In Christ You Are Not Condemned

Romans 8: 1-10 (Lent Four – 2013)

“In Christ You Are Not Condemned”

John records for us the story of the sinful woman that the Pharisees had brought to Jesus. She was known to be an adulterous woman, perhaps a prostitute. Jesus invited them to consider which of them was without sin and to be the first one to begin stoning her according to the demands of the law. They all went away realizing their own sin. Jesus turned to the woman and asked “Has no one condemned you?” Her accusers had fled the scene. Jesus spoke to her: “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” That gospel lesson is a living illustration of what Paul is teaching in Romans 8. Those who were seeking to justify themselves on their own went away condemned. The gal who realized her sin and her need for Jesus went away forgiven and empower to live a new life in Christ.    

  1. Christ Met the Law’s Demands

Paul explains: “what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature … God did by sending his own Son … in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us.” The laws of God are righteous requirements. Many of the Old Testament laws were ceremony laws meant to lead Israel to the truths of Christ. Some of them, the Ten Commandments, were moral issues that applied to them and still apply to us. No one human being could meet any of the requirements of God’s Laws. “The law was made powerless and weakened because of our sinful nature.”

When I receive a credit card bill, the bill shows me the required payment. That statement does not, however, give me the ability to pay the required amount. The bills that pile up on our kitchen tables are factual. They are real. But they do not give us the ability to meet their required payments. God’s laws are like that. We could not do what God’s law demands. Why? Paul explains so clearly in verse 6-7: “The mind of sinful man is death … it is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law nor can it do so.”

“God did [the requirements of the law] by sending his own Son … in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us.” In the Old Testament God designed certain sacrifices to be made in order to picture for them the sacrifice of atonement that Jesus would make on the cross. The people of Israel were required to do them. They knew that these sacrifices needed to be repeated over and over again, because they were God’s teaching tools. They were repeatedly learning that God was going to one day meet the requirements of his entire law through the Messiah, his Own Son.

Paul was underscoring that point with the Jew and Gentile Christians assembling in Rome. This was the very heart of his letter to them: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (3:23-24). Christ ended their obligation to the ceremony laws by keeping the righteous requirements of the entire law as the human born Son of God.

  1. Christ Liberated You from Sin

The righteous requirements of the moral law still apply to us. The Ten Commandments are as real as the credit card bill on my kitchen table. I owed God what I cannot pay. The reading of Law can only tell me what I cannot pay. Apart from Christ the Law still condemns me. The Law condemns sin that lives in me. The Law cannot rescue me. I cannot rescue me by attempting the keep the Law. “The mind of sinful man is death … it is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law nor can it do so.” The moral statements of the Law stand as a clear reminder for all of us the times we have fallen short of those righteous requirements.

Through Christ Jesus the law of Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death … what the law was powerless to do … God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offerings, and so he condemned sin in sinful man” … on Christ on the cross! The ceremony laws were pointing to the shedding of blood for atonement. Jesus fulfilled the ceremony laws and rescued us from the condemnation of the moral laws.

When Paul was speaking to the Colossians about their new freedoms in Christ he said this “God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and stood opposed to us; he took it away nailing it to the cross!” (Colossians 2: 13-14). He went on to remind them that because of this they were liberated from judgment on ceremonial laws and requirements because “these were a shadow of the things to come; the reality is found in Christ” (2:17).

The writer to the Hebrews emphasized that point throughout the whole book as well. He outlined that the Priesthood was pointing to ahead to Christ. “Unlike the other high priests, he did not need offer sacrifices day after day first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once and for all when he offered himself” (Hebrews 7: 27). The next verse ties into our lesson: “the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath which came after the law appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever” (28).

  1. Christ Makes You Alive to Righteousness

What comes next is Paul’s “so what?” “You are not controlled by the sinful nature but by the Spirit … if Christ lives in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.”

                Apart from, Christ we are spiritually bankrupt. Apart from Christ we are completely controlled by the natural born condition of sin. We are all dead to the Spirit of God and to righteousness. Those who continue to live outside of faith are living illustrations of this dead condition and our natural tendency to live in hostility to God. When we stumble and fall the billing statement of the law stares us in the face and reminds us that we are not capable of righteousness apart from Christ.

            The Spirit of God changes that status. The Spirit makes us alive with Christ. He transfers to our spiritual bank account the perfect righteousness of Christ Jesus. Earlier Paul had been discussing the importance of Grace in our Christian living. He made the point that “where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5: 20). He was basically saying that you cannot “out sin” God’s grace. Christ Jesus paid for the sins of the whole world, and therefore paid for all your sins. In Christ there is forgiveness for those who repent and believe in his Name.

Paul anticipated the natural question and concern “Shall we go on sinning, so that Grace might increase? By no means! We died to sin, how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6: 1-2) He then goes on to point out the importance of our Baptism. In Baptism we have been spiritually attached to God’s abundant blessings in Christ. His death to sin is our death to sin. His burial is our burial. His resurrection is our resurrection “through the glory of the Father that we, too, may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).

The sinful woman could not prevent her own condemnation before men, or before her God. The men who accused her could not condemn or acquit her based on a comparison of their lives with hers. The law condemned the sinful nature in them all. In Christ Jesus she left was a free gift: “Neither do I condemn you!” In Chris she left with a new empowerment that came, not from the law, but from the forgiveness of her many sins. “Go and leave your life of sin.” Jesus had made her alive to righteousness.

In Christ, you are not condemned. He met the requirements of the Law that we could not keep. He cancelled our debt before God by taking our sins to the cross. He sends his Holy Spirit into our hearts, through Word and Sacrament, to cling to his free gift of Grace. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! This is good news … news that makes us alive to Christ and his righteousness. Go with Christ. Go in peace! Amen.

 

Why Bad Things Happen

John 9: 1-5 (Lent Three – 2014)

“Why Bad Things Happen”

It does not take much these days to stumble upon troubling news and find our hearts aching over bad things that happen to us; the people around us; or even multitudes of people we don not know. Have you paused more than once to wonder about a missing jet liner and the people in it?

Jesus once again sees a teachable moment. He addresses an issue that has come across many hearts. He addresses a question that has landed in many pastor’s offices and counselor’s sessions. Why do bad things happen to good people? We might even ask, “Why do bad things happen to God’s people?” Jesus uses the teachable moment which leads to as very busy day and lengthy story. Jesus does perform the miracle of giving the blind man sight. Jesus also uses the event to teach the difference between spiritual blindness and sight. He uses the event to reveal God’s glory and to urge us to join with him in sharing God’s light.

 

To Show God’s Glory

The disciples asked a question: “who sinned to deserve this?”Their question betrays a popular false assumption about God when bad things happen to people: God must be punishing me/ them. When the disciples saw this blind man they assumed that he, or someone else, was being punished directly for a sinful action. It is natural for us to think that way too. Our inborn fear of God sees him only as a righteous judge doling out sentences against every little crime. We imagine that he somehow micro-manages the morality of this sinful world by daily making the punishments fit the crimes. Our guilty conscience views God apart from his mercy and – rightfully so – knows that we deserve only his wrath and punishment.

Jesus changes their thinking: “This happened that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Jesus reveals the God of mercy in his answer. God certainly is a God of justice and does carry out his wrath for sin. That wrath is not carried out by daily punitive damage control each time we sin. His wrath over sin is carried out on his Son who bore all sins for us. “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53: 5) Because God made him to be sin for us, he also made him the one atoning sin offering for the entire world of sinners. God’s justice has been satisfied already in Jesus – true God and true man – by his sufferings and sacrificial death. On the cross Jesus is our substitute.

            Still we are left wondering – why do bad things happen? Jesus explains that a God of mercy uses the struggles of a fallen world to display the work of his caring hands. In this case, the blind man received his sight so that others could see the miraculous power of God’s Son and be led to believe in him as the Messiah. His blindness – which appeared to be a sad and troubling thing - God used for the spiritual benefit of those who witnessed his life-changing event. At the same time he was able to once again reveal himself as the Son of God who had come into the world to save sinners.

If I were to send around a piece of paper and ask you to list two or three events in your lives that began as frightful, troubling memories you would most likely begin a top-ten list … (pause to think). Tragedy; illness; damaged relationships; personal thorns; private struggles with temptation; these are all circumstance for our Lord to display his power and glory among our troubled lives. “When we are weak he is strong” (2 Corinthians 12: 10). When we are humbled to cling to him for help He is glorified.

            As you think about those very troubling circumstances, think about the ways in which God drew a great number of people to prayer, to the circle of believers now made visible through sufferings, and to hear the sharing of Word of God and the promises of the gospel. That is what happens in hospital rooms, living rooms filled with bad news, offices of Christian counselors, and the many gatherings of God-fearing people who are seeking to resolve difficult conflicts with the Scriptures as their source of wisdom. Jesus is teaching us to see the glory of God in our own personal lives.

 

To Share God’s Light

What happened next in this gospel lesson is just as revealing. The Pharisees demonstrated a spiritual blindness. At the close of the story Jesus tells them: “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” The temple officials dragged this man in for questioning. They were upset that his story drew so much attention to Jesus. They wanted to be sure to snuff out this news. The Gospel, as usual, drew instant opposition! The news of Jesus met opposition. The enemies of Jesus drew closer to the plans of getting rid of Jesus and those who followed him. They had already planned to ban those who followed him from temple worship.

            Their plans backfired, however. The man gave a clear witness to his new discipleship. “I was blind but now I see.” He knew that physically was true. But he also realized that it was spiritually true. He once was living in spiritual blindness. Now he was seeing by faith that Jesus was the Son of God and his Savior from sin. He even encouraged his accusers - the Pharisees - to consider being his disciples as disciples too. How true it is that those who have and know the Gospel love to tell the story of Jesus!

            This man’s true story validates the power of the Gospel. Had we been blessed to witness one of his miracles we might have been impressed with the power of Jesus. What it must have been like to watch known cripples to get up and run through the streets! What it must have been like for this man’s parents to say: “Yes, this is our son who could not see, all his life, and now he can see!” The miracles of Jesus were true displays of his power!

            But a greater miracle occurs every day, and right before our very eyes: the miracle of faith. Jesus is teaching many others to see! When the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection is shared by those who know it with those who don’t, the Holy Spirit is giving spiritual sight. When the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is spoken over baptismal fonts around the world, the Spirit is giving spiritual sight to those born spiritually blind. As we gather in his house to hear and learn his Word, as we gather to receive the forgiveness of sins with his body and blood, as teachers teach his Name to little ones, and as we share his love and name with our friends and relatives, the Holy Spirit is opening eyes by giving faith that trusts in Jesus.

            Jesus teaches us to see, spiritually, so that we might share in Light with others. In this lesson, he used a specific struggle to show his Father’s work. He used a teachable moment to open eyes spiritually. This lesson is one more step on his journey to the cross for our sins. This lesson reveals the eagerness of his enemies to plan his death. But it also highlights the validity that He is who he claimed to be: the Son of God. He came to atone for our sins and conquer our fierce enemies: death and the devil’s attacks on his people. In his power over unbelief we look in faith to heaven. One, clear evidence is in the confident confession of faith this man displayed in the face of his new foes. He pointed other to the name of Jesus.

            Jesus teaches us that every day circumstances are chance to “work while it is day.” Our personal battles are where God chooses to display his glorious handy work! Where is the missing jet liner? Why is there so much loss in our midst lately? What anxiety riddles your prayer life these days? What teachable moment has God used or is about to use to remind you of his unconditional love for you in Jesus? What teachable moments will we have to point others to the cross of Jesus? Jesus answers the age old question with honesty and urgency. “Night is coming when no one can work.” Rather than ask why bad things happen, trust that God has made you a project of his daily workshop (Ephesians 2: 10). Jesus Christ is the Light of the World. Rather than ask “why?” in anxiety, he invites us to trust him for his grace. With Paul, we delight (2 Corinthians 12: 10) in those things and strive to see in them his good and gracious will. In doing so he loves to reveal his glory, his grace in Christ Jesus, and through your crosses, reveal his Light of Love to the world. Amen.

 

Christ Is Victorious In Our Struggle

Mark 1: 12 – 13 (First Sunday in Lent - 2014)

“Christ Is Victorious in Our Struggle”

“And there was a war in heaven. Michael and all his angels fought against the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” (Revelation 12: 7 – 9). The insight Jesus gave to John in Revelation fills in the gap between Creation and the Fall into Sin.

            You and I know that the devil did not give up there. He picked a fight with God by picking a fight with Adam and Eve. He picked a fight with you and me. “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). God did not give up either. He sent his Son as our champion. He sent his Son as our King to defend his kingdom of heaven. This first Sunday in Lent we are comforted to see his victory over the Devil in the wilderness. He is victorious in our struggle! He goes anointed with the Spirit’s power. He goes with the sword of the Spirit in his hand.

1. Anointed with the Spirit’s Power

Mark tells us that it was the “Spirit’s command that sent him into the desert” (verse 12). In verses 9-10 he had recorded the Baptism of Jesus, at which the Spirit is also active. In the book of Acts Luke tells us about Peter’s instruction class at the house of Cornelius. Peter was explaining that the good news was to be preached to all people. In that explanation he says, “You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached – how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”

His first order of business, assigned by the Holy Spirit, was forty day combat with the devil. Here is the picture: desert wasteland; wild animals; angels – likened to the ones that went ahead of Israel in the battles on their way to Canaan (Exodus 23: 20-33); the full-throated efforts of Satan – Matthew tells us about three temptations, all of which cut at the heart of Christ and throw arrows at his Word. As Paul reminds us: “Our struggle is not against flesh blood, but against the rulers … of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6: 12). Remember … the war began in heaven (Revelation 12:7).

The Holy Spirit anointed Christ with power upon his baptism. He was given the right and authority to do combat with Satan and defeat temptation. The almighty Son of God; attended by angels from Michael’s Holy Army (as he was attended in Gethsemane); commanded by the Holy Spirit; He went into the fray. Our King, like a good King should, went ahead of us into war.

We are not far behind. When the devil is too much of a coward to face Jesus, he attacks the little ones Jesus loves. He gets into our head and hearts. He lies to us. He creates doubts in our minds. He makes promises that he does not intend to keep. He seeks to devour the flock of the Shepherd he despises. And we fall for it. We either fall into sin, or fall into the dreadful pride that thinks we can take him with our own reason and power. We often go into the struggle unarmed and without Christ.

The writer to the Hebrews reminds us not to out without Him: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4: 14 – 16). Two chapters before he put it this way: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2: 18). The power which the Spirit gave to Christ is the same power he gives to us in our Baptisms. Christ’ victory in our struggle is our power for each battle against temptation.

2. With the Sword of the Spirit in his Hand

We know that Jesus issued a counter attack to the three wilderness temptations. He used the all-important Weapon: the Word of God – the Sword of the Spirit. When tempted to fall into physical temptation, he said “It is written, ‘Man does not live on bread alone but un every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4: 4). When faced with the temptation to twist the Word of God into false teachings, he said: “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’ ” (Matthew 4:7) When faced with the temptation to commit idolatry against his Father by bowing to Satan, he said: “Away from me Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ ”(Matthew 4:10).

There is good reason why Paul calls the Word of God the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6: 17). It is the one weapon which Christ used to conquer temptation in his war on Satan. It is also our much needed weapon in our struggle against the “powers of this dark world.” The same Word of God that he used to defeat the devil’s power is the Word of God which he taught and shared in his ministry. Today in these few verses we have all three offices of Christ as work in one Christ. He is the Prophet, preaching and teaching his gospel to others. He is the Priest sacrificing his life for us, acting as our substitute and mediator. He is our King, going to battle for us, ruling our hearts, ruling the heavenly realms by his mighty power. In each case he holds a scepter – the Word of God – His Gospel.

The struggle remains fierce. It seems to be getting more intense. The minions of our wily foe seem to be gaining ground. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6: 12), but against temptation, false teachings, persecution, and unbridled evil. The lion will pick at the sheep wherever and whenever he can. You are wise enough to sense where that struggle is and where it comes from. We are aware that he is seeking our loved ones, our children, our friends, and ourselves. We know the low fences and the open gates that he knows. The struggle remains fierce.

It is the Word that forces Satan to the ground. It is the Word of God that calls us to repent and believe. It is the Word that is connected with the water in our Baptism. It is the Word that announces the good news of God. It is the Word that unites Christ’s body and blood to bread and wine. It is the Word that changes hearts from unbelief to faith in Jesus. It is the Word that gives us peace that the world cannot give. It is the Word that is at the heart of our teaching and confessions of faith. It is the Word reaches out to the lost souls of an unbelieving world. It is the Word that is the back bone of every Christian song, hymn, prayer, or worship service. It is the Word that validates any method of education, method of outreach, purpose, plan, or goal of the Church. It is the Word that silences the fierce voices of the wicked and does not suffer fools gladly.

Paul urges us to put it on, as we would put on armor for battle (Ephesians 6: 13). As Christ took up the Sword of the Spirit in the desert and on the hills of Galilee, we take up that same Sword. We use it to say “Away from me Satan!” We use it to speak a word of gladness to the lonely and guilty. He daily helps us to read, learn and take it to heart. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” – including the struggle against the devil’s schemes! (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The war was won in eternity already. The battles go on. Life under the cross of Christ is a spiritual struggle. But take heart. On the cross forgiveness is yours. Jesus preached “the good news of God.” All is well. The devil lost and Christ our King has gained the victory – a victory he shares gladly with you, a victory we will fully celebrate where all battles will come to an end, and where peace and love will have no end. Even though our struggle continue daily, our King has is victorious in our struggle.

But for us fights the Valiant One who God himself elected.

You ask, “Who is this?” Jesus Christ it is, The Almighty Lord (CW 200:2)

Though devils all the world should fill they shall not over power us.

He’s by our side upon the plain with his good gifts and Spirit (CW 200:3)

Amen.

 

God Has Made You a Light in a Dark Place

Matthew 5: 13-16 (Epiphany 5 – 2014)

“God Has Made You a Light in a Dark Place”

It is the first thing we do when we walk into a dark room. It is the first thing we do when we begin a project. We flip a switch. We shed some light on the matter. It was the first thing God did as a part of his creating marvels. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4: 6). Paul ties the creation of light to the spiritual truth that Jesus makes for us today. You are the salt of the earth. You are lights in this world.

As in the physical world, darkness is the absence of light, so it is in the spiritual world. Those who live apart from God are described as those who sit in darkness. Those who live by faith in Jesus are described as those who live as children of the day. God’s full intention is for the two to meet in order that he is glorified and that that those who are in the darkness can be brought to his Son, who is the radiance of his glory.

Let it Shine!

Jesus has made you lights in that “City on the Hill”. There is a city on the hillside of Galilee known as Zifat. To this day it is used at night as reference point for sailors and fishermen. He tells us “Let your light shine before men so that they may see your good deed and praise your Father in heaven.” Jesus lights up our path. He also makes us shimmering reflections of himself. His desire is that others who are still lost follow the one who are following him. That light shines to others through us when we …

  • Put aside the deeds of darkness by confessing our sins and asking for his forgiveness.

  • Replace those deeds with actions of faith and kindness to serve the people around us;

  • Gladly serve and follow the One who died for our sins and was raised to life;

  • Study his Word daily and learn to defend its teachings against errors;

  • Collectively gather as children of that light and shine brightly together;

  • Hold up that true light by supporting the ministry of the gospel with our prayers, offerings, sacrifices, timely efforts and the cheerful use of the abilities God has given to each one of us.

  • Defend the Truths of God in the presence of those who would mock us for it;

  • Lift up the hurting and the helpless who have been damaged in the darkness and by the darkness

Letting out light shine is hard work. The moment we let our guard down, darkness creeps in. Darkness invites us into its own way of thinking. Darkness has a way of draining our energy. Darkness has a way of collecting our loved ones and friends away from the Light. The chief of the darkness, Satan, works hard at sending his breath against the Candle’s of Christianity in an effort to snuff them out.

Financial burdens seem to overwhelm us. Sickness and the reality of death’s door dash against our hearts. Gripping conflict among the people we work with, live with, even worship with; they all seem to rob us of the joy of going about our daily tasks. Our sinful hearts leave room for hate; fear; depression; loss of temper; jealousy; and lack of contentment. Those elements of darkness have a way of draining the light right out of us.

“No one lights a lamp and hides it under a bowl.” When we grow weary, and we do grow weary, that is exactly what we are tempted to do: crawl and hide. We hide our faith. We hide our words. We hide our energy. We hide our help. The smile of joy grows dim easily.

Give it Power!

God has made you a Light in a dark place. When our lights get dim he recharges our batteries. Our Heavenly Father chooses to let us live in this world for a time before going to heaven. But he also promises to keep our lamps of faith lit through his Son Jesus. “God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4: 6).

Jesus hears and answers every prayer. Jesus has forgiven every sin and removed all guilt through his blood. Jesus is the Light in our darkness which has overcome every fear. He has defeated every power that stands opposed to us, including death. He still holds us in the palm of his hand and leads us through this life on to the next. Jesus is the power source of the Light he uses in us to shine to others. Jesus has put us on the right path – the one that leads to heaven. He also desires that we stay on that path. He intends to use our lights to bring others along as well. Not only is Jesus the way that leads to heaven. He is also our Guide through our time on earth now.

Jesus uses another illustration which is very useful for us. “But what if the salt looses it saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” We do get tired. We do lose the spark, the vim and vigor. Believers can’t go around shining their lights all day and thinking they don’t get burned out. The darkness is where we are. The darkness is where we shine. The darkness is a strong power.

That is why our Shepherd-Guide handles his wayward sheep the way he does. He keeps running after us to carry us back to the path of righteousness. He keeps shining the light of His Word and the calm of his voice. “Why did you doubt?” “Do not be afraid.” “Come to Me for Rest.” He is the Light of the world. When he brings us back to the fold, where the source of Light is, he charges us back up again.

  • He sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts through Baptism and the Word.

  • He lifts up our souls with pardon and peace in the Lord’s Supper.

  • He sends us each other, the fellowship of the Church and Christian friends

  • He points us heavenward so that we are reminded of the eternal good of having our lights on.

  • He gives us physical rest in a night of sleep, or in time away so that we can recharge physically and emotionally as well.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.” (Colossians 3: 15-16). His “Word is a lamp for your feet and a light for your path” (Psalm119: 105). Consider Paul’s words after he spoke of God’s light shining in the face of Christ: “We are pressed hard on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed … All this is for your benefit so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of the Father” (2 Corinthians 4: 8; 14).

I know you get tired of constantly shining in dark places. The world is a cruel place. Let the Light of Christ shine in you and through you to others. They are tired and afraid in the darkness of unbelief, or fear, or persecution. You are not alone. Christ lives in you through the Spirit. There are many other lamps shining with you. In case you doubt it, look around. They are in the pew next to you. They live under your roof. They may even be driving down the road next to you or working where you work.

Jesus has made you a light in dark places. Let Him shine through you. He is the power source of that Light. The glory belongs to his Father! What a blessing if just one person goes home at night having been touched by the light of Christ because of your light shining their darkness! Amen.

 

What Does God Expect of You?

Micah 6: 8 (Epiphany 4 – 2014)

“What Does God Expect of You?”

When we examine ourselves according to the Ten Commandments we realize that God commanded the impossible. We are born with the inability to measure up on all counts. Absolute perfection is what God demands. Absolute failure is what He gets from sinners in return. When God examines us through the blood of his Son, Jesus, He sees His children. He sees sin washed away. He sees people who love Him and love to do what He commands. As His children we strive to drown our sinful nature each day in our baptism. The Spirit awakens in us a new attitude that loves His Word and seeks to follow it. To us the LORD asks: “And what does God require of you?”

Through Micah, the LORD invited His people to plead their case before Him. He quickly lodged his case with them. He recalled their history as His people. “I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery.” The LORD reminded them of the story of how Balak, king of Moab, tried to put a curse on the people through the heathen prophet Balaam (Number 22-24). You may recall the talking donkey, which saw the angel of the Lord on the road. God used the donkey and Balaam to achieve His purpose of blessing the people four times on their way through Moab. God’s point is this “I have done all things well for you. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for you. I have earned the right to expect some things of you.”

God’s has sent His Son. He has rescued us from sin’s slavery. He has proclaimed the news of our Salvation through Jesus. He has the right to summarize our appropriate response. Our verse today is not in addition to, or a replacement of, the Ten Commandments. It is a clear summary of God’s Law for those who know and love God’s will for them: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly; to love mercy; and to walk humbly with your God.”

                                                         Act Justly

The phrase literally means “do righteous things.” The pages of history and our current society are filled with injustice. The human race prizes a foggy line between what is right and what is wrong. Holding people accountable is frowned upon. Claiming authority on any subject line is rejected as arrogance. Blatant sins parade around us as banners for progressive thought and enlightened minds. Everyone seems to have an excuse or rationale for whatever it is they see fit to do. To the world, justice means looking out for self and getting what I deserve. It has very little to do with what is right and what is wrong.

For us the concept of acting justly is at the very core of God’s Laws. The child of God is to “hate evil and love good, and maintain justice in the courts” (Amos 5: 15). Christian parents discipline their children to know what is sinful and what is God-pleasing. God-fearing employees work cheerfully and honestly. They accept consequences when the rules of the workplace are broken. Church leaders point out sin to those who are living in unrepentence. Fellow Christians guide each other with God’s Words of honesty and integrity. God’s people carry out their civil freedoms in such a way that promotes a clear line of what is right and what is wrong. God’s people are prepared to suffer the consequences of standing up for what is right in God’s eyes. In summary, we act justly, when day by day we seek the wisdom of God’s Word for our daily lives and ask for His help in carrying it out.

Love Mercy

God uses the Hebrew word which is often translated “kindnesses.” It is one of the Old Testament word pictures for God’s divine love for the people of His creation. It can sometimes be translated grace. Its primary meaning is description of our Savior’s ministry and life: mercy and compassion. How often are we told of the compassionate nature of Jesus when seeing others in need of his divine abilities!

It is the kind of character shown in the story he told about the Good Samaritan. Two guys passed by a man in desperate need. They turned the other way. They ignored the man’s trouble as if to say: “That is no concern of mine.” But one man showed mercy. He embraced the hurt with acts of kindness and generosity. He ignored his own safety. He considered the needs of the man above his own. He loved mercy (Luke 10:33).

This is what God has done for us. In mercy He looked down upon the world of sinners with a heart filled with compassion. He would have been justified in ignoring our eternal trouble. Instead, He embraced us and our need. He treated us with acts of sacrifice and generosity. He came down from heaven and became one of us. He considered our Salvation above his own life and rescued us. His sacrifice on the cross paid for our sins and restored us to God. God’s mercy is shown in the actions of His Son Jesus.

God’s people show mercy by reflecting that kind of mercy to others. Parents have hearts of love when their children fall into sin, or are lost and hurting. God-fearing bosses approach their employees with patience and caring leadership. Spiritual leaders show compassion when believers are drawn into obvious temptations and fears. Christian civil leaders make laws that seek the good of people’s lives rather than theirs. When people are hurting the child of God has a heart of compassion. In summary, we love mercy, when day by day we respond to the needs of others with a heart that resembles God’s compassion for us in Christ.

Walk Humbly With Your God

People who know what God has done, know the proper relationship they have with him. He speaks to you and calls you his creation, “O man.” You are dust. I have created you. I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. (Isaiah 43:1). It is interesting to note that the pronoun “your” is singular. God is your (singular) God. God has made you His child. That news sets humility into motion. Each week we walk into the LORD’s house and confess our guilt before Him. I do not deserve to be called your child (CW page 38). Humility is an appropriate character of the child of God. We have examined His laws and know that we have failed to keep them. We have seen the great lengths He has gone to pay for our many sins. We know Him through Jesus to be our heavenly Father. Humbleness is only right.

Humility seems a lost art these days. We tend to be more interested in validation rather than forgiveness. To admit when we are wrong is often replaced with excuses and attempts to appear flawless. To say we are sorry is replaced by efforts to make others look bad in the interest of looking better. The concept of putting someone in their place is labeled unloving.

