July 5, 2011 By Tom Baker
Am I the only person in the United States who predicted that Casey Anthony would be found “not guilty” in the first degree murder of her child? Of the seven charges against her, she was found to be not guilty of those three that would have brought the greatest amount of jail time. In the aftermath of the surprising verdict to most, the talking head commentators of every stripe are attempting to find reasons why their predictions of guilty were so off base.
Like with the O.J. Simpson trial, which I also predicted ahead of time that he would be found not guilty, the pundits were once more shocked. I have a very simple explanation of why they react as they do. We live in an age in which emotions trump facts. But to those who examine the evidence provided by the prosecution objectively attempting as best as one is able to separate emotions from facts, there was no evidence presented at all that she was a bad mother, that she was abusive to her child or that fingerprints or DNA pointed to her being guilty of killing her child.
Let me be as clear as I can. Whether either O.J. or Casey is guilty of the charged crimes, the fact is that the prosecution simply did not meet the burden of evidence necessary for a guilty plea. Some may argue that having been sequestered, the jury was not privy to much of the conversation between the lawyers and the judge as the public was. On the other hand, being sequestered meant that they could focus on their real job as to whether the evidence presented met the burden of proof regardless of their personal feelings.
I have lost some respect for those who normally I listen to when it come to politics. They also contradicted themselves again and again. For example, after mouthing the political correct statement that the American justice system is the best in the world, they would then proceed to talk about how blind it was today. After stating that they would not want to criticize the jury, they then spoke about how the jury members did not use common sense.
Now what has all this to do with Law and Gospel? One item comes to mind. The first is that a woman who was thought to be guilty by a majority of those watching the case was found to be not guilty of the major charges of first degree murder, manslaughter and abuse. She probably will be freed this Thursday on the remaining guilty charges due to time already spent in jail awaiting trial. And this in spite of the fact that she did not take the witness stand.
How different is our court case soon to be upon us either at the moment of our death or, if we are so fortunate, Judgment Day. There we will be found guilty of many sins worthy of temporal and eternal punishment. But because we have taken the witness stand—so-to-speak—by true repentance (contrition plus faith in Jesus), we will hear the Judge Himself invite us into heaven. We enter heaven not because we are “not guilty” but because we are “guilty” yet have trusted in the blood-bought sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Savior to forgive us.
And what is forgiveness? It is the declaration of God Himself that He will no longer hold any believer in Christ accountable for his sins! Indeed, the criterion one must meet to go to hell is to be a sinner. And the criterion one must meet to go to heaven is to be a sinner. The difference? Those who go to hell are unbelievers rejecting the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Those who go to heaven hold fast to that significance.
Yes, two court room scenes but very different in both their purpose and outcome. One held on earth judging a mother to be not guilty in the death of her child due to lack of evidence; the other held on Judgment Day judging every human being to be worthy of eternal punishment for our sins but freed from that result because of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ.
November 17, 2010 By Tom Baker
It’s the last Sunday of the Church Year in the Series C set of readings with the following three passages: Malachi 3:13-18; Colossians 1:13-20 and Luke 23:27-43. The text chosen for the last sermon of the Church Year is Malachi 3:14, “You have said, ‘It is useless to serve God; What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, and that we have walked as mourners before the LORD of hosts?’”
At first reading today’s Christian probably imagines that the people of Malachi’s day should have been destroyed by the LORD for saying and thinking such terrible things such as it is useless to serve God. The task of today’s preacher therefore is obvious. From a L&G perspective, the sermon is not to denounce the people of Malachi’s day but to accuse today’s Christian of saying or thinking the same thing! How so? Behind the thinking of the Israelites is the idea that God appears at times not to be fair because the wicked seem to get all the breaks while the believers seem to get the short end of the stick.
The preacher needs to give examples of how often today’s believer behaves just like those in Malachi’s day. For example, how many times is it not heard from a believer something along the following: “What did I do to….deserve this?” Such an attitude reveals one who lives under the Law imagining that one can discern God’s attiude toward us by examining how our life is going. If it goes badly, God is angry with us; if it goes well, God is pleased with us.
Christians, like unbelievers, are inconsistent with their thoughts about God at times blaming Him when things are not going well. In fact, an atheist can be defined as someone who realizes that if the true God exists, He must be all-powerful and because it appears obvious that He is not using such power to stop evil, one can only conclude that God does not exist. Our old Adam is always living under the Law imagining that our works are better than God declares them to be and that our sins are not near as bad as God declares them to be.
Verse 18 of Malachi 3 hits the nail on the head when God clarifies who truly are the righteous. They are those who serve the Lord in contrast to the wicked who do not serve the Lord. And such serving means that we bow at the decisions of God trusting his promises that He will take care of us better than the birds in the air and the flowers of the field notwithstanding all the evidence apparently against such a reality. We thank God that He is not a god of justice giving us what we deserve but instead He is the God of mercy not giving us what we deserve and the God of grace giving us what we do not deserve; namely, eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, our LORD and Savior.
November 9, 2010 By Tom Baker
Just two Sundays to go in this Church year as the three readings for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost are Malachi 4:1-6; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-13 and Luke 21:5-36. The sermon text is Luke 21:34, “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.”
We probably understand that it’s not a good think for us to be carousing and drunk on the Day of Judgment. But not to have “cares of this life” is impossible. Who is not concerned and at times worried about events of life that leave us apparently helpless and with no power to change the past, present or future? Does that mean that no one–even believers in Jesus–who have cares about this life will be saved?
However, from a L&G point of view, the problem for those on Judgment Day is not simply that they may be carousing, drunk or worried about life. The problem is that because of these things “your hearts be weighed down.” What does that mean? It means that they are not taken to the LORD in prayer. You do not look to Him for help. There is no repentance. In other words, you are in a state of unbelief.
Jesus also was weighed down with those who deserted Him; with those who denied Him; with those who put Him to death. However, even His call from hell, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” revealed a faith in His Father that we would do well to imitate. Yes, we are beset by the world, our flesh and the devil. However, whether that translates into occasions of carousing, drunkenness and even cares of this life, we always have a Friend to whom we can turn in full assurance that our sins are forgiven, that we are dressed in the robe of righteousness and that no care of this life will come upon us to destroy us as we trust in Jesus as LORD and Savior.
Yes,we walk not by sight but by faith in the promises of the Gospel connected to the death and resurrection of Jesus. For those promises are many that He will never leave us nor forsake us; that all things will work to our good; that never will a temptation come upon us beyond God’s control as we turn to Him for help. Indeed on the Day of Judgment every believer will be a sinner deserving nothing but temporal and eternal punishment. But we have a God Who will not give us what we deserve but instead furnish us with His gracious attitude of the forgiveness of sins and robe of righteousness. In Jesus, we are prepared for that Day of Judgment!
November 3, 2010 By Tom Baker
For All Saints Day the three readings are Revelation 7:2-17; 1 John 3:1-3 and Matthew 5:1-12. Chosen as the basis of the sermon is Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Christianity doesn’t sound very user friendly what with blessings provided to the “poor in spirit…those who mourn” and “those who are persecuted.” Once more we meet a God that doesn’t make worldly sense. We fall back on that principle, “If you want to know how God thinks, think common sensically and then reverse it!” Of course, there are those who conclude that the poor in wealth are being meant rather than the poor in spirit. Just what does it mean to be poor in spirit?
From a L&G point of view, God considers all unbelievers as poor in spirit in the sense that they have nothing to give to God to offset His wrath. While that might appear at first hearing to be a negative, in reality it is a positive. For the task of the preacher is to get members of the congregation to begin to think like God rather than their normal ungodly way of thinking on the part of their old Adam. The positive is not just that even believers are poor in spirit but that they recognize and confess their condition before God. It’s called repentance.
Repentance includes not only an awareness of one’s impoverishd sinful condition but also a confession of sin that looks to God and Him alone for salvation. Unlike every other religion in the world, Christianity does not offer any notion of team work between us and God to satisfy His demand that we be perfect in our works, thoughts and words. Instead, God sends His only-begotten to take upon Himself the punishment you and I deserved. It is not just our sin that separates us from God; it is the curse of the Law that reveals in the day we sin, death is the result.
It’s just that the Christian faith reveals that you and I don’t fulfill that curse. Jesus does by becoming sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. As our substitute Jesus takes upon Himself the punishment we deserve and then transfers His righteousness to us in the waters of baptism. Forgiveness is more than we normally think. From God’s point of view it is the Good News that you are no longer held accountable for your sins eternally. The words “It is finished” signal an end to sin being a problem for the whole world. Hell is no longer for sinners but for unbelievers. For if hell were for sinners, then no one would be saved.
And that is the comfort we have on All Saints Day as we remember those of our loved ones who died in the Lord. They are now with Him awaiting that great and wonderful Day of Judgement when their bodies will be restored to their spirits and the whole company of heaven will spend an eternity with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
October 27, 2010 By Tom Baker
For the festival of Reformation the three readings to be read are Revelation 14:6-7; Romans 3:19-28 and either Matthew 11:12-19 or John 8:31-36. The sermon text is Romans 3:21, “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.”
The primary doctrine of the Christian faith is “justification by grace through faith on account of Jesus Christ.” The second most important teaching of the Christian faith, without which the Bible remains a sealed book, is the distinction between Law and Gospel. This probably is never more true than with our Reformation epistle reading from Romans 3 in which the word “law” occurs nine times and with significant differences in meaning.
While some imagine that the difference between L&G is the difference in their content alone, the true distinctions which are often confused is in regard to their use. The primary use of the Law in the spiritual kingdom is to make you aware of your inability to save yourseslf even with the help of God. Never does God permit a use of the Law by which we get closer to God by our obedience to the Law. Part of this confusion occurs because the word law in both Hebrew and Greek have a number of different meanings that can only be ascertained by the context. It is a primary reason why an English concordance is not that helpful because the same English word can have a multitude of nuances and meanings.
In verse 19 through 28 of Romans, chapter 3 we have the same word “law” used but with these meanings as synonyms. Verse 19: commandments and the idea of salvation through obedience; Verse 20: obedience and God’s will; Verse 21: obedience; 5 books of Moses; Verse 27: Principle of life; Verse 28: obedience to God’s will.
The Reformation clarified that the Law can never be a means of grace; that is, a means God uses to bring you into His family by your obedience to the Law. Rather, true salvation and receiving the righteousness of God Himself, is witnessed by the Old Testament writings but comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believer. Therefore, the way of salvation is not by the principle of obedience to the Law but by the princple of trusting in the Gospel promises of Jesus Christ. In other words, the means bywhich we bring another person into a right relationship with the true God is by providing them with the promises of the Gospel.
- Sermon C: 22 S Pentecost: Luke 18:11a
- Sermon C: 21 S Pentecost: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
- Sermon C: 20 S Pentecost: Luke 17:19
- Sermon C: 19 S Pentecost: 2 Timothy 1:1-14
- Sermon C: 18 Pentecost: Luke 16:27