Holy (Maundy) Thursday Sermon, 2018
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
When reading the Bible, you have to keep in mind who says what and to whom.
I’m not talking about keeping the names straight. For me, that’s impossible.
What I mean is, the best, most glorious gospel—spoken to someone still hardened against God, helps nothing and serves only to further his arrogance and eventual despair.
And the harshest and best Law—the biggest hammer—leveled at someone already broken by the Law’s demands—snuffs out and breaks what ought not be so.
Obviously, we read Scripture in context. But we need to understand that not every verse in Scripture is pointed at you—as you are this moment.
Not every verse in Scripture is faithful even, believe it or not.
Not every verse in Scripture is understandable to an unbeliever.
This is a difficult lesson to learn, but we can grasp it easily enough with one question and example.
Is every verse of the Bible true?
Who says yes?
What about this verse: “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep” (Matthew 28:13).
It’s in the Bible, but it’s not true.
So we understand quickly that some verses record the faults and lies and deceitful plans of those we’re not supposed to emulate.
Since we’re about to begin a study of the book of Job, I should point out that Job consists mainly of advice you shouldn’t listen to.
Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz—Job’s three friends—give him terrible advice.
Job’s wife says only this in the entire book: “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die” (Job 2:9).
That’s terrible advice! In this case—the husband should completely ignore the words of his wife.
Such is the content of Job, The Lutheran Study Bible has a footnote regarding chapters three through thirty-seven which reads: “These dialogues of Job with his friends do not always reflect divine truth. Therefore, they should be used cautiously” (TLSB, p.786).
If you don’t understand the order of salvation—you can’t possibly understand how to read and apply the Bible.
The order of salvation is the order in which things happen in terms of your salvation.
Did you obey God first? And then believe in Him?
Or did you believe and then obey?
Did God create faith in you—first? Or did you choose God, resulting in God creating faith in you?
How you answer those questions and others like them will determine whether or not you understand the order of salvation—whether or not you can understand the Bible—and whether or not you can understand Jesus’ mandate on Maundy—Holy—Thursday.
The order of salvation can be understood like this:
There are four categories.
After Creation—Before the Fall. That’s one.
After the Fall—Before Conversion. That’s two.
After Conversion—Before Death. Three.
And After Death. Four.
Now, describe the will of Man in each of those categories? What can Man do?
Well, Adam and Eve, after Creation and before the Fall, they knew the Word and will of God, they were happy in it, and they could have persisted. They could have not sinned. Or, to say it another way, for Adam and Eve, it was possible not to sin.
But we know their story pretty well—Adam and Eve sinned. So, obviously, for them, it was also possible to sin.
After the Fall and before conversion, though, it’s only possible to sin.
If it were possible for an unconverted man not to sin, what need would he have of Jesus?
A man without faith—cannot obey God, because obedience to God includes faith.
With me so far?
Adam and Eve—possible to sin. Possible not to sin.
The unbelieving man—it’s possible only for him to sin. That means—no unbeliever can do any good thing. What they do may have the appearance of goodness, but, as St. Paul says, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
The third category, after conversion—before death, is where Christians spend their time.
For Christians—we know that it is possible to sin. But it’s also possible for the Christian to obey God, rejoice in the Law of God, and do good works. So it’s also possible for the Christian not to sin.
That’s the war that St. Paul speaks of in Romans chapter seven: “I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:21-25).
That is the daily life and struggle of the Christian—the war that is waged in the mind and body.
And that leaves—after death.
After the death of the Christian, he’s confirmed in his belief. No longer does sin cling to him. No longer is it possible for him to sin.
There it is—the four ways of speaking about the will of man, the conversion of man, and whether or not it’s possible or not possible not to sin.
Here’s why this matters:
Not all verses are spoken to or about unbelievers.
Decision theology teaches that the unbelieving man can choose to believe in God—that believe and obedience to God is an act of the will. Arminianism—if you remember the chart from Sunday school.
And the proof passage of proof passages for decision theology is Joshua 24:15—“If it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
“Choose this day…” he says.
And he’s chosen to serve the Lord.
Therefore, a man can choose to serve the Lord.
Decision theology quotes this verse and uses it to teach unbelievers that all they have to do is pray the sinner’s prayer, make a commitment to Jesus, or come down to for the altar call, and their salvation is decided—because they’ve made the decision.
But Joshua—a believer—said this to other believers.
They respond, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt” (Joshua 24:16-17).
This isn’t an example of an unbeliever choosing this day whom he will serve—there’s no such example.
This is category number two, this is category number three—believers choosing to obey God.
Another example is what Jesus says in John chapter fifteen: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another” (John 15:12-17).
Did you catch that?
You did not choose me. I chose you.
That’s how an unbeliever is made into a believer—God chooses them.
You can reject it—Judas did—but in Christ, God chose all mankind for salvation.
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25).
Now, I’ve said all that so I could say this:
When reading the Bible, you have to keep in mind who says what and to whom.
Is this a confession of the faith? Or not?
Is it spoken to the unbeliever? Or to the believer?
And how should you hear it?
Maundy Thursday gets its name from the Latin word for mandate—maundatum.
Jesus gives a new mandate—a new commandment—to His disciples: “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:15).
Or as He says it in chapter fifteen: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
Lutherans are good at justification.
We believe that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, and sanctified and kept us in the true faith.
But Lutherans are afraid of talking about good works.
We get so hung up with conversion—category two—that we forget that Christians—category three—“as soon as the Holy Spirit has begun His work of regeneration and renewal in us through the Word and holy Sacraments, we can and should cooperate through His power” (FCSD II.65).
The mandate Jesus gives shouldn’t make you cringe.
That Jesus tells believers to love one another—to do as He has done—is to remind us of what is true:
We are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone—not by works lest any man boast (cf. Eph. 2:8-9).
You’ve heard that verse before, right? Ephesians 2?
Do you know what the next verse is?
The very next verse:
“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).
Receive the salvation that God earned in Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
God chooses you for salvation.
Then—choose this day whom you will serve, and serve the Lord with gladness, loving one another as He commands.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!