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“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29

Agnus Dei is Latin and means “Lamb of God.” We sing the words of the Agnus Dei because we believe that Jesus is the Lamb of God sent into the world to be sacrificed and make atonement for the sins of all people.

John the Baptist called Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), and Christ Jesus “died for our sins according to the Scriptures … was buried, and … rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3,4). God sent His only-begotten Son to be our substitute and to die in our place for our sins that we might have forgiveness of sins and a place in God’s eternal kingdom through faith in Jesus and His death for us on the cross. And Jesus, the Lamb of God, accomplished our redemption and is worthy of all praise and glory (Revelation 5:12).

As God provided a substitute ram for Abraham to offer in the place of his son Isaac (Genesis 22), so God sent His own Son to be our substitute and to die for our sins so that we could be acceptable to God and be His own children forever. And so, before partaking of Christ’s sacrifice for us, before we receive in the Lord’s Supper His body and blood given and shed upon the cross for the sins of the world, we ask God to have mercy upon us and forgive our sins for Jesus’ sake when we sing:

“Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.

“Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.

“Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; grant us Your peace.”

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

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“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:21 (Read 22:15-22)

As Christians, should we pay taxes and render obedience to civil governments? After all, we are citizens of God’s kingdom through faith in Christ Jesus. We are only sojourners in this world and look forward to our eternal home in heaven. And our government has become corrupt – protecting and promoting abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, gambling and other sinful practices.

In Jesus’ day, the Roman government too was viewed as evil, as an enemy and oppressor of the Jewish nation and people. It stood in the way of the theocracy for which the people longed. And, it protected and promoted much that was evil and sinful, including wide-spread sexual perversion, sodomy and infanticide.

Much like our day, there were those who profited from Roman rule by collecting taxes and working with the Romans, and there were those who rebelled against Roman rule at every opportunity by waging attacks on Roman soldiers rulers. And there were those in between who didn’t like Roman rule but accepted it as a fact of life allowed or ordained by God.

This prompted the question posed to Jesus by the Pharisees and Herodians: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” That question was, of course, an attempt to entrap Jesus in His own words because Jesus, if he were to say yes, could be accused of supporting the Roman rule and fall out of favor with the Jews, and if he were to say no, could be accused of promoting insurrection against the Romans and be subject to arrest and possibly even execution.

Jesus’ answer not only foiled their plans to entrap Him; it teaches us our duty today in regard to God and civil government. He asked them to show Him a coin – a coin used by the Jewish people for trade on a regular basis – and asked whose image and inscription was on it. It was, of course, the image and inscription of Caesar. And He responded: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

As Christians, we are a part of two kingdoms. By birth or naturalization, we are a part of an earthly kingdom or nation and under the authority of civil governments (cf. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17; Daniel 2:44-45); and by our rebirth of water and the Spirit (John 3:5; 18:36; 19:11; Titus 3:4-7; Galatians 3:26-29; Revelation 11:15), we are members of Christ’s eternal kingdom and under the rule of Christ and His Word. As Christians, our first allegiance is to God and His Word, but we are still to obey civil governments and rulers as long as we can do so without disobedience to God (Acts 5:29; Daniel 3 and 6).

And Jesus’ words also provide the basis for the Biblical doctrine of the two kingdoms and their proper spheres or roles. The church, using the Word of God, is to proclaim Christ Jesus and salvation through faith in Him (cf. Romans 1:16-17; 10:17). The state, using the power of the sword, is to punish evildoers and preserve civil righteousness and peace in this world (cf. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). Churches, when operating within their proper sphere, no longer use the power of the sword to force upon people religious beliefs and practices. States or civil governments, when operating within their proper sphere, no longer tell churches what they may or may not teach or how they must carry out their mission and work in this world.

So, how do we live as Christians in this world and what are our duties? First of all, we seek to spread the kingdom of God through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and not through legislation or the power of the sword. Secondly, while living in this world, we submit to the rule and authority of civil governments, paying taxes and giving honor to whom honor is due and praying for our rulers that we might “lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:1ff.).

And, if we have failed in our duties to God or country? Repentance! In fact, a failure to repent could not only make us subject to punishment from civil authorities but from God Himself (cf. Romans 13:5). It could threaten our place in God’s eternal kingdom. We, therefore, acknowledge and confess our sins to the Lord God and look to Him for mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus, our Redeemer. And, we then seek to “render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Forgive us, O God, for failing to honor You above all and also to obey those You have placed over us. Forgive us for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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

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For those who were unable to attend worship services today, a video may be watched at the link below.

The sermon was about Jesus’ parable of the banquet feast. How do you respond to God’s invitation? Are you too busy with the things of this world? Do you reject Jesus because you would rather not hear God’s Word because it exposes your sinfulness or demands repentance? God has provided for your salvation through the gift of His Son. He invites you to come for all things are now ready!

Worship on October 15, 2017

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Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses for debate to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on Oct. 31, 1517.

Though Halloween is often associated with knocks on the door and children’s voices saying “trick or treat,” there was one Halloween knock on the door — Halloween was then called All Hallows Eve, the evening leading into All Saints Day — which was heard around the world.

It happened a long time ago, 500 years, to be exact. The knock on the door wasn’t just on any door but on the church door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, located in Saxony (part of modern-day Germany). And the knocking wasn’t to get someone to answer the door. It was the knocking of a German monk and university professor named Martin Luther as he nailed his 95 Theses (or statements) to the church door in hope that his discussion points could be studied and debated and some abuses corrected.

