The Reformation Gives You an Identity

Romans 3: 19 – 28 (Reformation - 2013)

“The Reformation Gives You an Identity”

Who are you? Identity has great value. We can do very little today without photo ID and a major credit card. We live in a world of home pages and trademark icons. What is your religious identity? Especially today we label ourselves Lutheran. It is good for us to know the banner of our bookmark page: By Scripture Alone; By Grace Alone; By Faith Alone. Know that banner. It is your religious PIN number. It reflects what the Bible says to all mankind about being the way to get to heaven. You are Lutheran. That means you are a student of the Bible. It means that you are a Child of Grace. It means that you are a confessor of the Truth.

 

Student of the Scriptures

Look at the vital point Paul makes: “But now a righteousness from God ... has been made known!” Salvation is revealed. Eternal truths are made transparently clear. The Holy Spirit has graciously chosen to write down - for all eternity - ALL that we need to know. Justification – the way God has saved us from sins slavery and death - is written down in the Words of Christ. God’s love is revealed in the Bible. Knowing that makes you an eager student to learn more.

When God speaks, mankind is silenced, and his true children listen. That is true of his Rule Book. “Whatever the Law says it says to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God … through the Law we become conscious of sin.” The Words of Christ reveal who we truly are. David said in the Psalms: “You are proved right when you speak; you are justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:4-5). Paul, in the previous verses, strings out a list of Psalms - peeling the bell of God’s holy judgment of all: “There is no one righteous, not even one … all have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good … the is not fear of God before their eyes.”

God’s Word speaks to us. As his students we learn the truth. We are held accountable to HIS standards. We know each day that his bar for holiness is too high for us. Our conscience knows what God knows – and what he says - about our sinful hearts. The All-Knowing God knows the places we go. He knows deep-seated desires of our very hearts. He knows the greed that churns in our hearts when we arm wrestle sin to fill an offering envelope. He knows the websites we visit – and even the ones we have thought about visiting. He knows the words children speak under their breath after Mom leaves the room. He knows the guilt that awakens Dad in the middle of the night. His written code silences us. Before Holy God there is no room for “yeah, but …” God’s transparent Rule Book rightfully condemns us to Hell from the very first breath we draw as babies. “Therefore NO ONES will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law …”

But now a righteousness, FROM God, has been made know, to which the law and the prophets testify.” David - and all the prophets - spoke of condemnation. But they also spoke of acquittal. They spoke of redemption. They spoke of forgiveness. They spoke of Messiah! They spoke of the Redeemer. They testified concerning the Righteousness he would bring from God to mankind! Paul, in the very next chapter, sighted David’s Psalms this way: “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him” (4: 8 & Psalm 32). The Words of Christ make us Right-With-God. The Words of Christ free us from guilt. The Words of Christ reveal “the righteousness that is from God apart from observing the law.” In one of our hymns we sing that God’s “Strong Word bespeaks us righteous!” (CW 280: 3) His work rebukes, instructs, forgives, enables, comforts and strengthens his children in Christ. Students of the Bible, rejoice! God reveals his love and forgiveness in Jesus to you in the very book he invites us to use.

Child of Grace

Paul continues to point out what those Scriptures reveal: “There is no difference, for 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.” Through the work of Christ Jesus and the power of the God’s word, you are a Child of Grace.

Grace is a characteristic of God that is foreign to our human identity. Grace means that God is generous without needing a reason. Grace means that God gives without needing in return. Grace means that we don’t deserve a crust of bread or to have our hearts beat, but God still allows it. Grace means that we do not deserve a bed to sleep in or an occupation, but God still gives them. Grace means that we do not deserve to hear God, know God, or believe in God for anything, but God still reaches out. Grace means that we do not deserve to know about heaven, let alone go there, but God still promises it. Grace means that God took a shine to us because of Who HE Is, and not because of who WE Were.

Later in this letter Paul writes: “You see at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5: 6-8). This is more than just love as we see it on earth. This is Divine Love.

I am your pastor and love all of you. I am a husband and I love my wife. I am a father of five and I love my children. But my love for my wife and children trumps my love for you. I would not sacrifice their lives for yours, no matter how much I could possibly love you. My love is human love. God’s grace is much different. Grace means that God’s love for us is completed in his love for his Son. He loves his Son even more deeply because of what his Son was willing to do for you.

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That righteousness was cemented in God’s justice when an innocent man - Christ Jesus - was nailed to a post. His death displays God’s Grace to us. Jesus shed innocent blood on Good Friday. His death spells atonement on your religious ID card. God’s grace makes you his child.

Confessor of Faith

Paul completes the circle. Your Reformation Identity is this: “this righteousness from God comes THROUGH FAITH in Jesus Christ to all who believe … THROUGH FAITH in HIS Blood.” Faith is a gift. “I believe in Jesus Christ” is your PIN#. God’s generous heart has given you the conviction to believe that what Christ has done for the world he has done for you! He has given you the power to believe it and the conviction to confess it. Paul write later: The word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart … the word of faith we proclaim … that you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead” (Romans 10: 8-11).

Our Lutheran conviction is clearly Biblical: I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith (Luther’s Small Catechism). Paul reminds us that “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Paul reminds us that “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this [faith] not from yourselves – it [faith] is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2: 8-9).

Noah made a confession of faith by building a boat. Daniel made a confession of faith from the den of lions. Most of the apostles lost their lives for sake of Christ. The Confessors after Luther’s death offered their heads in defense of the Scriptures. The authority and respect for God’s word is quickly diminishing around us. The time is coming and has already come for us to stand for our convictions in the face persecution. How? Faith in Christ! God-given confidence! Holy Spirit-driven conviction! Christ-founded trust! The Reformation identifies you as a Student of Scripture, a Child of Grace, and a Confessor of the Truths of Christ. John, the beloved servant of Christ, put it this way: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the Children of God – and that is what we are!” (1 John 3: 1). Who are you? Lutheran … yes! In Christ … a saved child of God … yes! That is you for all eternity! Amen.

The Lord Does What We Cannot Do

Luke 18: 18-30 (Pentecost 23 - 2013)

“The Lord Does What We Cannot Do”

Introduction: As Lot and his family were led by angels to flee Sodom and Gomorrah, they were warned to not look back. Lot’s wife could not resist the urge. She was holding on to something. A big part of her life was there. She could not resist the temptation to lament for what God’s wrath was about to destroy. Was she holding on to the lie that they could have the bounty of good things without being affected by the wickedness that went along with it? We are told in the story that Lot and his two daughters wrestled as well. Their angelic guides had to physically pull them by the arms away from the cities. Only by God’s power and strength were they led from destruction and brought to safety.

In the Gospel lesson today Jesus met a man who was holding on to something. He had such a firm grip on it that he refused to let it go. He was willing to ask what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus helped him, and us, with this lesson that tears down our idols while also replacing those idols with his own heavenly treasures.

He Tears Down our Idols:

The Idol of “Putting on Airs”The ruler was hoping that his outward obedience was good enough. He was exceptionally capable of reciting the commandments. He was confident that he had actually kept the law perfectly since he was a boy. He was likely thinking of the law according outward obedience. He did not know the inward truth: “If we claim to be without sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

He was putting on airs. He was attempting to appease Jesus with a shallow shell of outward goodness. He did not deceive Jesus. He soon learned that he could not deceive himself either. All Jesus needed to do was to expose what was most important in his heart. When the simple request came to give up his wealth to follow Jesus, the man went away sad. His heart broke because he realized that he could not part with his true idol.

 

The Idols of Our Secrete Treasures The rich ruler was secretly holding on to his idol (his own wealth) while still hoping to professing faith in God for eternal life. What do you hide? What secrete treasure do you hold onto? It may not be $$$. It may be something from the past, something you will never get to share. It may be a constant thorn in the side in the form of temptation. It may be laziness carefully masked in weariness. It may be a controlling complex carefully placed in the vessel of prideful busyness. It may be godlessness masquerading as a much deserved R&R. It may be something else, but it is yours. What personal treasures turn your heads to “look back” and lament like Lot’s wife? Sin is personal to each of us. We have such a grip of steal on it that it takes the power of God and his holy angels to rip us away!

The rich ruler had a wish that was not so rare to us. He desired to hold on to his idol and yet have eternal life. We are champs when it comes to an outward shell of goodness. “These all I have kept since I was a boy.” But the people who know us well know better. We know better. Our Savior knows best. He knows the deep rooted idols that dwell in our hearts. He knows the white knuckle grip our sinful nature has on pleasures that become more important than a healthy relationship with Christ. His Word carries the power of the Spirit to rip us away and rid us of our secrete treasures.

He Replaces our Idols with His Treasures

The Treasure of the Truth Jesus used the truth to reach the heart of the ruler.Jesus knows our hearts and the truth puts our deceit to death. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and forgives.” Christ has earned the right to be number one in our hearts. He has given his life as the only ransom needed for the sin. His blood washes away the guilt of our sin. He has cast down every idol throne from our hearts and lifted up the humble. Jesus desires to tear down our secrete idols in order to replace them with his good things. From his cross, from his empty grave, and from the storehouse of heaven he has plenty of treasures to share!

Treasures for this Life The Lord’s specific application for the ruler was to give up his personal idol. For this man it was wealth. It is not Jesus’ intention to make anyone poor. In fact, God loves to give many good things. Search your catechism for explanations to the 1st Article and Fourth Petition. You will remember food and drink, house and home, spouse and children. You will recall good neighbors, good friends, good government, good weather, etc. From his grace, because he is my good and merciful Father in heaven, not because I have earned or deserved it; God loves to be the source of all things wonderful. He loves to let us have what he gives and use what he gives. God’s purpose is to graciously give us all things in order to move us to bow at the name of Jesus and give Glory to his Father (Philippians 2).  

Treasures in HeavenThe treasure Christ intended for the rich ruler out-measured the treasures he would have given up to follow Jesus. On the path of the cross he would have learned those treasures. Jesus encourages us to store up treasures in heaven where moth and rust and thief cannot diminish. Those treasures are beyond what God gives us here. They are the things he purchased with his innocent sufferings and death. They are the treasures invested with the Holy Spirit’s guarantee to last for eternity. They are Christ Jesus as Lord. They are the removal of guilt before God. They are trust in our Heavenly Father. They are wisdom and comfort from His Spirit. They are the Gospel in his Word and Sacraments. They are the One Thing the ruler was hoping for in the first place: Inheritance of Eternal Life!

He Threads us Into His Kingdom

The Eye of the NeedleJesus used an illustration which led his disciples to see the point he was making with the ruler. Salvation is impossible for mankind. Salvation is not impossible with God. Nothing is impossible for God. People who want to hold on to their own idols, their own works, or their own resources of hope abandon the one Way the leads to salvation. It would be easier for a traveler to get their camel through the human being door, than it would be for a human being to get to heaven by trusting in themselves.

Jesus told his friends the night before he gave his life:I am the Way the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Salvation is what God does for us in his Son Jesus. Eternal Life cannot be earned by man. It is given as gift of God’s grace. Faith is not from me, it is the gift of God by grace so that no one can boast. Jesus threads us into the kingdom of heaven. He does what we could never do for ourselves. He brings us into God’s kingdom now and will bring us into Eternal Life.

 

Peter’s Confession = Our Confession Peter, the all time spokesman for the group, is in true form. “Lord we have left everything to follow you!” The Lord has empowered you in Christ to not leave here sad! He has empowered you to make Peter’s confession your confession. Jesus confirms that confession with a promise: “no one who has left home … for the sake of the kingdom will fail to receive many times as much in the age, and in the age to come, eternal life.” Amen!

Three Men and a Christian Letter

Philemon 10 – 21 (Pentecost 16 - 2013)

“Three Men and a Christian Letter”

            Did you come here today with your problems? Are you in God’s house for worship today with the weight of the world on your shoulders? Do you struggle to see where the cross has anything to do with your daily life? What unresolved social issues cross your mind? Our Savior surely reminds us to be reconciled to our brother before we offer our gifts at his altar in worship (Matthew 5: 23-24).

            Today’s lesson is a story of reconciliation. Today’s lesson is a real life occurrence where sin destroyed and only Christ could fix. It is a story about eating words and feelings. It is a story about humility, confession, sacrifices, and friendship. It is a story of forgiveness and love. It is a real life occasion where the cross of Christ shines its relevance.

            The letter involves the crossed paths of three men.Paul wrote this letter to a man named Philemon. Philemon was a nobleman from Colosse who was brought to faith through the mission work there. Onesimus, his slave, had run away from Philemon, after stealing from him and betraying the relationship. It was common for runaway slaves to make their way to Rome. There he could become a face in the crowd and hopefully disappear. It was in Rome however, while Paul was on house arrest, that Paul and Onesimus met.

I can’t help but think of the Lord’s divine hand in all of this. When you consider that Paul knew Philemon through the mission in Colosse, and now meets his runaway slave who is “on the lam” in Rome - it reveals our God’s gracious wisdom. That the two of them should meet is a reminder of the truth that “the Lord knows those who are his” (2 Timothy 2:19).

            It was during this time that Paul welcomed many kinds of people into his life. Now being under house arrest he took every opportunity to teach the gospel to those who came to him. Onesimus was no different. The gospel changed his life. It changed his heart. In the process Paul realized that he was the slave of the Philemon from Colosse that Paul knew. It was also during this time that Paul wrote three other letters: Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. Paul asked Onesimus to be on the letter carrying team back to Asia Minor. It was likely that Onesimus himself handed Philemon the letter from Paul. Can you imagine the intensity of the moment they remet … the trembling heart of Onesimus … the shock and hesitation of Philemon … the weighty mind of Paul who could not be there to see how things turned out ….

            Paul’s letter is one of intercession, sacrifice and love. Paul becomes the advocate of Onesimus, appealing to the Christian heart and faith that now lives in Philemon, because of the Gospel. “I appeal to you on the basis of love … I appeal to you for my son Onesimus … formerly he was useless to you, but now he is useful to both you and me … I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me … But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.”

            How many nights did Philemon go to sleep with anger on his heart toward Onesimus? How many nights did he lie awake concerned for his soul and safety? How many nights did Onesimus lie awake with a guilty conscience over what he had done to his master? What went through his mind on the trip home, letter in his own hand from Paul? What doubts went through Paul’s mind in taking the risk he did? Would it not have been easier to tell Onesimus nothing – to not let on that he even knew Philemon, to keep him for his own aide, or to let it go unresolved? What if Philemon didn’t take it well? What if Philemon charged Paul with the debt and responsibility, as Paul had offered?

            Paul knew two important truths: 1.) Sin was at the very heart of this entire issue. Onesimus sinned and needed to hear that his sin caused him more problems. His greed, his lack of duty, his laziness, his selfishness caused him to run away from his vocation in life. His sin caused a breach in his relationship with Philemon. 2.) The cross of Christ was the only thing that could shine true light on the matter. Paul counts on the cross to bring resolve to this real life situation. The message of Christ was the only message that could reconcile something that sin had broken. Philemon knew the power of the blood of Jesus. Onesimus now did as well. Paul placed his confidence in Christ to motivate their hearts toward reconciliation.

            Consider our own broken relationships. Our laziness, or fear, keeps us from saying the things that need to be said. Our pride keeps us from forgiving others. Our guilt keeps us from trusting each other. Our love for harbored anger keeps us from confessing our wrongs to those we have hurt; or keeps us from pardoning those who have hurt us. Our desire to not get involved keeps us from defending a friend. Our desire to not be in the middle keeps us from interceding for others. Our hesitation to be taking sides is willing to keep broken relationship broken.

            What if Paul never told Onesimus that what he was doing was sinful and wrong? What if Paul never taught Onesimus the gospel? What if Onesimus never made it back to Philemon with the letter? What of Philemon resented Paul’s willingness to intervene in a personal matter? What if you and I let Satan have that same foothold that allows the sun to go down on our unresolved personal issues?

            Then our Savior’s “Sermon on Mount” advice rings out: “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5: 23 – 24). Sin must not be left unchecked. Burdened consciences breed bad worship.

            Paul’s letter to Onesimus gives us a great foundation on which build resolution. He appeals to Philemon’s love. He appeals to the gospel. He appeals to Philemon’s knowledge and faith in Christ. He appeals to the cross of Jesus. There at the cross Onesimus learned that he was forgiven by Jesus. Paul appealed to the fact that he also would be forgiven by Philemon. The good news of pardon in Christ changed the hearts of all three men. It moved Paul to teach and apply the Word of God. It moved Paul to sacrifice himself as an advocate to Onesimus. It moved Onesimus to go back to his vocation and back to Philemon. Paul trusted that it would be the one light that would shine on Philemon’s hearts to forgive Onesimus and welcome him back, no longer as a slave, but as a dear brother in Christ.

I can’t help but think of Paul’s words to the Corinthian congregation – whom also had the need for reconciling differences: “For Christ’s love compels us for we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again (2 Corinthians 5: 14 – 15).

I also want to share with you a quote from Martin Luther’s commentary on the letter:What Christ has done for us with God the Father; that St. Paul does also for Onesimus with Philemon. For Christ emptied himself of his rights and overcame the Father with love and humility, so that the Father had to put away his wrath and rights, and receive us into favor for the sake of Christ, who so earnestly advocates our cause and so heartily takes our part.”

Do you see how the cross of Jesus shines in real life? Do you see how Christ emptied himself to bring us back to the Father? Do you see that what Christ has done has real life relevance? The confession of sins we make at that cross is the same confessions we humbly make to those we have wronged. The same forgiveness earned and announced by that cross is the same forgiveness we announce to those who have wronged us and repent.

Ask yourself now: “What relationships have I been running from?” Make that Sunday night phone call you have been putting off. Write out that greeting card. Pull into the drive way you have been avoiding. Reply to the e-mails in your inbox that have been avoided. Take better care of those text messages and put some deeper thought into words that were once spoken or sent in haste and high emotion. Intercede for those friends who need your Christian help. Speak with spouse, child, friend, in-law, parent, co-worker … enemy. Speak clearly so that sin is rebuked. Speak clearly so that the blood of Chris prevails. Entrust the hearts of those involved to the power of Christ and his blood to forgive. Seek the joy of resolve. Know that the Cross of Jesus shines its light of forgiveness in many circumstances your daily life. Rejoice that, as Paul emptied himself to intervene for Onesimus, Christ has emptied himself on the cross to intervene for you before his Father in Heaven! Amen.

Jesus Turns Our Hearts Around

Luke 14: 7 – 14 (Pentecost 15 - 2013)

“Jesus Turns Our Hearts Around”

            God tells us that he chose the foolishness of the cross to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1: 18, 27,) the weak things of the world to shame the strong. The very heart of the Gospel, Jesus’ willing sacrifice on a cross, is foolishness to the world of self promoting unbelief. It is no surprise that whenever Jesus had something to teach it went against the grain of human reason and intentions. Jesus is very often causing a 180 degree turn on people thinking. Today’s lesson is no different. In the realm of the way Jesus teaches humility is exalted. In his world it is much more rewarding to help those who cannot pay you back in return.

Humility is Exalted

            Jesus was invited for a dinner party at the house of a Pharisee. The Pharisaical attitudes became quite evident rather quickly. It was typical for the Pharisees to have these dinner parties. They were showcases of pietism without true piety. They were showing off. They were seeking the approval of the VIP’s of the day. They were glad-handing people who would cater to their ego driven hearts. It was likely, that, at the time, it would have been a feather in the cap of the host to have invited the Jesus. He seemed to be gaining popularity among the masses.

            The guests were assuming places of highest honor before reading the names tags. Presumptuous snobbery abounded, as obvious as their noses sticking up in the air. Jesus noticed. He took the teachable moment with great class. Perhaps, the one person in the room who had not even begun to look for a place at the table, he graciously says “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” He explained: How embarrassing it would be to presume a place of high honor and then be ushered to a lower place! How much different for a person to assumed the lowest place of honor only to be ushered to a much more prominent position!

            The Psalms tells us “God lifts up the broken hearted” (Psalm 51). That same Psalm explains that God desires to humble us first by pointing out our sins. He desires truth and purity in the very deepest places of our hearts. We know that because of sinfulness, we do not deserve a place at all in the kingdom of heaven. Snobbery slips easily into our attitudes. We have often thought of ourselves over the needs of others. Knowing that, we realize that we do not deserve to be guests of honor at God’s table. We deserve to be ushered to lowest places in the depths of hell. God’s Word humbles us appropriately.

            “God lifts up the broken hearted.” God exalts humility. He rejoices with those who have been humbled before his glory. He lifts us up by pointing us to his Son, Jesus. Jesus was willing to take the lowest place at a dinner table in Jerusalem. He was also willing to be associated with the lowest dregs of humanity. He was also willing to take the seat we all deserved: the hot seat of facing God’s righteous punishment for the sins of the world. Paul to the Philippians explains: “Christ Jesus … humbled himself, taking the very nature of a servant and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. But exalted him to the highest place that could be given … that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Philippians 2: 6 – 11.) Jesus turned our hearts around by accomplishing the very core of his work. His atonement, won for us on Calvary, cleanses us of our selfish ambitions. His humble service to us empowers a new way of thinking for us too. His resurrection is proof that God exalts the humble and proof that his Son’s work of saving us is complete.

            Paul introduced that section by reminding us that that is how our lives, and our attitudes, ought to be … like that of Christ Jesus. He wrote: “Do nothing out of self ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2: 3). God the Father exalts humility. He exalts those whose ambitions are selfless. He exalts those who mirror his Son’s self-giving attitude and behavior. He is glad to raise up those who are crushed in spirit. He exalts our humility with his forgiving praise for the sake of his Son, Jesus.

            Meanwhile, at the dinner, Jesus continued the lesson by giving a specific application to his host ...

Helping the Helpless Pays Off

            Again, the Pharisee’s house was no doubt filled with prominent people. Even Jesus would have been thought of as someone you ought to schmooze a little bit. There were often ulterior motives in these Pharisaical dinner parties. It is the way of the world: What’s in it for me? How can I benefit from pleasing certain individuals? Jesus’ host had a bunch of people over who had the ability to do something for him in return. It is called belly serving.

            Jesus uses another illustration, not only to reinforce his point about humility, but also to provide a specific way in which his host could put true humility into practice. Jesus explained: Next time you have a party don’t invite your friends, relatives, and those who have the resources to return the favor. Instead, “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and then you will be blessed.” There is more meaningful reward in showing generosity to those who cannot return the favor. The reward is in knowing that our motivations are pure and genuine.

            Think about that from the perspective our congregation of believers. We are currently enjoying a healthy prospect list for outreach to the souls in our neighborhood. Our visitor list is growing each week. Who are our welcomed guests? Whom do we hope to reach by having a Pig Roast and Christmas Nativities and Concerts? Whom do we hope will fill the rest of these pews? Our neighborhoods are growing. Our opportunities to reach out to all sorts of cultures and classes of people are growing more obvious. They are all souls for whom Jesus gave his life. In view of his generosity, we continue to position ourselves to welcome them all to feast of the Gospel in Word and sacrament.

            As Paul said “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the Word of God for profit, On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.”

            Think of Jesus’ lesson also in terms of our own personal lives. Random Acts of Kindness is one of the more pleasant phrases coined in our society. What a novel thought if more often acts of kindness were done for the poor, the lame, and the blind … the helpless! There are people in your lives who need your deeds of love. There is true blessing and reward, Jesus says, in demonstrating his love to those who can only pay us back with the smiles that stem from their grateful hearts! And Jesus adds that the truer reward will be evident to you “at the resurrection of the righteous!” Imagine the joy in meeting someone in heaven who was brought to Christ by someone else, perhaps even by you!

            Jesus is constantly turning hearts around. Thankfully he has turned our hearts around. We humbly pray:Lord God, heavenly Father, thank you for turning our hearts to yours. Continue to teach our hearts true humility before you. Let your name be exalted. Use us help the helpless with motives that are pure and generous thoughts stemming from your love. Strengthen in our hearts a genuine love for all people, because of Christ Jesus who died and rose again for us all! In his Name we ask it, Amen.

 

Suffering Produces Character

Isaiah 50: 4 - 10 (Pentecost 18, 2012)

“Suffering Produces Character”

After reminding them of the comforting truth that through faith in Christ we have peace with God, and that we stand constantly in the grace of the Father, Paul said “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God (Romans 5: 1-2). He then wrote: “We also rejoice in our sufferings because we know thatsuffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope; and hope does not disappoint us.” Knowing that our salvation is secure in Christ Jesus, allows us the serenity to have joy, even in our deepest sorrows and trials. It is during those trials when God helps us to become most aware of his love for us.

The sons of Israel were about to endure one of the ugliest trials of their history. Because they had turned their backs on God to run to the idols of the world around them, God was going to use powerful Babylon destroy the temple, tare town the walls of the city of Jerusalem and carry them off to captivity. The time was soon coming for them to learn perseverance through suffering. The time was coming when the Lord was going to build character among his remaining faithful ones and to grant them hope of a return to their homeland.

The Messiah spoke through Isaiah to teach the greatest lesson of spiritual patience. He points them, and us, to his own patient enduring of the cross. By teaching us the cross, Christ Jesus teaches us salvation. He also teaches us to patiently put our trust in the promises of God. He helps us learn patience through suffering, by the way of our cross, and with confidence in God’s Word.

1. We Learn that in The Cross of Christ.

Our Savior speaks plainly in our Gospel lesson for today (Mark 8). He takes time to clear the air about his true identity and purpose. He extracts that confession from Peter: “You are the Christ.” He then reviews the impending events of Holy Week, about to come. The Son of Man must suffer many things at the hands of wicked men. He must be crucified and raised on the third day. He had already spoken through Isaiah many years before: “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.”

We are hearing the Savior who was silent before his accusers, like a lamb before his shearers. We can’t begin to imagine the suffering of our Savior Jesus, can we? He faced false accusations, physical pain, bloodshed, taunting. He saw his name get abused, his word falsely taught, his Father’s house become a den of robbers; his people being led astray. He was spit at,. He was beaten to a pulp. His head was pierced with thorns. His feet and hands were pierced with spikes into wood. He was hung in the open air as though a common criminal. He did it all willingly. He did it all patiently. He did it with character. He did it all for you.

Jesus once said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first (John 15:18). After pointing clearly to his own cross he points you to yours: “Whoever wants to come after me must deny himself take up his cross and follow me.” Patience through suffering is part of being Christian. It is a reality. The world hates Jesus. The world hates those who love Jesus. Along with that hatred comes the suffering that teaches patience.

