May 3, 2020 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
On the night in which He was betrayed, to prepare the disciples for what was to come, Jesus described the world in terms of sorrow and joy. Jesus is talking about faith. Joy is the inevitable, immediate, and constant response of faith.
That being said, it is possible for a person with a guilty conscience to still have joy. It is not the full joy of Christ but it is joy. For example, when Joseph Mengele, the Nazi abortion doctor, was in the hieght of his power and wasn;t being openly and obviously attacked but was being praised. When he wasn’t enduring difficulties and setbacks and when no one was pointing out his sins or accusing him, he was able to create a make believe reality where he served science and was therefore able to enjoy music and intercourse and food and drink. But when hard times came for him, when life became unpleasant and uncertain, then it was impossible for him to be filled with anything but distress. Reality came crashing down on him. Fearing the wrath of the nation of Israel, he murmured and complained all the more. This sorrowful and impatient murmuring did nothing to alleviate his sorrow or calm his conscience. It simply exposed his self-righteousness. So it is for all unbelievers. Even if you aren’t Mengele, there is no worse sorrow than having to face the reality of your own selfishness and failures. Listen in Matthew 25 to how the goats try to justify themselves and how futile it is and repent.
On the other hand it, though, the one who trusts in God has joy in all circumstances. Not only can we face slander and lies, unjust accusations, we can even face true accusations. We know that our Redeemer lives. If the whole world should fall apart and burn around us, we stand unmoved amid the falling ruins. Our hope is not in this material world or princes and skill. We do not look to our works or understanding or efforts. Nor do we make excuses for our sins or complain about what we suffer. We have a Messiah. We have a God who loves us, who stood and stands for us. We stand with confidence because Jesus lives and has given to us a pure conscience. Yes, we have sinned. We have failed. We have caved. We have gossiped. We have lied. We have lusted. We have cheated. We are ashamed. But our sins are forgiven in Christ. We rest in His mercy and rejoice in it. There is no greater joy than this. It can and does abide even in the midst of sorrow and tribulation. This is why St. Paul can admonish us to rejoice always.
The disciples’ sorrow turned to joy when they repented and received the forgiveness of sins on Easter evening. Having seen Jesus crucified, they gave in to despair. For one weekend they were afraid that they would have to face God’s wrath on their own, even as Jesus did. That is what the Emmaus road disciples are getting at. They had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah but then He went and died so they had no Messiah. He was dead. They would also die in their sins and there was no hope. But they were wrong! They utterly misunderstood His sacrifice. They did not know the Scriptures. Jesus wasn’t punished for His own sins. He was punished for thiers. When they saw Him again on Sunday, alive, their hearts rejoiced. Then they knew that He was their God and Lord, their Messiah. Then they knew that He loved them and how He had loved them and they received the benefit of His death by faith. He bestowed His peace upon them, giving them the Holy Spirit, and instituting the Office of Holy Absolution. They had failed Him that weekend but He forgave them and purified their consciences. He declared them righteous in His sight. His peace means He has nothing against them. All is forgiven. They were filled with joy that no one can or ever did take away.
There is no greater joy than a pure conscience. And, again, there is no greater sorrow than that of a guilty one. You have sorrow now, for sure. Your plans have been destroyed. Your sense of security stripped away. You have endured injustice and confusion and fear. The media is filled with conflicting reports. Myriad of scientists, lawyers, and doctors all give supposedly expert advice but who do you trust? Do you trust Netflix or Fox News or the Federalist? Do you look to Hillsdale or Harvard or the local seminary? How do we or can we know what is true about this virus and the thousands of models about it?
We can’t. Trust not in princes. We don’t have the resources to vet all these things. All men are liars. Don’t trust any of them. Trust God. Trust His Word. Someone will surely say, “But there are also lots of conflicting interpretations from Bible experts!” That is true but you have the source material yourself. Don’t trust Bible experts. Don’t trust me. Read the Bible. Pray. Trust in God.
We will have some disagreements, to be sure, but the Holy Spirit can and does create unity in His Church. This is part of what Jesus prayed for on the night of His betrayal. We don’t all agree on what every passage means in all its details. As strange as it seems, some Lutherans don’t think Jesus is talking about the Sacrament of the Altar in John 6 and others have this idea that Mary and Joseph never consummated their marriage. I think those positions are wrong. But these are open questions and disagreement here doesn’t destroy our unity. What then is our unity?
The true unity of the Christian church is faith. The Church, broadly speaking, is the sum total of believers. The Lutheran confessions are explicit that there are true believers in the Roman Catholic church.
On this side of glory, however, we must use discernment. We can’t see into the hearts of men. We can’t judge between hypocrites and the weak in faith. We leave that in God’s hands. We rejoice that there are true believers who are confused about things that God sustains by His grace despite their errors but we do not embrace or endorse their errors are innocent or harmless. We have to separate from them for a time as a call to repentance and in witness of the truth. But where is the line? The line is that we cannot have external fellowship now except where the gospel is preached rightly and the sacraments are administered in conformity with God’s Word.
It is not necessary for the true unity of the Christian church now that uniform ceremonies, instituted by human beings, be observed everywhere in the same wayt. Nor is it necessary that we agree on every detail of what every passage means. We will have that eventually, in heaven, when all confusion is removed. But for now, we agree on the Gospel and the Sacraments. That is enough. And for us, so that we aren’t subjected to the vacillating character of men, we have the Small Catechism and the Book of Concord. These summaries of the Bible hold us in check. We can agree on that and we should. There is much more to be said on this, but let that suffice for now.
We agree on the Gospel. Jesus lives. He has died for your sins and yet is not dead. He lives. He has ascended in His Body to His Father’s right hand, but He is not gone. He has come out of the grave for you. He has put His Name on you. He speaks to you in His Word. He breathes out peace in His absolution and gives you His Holy Spirit. He joins you to Himself in the risen Body of His Holy Communion.
Trust in the Lord. This is what the Bible means when it says He is our rock and our anchor. There is what lasts, what endures, what is trustworthy in crazy times like these. Rejoice whatever your circumstances. You know the end. Jesus lives. So do you. Your sorrows will turn to joy. You belong to God. This world and this living death with its false joy and its real sorrows is passing away. Jesus lives. He lives for you. He has taken up your cause. He has answered for your sins. He has died your death. He transforms death into a passage. He pleads your case: His righteousness is your righteousness, the Law has been satisfied and has nothing more to say, death and the grave have been destroyed and emptied. Death is not easy, nor is it natural, nor are princes and scientists or pastors trustworthy, but this we are passing through. We are now in the birth canal and it is painful, scary, and feels uncertain. But we are in Christ. We belong to Him and He belongs to us. He has bound Himself to us with His Word which cannot lie.
So make a joyful noise unto God. Sing forth the honour of his name: make his praise glorious.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.