First President of the LCMS and it's Grandfather CFW Walther
Here is a list of Pastor Wagner's sermons. Most of them have been preached at Christ Our Savior; however, some of the earlier ones were preached at other locations.
You might notice that some of of the sermons do not have an audio player. These sermons were not recorded. However, all of the sermons do have a link to the manuscript on Pastor Wagner's website.
Ninth Sunday after Trinity
From there, Jesus turned his attention to the disciples, and that’s where today’s text picks up. The Pharisees were probably still around. They might have been listening to what Jesus was telling His disciples if they weren’t fuming over or pondering what He had just told them. In turning His attention to the disciples, He shifted the focus from the coins or sheep or sons in the previous parables, to figures of the shepherd, the woman, and (most especially) the father. So, he told them the parable of the Unrighteous Steward.
As is usually the case when the parables of Jesus are read, the natural inclination is to find oneself in the parable. “How does this parable relate to me?” is the question. It would make sense, given the previous three parables—in those, as a Christian, you would likely identify with the lost sheep, the lost coin, or the lost son over whom God, the angels, and all of heaven rejoice when they are found. Yes, you have been found in Christ, redeemed by His blood, and so at the time of your Baptism and every time you hear the words of absolution, these all rejoice over you.
So, when it comes to this parable, you likely, in some regard, identify with the unrighteous servant, though you might twinge at the idea of identifying with someone who remains being called unrighteous. You have been washed, cleaned, restored, renewed, forgiven, saved—you are declared righteous for the sake of Christ. How is it that Jesus would use someone called unrighteous to refer to you? Because the focus of this parable isn’t you, it isn’t the unrighteous servant, it’s the master. And by having told this parable, Jesus intended to get you to think more on the shepherd, the woman, and especially the father in the previous three parables.
So, focus on the shepherd, the woman, the father, and the master. What do these four have in common? They are merciful, and they are compelled by their mercy to act with overwhelming mercy toward the lost and unrighteous. The shepherd leaves the rest of his flock to search diligently for the lost sheep. The woman tears apart her house to look for her lost coin. The father runs with mercy to both sons and wants them both in the party. And the master...well, that will take a little more explaining.
So, the steward gets word that he is about to be put out of his job—he’s unrighteous, as he has been mismanaging his master’s assets. He ought to die for this; the master is well within his rights to demand the steward’s life. Well, as it turns out, the steward realizes just how merciful of a master he has, and he counted on the master acting in mercy toward him. The master was merciful—he was put out of the job, but he kept his life. But, there is more to the master’s mercy that the steward counted on. So, he goes to his master’s debtors and reduces their debt. This, of course, would give the debtors a favorable view of the steward, though he would only have been a messenger of the master’s mercy in this case, and especially of the master—they would want to continue to do business with the master, which also serves the master’s interests, in the long run. The master was impressed with the steward’s actions, and praised him.
Therefore, if you want to identify with the unrighteous steward, then see in your God One who is merciful, much more so, like the master. Are you a perfect steward of what your Master has given you? No, you are unrighteous in the things of your Father, and for that you ought to die—that is how the Law of God reads. Nevertheless, God is merciful, and He spares your life for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ. He is more merciful, because He further grants you a place in paradise with Him eternally—as in the parable of the Prodigal Son, you have a place at the party, and as such, rejoice with all of heaven over every sinner who repents, be they your brother in Christ, or one who is becoming your brother in Christ.
And it is for this reason, then, that Jesus transitioned from the parable to instructions on mammon, as you might know the word from other translation. It flows naturally from the parable, where the unrighteous steward made a prudent use of mammon—not his, though, mind you. So, Jesus said,
And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
The steward was able to make friends for himself using mammon. Jesus called it unrighteous because it cannot save. That doesn’t mean it isn’t useful, as it is also a gift from God, but as with all gifts, there is this propensity among mankind to misuse and abuse that which gives, and money is no different. Jesus said to use it wisely, make friends for yourself using it, that when it fails, you will have people who can return the favor. More than that, make use of it for the sake of the kingdom.
If you’re curious how that can look, Jesus said in Luke 12,
Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:33-34)
In short, use your money and possessions—your mammon—in service to God and His Christ, in the Kingdom of God on earth. Similar to the father in the previous parable, use what God has given you in service to your neighbor, with the intent that they can hear and believe the Gospel. I said that money cannot save, and that’s true, but it can be a means to bring someone to the place where they can be saved, and you just might be the person who uses it to that end, and so, “[M]ake friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” In other words, your wealth won’t last, but being with someone in eternity will.
That is the reason that God gives you what you have. You are faithful in this little to Him by using it for the purpose for which He has given it. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” Hear it again. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? It’s a valid question, and it should cause you to question just how faithful you have been in unrighteous wealth. Have you done what God expects of you with what God has given you? The only honest answer would have to be, “No.” Sure, sometimes you do, or in part you do, but that also means that sometimes you don’t and in part you don’t—which means that you don’t.
So, since you have’t been faithful with what God has given you, should you expect him to entrust you with true riches?
What are those true riches?
The Word of God
Any and all of those theologically loaded words, if you know what I mean
If you can’t be faithful with the little riches that God gives, why should you expect Him to give you these true riches? And those little riches are also more than just wealth and money, but everything that He gives you. You can recite two lists from Luther’s Small Catechism, “He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have,” and, “[E]verything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.” Can you say that you’ve been faithful in each and every one of these gifts—and the like? Again, the only honest answer has to be, “No.” Sometimes you do, or in part you do, but that also means that sometimes you don’t and in part you don’t—which means that you don’t.
So, again, I ask, why should you expect God to give you true riches? If you have been listening to the parable, you would know that you should expect God to give you true riches because He is merciful; and more than merciful, He gracious and faithful to His promises. He has given you the true wealth of faith in Him, trust in His Son and in no one else and nothing else for salvation. Sometimes, your job is demanded of you, in whatever form that takes, but your life is not. That’s because your life is won in Christ, whose life was given for yours on the cross.
By way of Baptism, you have been placed in Christ. There at the font, by the pouring of the water with the Word, you have been given faith. This faith takes God captive in His Word, as demonstrated by the Canaanite woman seeking healing for her demon-possessed daughter. (cf. Matthew 15:21-28) This faith holds to His promises, which is no big thing because God is faithful—He keeps His promises. By this faith, you can expect your merciful and gracious God to be merciful and gracious to you.
This is because God delights in showing you grace and mercy. He sent forth His Son—His only-begotten Son—to be man like you, and in being man, God took your place under the Father’s wrath, showing you mercy. Now, He sends the Spirit to bring you to faith, and to bring to you grace upon grace, to enable you to love and serve your neighbor, so that they and you can by faith hear and receive these words again and again: you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” (Isaiah 30:18)
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in [showing mercy]. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old. (Micah 7:18-20)
These passages, from Isaiah and Micah, respectively, are fulfilled in your hearing by Jesus on the crowd of 4000. For there, He told his disciples, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.” Then, He proceeded to feed them miraculously from seven small loaves of bread and and a few fish. This text is all about the mercy and compassion of God, especially as lived out in the person of the Son.
What drove Jesus to have compassion on the crowd? To put it plainly, it was Jesus Himself. He had been teaching them, instructing them, maybe even healing them, and they were hanging on every word of His. They might not have eaten anything in those three days they spent doing this, and Jesus, being God, knew it all. His teaching done, they would have to go home, and some of them, being with Him for so long, would have to go a long way, and having nothing to eat, they would have grown weary and fainted along the way. So, Jesus delighted to have compassion and mercy on them and feed them!
Now, don’t misunderstand me. They likely didn’t plan to be with Him for so long without food, and therein is the problem, insofar as there is a problem in the text. The people were away from home for so long and had no provisions. Such unpreparedness deserves the weariness and fainting that would have come with having no provisions—if you don’t eat, you’re going to grow weak! Such is a consequence of the sinfulness with which all of mankind is infected. But to a God who delights in showing mercy, this is nothing which cannot be overcome.
It’s all symptomatic of life in this Vale of Tears. As you go headlong from one sin into the next, your sinful condition is made more and more evident to you. There is nothing you can do, either in planning how to get out of it or even getting out of it altogether yourself. You are lost, having to face the consequences of your sin, and the words of St. Paul are probably ringing in your ears right now: “The wages of sin,” the consequence, as it were, “is death.” (Romans 6:23)
Death is what you deserve for your sin. Weariness, fainting, and possibly even death is what the crowd deserved for having no provisions for the days, traveling home on an empty stomach.
But God exalts Himself to show mercy. Mercy is when you don’t get what you deserve. A lenient judge is one who shows mercy by reducing a sentence for a crime, or eliminating it altogether. That’s the kind of justice that God shows—that’s the kind of Judge Jesus is—He eliminates the sentence for your sin.
In the case of the crowd upon which He had compassion, He demonstrated His mercy by feeding them all by way of seven small barley loaves and a few small fish. And their cups ran over to the tune of seven baskets full of leftovers. If that’s not the overwhelming mercy of God, then nothing is.
In your case—in the case of all humanity—God exalts Himself in His show of mercy by sending the Son. God would not have the sinner die, Ezekiel exclaims (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11), so He Himself takes on the flesh and bone and blood of His creation, becomes one with Man, and assumes into that perfect flesh the sins of the world, and dies with them, shedding His blood as the payment. God died on the cross for and with the sins of the world. No, you do not get what you deserve for your sin, for you should be the one on the cross giving your life for your iniquity, but “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6b)
No, you do not get what you deserve, and if that is not the overwhelming mercy of God, then most certainly nothing is. Once again, the words of St. Paul should be ringing in your ears: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” You do not get what you deserve: death for your sin; and that’s mercy, but you receive the free gift of God in Christ Jesus, which is life, and that’s grace—getting what you don’t deserve. “For God…[had mercy on] the world,” if you don’t mind my editorial change, “that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that [he would be gracious so that] the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17)—again, an editorial change.
I will add that none of this is deserved. You don’t, in any way, earn God’s mercy and grace. Your kindness and mercy toward others, while expected and demanded, will not earn you any favor with a just God who requires perfection. For, while you may do good in one moment, in the next, you are not, and all the good that you do, because you struggle with your sinful condition, is like a filthy rag before the almighty justice of the Father. (cf. Isaiah 64:6)
So, one might be tempted to give the crowd some credit for Jesus’ mercy by stating that He showed them compassion because they stayed with them for those three days. That, however would betray Jesus’ own words in the text. Jesus had concern for their well-being, that they would be so hungry as to grow weary and faint on their way home, so He fed them. It would, likewise, betray what was written by the prophets, as you heard earlier, that God delights in showing mercy—it’s who He is and what He does, apart from any worthiness or merit in yourself. You can only go so far to say that Jesus showed mercy to the crowd because they NEEDED to be shown mercy, having taking for themselves no provisions.
So, for you, that you don’t get what you deserve—that God shows you mercy—is on all Him. As with the crowd, so for you, God delights in showing you mercy, not because you have somehow earned it, but because that is who God is and what He does. You can only go so far to say that you NEED to be shown mercy, because you are completely lost in your sinful condition. Therefore, thank God that He delights in showing mercy.
Likewise, He delights in being gracious—giving you what you don’t deserve. In His divine compassion, He removes from you your iniquity and having placed it on His Son, He died with it. In place of that iniquity, He gives you life and salvation and a trust in Him which relies on Him for all that is good for you, and a holy desire for more. God has had compassion on you; He has shown you mercy to remove your sin from you as far as east is from the west. By faith, you cry out, “Yes! Amen! Give me more.” And He delights in showing you grace, and so you are forgiven for all of your sins. And where there is forgiveness, there is also life and salvation.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sounds okay, doesn’t it? Can you point out anything wrong with it? Will everyone who eats bread in the kingdom of God be blessed? Yeah, I’m sure that’s the case. But Jesus knew this man had other things in mind.
So, He tells a parable. Now, Luke didn’t write that it’s a parable. Jesus didn’t say that the Kingdom of God could be compared to what’s going on in this story. Nevertheless, since Jesus is making a point by telling a story, it is a parable.
A man once gave a great banquet. He had invited all of his friends and relatives. It’s the kind of banquet that they’re used to given and going to. One would host and invite the rest, then one of the rest would host the next one and invite the rest, and so on and so forth. The Pharisees knew this, especially given what Jesus had just told them before today’s text. (cf. Luke 14:12-14) They were also likely participating in just this sort of thing with the meal to which they had invited Jesus.
Well, as the story went, the feast was ready, so the master sent his servants to bring in those invited, but this time, things were different—the guests all requested to be excused. Now, this was likely nothing new. Sometimes, when you’re invited to a party, you just can’t make it because of some other commitment or some other pressing need comes up. The excuses given in Jesus’ parable sound like these sorts of things—some other commitment or some other pressing need has come up. The thing is, though, what you heard are only three of the excuses; it would seem by what continues to happen that everyone invited refused the invitation.
The master told his servants to bring in others and compel yet others to come to the banquet. The difference between these others and those invited is that these others aren’t the sort of people those invited would have invited to their banquets. In fact, these are the kinds of people that would normally only have dreamed of going to such a banquet; to them, this would have been no ordinary experience.
So, then, how does one connect this parable with what the Pharisee said? “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Well, the others brought and compelled into the banquet would certainly have thought of themselves as blessed. There they were, enjoying a feast unlike anything they had ever had before and likely would never have again. In that regard, that’s not unlike the feast of bread in the Kingdom of God for those who eat it, especially in the first part.
Also, bear in mind that this feast of bread in the Kingdom of God has a foretaste even now here on earth. This ongoing feast has been celebrated for centuries, known as the Sacrament of the Altar in the post-resurrection church, a fulfillment of the Passover meal, which could be seen as that foretaste in the pre-resurrection church. These days, in the post-resurrection church, Jesus gives His body as bread to eat in order to keep you in the one, true faith unto life everlasting, where you will eat that blessed bread in the Kingdom of God.
The trick is not to become so complacent in this ongoing feast that you find yourself making excuses in order not to take part it in, and in those excuses to become completely justified in doing so. Now, I say that knowing full well that occasionally, something does come up that would keep you away from this hallowed banquet hall, but that is the exception, and not the week-after-week norm. No, there is something more going on in the excuses in Jesus’ parable that translate to a desire not to be here week after week.
There’s an old proverb accredited to Apuleius, a 2nd century Latin poet, rhetorician, and Platonist philosopher. “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Something can become so familiar, so rote, so (dare I say) ordinary that you can find contempt in being there, participating in it, and doing the thing. How often do things become so routine that you loathe being at them? Friday comes, and you cannot wait to get home because it’s been a long five days at work, and you can use a break in your weekly routine. Or perhaps you’ve been at your job for decades, and your skin is wearing thin—it’s long past time to move on. Anything can become so monotonous and routine.
God forbid that this is the case with the Lord’s Supper, the Divine Service, even the other regular activities at church. Nevertheless, I’m afraid that this is exactly what can happen. Think honestly for a moment. You come here week after week. Do you come here looking forward to the service being over so that you can get to something else you’d rather be doing? And that not in childish ignorance, either. If that’s the way you really feel about it, why even come here at all? I’d be lying if I said I never felt that way. God forgive me for such an attitude.
What underscored those excuses, the attitude that is prevalent in wanting to be somewhere other than here? It’s an indifference to the holy things of God. It’s seeing the Word and Sacraments as being ordinary things. It’s thinking that this stuff here is just the same-old-same-old, it doesn’t matter if you miss a week, a month, a year, a decade…
What did the master in Jesus’ parable say about those who thought of his banquet as ordinary? “None of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”
At the Word of Jesus, you are invited and gathered here around Him, His Word, and His Sacraments. He deigns to grace you with His presence again and again in these ordinary-looking means. But they are anything but ordinary, for they are Christ for and in you.
By the Word, Jesus gives Himself to you and declares you forgiven, renewed, and redeemed.
By Holy Baptism, ordinary water by all “reasonable thought,” Jesus washes you clean of all iniquity and joins you to Himself.
By Holy Communion, ordinary bread and wine by all “reasonable thought,” Jesus gives you his very body and blood for your forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Now, it’s understandable to think of the Word and water as ordinary, though the very Word of God declares of them that they are anything but. However, to consider the body and blood of Jesus, the very Son of God incarnate, as ordinary—that should be unfathomable with any amount of holy, common sense.
Still, as I said, you are here, brought to this hallowed hall by God, the Holy Spirit, to hear Jesus in His Word proclaimed to you by His called servant, to receive Jesus in that proclamation, and to be renewed in body and soul by His Word and Sacrament. He gives Himself to you in these means in order that you would be His forever, to be blessed by Him to eat bread in the Kingdom of God. So He comes to you and cleanses you from this attitude of indifference. No, these are no ordinary means—they are God come down to you in grace and power; they are your life and salvation. They are the forgiveness of all of your sins!
