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15 Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 Then He said to him, “A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, 17 and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ 18 But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ 20 Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ 23 Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’ ” Luke 14:15-24 NKJV

Dear Christian Friends,

This parable paints a picture for us of a situation we used to see a lot more before the pandemic started – a great feast. Large dinner parties involve lots of time, and resources, and preparation from those who would host them. They require cleaning the house, preparation of large amounts of food and drink, appetizers, desserts, and possibly even entertainment.

Being invited to such an event seems like a great honor. Sure, there are plenty of reasons why people would not be able to go, but in general, one would think that most people would make every effort they could to go.

But in our parable, it seems that none of those originally invited wanted to go The excuses do not really even sound that good – The first one has just bought property and wants to see it. Will that property not be there after the supper? Today, if you were to throw a large dinner party, and invited someone but they declined to come because they had just bought new property, how do you think you would feel about it? I think I would be tempted to be a bit angry and hurt. The second has bought five yoke of oxen and wants to test them. Is he worried they will not be able to pull a plow? The third has just gotten married. Is he not allowed what we would call today a “plus one”? It seems many people will be at the feast, why could he not bring his new wife? Or at least ask the master?

The master is angry, as we might be too – think back of all the expense and preparation, and the sense of injustice in potentially wasting all of that food. So then the master orders that the servants invite the poor, the maimed and the blind, who seem eager enough to come. But still there is room. Does the master re-issue invitations to those who rejected them? He does not. Instead, he has his servants go out to the highways and hedges, and demand that all they find come, so that those who first rejected his kind invitation would not have room.

And so the supper is eaten, but not by those who were first invited. How, then, are we to understand this parable?

The master, of course, is God, and the great supper or feast is everlasting life in bliss with him. We like to think that God should love us because of what we do or how we act, but just like those invited in the parable, we can think of any flimsy excuse to ignore God and his Word. We see this in our own natural rebellion. Do we put God first in our lives? Do we look for every opportunity to worship him? Would we rather sleep in or do something else on Sunday mornings rather than learn about and worship God?

And while the focus of this parable is not on how we treat our neighbors, we see plenty of rebellion in our behavior towards them as well. Do we always speak well of our neighbors? We have been studying a lot of the Jewish civil law in Exodus lately – those rules about helping a heavily laden donkey, and returning items that we know belong to others can be particularly cutting. When we do those things, we recognize just how unworthy of God’s invitation we really are. It is so easy for us to justify our own actions, or try to compare ourselves with others. But that is not the standard that God judges by – rather that standard is God’s own holiness, and we must admit that, in so many ways and at so many times, we have not measured up to that standard. We are all sinners, condemned by God’s Law, and we do not deserve His blessings.

But God invites us, nonetheless. Is this not an amazing thing? We are ungrateful and rebellious, but God’s love is greater. God himself took on our humanity, in the person of Jesus Christ, and lived a perfect life, and died a sacrificial death to pay the price that was owed for all sin of all time. When I see this passage, I cannot but help but think of a similar invitation to God’s great feast that is recorded for us in the book of Isaiah:

Isa 55:1 “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. 3 Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live.”

Just as in a great human feast, as guests, God requires nothing from us. Indeed, what do we have to give that does not already belong to God? We do not bring anything our own of value to the feast – it is the job of the host to provide all the food and drink and entertainment. In human feasts, we often invite guests because of things about them – they are family, or friends, or business acquaintances. But in this great feast, and particularly in the case of this parable, we see that the Master wants to see his feast enjoyed, regardless of whether he knows the people who ultimately attend it or not.

So great was this feast, that even though those who were originally invited spurned it, the Master arranged for others to enjoy it. The great feast of the Gospel is like this in that in it, God promises his grace and forgiveness to all human beings, regardless of race or gender, wealth, nationality, status, or any other human characteristic. It is expressly God’s will that this Gospel of the forgiveness of sins through the perfect life and death of Jesus Christ, the true Son of God and Son of Man, be preached to every human being alive. And we, dear Christian friends, are those from the highways and hedges – for certainly we did not deserve to be invited to this great supper, and we were not the ones to whom the invitation first came. But by the grace of God, we have been invited, and we shall eat the supper at our Lord’s call.

We may be inclined to ask – what other great supper are we invited to, where we can see and taste God’s love for us in a very special and direct way? How can we hear about the master’s great supper, and not think of our Lord’s Supper, which we share again today?

In that Supper, he has promised us his own body and blood. What greater cost of preparation has there ever been for a supper than the body and blood of God himself, given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins?

And how could we offer an excuse for such an invitation? “Come,” Jesus says to us – “Take and eat my body, and drink my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.”

We do not understand how this can be – how his true body and blood can be received by each of us, everywhere around the world. But in the spirit of Mary, who said, “May it be to me, according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) We trust God at his Word, to make things so that could not be so otherwise.

How could God take on human flesh? How could God die for our sins? These too are things that we cannot understand – but we trust that they are true because God’s Word says that they are true. And in the same way, we partake of Jesus’ true body and blood in, with and under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, for the forgiveness of our sins. This, we will do as often as we do it, in remembrance of Him.

So, dear Christian friends – come to the feast our Lord has prepared for us! Surely, we do not deserve his love, his grace, or his favor. But his mercy made it so that he reached out to us, took on our flesh, to live and die for us, and call us to Him. And, so, as he bids us, let us come – certainly, let us not make excuses and try to be somewhere else. But instead, let us come as he calls us – let us believe in and take hold of his promise to forgive our sins. And let us further come to the Great Supper that he instituted, where He gives us His own body and blood, again for the forgiveness of our sins.

Dear Christian friends, hear our Lord’s call – please do not reject it, please do not make excuses. Come to the great supper our Lord has prepared for us. Maybe far off in the future, maybe soon – we shall partake together in the great marriage feast of the Lamb, after Jesus returns in glory and after the resurrection of all the dead. But until that day, let us also hear our Lord’s call to eat the Lord’s Supper together, until the Last Day comes, we shall be united with our Lord, and we shall forever be with Him and with each other, in endless peace and joy.

In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

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Spirit’s Witness

Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church
Affiliated with ELDoNA
(Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America)
“Holding Forth the Word of Life”
2305 S. Dixieland Road/P.O. Box 2335
Rogers, AR 72757
479-310-5289

www.goodshepherdrogers.org
www.bible-byte.net

Fourth Sunday After Easter
Cantate

May 2, 2021

Order of Matins

V. O LORD, open Thou my lips. R. And my mouth shall show forth Thy praise.
V. Make haste, O God, to deliver me. R. Make haste to help me, O Lord.
V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost: R. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Hallelujah.

V. O come, let us worship the Lord. R. For He is our Maker.

Venite
O COME, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving: and make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God: and a great King above all gods. In His hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is His also. The sea is His, and He made it: and His hands formed the dry land. O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God: and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost: As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

The Hymn: “O Lord, Look Down from Heaven, Behold” by Martin Luther

O Lord, look down from Heaven, behold
And let Thy pity waken:
How few are we within Thy fold,
Thy saints by men forsaken!
True faith seems quenched on every hand,
Men suffer not Thy Word to stand;
Dark times have us o’ertaken.

With fraud which they themselves invent
Thy truth they have confounded;
Their hearts are not with one consent
On Thy pure doctrine grounded.
While they parade with outward show,
They lead the people to and fro,
In error’s maze astounded.

May God root out all heresy
And of false teachers rid us
Who proudly say: “Now, where is he
That shall our speech forbid us?
By right or might we shall prevail;
What we determine cannot fail;
We own no lord and master.”

Therefore saith God, “I must arise,
The poor My help are needing;
To Me ascend My people’s cries,
And I have heard their pleading.
For them My saving Word shall fight
And fearlessly and sharply smite,
The poor with might defending.”

As silver tried by fire is pure
From all adulteration,
So through God’s Word shall men endure
Each trial and temptation.
Its light beams brighter through the cross,
And, purified from human dross,
It shines through every nation.

Thy truth defend, O God, and stay
This evil generation;
And from the error of their way
Keep Thine own congregation.
The wicked everywhere abound
And would Thy little flock confound;
But Thou art our Salvation. Amen.

Epistle: James 1:10-21
DO not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

V. O Lord, have mercy upon us. R. Thanks be to God.

Gospel: John 16:5-15
BUT now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away. the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you.

Sermon: “The Witness of the Holy Spirit” — John 16:7-15

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.”

From Jesus’ words to His disciples before His death, resurrection and ascension, we learn much of the Holy Spirit’s ministry. When Jesus ascended into heaven and poured out His Spirit, the Holy Spirit was a witness against the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment.

The Holy Spirit, through the preaching of the apostles and ministers of Jesus, testifies against the whole world of unbelievers, convicting them of sin because they have rejected and crucified Jesus Christ, God’s own Son and the only source of forgiveness and life (cf. Acts 2:1ff.; Heb. 10:26-31); convicting them of righteousness because Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, had ascended to the very throne of God with the only righteousness that is acceptable to God (cf. Acts 4:11-12; Rom. 3:10ff.; 1 John 2:1-2); and convicting them of judgment because the devil, who rules over the world of sinners, has already been overcome and judged by Jesus’ victory on the cross, meaning that all who continue under Satan’s rule will soon share in his judgment and condemnation (cf. Luke 10:18; Rev. 12:1-17; Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10-15).

But for those of us who believe, the Holy Spirit comes alongside us and dwells in us as a Helper and Encourager to keep us trusting in Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness and life eternal.

He guides us into all truth because He takes the things of Jesus Christ and tells them to us. Through the apostles and prophets, He has given to us the Holy Scriptures, “which are able to make [us] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15; cf. 3:14-17; James 1:18).

The Holy Spirit teaches us as we read and study His Word so that we know the truth and are made free from slavery to sin and alive to God through faith in Jesus and His blood shed for sin (cf. John 8:31-32; 1 John 2:27; Psalm 119:97-105).

The Spirit reminds us that, though we have sinned, through faith in Jesus’ shed blood we have forgiveness and life everlasting (cf. 1 John 1:8-2:2; Rom. 3:23-24; Isa. 1:18).

And the Spirit comforts us with the knowledge that, though our lives in this world are full of pain and suffering, we have an eternal inheritance awaiting us in heaven for Jesus’ sake (cf. 1 Pet. 1:3-9; Rev. 7:9-17; John 14:1-3; 16:33).

Dear Lord Jesus, grant us the help and comfort of Your Holy Spirit that we may learn the truth from Your Word and trust in You for forgiveness and life and follow You unto life everlasting. Amen.

V. O Lord, have mercy upon us. R. Thanks be to God.

The Canticle — Te Deum Laudamus
We praise Thee, O God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord. All the earth doth worship Thee, the Father everlasting. To Thee all Angels cry aloud, the heavens, and all the powers therein. To Thee Cherubim and Seraphim continually do cry, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth; Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of Thy Glory. The glorious company of the Apostles praise Thee. The goodly fellowship of the Prophets praise Thee. The noble army of Martyrs praise Thee. The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge Thee; The Father of an infinite Majesty; Thine adorable, true and only Son; Also the Holy Ghost, the Comforter. Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ. Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father. When Thou tookest upon Thee to deliver man, Thou didst humble Thyself to be born of a Virgin. When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, Thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Thou sittest at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father. We believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge. We therefore pray Thee, help Thy servants whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy precious blood. Make them to be numbered with Thy saints in glory everlasting. O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine heritage. Govern them and lift them up for ever. Day by day we magnify Thee; And we worship Thy Name ever, world without end. Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin. O Lord, have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us. O Lord, let Thy mercy be upon us as our trust is in Thee. O Lord, in Thee have I trusted, let me never be confounded.

Kyrie
Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us.