Luther’s 95 Theses were directed against false teachings and erring practices in the Roman Church of Luther’s day — chief of those being the selling of indulgences, which were church-sanctioned papers offering, for a price, forgiveness of sins and freeing souls from purgatory (a place, according to Church of Rome doctrine, where the dead went to suffer and pay off earthly punishments for their sins if they hadn’t done enough good works or lived a holy enough life). A man named Johann Tetzel was selling indulgences in Saxony and Wittenberg and, through their sale, raising money for the Roman Church and some of its leaders.

Luther knew from the Bible that everyone was a sinner and that forgiveness of sins cannot be earned by good works or be bought and sold. Forgiveness is God’s free gift to sinful mankind for the sake of the sinless life and innocent sufferings and death of God’s own dear Son, Jesus Christ. Forgiveness of sins is received when people who are troubled over their own sinfulness look in faith to Jesus and His cross for God’s pardon and life everlasting.

Luther pointed out that Christians should listen to the Bible, which is God’s Word, rather than to popes and church leaders. He said people should place their faith and hope in Christ Jesus and His innocent sufferings, death, and resurrection rather than in human works and church-sanctioned indulgences. He hoped his theses or statements could be debated and discussed and the errors in church doctrine could be corrected. But, as I said, his knocking was heard around the world. His 95 Theses, meant for discussion and debate in Wittenberg were copied, printed and circulated.

What’s so important about this? It led to the restored teaching of God’s pure Word and forever changed the world!

The world was a very different place in Luther’s time. The nations of Europe were a part of the Holy Roman Empire — kind of a revitalization of the ancient Roman Empire which had fallen — and the Roman Catholic Church and the Roman pontiffs or popes had authority over the emperor and his empire. Thus, people within the empire — except for the Jews — were required to be a part of the Roman Church. If anyone did not accept the teachings of the Roman Church, he could be declared a heretic and burned at the stake — and many Christians were put to death for teaching what the Bible says and believing that the way to be saved was through faith alone in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice upon the cross.

Though it may be hard for us to understand, common people in Luther’s day were not even allowed to have Bibles or read them. The Bible was on a list of prohibited books and the Roman Church said common people should not read the Bible because they would misunderstand it. Instead, they were taught to just accept the teachings and practices of the Roman Church established by its popes and councils.

Luther first began reading the Bible when he was a student. He didn’t at that time own a Bible, but he discovered a Latin Bible chained to a table in the library. A few years later in his life, so that people could read and study God’s Word, Luther translated the entire Bible from Greek and Hebrew into the common language of the people of his land.

Because of his writings proclaiming that Scripture alone is to be the source and judge of all Christian teaching, that salvation is by God’s grace alone for the sake of Jesus Christ and His innocent sufferings and death on the cross for the sins of the world, and that salvation is received by faith alone in Christ Jesus, Luther was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church, declared a heretic and subject to be killed on sight. But God protected and preserved both Luther and his Scriptural doctrine.

Luther’s knocking on the door was significant in the early 1500s and remains significant to each of us today, whether we realize it or not. His 95 Theses marked the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation (and also that of the Protestant churches under Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin). It is because of what God accomplished through Luther’s knocking, that you and I have the freedom today to read and study our Bibles and place our faith and confidence in Jesus Christ and His all atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.

His knocking on the door marked the beginning of a distinction between the roles of church and state. The church, using the Word of God, is to proclaim Christ Jesus and salvation through faith in Him. The state, using the power of the sword, is to punish evildoers and preserve civil righteousness and peace in this world. Churches, when operating within their proper sphere, no longer use the power of the sword to force upon people religious beliefs and practices. States or civil governments, when operating within their proper sphere, no longer tell churches what they may or may not teach or how they must carry out their mission and work in this world.

While many may be ignorant of it, Luther’s Biblical doctrine of the two kingdoms in which Christians live while in this world — citizens of a nation and subject to its laws by naturalization or birth, and citizens of God’s heavenly kingdom and subject to the Word of God by a rebirth of water and Spirit — played a role in our own founding fathers’ Constitutional guarantee of freedom from government encroachment upon the practice of our faith (First Amendment in the Bill of Rights).

Thus, Christians can be thankful for Luther’s knocking on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church in 1517 because of the restoration of true Biblical doctrine and the freedom to believe and practice the Bible’s teaching; and even those who would accept none of Luther’s doctrine can be thankful for Luther’s knocking, for without it they might be coerced to practice what they do not believe.

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The Sanctus (Latin for “Holy”) has been sung in churches in both the East (Greek) and the West (Latin) since the fourth century. It is a regular part of our Communion Liturgy which is spoken or sung before the elements are, by the reading of the Words of Institution, consecrated for use in the Lord’s Supper.

And the words are fitting words to consider and sing as we prepare to partake of the body and blood of Christ our Savior, who is true God and true man in one Person and who died for our sins and rose again. The words are based on Isaiah 6 where Isaiah sees the LORD God in the temple, and from the triumphal entry accounts where Jesus was praised and hailed as the Son of God and Son of David and as the promised Messiah and Savior with words based on Psalm 118.

In Isaiah 6:1-3, we read: “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!’”

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt, “the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’” (Matthew 21:9).

Therefore, as we prepare to approach the altar and partake of Christ’s body and blood, given and shed to make atonement for our sins, we also cry out with the angels of heaven and with all the saints:

“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth [hosts or armies]; heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”

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

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