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Monday, May 14, 2018

Pieper sermons-2a (The Way Back to Paradise)

      This continues from Part 1 (Table of Contents in Part 1), a short series on the sermons of Dr. Franz Pieper.  This begins the first of 2 sermons published by Prof. Theodore Laetsch after Pieper's “going home”.
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Translation by BackToLutherhighlighting is mine; hyperlinks added for reference. Text extracted from Concordia Theological Monthly, October, 1931, pp. 761-771 (German text here)
Part 2a of 3

Luk. 23:39-43.
Christ, thou Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world, have mercy on us and give us thy peace. Amen.
Hear now a Good Friday text, as it is found in the excellent Luk. 23:39-43.
Beloved listeners in Christ!
This is a wonderful text. Indeed, the Holy Spirit uses different texts for different people in order to make the Christian faith quite certain and comforting. Such texts then become favorite texts for these people. Who for this chosen text has especially thanked God but thousands and thousands, not only poor and lowly people, but also great ones in the world, kings and princes and famous scholars.

Why? These words of Scripture express so clearly and mightily the merciful Gospel of Christ crucified, that every man for whose consolation he is sorely anxious, can not avoid being fully assured of the grace of God, and overcome all fear of death and judgment. For what do we see in our text? This: Christ our Savior, hanging on the cross for the sins of the world, speaks to a criminal who is rightfully condemned to death. but who calls in his conscience for help with a solemn prayer, and immediately paradise is pronounced to him: “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” [Luke 23:43]

From Golgotha, from the place of the skull, from the most horrible place in the world, from the place where the [Page 763] people crucify the Lord of Glory, the incarnate Son of God, from this place the Son of God Himself is now directing our gaze upon the most beautiful and loveliest place that has existed here on Earth, to paradise. And He says that through His death on the cross the way back to paradise is open. Yes indeed! Golgotha ​​and paradise are closely related. From Golgotha ​​it goes to paradise. “The cherubim stand no longer in the way; to God be praise, honor and glory.” That's what our text teaches us to do, let's take a closer look.

Christ's Cross, the way back to paradise.
We want to see,
1. How to be certain; 2. How comforting this truth is.
Secular poets sing poignant songs of the earthly home. They talk about the beautiful home, the sweet home. The love for home is innate to humans. We Christians now know from Scripture that all humanity has a common home, an old, original homestead. That is paradise. This present earth, this thorns-and-thistles bearing earth, this earth with its thousandfold pain, with distress and death is not the original home of the human race. When God had created man in His image in holiness and righteousness, He did not place him in a desert between thorns and thistles, but God planted, as the Holy Scriptures expressly stated, a beautiful garden in Eden and set the man whom He had made therein, Gen. 2:8.

We also know from Scripture how we lost our old, beautiful home, the Paradise. It was done by sin. When men had transgressed the commandment of God, and burdened themselves with sinfulness, God drove them out of the beautiful home, and set before the gate of them the cherubim with the bare flaming sword. All the misery of this earth, including death, is but a fruit and consequence of sin. And here now we hear that there is a way back home, the sweet home, in the blessed fellowship with God. Christ, hanging on the cross, puts the guilt-laden thief, who summons Him for mercy, into Paradise. There can be no doubt about that. The thief asks, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The LORD answers, “Verily, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” How can that be? Beloved listener, how can that be? This comes from the great love and great compassion of our God toward us unfortunate and lost people.
We could not help ourselves. We could not reopen the closed paradise. The cherubim with the flaming sword, the holiness and righteousness of God, cannot be bribed with money, not even with the so-called good [Page 764] works of the people. What people call good works is like straw in the fire before God's holy face. Scripture says, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse.” [Gal. 3:10] “Can not a brother redeem any,” etc., Ps. 49:7-8-9.  

But now look at God's love and mercy. God has laid what has driven us out of paradise, our sinful guilt, on his incarnate son and let him pay for it. Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world! John 1:29. [ref. blog on Luther’s sermon]
And what is the effect of this sacrifice made for us? The cherubim at the gate of paradise step back and release the entrance. The curtain in the temple is torn. The most holy place, the communion with God, the heavenly paradise, more beautiful and glorious than the garden of Eden, is completely open. Let us now come forward, the letter to the Hebrews admonishes, with joyfulness to the temple of mercy, so that we may receive mercy and gain grace.
So Christ's Cross is the way back to paradise. Our Good Friday hymns, in which we worship the suffering and death of Christ, are at once sounds of home: Back to the blessed homeland! Through the darkness of Good Friday breaks the splendor of the open paradise. What has been raised at Christmas has now been accomplished: “He opens us again the door,” etc. [TLH # 105, v. 8; German v. 6]  The matter is quite certain. The Savior himself, the Son of God, says so. And to his Son's mouth and Word, God the Father has pointed us when he says: This is my beloved Son: hear him [Luke 9:35], Though God the Father holds the judgment, at the same time he testifies by breaking the curtain [Matt. 27:51], that the judgment is now at an end, and His wrath has been satisfied over all mankind. The Holy of Holies is also open to the thief, and by believing in Christ, in the Son of God, he goes from the place of execution to Paradise.
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      We see what Prof. Laetsch meant as Pieper, a master theologian with a command of many languages, with a deep knowledge of the writings of Luther and the Lutheran Church, with a full knowledge of modern theology, spoke plainly in his sermons.  There is no confusing terminology of philosophy, no use of modern psychology, no use of sociology to figure out the plight of man, just pure Scriptural teaching of sin and grace, and the certainty of salvation. -- In the next Part 2b, we meet with a surprising example, and Pieper piles on the comfort for… a Christian.

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