Lessons: Psalm 32, Exodus 10:16-20, 2 Corinthians 2:3-11, Matthew 18:15-20
Hymns: LSB 435, 434, 883
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The religious landscape in America is quickly changing. The nones are growing. The nones are those who hold to no religion at all. And even among those who consider themselves Christian, a growing number no longer believe that faith in Jesus is needed for salvation. They think that any religious belief, as long as it is sincere, makes a person acceptable to Heaven. This is frequently seen at visitations in funeral homes, even in our own community. People who never went to church are described as having gone to Heaven. Universalism, though it couldn’t be further from the truth, is alive and well all around us. Universalism is the false belief that all people will be saved regardless of faith. This, sadly, is the official teaching of some Christian denominations. Despite its popularity, we will abide by the Scriptures and teach what God truly teaches concerning salvation. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). He doesn’t do so because He loves to keep people out. Instead, Jesus wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4-6). By knowing the truth concerning Christ, we can trust in Him. We can see in Him not a God of wrath and vengeance, but a God who loves—a God who forgives—a God who has come to bring us peace—a God of mercy.
Last week, as we began the Christian Questions with Their Answers, we focused on trust–trusting in our dear Lord Jesus Christ. This week, we are asked this question:
9. What has Christ done for you that you trust in Him?
Answer: He died for me and shed His blood for me on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.
The forgiveness of sins cannot come apart from Christ. There is only one Person who died for us to redeem us from our sins. There is only one Person who shed His innocent Blood to render the ransom payment for our many sins. Because only Jesus has ever done this for mankind, forgiveness of sins is only available through Him.
He is the only One who could make this payment, for He is, as we answered tonight, “The son of God, true God and true Man.” That is who Jesus is. Jesus committed no personal sin and remained the sinless Son of God. He kept the Law perfectly. Yet, the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all. As the Son of Man, He could die bearing the sins of the world. He suffered the wrath of God as He bore our sins in His Body. He drank of the cup of wrath, for it was the only way to atone for the sins of the world. Because He is God and Man, He did what no man could do. He secured our salvation through the shedding of His Blood. He reconciles us to God our Father. He opens the gates of heaven to us.
That is why Jesus endured the Passion. That is why He went to the Garden of Gethsemane, as was His custom. That is why Jesus prayed there, knowing that He was about to be betrayed. He did not depart from His custom of praying in the Garden so that He could escape Judas. Instead, He was willingly led as the lamb to the slaughter. He goes uncomplaining forth to the cross to pay for the sins of the world. That way, forgiveness of sins is even possible.
And, as we testify from the Small Catechism, “For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” Without forgiveness, there is no life or salvation. Those who die without receiving this forgiveness will die in their sins. They will die eternally. They will be condemned forever in Hell.
We heard an example of this with Pharoah. He refused to trust in God. Even after witnessing some amazing miracles (various plagues God sent upon the Egyptians and how God could quickly take them away), Pharoah refused to trust in God. He loved God’s creation. He loved having the Israelites as his slaves so he could make a name for himself among the nations. His trust was in the creation, rather than the Creator. His heart was hard. But we heard of a time when he seemed to be repentant. He begged for forgiveness. But once he got what he really wanted (the plague of locusts gone), then he returned to the hardness of heart. And so, Pharoah remained in his sin. Because his sin was counted against him, he was not counted by God as righteous. He was not forgiven. Jesus died for him, but he forfeited the gift of salvation. He would not trust in the true God.
So much for universalism. As the Scriptures teach, it is impossible for those outside of faith in Christ to be saved.
The condemnation endured the unrepentant and unbelievers causes God no joy. He does not delight in the death of the wicked, but that they turn from their sins and live (Ezekiel 18:23). Jesus, as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, earned forgiveness for all people. This does not mean universalism, but it does mean all people have the same opportunity to receive salvation—salvation through faith in Christ. When a person believes, he is accounted before God as righteous (Genesis 15:6).
You see, only those who are righteous can go to Heaven. And no one can make himself righteous. That’s why we need Jesus. That’s why it was not possible for the cup to pass from Jesus. He had to go to the cross. He had to earn our forgiveness.
Those who die forgiven in Christ will be counted righteous before God and will be received into eternal life and will be granted everlasting salvation.
11. How do you know this?
Answer: From the holy Gospel, from the words instituting the Sacrament, and by His body and blood given me as a pledge in the Sacrament.
Last Advent, I encouraged you all to read the Gospel of Matthew. This Lententide, I have encouraged you to continue reading the Gospels (Mark and Luke) or the Epistles (currently Romans). This is such a wonderful thing to do. There’s no better way to spend our time, than to spend time in the Word—at home with our families in the Word and at our church home with our Christian family in the Word. Through this Word, the Holy Spirit is working faith in us—faith which believes in Jesus and His work—faith which trusts in Christ.
That way, this confession becomes yours which you cling to and never let go: “He died for me and shed His blood for me on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.” When we go to the Lord’s Supper, we receive Christ’s forgiveness and we proclaim His death until He comes. It is His pledge in the Sacrament. He is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen