MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
KJV Luke 19:41 And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, 42 Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. 43 For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, 44 And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation. 45 And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; 46 Saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves. 47 And he taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him, 48 And could not find what they might do: for all the people were very attentive to hear him.
HE TAUGHT DAILY IN THE TEMPLE
(Nota bene: Lutheran quotations were placed in the sermon where they apply, rather than just being sent as a string of quotations. Let me know if you prefer this or having them in one lump.)
This has been a trying week for three ministers I know. One was fired without cause this week. Another was frozen out of his synod earlier. A third minister was facing the kind of clergy meddling that makes pastors leave the ministry if they are not forced out. I was going to write this sermon earlier in the week, but I found these episodes so tiring that I could not write anything.
This Gospel portrays Jesus looking over Jerusalem before its fall. As the Son of God, He knew what would develop in the years after His death. Jerusalem had many chances to repent. The residents heard the Old Testament prophets preaching the Gospel and they killed them. They heard Jesus teaching them the way of eternal life and they crucified Him. Then they heard the apostles preaching the Gospel. James was killed. The Christian Church in Jerusalem was scattered to the four winds. Forty years after the crucifixion of Jesus, the Roman armies leveled the ancient city of Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. The slaughter, hunger, and terror during the long siege was beyond belief. The survivors were sold into slavery and depressed the world price of slaves to such an extent that they were shipped away to distant lands as slaves.
I believe that Jesus’ mourning over Jerusalem could also be restated in the context of mourning over the upcoming destruction of the Lutheran Church. It would fit all denominations as well, but it is especially fitting for the Lutheran Church, because our church has been known as the Biblical church, the people united by a common faith articulated in the Book of Concord and defended by some of the greatest geniuses of Christendom: Chemnitz, Chytraeus, Johann Gerhard, Calov, and Hunnius, to name a few of those who followed Luther.
Is it not a sign of the fall of the Lutheran Church that our greatest fathers of the faith remain untranslated and unpublished, with the exception of the works by Repristination Press and some efforts by CPH?
When I mention the Book of Concord and Lutherans do not own a copy, is it not the same as the Diamondbacks saying, “Baseball gloves? What are those?”
However, what I would like to stress from this lesson is not the obvious apostasy (falling away from the truth) of the Lutheran Church as the example given by Jesus. In the midst of the prophesy about the terrors that await Jerusalem, the Word of God states:
47 And he taught daily in the temple.
Many types of ministers would pass over this simple phrase, seeing it as a historical reference. No wonder Jesus was crucified. He came to Jerusalem where His enemies were concentrated and He defied them!
Lutherans see far more than history in verse 47. Most people would respond to the reality of the situation by saying, “Why bother with these people?” As Luther stated so eloquently, everyone wants to go to a friendly city where the Gospel will be welcomed. No one wants to go into the midst of opposition, where the payment will be scorn, derision, and hatred.
Jesus, knowing everything that would come upon Him and Jerusalem, came into the city and went to the Temple to preach the Gospel. He had two reasons. First of all, all the people He converted were brought to faith by the spoken Word. True, they heard the Scriptures in their religious services, but Jesus preached the meaning of the Scriptures.
Not one person is recorded in the Bible as being converted by any other means than the spoken Word. (Luther called it the External Word, to differentiate it from the “inner word” of the Pentecostals, who imagined that the Holy Spirit worked apart from the Word, in dreams or in sudden inclinations.)
Pietists: "Only little weight is attached to the ministry of the Word, to worship services, the Sacraments, to confession and absolution, and to the observance of Christian customs; a thoroughly regenerated person does not need these crutches at all. Pietism stressed the personal element over against the institutional; voluntariness versus compulsion; the present versus tradition, and the rights of the laity over against the pastors."
Martin Schmidt, "Pietism," The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church, 3 vols., ed. Julius Bodensieck, Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1965, III, p. 1899.
"Quenstedt (I, 170): 'Whether the Word be read or not, whether it be heard and believed or not, yet the efficacy of its spiritual effects is always intrinsically inherent in it by the divine arrangement and communication, nor does this divine efficacy only come to it when it is used. For the Word of God, as such, cannot even be conceived of apart from the divine virtue and gracious working of the Holy Spirit, because this is inseparable from the Word of God.'"
