You have ascended on high, You have led captivity captive; You have received gifts among men, Even among the rebellious, That the Lord God might dwell there (Psa 68:18).
Text: Mark 16:14–20
Afterward He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” “This is a majestic word: He commands these poor beggars to go into all the principalities and kingdoms of the world and open their mouth freely and confidently to every creature, so that all people can hear this preaching. This is such a strong and mighty command that never before has one like it gone out in the world. – But the word ‘Gospel’ means nothing other than ‘good news,’ a message that proclaims something one is glad to hear.” “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” “That is indeed a dear and comforting preaching and can rightly be called ‘Gospel.’ For here with one word you hear heaven opened, hell closed, the sentence of God’s wrath cancelled, sin and death buried, but life and truth laid in the lap of the whole world, if only they will believe it. If only we could learn these words rightly: ‘believe’ and ‘be saved’! They are just a few letters, but in them is a power the world cannot comprehend. Such an inexpressible grace and treasure is given to us by this preaching, without any merit of ours, since we have done nothing at all to get it, no, not one bit of it. If only the world believed it, they would run in great numbers to praise and thank God because they have lived to see the day when they could hear a Christian sermon.
“We all still lack much in our faith. For this grace and treasure is so overwhelmingly great. The human heart must tremble and worry when it considers that the high, eternal Majesty opens His heaven so wide and lets such grace and mercy stream over my sins and troubles and those of the whole world, and that this glorious treasure is given in and with the Word alone.” So we are always inclined to blend our own works in with justification, thus continually hindering faith. “If I believe, then I must not mix in my own works, or try to come before God with my own merit. For these two things can never be reconciled: to believe God’s grace for Christ’s sake apart from merit, and at the same time to think that we are justified also by our own works. If we could merit salvation ourselves, then we would not need Christ. But the world regards this teaching and faith so little because they are so confident and secure in sin and do not know what anguish and terror a troubled conscience can feel. But when death or other terror befalls them, then they find no escape, then they quickly fall into doubt and must learn that faith is something completely different than they had supposed, that it is not empty letters or idle talk and not a vain thought or idea, but a fearless courage which entrusts itself to Christ in the face of sin, death, and hell” (Luther). “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” This is eternally certain and true, and it is powerful to kindle and strengthen faith in our heart which carries with it the gentle and strong power of divine grace. Praised be God for love’s sure and great plan for us lost sinners! “But he who does not believe will be condemned.” This is just as sure, because faith alone saves. You are so near to us, dear soul: you are baptized and have access to God’s grace and can believe. – Will you then in unbelief continue on to eternal condemnation! Perhaps you despise this! Then do not be deceived, it is said and remains true: “he who does not believe will be condemned.” Let none of us, by unbelief bring the judgment of God’s wrath upon us again!
Lord Jesus, send witnesses out who can proclaim Your Gospel in evidence of the spirit and power, and let it create faith in hearts everywhere. Amen.
O come and live within my heart
That faith be stronger living;
Your grace e’er more and more impart
Abundant fruit e’er giving;
Embrace me when my end I meet,
The good of my sure faith so sweet,
And all my worries vanish.
O Jesus, my faith’s purest light –
This truth grant that I’m learning –
O keep it ever glowing bright
With fervor ever burning!
What You began, now do fulfill
That in my death I’m faithful still;
A blesséd end, O grant me!
Denicke: O Jesu, Troens dyre Skat L 371:8-9 tr. DeGarmeaux;
tune: Es ist gewisslich (ELH 25); alternate hymn: Draw us to Thee ELH 581