The child of God’s knows better. Christian parents do not shy away from humbling the child who needs to be taken down a notch. Children graciously learn to know their place and respect the wisdom of the elders. Next year’s freshmen class walks onto campuses knowing their place. Employees patiently learn the pecking order at work. Congregations show a deep respect for those who teach the Word of God. Those who teach the Word of God beg for wisdom and courage to do it God’s way. Christians living among a godless society walk there in the shadow of God’s presence and the light of his grace. God’s people walk humbly with our God when we plead for His mercy for our failures and thank Him for His presence in our daily walk with Him.

Micah 6:8 is set in stone above the reading room in the Library of Congress. It is in the religion alcove. I wonder how many see it now as merely a neat phrase, or a symbol of work righteousness. For us it is an appropriate summary of God’s will for us in the Ten Commandments. But we hear it with cheerful hearts redeemed in Christ. In view of his mercy and forgiveness we say with John, “Your laws are not a burden” (1 John 5: 3). In Jesus God has done what He expects of us. In return we ask for His strength to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.” Amen.

 

Christ Jesus Unites His Ministry

1 Corinthians 1: 10-17 (Epiphany 3 – 2014)

“Christ Jesus Unites His Ministry”

            A tub of Legos is a permanent fixture in our living room these days. There are all sorts of themes being done and redone: an army of various kinds of vehicles one day; a small village the next; but most days a big mess of little pieces strewn all over. There are certain house rules about Lego building: 1.) If you your going to destroy something to make something new, ask the original builder first; 2.) if I have a few pieces near me “I am going to use them” and 3.) if it is still in the tub it is fair game and will likely require an annoying shuffle of pieces that can only occur during commercials.

            Every once in a while a few of us are invited to a single project … one big plane or truck, or a building that will require all of the Legos. All of the creative minds begin working in together. At that point there needs to be complete unity and sacrifice. All current structures, large and small, need to be completely disassembled. Creative collaboration must be welcomed without negative critique. The projects unites.

            The ministry can be like Legos. One moment it can seem like all the persons involved are steadily working hard but only toward their own interest. A myriad of neat little things are happening but together they seem unfocused and unrelated. When things are left alone completely the ministry can appear like one big mess of little things that have no purpose. But at times, the ministry does appear to be a unified, well-oiled machine of God’s people. All are sharing and seeing the common goal. All are selflessly collaborating with one another toward common goals which build up the whole.

            Solomon said, “There is a time for everything … a time to tear down and a time to build” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1,3). Christ Jesus Unites His Ministry. He knows when it is necessary to tear down the scattered pet projects and selfish ambitions of a well meaning but divided house. The Name of Jesus breaks down division. He also provides the tools necessary for building up ministry. His Word and Sacraments Build Up Souls.

His Name Breaks Down Division

Paul understood that it was time to tear down division in Corinth. What was happening in Corinth? The believers there had received the benefit of several spiritual leaders. They were all gifted in different ways, with different styles and unique roles in the history of the congregation. Paul had done mission work there. Peter had shown apostolic leadership there. Apollos was doing pastor work there. Elected officials and volunteers were carrying out supportive roles for the mission and ministry. New people were being trained there. Paul names a few of the ones he knew personally: Chloe; Crispus; Gaius; Stephanas.

The people had begun to form recognizable camps and cliques. They had become a house divided over favorite spiritual mentors. It led to quarrels and selfishness. It led self promotions and name dropping, perhaps even name calling. It damaged ministry. It stopped ministry. It caused sinful and harmful habits among the congregation. Read the other 12 chapters of Paul’s letters and you will hear about the other rebukes and patients instructions he offered this now divided congregation. To put it in Legos terms: they were a scatter group of small things on the verge of becoming a bunch of little pieces strewn all over in selfish division. Paul was intending, in the Name of Christ, to finish the demolition and rebuild from scratch.

It happens quite easily. All of us are prone to our own pet projects. All of us have been blessed to have had several spiritual leaders in our past. Very of few of you can say that this only congregation you have experienced and I am the only spiritual leader you know. There are certain to be many things about other congregations and pastors that you miss when coming here. You may have already begun to realize that different pastors and spiritual leaders have different styles and abilities. You may have begun to realize that congregations go through many stages as they continue to form and reform, grow or decline.

Sin divides. Sin breeds egos. Sin breeds personal agendas. Sin forms cliques and self promotion. Sin breeds quarrels. Satan breeds the temptation to build banners for our own ministry camp without looking into the whole. Sin divides well-meaning Christian people. Sin stops unified ministry.

The Name of Jesus breaks down division by destroying the power of sin. Paul asks the rhetorical questions? “Is Christ divided? Were you baptized into the name of Paul … a favorite pastor or congregation?”

The answer is “No!” At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow. In the Name of Jesus, “[God, the Father] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins” (Colossian 1:13-14). Paul was putting the ministry, now divided in Corinth, into perspective. He was inviting them to see the entire ministry through the lens of Jesus. The name of Jesus Christ tears down selfishness. The name of Jesus promotes Jesus so that self-promotion is undermined. The name of Jesus forgives sin thought his blood. The name of Jesus heals souls. The name of Jesus empowers gifted people for ministry. The name of Jesus brings unity and focus for ministry.

His Word and Sacraments Build Up Souls

Paul’s marching orders from Christ were clear: “to preach the gospel [to the Gentiles] not with words of human reason, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” God had given Paul the role of being the apostle to the Gentile world. As far as the Lord would allow that mission would take him, Paul was willing to go and preach Christ crucified for souls. He was building the Kingdom of Christ in the Mediterranean one soul at a time, one village at a time. He was explaining that there are many others bringing other elements to that common goal. Later on he would explain that “he planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow” (3: 6).

Paul was setting out on his Apostolic mission to set up places of ministry that would be “watered” by other who could be trained in various forms of ministry, including the likes of Apollos, Timothy, Silas, Titus and others who became local pastors. They would continue to preach and teach. They would baptize new Christians and new babies. It would not matter who was doing the work, but that the work was being done in name of Christ for the building up of many more souls.

Paul seems to make a few obscure remarks about Baptism and whom he did and didn’t baptize and what was his specific mission. He was not diminishing the importance of Baptism in the ministry of the Gospel; far from it. He was highlighting the fact that he and many others carried out baptisms. There were many other people who would serve in supportive roles once the Gospel was shared, explained, preached and received. As he did the work of an apostle he was inviting others into the common building the Church up in Christ. Paul was taking the focus away from his own self and placing it on Christ.

The main tool in that effort was the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The message of Christ is administered through Baptism; shared in the Lord’s Supper; taught in homes and gatherings; preach in pulpits, and explained to new souls in evangelism calls. All the people using the news of Christ crucified in unison with varied gifts and responsibility work toward the good of the whole. The cross of Jesus and its importance for the saving of souls is not emptied of it power while unified Christians all shared the common goal of pointing to Jesus as the Savior from sin. Word and Sacrament point to the Cross of Jesus! The Cross of Jesus builds up souls after the Name of Jesus and builds the Kingdom of believers.

What about us? Church history teaches us that every Christian congregation goes through ministry changes. “There is a time for everything … a time to tear down and a time to build.” The Lord is presenting opportunities to tear down and build in a rapidly changing time for our congregation. There are a growing number of new faces and new gifts among us. There is a growing need for healthy doses of assimilation and building up of the new and exciting building blocks surrounding us. There are some venues of ministry that have seen their day. It is ok to tear them down. There are some growing new needs that are begging for well-planned ministries which fit into the goals of the entire whole. There are interesting little projects going on that on their own are quite wonderful, but need to be brought more carefully into the whole. There is always in every congregation the existence of egos, pet projects, personal opinions, ambitions, and agendas.

Place the ministry of Christ at Crown of Life into the same perspective as Paul did. Christ is not divided. Christ tears down division by tearing down sin. Christ builds up souls by unifying his people around the power of his life-giving cross. The Gospel of Jesus through Word and Sacrament must run through the veins of every venue of ministry. It is the Tie that binds those pieces of ministry together in hearts of Christian love. The ministry does not rise and fall with a pastor or a congregation. The ministry rests its foundation on Christ and the power of his cross. The Cross forgives sin. The Cross heals souls. The Cross empowers gifted people for ministry. The Cross of Jesus brings unity and focus for ministry. Jesus Christ unites his ministry! Amen.

 

The Wedding of Heaven

Isaiah 61: 10 - 62: 2 (Christmas Two – 2014)

“The Wedding of Heaven”

Have you ever seen a formal wedding held in a beautiful outdoor location, like a garden or by the seashore? They are quite the sight. That is the point. The bride and groom are celebrating the most important event of their lives. They want it beautiful. They want to be dressed in fine clothes. They want their guests to be a part of the beauty. They want everyone to notice that their special day is as heavenly as possible.

Scripture portrays the Church as Christ’s heavenly bride. Heaven is often called the wedding or marriage feast of the lamb. Jesus and his believers is the heavenly portrait of a wedding banquet with fine clothes and a lovely setting. Isaiah uses that picture. In this section Isaiah had been telling them about the Servant, Christ, was going come into the world to proclaim goods news to the broken hearted. Now he has shifted to the result of that preaching which is the visible appearance of the Church in the world.  

Verse nine leads us into to this beautiful picture: “Their descendants will be known among the nations … all who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the LORD has blessed.” Those who gather around the Word of God to hear and trust in Jesus as Lord are pictured like heavenly wedding banquet being served in a beautiful garden. Today we want to notice that lovely heavenly wedding Isaiah describes the proper garments and the prosperous garden.

The Proper Garments

           The Groom’s priestly Garments of Righteousness Isaiah’s picture includes the groom: “as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest.” Jesus not only had the role of prophet, he also had the role of priest. Isaiah explains that his priestly dress was one of righteousness. In the Old Testament God designed sacred garments for the priest to wear “to give him dignity and honor” (Exodus 28: 2). The garments were to be hand crafted by skilled workers. There was a robe, an ornamental breastplate, a hand-woven tunic, a turban and a sash. The priest was dressing for God’s work. He was entering the holy places. He was offering sacrifices. He was meditating and praying on behalf of the people. He was doing the work of God that led people to see God’s ultimate sacrifice of his Anointed Son for their sins.

The Bride’s Clothes of Salvation Isaiah includes the bride: “as bride adorns herself with her jewels.” In every culture, in every age, the bride sees her special day as a day to put on her finest. Go to a wedding in any setting and you will know which one the bride is, especially because of what she is wearing. We typically think of the long white dress which originally was intended to signify the purity of an unwed gal. In Old Testament Israel that garment was often accompanied by her most expensive jewelry, perhaps a gift from her groom to signify his ability to provide for her. The bride’s new garments bring praise to her husband.

            Do you see the point? We needed proper garments. We are not born in purity. We are born in the filthiness of sin. We lacked the garment of righteousness. The Old Testament priests were sinful and had to be covered as well. They were handling holy things of God. They had to go in covered. No one else could enter without the proper clothes. When God sees us without the garments he has provided, we are detestable to him. He sees our guilt. He knows our filthy desires. Like Adam and Eve he casts us out his lovely garden and his presence.

            But in that garden he promised a redeemer. After the Fall he clothed them, not just physically but spiritually. He promised that the priestly duties would be fulfilled by One who was without sin. Christ came to earth dressed in righteousness. He did not enter the Holy Place in the Temple. Rather he took on the filth of our sin and carried it outside the city. He wore our unrighteousness and sacrificed it on the altar of the cross.

In turn he gave expensive gifts to his bride: the garment of his holiness, and the priceless jewels of sins forgiven, and in our Baptisms he gives us the wedding clothes fit to be the bride of heaven. Because of his expenses gifts, the Church brings honor and dignity to the Priestly Groom who dressed her for his presence. We have been welcomed back into the wedding garden. And God’s garden is a prosperous one.

The Prosperous Garden

The Fruits of Grace “As the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before the nations.” God makes his garden grow. Isaiah repeating a promise he made earlier in his book: “so is the Word that goes out from my mouth, it will not return to me empty” (Isaiah 55). The prosperity of the Church depends on the good soil of God’s Word. The message of Christ is the nutritious soil and seed that causes faith in the hearts of sinners to sprout. God in his grace makes the Church look beautiful. “Their descendants will be known among the nations … all who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the LORD has blessed.”

The fruits of God’s grace are automatic results of the preaching and teaching of the Gospel of Jesus. God’s people are blessed because they are recipients of his generosity. They are recipients of his Son’s body and blood and forgiveness. They are recipients of his divine protection and providence. People who gather to hear and grown in his Garden of Grace prosper according to his grace to them in Jesus. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows!” (Psalm 23: 5)

The Light of Grace “All her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation is like a blazing torch. The nations will see your righteousness.” A bride and groom desire that their special day makes an impression. In the same way, our Bridegroom desires that his Bride shines out like the dawn. Our Sovereign LORD desires to have his righteousness and salvation shine out to others. He desires that those who have his Word and receive his spiritual gifts get noticed and bring him glory. He has spent his priceless blood on our salvation. We bear his new Name (verse 2). He wants that to be obvious to those around us.

The concepts of the worship life in the Old Testament were the most visible way God set his people apart from the ways of the world. The design of the tabernacle, and eventually the temple, was very unique. The vestments of the priests, the pieces of furniture, the functions of the stations, the sights and sounds and smells got people’s attention to the Sovereignty of God. The ceremonies hedged them all together in a unity that set them apart from the world.

The New Testament Church has gotten noticed as well. In our worship we do things that are unique. What we do here is not to be a reflection of the world. It is rather to be a reflection of God’s Sovereignty to the world. The sights and sounds of Christian Sanctuaries stand out like a blazing torch. The vestments of the pastor and the altar are not living room materials. The words and songs and sights and smells of the worship space are unique to the Gathered Church. God has produced the fruits of his grace in the garden of his righteousness. He desires that the beautiful priceless fruits are presented in a way that honors their presence.

The same is also true of our personal lives. Paul reminds us: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” (Colossians 4: 5). We bear the new Name when we leave this place and interact with world. God wants others to notice that about you in the way live, in the words you choose, in the way you appear to them. You are representing the Bridegroom of the Heavenly banquet.

On earth God promises to make his Bride, the Church shine like a beautiful wedding. He has dressed us with the proper garments of his Salvation. He has planted us into his prosperous garden of Grace. Soon he will welcome us, and all those who believe his message, into the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb. Amen.

God's Son Makes Us Sons

Galatians 4: 4 – 7 (Sunday After Christmas -2013)

“God’s Son Makes Us Sons”

“When the time had fully come …” God does all things in decency and in order. God designed salvation to occur in time and in tune with all the signs and prophecies he had given to mankind. Luke retells the birth of God’s Son in such great detail: names of cities and rulers, references to real people and real dates in time; he even mentions the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. She was not only a relative of Mary, she was the wife of one of the temple priests. God ties the birth of his Son to actually history. Roman culture and languages, events that are recorded in other places, even the very kind of death his Son would die was introduced “when the time had fully come.”  

Paul was taking time in this letter to review the clear and simple Gospel with the Galatians. He and others had taught the pure truth that Christ had come to die for sin. The foundation of Christianity had been laid. Through the Law, the Holy Spirit had convicted them of their sins and brought them to repentance. Through Baptism and the message of Christ the Holy Spirit created saving faith in their hearts. But Paul’s band of enemies followed his trail. Through them, the devil began to plant doubt in the hearts of these early Christians by planting false notions. They began to tear down the thought that Jesus was God’s Son. They began to talk about taking confidence in their own goodness. They were ripping away the new freedom in Christ from these converts and making them slaves. Their idea of religion was slavery again to the Law, slavery to guilt, slavery to sin, slavery to fear, and slavery to the world. They ripped Christ out of their doctrines and were left with nothing but lies and fancy ideas that led to hell.

Hence Paul’s question in the third chapter: “Who has bewitched you?!” (3:1). Hence Paul’s stern warning: “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned.” (1:8). Christ’s gospel freed them from that slavery. This is why Paul was taking the time to calm their troubled hearts. Paul explained that the good news of Christ Jesus has rescued them from their slavery. Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous will live by faith.” (3: 11). Paul’s message was in line with the gospel of Christ and his other apostles: God’s Son had come to make us his sons.

No Longer Slaves

As he draws closer to his illustration of slavery and son-ship, Paul brings out one of his many clear passages on the power of Baptism “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ, have clothed yourselves with Christ” (3: 26-27).

We were slaves. We were blind fools thinking that the King would give us his kingdom if we worked hard enough to please him. We are natural slaves at heart, if we think about it. God will like me if I do enough good things. God will give me heaven if I impress him enough. God must be impressed with me in order to over look the things of which I am ashamed. “Doing Things” has become one of our favorite gods. Being busy is how we cope with the guilt of what we have left undone. We are so convinced that salvation is found when we get things done. That is a natural way for the human heart to find peace. That is often how we try to foster our human relationships. We hope to busy our lives in front each other hoping to impress upon each other how vitally important we are. Deep down we are afraid of how invaluable we are. So we sinfully look for peace in “Doing Things.” It is more slavery; slavery to fear; slavery to the way of the world; slavery to guilt; slavery to sinful idolatry of self.

That is spiritual slavery. Slaves cannot have the inheritance of the King. But sons can. So God had a different plan. Rather than forcing us to impress him with our slavery, he changed our status before him. To show us that he loved us before we were sons, he sent his Son to become our servant, or brother. “He had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2: 17).

Having the Full Rights of Sons

“When the time had fully come God sent his Son, born of a woman born under law to redeem those under law that we might receive the full rights of sons.” In one of our Christmas hymns we sing: We are rich for he was poor, is not this a wonder. The Prince became a pauper so that the paupers could live in the King’s castle. True God and yet True Man, Christ came for sinners - the godly for the ungodly, the righteous for the unrighteous. This is the Gospel which Paul preached to the Galatians. This is the apostolic message that leads to eternal life. This is the only gospel that saves you. It is the gospel that released us from spiritual slavery to sin and self. It is the gospel of Christ that makes us all Sons of God.

It is through this message that God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.” This is the message the Holy Spirit has planted in your hearts through Word and Sacrament. Earlier Paul had written: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” You have been given the royal robes of the King’s Son. You have all the privileges of being a Son from heaven. You who once were slaves now address the Lord Almighty as “Abba,” Father. By his grace and knowledge, the Holy Spirit brings us to the throne of Grace each day, confident in the blood of Christ and the name of Jesus to say “Our Father, who art in heaven.”

“You are no longer a slave but a son; and since you are a son God has made you also an heir.” What belongs to the Father belongs to you. Behind that throne of grace lies a kingdom of heavenly blessings. At his finger tips the father desires to give his new sons all that is his: righteousness and peace; providence and protection; eternal inheritance. With Isaiah we are moved to sing his beautiful words from the lesson this morning: I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us – yes the many good things he has done for the house of Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses. He said, “Surely they are my people, sons who will not be false to me”; and so he became their Savior (Isaiah 63: 7-8).

The Gospel that Christ had given to Paul is a status changing Gospel. The doing of the slaves could never impress the king. It is the doing of the King that rescues the slaves. God has sent his son. That Son became a slave to his own laws. That Son became a servant of the world of sinners. That servant purchased Sons for God with his holy precious blood and his innocent sufferings and death. The Lord has done many good things. God has made us his sons and heirs of heaven with Christ our dear brother.

Softly from his manger lowly

Jesus calls

One and all,

“You are safe from danger.

Children from the sins that grieve you

You are freed

All you need

I will surely give you.” (CW 37: 5). Amen.

How Will This Be?

Luke 1: 26 – 38 (Advent 4 - 2013)

“How Will This Be?”

We have heard the story before. We know it well. We rejoice that it is true. The words of Luke’s gospel seem never to get old. We are always gaining a new appreciation for the event of our Savior’s birth. It is a birth that demands humility and faith. The truth of the story presents what is impossible for human beings – impossible for them to do, impossible for them to understand, and impossible for them to imagine as a way to bring salvation to a sinful world. Look through the eyes of Mary, the virgin mother of God’s Son. She too, had to ask “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

Physically we understand what that means. Mary and Joseph had not consummated their marriage, nor had Mary been unfaithful to Joseph with any other man. The human possibility of her pregnancy did not exist. Neither her human understanding, nor ours, could begin to explain the fact that she had conceived a child. It was truly miracle. God had worked outside of his created laws of nature to bring about the promise he made to his people, as he spoke to Satan in the Garden: “I will put enmity between your offspring and hers. He will crush your head and you will strike his heal.” That offspring had now arrived in Mary’s womb.

What do we know about Mary’s perspective? We know that she was frightened at the appearance of the Gabriel. We know she humbly asked, “How will this be?” perhaps more out of curiosity than doubt. We know that she accepted the angel’s explanation as God’s will and purpose. We know that she obeyed God’s command to name him Jesus. We know her song of praise at the house of Elizabeth. Her song gives all praise and glory to God for Salvation in Christ. Her song humbly remembered her place as God’s lowly servant. “The Mighty One has done great things for me.”

We know that her focus was not on herself. She spent three months with her relative, Elizabeth, who was carrying John the Baptist. She traveled to Bethlehem for the taxing. She wrapped her baby in clothes and placed him in a manger. She “treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

The Bible doesn’t make her out to be perfect or divine. God had highly favored her. In his grace he chose her out of millions of Israelite women. He chose the time and date. He chose the circumstances. He chose the manger in Bethlehem. She was just a virgin, humbly watching what God had miraculously accomplished. Humbly, she raised him. She watched him grow. She fed him. She took him to the temple. She honored his ministry. She honored his divinity. She watched him die. This was her baby. Simeon told her “A sword will pierce you own soul too.” (Luke 2:35).

What can we learn? A couple things come to mind. First, don’t make more out of Mary than the Bible does. She is not God. She is not perfect, any more than we are. She was sinful. We see her imperfection just as clearly as we see the imperfections of all the characters of the Bible; just as clearly as we see our own. We see her lack of understanding at the temple when he was twelve. We see her imperfection at the wedding of Cana when he rebuked her lack of judgment. We know her to be a sinner, born in need of the Savior she carried I her womb.

Secondly, we see God’s grace in her life. She was highly favored. But that only true because God is a God of grace. It is not true because Mary was someone special. He chose Abraham the same way. He chose King David the same way. He chose Rahab and Ruth, foreigners, to be a part of the line of the Savior the same way: Grace!

The entire message of the Christmas story is a message of God’s undeserved love. That love is shown to Mary, and to us. Immanuel means God has come to be with us. Mary’s focus is not on herself, but on the Child that God gave to her. She is just a virgin. He is the Son of God, the Holy One. Jesus means that he will save his people from their sins.

Like Mary, this Advent season points us away from ourselves and toward the child of the manger. We confess our own sinful humanity, like Mary, the humble servant. We recognize the times that we have been ignorant of his divinity, doubtful of his promises, lack understanding in his Word, or just plain wrong and sinful.

Paul’s introduction of his letter to the Romans is an introduction to the two natures of Christ. Paul told the Romans that he was an apostle sent from Jesus Christ. That Jesus, according to his humanity was a descendant of King David. But the one who came from David’s line was also David’s Lord. “Through the Spirit of holiness he was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.” Easter morning proves the miracle of Christmas Day. Jesus was a human being. He ate, he slept, he cried, he bled he died. Jesus was the Son of God. He was completely innocent and pure in every way, he walked on water, he commanded the weather, and he walked away from the tomb very much alive. How can this be?

We carry the weight of many things. In our humanity we are caused to ask that question. Emotional stress in the family or at work; deadlines and financial worries; a growing list of our personal shortcomings; physical fears and pains and limitations; anxiety looms heavy, even among God’s people and especially a few days for Christmas. All of that anxiety is born of a greater problem: guilt. Guilt weighs heavy on us. There are times it weighs so heavy, that like David our bones ache over sin.

God’s grace says that he has taken away our sin. God’s message is forgives. How can we not ask the question: “How can that be?”

The Angel’s answer to Mary: “Nothing is impossible with God.” Logically we could never explain the majority of the things God tells us in his Word. The person of Christ is the central truth of all God does for us. The human impossibility is not impossible for God. The God who said he would send his Son into the world made it happen. How? Nothing is impossible with God. Mary, and Gabriel, points us this Advent season to the miracle Child that demonstrated just that. God who has accomplished the impossible has the power to remove guilt from your heavy hearts. He has the power to forgive, demonstrated in his Son Jesus who according to his humanity suffered death on a cross and according to his divinity was resurrected from the grave.

Nothing is impossible for your God. The one who forgives sins and heals diseases also receives your prayers with open ears. He is glad to use the troubling circumstances of your life to accomplish his great purposes. In grace he highly favored a young girl and caused her to bear his Son. He is with us also who bear his Son’s name in our hearts of faith. With Mary we say, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said,” and place our trust in Christ, now and forever.

O come, O Key of David, come

And open wide our heavenly home!

Make safe the way that leads on high,

And close the path to misery

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to you, O Israel! (CW 23:4) Amen

The Savior Has Important Work to Do

Isaiah 61: 1-3 (December 18, 2013)

Advent Messages from Isaiah:

"The Savior Has Important Work to Do"

Jesus in Nazareth

It was a common custom in the synagogue to have a few of the men read from assigned sections of the Old Testament scrolls and then mention a few words of instruction and encouragement. That custom was really the beginning of what we now know as sermons. Jesus had been anointed by the Holy Spirit at his Baptism. He had begun to spread the message of the Gospel in the hill top villages of Galilee. Then he came home. He went to the synagogue in Nazareth, as was his custom. The scroll was handed to him. It was from the prophet Isaiah, the first few verses of chapter 61 ... "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor."

After the reading of the lesson, his commentary was no more than a few words: "Today the Scriptures are fulfilled in your hearing." Jesus was claiming to be the Servant of the Lord that Isaiah had foretold. He was claiming to be the Messiah, the Son of God. He was specifically telling them that Isaiah's prophecy in chapter 61 was happening right before their very eyes. The Savior who was born in of a Virgin in Bethlehem, the Savior who was given the Name Jesus, the man who grew up at a carpenter's son in Nazareth, had work to do. He had not returned to his home town to pick up a hammer and saw. He had not come to start up the company "Joseph and Son."

The Captives are Freed

He had work to do. He had come to preach and teach the Gospel. He had come to reveal himself as the Christ, the only Son from heaven. What was the message? "Good news to the poor; bind up the broken hearted; freedom for the captives; release for darkness for prisoners; the year of the Lord's favor." This was captivity language. It was already a foregone conclusion in God's mind that his people were going to be dragged into Persia and live under the rule of tyrant empires. We can read about it now in the book of Daniel: about four generations of godless kings, punishing furnaces, lions' dens, and foreign conspiracies. Daniel's life became a cross section of the captives in Persia. Daniel's life also became another cross section of God's faithfulness to his faithful. He kept the remnant protected. He kept the message of the Messiah alive and burning in the hearts of a group that would return to rebuild the ancient ruins Judah.

In that rebuilt city, with rebuilt walls and temple, with surrounding villages and farms, the setting would be set for the much greater fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. To that land where the faithful had returned the Messiah was to come. He was born in the shepherd village of Bethlehem because of the taxing of the people. He moved to Egypt because of the deadly murderous threats of Herod. But eventually he would grow up in the hometown of his mother. In Nazareth he grew up as the carpenter's son. He likely learned the trade. He met boyhood friends. He learned and obeyed the ways of Israel's patterns for worship and life. He lived out a righteous life before God and his fellow townspeople. Then, one day, the time came to let the people of his town know who he truly was.

His boyhood town didn't much care for that message. He pressed them on it a bit more. He knew he would be without honor in his hometown. He knew they would mock him and become jealous of his time spent in northern Galilee. He knew that getting forced out of his childhood town was just the beginning of the work he had to do.

