For the 175th anniversary celebration of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), President Matthew C. Harrison preached the following sermon. We recommend listening; however, we have also provided the text should you want to read it. — Ed.
Christ is Risen! Alleluia!
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Planned from eternity, prophesied of old, the offspring of the woman, “shall [crush] his head” (Gen 3:15). “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22). “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Only Jesus.
“Born of woman, born under the law” (Gal. 4:4). Like every person in the history of the planet, yet without sin (see Heb. 4:15). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Only Jesus.
“You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Yeshua. Joshua. Yahweh saves! “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Only Jesus!
Solomon said, “Look to the temple, for the Lord Yahweh dwells there with His name for forgiveness.” Now we proclaim: “Let the whole world bow and confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father!” (see Phil. 2:5–11). The name is Jesus. Only Jesus.
Look to the whole of the Old Testament. Read the Law. Read the prophets. Read the Psalms. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him. “With his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Jesus said, “[these are] they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). Only Jesus!
“Don’t speak in that name” the authorities told the apostles (see Acts 4:18). Speak of gods aplenty. Speak of Caesar god. Only not that name Jesus. Only NOT Jesus.
But there’s a compulsion. “The Son of Man must be delivered over …” (Luke 24:7). “The Son of man must be handed over and put to death…” “The Scriptures must be fulfilled…” (Mark 14:49 NIV). “Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” (John 12:21) the Greeks said to Philip. Right away Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). The Son of Man must be glorified. Crucified. Raised. It has to be … only Jesus.
The apostles have forever borne witness. “That which we have seen with our eyes, beheld, heard with our hears, touched with our hands, this we bear witness to you, that you might have fellowship with us, and have joy and life eternal” (see 1 John 1:1–4). Only Jesus.
“No other name … by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Tell us not to, ridicule us, slander us, beat us, imprison us, pass laws against Jesus, do what you will, we must speak of what we have seen and heard. Only Jesus.
What is Baptism? Our doing? No. The apostle says it’s Jesus. It is being clothed with His righteousness, connected to His death and resurrection. Only Jesus.
What is preaching? Is the Gospel. It’s forgiveness. “I tell you your sins are forgiven.” It’s about living forgiven. Jesus only.
What’s the Supper? It’s Jesus! It’s all Jesus. His body. His blood. Given and shed. Take and eat, for forgiveness. Only Jesus.
The Judaizers gave St. Paul fits. It’s not only Jesus, they said, it’s Jesus plus circumcision; it’s Jesus plus the law which equals salvation. The apostolic council — referenced over and over in the literature of the founding of the LCMS — replied, “We’re not putting the yoke of the ceremonial law upon new believers.” Only Jesus.
The medieval church went off the rails. Baptism and merit. Absolution and satisfaction/merit. Supper and merit. Priesthood and merit. Serve and maybe be saved. Jesus and merit. Luther read, “[The Gospel] is the power of God for salvation… from faith to faith” (Rom. 1:16, 17). And Jesus grabbed him. Jesus said, “[I] came not to be served but to serve, and give [my] life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). That turned the entire trajectory of the church. Jesus does the verbs for salvation, redemption, sanctification. All Jesus. Ever Jesus. Only Jesus.
There’s a wonderful section of Luther’s Smalcald Articles and, because we’re in the Missouri Synod, we have to read a passage from the confessions in a 175th anniversary sermon. Listen to this:
The first and chief article is this:SA II I 1–5
Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised for our justification (Romans 4:24–25).
He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all (Isaiah 53:6).
All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works or merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23–25).
This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law, or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us. As St. Paul says:
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:28).
That He might be just and justifier of the one who has found faith in Jesus. [Romans 3:26].
Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls [Mark 13:31].
For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
The early fathers and mothers and founders of the Missouri Synod were brought on similar yet unique paths to the faith. Walther and Löhe were affected by pietism in different ways. For Walther, it was Jesus and a particular form and process of conversion. Sihler was a religious liberal, student of Friedrich Schleiermacher. Jesus and subjective pious sentiments (which he performed pitifully!). They were all finally struck by their own depravity and need, and were directed to Jesus. The “Jesus and …” dross melted away. They found Jesus only in the sacred Scriptures. They found in the Scriptures Jesus’ own voice, the voice of the Shepherd. Jesus only. And when they turned to read the Lutheran Confessions they recognized the biblical confession: Jesus only. And it grabbed their hearts and transfixed them.
Wyneken, Walther and Sihler went through severe trials prior to the Synod’s founding. Scandal. Depression. Illness. Hardships. Death. Division. Theological error. One by one, every “Jesus and…” was knocked away. “I count all things Dung next to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ as my Savior, and being found in him not having a righteousness of my own which comes from the law, the righteousness of God comes through faith” (see Phil. 3:8–9). Solus Christus! Only Jesus.
“There is no other name … given among men by which we must be saved,” (Acts 4:12) save Jesus Christ. How does God accomplish this salvation? Only through a cross. “The Son of Man must be glorified.” It was obtained by the cross, and it’s delivered through lowly cruciform means (humble preaching, voice, water, bread and wine, a catechism, a humble pastor, a lowly congregation, sinful people, whether they are on an an urban corner, a desolate snow-swept landscape or a tiny church).
Over the past half century, we have been disabused of our pride, arrogance and self-assured certainty. Demographic trends, the lowest birth and marriage rates in the history of the U.S., the largest rejection of all and any religion in the history of the U.S. These and many other things are tearing away from us all the “Jesus and …” scaffolding we once leaned upon. The state has become hostile to Christian belief. The entertainment industry is hostile. The university is hostile. The culture is hostile. Our children are bombarded 24/7. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). What do we have? Only Jesus.
Our times are intense and unique. But the basic battle has been the same from the beginning of the church. The Missouri Synod is not some “world conquering,” “ever triumphant,” “culture transforming,” “missionary power-house.” The Missouri Synod is first and foremost 6,000 congregations, most small, where the faithful — battered by the crosses and trials of life — give and receive Jesus. We are sinners redeemed, daily reminded by our sins that we need Jesus, only Jesus.
The Missouri Synod is pastors, teachers, people and missionaries who know Jesus and share Jesus in their families, with their friends and every facet of their lives. “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). This witness, individually and corporately, is marked above all by Jesus’ cross, Jesus’ words of forgiveness and Jesus’ own compassion. Sinners telling sinners about a Savior. Only Jesus. “When I am lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). That is Jesus’ only mission. And that is our only mission. It’s the only reason we exist, and the world continues to exist. Only Jesus.
Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. (John 12:26)
There is no other name, given among men, by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
Our future is in your hands. Humble us Heavenly Father, only in doing so, let us be your witnesses.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Photo: LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford