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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 which was heard around the world.

It happened a long time ago — 504 years ago, to be exact — on Oct. 31, 1517. Halloween was then called All Hallows Eve, the evening leading into All Saints Day. 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, the forgiveness of sins and freeing souls from purgatory (a place, according to the Church of Rome, 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.

Luther learned 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 forgiveness and for 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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46 So Jesus came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.” 49 The nobleman said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies!” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your son lives.” So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he went his way. 51 And as he was now going down, his servants met him and told him, saying, “Your son lives!” 52 Then he inquired of them the hour when he got better. And they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 So the father knew that it was at the same hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.” And he himself believed, and his whole household. 54 This again is the second sign Jesus did when He had come out of Judea into Galilee. John 4:46-54

The Scriptures tell us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). What does this mean? It means standing under and taking hold of the things promised to us in God’s Word even though we can’t see them with the eyes of our flesh. It means seeing with the eyes of faith what we cannot see with the eyes of our bodies. And, indeed, we as Christians live and “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7; cf. Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:16-17; Rom. 8:24-25).

God promises to all of us who trust in Christ and His atoning sacrifice on the cross His pardon and forgiveness for all our sins. Can you see this forgiveness? Do the heavens open, and does God’s voice sound audibly from heaven saying, “I forgive you all your sins”? No, we have only the word of the Gospel in our Bibles and preached by God’s ministers telling us it is so.

When we are sick and facing our mortality, do we see Jesus on His throne of glory and God’s angels descending from heaven to carry us home? No, we have only God’s promise that His angels will carry our souls into the bosom of Abraham because Jesus died for our sins and rose again (cf. Luke 16:22; 2 Cor. 5:1-8; Phil. 1:21-23).

Many, of course, do not believe this and, because they can’t see it with their eyes or understand it with their minds, they do not believe. Because they cannot see Jesus Himself announce to them that their sins are forgiven, they do not believe it when the Gospel is preached or Christ’s ministers absolve them. Because they do not see Jesus and His angels when they are on their deathbeds, they die in unbelief and despair.

But Jesus would have us trust Him and His Word and live our lives with faith in His promises.

Consider the nobleman who came to Jesus. While Jesus was in Cana, this nobleman from Capernaum came to Jesus because his son was deathly ill. He asked Jesus to come down to Capernaum (down in the Jordan valley along the Sea of Galilee) and heal his son.

But what does Jesus say? “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.” The nobleman had heard of Jesus and was, perhaps, ready to believe Jesus could help in this hour of desperate need – if Jesus came down to Capernaum and to his house. But did Jesus, the eternal Son of God who created all things by His almighty word need to go and be visibly present in this man’s home? Jesus desired that this man have faith in His words even if he could not yet see their fulfillment with his eyes. Jesus told him, “Go your way; your son lives.”

A remarkable thing happened. This man who had begged Jesus to come down before his son died now believed and returned to his house. Jesus’ words not only expressed a truth; they had power – the power to create faith in this nobleman’s heart. And he believed and walked by faith all the way down to Capernaum (about 25 miles), where his eyes saw the truthfulness of what he had believed. As a result, both he and his household came to believe and trust in Jesus as the Son of God and their Savior!

Though the world views Jesus as a great teacher and religious prophet, the Word of God tells us Jesus is none other than God Himself in human flesh, come into this world to redeem us from sin and eternal death. The world views Jesus’ crucifixion as a horrible death and perhaps a great injustice; the Word of God tells us that He died as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world — in John the Baptist’s words, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Though the world views Jesus’ resurrection as a questionable miracle; the Word of God tells us that Jesus’ resurrection on the third day is proof that His payment on the cross was sufficient payment for the sins of all mankind (Rom. 4:23-25). Though the world would tell us we need to live a godly life to please God and merit His mercy and forgiveness, the Word of God tells us that Christ Jesus lived a perfect and godly life in our stead and made full atonement for all our sins that we might be forgiven by God and counted righteous and holy in His sight through faith alone in Christ and His cross (Rom. 3:21-28).