The Preacher Begins His Work

God's people were poor and broken once again. They were living in spiritual poverty because of bad temple leadership. They were living in captivity because of Roman imperialism and tyranny. They were living in spiritual darkness, a fog created by the lack of preparation for his coming. God sent John to peel away the darkness. God sent John to preach repentance and to baptize. Jesus was baptized too, and pointed to by John as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Upon his baptism Jesus set out to do much work. He traveled countless miles on foot. He chose a group of seminary trainee's. He visited towns and villages. He preached sermons to crowds. He spent individual counseling time with the hurting. He taught and trained church leaders. He spent countless hours in prayer, public and private. He defended the truths of his Father in the face of false leaders and teachers. He healed people whose bodies were broken, physically and spiritually. He was on call 24/ 7 for his closest of friends, and to strangers he would only meet once in this life. He was willing to drop everything, including his own personal time, if it meant serving others with the peace of the gospel and the evidence that he was their Savior.

In doing so he was planting oaks of righteousness. In doing so he was trading peoples suffering and pain and giving them crowns of beauty and gladness in its place. He was strengthening the believers with the clear teachings of his Word and was regaining the lost with the same.

The Preacher Completes His Work

Then the preacher would set out to do the most difficult, the most strenuous work of all. He would set out to face his enemies. He would set out to trade our shame for his glory. He would take upon himself every ounce of suffering, every fabric of our sin and every sting that death could muster. In his boyhood town of Nazareth a mob drove him out to a cliff. The stirring of that mob eventually made its way into the crowded courtyard of Pilate's rule. The man who had worked so hard to preach, teach, heal, help, serve, regain, restore, was led to a hilltop outside of Jerusalem, not far from where he was born, for his execution by crucifixion. The baby of Bethlehem's stable, the boy named Jesus, hung on a cross for you and for me. He had work to do. He preached the good news. He bound up the broken hearted. He released the prisoners from darkness. And when it was all done he announced: "It is finished" and he breathed last for you. Amen.

The LIght of Christ Awakens Us!

Romans 13: 11-14 (Advent 1, 2013)

“The Light of Christ Awakens Us!”

“The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” Paul spoke to his fellow believers as though Judgment Day were coming any moment. He and his close companions believed it was to come within their own lifetime. We do well to adopt his same mindset. He pictures it with the analogy of night and day, darkness and light.This world is filled with darkness, filled with people who are asleep spiritually. Only the light of Christ will scatter that darkness and continue to make us alert and ready for heaven.Paul tells us to Wake Up! Advent reminds us that Jesus came once before. He arrived as a baby. He hid his glory in his humanity. We will once again kneel again in humble joy to crown him as our new born Savior. Advent is also a reminder that Jesus is coming back, not as a baby, but as Judge and as the Lord of Glory. “Every eye will see him, even those who pierced him” (Revelation 1: 7). Wake Up! Our Salvation is nearer now than when we first believed!

  1. His Advent Scatters the Darkness

The Mediterranean World was filled with indecent life styles. The new Christians living in Rome had begun to learn that the things they were accustomed to doing and seeing were things no longer appropriate for their lives with Christ. Still, that culture lived and breathed all around them: “orgies and drunkenness, sexual immorality and debauchery, dissension and jealousy.” Paul explained that these deeds of darkness should never be part of our lives. We should live as though it were always day. Jesus said: “Men loved the darkness instead of the light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

We do not do any of those things, do we? It is tempting to point a collective finger at the world in disgust for the ways God’s laws are broken. As in Paul’s day, we certainly can say that unbelief and its wicked behavior doesn’t even wait to do it in secrete places. Immorality runs loose and boldly parades itself on advertisements, in our entertainment venues, and even among the company we often keep. There is very little shame about much of anything anymore. Unbridled darkness is very real.

Did you blush when you heard the list of things Paul warned us against? In the previous verses he even names a few familiar phrases: “do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet.” It is always good for our spiritual health to remember that Jesus applies the commandments to our hearts: sinful thoughts, hateful grudges, sins of habit and sins of choice, the evil we have done, and the good we have failed to do – sin’s darkness begins in our hearts.

Christ’s Advent scatters our darkness. Paul’s telling phrase says it well: “do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful heart.” And we say, “Boy, does Paul have me pegged! How did he know I do that? I am constantly thinking about how I can gratify my own sinful desires.” Often those sins are carried out by the people of the darkness. Paul is also warning against the awful things we do in secret when we think no one is watching. Those sins are damning enough. The truth of God’s light also uncovers the darkness no one but God can see: the darkness of our sinful hearts.

Paul’s words of Light in Christ awaken us to see our salvation. He says that it is nearer than when we first believed. Christ had completed everything he had come to accomplish the first go around. His light shined every time he kept his Father’s will completely. His light shined when he put his love into action upon the people he met each day. His light shined on Good Friday when his blood washed away the darkness of our guilt. His light scattered our darkness when the Spirit opened our eyes of faith at the Font. His Light guides our paths in righteousness. His Word leads us away from the desires of flesh to the things that please God.

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death, for what the law was powerless to do … God did by sending his Son in order as an atoning sacrifice … and that the requirements of the law might be fully met in us (8: 1-4).

Christ has scattered our darkness by shedding his light of salvation from Calvary and from an open tomb. His righteousness has been given to us. His truth has redesigned us to be children of light, not darkness. His salvation is our eternal wellness before his Father. Because of his resurrection and ascension, Jesus is promising a return to bring us to glory. When he appeared on the road to Emmaus his followers encouraged him “Stay with us for it evening and the day is almost over.” With hearts and eyes opened they later realized they had spent the Day with the Risen Lord.

  1. His Advent Shines in Our Hearts

In that light, Paul says: “Let us behave decently, as in the day time, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus. Paul uses the exact same image when he speaks of baptism to the Galatians Christians: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.” (Galatians 3: 26-27) Our baptism is the robe of righteousness we wear all the days of our life. That robe covers the darkness of our sins. With that robe on we need not hide from the Light of Christ. We can stand in his presence with joy, and with the confidence of knowing that we belong to him and to the light.

Confession and repentance is the Spirit’s way of stealing that darkness away. Basking in Christ’s Advent light of forgiveness of sins brightens the hearts of his people. Paul points to Jesus as the Light that shines in our hearts. We do blush to hear such crass concepts come from Paul’s pen, but now also because we what is pleasing to God in Christ. We are ushered boldly to do in the light the things God does through us in that light.

So Jesus explains to Nicodemus: Light has come - not only to expose the deeds of darkness, but also to expose the work of God in his children: “whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what he has done has been done through God.” (John3: 21). That begins in the heart. His Advent light shines there. Paul speaks to us as children of our Father. He speaks that way because that is what God’s light made us to be. He cleansed our sin-filled hearts with his blood and with his holy living. He shed his light of love into our minds and hearts. He scattered the darkness with that ever beaming brightness that is his truth.

Paul gave the full armor outfit to the Ephesians: “the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet fitted with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit which is the word of God.” Armed with his Word in the morning, noon and night, we are ready to defend against the flaming arrows of the devil. Armed with his light we are equipped to scatter the darkness of temptation and fear.Armed with his truthful sword we are enabled to “let our light shine before men that they may see our good deeds and praise our father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5: 16).

Christian light is Christ-like love. Love seeks the good of others. Love offers deeds of sacrifice and helpfulness. Love speaks the forgiveness of sins to those who are crushed by the darkness of their guilt. Love offers the Word of God as light on the path for those who will hear and listen to it. Love continues to prepare each other for the Day when his light will cast Judgment between faith and unbelief. Christ-like love is evidence that his Light has scattered our darkness of sin and enlightened our hearts of faith.

“His brightness ends the darkness that kept the earth in fear.

True God and yet true man, He came to save his people from this dark night of sin” (CW47:4).

We Have Received One Grace after Another in Christ

John 1: 16 (Thanksgiving Day - 2013)

“We Have Received One Grace after Another In Christ”

John spends the opening words of his Gospel proclaiming the profound mystery of the incarnation of Christ. Four weeks from now we will once again review key verses from his opening words. He shows how vital Christ is to all things God is and does. John teaches creation, ministry, God’s grace, the Trinity, and faith. He teaches the eternity of God and his relevance among the temporal nations of this earth. Christ is at the center of the entire chapter, the entire book, and all of Scripture. As a conclusion of these beautiful mysteries of Christ, Paul writes a practical verse of thanksgiving. The original language is so simple, and yet profound. It literally would read something like this: “For from his fullness we have all received … and grace in place of grace.”

We have all receive grace upon grace from the fullness of God. When we consider all blessings we consider Christ at the center of them all. Paul discussed the fullness of Christ in his letter to the Colossians: “For in Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form, and you have all been given fullness in Christ!” (Colossians 2: 9-10).

We have all “received.”People receive what God gives. That is why we give thanks. We are receivers. We had nothing to do with any of the things God has given. We did not earn them by something we have done. We did not deserve them because of something we were. We did not even ask for them naturally. God knew that we needed them. God also had every right to withhold them from us and, in place of grace, give us cursing, abandoning us for all of eternity. We are all receivers … beggars really.

Outside of Christ, we lacked every good thing. On our own we are helpless souls, sinfully prone to false pride and often given to a lack of self worth. We often struggle between ideas that say “Look what I did for myself …” and the other extreme which is flat out frustration and depression. Outside of Christ we have no other source of strength or gifts or help. Outside of Christ, there is no reason for thankfulness, service, or love. In Christ we are receivers. Our thanksgiving is born appropriately through that lens: we are receivers of what God gives to us in Christ.

What do we receive? Grace in place of grace; one blessing after another. Those blessings begin and end with God’s Son, the Word of God made flesh in Christ Jesus.

