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Since we will gather for worship and to partake of Christ’s body and blood given and shed for the remission of our sins, it is indeed good and right that we examine ourselves in accord with 1 Corinthians 11:28-29: “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”

We do so this week on the basis of Psalm 130, where we read: “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning. Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.”

And it is true: if the LORD God were to mark down our iniquities – all the ways and all the times in which we have transgressed His holy commandments – who could stand? The answer, of course, is not one of us. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). We are all guilty and deserving of His eternal wrath and punishment on account of our sins.

Though God’s law condemns us all to eternal torment on account of our sins, the psalmist writes: “But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.” Though we cannot be acceptable to God on the basis of His law on account of our sins and our sinful hearts, there is another way to be acceptable in His eyes – to have our sins forgiven and washed away and to be accounted righteous and holy in God’s eyes – and that is through faith in Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. He fulfilled the righteous demands of the law in our stead, and He suffered our just punishment when He was crucified and died upon the cross. His resurrection on the third day is proof that God accepted His sacrifice as full payment for sin and that through faith in Him we are justified and counted righteous and holy in God’s judgment.

It is as the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 3:20-26: “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”

Instead of trusting in our own sin-tainted righteousness which comes far, far short in every way, we place our confidence in the LORD. Our soul waits upon Him, because with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. In Jesus Christ, the LORD God has redeemed us from all our sins and offers and gives to us, through the preaching of the Gospel and through the right administration of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, His mercy and forgiveness, and life everlasting!

I ask you before God: Do you acknowledge that you are a sinner and have sinned in thought, word and deed? Do you confess and agree with God that you are guilty and deserving of his wrath and punishment? Do you trust that Christ Jesus has truly redeemed you from the curse of God’s law? Do you also believe that Jesus, in the Sacrament, gives you to partake of His body and blood which were given and shed that your sins might be forgiven you? As a fruit of your faith, do you truly desire and seek God’s help to amend your life and live it in accord with God’s Word?

If you are truly sorry for your sins and look to Christ and His atoning sacrifice upon the cross for pardon and forgiveness, I announce unto you the grace of God and, in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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Every one of us has, at one time or another, been infected by a virus. I’ve never actually seen one because of their tiny size. I’ve been told it takes an electron microscope to view them, but I’ve had a good number of viral infections over the years.

From what I’ve read, a virus does its dirty work by attaching itself to a healthy cell and replacing the cell’s genetic makeup with its own. When enough cells have had their genetic makeup altered or replaced by the virus, an infection occurs — whether it be a cold, the flu or some other sickness.

Thankfully, our bodies usually fight off those infections and we recover. When our bodies don’t or can’t, even the smallest viral infections can lead to serious illness or death.

The way in which a virus does its work is much like the way in which Biblical truth is undermined in churches. The father of lies (John 8:44) comes with little falsehoods, small doctrinal errors, subtle compromises of the Scriptural doctrine. And like a virus, these errors are injected into and replace the “genetic” makeup of sound Biblical words and doctrine. Thus, infected churches may appear to have a solid confession of the truth and use all the right words, but the inner meanings of those words and the message have changed.

Should we be surprised? Jesus said (Matt. 7:15-16): “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits.”

A doctrinal error doesn’t come with a poison label attached or a warning that it may cause spiritual illness or death. It comes appearing as the truth. Outwardly, it appears to be the same truth taught in the Bible; but inside, it’s different and damaging to our soul’s health!

To diagnose a viral infection, doctors have to look deeper than what they can see with their eyes, or even with an office microscope. So also, Christians need to look deeper than the outward appearance.

What do I mean? In any Christian church, you will hear words like God, Christ, gospel, resurrection, life, repentance, faith, etc. But Christians need to look under the surface of these words to determine what is meant when they are spoken. Is it the Biblical meaning, or has a new meaning been injected into the old terminology?

As a Lutheran, I could attend almost any Lutheran church and see and hear many of the outward forms of the Biblical Christian Faith; but if I keep listening and examining things more deeply, I may learn that the god being worshiped is not necessarily the one true God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — revealed in the Bible. I may hear preachers speak of Christ but later learn that the Christ of the Bible has been replaced by a less-than-divine Jesus who never claimed to be the Son of God and really didn’t work mighty miracles or rise bodily from the dead on the third day. I may hear a minister speak of preaching the gospel but find out that the gospel he (or she) is preaching is none other than what Jesus says are the greatest commandments of the law — love for God and love for neighbor (Matthew 22:35-40). I may hear of the resurrection and later learn it only refers to some sort of spiritual awakening or resurrection experience. I may hear Bible words like propitiation and atonement but later discover that something other than Jesus’ sacrificial death for the sins of the world is meant.

