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“And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:16-17

The words of Gabriel to Zacharias echo the Word of the Lord recorded by Malachi the prophet: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:5-6). And, as we prepare for the second advent of the LORD, our Lord Jesus Christ, we carry on the ministry of John the Baptist in calling all to repentance and pointing them to Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross for the sins of all (cf. John 1:29).

While many think lightly of Christ’s return and the final judgment and see no need for repentance, it is indeed a serious matter. If the LORD judges us according to His law, who can stand (cf. Mal. 3:2ff.; 4:1,6; Ps. 130:3ff.)? Indeed, none of us, for we have all sinned and come short of what God, in His law, demands (cf. Rom. 3:19-20,23). It is for that reason that John the Baptist came, to call upon sinners to repent and look to Christ the Lamb of God for pardon and forgiveness (cf. Luke 3:2ff.; Ps. 130:4ff.). And the Church, through its ministers, still preaches the same message today (cf. Luke 24:46-47; John 20:20-23; Acts 3:19ff.).

Both John and the Church seek to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Through the preaching of God’s Word, the fathers and their descendants are united again in the true fear of the LORD. Those who were disobedient to the true faith are awakened to their sinfulness by God’s Spirit and turned to the wisdom of the just – to the wisdom of those who acknowledge and repent of their sinful ways and look in faith to the LORD God for mercy and forgiveness for the sake of the promised Messiah and His redeeming work.

The only way for you and me, or for anyone, to be ready for the Lord’s return and to escape the curse and condemnation of God’s holy law is to repent and trust in the holy life and innocent sufferings and death of Christ Jesus for the sins of the world (cf. Gal. 3:10,13; Acts. 4:12).

O LORD God, we have sinned and come short of the righteousness your law demands. We are guilty and justly stand condemned. Have mercy upon us and forgive us our sins for the sake of the holy life and innocent sufferings and death of Christ Jesus, Your Son and our crucified and risen Savior, that we might be found in Him just and holy and acceptable in Your sight on that day when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. Amen.

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

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Scriptural Basis

1 Peter 3:18-20: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.”

Colossians 2:15: “And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.”

Epitome of the Formula of Concord
IX. The Descent of Christ Into Hell.
STATUS CONTROVERSIAE.
Chief Controversy concerning This Article.

1] It has also been disputed among some theologians who have subscribed to the Augsburg Confession concerning this article: When and in what manner the Lord Christ, according to our simple Christian faith, descended to hell: whether this was done before or after His death; also, whether it occurred according to the soul alone, or according to the divinity alone, or with body and soul, spiritually or bodily; also, whether this article belongs to the passion or to the glorious victory and triumph of Christ.

2] But since this article, as also the preceding, cannot be comprehended by the senses or by our reason, but must be grasped by faith alone, it is our unanimous opinion that there should be no disputation concerning it, but that it should be believed 3] and taught only in the simplest manner; according as Dr. Luther, of blessed memory, in his sermon at Torgau in the year 1533 has explained this article in an altogether Christian manner, separated from it all useless, unnecessary questions, and admonished all godly Christians to Christian simplicity of faith.

4] For it is sufficient that we know that Christ descended into hell, destroyed hell for all believers, and delivered them from the power of death and of the devil, from eternal condemnation and the jaws of hell. But how this occurred we should [not curiously investigate, but] reserve until the other world, where not only this point [mystery], but also still others will be revealed, which we here simply believe, and cannot comprehend with our blind reason.

The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord
IX. Christ’s Descent To Hell
1] And since even in the ancient Christian teachers of the Church, as well as in some among our teachers, dissimilar explanations of the article concerning the descent of Christ to hell are found, we abide in like manner by the simplicity of our Christian faith [comprised in the Creed], to which Dr. Luther in his sermon, which was delivered in the castle at Torgau in the year 1533, concerning the descent of Christ to hell, has pointed us, where we confess: I believe in the Lord Christ, God’s Son, our Lord, dead, buried, and descended into hell. For in this [Confession] the burial and descent of Christ to hell are distinguished as different articles; 2] and we simply believe that the entire person, God and man, after the burial descended into hell, conquered the devil, destroyed the power of hell, and took from the devil all his might. 3] We should not, however, trouble ourselves with high and acute thoughts as to how this occurred; for with our reason and our five senses this article can be comprehended as little as the preceding one, how Christ is placed at the right hand of the almighty power and majesty of God; but we are simply to believe it and adhere to the Word [in such mysteries of faith]. Thus we retain the substance [sound doctrine] and [true] consolation that neither hell nor the devil can take captive or injure us and all who believe in Christ.

