Readings: Jeremiah 7:1-11, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, Luke 19:41-48
Hymns: 912, 913, 602, 642, 689
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
When St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he dealt with numerous sins that people were committing, errors that crept into the church, and even outright heresy. Like all congregations, the congregation at Corinth was filled with sinners. And like all God’s people, they needed to be shepherded, guided, corrected, and forgiven. Whenever we venture out on our own spiritual journeys, they will never end well, for they are guided by our sinful flesh instead of the Sacred Scriptures. The Corinthian Church was deeply divided from the various viewpoints that entered the congregation.
In Jeremiah’s day, many were following the path that suited their own selves. Refusing to listen to the prophets God sent, many found false prophets who told them what they wanted to hear. As it is written, the people stole, murdered, committed adultery, swore falsely, made offerings to Baal, went after other gods, and then they had the boldness to come before the One true God, saying, “We are delivered!” even while they continued on with their abominations (Jer. 7:9-10)!
Do we not see this today? People do what is right in their own eyes, engage in their pet sins, reasoning with themselves that they are forgiven by God, and keep on doing them?
For such self-security and shameless sin, God destroyed Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s day and most of its inhabitants were deported. God warned them. They refused to listen. They heard the prophets and then reasoned with themselves that God would not do that.
In our day, people are still reasoning that God will bless those who continue in unrepentant sin—that He will overlook those who believe falsely or get caught up in immoral living. In essence, many have fallen into Satan’s snare, figuring that all roads lead to Heaven. Whenever that becomes common thought, God’s mercy is manifested in bringing about widespread devastation, for such temporal suffering can bring many back to the way of truth and it is much easier to endure temporal punishment than an eternity in Hell.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem, for they had rejected Christ and His Word, which made for their peace. He wept, knowing the destruction the Holy City will face in just 40 years. When that happened, the Temple was permanently destroyed, and countless souls perished as the Roman army besieged Jerusalem. This happened because they had turned God’s house of prayer into a den of robbers. The Church leaders were seeking to destroy the Lord of Life.
Yet many were clinging to the word of Christ. And many listened to Jeremiah. And many heeded the preaching and writing of St. Paul in the Corinthian Church. Many heed the Word of God today, for that is mostly likely the reason why you are here today.
In our Epistle reading this morning, St. Paul addresses spiritual gifts. In fact, these 11 verses are just the beginning of Paul’s treatment on this topic, which will span 84 verses in 3 chapters. He spends so much time on this important issue because he does not want them to be uniformed (1 Cor. 12:1). Previously, they had been led astray by false gods which do not speak. But then God led them by His Spirit through His Word to His truth. Paul’s point in the opening verses of our Epistle is that the greatest gift of the Spirit is not various spiritual gifts which some in the Corinthian Church received, but the gift of faith—that God converts our hearts of stone to hearts of living and active faith—faith which trusts Christ and receives the forgiveness of sins He earned on the cross. This is a great blessing! And a great miracle!
One problem facing many in the Corinthian Church was this lack of faith. Some denied the Resurrection of our Lord. Others denied the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Another problem facing many was their misguided emphasis on certain gifts of the Holy Spirit. You see, during the time in which the Apostles lived, they traveled, preaching the Kingdom of God. As people came to faith by the working of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles then laid their hands on some Christians and God gave them specific spiritual gifts. Some of these spiritual gifts are outlined in our Epistle reading.
It was an honor to receive these gifts. They were not to be used for self-gain but for the benefit of the body of Christ—the whole congregation. They served as signs to confirm the Word preached by the Apostles and pastors. They were to aid in building up the body of Christ—that is, the believers. They were to show the skeptics that the Christian faith is true and real, coming from God Himself.
But in the Church at Corinth, there was a big problem. Those who had received the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues put other people down. They felt they were better than everyone else. Those without the gift of speaking in tongues felt inferior, even if God gave them other gifts, such as interpreting tongues, healing, performing miracles, or prophesying.
So what God intended for good, many were using for evil. St. Paul not only condemns their sin, but he explains why it is so bad. First, the same Spirit gave these gifts to chosen individuals. Second, God is One and He empowers people to have these gifts so that that His Church can work together. Third, Paul then goes into a treatment on the human body. He explains how the foot and hand serve very different functions, but they are on the same body and are both needed. Same with the ear and the eye. Both are needed. In fact, all members of the body are necessary. In the same manner, Christians with different gifts contribute to the congregation according to their abilities. All members of the Body are necessary.
Now, the spiritual gifts that Paul is speaking about were something that only occurred during the time of the Apostles. Remember, they were distributed by the Apostles as they laid their hands on the people. God the Holy Spirit worked these gifts through the means of the Apostles. The spiritual gifts of healing, speaking unlearned things, prophesying the future, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues were gifts given during the time of the Apostles and are no longer granted by God to Christians. While there are churches today which claim to use these spiritual gifts, it is a rather recent practice and it is not sanctioned by God. In fact, as St. Paul continued to address the Corinthians concerning this matter, he demonstrated the folly in thinking that those who speak in tongues are better than everyone, for he pointed out in chapter 13 that these spiritual gifts will cease when that which is perfect has come. We now have that perfect thing—the Holy Bible—the written Word of God. And what remains are faith, hope, and love.
One takeaway I want you to have this morning is that those who emphasize speaking in tongues as some manifestation of the Holy Spirit are false teachers. Those “Christian” preachers you see on TV who claim to perform miracles are also false teachers. If they can perform such great miracles, why haven’t they stopped COVID-19? Why do people still suffer from cancer?
So while God the Holy Spirit no longer promises to grant the spiritual gifts mentioned in today’s Epistle, He does give talents and abilities to each and every person. God would have it that we use our abilities for the betterment of others—in loving service toward our neighbor. In doing so, we are also serving God.
We do these things, not to gain God’s favor, but because we already have God’s favor. We don’t have God’s favor from what we have done, but from God has done for us. The Father sent His Son into this world. Jesus lived as a perfect Man and went to the cross, bearing our sins in His Body to pay for the sins of the world. He rose from the grave and sent His Spirit to guide us into the way of truth.
There are many churches out there who want to place more emphasize on the person and the work of Holy Spirit. That’s a reason why some want to recover the spiritual gifts mentioned in today’s Epistle. While this may seem nice, it is misguided. You see, the Holy Spirit’s task is to direct our eyes and ears to Jesus, who is the author and perfector of faith (Heb. 12:2). The Holy Spirit does this through the Word of God (Scripture, preaching, teaching, liturgy), through the Absolution, through Holy Baptism, and through the Lord’s Supper. The gifts of Christ are given us through these means by the Holy Spirit. Take heart in knowing that the Holy Spirit is actively working here, for these means of grace are presented and offered.
And the great miracle of faith is still being worked by the Holy Spirit. Remember, St. Paul emphasized faith as a greater miracle, and love in response of faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith clings to Christ alone, for He alone paid for the sins of the world.
Today’s Gospel takes place around the time when Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey. He goes to the Holy City, bearing the world’s sin in His Body, to die. He sheds His innocent Blood on our behalf to serve as the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. God the Holy Spirit now works faith in us—faith which clings to Christ—and faith which receives the forgiveness Jesus earned for us on the cross.
If you want a stronger faith, do not look within yourself, but trust that the Holy Spirit will work it as you meditate on God’s Word daily, hear God’s Word each week in the Divine Service, attend Bible study and go to the Sacrament. Through these means, you are being directed to Jesus and the Spirit is working faith in you. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen