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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Pieper sermons-2b (More comfort… from Copernicus?)

      This continues from Part 2a (Table of Contents in Part 1), a short series on the sermons of Franz Pieper.  This concludes the first of 2 sermons published by Prof. Theodore Laetsch after Pieper's “going home”.  Dear God! How I loved translating this sermon!
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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 2b of 3

[How comforting this truth is.]
And that is now comforting, without measure comforting. We would like to take a closer look at this in the individual circumstances of our text.
First of all, in our text we have a very clear answer to the question of whom Christ accepts. As long as a person still lives in carnal security, he feels well offended, when you put him in a class with the thief in a relationship with God. But if a man's eyes are opened to his sinfulness by God's Law, then he probably envies the thief. He thinks or says: If the Savior also said to me, “Truly, I say to you,” etc., then I, too, would be sure of the grace of God.

Now, beloved, so that every person — let us be aware that every man, whoever he is — may be assured of God's grace, Christ, from his high priestly throne, from the Cross, chose the thief as the example of grace. The thief was [Page 765] not a good man; he was not an honest man, but a criminal, a serious criminal. It was dangerous to let him go around freely. That's why he was imprisoned. But even as a prisoner he was still too dangerous. He could have broken out of prison. To put mankind in safety from him, it was considered necessary to kill him, to take his life. And now the death sentence was executed on him. That was not a judicial murder. He confesses that he receives what his deeds are worth. Even more: at first he also, on hanging on the cross, blasphemed Christ with the other thief. [?] But then he comes to the knowledge of his sin. The fear of God's wrath and hell seizes him, and in his fear he turns to Christ with a plea for mercy: “Lord remember me,” etc. And behold, the Lord does not say unto him: “This is not possible, you've been doing it too much and for too long.  Everything has its limits. I can not accept you”, but the LORD speaks to him: “Verily”  and so on.
That is grace! That is the free and unlimited grace that exists through the cross of Christ for all, which excludes no one. Not even you, my listener, whoever you are. Do you want to go to paradise? So turn to Christ and say, “Lord, remember me.” And your request is granted, Christ has never, never denied a request for entry into Paradise. Christ has, when walking on earth, scolded certain people hard, very hard.  But he reproached the Pharisees, who said they did not need the physician, that they could enter paradise with their virtue. But we find no example in Scripture that He has cut off the crushed and humble hearts that called upon him for grace. Not the repentant publican, not the penitent Mary Magdalene, and thus not the penitent thief. So all the anguished hearts have comforted themselves with the grace of a thief, also the apostle Paul, too, when he writes, “This is a faithful saying” etc., 1 Tim. 1:15-16.

Copernicus epitaph
(Proper “Copernicanism”)
Thus it is also reported of the astronomer Copernicus that he had written himself an epitaph which states that he does not desire the grace with which Paul and Peter were forgiven, but only begs the grace with which Christ accepted the thief. Well, we are all content with the grace extended to the thief, and therefore very sure of grace. [see this blog post]

Also the word “today” is comforting. And it seems that the thief thought only of future merciful consideration when he asked, “Lord, remember me.” But the Lord instructs him: Not only later, no, no, even today, when your soul is separated, it will be with Me in Paradise, that is, in the blessed communion with God.

From this we learn that the purgatory of the papal church is a human fiction, designed for the torture of souls and for the purpose of gaining money. No, whoever departs in faith in Christ,

[Page 766] his soul does not go into purgatory, but into Paradise, in God's hands, into the blessed fellowship of God, as the Lord assures the thief: Today, without delay, shalt thou be with Me in Paradise, and as Paul says: “I have a desire to depart and be with Christ.”
Finally, for our consolation, let us pay particular attention to how lovingly the dying of the faithful is made by the word Paradise. Death is not child's play. Death itself, that is, death after the natural feeling and the natural prestige is terrible. Now the Holy Scripture is indeed full of consolation against death for all believers. The Lord speaks for example: “I am the resurrection,” etc., John 11:25-26. And again, “Verily, verily, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, he has eternal life”, etc., John 5:24. And again: “If anyone keeps my word, he will not see death for ever” (John 8:51).

But there is still a special consolation in the words the Savior calls to the dying thief: “Truly,” etc. What is the hereafter for the death of the believer? He is walking in Paradise. We do not go to judgment by death, not to a dark, sad or desolate place, but to Paradise. Who wants to be afraid of paradise? Therefore, beloved listeners, when our end comes, whether it be today or tomorrow, let us put our eye of faith on Paradise and therefore speak cheerfully [TLH 619 v. 2; German text]:
O happy day and yet far happier hour,
When wilt thou come at last,
When fearless to my Father's love and pow'r,
Whose promise standeth fast,
My soul I gladly render?
For surely will His hand
Lead her with guidance tender
To heav'n, her fatherland.
So the cross of Christ is the safe way back to Paradise. The Holy Spirit seals the Word heard in all our hearts. Amen.
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Never mind the straying LC-MS of today, the old (German) Missouri Synod rubs our nose in... what?  the epitaph of... Copernicus! -- Only Christians, the believers, have true comfort in their last hour.  And Franz Pieper shoves Paradise into our lap.  —  In the next Part 3a, Prof. Laetsch brings us another sermon from the greatest preacher of the Twentieth Century... on the importance of Christian education.

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