What did Jesus do? He let it roll off his back. “I have set my face like flint.” That expression is like our “water off a duck’s back” or “I have thick skin.” Jesus put up with a lot! That is an understatement. But he let it all roll off his back.

That is his encouragement to us. We get criticized for being Christian. We get laughed at for standing on the truths of God’s word. We get accused of being “not with it” “old-fashioned” or maybe even foolish for putting all our hope on the God who was foolish enough to kill his own Son. Set your faces like flint. We live in a society that has openly rejected all that we hold dear. The Scriptures are constantly cast into the mockery pits as Christ himself was laid out as a joke. Jesus says, “I have set my face like flint! -- so will you. Let it roll off your back. Learn to be patience through sufferings. It is the way of the Cross, after all.

2. We Are Convinced of that By the Word of Christ.

But he does not leave us without help or confidence. He says, “The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.” Jesus found joy and comfort in the Word of his Father. He put his complete trust in the promises of that Word. It sustained him morning by morning as he willingly faced the path to the cross. He was confident that God’s promises were going to come true. And they did!

He who vindicates me is near -- It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.” Jesus said, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life - only to take back up again.” Jesus and the Father have this unique unity. At the heart of it all is the promise of the resurrection. Later in the book of Isaiah we read, “It was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer -- After the suffering of his soul he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many (Isaiah 53: 10-11). God did promise to raise his Son from the dead. God did raise his Son from the dead. God’s Word is filled with such sure promises. On Easter morning Jesus was vindicated for the long suffering and character that he demonstrated on Good Friday.

It is in God’s Word where we find that same confidence and that same relationship with our Father. God does teach us patience through suffering. God does discipline us as a Father disciplines a child (Hebrews 12) “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12: 11). In his Word he builds up character in us which leads to hope and security.

We don’t always know why bad things happen to God’s people. He asks us to wait for the harvest of righteousness and he asks for us to be patient. He always knows what is best for us, even when we go through pain, sickness, fear, loss, and all the other hardships that exist in a fallen world.

But we do know what to do when we are tempted to ask “Why?” We, like our Savior know “the Word that sustains the weary as he “wakens us morning by morning.” We are confident that the same God who was faithful to his Son on Easter morning will be faithful to us in times of sorrow or trouble. Going to his Word will help us wait patiently for all things to work out for the good of those who him. In the mean time we pray,

Lord in loving contemplation Fix our hearts and eyes on you                                       

Till we taste your full salvation And your unveiled glory view (CW 111:5) Amen.

Jesus Has the Perfect Timing

John 2: 1-11 (Epiphany 2 - January 20, 2013)

“Jesus Has Perfect Timing”

  • At lunch time in Samaria, he stayed back at the well, while the others went into town. His conversation with one woman lead to his message getting into an entire town.
  • He purposely stayed back in Galilee as his friends went to the Feast of Tabernacles. His mid-celebration arrival allowed him to greet and teach a more attentive crowd in the temple courts.
  • He waited two days when he heard that his friend Lazarus was deathly ill. His late arrival at the funeral allowed him to show his resurrecting power over death in the presence of his friends and his foes.
  • At almost every section heading, John’s Gospel makes references to days, events, and time frames that are relative to what Jesus is intentionally doing.

It is striking, even in his first recorded miracle, that Jesus makes that point: When and how and why I do things has purpose. Jesus has perfect timing. As we see the event of the wedding at Cana we see that Jesus is the perfect guest in our lives. He shows himself to be the perfect host of our trust.

1. As the Perfect Guest In Your Life

Jesus was invited to a wedding in Cana, a town near his childhood home of Nazareth. His mother was there as well. The hosts were generous enough to invite his disciples as well. It is likely that these were people who knew his family well enough to say: “Bring your friends along, too.” Jesus accepted the invitation and participated in the celebration.

Wedding celebrations in his culture and time were quite different from ours. In most cases the open house would carry on for days. Family and friends could come and go as they needed to. The host was responsible for providing food and drink for as long as needed. Water and wine were the staples of the time. The wine was a safe and clean way to preserve the fruits of the grape vines and would have been offered at most meals. Running out of wine during such an open house was not only embarrassing, it could have been perceived as an offensive failure to be a good host. Jesus uses this event to show his divinity. He graciously rescues the host from embarrassment. H provides, miraculously, wine that is deemed to be the best.

The verse we would like to highlight this time around is his answer to his mother’s request: “My time has not yet come.” Jesus wanted his mother, and all others, to know that there was a time and place for how his ministry was going to be carried out. He knew he was going to help. He knew how the rest of his time on earth was going to play out. He knew that all of the events of his life would lead to the primary reason of his humanity: his crucifixion and death; his resurrection to glory; his work of redeeming us from sin.

In the mean time, he was willing to make time for earthly circumstances of his personal life. Jesus accepts wedding invitations. Take a personal comfort from this lesson. Jesus cares about the things of our earthly lives. He cares about weddings and funerals. He cares about family and friends. He makes time for people when they ask. He answers our table prayers which invite him to be the guest in our homes. He goes with us into surgery centers. He goes with us in our cars to work. What we do at work is important to him. He cares about teenagers going through life’s awkward struggles. He cares about toddlers who skin their knees. He celebrates what we celebrate. He has mercy when our hearts ache. He rejoices when his plans bring us blessings. He comforts us when the cross weighs heavy in our lives.

This lesson reminds us of the truth we hear in the letter to the Hebrews: “Since the Children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity, so that by his death, he might destroy the one who holds the power over death (Hebrews 2: 14). Our Savior came to give his life on the cross for our sin. In doing so he did so much more. He showed himself to be our daily help and comfort in each day’s need. He knows what it is like to feel pain and cry. He knows what it is like to be bullied and hurt by words and actions of others. He knows what family struggles are like. He knows the weight of temptation. He deeply knows our need for his grace, his forgiveness, his daily comfort and strength in each day of our lives.

Jesus has perfect timing. He knew what he was going to do that day in Cana. He knew that his going to that wedding provided the perfect opportunity show his love and interest in the events of people lives. But it was also an opportunity to reveal his divine glory to his closest friends and followers.

2. As the Perfect Host of Your Faith

John closes this section with the primary point of the story: “He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their trust in him.” These same people watched and learned from him for the next few years. He continued to show them how he had power over the things that would make them afraid. He would be on the boat with them and calm violent storms. He would take them to funeral processions and show his resurrecting power. He would show them his ability to provide food for thousands. He would point out their sins and temptations. He would battle their enemies for them. He would warn, guide, teach and prepare them for being a part of his darkest moments: in the garden where he was betrayed, in the trials if injustice, on the cross. These disciple friends would learn many more lessons about trusting in him as the object and host of their faith in him.

So it is with us. He is not only the perfect guest in our lives. He is also the perfect host for our trust in him. He has perfect timing. He knows how he is going to use all the various events of our lives to refortify the level of our trust in his gracious plans for us. Day by day, with every turn of life, we learn more deeply that truth “I know the plans I have for you -- plans to prosper you and not to harm you (Jeremiah 29: 11).

Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” He attends our weddings and funerals. He knows when illness will strike and why. He answers yes to the table prayers which invite him to be the guest at our tables. He goes with us into surgery centers. He knows how traumatic events will be used in his own good time to induce a refreshed level of trust in his promises. He knows how long to allow the struggles in our work places. He knows exactly the right time to bring a pleasing resolve to them. He knows just how long to bring teenagers through an awkward situation so that in the end their love for his help will be increased. He knows that the sting of toddler’s skinned knee will be warmed by a parent’s embrace. He celebrates the birth of a child. He consoles his children during the loss of life. He has mercy when our hearts ache. He rejoices when his plans bring us blessings. He comforts when the cross weighs heavy in our lives.

Jesus has perfect timing. When the time was right, he was born into the perfect circumstances of his prophecies. When the time was right, he met the Samaritan gal at the well. When the time was right he raised his friend from the dead. When the time was right he entered Jerusalem one last time. There he gave his blessings. There he introduced his Supper for our forgiveness. There he was betrayed. There he offered up his life for our offenses. And on the third day, when his time had come, he rose from the dead to assure us of our eternal salvation. The Savior Jesus who accepted a wedding invitation in the world, paid for our dinner plate at his wedding festival, where time and space and joy will have no end. Until then --

Be patient and await his leisure

In cheerful hope, with heart content;

Then take whate’er your Father’s pleasure

And his discerning love has sent.

Doubt not; your inmost wants are known

To him who chose you for his own.

(CW 444: 3)

Amen!

Remember Who You Are in the Coming Year

1 Peter 1: 22-25 (New Year’s Eve - 2012)

“Remember Who You Are in the Coming Year”

Chevy recently capitalized on the end of the world hoopla when promoting the long lasting ability of their trucks. Out of the rubble of a supposed apocalypse drives a few Chevy trucks assessing the damage. We know that even the longest lasting of trucks won’t escape the complete destruction that God has assured us will happen. We also acknowledge the words of Jesus that no one knows the hour or the day, only the Father. The passing of another year reminds us that we are one step closer to whenever that day may be. The coming of a new year is an opportunity to reflect on who we are. It is an opportunity to count blessings, desire some good changes, cleans the heart with communion and begin fresh new start things spiritual.

Peter offers great thoughts for the New Year. He takes us to our baptisms. He reminds us of words Jesus spoke to Nicodemus: flesh gives birth to flesh, but the spirit gives birth to spirit. He reflects words Paul wrote in the resurrection chapter of his letter to the Corinthians: the body that is sown is perishable; it is raised imperishable.

All me are like grass and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. Newspapers are lined with the year in review lists. News shows capture a few of the memorable moments. And that is all they are: moments in time, moments that will be lost and forgotten in the fields of perishable lives. Even the most important event of years past fade in our memories. We are born with perishable shells that begin to progress toward death the moment they are born. God judges our lives to be withering flowers of sin that are doomed for the fires of hell. The wages of sin is death and we cannot escape the reality of it all.

But the Word stands forever. God has buried us with his Son Jesus. God has dipped us in the blood of his Son. God has deep cleansed us through and through. His Word purifies us from all unrighteousness and death. God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in sin. The fields of God’s truth are pasted with the meaning of our Baptism. Unlike Chevy truck, your soul has been made to last for eternity. Long after our shell has been destroyed, long after this world has been removed from existence, our souls and bodies will be reunited and join the choirs of heaven in a place where calendars will be useless and where moth and rust cannot destroy.

Remember this coming year that because of our sin we are dust and to dust we shall return. Remember also this year that because of Christ, we have been made alive. In Baptism our sinful nature is drowned to death daily. In Baptism we are built to last for all eternity and will rise from the destruction of this world and be brought to the next. “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

What does that motivate us to do in the coming year? Peter says “Love one another deeply from the heart.” Remembering who we are this year means remembering to love and care for one another. This year we will commit ourselves to the Lord. We will entrust our very lives to him. We will take notice of those who need us and show them love. We will dry each others’ tears. We will lend a hand to the helpless. We will hold our children closely. We will seek the lost and share the everlasting Word with them. We will include specific names and circumstances in our evening prayers. We will hone the gifts and abilities our Savior has given us that they may be used in this life for his glory and the good of others. We will foster Christ’s love in this coming year. The love he demonstrated on the cross for us, will move us to sacrifice much of ourselves to show love those around us.

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply from the heart.”

The Lord's Peace Leads to Joy!

Zephaniah 3: 14-17 (Advent 3- 2012)
“The Lord’s Peace Leads To Joy!”
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     True peace is hardly realized without the backdrop of real conflict. True joy is seldom found apart from knowing deep sadness. That fact was true for Zephaniah. He was a prophet during some peaceable times, but that peace did not come without sacrifices and difficult times for those who were remaining faithful to the Lord’s expectations.
     Even a brief knowledge of Bible History will tell you that the experiences of the prophets were directly related to the spiritual health of the kings they served with. Zephaniah connects his life and his family tree to King Hezekiah, and even more closely to Josiah. These were two God-fearing kings, but there was constant internal conflict between the faithful and the wicked. As faithful kings like Josiah came along they made further strides in the work of ridding Israel of Baal’s idols and the soul-damaging, false worship that accompanied those idols.
     Zephaniah was helping young Josiah to finish up that work of tearing down the high places of Baal worship and establishing the rightful ceremonies in Jerusalem at the Temple. At the time of Josiah (2 Chronicles 34 & 35), we are told of the finding of the Word of God, a marvelous celebration of the Passover - unlike any other in a length of time - and the joyful singing of a unified people (35:17-19). They were celebrating a peace that had come at the end of countless conflicts with each other and against the surrounding nations. It was a peace that came from knowing salvation. It was a peace that moved them to a meaningful joy.
     When you read Zephaniah’s whole message, you can picture the visible signs of war and conflict still scarring the land, and even the hearts of his listeners. Graves for dead soldiers were built. Faces showed the weariness from seeing families and lives torn apart by conflict at the temple. Undone projects at temple and at home were staring at people who knew they needed to be done. But the people were searching for the strength and a reason to do them joyfully. They were lost without the Word of the Lord.
     Zephaniah was sent to help Josiah do two things: clean up the messes of the wicked, and also lift up the hearts of the faithful with a message of hope. His message of hope was the best news any could hear: “the Lord has removed your punishment; the Lord has turned back your enemy.” Yes, the evidence of conflict was still very real in their lives. Yes, even the faithful ones had not been innocent from the common sins that reach us all. Some guilt came from closing their eyes to the conflicts that were damaging their heavy hearts. Some of the heaviest guilt for any believer is guilt from what is left undone!
     That is true of us, as well. Usually when the law comes down on us in sermons and Bible Study we are convicted of the sins that we DO. I know that we struggle just as much with the “good that I want to do” … and am NOT DOING (Romans 7: 15-19): speaking with a friend about their habitual sin; putting off important things out of shear laziness, or fear; going the extra miles to find out the truth rather than fostering, or acting on, the latest juicy gossip; and don’t forget the painful work of addressing our own personal sins of habit and choice. The natural reaction to that kind of guilt is to do more other things … distract me from the things that should be done. If I am so busy doing, I will not have time to approach the things that really need to be done. If I am that busy I have justification for not doing what should be done. That is not true peace. That is not true removal of guilt and punishment.
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     Zephaniah focused his hearers where the focus needed to be. These were people who trusted that the sacrificial lambs were just shadowing images of the true Messiah. These were people who trusted that the words of Zephaniah were promises of God, not just empty words of false optimism. These were people who knew and believed that the sacrifice of the Christ was the sure foundation of the removal of their guilt. Their Lord God is the one who pushes even hell back on its heels. These are people who saw with their own eyes and heard with their own ears that God defeats the enemies of his people with some very convincing victories and in some very unique ways.
     “The Lord has taken away your punishment; the Lord has turned back your enemy.” That is true for us too! The Lord has taken away our guilt by His Son’s attack on hell itself. The Lord has removed our sins from us, from his memory, from his rightful wrath. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53: 5). The Lord has pushed back the devil our evil foe and locked him up in the prison of hell. No more can he harm God’s children with his lies and threats. “Never again will you fear any harm.”
In that peace we are lead to genuine rejoicing. The Lord says, “Do not let your hands hang limp.” The war with sin is over. The sins that placed you under God’s wrath have been removed. You have been given spiritual muscles and tendons. Your whole lives “are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10). No reason now to hang your heads and hide in fear of the enemy.
     With his power, and because of his love, the people were given reason leap with joy to those undone tasks. So also you and I have been given the certain hope in Christ to carry on with our fruits of faith. In Christ our champion commander we sing, praise, work, honor, serve, love, follow and obey, with holy joy … holy because God has planted it in your hearts with the peace of his redeeming love in Christ. In him we leave meaningless business to run with joy to serving him and others with the Word and with our gifts.
     How often don’t we learn that lasting joy, meaningful joy, happens when the fear of real harm has been removed! After a long wait for a loved one in surgery, the surgeon announces that things went well. A few days of tests and appointments lead to good news of health. A soldier returns from a conflict unharmed to live with his family. A conflict among friends leads to a stronger unity rather discord. Trials at church lead to a new found spirit of love and service, rather than a spirit of division. Like Zephaniah who worked shoulder to shoulder with God-fearing leaders and faithful followers, we too are committed to stand together in unity. A unified Church is a string Church. Genuine rejoicing best comes when harm is real, and we see the Lord remove that real harm from our lives. In that true peace our joy is just as real as the harm removed!
     Then “The Lord will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice with you.” That is comfort! That is love! That is amazing! That the Lord would join our songs of praise, is really evidence of his mercy and evidence of the true peace he has created between us and him. You have heard the saying, “Laugh and the world laughs with you.” God promises “Sing for joy, and I will sing with you!” How true that will be when he brings us to stand in joy beside him. There with all the angelic choirs we will sing with genuine joy. The joy comes well all real causes for harm will cease to be known. The joy comes from the Lord’s eternal gift of peace through Jesus our great Victor! Amen.

