Filia Zion, Advent 2: Salvation for Jews and Gentiles is Found in Christ Alone

Lessons: Malachi 4:1-6, Romans 14:5-13, Luke 21:25-36
Hymns: 354, 352, 341, 336, 333

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul outlines a few Old Testament prophecies which foretell a time in which the Gospel will be preached to the Gentiles and they will receive it with joy.

After all, how can we not but be joyful when we hear that our sins are forgiven, and we have the confident hope of eternal life through Christ? What out there is better? As we eagerly anticipate the types of Christmas gifts we may be giving or receiving (as wonderful as they may be), we know that they do not compare to the blessings we receive from Christ.

In the early years of the Reformation, Martin Luther firmly believed that all who heard and understood the Gospel will joyfully receive it. Of course, everyone wants free forgiveness and everlasting salvation! Who in their right mind would pass up these blessings?

In fact, at first Luther was convinced that the Pope had no idea of the abuses taking place in the church or the things that were taught in churches which contradicted the Bible. He figured that if the Pope understood the true Gospel and realized the abuses taking place, the Pope would immediately work to correct the abuses and recover the pure Gospel.

Well, Luther turned out to be wrong. The Pope not only knew but approved of the things Luther found wrong and was seeking to correct. In fact, 500 years ago this year on June 15, Pope Leo X issued the papal bull Exsurge Domine which censured 41 propositions by Luther and instructed him to recant within 60 days upon the papal bull’s distribution in Germany. Luther refused to recant. Instead, he further galvanized his position on the Word of God and publicly burned a copy of the papal bull on December 10, 1520 (the 500th anniversary of this event is this coming Thursday).

In addition to figuring the Pope would readily accept the pure Gospel, he also figured the Jews would rejoice when they hear that Christ Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures and took away their sins and the sins of the entire world through His crucifixion and resurrection. But the Jews were largely uninterested.

Luther’s words against the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church intensified as they maintained their teachings which contradicted Scripture. Luther became bolder and bolder in exposing their lies and schemes.

It was similar for Luther with the Jews. For decades, Luther believed the Jews would gladly receive Jesus as their Messiah. But in the mid-1530s, Luther began to write against the Jews as his frustration mounted over their rejection of Christ and the Gospel. This has resulted in some accusing Luther of antisemitism. I’ve seen no evidence of Luther holding on to ethnic or racist hatred. Instead, Luther rejoiced in the Gospel and wanted all to hear and believe it.

God Himself is the one who condemns all who reject Christ Jesus. The Bible clearly teaches that there’s only one way to salvation. The Jews are not saved through their understanding of the Old Testament. Only those who believe in Jesus are saved. Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6, Gal. 3:6).

There was a time when God focused on just one group of people. These are the Old Testament Christians. They are descendants of Abraham—of Jacob. They are the Hebrew people, often known as Israelites. They became known as Jews, named after the tribe of Judah. That group of people was chosen by God to bear the Messiah who would then be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Through them would come Christ Jesus our Lord. True Old Testament Jews believed in the coming Messiah—in Jesus their Savior. The animal sacrifices they offered pointed them ahead to Christ who served as the sacrifice to take away the sin of the world. They celebrated the Passover, which pointed them to their Passover Lamb, Jesus.

God not only promised the Messiah through them, but He also told them of the day the Gospel will go into all the world—to foreigners—to Gentiles. Our Epistle reading quotes several of these Old Testament prophecies.

We rejoice that God fulfilled His promises and the Gospel has sounded forth into all the world. Jesus of Nazareth is not just a religious figure fit for some, but as we sang last week, He is the Savior of the Nations. For He did what no other man could do: He shed His innocent Blood as the ransom payment for our sin. His sacrifice atoned for the sins of the world.

You would think this would cause the entire world to rejoice and to receive His forgiveness and His Word of promise with great joy. But St. John records, Jesus “was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:10-11). Some hated Jesus so much they sought to kill Him. In their cruel thirst for blood and hatred, they crucified the Lord of Life, seeking to have the criminal Barabbas released instead of the Prince of Peace.

But we cannot blame the Jews alone for this cruel treatment of Jesus. The Creed is correct: “and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.” Pilate consented to our Lord’s death sentence, and our sin is the reason for His crucifixion. Our sin placed Him there.

But what man meant for evil, God meant for good. God first prophesied His plan of salvation to Adam and Eve after they had sinned. He told them of the day when her Seed would defeat the Devil. Through His death, Jesus earned salvation for all people. This salvation is given for free to all who believe in Christ. This promise is for both Jews and Gentiles. The earliest converts were Jews who heard the Gospel from eyewitnesses, such as the Apostles, the seventy-two, or the women who accompanied Jesus and witnessed the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The book of Acts reports the conversion of thousands who would follow Christ Jesus.

Yet, many Jews rejected Jesus, as they did during Holy Week. Even St. Paul at one time rejected Jesus as the Christ and consented to the execution of Christians. Along with Paul (then known as Saul), many Jews were seeking to eliminate Christianity. At the time, the Christian movement was known as The Way (Acts 9:2, Acts 24:14).

Yet God’s Word is greater and stronger than the evil intentions of man. Even when man tried to eliminate the Gospel, the Word of the Lord grew and flourished. Many came to faith in Christ. The Gospel spread to the Gentiles. Many believed and rejoiced, as was prophesied.

Persecution of Christians came not only came from Jews but also from other Gentiles. The Roman government began persecuting Christians just three decades after Jesus ascended into Heaven. In fact, Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire until A.D. 313.

Yet the Church continued to grow. People had joy and peace in believing in Christ. God was with all who called upon Him. He blessed them. And He brought substantial increases to His Church.

The Church has always suffered hardship and persecution. Yet God has blessed all who call upon His name with His presence. Their hope continues in Christ who will bring them through the great tribulation to Himself in Heaven. When our Lord Jesus returns, we have no reason to run or hide, but to “straighten up and raise our heads for our redemption” has come through our great Good Shepherd (Luke 21:28).

Yet, people will continue to reject the Gospel. Descendants of Jacob will continue to look for another Messiah. Some who consider themselves Christian will continue to replace salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone with their own works or their own religious viewpoint. Governments across the globe will oppose Christians. We ought to give thanks that the Supreme Court of the United States has been ruling against states which have implemented greater restrictions on churches than secular organizations offering similar gatherings. Churches have been unfairly targeted in some states and local jurisdictions, despite the freedoms guaranteed under the First Amendment.

Jesus said this generation will not pass away before all these things take place (Luke 21:32-33). When He said, “this generation,” He was referring to the multitude of unbelievers that will continue to exist until His return on the Last Day. You see, every time “this generation” is mentioned in Luke and Acts, it always refers to unbelievers who are present in any age. So, despite the great freedom we have in the Gospel and the countless blessings we have for being Christian, Jesus points out that there will always be unbelievers in every age. It is a sad reality.

Instead of joining them, Jesus calls on us to stay awake. For He will return to judge. If we want to be acquitted of our sin and granted complete forgiveness for the salvation of our bodies and souls, then we will want to take note and listen to the Word of Christ. We will stay awake as Jesus teaches through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures, that we might have hope (Rom. 15:4).

Therefore, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:5-6) and “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Rom. 15:13). This promise of hope is for you and all people—Jews and Gentiles alike. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen