daily biblical sermons

Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Thursday, 25th Week of the Year, September 28, 2017
Haggai 1:1-8, Psalm 149, Luke 9:7-9

Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.

"Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the old prophets had risen. Herod said, ‘John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?' And he sought to see him" (Luke 9:7-9).

Who is this man Jesus who does such things? This is Herod's question. It is a rather obvious question. Who is this man supposed to be who cures people and even raises the dead? Is he a prophet? Is he the prophet who is expected to come in the last days (Deuteronomy 18:15)? Is he Elijah returned again, for surely Herod knew that the Jews believed that Elijah would return in the final days to prepare the people for the Lord (Malachi 4:5-6)? Or could he even actually be the long-for Messiah himself? And what kind of Messiah is he? He is just a simple ordinary man, not a military or political leader. What kind of Messiah is that?

In just a few more versus all these questions will come up again, and Jesus himself will be the one who asks his disciples who people say that he is. Then he will put the key question to them personally, "But who do you say that I am?" To this, Peter will answer, "The Christ of God" (Luke 9:18, 20). Then Jesus will tell them just what kind of Messiah he actually is: "The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised" (Luke 9:22).

This must have sounded unbelievable and incomprehensible to them. What kind of a Messiah is this that will be killed by the rulers of the people and then rise from the dead? This they would only understand after Pentecost.

If even King Herod is asking about Jesus, surely everyone else must have been trying to figure him out too. And we are in a very similar situation today concerning Jesus, for even today people are still trying to figure him out. The most basic questions are still being asked about him, even today, even by Christians who believe in him. They are asking:

"How does Jesus save us? How does his death on the cross save us? What are we to make of all the New Testament texts that tell us that he redeemed and ransomed us from sin and death? Did his death atone for our sins? Did his death propitiate God's righteous wrath against us for our sins? Do we justify ourselves by our own good works, or does only Christ justify us by our faith in him? Does Christ's death pay our debt with God for our sins, or is it just an example of God's love for us to imitate? Does Christ really save us, or does he just give us a good example of a dedicated life that we are to imitate? Is it really true that since Christ's death justifies us, our works therefore do not justify us?"

How can we remain faithful to the New Testament and properly believe in Jesus Christ today? Many any books are being written today trying to explain Jesus. We are still asking Herod's basic question: Who is this man Jesus?

So we find ourselves ever trying to answer these questions that people today are still raising about Jesus. Trying to answer these questions is one of the main tasks of preachers of the gospel, one of the key duties of a Christian preacher, especially since so many false and defective answers are being given today that are not really faithful to the normative New Testament understanding of Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

St. Paul clearly tells us who Jesus is, the Savior whom God sent to save us not by our works, but by his work on the cross, through our faith in him that connects us to his work, and his work is a free gift of grace. He says this in many places, such as 2 Timothy 1:9: God "saved us and called us with the holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago."

St. Paul stresses that God saved us not by any good works of our own, because salvation is beyond our ability to work out for ourselves. Only God can save us, and he does so through Jesus' death on the cross, which alone can atone for human sin. Christ's death alone has the power to actually make reparation before God the Father for our sins. We cannot do this for our own sins. We cannot do this for ourselves.

We cannot reconcile ourselves with God after sinning. Only Christ can do that, and he did it in a most biblical way, by becoming himself a sacrifice for sins, dying as a lamb of sacrifice in our place, instead of us, for our sins. As a lamb becomes the sinner's substitute before God and undergoes what he should undergo in just punishment for his sins, so Christ became our substitute on the cross and underwent for us what we should undergo in just punishment for our sins. By doing so, our debt of punishment for our sins is paid to God. What we owe God for our sins is paid in full by Christ on the cross, and when we put our faith in him, we are proclaimed acquitted, forgiven, and righteous by God.

It is only when I repent and abandon my sins and put my faith in Christ's atoning, reparation-making death for my sins that Christ's death is connected to me personally and I am personally acquitted by God and declared righteous by him.

Here it is not my works that save me, but Christ's work on the cross and my faith in him. So we are saved not by our works but by our faith, as St. Paul says, God "saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 1:9).

St. Paul makes this same point again in Titus 3:5: God "saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5). Justification is not by our good works, but by God's mercy, through our faith in Christ. Works are required, but it is Christ's work on the cross, not our works that enable God to justify us in all righteousness. God "saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness" (Titus 3:5).

St. Paul says this again in Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV). We are saved by grace through faith. It is not something we have done. "It is not of works." So we have nothing we can boast about, as though our own good works have earned our forgiveness, acquittal, and made us righteous. Our good works did not pay our debt with God because of our sins. Only Christ's reparation-making death on the cross could and did do that for us.

So this answers many questions that some people are still looking for answers to today about Jesus and how he saves us. But lest people wrongly conclude that works are not important for the Christian life, we must add that the first thing that a justified Christian does after being justified by faith, not by works, is to do good works. Renouncing his sins and abandoning them is already a part of his saving act of faith, then positively living a good life of good works for the Lord, in accord with his moral law, which his justification now enables him to keep, is the way a justified Christian then lives if he is really justified and didn't just go through some kind of false conversion. This is so, "for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10 NKJV).

So people who are preaching today that we can be justified and accepted by God without abandoning grave sins and without living a good moral life in accord with God's moral law are badly mistaken and are seriously misleading the Church today. My sermon for next Sunday deals with the serious problem of this kind of false teaching that is now going on within the Roman Catholic Church today.


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