The Prophet Cleans Us Up for Advent

Malachi 3: 1 – 4 (Advent – Prophet)
“The Prophet Cleans Us Up for Advent”
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    Employees must wash hands before returning to work. Has it crossed your mind that the sign should read “Everyone who came in here should wash their hands before leaving”? In the great Advent Psalm from last Sunday we sang: “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? He who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24: 3-4). In Advent, we are not just going back to work, or washing up for supper. We are preparing our hearts to meet our King, Jesus. We are being cleansed to meet him in the manger. We are being cleansed to meet him in the clouds as Judge of all mankind.
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    Malachi was the last prophet that God sent before the coming of Christ. MALACHI was a common name for men during his time. It is the Hebrew word for angel or messenger. Malachi, the prophet-messenger, spoke about two future messengers: John the Baptist, “who will prepare the way before me;” and Christ Jesus, “the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire.”
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    God’s prophets of old had one clear job: to speak the Word the Lord had given to them. It was not always a stress free job. But it was a simply defined job. They were to speak the truth. The people did not always like what the prophet had to say. God often gave words of rebuke to his people. God’s words were to purify for himself a people of truth and clarity. From these people a Messiah was to be born. The prophets were imaging the Prophet who was to come: Jesus.
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    Malachi spoke at a time when the Levities and priests had neglected their duties as spiritual leaders. He spoke to them at a time when the love of God’s people had grown cold again. Their sense of urgency toward being God’s chosen people … people through whom the Redeemer would come … was all but lost on idolatry and complacent attitudes.
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    Hence the question is posed: “Who can endure the day of his appearing? Who can stand when he appears?” Malachi, like all the others, was called to preach repentance to God’s people to prepare them for the coming Savior. But Temple worship had become only lip service. The materialism and lack of morality had taken their eyes of the Messiah. It was only four hundred years before Christ was born in Bethlehem. What was Malachi to say as the voice of the LORD? “Clean up you act!” Those who won’t be clean will be cleansed by Christ himself.
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     Look at Isaiah centuries before. He confessed himself to be “a man of unclean lips … among unclean people.” The sight of the purity of God’s glory forced his face to the ground in fear. The patterned requirements of Ceremonial Law were about ridding the filthiness of mankind from the presence of God’s holiness. We are dirty. God is constantly making that point to Israel and us. We lie, we cheat, we hate, and we fall into complacency and bickering. We look to other things that steal away our relationship with God. We are not just filthy on the outside. We are sinfully polluted through and through.
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    A primary focus of our Advent readiness is spiritual hygiene. For that Malachi points us to John and Jesus. John was the last prophet to speak before Jesus. He was the voice of one calling in the desert. That messenger proclaims: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3: 2). The prophet is going to clean us up. “He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.”
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    Look at Jesus’ ministry as prophet. Jesus also proclaimed, “Repent and believe the Good News” (Mark 1: 15). He sat in the temple as a twelve year old boy with a wholesome thirst and understanding for God’s Word. He pushed over the money lending tables and cleansed his Father’s house of prayer. He sat in judgment over false teachings. He cleaned up the doctrine of the Sadducees and Pharisees. He taught with authority, clarity, wisdom, color, and truth. He drew crowds by the thousands and tirelessly taught them the truth. His prophetic ministry cleaned things up in Jerusalem and all across the countryside.
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    But the true purification came when he gave his life for the sake of the truth. As they refused to listen to the prophets before him, they refused his truth. As they rejected Amos and sent him away, they rejected the True Prophet. As they plotted the death of Jeremiah, they plotted his death. As Herod slaughtered John the Baptist for the sake of the truth, so also they slaughtered Jesus for the sake of the truth.
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    In the shedding of his blood the true purification process takes place. His true teaching refines us and clarifies our faith and understanding. How much more doesn’t “the blood of God’s Son purify us from all unrighteousness?!” (1 John 1:8). His blood is the true laundry soap, the fiercest of refinement. Not only does he take away our sins. He truly cleanses us through and through. What was dirty from inside out is cleaned up. In Baptism he washes away sin and guilt. As Peter says, “Baptism saves you also - not just the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God” (1 Peter 3:21). The Prophet - Christ Jesus – “the messenger of the covenant whom you desire” cleans us up for Advent.
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    All of Advent’s messengers cleanse us in Advent … Isaiah, Malachi, John and Jesus himself. We welcome also the wisdom of Paul who wrote: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4: 30-32). “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4: 8).
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God sent his Son to speak the truth in love. His true teachings have cleansed us in our words and practices. His sacrifice and righteousness has cleaned us up spiritually. As He said to Peter on Maundy Thursday, “You are already clean because of the Word I have spoken to you” (John15:3). He has indeed prepared us to meet the Savior in Bethlehem. He has cleansed us to bring fruits of righteousness to his house and into our lives of faith. The prophet has cleaned us up, that we will be prepared to meet the Day of his Judgment with joy and readiness.
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Those who then are loyal
Find a welcome royal!
Come, then, O Lord Jesus,
From our sins release us.
Let us here confess you;
Till in Heaven we bless you. (CW 17: 4) Amen.

Jesus Rules a Spiritual Kingdom of Truth

John 18: 33 - 37 (Christ the King - 2012)

“Jesus Rules a Spiritual Kingdom of Truth”

“Who is Jesus?” That was the question crowds of people debated. That was the question Pilate needed to answer in his court room. That is the question Jesus posed of his closest friends. Those who understand and believe him to be the Son of God, the only Savior from sin, know him by faith. Those who judge Jesus based on rational unbelief desire to make him less than what he truly is. They miss what Pilate missed: the truth. Jesus is a King. He rules not as an earthly coup against the Roman government, nor as a mythical hero, nor a master of worldly fables. He rules because “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to [Jesus] (Matthew 28:18). He rules a Spiritual kingdom. He rules with heavenly power. He rules with divine power. Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

1. He Rules with Heavenly Power.

By the time Jesus was arrested, many knew that Jesus was not an average human being. Those who followed John the Baptist were instructed to see “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached (Luke 7: 23). This man walked on water. He fed thousands from almost nothing. He commanded the weather to obey him. He told people things about themselves that no one else knew. He dumb founded the brightest leaders of the Temple courts. He taught with authority. He gave sight to the blind. He made the lame to run. He raised a little girl and a young man. Neither Pilate, nor anyone else, could ignore the question “Who is Jesus and what is this Kingdom he keeps talking about?”

Jesus explained to Pilate, “You are right in saying that I am a King. My Kingdom is not of this world.” Our Lord was not interested in being physically rescued from the hands of his killers. He was not expecting his followers to sweep into the Praetorium and steal him away. That would have been counterproductive to his true mission. Jesus had come to save his people from their sins. He was interested in facing the judicial death that would accomplish that. Jesus left his throne room of heaven to be a subject in Pilate’s earthly court.

If he had not done that, we would still be objects of God’s wrath. God’s throne room is one of holy justice. Sin is not allowed or condoned. Disobedience is punishable by death. Not just any kind of death. My sins and yours have earned us the sentence of eternal separation of the presence of our God. We were born into the kingdom of the Evil One and deserved to stay there. It is an evil power and presence which we could not overcome.

The Evil One is able to trick us into thinking that we can sin without the King noticing. Our own sinfulness would have us think that we can hide behind the bushes like Adam and Eve. Our own rational thinking leads us to attempt sins as though there were a place outside of the knowledge, rule and scepter of Christ. Temptation is a powerful force in our lives. Sin is the dreaded result.

This is why Christ is a King. This is why Christ has come. Jesus rules with divine power and heavenly purpose. He could have called down legions of angels in the Garden of Gethsemane. Instead he instructed Peter to put away his sword. Pilate had no power except what Christ the King gave. He exerted that heavenly power by enduring the scourging in Pilate’s prison. He demonstrated the power of his Father’s throne by demonstrating the love his Father had for the world of sinner. He flexed the heavenly muscles of his love as he suffered the bitterness of the cross. King Jesus used his power, not to rescue himself for earthly glory, but to rescue you for heavenly royalty.

His Heavenly Power is accompanied by Divine Truth.

2. He Rules with Divine Truth.

Jesus instructed us saying, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, “˜Here it is,’ or “˜There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:21). He taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come.” (Luke 11:2). Luther reminds us that “God’s kingdom comes, even without our asking, but we pray in this petition that it comes to us and to many others.”

God’s kingdom is the kingdom of believers. It is based on truth. One primary truth of his kingdom is that we were all objects of his wrath. (Ephesians 2: 3). Because of our sinfulness and our natural desires to disobey God, we do not belong to the kingdom by our choosing. How foolish to think that we could get to a place where the King of the Universe did not exist or could not follow. How foolish to think that there is a place we can go to sin, that is outside of his ruling! How foolish to think that anyone one could rescue themselves from the kingdom of lies and unbelief.

The primary truth of his kingdom is that objects of his wrath are also subjects of his grace. “God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ.” The Lamb went uncomplaining forth so that his sacrifice accounted for the atonement of all sin. The King died for his subjects. The King died for the sake of his truth. The King died to make certain that his is a Kingdom of Spiritual peace and unconditional forgiveness for sinners like us. His Kingdom of Truth is everlasting. He rose from the grave to prove it. He is the Son of Man from Daniel’s vision who by his death and resurrection governs all people, nations and is worshiped by every language of men. His dominion will not pass away, and his kingdom is the one that will never be destroyed (Daniel 7:14).

Divine truth is the mission of his subjects as well. “And every one on the side of truth listens to him.” The kingdom of heaven is within you. He has redeemed us with his holy precious blood. By that Truth you have been brought into the kingdom of faith. All this he does that I should be his own a d serve him with everlasting righteousness innocence and blessedness. Jesus rules. He rules over all things. He rules in your heart through the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17).

That truth calls for vigilance in every age. We know and feel the tensions between the truths of King Jesus and the lies of the Evil One. We already live in an age where our vigilance is vitally important. The times have already come for believers in Christ to say with Peter “We must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). As servants of his kingdom of truth we must have courage to speak, live and defend what the Bible says, even when the kingdoms of this world designate consequences for those who do. We must know that Word. We must love that Word. Our faith increases because of that Word. We draw the same attention of wicked men he did because of that Word.

And when the fight is fierce the warfare long, Steals on the ear the distant triumph song;

And hearts are brave again and arms are strong. Alleluia! (CW 551: 4)

Our courage comes from King Jesus. “God has placed all things under his feet -- for his Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way Ephesians 1: 22). He rules the world with power and grace. He rules in our hearts with his Word. He watches over us as everything is placed under his control. We serve his eternal kingdom of power and truth. He could have called down legions of angels in the garden of his arrest. He chose the cross for you instead. He is now pleased to call those legions of angels to “keep you in all your ways” (Psalm 91). He will keep us in faith until his glorious return and lead us into the life prepared for us by his Father. Until that day we are glad subjects of the kingdom which he rules, now and for eternity. Amen.

One Greater than the Temple Is Here

Matthew 12: 6

“One Greater than the Temple is Here”

Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2012

For the Final Service in Original Sanctuary

O may we tread the sacred road

That saints and holy martyrs trod,

Wage to the end the glorious strife,

And win like them, a crown of life. (CW 549: 5).

Privately it has been on my mind for a long time. Have you done the same? “This was the last Easter service in this sanctuary ... this was the last baptism, the last confirmation, the last wedding, the last funeral ...” Last Sunday as I knelt one last time at this communion rail ... it crossed my mind. Today you sit in those pews for the last time. Today I stand in this pulpit one last time. So much attention to one place! So many firsts to remember! So many lasts to cherish! So fitting for us to cherish a sanctuary with a true heart for what God has done in this place for generations of his souls. It is good and right for us to give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, and remember the greater purpose of this place. Today we do well to remember the guideline Jesus laid down when he said: “I tell you that one greater than the temple is here.”

Jesus said these words as a part of a response to those who brought accusation against his disciples. It was close to harvest time. Jesus and his disciples were walking through the grain fields on a Sabbath. It was common place to grab a snack from the end rows by rubbing of some chaff and taking a taste of grain. But the issue the Pharisees had was the fact that they were working on the Sabbath.

Jesus brought up the lesson from Samuel of David in the Temple. He and his men were in hiding from Saul. They arrived hungry and tired at the sanctuary in the city of Nob. The High Priest allowed David and his men to eat from the consecrated bread. This was a God-pleasing way to help them considering the circumstances. In this context Jesus offered the Biblical Truth “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” The Pharisees were missing the point about the Sabbath laws, the ceremonies, and the Temple itself. These were all a means to a greater end. The sights and sounds of the Temple were to teach the lessons of the Gospel:

without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness ...” (Hebrews 9: 22)

the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed ...” (Isaiah 53:5).

The Sabbath pointed believers to Jesus. The Lord had in mind the business of teaching Christ to the people of Israel. He, “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” In the Gospel lesson chosen for today, he was making the same point. His Father’s house was not a den of thieves. His Father’s house was not for man’s glory. To make that point, the greater house that would be destroyed and rebuild was not the Temple of Solomon, but the body of Jesus. He was to give his life as a ransom for many and rise to life again. The sights and sounds of the sanctuaries pointed to Christ Jesus, the one greater than all temples.

Today our thanksgiving for God’s blessings to us, in particular blessings this house has given. Isn’t it obvious that any sanctuary carries the same purpose of the Temple in Jerusalem? Every sanctuary should point us to Christ. When we think of the value of this house we think of the Means of Grace. We remember things that tied to the Words and promises of our Savior Jesus. We remember that One greater than the Temple is here. Our thanksgiving for this place is drawn from Christ who paid for sin, gave us his Word and Sacraments, and promises an eternal dwelling with him in heaven.

There is a bitter-sweetness today. We cannot ignore the significance of this place, nor should we. It is good for us to look at the past. Many memories have been made here for a generation of people. We thank our Savior for his promise to be in the midst of who come together in his Name. In his name we gathered to witness baptisms, confirmations, and wedding vows. In his name we proclaimed Salvation through word and song and sacrament. In his name we gathered for resurrection comfort at the loss of loved ones. In his name prayed, confessed, admonished, educated, and encouraged one another. All of it is connected by Christ Jesus who is the point and purpose of our worship in any place.

There is hopeful anticipation today. It is good for us to commend the future to Christ and his certain promises. We shall set our hearts to do the same in every corner of the new building. As Christ, who is greater than the Temple, was at center stage here, he shall be the focus of his new sanctuary. In his name we commit ourselves to let his Name be proclaimed in every corner of this whole place.

Our Thanksgiving today puts Christ on the top and cause of every list. When we remember that our bitter-sweet moment is covered with joy and comfort and thanksgiving. Let the final words of the sermon hymn be the conclusion of the message today:

We come, O Lord, inheritors of those whose work is done

Lord, make us, now contributors to year beyond our own

Let faith’s enkindled faith not fail, Let love’s best gifts increase

Let hope in Christ’s sure word prevail Till earth and time shall cease. (CWsup. 775: 4) Amen.

Christ Preserves the Loud Voice of His Church

Revelation 14: 6-7 (Reformation 2012)

 "Christ Preserves the Loud Voice of His Church "

 

These verses have been selected as a common reading for Reformation Sunday. Many Lutheran confessors have suggested that the angel-messenger mentioned in this prophecy is Martin Luther himself, or at least, the people and events of the Lutheran Reformation of the early 1500 's. No one can really say for sure. What we can say, is that Christ preserves the truth of the Gospel in every age. Reformation is not only a time to raise our Lutheran banners high, celebrating traditions and heritage. The Reformation reflects on the preservation of the Gospel in every age of Church history. Lutherans give thanks the Lord of the Church for all the people and events He used in every history to trumpet the Gospel of Christ with the loud voice of his lasting Church.

That torch has been past to us. The bull horn of the Gospel has been placed into our trembling hands. You also are a part of the  "angel-messenger that flies in mid-air with the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth. " We proclaim the eternal Gospel to our age. Christ ignites our worship of the Lord of heaven and earth.

 

1. To Proclaim His Eternal Gospel to the Earth

The Gospel is Eternal! But it is shared in time and place. The book end of earthly time proclaims and eternal God:  "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. " Before time, God exists. In eternity he thinks, he knows, he plans, he loves  "¦ he exists. In the midst of eternity he began earthly time. He spoke. He started. He sets boundaries for water and land, fish and birds, animals and mankind. From eternity he determined your place in this world. He gave us all life and breath.  "He made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water. "

                      In a relatively short time Adam failed to glorify God and fell into sin. Adam, though created to be perfect forever, became a mortal who would pass the torch of inherited sin and death to the rest of the world. After Adam fell, the loud voice of all mankind is a message of rebellion. I am a son of that fallen world. You inherited that bull horn of rebellion. By nature we can only be an object of God 's wrath for my sin. We are born in sin, and hostile to the God who gave us life.

                      All of us are that way. It only takes a small glance into our lives and into our own hearts, that God was right when he says,  "Every inclination of his heart is sinful from childhood. " God 's creation did not include the filth we see today. God 's world did not include billboards for wickedness or banners of hatred or messages of selfish greed. The earth has fallen into a growing decline. You and I are as much to blame. If we chose to deny it, we only deceive ourselves and make God out to be liar (1 John 1:9). When we do that we fail to confess. We fail to proclaim the truth. We put a muzzle on the voice of God 's Word.

                      God handed Adam a different torch to pass. He gave him the bull horn of his promise of a Savior. He forgave them in the garden. He promised them his Son. He gave the world an eternal Gospel.  "For he chose us in Christ before the creation of the world, to be holy and blameless in his sight. " (Ephesians 1:4). The angel flies to tell Mary that the Holy one to be born of her would save his people from their sins. The angel flies to the shepherds to tell them that this good news shall be for ALL the people. Jesus shouts the eternal Gospel to Nicodemus in the night air:  "God so loved the world that he gave is one and only Son, that whver believes in him should not perish but have eternal life " (John 3:16).

We have received this heritage of God 's unlimited grace. We live to speak of Christ and speak to live for Christ in this age of time. Do you hear it? It is the loud voice of the Church! Do you hear the songs of children ring out: Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world; Red, brown, yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sigh. Jesus loves the little children of the world. Do you hear the voice of confessional pastors speak the good news  "Your sins are forgiven, for the sake and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ? " Do you hear the loud voice when infants are brought to the font for Baptism? Do you hear the loud voice of Gospel when the body and blood of Christ are given for the forgiveness of sins? Do you hear the choirs who sing the Gospel, the teachers who teach the Gospel, and laborers who serve the Gospel 's cause  " do you hear the noise the Church makes from generation to generation "

God 's Word is our great heritage and shall be ours forever

To spread its light from age to age shall be our chief endeavor

Through life it guides our way, In death it is our stay

Lord, grant while worlds endure we keep its teachings pure throughout all generations. (CW 293)

 

2. To Ignite Worship of the Lord of Heaven and Earth

Notice that the angel spoke IN A LOUD VOICE. What is our worship like? Is it historical? Yes. Ds it spark tradition? Yes. Will it constantly seek to  "Sing to the Lord a new song? "Yes. Does it carry the Gospel in music, voice, actions, symbols, colors, banners, and in jars of clay? Yes. Is it FULL THROATED? Is it the best we have to bring to our God? But is so when it is focused on Christ and when it is ignited by the Spirit who leads us to his cross and empty grave!

In order to do that, and do it well, we grow in our faith through the Word. We are warned not to honor with our lips while our hearts are far away. We seek to grow in our understanding of the history of God 's Church, the gifts he has placed before us, the opportunities we have to share it, and our love for our fellow Christians, and the lost. The eternal Gospel ignites our worship of the Lord. The things done and spoken by all who believe, teach, confess and defend the truths of Jesus the Son of God  "¦ those are the things that worship the Lord of heaven and earth.   

John reminds us,  "God has made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water. The final Psalm exclaims: Praise him in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens ... let everything that has life and breathe praise the Lord. "Following the suit of the Psalm, and the history of believers from every age, all of God 's created things are potential instruments for worship. Do you hear the loud voice? Musical notes and keys, strings and voices are tuned for proper praise when they are born of faith in Christ. Parents worship him when they speak of such things with their children. Children are loud voices for Christ, not only when they sing of his grace, but when they are ignited for obedience to his Word.

Do we hear that loud voice in other venues? The pounding of hammers, the blazing saws, the rumbling of trucks moving earth, and the vocations of tradesmen are joyful noises to the God who gave those skills. The colors and symbols of the Church seasons carefully presented in his house are banners of praise. The hallways of our homes lined with images of Christ and laced with sounds of Christian themes and bedtime prayers are his ignited worship. The loud voice of the Church 's worship is ignited whenever the Gospel moves us to use everything that the Creator has provided to speak and live the Gospel of Christ!        

John 's vision had taken him into the future of New Testament Church. The angel 's message is clear. The Gospel cannot and will not be squelched. False teachings cannot overcome it. The Reformation is a reminder that even the darkest of ages could not and did not overcome it. False religions cannot muzzle its clear voice. The wickedness of unbelief cannot mute its everlasting tongue. Christ has promised,  "The gates of Hell cannot overcome it!! " (Matthew 16:18) Christ has won over sin and evil! The victory is His and ours. His servant instructs us to  "Let the Word of Christ dwell richly in us teach and admonish one another with all wisdom and patience and as we sing psalms hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in our hearts to God" (Colossians 3: 16).

Do you hear the loud voice of the Church? Washed in the blood of Christ we proclaim it together. Ignited by his Words of grace we worship him with throats of joy. Today we celebrate the grace of Christ who has preserved the loud, clear voice of his eternal Gospel. His promise is to keep the voice of his church shouting until the hour of judgment has come and he brings us to our eternal rest with him. There  "¦

 

There is the throne of David and there from care released.

The shout of them that triumphed, the song of then that feast;

And they who with their leader have conquered in the fight

Forever and forever are clad in robes of white. (CW 214: 3) Amen.

 

 

Here to Serve

Mark 10: 35-45 (Pentecost 22, 2013)

“Here to Serve”

My grandmother died when I was in my early teens. All of my memories of her are youthful memories. Grandma kept busy. Grandma cooked, cleaned, tended to the guests, fixed, mended, sewed, washed -- I just don’t have a memory of my grandmother sitting down. She had a true servant attitude. She was not here to have others dote upon her. She was glad to be here for the sake of others -- her husband, her children and grandchildren, her friends, her church, her Savior! She lived her life that way. That is how I remember her.

That concept of “Servant” is not only what Jesus is teaching in this lesson today; it is why he came to earth from heaven. It is who he is. He is here to serve. For that same purpose he has placed us into this world. We are, like Christ, here to serve.

1. That is Why Jesus is Came Here

Did you ever notice how comfortable most people were with the word “Rabbi”, which means teacher? We can think of several places where even the Pharisees called him Teacher, or Master, or Rabbi. I don’t recall anyone approaching Jesus with the term “Servant.” That would go against their natural understanding of who he was and why he came. Our natural approach to God is law based. We want someone to tell us what to do, teach what to say, train us how to think. That appeals to our sinful nature. The thought of Jesus teaching us what to be and how to live appeals to the thinking of humanity that there is something I can/ must to learn to get right with God and make it into heaven. Look back to the lesson before. You will find a young rich ruler asking “what must I do to get eternal life.” (Mark 1: 16). In is in the nature of us all.

James and John were only thinking of themselves. They were seeking their own interests. They were focused on how this kingdom would benefit them personally. They had their own personal agenda and had no interest on how that agenda played out for anyone else. They saw discipleship with Jesus as a place for prestige and status. They were looking for recognition and glory in the wrong place.

Stop and check your own heart. Why do you do most of the things you do? To be noticed? To be praised by others? To keep up the false fronts we have all created? It is sad to think how very real this indignant fight is. It is sad to think how true to life our humanity affects our relationship with each other. How often we tend to be more like James and John with our own agendas! How often we bring our selfishness to the table of kingdom work and think nothing of the needs or goals of anyone else! How bold and brass we are to bully our own agendas around and think nothing of the hurt or pain it would cause our own brothers and sisters in Christ. How quickly we become indignant like the other 10, as well. When we see our selfishness in the words and actions of others we rashly say, “How dare you care more about yourself than you care about me!”

We need Jesus to be more than a Teacher of the Law. We need him to be a Servant of the Gospel. As much as we need Jesus to teach us the truth about what he expects of us, we even more need him to be a Servant for us. We need him to fulfill the law of love and faithfulness. We need him to please God and take God’s wrath over our guilt upon his own shoulders. We need Jesus give his life, as the Ransom in our place.

And that is what he came to be. “The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Look in this lesson and to the next and we see Jesus turn the rich young rulers question around: “What do you want me to do for you?” The kingdom of heaven is first what Jesus does for us, before it is what we might do for him. Jesus is here to serve you in so many ways.

That is the picture of the upper room. There he washed their feet. There he served up wine and bread. There he prayed on their behalf. There he watched and warned Judas. There he watched and warned Peter. There he prepared for his sacrificial death the next day. On his hands and feet, washing their feet, he showed himself to be the true Servant. The next day those serving hands and feet were nailed to a cross as the payment for our selfish desires. Jesus came to do for us what needed to be done for us: remove our sin through the payment for sin.

2. That is Why Jesus Put us Here

It is also in that upper room where he says, “Now that I have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14). Servant life is what he teaches these wayward brothers. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”

Christ, the Servant, makes servants out of us. Can you imagine the indignant 10 discussing the request of the other two? I think we can identify with the entire situation. What did these two do differently, or better, to even deserve the request of being at the right and left of Jesus in the kingdom? It shows their misunderstanding of the kingdom. It shows their sinful pride. It shows their natural human desire to look better than everyone else. And that is not servant attitude. They had all begun to think and act like the world and the tension grew among the group.

But Christ says, “Not so with you.” He has made us something different from the power hungry ways of the world. He has made us hungry for grace. He has made us thirsty for the cup of suffering he drinks. He has served us with the ransomed sacrifice he made for the many. He has served us in Baptism and at his Holy Supper with food of forgiveness. He has served us with a new way of life, living by faith, rather than by sight. He has served us with a new attitude about life and each other. He has created us in himself to be servants. The Son of Man came to serve us. The servant heart of the Son of Man refashions us to be servants of others.

Husbands, love your wives. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. Children, obey your parents in the Lord. Offer your bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord in view of God’s mercy. Fellow brothers and sisters of our congregation, lead, follow, volunteer, seek the needs and good of others, swallow prideful desires for your own recognition, and serve as you have been served by the Son of Man. Christ’s servant attitude is not only our example for life, he is the reason and motive behind why we live like him and not like the world.

What a true joy it is in the Church when people replace selfishness with humility! What a joy it is to see people thinking of other before they think of their own needs! What great things happen when we approach each other in the Spirit of Christ’s own phrase “Not here to be served, but to serve.” What powerful changes take place when we are all interested in being Christ-like servants, rather than being the greatest! What unity and joy there is when we are more interested in lifting others up than thumping our own chests. What a good thing when we all realize that we are here for the sake of others, rather than ourselves.

It all comes back to Christ saying, “I have come to serve you. Now you are here to serve each other.” His service is one of self sacrifice. Go back to the upper room on Maundy Thursday. See his serving hands and bended knee. Go to the mountain of the cross. See his serving sacrifice for you. See the life given as a ransom for many. His service takes away our sin. We, in turn, can sacrifice ourselves for each other in true, humble, joyful service. In the view of God’s grace in Christ, we all can say, “Here to Serve!”