To some, what I’m saying may sound far-fetched, but I’ve encountered it again and again and even in what many consider a very conservative synod or church body. And this “viral” infection is not only found within Lutheran churches and synods; it has spread to almost all Christian denominations and church bodies.

It’s no longer enough to be satisfied if we hear sound words being spoken; we need to look underneath the “sheep’s clothing” and find out if a wolf is hiding behind the “good words and fair speeches” which “deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom. 16:18). To let this viral infection go unchecked can quickly result in death for our souls.

What should we hear in Christian churches? We should hear the clear and plain teaching of the Bible, the very Word of God — nothing more and nothing less. We should be taught of the one God of the Bible who is three persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We should hear of our failures to keep God’s law and the condemnation God’s law lays upon us because of our failures to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. And we should hear the true gospel — that God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son to become true man that He might fulfill all that God’s law demands of us and bear the just punishment for our sins and the sins of the whole world by His innocent sufferings and death upon the cross. We should hear and be assured of the fact that God reaches out to us and offers us mercy solely because of Jesus’ death and glorious resurrection on the third day. We should hear that God forgives, justifies and accepts us as His own dear children, not by our own works and religious service, but through faith alone in the shed blood of Jesus. And we should hear that Jesus is coming again to judge this world and will receive all who trust in Him to the eternal joys of His everlasting kingdom but will also condemn all who do not repent and believe in Him to the eternal torments of hell.

The devil will seek to inject a new understanding and a different doctrine into the life-giving words of the Bible; but we must expose his lies, fight off his infections and “hold fast the form of sound words” which we have learned from God’s book, the Bible (2 Tim. 1:13).

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“Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.” Psalm 100

It is sad how few truly know and recognize the truth expressed by this ancient psalm.

In spite of what we may think, Jehovah is God. He always has been and always will be.

He made us; we did not make ourselves, nor are we the product of some chance evolutionary process. Not only did the Almighty God create the first man and woman (Genesis 1-2), He caused each and every one of us to be conceived in our mothers’ wombs and He created and formed us there (cf. Psalm 139:13-16). Our lives are not our own. We are indeed “His people and the sheep of His pasture.”

We have every reason to “enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise” – every reason to “be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.” Why? Because “The LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations.”

Think about it! Are we deserving of His care and blessing? Does He owe it to us to give us our families, our jobs, our food and our health?

When we consider how we have rebelled against Him and so often set aside His commandments, we truly deserve only His wrath and eternal punishment! Yet, He is merciful to us and continues to give us all that we need to support our bodies and lives.

In His mercy, God also gave us His own Son, Jesus Christ, to obey His commandments in our place, and to suffer and die for our sins and then rise again from the dead on the third day. For Jesus’ sake, the LORD God reaches out to us in the Gospel with mercy. He graciously calls us to repent and turn to Him for forgiveness and life everlasting through faith in Christ and His blood which was shed on the cross to atone for the sins of all (cf. Isaiah 55:1-7; 2 Peter 3:9; Matthew 11:28-30).

And we can be thankful, too, that “His truth endureth to all generations.” His Word, the Bible, has not been lost or corrupted through the ages as some assume (cf. Matthew 24:14,35; 1 Peter 1:25). He has preserved it as a witness to all people of all time of His goodness and mercy toward us in creating and redeeming us. His Word continues, even yet today, to teach us to know and trust in the LORD God who made us and sent His Son to die for us and redeem us (cf. 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Psalm 119:105). Through the Bible, we learn who the true God is. We learn His holy will for us, and we see our utter sinfulness. But we also learn of His love and mercy toward us for the sake of Jesus Christ and His innocent sufferings and death in our stead. We learn of forgiveness of sins and life everlasting through faith in Jesus’ name (cf. Romans 1:16-17; 3:19-26).

This Thanksgiving and every day, let us do as the psalm enjoins us: “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.”

We thank You, dear heavenly Father, for Your goodness and mercy toward us for Jesus’ sake. We praise and bless Your holy name. Amen.

[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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