Can you see it? Does Jesus prove it before our eyes with modern-day signs and wonders? No, He tells us it is so in His Word. And that Word has power. St. Paul writes in Romans 1:16-17: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” In Romans 10:17, the Bible says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Thus, how do you know your sins are really forgiven when your minister announces God’s grace and mercy to you in Jesus Christ and, in the stead and by the command of Christ, absolves you of all your sins for Jesus’ sake? It is by faith in Jesus’ words and faith created by Jesus’ words (cf. John 20:21-23; Luke 24:46-47; 1 John 1:7 – 2:2).

When you are sick and face the reality that your body will one day die, how do you know that to die is gain and it is far better to be with the Lord? It is because Jesus tells us so in His Word. Cf. John 14:1ff; 11:25-26; 1 Thess. 4:13ff.; Phil. 1:21-23; Job 19:25-27. And His Word is powerful and creates and preserves faith in our hearts to live our lives and face our deaths in the sure hope of forgiveness and eternal life.

How do we know that in our baptisms, we are joined to Christ in His death and resurrection and all our sins are washed away? It is through the Word of God, connected with the water, that we are assured these things are so (cf. Acts 2:38-39; 22:16; Tit. 3:3-7; Eph. 5:26; Col. 2:9-15).

As we partake of the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, how do we know that Christ gives us “in, with and under” the bread and wine His body and blood which were given and shed on the cross for the sins of the world that we might also receive and be assured of forgiveness for all our sins and God’s gift of eternal life? Again, it is His Word that accomplishes what He says and gives to us the blessings He won for us upon the cross (1 Cor. 11:23ff.; Matt. 26:26-28).

As we live our lives in this world, Jesus would have us walk by faith and not by sight. He would have us take Him at His Word and not have to see signs and wonders before we will believe.

And, like the nobleman, when we get home, we will see with our eyes that His Word is true. When we are received into the glories of our eternal home through faith alone in the merits of Christ, we will see that indeed Christ did atone for all our sins, that God accepted His atonement as His resurrection proves, that when we have God-wrought faith in Christ all our sins are pardoned and forgiven and that, through faith in Christ, the eternal joys of heaven are indeed ours!

O God, graciously grant that we walk by faith in Your Word and not by sight, for only through faith in Christ will our eyes ever come to see the blessings which are offered and given to us in Him! Amen.

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

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Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Ephesians 6:10-13 (Read 10-20)

Though we so often don’t even realize it, there is a battle raging around us and within us for our very souls.

As the apostle says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

The devil and his evil cohorts seek to take us from Christ’s kingdom and rob us of the blessings Christ won for us upon the cross by attacking our faith and our life. He seeks to deceive us and lead us away from the true doctrine set forth in the Holy Scriptures, and he seeks to allure us back into the entanglements of sin so that we we do not trust in Christ and despair of His mercy and forgiveness (cf. 1 Peter 5:8-9; Psalm 2; Genesis 3:1).

Since the battle is spiritual, against powerful fallen angels rather than against human flesh and blood, our weapons and defenses need to be spiritual and powerful enough to withstand the constant assaults of our old evil foe (cf. Rev. 12:7ff.). Flesh and blood, human strength and will, and earthly weapons are insufficient in this battle. Left to ourselves, we would be overrun and fall.

That is why the Scriptures admonish us (Eph. 6:10-20): “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints — and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”

Only with these weapons of the Lord can we stand against the wiles of the devil. The Lord Himself preserves us!

O Lord, grant that we put on the whole armor of God, girded with the truth, wearing the breastplate of righteousness, having our feet shod with the Gospel of peace, bearing the shield of faith, wearing the helmet of salvation, wielding the sword of the Spirit and praying in the Spirit always. Amen.

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

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“Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law.” Psalm 119:18 (Read Psalm 119:17-24)

Unless the LORD God opens our eyes and gives us understanding, His Word, the Bible, remains a closed book to us.

Oh, we may learn many things from the Bible and even know the historical events it records. However, its central message will remain veiled and hidden from our sight (2 Cor. 3:14-16). Without the enlightening of the Holy Spirit, we will not come to see our sinfulness as God sees it; nor will we come to know of His grace and mercy in Jesus Christ.

