Video of the Divine Service is here, here, and here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word.” If anyone loves Me, Jesus says, he will keep My Word. To keep His Word is to hear it, to believe it, to live from it. And Jesus and His Word cannot be separated. He is what He says, and He says who He is. Jesus is the Word of God, so His words are the Word of God. Jesus is peace, so His words are peace. Jesus is the life, so His words are life. Jesus the truth, so His words are truth. If someone claims to love Jesus, but ignores or disregards Jesus’ words, that person really loves a figment of his or her imagination. Because Jesus and His words—all of them—cannot be separated. If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. Jesus doesn’t say this because He’s some kind of manipulative lover: if you really love me, you’ll do this and this and this, and the list goes on and on. He is simply stating a fact: the one who loves Him keeps His Word; the one who doesn’t love Him doesn’t keep His Word.
His Word, that we hear, that we believe, and from which we live, is at the heart and soul of what it means to be the Christian Church. His Word is at the heart and soul of everything we do here. And when Nate answers the questions in the Rite of Confirmation in a few minutes, the questions are going to revolve around that Word. After pointing us back to baptism and the gifts that God gives in baptism, and the threefold renunciation of the devil and all his works and all his ways, and the threefold confession of God: Father and Son and Holy Spirit, the questions are all about the Word. Do you hold the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God? Do you hold that the Old and New Testaments are all God’s Word, from God’s Spirit, and that every word is exactly as God wants it to be? Secondly, do you confess that the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know it in the Small Catechism, is faithful and true? In other words, have you been convinced that the Lutheran Confession is the faithful and true confession of what the Scriptures say? To confess is simply to say the same thing. So confessing the teaching of the Lutheran confession is to say the same thing. This, frankly, is the only reason to join a Christian congregation. There are lots of reasons to visit a congregation, but there is only one reason to join a fellowship, a communion of Christians in a particular place: because you are convinced that they say nothing else but what the Scriptures say. Because if they say anything else, then they are teaching human opinions in the place of the Word of God. But it is only the Word of God that can save you, because that is the Word of Jesus, who is life and salvation.
If you have been convinced that a Christian congregation says the same thing as the Scriptures, then you should join that congregation publicly, and that leads to the third question: will you hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully? It’s essentially the question of Jesus to His disciples: will you go away also? And Peter answers, Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life. You alone are life. Jesus’ Word and Jesus’ Body and Blood are His life given to you. And then, Will you live according to this word and in faith, word, and deed remain true to the God in whose Name you were baptized, even unto death? And the last question is joined to it: Do you intend to remain steadfast in this confession and church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it? Because what is death when you have Jesus, the Life?
But who can make any of these promises? No one is able to make these promises truly who does not have the Holy Spirit. St. Paul says that no one can confess that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. But Jesus does not leave us to make our own decisions about His claims. He does not leave the world on its own, because cold, dead hearts will never love Him or keep His Word. We cannot and will not believe Him or accept Him on our own reason or strength. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel; the Holy Spirit has called Nate by the Gospel, called you by the Gospel. He has enlightened you with His gifts so that you can see Jesus where blind unbelief cannot. He makes you holy and keeps you in the Faith. He forgives your sins within the Church, and He will raise you from the dead and give you eternal life. Only the Holy Spirit grants you ears to hear Jesus words, and when you hear Jesus’ words and believe them, you begin to love Him. The more faith hears Him, the more you love Him. The more you love Him, the more you want to hear His Word and receive His gifts. Only the Holy Spirit, poured out publicly on all people on that first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection, brings to mind everything Jesus said. Wherever Jesus’ words go, the Holy Spirit is there to create faith as He chooses. So confirmation is not about finally making the decision to believe on your own strength; it is all about confessing what God has said to you beginning with your baptism. Saying the same thing about Jesus that He says about Himself. Hearing, believing, and living from the living Word. None of this is about our work, but about God’s work. None of this is about our making faith our own, but about how God has made us His own in Christ. It is not so much about our love for Jesus, as it is about God’s love for us. In this is love, not that we love Him, but that He loved us and sent Jesus Christ as the propitiation for our sins. This is how we learn what love is: that God sent His son into the world that we might live through Him.
Jesus is life, and so He says, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never taste death. Life is in the Word, not in the keeping of it. Those who know that are the ones who keep Jesus’ Word. He is the Word that we will continue to hear, believe, and live from. “God’s Word is our great heritage, and shall be ours forever; to spread its light from age to age shall be our chief endeavor; in life it guides our way; in death it is our stay. Lord, grant while worlds endure, we keep its teachings pure throughout all generations” (LSB 582).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/14/16