Esteemed Brethren in the ministry, official delegates from the congregations and honored guests: Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
Having just celebrated the festival of Pentecost we call upon the Holy Spirit of God so to enlighten us by His holy Word that we may properly celebrate the 2000th anniversary of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. What a celebration this should be! Never again in our lives will we be around to observe the beginning of a new millennium. Oh how we should praise and thank the Lord today for giving us 2000 years of grace! What a great number of souls have been rescued from eternal death during this time period by the saving Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ! How blessed we are that we have been privileged to live in this time in history. The Gospel was brought to us through the means of grace. We were baptized, instructed, kept in the faith thus far on our earthly journey and we are persuaded that he will keep us in the faith until we reach our home above.
In order to have a proper celebration during our convention week let us take a brief look at our theme and be reminded of our Savior’s eternal presence. It is His wondrous nature, His coming into the world, His saving work for us, and His abiding presence which is set before us. The theme of our convention is this: JESUS CHRIST THE SAME YESTERDAY, TODAY AND FOREVER.
It is none other than Dr. Martin Luther who has told us how to interpret this text. He writes, “Yesterday is the time before His incarnation, today is the time of His revelation in the flesh. Thus it is now and in eternity the same Christ, through whom, and through whom alone, all believers in the past, in the present and in the future time are delivered from the Law, justified, and saved.”
I. We speak of JESUS CHRIST YESTERDAY, that is before His incarnation, before Bethlehem. Was He there before Bethlehem? Was He there before He was born of the Virgin Mary? Absolutely! He existed from all eternity. We confess it in the Nicene Creed. “He is the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” There were those who said “no.” They said, “ There was a time when he was not.” But this would have meant that he was not equal to the Father, not true God, and therefore unable to save us. But the heretic Arius did not win the battle. God raised up a champion by the name of Athanasius. He stedfastly maintained, and the church agreed, He is not simply like God, but he is God, very God of very God, Being of one substance with the Father. And there is more. The Holy Scriptures are full of testimony about his pre-existence. In John’s Gospel we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1,1. And again Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I Am.” John 8,58. Even before the foundation of the world God loved us in Christ and chose us to be His own. We read in the first chapter of Ephesians that “He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world.” Eph.1,4. So in that eternal yesterday Jesus Christ was there. And God the Father elected us, predestined us to be His own in Christ. God loved us in Christ from all eternity.
And in Old Testament time the Lord Jesus appears. We read in Exodus that the angel of the Lord went before the children of Israel. He led them in a pillar of fire by night and in a cloud by day. That angel of the Lord is Christ. Leading His people in the Old Testament times.
What conclusion shall we draw then, when we read the words, “Jesus Christ yesterday?” Jesus was there from all eternity. He loved us, chose us, and led His people then also. He is the same Lord, the same Savior as we have today. He is true God together with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
II. BUT NOW, TODAY, JESUS CHRIST IS THE SAME TODAY. The most terrible tragedy in all the history of the world struck mankind. No, it wasn’t atomic warfare. It wasn’t even the great flood which destroyed the earth. It was the FALL INTO SIN. Adam and Eve, and thus the whole human race, fell away from God. This brought death and destruction upon all mankind. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men for that all have sinned.” Rom. 5,12.
There was only one answer to this terrible condition. And two thousand years ago God provided that answer. He sent His only begotten Son to be our Savior.
We read in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the Law, to redeem them that were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” Gal. 4, 4-5. By His perfect life, by His innocent suffering and death, and by His glorious resurrection He paid the penalty for our sins and redeemed us from sin, death and everlasting condemnation.
This same Jesus is with us today. He tells us, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Matt. 28,20. He speaks to us today through His holy Word in the scriptures and through His chosen representatives. He joins himself to us today through holy baptism. And through the sacrament of the altar we partake of His very body and blood in a most intimate manner. Yes, He is with us today. He never changes. The love that He has for us has not changed or diminished. The forgiveness is still the same, full and free. His promises are the same now and forever. He says to us today, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Matt 11,28. What a rich comfort it is, when we see how familiar friends, parents, and loved ones pass away, that there is still One who never changes, who is always with us.
III. FINALLY, WE REJOICE IN THIS THAT HE IS THE SAME FOREVER. What is our goal in life? Surely the Christian wants to serve the Lord here in time and then finally to be with Him in heaven. When we think about death the age old question still confronts us, “If a man die, shall he live again?” Man is forever seeking the answer to that question. Is there life after death? When I close my eyes and draw my last breath what will happen to me? We sing in one of our hymns:
Who knows how near my life’s expended?
Time flies, and death is hasting on,
How soon, my term of trial ended,
Death may be here and life be gone.
My God, for Jesus sake, I pray
Thy peace may bless my dying day.