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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 32:1-6, where we read: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer … I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin … For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him.”

When we have guile in our spirit – our hearts being self-deceived – and think that we have no sin which offends the LORD God and that we are not guilty before Him on the basis of His commandments, the only ones we are fooling is ourselves, for each and every one of us has sinned and come short of what God requires of each of us in His law (Rom. 3:23).

It is as David writes in Psalm 51:4: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.”

And when we keep silent about our sins, attempting to hide or cover them up and refusing to hear God’s Word and admit our guilt and the just condemnation we deserve, God’s hand weighs heavy upon us. Instead of joyful living, our lives become filled with depression and anger toward God and those who speak God’s Word.

But, when we confess our sins unto the LORD God, agreeing with the judgment pronounced in His Word that we are guilty and condemned by God’s holy commandments, God reaches out to us with His Gospel offering to us forgiveness and righteousness in another way – by faith in the holy life and innocent sufferings and death of His Son, Jesus Christ, in our stead.

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our’s only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 1:7 – 2:2).

When we confess our sins unto the LORD and look to Him in faith for mercy, He forgives “the iniquity of our sin” for the sake of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross for the sins of all.

And the psalm urges all to repent and confess their sins to the LORD God that they might receive His forgiveness through faith in Christ Jesus: “For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him.” Those who acknowledge their sin and guilt to the LORD and trust in Jesus and His blood shed upon the cross for pardon and forgiveness will not be swept away in God’s judgment. As believers in the crucified and risen Christ Jesus, they have forgiveness for all their sins and will not be condemned in God’s judgment but have everlasting life!

And so, 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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“Remember, O LORD, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O LORD.” Psalm 25:6-7

Ad Te Levavi is the traditional name for the first Sunday in Advent. It is the Latin title for the introit of the day, from Psalm 25:1: “Unto thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul.”

As we prepare for Christ’s second advent – His triumphal entry into this world as eternal King and Judge – we lift up our souls unto the LORD and pray that He would remember and look upon us in His mercy and not according to our sinfulness under His law.

We pray that the LORD God (Jehovah God) would remember His tender mercies and His lovingkindnesses which He promised from of old – to Adam and Eve in the Garden, to Abraham, to David and to all the Old Testament saints (cf. Gen. 3:15; 22:18; Ps. 51; Isa. 53; 55:1ff.).

If the LORD were to deal with us according to our sins, none of us could stand in His judgment. We would all be condemned to the everlasting torments of hell because of our sinful hearts and our sinful thoughts, desires, words and actions (cf. Psalm 130:3ff.; Matt. 15:19; Rom. 3:9ff.; Gal. 3:10).

As sinners, condemned by God’s holy law, we flee in faith to the grace and mercy of God for the sake of His Son, the Lamb of God who made atonement for the sins of the world (John. 1:29; 1 John 1:8 – 2:2; Rom. 3:19-26). We pray: “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O LORD.”

And, because Jesus Christ died for all our sins and rose again on the third day, those who look in faith to Christ and His cross for mercy are pardoned, forgiven, justified and accepted of God (cf. Rom. 3:21-26; Eph. 1:6-7; Gal. 3:13, 26-27); and they have a place in His everlasting kingdom (John 3:14-16; Mark 16:16; Rom. 5:1-10,17).

Jesus Christ is coming again! Though He entered into Jerusalem, the center of the Old Testament church, humbly and riding on a donkey nearly 2,000 years ago with some hailing Him as the promised Messiah and King and others rejecting Him, He now is coming as King of kings and Lord of lords and every knee shall bow (cf. Phil 2:9-11; Rev. 19:11-16). He will judge the living and the dead.

How do you wish to be remembered in that Day? According to your sins and many transgressions, or according to His mercy for the sake of His blood shed upon the cross for the sins of all?

“Unto thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul.”

O LORD God, our gracious Savior, do not deal with us according to our sins as we justly deserve under Your holy law, but deal with us in Your mercy and lovingkindness for the sake of the holy life and innocent sufferings and death of Christ Jesus, Your dear Son and our Redeemer. In His name, we pray. Amen.

[Scripture quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.]

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