Jesus spoke of this, in Matthew 13:14-15, when He quoted from Isaiah 6 in regard to the people of His day: “Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.”

Jesus also said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. … Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father” (John 6:63,65).

Unless the LORD opens your eyes, you too will miss the life-giving message of the Bible. But, when the LORD opens our eyes to see and understand our sinfulness and rebellion against the LORD, and when He reveals to us the glorious salvation He has provided in the atoning sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, we will truly see wondrous things in His Word!

O Spirit of the living God, open our eyes that we may see and understand the message of Your life-giving Word, repent of our sinful ways, and trust in Jesus Christ and His innocent sufferings and death for our eternal salvation. In the name of our crucified and risen Savior, we pray. Amen.

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

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1 And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, 3 and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. 4 Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”’ 5 But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. 6 And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. 7 But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 9 Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ 10 So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. 12 So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:1-14

The chief priests and Pharisees, along with many of the Jews, rejected Jesus as their Messiah and Savior and would not trust in Him for the forgiveness of their sins and a place in God’s eternal kingdom. God’s servants, the apostles and prophets, proclaimed to them the way of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus; but they made light of God’s gracious invitation and even mistreated and killed God’s servants.

With the parable of the king who made a marriage supper for his son, Jesus illustrated to his hearers how they were rejecting God’s gracious invitation to have a part in His kingdom and partake of the marriage supper of the Lamb through faith in His own dear Son, Jesus Christ (cf. Rev. 19:7ff.).

They were too busy with their own lives and their own religious works and they made excuses and did not come and partake of the salvation God provided in His Son, who died on the cross for the sins of the world and rose again in victory.

As described in Jesus’ parable (v. 7), the city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants were judged by God for their rejection of Christ Jesus. The city was destroyed and burned with fire, and its inhabitants were either killed or carried away captive by the Roman armies in 70 A.D.

The LORD God has also sent His servants out to invite others to have a part in His eternal kingdom through faith in Christ Jesus. The Gospel has been preached not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles around the world and many have heeded God’s gracious invitation. Through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice on the cross, many have received forgiveness of sins and will partake of the eternal joys of heaven.

And they are clothed not with their own sin-tainted righteousness but with the perfect righteousness of Christ. It is only for the sake of Christ and His innocent sufferings and death in their stead that they are acceptable to God and have a place in His everlasting kingdom (cf. Eph. 1:6-8).

We read in Revelation 7:14 about those who are around the throne of God: “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (read v. 9-17).

But, like the man who came without a wedding garment, there are also those who try to enter God’s kingdom by their own sin-tainted works rather than by simply receiving the righteousness of Christ which is ours through faith in Him. Those who attempt to partake of God’s eternal kingdom clothed in the spotted garment of the flesh rather than in the righteousness of Christ will be cast out into the darkness and eternal torment of hell because, as Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 64:6, “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”

What about you?

God’s gracious invitation continues to go out to all — us included — but only those who, by the grace of God, repent and heed the Gospel call, trusting in Christ alone for eternal salvation, will be saved. Again, the Bible says: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16; cf. John 3:18,36; Eph. 2:8-9).

And Jesus said, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Christ died for the sins of all and the Gospel invitation goes out to all, but only those who by the gracious working of God’s Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament heed the Word, repent of their sinful ways, place their faith in the shed blood of Christ Jesus and continue in that faith will be saved (cf. 2 Tim. 1:9; Eph. 1:3ff.; Acts 13:48).

Therefore, as we learn from Jesus’ parable, we also need to beware lest we begin to take that invitation lightly and neglect the Word and Sacraments or we begin to depend upon our own sin-tainted righteousness rather than trusting alone in the perfect righteousness of Christ Jesus our Savior.

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness my beauty are, my glorious dress; midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, with joy shall I lift up my head. Bold shall I stand in that great Day, for who aught to my charge shall lay? Fully thro’ these absolved I am from sin and fear, from guilt and shame. Amen. (“Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness,” “Christi Blut und Gerechtigkeit.” Translator: John Wesley (1740). Author: Ludwig von Zinzendorf – 1739, cento)

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

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