Heinrich Schmid, Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, trans., Charles A. Hay and Henry E. Jacobs, Philadelphia: United Lutheran Publication House, 1899, p. 506.
Many times Lutherans will show great respect for the Bible, which is proper. But Luther, following Jesus, gave the highest praise to preaching the Gospel from the Scriptures. Today we tend to hear from all kinds of people who have their various opinions about how the Holy Spirit works. The fanatical sects like prayer groups and speaking in tongues. Their clones favor cell groups. Some talk about studying the Bible at home, which is good if the proper materials are used.
"'When the Word is read at home it is not as fruitful or as forcible as in public preaching and through the mouth of the preacher whom God has called for this purpose.' (Luther, Erlangen edition, 3:401)."
Henry Eyster Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith, Philadelphia: General Council Publication House, 1913, p. 290.
In most cases, almost universally, the sermon is shortchanged in terms of its value. But if we simply look at Jesus and the apostles, we know that the only thing they had to offer was the sermon. They had no buildings at first (in the apostolic age). They had no social groups, flower calendars, or worship bulletins. But they cited the Scriptures and preached the meaning of the Word of God.
If we can summarize the work of the apostles, besides the administration of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, it consisted of preaching the Word and careful catechism following a conversion. Someone might be converted to faith in Christ, but he was also baptized with his entire family (yes, even the babies) and carefully instructed in the Word. When I hear about a church with a 20 acre “campus” and scorn for the Word, I wonder what the apostles would say. Perhaps, if I might be so bold, I can guess: “We have the most powerful instrument on earth, the Word of Almighty God, that can shake mountains and forgive the sins of the most corrupted transgressor. What would we do with 20 acres, a bowling alley, and a water park?” Trust me in this: those who believe in having entertainment draw people to worship have no belief in the Word of God at all.
There is no reason to speculate on what God might have done to convert people. That is akin to people explaining what Jesus might have said if He could have been more expressive. We should only concern ourselves with what God has revealed about His promises in the plain words of Scripture. God bound Himself to the Word and the Sacraments, promising to work only through the Means of Grace and never apart from them. To say that He could have done His work another way if He wanted is the same as denying that He did exactly what He wanted. Or questioning His wisdom, a common failing of us fully-humans. As He explained so clearly in Isaiah 55: “My thoughts are not your thoughts and My ways are not your ways.”
Therefore, we have the teaching of God in the Scriptures but also the example of God’s Son in the New Testament. He patiently taught people, even when He knew they would crucify Him for that very act. He went to a city doomed for destruction, not one destined for a meta-church. We are inclined to ask, “For pity’s sake, why did Jesus do this?”
The answer is: pity. He had compassion on the city that would disown and kill Him. He brought the merciful Word of the Gospel to them in the hopes of converting some and saving them from destruction. We can see examples of Jesus preaching the way I garden, scattering the Word in all directions, knowing that some seed will take root and grow. (I have found that my prodigal sowing in the garden gets more results than the planting of those who criticize my methods but never use the seed I give them!) Jesus also carefully instructed the disciples and certain individuals. The woman at the well (John 4) received the full force of Law preaching and the promise of the Gospel. Imagine how uplifted she felt to realize that she was speaking to the long-promised Messiah. What proved it to her? (“Join My church. It is really growing fast.”?) The Word of God converted her in a flash. Jesus laid bare her soul and told her that He was the clear and refreshing source of her forgiveness. Did He ask her to join the evangelism task force? No, Jesus could not stop her from speaking to everyone she knew.
Some listened to the woman at the well and believed. Others scoffed. Some argued and yet believed later. That is how the Word of God takes hold of people. And that is how people reject it as well.
"The efficacy of the Word, unlike that of the seed, always has a result. The man to whom the Word of God comes, and who repels it, is not as he was before. Where long and persistently refused, hardening at last comes, Exodus 8:15; 9:12; John 12:40; Hebrews 4:1, and the Word becomes a 'savor of death unto death,' 2 Corinthians 2:16. Every word heard or read, every privilege and opportunity enjoyed, leaves its impress either for good or for evil. It is not so properly the Word, as man's abuse of the Word; not so much the efficacy of the Word, as the sin taking occasion of the efficacy that produces this result, Romans 7:8."