In Christ, the power of God, the deity, the authority, the GRACE of God, lives in bodily form. We are about to prepare for the celebration of that wonderful truth: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word became flesh.” God’s Word took on our humanity. Mary and Joseph prepared a make-shift cradle in a feed box. In the baby of that cradle God embodied the fullness of his grace in his Son. Through that incredible miracle, God desires to give all things to undeserving sinners. Those who are in Christ have also been given the fullness of God. We have all received grace upon grace – grace in place of grace.

We have all been the receivers of God’s wonderful proclamation of forgiveness. Our sinful slates have all been wiped clean. Our eternity has been secured, in Christ Jesus. God traded our sin for grace. That child of Bethlehem grew to be the Man crucified on Calvary. He replaced sin with grace on that cross. Now he loves to replace grace for grace for the rest of our lives on this earth and into the next!

Paul made the connection between Christ and all the other good things that John did here. God desires to give all his blessings to us through the conduit of his Son: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with Him, graciously give us ALL things?” (Romans 8:31-32). He has given us his Son. Along with his Son he has given us “one blessing after another.”

            Think about what that small phrase means. Literally “grace in place of grace.” Every day we receive blessings from God. Even if one is taken away, there are many others to replace it. God never stops giving. His fullness never runs out. His storehouse of Grace spills out through the giving of his Son. He often chooses to give us something new, even when something else is taken away. God, who traded our sin for his grace to us, now relishes in replacing grace with grace.

            The constant outpouring of Grace in Christ is what moves us to be in God’s house today. His never-ending blessings have caused us to be thankful people. As we count those blessings, we can think of the blessings that have passed and the ones that have quickly replaced them. A gallon of gas, a gallon of milk, a bowl of cheerios, a bologna sandwich, a change of clothes, or a month’s wages: those things are real blessings from God. They come and go so quickly, but God loves to keep replacing them. The food on the table the clothes on our bodies, the warmth of home and hearth, the Lord Jesus keeps replacing grace for grace … “one blessing after another.”

Even in times of sorrow and loss we are able to say, by faith, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:21). Even the very dear blessings of this life which cannot be replaced here – health, breathe, youthfulness, and especially loved ones who have gone ahead of to heaven - will be given back to us at the resurrection. He has given us grace to replace the grace he has already given us. “His compassions never fail, they are new every morning” (Lamentation 3:22-23).

            As we count those blessings today we remember that he does this all because he is our good and merciful Father in heaven and not that we have earned or deserved it. We remember that we thank, praise, serve, and obey him. Think of it in terms of a gift. What are the circumstances of a true gift? There is a giver who sees no end to the joy of giving and there is a receiver who had no reason to deserve the gift. Some of the most meaning full gifts we give and receive in this life are the ones we say “keep on giving.” Grace in Christ is truly the gift that keeps on giving, one blessing after another. Our Savior is pleased to give such a grace each day: to replace grace with grace.

How do we thank him for such kindness? Useful appreciation is fitting. What better thanks to the giver can there be than for the receiver to make joyful use of what has been received! Our thanksgiving is not just a day on the calendar. It is a life of fullness, using those blessings as often as we have received them. With hearts and hands and voices we give glory and thanks to our gracious God! We have all received from his fullness, one blessing after another in Christ Jesus, our Savior! Our thanksgiving is shown when we reflect his generosity in this life with the resources he has so richly given. They will not wear out. They can be replaced if given away or lost. God loves to say to his children: “There is more where that came from.”

In Christ it is true. In Christ we sing:

Now thank we all our God With hearts and hands and voices

Who wondrous things has done In whom his world rejoices

Who from our mothers arms, Has blessed us on our way.

With countless gifts of love and still is ours today.

A blessed Thanksgiving to you all in Jesus! Amen

God Is Just

2 Thessalonians 1: 5-10 (Last Judgment – 2013)

“God is Just”

Our system of justice is designed to reveal the truth based on testimonial evidence. Paul uses the picture of civil justice to assure us of God’s justice now and at the end of time. For the most part, we are confident that our current system of justice is as fair as human beings can accomplish. If we place the lives of people into the mercy of human courts, which can make mistakes, how much more can we entrust our spiritual lives with God’s perfect justice system! God is fair. God is just. He will make no mistakes; neither in convicting the guilty; nor in acquitting the innocent. As in a court of law, God’s justice is based on testimonial evidence. God’s evidence is clear. His testimonies are the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

He Will Convict the Guilty

The evidence among the Christians in Thessalonica was clear: Paul was pointing to the facts: 1.) that the Thessalonians had been faithful in spiritual growth (in faith and love); 2.) they were enduring persecution for the sake of the Gospel of the our Lord Jesus. Where the Word of God is being faithfully taught and faithfully followed, spiritual strength is going to happen. God blesses faithfulness to his truth! Those who are being strengthened by it can also expect enemies. Opposition to the mission work in Thessalonica was brutal from the very beginning of Paul’s visits (Acts 17: 1-9). It did not let up.

The evidence is clear: God will punish those who persecute his Church. Paul was reassuring the believers thatthose who were persecuting them are known by God, and will have their day in his court. Their unbelief condemns them, as Jesus said: “they stand condemned already because they do not believe in the one who God had sent” (John 3: 17). “He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you.” That will happen on the Last Day when unbelievers are found guilty of rejecting Christ and are condemned to eternal death.

God’s verdict is clear: Isaiah says that “their fire will not be quenched and they will be loathsome to all mankind” (Isaiah 66: 24) Jesus will say to them “Depart from me you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil” Matthew 24: 41) and they “will go away to eternal punishment” (verse 46).   Judgment Day is a real thing and will be a day of fear for those who opposed God. Here Paul underlines what is taught in so many other places of the Bible “This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire … he will punish those who do not obey the gospel … they will be punished with everlasting destruction.”

Remember that we are guilty, too: The prosecution and testimony that stands against us is the Law: “Whoever keeps the whole law and stumbles at just one point he is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2: 10). We know from the testimony that we have broken more than just one and more than just once. The Ten Commandments testify against us: I have failed to trust in God at all times above all things. I have misused his name and neglected his Word. I have not always respected the ones he placed in authority over me. Hate, lust, greed, betrayal and coveting have been real guests in my heart more than I care to admit. If the Law is given its day in God’s court, not one of our sins will be forgotten or missed. They speak the whole truth and nothing but the truth! The Law’s testimony to the offenses on our rap sheets would be embarrassingly lengthy and true.

           God is just. God punishes the guilty! God intervened. The Cross of Christ will be entered into the evidence files on the Last Day: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” God made his Son guilty for us so that he could pronounce us “worthy of the kingdom of God … because we have believed the testimony of the gospel of Christ.” Because God’s grace has its day in the court of God’s justice, the Law’s testimony against us is overruled. Christ has become the willing substitute. He was willing to take the blame for every sin the Law accuses against us. God who is just punished his Son who had taken the entire weight of sin upon himself. The Gospel’s testimony is clear and it is truth as well. Jesus took every page of our embarrassing rap sheets and erased them from the evidence.

He Will Acquit the Innocent

The evidence in clear: “On the Day he comes, Jesus will be glorified IN His Holy people and marveled at among all those who believe.” “For God so loved the world that he sent is only begotten Son, that those who believe in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God glorified his Son. His public glorification will be announced on Judgment Day. He will be glorified on Judgment Day. The fact that his Holy People are going to heaven brings glory to him. He is the one who speaks and works in our defense.

The evidence is testimonial: Paul wrote: “All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.” God knew that the believers in Thessalonica were being faithful to the gospel of Jesus. He knew they were willing to face suffering for the sake of Jesus. He knew their hearts, that the Holy Spirit had brought them to trust in Christ and that he was keeping them faithful through the Word.

God knows that about you as well. God’s justice listens to the testimonial evidence. That evidence includes the written voices of his Prophets and Apostles. God’s Word of forgiveness is not a lie. That testimonial evidence includes our baptisms in the name of the Triune God. That testimonial evidence includes our confessions of his Name and Word. Jesus said “whoever confesses me in the world, I will confess their names before my Father in heaven.” That testimonial evidence includes the things we suffer in this life for the sake of the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

Most importantly that testimonial evidence includes Christ our Mediator. John wrote: “We have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the righteous one. He is the atoning Sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sons, but for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2: 1-2). Jesus is not only our substitute, he our defense attorney, our advocate, our character witness and the testimonial witness before God that we are not guilty. The evidence is his blood stains washing away our sins. The evidence are the nail prints as he says to Thomas “Look at my hands … stop doubting and believe” (John 20: 27).

God Acquits the Innocent: The best evidence of that is the Resurrection. God raised his Son from death. That resurrection is evidence that God accepted his payment for all of our sins. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 6: 25). His resurrection is also evidence that eternal life is a real thing. Just as real as Judgment Day, just as real as eternal punishment, just as real as the written words of God in his Word – Heaven is a real place. You are going to that real place. You will spend eternity in that real place. Paul reminds us that our Baptisms connect us with Christ- his crucifixion, his death and burial, his resurrection and ascension. He concludes: “If we died with him, we will also live with him” (Romans 6: 8).

This Sunday is one of many reminders that this world will indeed come to an end. Heaven is a real place. Believers in Christ will all go there for eternity. Hell is a real place. Those who rejected Christ in unbelief will unfortunately end up there for all eternity. Today is a day to stay committed to the pure teaching of the Bible, to compassionately seek the lost and share with them that good news, and to take great comfort in the redeeming work of Christ Jesus our Savior. He is all the testimonial evidence and defense we need before the justice of God.

All this is evidence that God’s Judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.” Amen.