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Presentation of the Augsburg Confession (transferred)
Scripture teaches salvation by grace, that works and being good avail nothing. You heard Luther say as much last week, but you heard it also in today’s Gospel.
Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” If that is true, and since Jesus is the Truth (cf. John 14:6), then it is true, then it holds that in order to have a part with Jesus, it’s all on someone else, not you, that you have that part with Jesus. In keeping with the Vine and Branches theme that Jesus uses, you are grafted onto the Vine, Jesus, by the gardener—and it should go without saying that a branch neither grows apart from a vine nor is one grafted onto a vine by itself.
Furthermore, there is this word from the pen of St. Paul: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this [that is, faith] is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Additionally, when describing your state and condition before God before salvation, the Bible says that you were a dead man, stating that you were dead in your trespasses and sins. (cf. Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13) By way of the gift of faith, then, you have had a resurrection, as it were, to newness of life—a newness given to you in the waters of Holy Baptism. (cf. Romans 6:3-4) A dead man can no more wake himself from the dead as a child can choose to be born or adopted, which, by the way, are other words used to describe your coming to faith. (cf. John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3, 23; Romans 8:15, 23; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5)
No one in history was saved because they were good. Last week, you confessed the Athanasian Creed, wherein you said, “At [Jesus’ second] coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give an account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.” “They that have done good,” are those who hold to the catholic (little-c) faith, which you also confessed last week, not those who work good toward salvation. As St. Paul recounted, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10b-12)
Nevertheless, good works are commanded, and as they are commanded, then you confess that they are necessary. What are they for? They are given to you in order that you may serve your neighbor. As Jesus once said, “The poor you always have with you.” (John 12:8) A look throughout the Old Testament sees the commandment from God to care for the widow and the fatherless children inasmuch as the Children of Israel were to be a light to the Gentiles. That expectation continued with the New Testament church, and even unto today. Care for the widows. Care for the fatherless children. Care for the poor who are always with you. Love your neighbor as yourself. If you want to know what you can do to that is pleasing to God in heaven, this is it: serve your neighbor—this is the good work you have been given to do.
As if to underscore the necessity of these good works, St. James the Just, brother of Jesus, wrote,
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2:14-18)
So Jesus continued, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” These kinds of works—without partiality, without seeking recognition, without compensation, and sometimes without the realization that you are doing anything, and without the hope of merit before God in heaven—prove your faith; prove your living faith. As was said before, though, these cannot be done apart from God and being in Christ. He gives them, you do them in Christ—apart from Him you can do nothing.
That’s why Jesus said, “Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Bearing fruit is the good works you are given to do. Those who don’t bear fruit are taken away. And in doing the good works, you are continually pruned—a proclamation of Law and Gospel to you—that you may continue to bear fruit, and bear more, in fact!
Four times now you have heard me say that God has given these works to you. This is exactly as it was written by St. Paul. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.“ (Ephesians 2:10)
Salvation is grace alone, which has been sufficiently demonstrated. And this comes to you by way of the Word of God alone, which has likewise been sufficiently demonstrated. What isn’t mentioned in these two statements? Faith alone! It is faith alone which apprehends the grace of God proclaimed and distributed in the Word of God and makes it your own. Hence what Jesus said in today’s Gospel: “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” By faith you believe that you are received into God’s favor, and that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for your sins, just as you read in Article IV on the back of your bulletin. These three Solas—sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura—underlie everything confessed in these three articles of the Augsburg Confession.
As a branch on the Vine, Jesus Christ, you are continually refreshed and renewed by the Vine. His Word—verily, Jesus Christ Himself—is continually proclaimed to you. His Sacraments are often administered to you. And so you are kept grafted to the Vine, pruned and cared for that you may continue to produce the fruit that you have been given to produce. But you are already clean because of the Word that was spoken to you and into you—washed and sanctified for the sake of Christ, forgiven and redeemed and saved—and that is completely by the grace of God.
What are works in the face of such grace? How can your good works compare to the free salvation by God’s grace? They can’t! The moment you think of them as somehow meritorious, they are as a polluted rag, an unclean thing, as the prophet declared. (cf. Isaiah 64:6) They could never be meritorious for they are given by God to His children to do, and please Him only on account of Christ, through whom they are done! Besides, given the choice, would you help and serve your neighbor, or to his detriment, help and serve only yourself? Good or not, however, it is as Christ declared of these works, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:10)
No, the grace of God doesn’t compare at all with works , especially when seen as meritorious. Since it is grace, it is a gift, not to be compared with works seen as meritorious. Since it is a gift, it is unearned and undeserved, freely given by God for the sake of Jesus Christ, who by His life, death, resurrection, and ascension performed the only meritorious work for salvation and redemption, and that once for all, when He gave His life on the cross as your ransom.
That’s why Jesus said what He did. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” What sounds like a bunch of law is chock full of gospel. “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.” You are clean for the sake of Christ, now go serve your neighbor, which you can do because you are already clean—that is, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Before ascending, though, Jesus promotes, as it were, His disciples to apostles. He sends them, though He did tell them to wait until Pentecost, when they would be anointed with power from on high. As His apostles, they went everywhere proclaiming the Gospel, as He directed them—“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” So, it follows:
Where two or three (or more) are gathered in the name of Christ, Jesus is there. (cf. Matthew 18:20)
When the Word is proclaimed, Jesus is there.
When water is applied to someone with the Word, Jesus is there.
When sins are confessed, Jesus is there.
When sins are forgiven, Jesus is there.
When the faith is professed, Jesus is there.
When the body and blood of Christ are consumed, Jesus is there.
Jesus is there in those things happening, working through and with those things happening—in other words, filling them. And if Jesus is there filling them, then there is forgiveness, life, and salvation there!
Again, it is as you heard in Mark 16:20, as well as back in verse 16. “And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.” “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Jesus worked with the apostles as they proclaimed the Gospel. His people brought the message of salvation to all the world, and as they proclaimed the Gospel, people believed. As St. Paul declared, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) The Apostles proclaimed the word of Christ, and the people heard, and by that hearing, they believed!
What happens as people turn from unbelief to faith? St. Paul also explained this:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, emphasis mine)
In short, people go from being unrighteous to being the righteousness of God in Christ. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20) If one is in Christ, He is a new creation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17), and Christ is in Him. Jesus filled the Corinthians, such that all of that unrighteousness was in their past; they are no longer those things.
Still ascended, Jesus continues to fill all things. Like the people of Corinth, He has filled you, and so you also are washed, sanctified, and justified. Like the people of Corinth, some of you were some of those things—sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who practice homosexuality, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers—or some other thing. And you know that you still struggle with this, that, or the other thing. Nevertheless, you are filled with Jesus, and He is present with you, certainly always, but also in those times, as I said earlier, when you confess your sins and are forgiven for your sins, strengthening you for your struggle, and receiving you unto Himself. And this because you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
You have heard the message of salvation: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. And it is your joyful privilege to carry and proclaim that message to all the world—or at least, in the little corner of it in which you have been placed. People need this message of salvation, the Jesus-filled message you have been given to proclaim.
So, as He continues to fill all things, Jesus gives. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God...” In other words, Jesus has given you the apostles, prophets, and evangelists, who have recorded His Word for you, and the pastors and teachers, who preach His Word to you, that you may be equipped, that is filled with Jesus, in order to do the work of ministry. Ministry is service to your neighbor for the purpose of building up the body of Christ, and that would be the proclamation of the message of salvation to that hurting world, to the end that everyone attains the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.
If you don’t believe that you have a part in bringing people to salvation, hear what is said through the evangelist St. Mark and the Apostle St. Paul. Jesus ascended far above all the heaven, that He might fill all things. They went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them… Jesus filled all things, including you, that you might proclaim Him to your neighbor, that they might be baptized and believing, washed, sanctified, and justified, no longer unrighteous, filled with Jesus—just like you. He does not leave you alone to do this, for He works with you, He works through you, in order that others might hear and believe. As St. Paul put it,
So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:7-9, emphasis mine)
“We are God’s fellow workers,” he wrote; so, you work with God, God in Christ working in you, since Christ fills you, as He fills all things.
This is what the ascension of Jesus means. This is why He fills all things: that you might be in Christ and that your neighbor might be in Christ, all having heard the message of salvation, being joined in the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, who died and rose again and ascended so that you would be forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.