Henry Eyster Jacobs, Elements of Religion, Philadelphia, Board of Publication, General Council 1919 p. 155. Exodus 8:15; 9:12; John 12:40; Hebrews 4:1; 2 Corinthians 2:16; Romans 7:8
Many people today will say, “I would like that. If only Jesus would speak to Me, then I would know that this is the truth.” The Son of God does speak today through faithful ministers He has sent for that very purpose. Jesus said,
KJV Luke 10:16 He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me. 17 And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.
That statement from Jesus is both a wonderful promise and a terrible threat, showing how the Word of God converts and damns. The lowliest minister speaks for Jesus and has no right to speak anything other than God’s Word, no matter what the circumstances. Jesus promised the 70 that they were speaking His Word just as He was speaking His Father’s Word.
Someone who rejects the truth from a minister is rejecting God Himself. A faithful minister is one who is careful never to depart from the Scriptures and who is willing to repudiate in public any error, even to clarify what was stated correctly but misunderstood by someone. The issue is not the office of the preacher but the truth. When a minister accepts the divine call to preach, he has placed himself under the obligation to speak only for God and not to mix man’s word with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. The congregation also promises in a divine call to support the minister and to cooperate with him in his duties as a pastor.
"God has chosen despised and frail human beings for the ministry of the Word that the divine power of the Word might become apparent—a power impossible to suppress even in the weakest of persons. Moreover, if the mighty of the world were to preach the Gospel, people would be captivated more by the authority of the person preaching than by the Word itself."
What Luther Says, An Anthology, 3 vols., ed. Ewald M. Plass, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House 1959 III, p. 1118 W 25, 255; SL 6, 484; brief comments in 1532-34 #3571; Isaiah 40:10.
"But if ordination be understood as applying to the ministry of the Word, we are not unwilling to call ordination a sacrament. For the ministry of the Word has God's command and glorious promises. Romans 1:16 The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. Likewise, Isaiah 55:11: So shall My Word be that goeth forth out of My mouth; it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please...And it is of advantage, so far as can be done, to adorn the ministry of the Word with every kind of praise against fanatical men, who dream that the Holy Ghost is given not through the Word, but because of certain preparations of their own...."
Apology Augsburg Confession, XIII. #11. Number/Use Sacraments Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 311. Tappert, p. 212. Heiser, p. 95. Romans 1:16; Isaiah 55:11.
The ex-minister who phoned me for many hours this week said this, “It is a great privilege to be able to teach the Word of God.” He talked about how fulfilling it was, but also how painful to be frozen out by his fellow pastors. One even visited his congregation and attacked him personally when talking to members. The ex-pastor has come to the conclusion that he could only work in an independent congregation. I believe he will some day. I said, “You have been pushed out of a synod, not out of the Kingdom of God.” We talked about how every author of the Formula of Concord was given rough treatment, even Chemnitz was driven from his position as bishop for doing what was right. The cross and the Word are never far from each other.
One must be fairly old as a pastor to realize how closely the Parable of the Sower and the Seed corresponds to the preaching of the Word. Many failures are all too apparent. I often think I am sowing too close to the hardened path, too often in rocky soil, and almost always among the thorns.
But I think ministers like to garden because it reminds them of the pleasant surprises they have in the parish. This year I really wanted hollyhocks to grow. I did not see any growing and forgot where I planted them. Suddenly, one moment I saw a tall hollyhock with beautiful pink flowers on its tall stem. Each flower turned into a seed pod, and I scattered the new seeds in the old sunflower patch. Similarly, today I saw our dog resting among mounds of zinnias I planted and watered with diminishing hope earlier this year.
In a congregation and in the larger church one never knows. My longest list of disappointments has the names of clergy on it, especially those who wanted to become independent and instead became self-destructive. Yet we have many pleasant surprises along the way. Looking back it is easier to see this in perspective and give credit to God’s Word alone. In the weeds, in the unlikeliest of all places, a soul will bloom and foster growth of the Kingdom into the next generation.
I keep saying to people that just by existing and teaching the truth we are having a powerful effect on the Lutheran Church. We are only a fraction of a flea-speck in the Lutheran Church, a tiny slice of the 1% of all Lutherans in the “other” category, the category where people cannot remember the names of the remaining synods. (I just heard a new one the other day.) As one pastor said today, “Your congregation proves that there is a way out.” He and his friends pray for the day when their congregations can be independent, simply so they can preach the Word without the oppression of the apostates.
Jesus fulfilled the will of God the Father by daily preaching in the Temple. Notice how that is just the opposite of today’s thinking. Now people think, “We have to organize. We have to have a plan. First we need buildings and property.” One mission did not worship for about a year because it was meeting goals. We remodeled a garage and began worshiping at once, and good things have come from that. The modern thinking reminds me of the LCA evangelism expert who argued that every parish should have baseball teams. That worked for him (who no longer preached the Word or had a parish). It brought all kinds of new people in. His evangelism program can be summed up in a few words: ashamed of the Gospel.
This Gospel reminds us of the primary role in preaching the Word. The apostolic church was non-institutional and yet thrived and grew on the Word and Sacraments. The Medieval Church was deeply invested in buildings, estates, farms, cathedrals, universities, libraries, and collections of relics. The Church of the Middle Ages with its powerful popes was one of the great institutions of all time (measured by net worth, property, secular power) and yet it was shaken to its roots by one thing – the Word. Luther was not political. He had no army and no money. He had only one office – that of preacher. He preached sermons, lectured at a school with no reputation, and published articles. The Word was so powerful that it changed all of society around over the world.
We can also view the power of the Word in the examples of individuals. The author of “Amazing Grace” became a Calvinist but he was converted to the Christian faith by the spoken Word. First his mother had him memorize Scripture when he was a child. She died young and he followed in his father’s wake as a sailor. It is true that the sinking of his ship awakened him to the perils of his soul, but he would not have known this if he had not known the Scriptures his mother taught him. The Law terrorized his soul because he was the lowest of the low as a slave ship sailor. The spoken Word also entered into his conversion again through the patient teaching of a kindly captain. So John Newton had the beginnings of faith through his memory of the Scriptures and his later study. But he was guided in the establishment of his faith through the careful teaching of a Christian friend.
"Know, therefore, that you must be concerned not only about hearing, but also about learning and retaining it in memory, and do not think that it is optional with you of no great importance, but that it is God's commandment, who will require of you how you have heard, learned, and honored His Word."
The Large Catechism, The Third Commandment, #98. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 609. Tappert, p. 378. Heiser, p. 175. Exodus 20:8-11.
"And it is of advantage, so far as can be done, to adorn the ministry of the Word with every kind of praise against fanatical men, who dream that the Holy Ghost is given not through the Word, but because of certain preparations of their own, if they sit unoccupied and silent in obscure places, waiting for illumination, as the Enthusiasts formerly taught, and the Anabaptists now teach."
Apology Augsburg Confession, XIII. #13. The Sacraments. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 311. Tappert, p. 213. Heiser, p. 95.
"Since the Word of God is this weapon [sword], it behooves us to make use of it at all times and to this end become acquainted with it both by means of public preaching and by earnest Bible study at home. Cursory reading must be supplemented by careful memorizing of proof-texts and strong passages. Only in this way shall we be able to make the proper use of the Word of God as a true weapon of offense at all times."
Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the New Testament, 2 vols., St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, II, p. 292. Ephesians 6:17.
Needless to say, Kretzmann is out of print, yet remains the most requested title of all when people ask me for favorite old books. Notice that what he is saying also applies to the sermon. One cannot have light reading and a glance at a sermon help book and prepare a proper sermon. The more pastors engage in doctrinal conflict and in member visitation, the more they will bring the sermon to bear on significant issues. Doctrinal conflict sharpens our study of the Word one way. Pastoral care also drives us to the Word another way, for instance, when a member is troubled by the claims of a Baptist or Pentecostal relative. If we avoid doctrinal conflict, we will have a peaceful and glory-filled life, for a few years. But then we must answer to our Creator for abandoning the Word He entrusted to us. We can also avoid disturbing people in the congregation by shirking any doctrinal comparisons. I was upbraided by the WELS congregational president for speaking about infant baptism when I baptized a baby. It seems that the mother or father of the child was a Baptist and did not like the subject being brought up in church. We should not be surprised to find many Lutheran congregations aping the Baptists only a few years later, since we suppress the truth of the sacrament to keep them happy. (The episode made me even more eager to preach about the efficacy of infant baptism.)
What Jesus taught cost Him His life. In addition, His enemies were not content merely to kill Him. They also had to torture Him first and humiliate Him every way possible. Nevertheless, knowing all this in advance, He taught daily in the Temple. And so must we.