Lord’s Prayer
OUR Father, Who art in heaven; Hallowed by Thy Name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven; Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil; For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

V. The Lord be with you. R. And with thy spirit.

Collect for Grace
O LORD, our Heavenly Father, Almighty and Everlasting God, Who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day: Defend us in the same with Thy mighty power; and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger; but that all our doings, being ordered by Thy governance, may be righteous in Thy sight; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever One God, world without end. Amen.

V. Bless we the Lord. R. Thanks be to God.

Benediction
THE Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God, and the Communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Members desiring the Lord’s Supper but not comfortable attending services during the COVID-19 pandemic may call Pastor Moll at 479-233-0081 or email him at pastor@goodshepherdrogers.org and he will arrange a time to bring the Sacrament to them.

Online Services continue each week via Facebook Live and with recorded YouTube videos posted on the church website after the service. The bulletin is posted and made available online. In addition, devotionals and sermon summaries are also available on the church website, https://goodshepherdrogers.org.

Midweek Bible Study will resume at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays at the church and via Google Meet. We continue our study of the Gospel of John.

Second Saturday Brunch will be at 10 a.m. next Saturday, May 8, at the church. Ladies are asked to bring their Bibles and a sack lunch.

Ascension Day Vespers will be held at the church at 7 p.m.on Thursday, May 13.

A Voter’s Assembly meeting will be held following our morning worship service on Sunday, May 23. In addition to other items, the congregation will consider adopting an amended Constitution and Bylaws.

Church Council will next meet via Google Meet at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 18.

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

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March 24, 2021 — Lenten 6

Order of Vespers LSB 229

Hymns
LSB 420 (1-4) “Christ, the Life of All the Living”
LSB 420 (5-7) “Christ, the Life of All the Living”
LSB 890 “O Blessed Light, O Trinity”

Psalm 57 MEV For the Music Director. To the melody of “Do Not Destroy.” A Miktam of David when he fled from Saul in the cave.

1 Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me! For my soul seeks refuge in You; in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge, until the ruinous storm passes by. 2 I will cry to God Most High, to God who vindicates me. 3 He will send from heaven and save me from the taunt of the one who crushes me. Selah God will send forth His mercy and His truth. 4 My soul is among lions, and I lie among the sons of men who blaze like fire, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword. 5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; may Your glory be above all the earth. 6 They have prepared a net for my steps; my soul is bowed down; they have dug a pit before me, but they have fallen into it. Selah 7 My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise. 8 Awake, my glory! Awake, psaltery and harp! I will awake the dawn. 9 I will thank You, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing to You among the nations. 10 For Your mercy is great up to the heavens, and Your truth extends to the clouds. 11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; may Your glory be above all the earth.

Epistle: 1 John 1:1-10 Gospel: Luke 22:63-71

Prayers: Evening Suffrages LSB 282

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Download Bulletin for Sunday, March 14, 2021

Law or Promise?

Galatians 4:31: “So then, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.”

Dear Christian Friends,

Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians to address a very specific controversy. It may seem like a small thing, but Paul goes to great lengths to show how it is the biggest thing of all.

There were some false teachers, that we call the Judaizers, who were teaching something that sounds kind of reasonable on the face of it: that it was necessary for Christians to follow the Jewish customs. In particular, Christians also needed to be circumcised and follow the Jewish dietary laws. This seems like just a tiny addition to the Gospel, which tells us that we are saved by grace alone through faith in Christ’s innocent suffering and death. But is it really such a small addition? What difference does it make, really?

Many, but by no means all, of the earliest Christians were Jews who had grown up in the Jewish ways. They followed the Jewish Law because to them it wasn’t the Jewish Law, it was the Law, period. Their fathers had followed it, and so had their fathers for thousands of years. It was what they knew, the fact that they had the Law was proof that they were God’s chosen people. The Law had been given by God himself, through Moses!