The uncertainty of life was forcibly impressed upon me when my telephone rang one day in my office. The voice on the other end of the line informed me, “You have cancer.” A year and half later the phone rang again and the same thing happened. “You have cancer again,” the voice said. That was really a wake up call! I thank my Lord that He has so far spared me from the disease and right now I am free and clear from its clutches. But when our final hour does come and life is coming to an end, thanks be to God the Lord Jesus will be there. He is the same in the future, yea, in all eternity, and will never leave us nor forsake us. As Lazarus was taken on wings of angels to Abraham’s bosom, so we will enter into paradise to live forever with our Lord and all the saints. Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23,43. These same words are intended for us. And what a glorious future we shall have with Him. The Apostle John writes about it in the Revelation. He describes the great multitude of every nation and kindred and tongue which are gathered about the throne. They have come out of the great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Gone are their trials and tribulations. John writes, “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of water: And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” Rev. 7,16-17.
In view of the great truths which are encompassed in our convention theme what then shall be our response as a synod? First of all, when we see the great goodness and mercy of the Lord through all of these centuries it strikes me that we ought to live and work as those who are really fired up about the spreading of the good news. Pastors need to have as their top priority to preach the beautiful Gospel message to lift up the hearts of their hearers. Members should show by their church and communion attendance, their financial support, and their willingness to work that they love to help spread the Gospel. They should show loving concern for their pastor so that he and his family may not have to live in poverty. I am sure that all of us, both pastors and lay people, would heartily confess that we fall far short of what the Lord expects of us. In view of our confession what shall we therefore do? First of all, as individuals, let us repent of our sins and then apply the rich comfort of the Gospel to ourselves. Jesus speaks to you as he did to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee”. Matt. 9,2. Are there cares in your life as you seek to carry out your responsibilities as a father, husband, wife, mother, son or daughter? Do you have concerns about your children and grandchildren as they grow up in an increasingly godless society? Are you troubled about conditions in the church, or in your congregation? Turn to Him who is ever present to hear our soul’s complaints? He answers every prayer according to what is best for us. He reminds us, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee; be not dismayed; for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” Is. 41,10. Are you concerned about your health? Have recent developments in your visits to the doctor forcibly reminded you of your mortality? Flee to Jesus. He says to you, “I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” John 11, 25-26. Are you a pastor who feels inadequate for the gigantic responsibility that is laid upon you? Are you a missionary who is wondering why many more souls are not converted? Remember that if you preach the Word faithfully the Lord promises, “My Word, shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” Is. 55,11. Yes, whatever your station in life may be, take the theme of our convention with you and let it reassure and comfort you: JESUS CHRIST IS THE SAME YESTERDAY, TODAY AND FOREVER.
As we go into this new century and this new millennium ought not the love of Jesus for our souls motivate us to launch out into the deep to rescue dying sinners. In the jungle along the Amazon River in Peru one of our missionaries is visiting tribes, teaching them about Christ, and baptizing their children. In water infested with snakes and piranhas recently converted members of our mission are wading waist deep to cross over to other settlements because they cannot help but want to share the good news that our missionaries have brought to them. Other missionaries are patiently teaching classes, sitting in thatched hovels, walking dusty streets all to bring souls to Christ. Others are laboring day after day to prepare national pastors for their future service to the Lord. May the Lord uphold and protect them! And may the Lord inspire our mission boards and our members to go forward with the work.
The work on the home mission front does not involve avoiding boa constrictors or jungle rivers, but the dangers to the soul of people are just as great. Materialism, agnosticism, and indifferentism are a more deadly poison to the life of faith than are the poisonous creatures lurking in the murky depths of the Amazon. Our home missionaries and pastors are rescuing people, and gathering people, from Satan’s domain as well as those on the foreign field. New mission starts are beginning each year in various areas of the country. We are now at work among the Koreans in California. The shortage of money and manpower limits our work among the Hispanics. But we pray for laborers and we pray for willing supporters who will use their earthly wealth to send out others who are saying “Here am I, send me.”
At this point in time as we begin the new millennium we have a wonderful opportunity to increase our service to the Lord. This opportunity is to take part in our special 2000 year offering so that more work can be done for the Lord. At this convention pastors and delegates will lead the way in making gifts and commitments for a two-year endeavor to raise one million dollars for a tremendous purpose. This fall the offering will begin in each congregation. To build for the future in Peru we need to concentrate upon the education of the children. Right now they are so heavily influenced by the Roman theology they learn in the public schools that the church is not being strengthened for the future. We aim to begin to correct this situation by establishing two Christian Day Schools in the Lima area. Here the children will learn from childhood the true teachings of God’s Word. Here a foundation will be laid for the long-term future of our mission. Another goal of the offering is to help our established congregations here in the USA to carry out a more effective outreach program. Our Board for Evangelism will offer real concrete help to those congregations which apply. And finally we will open more home missions. We still have many areas which need confessional churches. Our home mission program needs to move forward to save souls from eternal separation from God. Let us all, therefore, when we return to our home congregations do everything possible to inspire the entire congregation to take part in this 2000 YEARS OF GRACE OFFERING.
We are pleased that one of our pastors is serving in Norway. He is the Rev. Søren Urberg. He and his wife, Pat, live in Kopervik on the Island of Karmøy. Here Pastor Urberg serves the Lutheran Congregation at Avaldsness and provides much help to Rev. Egil Edvardsen, the LBK pastor in Stavanger. Our synod has a “Scandinavia Fund” which helps to support the work in the LBK. Contributions for this fund may be sent to Treasurer Leroy Meyer.
On the educational front Christian Day Schools, high schools of our fellowship, and our Bethany Lutheran College are teaching the ONE THING NEEDFUL to combat a worldview which regards all truth as relative and makes it illegal to mention that we have a Creator. Our schools must stand fast. They must continue. They are essential to the advancement and continuation of the Christian worldview in an increasingly godless society. Where would our synod be if it were not for Bethany Lutheran College? Are we educating students at Bethany that are not of our fellowship? Of course we are. As long as they will accept our instruction we desire to share the One Thing Needful with everyone that we can reach. And what a blessing to have a seminary staffed with professors that are totally committed to the pure Word and the Lutheran Confessions. Our seminary faculty is solidly united in the confession of orthodox Lutheranism. Each year we graduate and send out workers who are thoroughly trained to be faithful Lutheran pastors. They are committed to the preaching of the pure Word, the care of souls and they have a missionary perspective. May God continue to bless the hard work of our college and seminary professors. May He bless our administrators so that they may continue to plan and lead our institutions of higher learning with dedication, commitment and scholarship. We are pleased that our seminary had an international flavor this year as we had students from Norway, Germany, Latvia and Australia all diligently studying for the ministry. In the college also we had students from Norway and Sweden and a number of other countries.
There is an area of great need which I must call to your attention and that is our critical shortage of teachers for our Christian Day Schools. It is so serious that two new schools which had planned on opening this fall will not be able to do so.
Right now there has been a real increase in interest in private education. More and more congregations are planning to open schools. But what shall we do if we cannot supply teachers? We therefore urge young men and women to consider this as a career. Parents should encourage young people to enter the teaching ministry and to follow Christ’s command, “ Feed my lambs.” Jn. 21,15.
In the above description we have not mentioned everything that our synod is doing to promote the Gospel, but all are included in our prayers and in our encouragement. We pray for our dedicated Christian Day School teachers, our youth workers, the editor of the Lutheran Sentinel and the Board for Publications, those who are concerned about the financial management of the synod, and those who promote stewardship and planning. Our Board for Evangelism can be of great help to our congregations. We pray for our Doctrine Committee that it may ever set forth and uphold the pure teachings of God’s verbally inspired and inerrant Word. Not only does the committee set forth the truth but they seek to bring about unity in our midst. Unity in doctrine is essential in this day when so many are openly rejoicing in their diversity. We have the obligation to work for unity. St. Paul writes that we should endeavour to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. Eph. 4,3 This is difficult. . But we must work at it! Personal pride must never be a stumbling block to our unity. And when the synod in convention assembled has taken a scriptural position then let us defend it, speak well of it and avoid unnecessary criticism. Every pastor in our synod declares that he subscribes unconditionally to the Synod’s confessions and teachings, and to its Constitution and By-laws. Each pastor is therefore bound to uphold and defend our teachings and not seek to undermine our doctrine from within. Just look at the doctrinal turmoil in many other church bodies. Many have no unity at all but are made up of warring factions each seeking the upper hand. May our beloved ELS never degenerate into such endless squabbling. Martin Chemnitz writes in his “Ministry, Word and Sacraments” that a minister “is not to stir up all kinds of unnecessary disputes and strifes about words instead of a discourse and arouse his hearers with untimely clamoring, but only fight against adversaries in necessary conflicts.” P. 47. We are one of the few synods left in this world which still confesses the pure doctrines of God’s Word. Let us beware lest we destroy ourselves as so many other small church bodies have done. Rather let us thank and praise the Lord for preserving our ELS and helping us to move forward in carrying out His work.
We then say to this 83rd convention of our beloved Evangelical Lutheran Synod let us go forward into the new millennium with courage and enthusiasm to proclaim JESUS CHRIST THE SAME, YESTERDAY, TODAY AND FOREVER. We do so with the conviction that:
God’s Word is our great heritage,
And shall be ours forever;
To spread its light from age to age
Shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life it guides our way;
In death it is our stay.
Lord, grant, while worlds endure,
We keep its teachings pure,
Throughout all generations
In Jesus Name, Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria
George M. Orvick, president