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What Luther Says

SERMON: 'Promise And Faith Belong Together' -- Second Sunday In Lent

Rather than a traditional sermon for this week's Sunday Sermon series, I thought I would make you aware of this excellent edition of a popular Lutheran radio show from KNGN Radio since it features commentary on several passages of Scripture related to this Second Sunday In Lent.

On this week's LampLight Conversations, Pastor Evan Goeglein, who serves at Faith Lutheran Church in Rogue River OR, and who co-hosts Table Talk Radio, joined the conversation on the lessons for the Second Sunday In Lent, which are...

Genesis 12:1-9 (ESV) 1 Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." 4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. 9 And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.

Psalm 121:1–8 (ESV) 1 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? 2 My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. 3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. 4 Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. 6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. 8 The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

Romans 4:1–8 (ESV) 1 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin."

Romans 4:13–17 (ESV)
13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. 16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring -- not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations" -- in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

John 3:1–17 (ESV) 1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." 3 Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." 4 Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?" 5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." 9 Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" 10 Jesus answered him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 "For God so loved the world,i that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

This was my first time listening to LampLight Conversations and I thoroughly enjoyed the roundtable format. So much good commentary provided to us!

Even so, and while I know I'm only a Lutheran layman, I would like to add a little more to what we heard on that program as I find it in my Lutheran Study Bible.

In Genesis 12:1-9, we see that God calls an idolater to faith, giving him a promise that God Himself would fulfill for all people. God's Spirit works faith, when and where He pleases, through the Word.

He is faithful to do as He has said. He made Abram into a great nation, blessing all the world through the Son. As Abram's offspring by faith, we have the blessing of God's forgiveness and life without end.

Personally, I think it's truly fascinating how in Genesis 12:1 we read how God provided by His Word. How the Word of God came to Abram is not specified, but Martin Luther wrote...

"I am convinced that he was not called directly by God without the ministry."

*- Luther's Works, 2:249

It's also worth noting how, in relation to Genesis 12:2, St. Paul calls Christians the offspring of Abraham (Galatians 3:29), indicating how widely God has extended the patriarch's name on account of the Gospel.

When it comes to Abraham being a "blessing," of course, this was ultimately fulfilled in Christ, but also in various temporal ways, as when God blessed the Egyptians through Joseph, the Ninevites through Jonah, and even the Babylonians during Israel's exile (Daniel 2:48; Daniel 6:28).

Shifting our focus to Psalm 121, I'll refer again to what Luther wrote...

"The 121st psalm is a psalm of comfort in which the psalmist comforts us by his example, so that we may remain strong in faith and wait for God's help and protection. Although it appears as though He sleeps or slumbers so that we are struck down by the sun by day and the moon at night, yet it is not so, though we may think and feel it. For God watches and keeps us secure and does not let the sun strike us dead. This we will come to know for certain at last, though we can now only look forward to it."

*- Reading The Psalms With Luther

We are pilgrims on a journey to our heavenly home (Philippians 3:20-21). This Psalm reminds us to focus on the Lord, who oversees our journey.

My dear friends, do not allow the mountains, moon, sun, or anything else in creation to frighten you. Our God is eternally alert and goes above and before us!

Now, in contrast to a passage like Genesis 12:1-9, when we jump over to John 3:1-17, we find Nicodemus who, though "the teacher of Israel," shows that he cannot comprehend the Spirit's miraculous work of new birth through Baptism.

Human reason, darkened by sin, cannot accept that God can grant spiritual rebirth through ordinary water used with His Word. But such a great a great promise has come from none other than the Son of Man, lifted up on the cross for our salvation!

John 3:5 is a key verse for us Lutherans, because "water and the Spirit" belong together and point to Christian Baptism. The Large Catechism and Formula of Concord adds this...

"In the first place, we take up Baptism, by which we are first received into the Christian Church."

*- Large Catechism, IV 2

"Reason and free will are able to live an outwardly decent life to a certain extent. But only the Holy Spirit causes a person to be born anew [John 3:5] and to have inwardly another heart, mind, and natural desire"

*- Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, II 26

Ultimately, Jesus urged Nicodemus to discard his narrowly naturalistic view of human beings, as well as any presumption that they produce new birth. By the way, the new birth is entirely an act of God (John 1:13).

The Pastors said some great things about John 3:16, which is a verse everyone knows by heart, but here is what I would like to emphasize...

"Whoever believes in [the Son of God, be it with a strong or a weak faith,] may have eternal life. [John 3:15] Worthiness does not depend on the greatness or smallness, the weakness or strength of faith. Instead, it depends on Christ's merit."

*- Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, VII 70-71

"Look at the words, I beseech you, to determine how and of whom He is speaking. ... No one here is excluded. God's Son was given for all. All should believe, and all who do believe should not perish, etc. Take hold of your own nose, I beseech you, to determine whether you are not a human being (that is, part of the world) and, like any other man, (you) belong to the number of those comprised in the word 'all'"

*- Martin Luther, What Luther Says

That is a far cry from the types of things I was taught to believe when I was part of the American Evangelical-Baptist-Calvinist-Reformed camp, and yet, here we find the simplicity of the Gospel in black-and-white (as well as the red letters or words spoken by Jesus Himself).

Finally, we turn our attention to Romans 4. The key takeaway from these Epistle readings is that Abraham's circumcision did not save him; it was a response to his salvation.

Yes, we are CONSTANTLY tempted to give our works a role in salvation, but this detracts from God's work. Christ saves us apart from our works, so anything we do responds to what He has already done for us.

Once more, I love how Martin Luther summarized Romans 4...

"After the first three chapters, in which sin is revealed and faith's way to righteousness is taught, St. Paul begins in chapter 4 to meet certain remonstrances and objections. First he takes up the one that all men commonly make when they hear that faith justifies without works. They say, 'Are we, then, to do no good works?' Therefore he himself takes up the case of Abraham, and asks, 'What did Abraham accomplish, then, with his good works? Were they all in vain? Were his works of no use?' He concludes that Abraham was justified by faith alone, without any works, so much so that the Scriptures in Genesis 15[:6] declare that he was justified by faith alone even before the work of circumcision. But if the work of circumcision contributed nothing to his righteousness, though God had commanded it and it was a good work of obedience, then surely no other good work will contribute anything to righteousness. Rather, as Abraham's circumcision was an external sign by which he showed the righteousness that was already his in faith, so all good works are only external signs which follow out of faith; like good fruit, they demonstrate that a person is already inwardly righteous before God.

With this powerful illustration from the Scriptures, St. Paul confirms the doctrine of faith which he had set forth in chapter 3. He cites also another witness, David, who says in Psalm 32[:1-2] that a man is justified without works -- although he does not remain without works when he has been justified. Then he gives the illustration a broader application, setting it over against all other works of the law. He concludes that the Jews cannot be Abraham's heirs merely because of their blood, still less because of the works of the law; they must inherit Abraham's faith, if they would be true heirs. For before the law -- before the law of Moses and the law of circumcision -- Abraham was justified by faith and called the father of all believers. Moreover the law brings about wrath rather than grace, because no one keeps the law out of love for it and pleasure in it. What comes by the works of the law is thus disfavor rather than grace. Therefore faith alone must obtain the grace promised to Abraham, for these examples too were written for our sakes [Romans 15:4], that we too should believe."

*- Luther's Works, 35:373-74

We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-10; Ephesians 4:5).

Here's an excellent prayer taken from my Lutheran Study Bible based on these same passages to help us wrap things up today...

Heavenly Father, call us to trust the Word of God in the water of Holy Baptism, to cling to everything You command, and to live by the blessing of Your Word. O Holy Spirit, I praise You that You have given me new birth to a living hope through Christ's resurrection. God gives His only Son as a sacrificial gift to deliver the world from condemnation and to give eternal life to those who believe in Him. Lord Jesus Christ, Redeemer of the world, thank You for Your salvation. Empower me to share Your gift with others. Gracious God, grant us hearts that trust like Abraham, who trusted in You alone. Thank You for declaring us righteous! O Lord, we trust in Your vigilant love. You will preserve us in order to bring us home. In Jesus' name. Amen.

This entire Bible study and discussion for this Second Sunday In Lent reminds me of something Luther added (particularly in response to the Genesis 12 passage of the texts we looked at)...

"Promise and faith belong together."

*- Luther's Works, 2:266

That's a mere 5 words to sum up today's Sunday Sermon series entry.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, reflecting on this account of Abraham, we see that God gave not merely a promise of temporal blessings, but the promise of the Gospel that, in Christ Jesus -- Abraham's Seed (Galatians 3:29) -- people of all nations and of all times (that's you and me!) will have the eternal blessing of God's forgiveness!

In other words, there is no greater blessing than that "in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them" (2 Corinthians 5:19)!

NOTE: As you know, I am a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is not consistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray. Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a Lutheran-In-Name-Only at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a "Book of Concord" containing our Confessions even existed. In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by common Evangelical concerns/criticisms that perhaps wouldn't be too big a deal for us Lutherans. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Finally, please know that any time we engage in interpreting a specific portion of Scripture exegetically, it will always follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible unless otherwise noted. Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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