But even before Moses, was Abraham. Abraham was not always Abraham – he started out as Abram, and he was seen as the father of the Hebrews. This is because God made him a promise – a very important promise, the promise of a Savior. He was not the first to hear such a promise; the first ones to hear it were Adam and Eve, just after they fell into sin and were expelled from the Garden of Eden. But God re-iterated that promise to Abram – Gen 12:3 “And I will bless those that bless you and curse the one who curses you. And in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.” How else can all the families of the world be blessed in Abraham, except by the promise of a Savior from their sins?

A further promise was that Abram would have numerous children (though he had no children at the time this promise was made, and, in fact, Abram’s servant Eliezer of Damascus was due to inherit his estate): Gen 15:5-6 “And He brought him outside and said, Look now toward the heavens and count the stars, if you are able to count them. And He said to him, So shall your seed be. And he believed in the LORD. And He counted it to him for righteousness.”

It is very important – crucial, in fact – that at the time God made these promises to Abram that the covenant of circumcision had not yet been established. This would come later, after Abram and his wife Sarai tried to hurry God’s timeline along by giving Hagar, Sarai’s slave, to Abraham, who then bore a son named Ishmael. But Ishmael was not the son that God had promised – that would be Isaac, who would be Abram’s natural son with Sarai. God promised Isaac to Abram, changed Abram and Sarai’s names to Abraham and Sarah, and established his covenant of circumcision all at the same time, in Genesis chapter 17. And this covenant of circumcision, and later the addition of the Mosaic Law, would define the nation of Israel until that promised Messiah would come.

But what does this have to do with our Galatians, and what does it have to do with us?

To us, it may seem that asking people to follow the Jewish law in addition to believing in Christ is no big deal. But here, Paul is making the point that it is the biggest deal in the world. Why should that be?

The Law claims to be a path to salvation. And in a very real way, it is – the Law is very simple – follow it perfectly, and you can be saved. The rules might be simple, but following them is another thing entirely. Let’s take a look at the Law – what does it require of us?

As Jesus said, “Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s the summary, at least – getting into all the details of the Jewish ceremonial law covers most of the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. Eat this, don’t eat that, males must be circumcised eight days after being born. There are many, many other laws but these were the most important ones in the Galatian Judaizer controversy. There are many other aspects of the Law, including the moral law – the thing we most closely associate with the ten commandments. Those still very much apply to us, and while we often try to minimize or deny it, we have an incredibly hard time following even those laws. They are expressed as the most serious possible offenses, in most cases – murder, theft, adultery. Surely we are not murderers! Surely we are not thieves! We haven’t committed adultery, have we?

And yet our consciences tell us that even if we haven’t committed these exact acts, we have given in to temptations to do things like this. Maybe we haven’t committed murder … but I bet we have all let our anger get the best of us, and spoken in anger to someone, maybe even someone we love. We may not have robbed a bank, but have we dawdled, or goofed off, or not made the best use of our time? I know that I certainly have. The world has so many opportunities to tempt us to have sexual desire for those we should not desire. Do we flee temptation, or do we give in sometimes? This is what the Law demands of us – perfect obedience to every single command. No exceptions, no do-overs, and it does not matter if anyone else saw us or not, or knew about it – perfection means perfection, and nothing less is good enough. Each time we break God’s Law we are guilty of sin, and sin separates us from God. Paul says this very eloquently in his letter to the Romans, 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

The prophet Ezekiel writes: 18:20 “The soul that sins, it shall die.” Not just the soul that sins a lot, or sins in really obvious ways, but the soul that sins. Period. Sin separates us from God and from eternal life – when we sin, we can no longer be counted righteous, cannot claim the right to stand before God and live with him forever.

But let’s go back to Genesis for a moment. Remember that Abram trusted God before he followed the Law, before he even had the Law to follow? And remember how God credited that to him as righteousness? God credits righteousness to us in exactly the same way, when we trust his promises in the Gospel.

What has God promised to us? Paul goes on in his letter to the Romans: 3:24-26 “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness through the passing by of the sins that had taken place before, in the forbearance of God; for the display of His righteousness at this time, for Him to be just and, forgiving the one being of the faith of Jesus.”

God has promised us the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus, his Son – and when we trust in that, we can and are counted as righteous in God’s sight. It wasn’t circumcision that saved Abraham; it was the faith that laid hold of God’s promise to bless all nations through his seed, who was not yet born.

So, then, circumcision and the Law followed God’s promise to Abram, and did not set that promise aside in any way. Further, they are a weaker covenant that was given to remind Israel of their coming Savior, to be shadows or types that point to Christ, and Paul says in his letter to the Colossians: 2:16-17 “Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbaths. For these are a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ.”

That is the difference between Hagar and Sarah. Being the child of Hagar, the slave woman, means trusting in our own merit and works to be righteous before God. Being the child of Sarah means trusting in God’s promises to forgive our sins out of his own mercy, for Christ’s sake. Being the child of Hagar, after coming to faith, really means turning one’s back on God’s mercy, which is the biggest deal in the world, and leads to eternal condemnation. Salvation must come by one means or the other – it must either come from our own merit, or it must come from God’s mercy and Christ’s sacrifice. If it is a mixture of the two (our merit and Christ’s merit), Christ’s merit disappears because the difference then is only our own merit.

Our great Lutheran forebears understood this, and confessed boldly when their lives were on the line to this truth. These are the words of Philip Melanchthon in the Apology, or Defense of the Augsburg Confession (Article IX, Part 7), which show that there will always be those that try to blur this crucial distinction between Law and Gospel, and risk the destruction of the Gospel message:

“But our adversaries absolutely abolish the free promise when they deny that faith justifies, and teach that for the sake of love and of our works we receive remission of sins and reconciliation. If the remission of sins depends upon the condition of our works, it is altogether uncertain. [For we can never be certain whether we do enough works, or whether our works are sufficiently holy and pure. Thus, too, the forgiveness of sins is made uncertain, and the promise of God perishes, as Paul says, Rom. 4, 14: The promise is made of none effect, and everything is rendered uncertain.] Therefore the promise will be abolished. Hence we refer godly minds to the consideration of the promises, and we teach concerning the free remission of sins and concerning reconciliation, which occurs through faith in Christ. Afterward, we add also the doctrine of the Law. [Not that by the Law we merit the remission of sins, or that for the sake of the Law we are accepted with God, but because God requires good works.] And it is necessary to divide these things aright, as Paul says, 2 Tim. 2, 15. We must see what Scripture ascribes to the Law, and what to the promises. For it praises works in such a way as not to remove the free promise [as to place the promise of God and the true treasure, Christ, a thousand leagues above it].

“For good works are to be done on account of God’s command, likewise for the exercise of faith [as Paul says, Eph. 2, 10: We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works], and on account of confession and giving of thanks. For these reasons good works ought necessarily to be done, which, although they are done in the flesh not as yet entirely renewed, that retards the movements of the Holy Ghost, and imparts some of its uncleanness, yet, on account of Christ, are holy, divine works, sacrifices, and acts pertaining to the government of Christ, who thus displays His kingdom before this world.”

So far Melanchthon and our Lutheran confessors.

While it is crucial to understand how our righteousness does not depend on us following the Law, it is also important to understand that that does not mean that the Law is useless to us as believers. Indeed, it is only as believers in Christ that we can begin to follow the Law and do good works, which are pleasing to God. The Law shows us what works we should do – not out of fear of going to hell, but out of love and thankfulness to God for his great mercy.

So, then, let us hold fast to God’s promises, and let us take great joy in being the children of the free woman, Sarah. Let us rejoice that we are saved by the same faith that Abraham had – trust in the promises of a merciful God, who above all loves us, and sent his Son to pay the ransom for our sins. And let us remember that our thankfulness and love will show itself in good works – not because we are trying to earn God’s favor, or because we believe we must do good works to earn salvation, but because we know that our sin has been paid for, our entire debt has been paid by the price Christ paid on the cross, and our hearts can only break out in thankfulness and gratitude to God and service to one another. In doing all of these things, we will be children of the free woman, as Paul says we should be.

In Christ’s name, Amen.

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