the Gospel, something no pastor should do.
The fourth excerpt teaches penal substitution. I cannot blame the pastor for teaching this, because he learned this satanic teaching at the seminary. It is part of our official doctrine. I will deal with it at the end.
Now, about death.
Scripture teaches that there are three kinds of death. The first is the spiritual death, which Adam and Eve were the first to experience after they sinned. This death is inherited by all people, and it is from this death that we are saved through the life, suffering, and death of our Lord.
The second death is the temporary separation of body and soul until the bodily resurrection. Every human being, including our Lord Himself, suffered and will suffer this death.
The third death is the eternal death of those who die the second death without having repented.
Nobody will argue that the first and third death are never good. But to say that the second death is never good is simply a lie. For the redeemed child of God it is the only door into eternal bliss.
Here is what Scripture says about the second death:
Isaiah 57:1, “The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.”
Psalm 116:15, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.” You dare to call evil what our Lord calls “precious’?
John 14:28, “You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” Not only does lack of love cause fear, but it also causes us to think evil of that over which we should rejoice.
The resurrection of Lazarus shows our Lord weeping – not because death was evil, but because He had to annul the death Lazarus had experienced, when He brought him back into this world.
Philippians 1, “ 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” So to remain in this world is not the preferred option. Does Paul think death is evil?
To believe that the second death is “never good” is to lack understanding of the basic Gospel.
Now briefly about penal substitution:
It demands a conflict between members of the Most Holy Trinity. The same Father, Who called His Son “beloved” vents His wrath on Him?
If our Lord was punished for our sins, why do we still need forgiveness? Is that not double jeopardy?
The theory only became popular in the tenths century.
The Roman Catholic Church does not believe in it. That would seem a poor argument, since there are many things in that church with which we do not agree. However, if we examine these disagreements, they are invariably improper additions to the faith of the Apostles. The fact that they do not believe in penal substitution proves that they chose not to fall into this heresy. There is no record of them ever deleting penal substitution from their official dogma. They consider penal substitution to be a “Reformed” heresy, dating to the time of the Reformation.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Lutheran Lurker said...

quote: Is that not double jeopardy?

since when does this principle in our law apply to God?

Anonymous said...

It is God’s principle as expressed in the tables of crimes and punishments in Exodus and Leviticus. The idea is that once punishment has been extracted, justice has been satisfied and there is no more claim against the offender. It’s called “an eye for an eye.” But you know that, don’t you?
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...


What exactly was Jesus doing on the cross then, if not as substitute for my sins (and the sins of the whole world)? What was the point of the countless sacrificial lambs in the Old Testament? (all of which pointed to Christ) It's the "sweet swap" as Luther called it–his life for mine, his righteousness for my sin, his innocence for my guilt etc etc. That's the Gospel! If not that, then what exactly is the Gospel in your view?

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous: That is most certainly the right question to ask.
First, let us be clear: denying penal substitution does not deny substitutionary atonement. It merely denies that our Lord was punished for our sins. When you think about what we know about the horrors caused by sin in this world, then I think you understand intuitively that it is impossible to punish someone for them in one day’s suffering. As you point out, there is a long history of sacrifice in the Old Testament. Why deny that now in the face of the greatest sacrifice to say, “It is punishment”?
There are several reasons for our Lord’s suffering and death on the cross:
1. Hebrews 2:10, “In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.” He was perfect before He began His suffering, but we are reminded in the Book of Job, that the Devil may argue that as long as He led a normal life, it would not be difficult for the Lord to remain perfect. So to silence all possible objections, Christ suffered mind bending pain during which He did not let hate enter His heart, thus remaining perfect until death.
2. This perfection is necessary for two reasons: first, because as we inherit sin from Adam, a sinner, we inherit perfection from Christ, the perfect man. There are many passages in the New Testament that speak of this, including Romans 5, “18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” This perfection is our inheritance, which we will receive in heaven. Secondly, even though we are regenerated in Baptism, we continue to sin. For these sins our Lord offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice. Hebrews 9:26, “But as it is, He has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” All of the sacrifices of the Old Testament foreshadowed this, the only real sacrifice. The Hebrew word for atonement carries in it the meaning of “covering with pitch” as Noah covered the Ark. So, until Christ made His sacrifice, all previous sacrifices merely “covered up” the sins of the people. He is the one, Who, according to John the Baptist, takes away the sins of the world.
Please note that none of the sacrifices, which God commanded in the Old Testament were intended as punishment for the object being sacrificed. Clearly this is to teach us that God accepts sacrifice to forgive sin, and does not require punishment.
The Gospel is that God planned all this before the world was made, and has done everything needed for our salvation, having Himself paid the price in His suffering and in His shed blood and broken body. He makes us partakers in His perfection through Baptism, when we enter God’s earthly Kingdom, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit as the guarantor of our life in the heavenly Kingdom. In the words of Luther’s explanation of the Third Article of the Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.”
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart