"John Was a Good Pointer"

John 1: 6-9; 19-28 (Advent 3 - 2017)

“John Was a Good Pointer”

“She is great pointer!” There are breeds of dogs who just have it in there blood. A good pheasant dog is very valuable to the hunt. The dogs have a keen sense of smell for where the birds are hiding. On a cold day those elusive birds will sit tightly in the smallest of cover. Hunters will send their dogs out ahead of them, scanning the fields, sniffing down fresh tracks, following that distinct smell. And then it happens. The dog stops. She waits. She points, exactly at the very spot that bird is hunkered down.

His House Is for All People

Isaiah 56: 1, 6-8 (Pentecost 11 -2017)

His House is For All People

Listen in on Solomon’s sermon prayer upon the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem: As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— 42 for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel and may know that this house I have built bears your Name” (1 Kings 8).

Outreach was very much on the heart of the Lord, and very much on Solomon’s heart, upon the completion of His Temple. The primary function of the impressive structure was to gather his people to his Name. But the LORD still has the guest in his heart. Generations later he again makes that clear through Isaiah in the lesson today. “These I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer.” This is true: God’s House is for All People.

Jesus Is the Son of God Our Savior

Matthew 14: 22-33 (Pentecost 10, 2017)

“Jesus is the Son of God our Savior”

The work of ministry and personal life pulls had been a full plate for our Teacher. There had been crowds of people following him everywhere. He had been rejected by his own boyhood town of Nazareth. He learned of the imprisonment of his cousin, John the Baptizer. John was eventually murdered (lost his head) by Herod for standing up for the Truth. The Lord’s earthly family was seeking his time and attention; in one case interrupting Bible Class. Still, Jesus delivered dozens of lessons, sermons, parables and miracles over the hillsides & villages of northern Galilee.

Your God Is Everything

Matthew 28: 16-20 (Holy Trinity Sunday – 2017)

“Your God is Everything”

            You have nothing without Him. You would not exist if not for Him. You earn nothing; you love nothing; you know nothing; you are nothing without Him. You deserve nothingness – worse! - you deserve eternal despair and torment without Him. Your Holy Triune God is everything! Father, Son and Holy Spirit - your God is gracious. He is generous. He is eternally dynamic in making, giving, providing, teaching, protecting and eternally rescuing you.

The Father of grace loves you with an eternal plan. The Servant Son, Jesus, sacrificed all to pay the priceless tag. The faith-giving Spirit lives in your heart to latch on with a firm grip what God gives. And what does this Triune God give? Everything! Everything you need; everything you need to have; everything you need to know; everything for this life and the next! Your God is everything!

    

Jesus Prays for the Best Gifts

John 17: 1-11 (Easter 7 - 2017)

“Jesus Prays For the Best Gifts”

            The words before us today have been called “Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer.” In this prayer Jesus is speaking to the Father on behalf of all believers. In this prayer he is praying for his now 11 apostles; he is advocating for those who would hear and believe the message of truth; and he is praying for you. That is right. Jesus is praying for you. These are the final words of Jesus in the upper room the night before he died. When his prayer is finished he ushered his friends out to the Garden of Gethsemane – for more prayers.

Taste the Word of the Lord

Jeremiah 15: 15-21 (Pentecost 13 – 2017)

“Taste The Word of the LORD”

His fishing crew caught their limit before breakfast. Before the catch of the day could be even cleaned, his fishing Guide had already prepared fish breakfast on beachside coals. The crew sat down to eat. After the meal, the Guide asked the fisherman: “Simon, son of John, do you truly love more than these?” Simon (Peter) replied: “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” That conversation repeated. By the third round Peter insisted: “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.” With each exchange Jesus chimed the theme of Christian ministry: “Feed my lambs … Take care of my sheep … Feed my sheep.” The risen Lord Jesus had restored the relationship with his student and friend. Peter’s denial of his Lord was erased by the voice of our forgiving Shepherd. With the taste of fish breakfast in his mouth Peter was beginning again to taste something far better: The LORD knows me. The Lord Loves Me. The Lord forgives me! He commissions me to feed his lambs that same recipe.

You Are Living Stones

1 Peter 2: 4, 9 (Easter 5 -2017)

                       

“You yourselves, like living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ … You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2: 4, 9)

“You are Living Stones”

You really are His people. You really have been built into a spiritual family, a holy calling of saints. You are God’s own possession for eternally good reasons. You are able and allowed to handle holy things!

We have been celebrating the Resurrection for five Sundays now. The scent breakfast and lilies has long faded, however. The attendance has diminished to the faithful few. Days off from school and work for family have ended. It is back to the grindstone of labor, education, spring chores, and the myriad of obligatory dates on the May calendars.

You really still are His people. You really are part of a spiritual family, a holy calling of saints. You are still God’s own possession for eternally good reasons. You are able and allowed to handle holy things!

It does not always feel that way, does it? It certainly did not always seem that way for the beat down churches of early Christianity. The Spirit moved Peter, at least twice, to circulate letters of strong encouragement to those early Christians. Those letters are saturated with the news that a crucified Jesus rose from the grave. He lives and loves to bless his people. Those letters are saturated with messages for his Living Stones to shine through the gloom of earthly things with the Light of Jesus!  

You, like living stones - are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession … offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Fashioned By Christ

Peter speaks of a spiritual building of stones. He speaks of the one true Stone, Christ Jesus, as the Founding Stone that sets the tone for the rest of the spiritual house of God. “See I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” People that teach and learn of Christ as the Son of God, have the cornerstone for living for him and like him.

Peter was calling the people to the holy life that God expects of all of us. In the first chapter he had said, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.”

Be holy!?!? Us!? Me?! We are completely the opposite of holiness. We are shamefully, and regretfully, sinful. Peter speaks about ridding ourselves of “malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind” (2:1). These are sinful attitudes that live and breathe in my heart and yours. Without Christ as the chief cornerstone, it is impossible for us to set the tone for Christian unity and life. Pride, jealousy and false fronts can rise up even among well intended Christian people. Then there is the attitude of false humility. “I am not good enough, send someone else” was just the tone of a Moses who found a devilish excuse for doing nothing!

But, WE don’t set the founding stone. The true foundation and tone-setter is Christ Jesus. Like the founding stone in a building, Christ is the foundation of the Christian Church. In him sinful attitudes are removed. In him true perfection is accomplished. Peter writes later on in the letter, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (2:24).

Peter says, “To those of you who believe in him he is a precious stone.” Jesus is the precious stone. He is more valuable than any earthly price could measure. His life blood sacrifice means our salvation has been made complete.We cherish life with him through his Rising from death. He is precious because he is living. The crucified Lord, who gave life as an offering, rose to victory over death on Easter morning. He is the Living Stone, and because “he lives, you also will live.” (John 14:19)

Living For Christ

Living Stones “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” And they are pleasing to him. God has called us from sin and unbelief to be a part of Christ through faith. The Spirit gives faith through Water and the Word. The Spirit and faith is the binding mortar that unites you to Christ and each other. The fruits of our faith reflect who Christ is. And though we may all be individual stones together we all reflect the face of Christ Jesus and therefore live in conformity to his words of life and truth and love.

That is why Peter says, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (12). Our Savior said the same thing: “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). Patterned after Christ the true living stone, our new face shines in this dark world. God has built us in to a living house of his kingdom. It is a kingdom of grace and forgiveness. It is a kingdom of love and joy. It is a kingdom of fellowship and Christian service toward others.

You really still are His people. You really are part of a spiritual family, a holy calling of saints. You are still God’s own possession for eternally good reasons. You are able and allowed to handle holy things!

What does that look like? Think of the many times the Bible speaks of one body with many parts; one Chief Cornerstone with many stones built upon it. No one stone is alike, yet all are bound to Christ and each other. What moves Isaiah to shout out “Woe to me, I am ruined?” Certainly it was the reality of his own sins in the sight of God’s holiness. What caused the same Isaiah moments later to shout “Here Am I, send me!” Certainly the angelic news from God’s altar: “See this has touched your lips and your sin is atones for!” (Isaiah 6: 1-7)

You really still are His people. You really are part of a spiritual family, a holy calling of saints. You are still God’s own possession for eternally good reasons. You are able and allowed to handle holy things!

What does that look like? Living stones living for Christ:

  • Moms & dads; husbands & wives; children asking for forgiveness, and retuning the same in Christ.
  • Beat down or not, families with open Bibles and constant prayers whether others are watching or not.
  • Living Stones living out their careers with integrity and joy in the face of those who choose not to.
  • Beat down or not, church leaders leading with courage and joy in the face of those who will not.
  • Persecuted or not, children and young adults who aspire to live Christ-like among those who will not.
  • Putting the small ones down for a nap with a song; digging a hole that needs to be dug; finding a good way to rest body and soul; avoiding temptations … when others are looking or not.
  • Finishing something well - anything well - even finishing life itself well by faith in our Risen Christ!

These are all holy things to God when they are done by faith in Christ! You really still are His people. You really are part of a spiritual family, a holy calling of saints. You are still God’s own possession for eternally good reasons. In Christ you are able and allowed to handle holy things!

As elegant, useful, different & beautiful the stones of this very sanctuary are - they pale in comparison to Living Stones Living as Christ’s holy people. The conversations, the ministry, the fellowship, the deeds of love for the sake of the Gospel, and the joy of knowing life in heaven is our true joy - are all “offerings of spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Amen.    

Know the Cast of Good Shepherd Sunday

John 10: 1-17 (Good Shepherd 2017)

“Know the Cast of Good Shepherd Sunday”

               Do you read the whole playbill before a performance? Do you enjoying knowing the cast of characters, the bio’s of the actors, the bigger picture? Today Jesus casts a light on a cast of characters that we must know. This is not a play. This is not pretend. This is for keeps. These are characters in the matters of life and death!

                I want you to get to know the cast of characters of Good Shepherd Sunday. You know them better than you suppose. You see them every day … as Jesus, your Shepherd, leads you out “like sheep among wolves” (Matthew 10:16). But do not drift away from the voice of that same Jesus who says “fear not, I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

Strangers & Hired Hands Run Away

                There are many voices calling us away from the safety of the Shepherd. The tricky part is that they appear to be helpful. They appear friendly. They appear to be on our side … at first. They have your best interest in mind. They offer happiness and good things. They have a veneer of actually caring about you. They show affection and offer acceptance when no one else seems to. A lonesome, lost sheep is low-hanging fruit for strangers and hired hands.

                The watered-down theology of world seems so inviting, but in the end it is poison and filth. Wealth, power, recognition, prestige are invitations to hungry sheep longing to be filled. Self-help, popularity, substance abuse, being in with a crowd (even if it’s a bad one) seems like a welcoming pasture for lonely sheep. Lonely or depressed we readily run for those dried-up fields. When we reach those dangers places the world pulls the wool from our eyes and runs away.

When there, the strangers and hired hands pretend they never led us there. They have us looking for more of the same. When things get really, really bad the strangers and hired hands are nowhere to be found, especially when the Wolf comes lurking. The characters of this world have been his minions all the while. They wanted your company in their misery and turned out to be nothing but characters of betrayal. Even they are afraid of the Wolf!

Even then the Shepherd is actively searching and calling. Do you hear His Voice in the distance?

“Fear not, I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

 

There Is a Wolf & Thief Who Kills

But make no mistake … there is a Wolf who comes to kill. There is a Thief who wants to rob you of all that Christ has given to you. There is a Devil. “He prowls around like a roaring Lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8). The strangers and hired hands know who he is. He has come for them already. Their true “fair-weather” colors will be revealed. Even they fear the presence of the Wolf that sent them to do his dirty work for him.

We do well to know there is a Devil. We do well to “be self controlled and alert.” It was the job of others to dull our minds to the fact. He loves it when sheep don’t think there is danger. He especially loves it when the sheep stop thinking the HE is their bigger danger! He lavishes the thought that you don’t acknowledge him. But he will attack when he deems it necessary! And it is always a necessity for him. He comes “only to steal and kill and destroy.” He comes and “attacks the flock and scatters it.”

When we get to the dangerous places by following voices we did not trust. But at least they were voices! From a distance bad theology looks good (the Thief of truth knew that trick in the garden already). From a distance the shores of worldly affection seemed so inviting (“pleasing to the eye” was the other trick the Wolf knew, too). All those pastures of prestige, wealth, lust, power, drug, and half-truths turned out to be rocky dangerous deserts on the way that leads to our eternal destruction.

 

Even then the Shepherd is actively searching and calling. Do you hear His Voice in the distance?

“Fear not, I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

You are His Sheep

A scattered flock means scattered sheep. Scattered sheep mean sheep “without a shepherd.” So many characters! So many invitations! So many pastures from which to choose! Scattered sheep know that they have needs. They just are not very good at finding those needs met on their own. Sheep who from the fold did stray, have we stopped to remember that we are prone to be our biggest harm?

Our sinful state is far too foolish. The Thief is far too clever. The Wolf hides in his sheep-skin long enough for us to create our own temptations and our own solutions for finding a way out. It is not good for the flock to be scattered. It is not good for sheep to wander off alone away from the voice of the True Shepherd. A scattered flock means scattered foolish sheep. Scattered sheep mean “sheep without a shepherd.”

Still you are one of His sheep: “Fear not, I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). How? I lay down my life for them, only to take it back up again,” Jesus the True Shepherd says. Redemption comes from the sacrifice of the Lamb who is our Shepherd. He gives us eternal food in his true words. His springs of living water are forever etched in the pages of the certain things we know he says and promises. In those pages, from that voice we learn of the true intentions our Good Shepherd. My sheep hear my voice and I know them.”

Jesus Has Other Sheep

                Your Good Shepherd wants you to know that there are more sheep to be gathered. “I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice. The there will be one flock and one Shepherd.” Does it enter our minds that the Shepherd who “leads us out like sheep among wolves” has sent us not to be lost and killed again, but to gather those who remain lost? He sends us back into the dangerous places where he found us … where the wolf lies in wait.

Learn from the hired-hands how not to be one yourself. Jesus desires that we share his concern for the scattered ones. The gathered sheep are also called to shoulder the lost back to the Shepherd’s voice. The gathered sheep are led out of the fold each day to bring back the ones who have run away. Sheep who know the Shepherd’s voice know to beckon those who don’t. As clearly as we hear the Shepherd’s voice do we hear the bleating of the lost ones?

Jesus is not just thinking of evangelism. Gathered sheep care about the safety of all sheep. Are we looking out for one another? Are we using the words of the Shepherd to be our “brother’s keeper”? Are we willing to face the dangerous places and things to help shepherd our fellow sheep back to the safety of the fold? The Shepherd loves more! The Shepherd has a staff that kills and carries. The Shepherd calls: “Fear not, I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

Know the Shepherd; Know the Way

There is the old adage: “It takes one to know one.” So Paul speaks: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5: 20).

                The Shepherd literally took on our skin and bones. He became one with the sheep by becoming the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1: 29). This Lamb felt the blows we feel, but worse … much worse. This Lamb was led to slaughter and kept his mouth shut long enough spill his blood on the final altar for sin. This Lamb died so that no sheep was to be lost. He robbed the Thief of his loot. He killed the Wolf and left him bleeding in Hell. He gathers His sheep to his Father’s fold. He lives! He took up his life so that he could say loudly: “No one can snatch them out of my hand!” I want … I need … a Shepherd like that! We all do! And we all have Christ Jesus as our true Shepherd! He is the one who gives true and everlasting life to his Sheep. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life and we go to the father through Christ (John 14: 6). The leading cast member is always the Good Shepherd Jesus.

Sheep who from the fold did stray are not by Are not by the Lord forsaken;

Weary souls who lost their way Are by Christ, the Shepherd, taken

In his arms that they may live – Jesus sinners does receive. (CW 304: 3)

Easter Gives Us Living Hope!

1 Peter 1: 3-9 (Easter Day 2017)

"Easter Gives us Living Hope!"

            Three days ago we witnessed a death. We heard the testimony of those who were there. We learned that trained soldiers saw the mix of blood and water, evidence that rigor mortis was setting in. We read that Joseph and Nicodemus had lovingly, secretly placed the dead body of their Teacher and Lord in a tomb. Jesus of Nazareth was dead.

            The gals on Sunday expected to find him that way. They set out to complete the embalming process. They wondered about a heavy stone. Emotions lurked of viewing the lifeless clay of their Teacher and friend. What a hopeless Saturday it must have been for them. But angelic witnesses of Sunday morning speak of life, and hope. Jesus of Nazareth, dead and buried, is now Jesus, the Son of God who lives!

The apostle Peter wraps up Easter so beautifully. These are his words of introduction to his first letter to a hurting Church. The hopes of early Christians were being dashed on the treacherous rocks of the devil’s bad theology; by terrorist acts against those who confessed Jesus as Lord; by the breakdown of family life and failing economy. Peter gives living hope founded on the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

Hope in Living Jesus

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish spoil or fade, kept in heaven for you.

That tomb held not only a dead body, but also our shame. If Jesus has not been raised, we believe in nothing. We have no real hope. If we believe in nothing but a dead Jesus, then our sins did not stay dead. All greedy thoughts and deceitful schemes awaken if Christ stays dead. We are still condemned to die eternally. If Jesus is still dead the devil stands ready to pile up a mountain of accusations against us. If he is still dead, we are still objects of God’s wrath … a certain eternal death results.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. A living Jesus is a trustworthy Jesus. Christ is who claimed to be. Peter calls him the Son of our God and Father. The Lord Jesus has given us an entire book full of words and promises. Because of the Resurrection all of it is validated. Easter morning means that you can count on everything that Jesus teaches for this life and for eternity.

Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. Our greatest need is provided. He has been raised to life for our justification. Because he is alive, God assures us that our sins have been paid for in full and we are redeemed. Because he is alive our sinful nature remains in the tomb. His resurrection is the very power of his Word and Sacraments to forgive sins.

Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. He truly is the Son of God. His resurrection secures that fact. Everything he does in our lives, no matter what, has eternal purposes and meaning. That certainty makes our hope a living hope now, even in the lost difficult days, and a living hope for priceless inheritance.

Hope in Trials

“Through faith [you] are now shielded by God’s power … In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proven genuine.”

If Christ has not been raised, then the bad things that happen to people make no sense. There are plenty of stones on which to dash our hopes. This life of sin and corruption is certainly not the inheritance that Jesus has promised. Peter does not speak of hypothetical trials. He speaks of the sufferings the early church was already experiencing. Christians were being imprisoned and killed for their faith in Jesus. Congregations were huddling in closed corridors in the face of extreme poverty and broken homes. The gals on the way to the tomb asked “who will roll the stone away.” The early Christians asked “who will take these fiery trials away!?

Peter’s letter of a living hope was a must! The Resurrection of Jesus is the only thing that gives such hope. Your trials are not hypothetical either. You can very capably list them one by one. The devil would love to collapse your hope and collapse your faith by keeping Jesus dead in your hearts. Easter makes our faith alive and genuine. His Resurrection validates the fact that we are loved by God even in times of struggle and grief.

In the struggles of temptation, God is shaping your shield of faith in the refinery. In the sharp pain of persecuting peers, God is sharpening the sword of your confession. In the grief of temporal losses God is clarifying your trust in his eternal blessings. In the grief of death God is shaping your view of life. The waters will not sweep over your head. The fires will not singe you (Isaiah 43:3). Like gold made better in a molting fires, the Lord validates your trust in a living Jesus and your belief heavenly things! Then …

Hope for Eternity!

Though you have not seen him, you love him and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

If Jesus has not been raised, then no one will be raised on the last day. If Jesus has not been raised, then there is no such thing as eternal life. If the message of Easter is not true, then the atheists would be right to believe in nothing; the soldiers would not have taken money for lies; there would be no comfort in hospice rooms; there would be no comfort at grave sides. There would only be a clutching on to what “good” things we can find here … and then pity when those things don’t work out so well after all.

Peter reminds us that our hope is not only that we will get to go to heaven one day. That is indeed great news enough for rejoicing! Our unseen hope for eternity fills us now. Our inexpressible joy is now! We have no need of idols in temporal things. The power of forgiveness cheers our conscience in this life. The peace of Jesus and his words quiet our troubled hearts here. His Church, though pressed through trials, experiences the hands of his many blessings now. Our eternal hope causes an inexpressible and glorious joy in believers that the world cannot see or perceive.

Still, only in heaven will that joy be made complete. Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. Because a man brought death, God saw fit for a man, the second Adam, to bring life. This is the power of Baptism to give you a living hope. This is the Lord’s Supper to promise life everlasting. This is the power of Christ to promise a resurrection of your body from the grave and into the inheritance can never perish, spoil or fade.

Our living hope assures us that our treasures in heaven will be new and fresh for all eternity. Life with Christ will not curd up like milk left on a counter. The things of heaven won’t rust out like the bottoms of our cars. Pleasures in heaven won’t fade away like last year’s T-shirts. Behold he is making all things new; alive! Rejoice this Easter day! He is arisen, indeed. Your Jesus is the trust worthy Son of God who took away the sin of the world; who gives living hope: hope in this world, and hope for the world to come!

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish spoil or fade, kept in heaven for you, who through faith are now shielded by God’s power until the coming of salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proven genuine and result in praise glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Though you have not seen him, you love him and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Amen! And Alleluia!

God's Gift Is Eternal Life

John 3: 1-16 (Lent Two – 2017)

“God’s Gift is Eternal Life”

According to John in the previous verses, many had begun to take notice of miracles and sermons of Jesus. Many were asking questions and debating. Jesus did not put a lot of weight on their curious nature, however. “He knew himself what was in a man.” (2:24). Nicodemus was a bit different. He had genuine spiritual questions that required truthful answers. He arranged a secret meeting with the one man who had all the answers. He just had to meet with this Jesus of Nazareth. This secret night visit with Jesus was the beginning of his life of saving faith in the one who brings life.

            Nicodemus was not only a Pharisee, but a member of the ruling council, known as the Sanhedrin. He was familiar with the Old Testament. He knew enough to be dangerous. He did not, however, know enough to be comforted. Was this Pharisee having a change of heart? Was he dealing with a burdened conscience? Was he thinking about death; his own or someone close to him? Was he tired of the pressure from his peers to dismiss everything about Jesus?

The Spirit Gives Life Through Water and the Word

Jesus’ first response to his comments seems a bit out of left field. Nicodemus had asked him about being from God because of the miraculous signs. Jesus says: “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of heaven … unless a man is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God ... flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” You and I can readily see that Jesus was speaking about the Holy Spirit and of Baptism. His cousin John had already begun a ministry in public that included repentance, the Words of the Spirit, Jesus, and Baptism.Jesus himself was baptized by John.

But Nicodemus did not so readily grasp that concept. As Jesus, explained, the man who was “Israel’s teacher” was not grasping the Spiritual things of the kingdom of God. Nicodemus betrayed his own ignorance by talking about the ridiculous. He wondered how a grown man might climb back into his mother’s womb in order to experience a second birth. Even when pressed a little further he is forced to simply say: “How can these things be?”

Nicodemus, along with all mankind, needed a lesson on the nature mankind and sin. Sinful human beings give birth to more sinful human beings. The ultimate result is that human beings are born with the certainty of mortality. “The wages of sin is death.” Job observed this so well: “Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one. If a man dies shall he live again?” (Job 14: 1, 3, 14). Job was clear. Nicodemus remained confused.

Jesus was not talking about a second physical birth. He was speaking about the Spirit’s gift of spiritual life; faith in Jesus. John, who continued to witness to Jesus as Savior, made this point: “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given to him from heaven” (John 3: 27). This world of souls is completely dependent on the Giver of all things. Breathe, heartbeats, food, drink, health, possessions; none of these we receive with the Lord giving them. But the best things the Spirit gives are spiritual: faith, forgiveness, real truth, and eternal life. These are life eternal things that the Spirit gives through Baptism.

Paul wrote to Pastor Titus: “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs of having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3: 4-6).

Flesh gives birth to flesh and the result is sin and death. The Spirit gives birth to a spirit of faith and the result is new life in Christ and eternal life with Christ. That is true because the Baptism that the Spirit gives, also gives us the work that Jesus did for us.

The Father Gives Life Through His Son

Jesus taught Nicodemus by sharing a familiar Old Testament story. He would have likely known about the deadly snakes that the LORD sent on rebellious Israel in the wilderness. The point of the story clearly points to the cross of Christ. In order to call his people to repentance the LORD caused these snakes which brought death. But Moses was instructed to lift up a bronze snake on a pole. The LORD promised that all who looked in faith would live. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that this lesson was meant to teach about the Son of man who would be lifted up on Good Friday.

He was lifted up by men who hated him, hated his truths, and feared his light. Jesus reminded Nicodemus later in this conversation that the world that God’s Son entered was a world filled with darkness “Because their deeds were evil.” As the Psalms remind us “They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one!” (Psalm 14: 3). That world, and many in Nicodemus’s life, rejected Jesus as Lord.

You and I are included in this dark picture of wickedness. Our deeds were evil. We are not infected by the venom of deadly snakes. We are infected by the deadly pestilence of sin.

All mankind fell in Adam’s fall One common sin infects us all …

In guilt we draw our infant breath and reap its fruits of woe and death (CW 378: 1a, 2b).

And the other fruit we reap is the guilt over our own daily sins against God and each other. In guilt we draw our morning breath too! We wake to face the barrage of temptations that will surround us. We wake to the reality of yesterday’s failures to avoid anger, jealousy; injuries to the lives of other people. In ignorance we willingly join Nicodemus in the ridiculous. We may not suggest the foolishness of going back to our mother’s womb, but we do embrace the ridiculous, the dangerous, foolishness of going back to sins we have committed before.    

God so loved THIS world!? This is a love that only God is capable of. It is his agape love. It is a love that has affection for the unlovable. It is a love that has no preconceived conditions and contracts. It is a love that gives to those who have nothing and can obtain nothing that they need. It is a love that gives the Holy Spirit. It is a love that gives faith in his Word. It is a love that gives …

His one and only Son.” This is a Son that is unique (monogenes). It is not just his only Son; there is only one like Him. He is the only one who came from heaven, from the Father, full of grace and truth. He is the only one begotten of the Father from all eternity. He is the one who has all the perfect answers for Nicodemus. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. No other man is pure from sin and free from guilt. No other man can truly bear the sins of the entire world on his bloody shoulders. No other Son could give his life as a ransom for many; for all! Jesus did that. God gives eternal life through his Son. No one who believes in HIM will perish by have eternal life!

            We hear of Nicodemus again at the end of Good Friday. Nicodemus and Joseph gave Jesus a private burial after his crucifixion on Good Friday. That night was another night of secrecy, but an act of faith in the Son of God. The Son who gave up his life was placed in a tomb carved out for someone else; for you. Easter Day he escapes that tomb for you. The Spirit gave you life through Baptism. The Father gives you life through his Son. The Son gave his life for you only to rise again. His resurrection means life for you. Amen.

Jesus Teaches Our Hearts

Matthew 5: 21 – 37 (Epiphany 6 – 2017)

“Jesus Teaches our Hearts”

Do you recall the wealthy young man who asked Jesus, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to be saved?” (Matthew 19: 16). He figured getting into heaven depended on his doing. Jesus took him to the Ten Commandments and asked him if he knew what they said. After a brief review of the Law, the man said with great confidence: “These all I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus helped him to understand that he blew it on the very first commandment: You shall have no other gods. Jesus encouraged him to sell all his earthly things, give it to the poor, and follow Him to the treasures in heaven. “His face fell and he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Mark 10: 20 – 22).

The young man was not alone. The people of Jesus’ time were saturated with the Pharisaical “good works” plan to get to heaven. Jesus knew it. In his big sermon, Jesus set out to undo that way of thinking. A closer look at the sermon and you will notice that Jesus is expounding on the Ten Commandments. He uses their meaning to convict our souls of the serious nature of our true guilt before God. No one could ever have kept these laws perfectly. “Whoever stumbles at one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).  

In the three segments of the sermon today Jesus deals with three commands (5, 6, and 8). Now that you are all scratching your catechism memories, they are very clearly these: Do not murder; Do not commit adultery; Do not give false testimony. Jesus teaches that God is not only interested in the letter of the law, but that his Law speaks to all of our thoughts, words and deeds. The law teaches and convicts our hearts.

The Heart Learns the 5th Commandment

            “Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”  

I trust that all of you in the pews today can say with confidence that you have not been convicted and incarcerated for any act of murder. But I will say with confidence that none of us have made it through our lives without an angry thought, a hateful word, or even the temptation to carry out physical harm. Did you ever call people bad names? Have you kept a grudge in the selfish harbors of a hateful heart? Have you come to God’s house today to worship, yet with a heavy heart, wrestling an unsettle matter between you another human being? Yes, we have failed the law already in our hearts.

The Heart Learns the 6th Commandment

Whoever looks at woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery in his heart.”           

I pray that many of you can safely say you never physically cheated on your spouse. But if your eyes have wandered, Jesus places the severity of that sin on the same level. Have we all treated our spouses with completely unselfish, devoted love? Would you be ashamed if your private thoughts and desires were to be posted on social media for all to read? Would you all be proud of your on-line search history? We are all tempted to take false comfort in the thought that our “secret sins” (Psalm 90: 8) are not as bad as the open wickedness of others? They are not hidden from God. Yes, we have failed the law in our hearts.

The Heart Learns the 8th Commandment

            “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything else comes from evil.”      

I trust that none of you have been “sent to the slammer” by a judge who caught you in contempt for perjury in a court of law. I would hope that all of us strive to be honest people in our daily walks with God and fellow human beings. But all of us would be deceitful if we claimed to never have broken a promise. Too many times our “Yes’s and No’s” get clouded in our double talk. In our unending search to avoid conflict and have everyone like us, we simply have trouble with “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. We were born with a natural desire to fog the truth for our own purposes. If you don’t believe me think back to childhood, or watch children now when confronted by parents, teachers, and other adults who ask them for the truth. None of us have kept a pure tongue. Yes, we have failed the law in our thoughts, words and deeds.

Much of the Sermon on the Mount is Law; an honest reviewing of the Ten Commandments in our hearts. It is a laundry list of guilty verdicts against all of our sins. “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). Our hearts have been convicted today on several accounts. We have all forfeited our chances of being saved by keeping the law.

Jesus fulfills the whole law in our place

Fortunately this is not the entire sermon Jesus gave. It is very useful to highlight one of the most significant passages of the Sermon on the Mount. It appears a few verses before our lessons for today: Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill themnot the smallest letter or the least stroke of the pen will disappear from them until they are accomplished” Matthew 5:18).

Over time and study, I have placed this verse as an important heading to the entire sermon that appears through 3 chapters of Matthew. This heading sticks out as though a yellow highlighter ran over it. Jesus knew he was going to impress the meaning of the Law on the hearts of his hearers. His heading makes this point: This is not only what the law demands from you; this is also what my Father demanded of me. This is the good that Jesus has come to do for you. This is what Jesus has fulfilled without mistake. These are the expectations that no human being, except Christ Jesus as the perfect Son of God, could accomplish.

Read with fine-toothed comb the stories of the Gospel lessons in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. You will search in vain for a place where he committed a sin. You will not find a record of something that could convict him of a sin against God and the Commandments. You will never be told of a hateful thought , word or action. You will never hear of a lustful desire or a shameful treating of the women who crossed his path. You will not find him promoting deceit and lies, or giving false witnesses about anyone or anything.

The last 36 hours before his death demonstrates that so clearly. “Like a lamb lead before her shearers, so he did not open his mouth.” When he met with his closest friends the night before, he had their best interests in mind above his own. He was thinking of their spiritual good. He was thinking of their physical safety. He was thinking of their need for him to do what he was about to do as he offered them forgiveness in the very first Communion Table of his body and blood. Upon his arrest he showed integrity and obedience. In his trials, all of them unlawful and filled with false testimony, he either held his tongue or spoke in absolute truth. Even Pilate during his final trial said: “I find no basis for a charge against him” (John 18:38).

Finally, His last few words from the cross demonstrated a careful concern for friends, family and even his enemies. And when he gave his last breathe on the cross, he offered his perfect life to his Father as full payment for every sin of thought, word and deed, committed by every human being to walk the earth. That includes you and me. The Father secured that truth. On Easter morning it was confirmed that Jesus gave a perfect sacrifice on the cross. Only the sinless Son of God could obey “the smallest letter and every stroke of the law’s pen”! (5:18).

Fast forward to the end of His great sermon: “whoever hears these words of mine and puts them into practice, is like the wise man who built his house on the rock” (7: 24). Jesus has purified you and made your body his temple. Paul wrote: “therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6: 20). In our hearts - filled with His words of grace - our thoughts, words, and deeds are ones that honor Christ. In Christ we replace hatred with love; anger with forgiveness. In Christ, spouses have unique opportunities show faithful love and the purest of intimacies. In Christ, all of his children are moved to hearts, voices, and actions that treat the opposite gender with dignity and respect. In Christ, our tongues are tamed and sharpened for words of praise, encouragement, truth, and things that lead others to see and hear the love of Jesus.

God be praised that his “Yes’s” and “No’s” are absolutely clear and certain. His boundary lines are not guessing games, moving targets, or debatable options or opinions. His promises are kept; His expectations are carried out; His truths are made certain in the words and life and love of Jesus. Our forgiveness is a “Yes” with Him. Our eternal life does not rely on us but on Him. Our salvation is made secure because of his perfect obedience to the law and his divine offering of love on Calvary. The Lord has taught our hearts. His law speaks conviction that we will not rely on ourselves. His grace speaks his purity into our hearts of faith. Amen.

Seek the Lord with Humility

Zephaniah 2: 3; 3: 11-13 (Epiphany 4 – 2017)

“Seek the Lord with Humility”

Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger.

I would like to share a brief story about a young man who became king. It was a long time ago, long before Jesus was born. This young man was crowned when he was 8 years old. (I don’t know what you were doing when you were in third grade. I was glad to have C’s on my report card and not get picked last for a kick ball team at recess.) This young boy was the regal power of the southern kingdom of Judah. He did not know it at the time it, but the Lord’s great Temple in his city of Jerusalem was in need of great repair. More importantly the spiritual wellbeing of the people was in dire need of restoration. His father as king had ignored the Temple and the LORD. Instead, he led the people into ugly, idolatrous ways all throughout the kingdom.

The young boy grew. As he turned 16, spiritual advisors and faithful people had encouraged an extensive renovation of the Temple; carpenters, stone masons, volunteers, the whole thing. (At 16, I was navigating the awkward life of a sophomore boy away from home; how about you?) This young man was renovating Solomon’s Temple! During that renovation, the Book of the Law was found. We know this “Book” as the first five books of the Bible. When one of the workers found the Book he brought it to Hilkiah, the high priest, who brought it to the young king. The young man read the Words of the LORD. He realized how far away the people had been led astray. He tore his robes; the sign of repentance and humility. He remembered from his youth about the Lord’s anger burning against the people and how he was going to carry out destruction of the people and land. “I will remove from the city those who rejoice in their pride.”

His repentance was sincere. Through the high priest, and Huldah the prophetess, the young man inquired of the LORD what will happen to his people. The message from the LORD was that those who had not repented, but continued in the wicked ways, were still going to see destruction and death. The personal message to the young king was this: “Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken to against this place and its people … because you tore your robes and wept in my presence … your eyes will not see the disaster I am going to bring on this place” (2 Kings 22: 19-20).

The king grew spiritually through the reading of Word and gained wisdom from his advisors. While the Levites supervised the completion of the renovation, the young king, along with the priests, went out on a mission. At the age of 26 (I was just learning the ropes of marriage, parenting, and my 2nd year of ministry; how about you?) - he led a Godly surge throughout the land of Judah: tearing down, burning up, destroying, and even putting to death anything and anyone that had to do with his father’s idolatrous ways. When he returned he called for a Feast. This was not just any kind of feast: a Passover as in the Book of the Law. “The Passover had not been observed like this since the days of the prophet Samuel; and none of the kings of Israel had even celebrated such a Passover as did Josiah, with priests, the Levites and all Judah and Israel who were there with the people of Jerusalem.” (2 Chron. 35:18) 2 Kings mentions: “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did.” As Paul Harvey would say: “And now you know the rest of the story.” Yes! It was Josiah, the little boy king of Judah who was crowned at 8 years old.

I tell you that story to take us to Zephaniah. Zephaniah would have been one of the most audible prophets when Josiah was a boy. In other words, Josiah would have had Zephaniah as his first “pastor” and would have grown up with the sermon: “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger.”

Zephaniah was sent by the LORD to tell the people that judgment was coming. It was inevitable. Other prophets, like Jeremiah and Habakkuk, would soon be saying the same thing. Some of this judgment would be carried out on Jerusalem in the time of Josiah. Peruse the first chapter and you will get the gist of this horrific Judgment. Yet, he was also led by the LORD to hold out the mercy of God in all its beauty. God was going to divide between those who would hold on to their idolatry and those who remained faithful. He would rescue those “who do no wrong, who speak no lies.”They will eat and lie down and no one will make them afraid.” No one will make them afraid!

Josiah and all the faithful who listened to the prophets were spared. They sought the LORD in deep humility and repentance. The Lord’s Judgment did come. But the LORD had promised Josiah that he would be spared. Biblical historians believe that the immediate carrying out of this judgment was the surge of violent, horse-mounted Scythians from the north who trampled through Canaan (620 BC/ time of Josiah) running rampant through Judah, the city of Jerusalem, and eventually down to Egypt. Ultimately the LORD was pointing to the Babylonian captivity. For us the Day of the LORD is Judgment Day and the LORD means to turn our pride to humility as that Day draws closer and closer each day.

Pride comes easy to us all. Pride is the very nature of the devil who wanted God’s glory for himself. Pride is at the heart of all sins. Pride damages a healthy atmosphere in our secular lives. Pride damages a healthy spirit in congregational ministry. Pride keeps spouses and children from saying the things they need to say to one another: “I am sorry”; “I was wrong”; “I have sinned against God and you.” Pride can even keep us from forgiving those who do repent.

It seems to be a dying art sometimes. Is it fear of appearing vulnerable or weak? Is it the fear of being found out and “what will they think of me”? Our sinful nature does not trust that confession, humility, repentance over sin is the righteous and good thing to do. Pride ultimately keeps us from taking our sins to God in confession and prayer. Pride forgets that God already know all. Pride also forgets what David remembered in his confession: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise!” (Psalm 51:17).

Josiah had a mediator when he approached God in humility. He sent the high priest. We have a Mediator too. “We have one who speaks to the Father in our defense - Christ Jesus, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2: 1-2). Our Savior embraced humility. Our Savior lived humility. In his humility “he made himself nothing and became obedient to death, even death on cross” (Philippians 2: 6, 8). Jesus removes our fear of confession! It is because of Jesus that we don’t need to be afraid to humble ourselves before God and each other. He is the Righteousness that Zephaniah encourages us to seek. He is the Humble One that brings us true humility. He is the one who assures of God’s mercy. He is the one who answers confession of sins with the forgiveness he earned on Calvary.

           

Zephaniah was sent warn the wicked. His message gave courage to Josiah to confront the wickedness of his day, rather than ignore it. The Word strengthened the repentant hearts of those who joined Josiah in the fight against those things of his day which harmed his people spiritually. LORD, give us courage in our humility as we see that same wickedness rearing its ugly head in our day. LORD, give us wisdom to seek Righteous ways to lift up the humble and suppress the plans of the wicked! LORD, give us time and place speak and fight against the wicked, idolatrous ways of our times; in love for the lost, and in defense of the faithful, and in preparation for the Day of the Lord!

            Toward the close of Zephaniah’s prophecy we see that mercy of God: “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (3: 17) It is also because of the forgiveness in Christ, that we are driven to be humbly gracious with one another. In Christ we are liberated to take our sins to each other. We learn to know that our fellow believers will respond the way he has responded to us. What blessing it is when we humble ourselves, not only before our loving God, but before each other in Christ, and are forgiven!

            In Christ, seek the Lord with humility. In Christ, say what needs to be said, even if it humbles you before others. In Christ, you will find a mercifully, forgiving God and safety in the Day of his Return! Amen.

The LORD'S Servant: Sharpened for Victory

Isaiah 49: 1-6 (Epiphany 3 – January 15, 2017)

“The LORD’s Servant: Sharpened for Victory!”

How should I not have known Isaiah would be there …” (CW 54:3) “Before I was born the Lord called me … he made me like a polished arrow.” Isaiah speaks of Jesus, not himself. Swords and arrows mean war. Before there was a birth in Bethlehem; before there was a speck of created dust ... The Son of God was designed for war against Hell. He was sharpened as a sword for Victory in that war. In Epiphany season we are reminded that this Victory is for entire world of people.

A Sharpened Arrow for War

            Through Isaiah’s pen Jesus speaks: “He made my mouth like a sharpened sword in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me like a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.” Like a burnished sword is placed in a sheath for war, or a freshly sharpened arrow is placed in the hunter’s quiver, God placed the plans and purposes of his Son into the pages of the Old Testament. With each page of the scrolls, this news of Messiah was being revealed. With each picture in the Temple, God was sharpening the image of his Servant. He was imprinting his message on heart of Abraham’s children. Every sacrificial Lamb, every act of the Temple ceremonies, every Word of every prophet clarified the mission of the Servant, Jesus. The LORD polished Jesus for war; for Victory.

Sadly it was Abraham’s children who were the first to miss the point. “He came to his own and his own did not recognize him” (John 1: 11). Rather than being welcomed, he was persecuted. Branded as an enemy, they condemned him to a criminal’s death. Through Isaiah’s pen he says: “I have labored to no purpose, I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.” The Servant’s task would not seem glorious. It was certainly not going to be an easy task. It was dangerous, sacrificial, and brutally fatal. Isaiah himself would lament: “Lord who has believed our message?!” (Isaiah 53:1)

Paul explains: “We declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:7-8). In time, however, God unleashed his Sharpened Arrow!

Sin is an ugly war against God. It fights against our faith each day. The pattern of our godless society, polished by our own selfishness, beckons us to join in the rebellion against God. We get supplied with the swords the world uses: vanity; greed, laziness. We fling the prideful arrows the devil places into our quivers: hatred, manipulation, jealousy. Sin drags us onto battle fields where every soul is at stake: marriage; civic duties; stewardship; core values in work place; visions of ministry for the gospel. The battles we choose to fight on our own we lose each day. Our own solutions bring us more grief.

God declared war on sin. He is Servant is forged by heaven’s burnished gold; a Sharpened Arrow piercing into the heart of the war. We need him too! He sent us Jesus! Jesus pierced the darkness of sin with his Sword of Truth. He spoke the truth. He lived the truth. He taught love. He lived love. He died in love for our sins. He aimed straight into the dungeons of hell. Remember Paul’s list of battle gear in Ephesians: “The shield of faith to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one and the Sword of the Spirit: the Word of God!”

It does not seem glorious. It seemed to be in vain. What good is a bruised, beaten body on a cross? What good is a dead Champion in a cold grave? His battle ended when he gave up his last breath. But the Risen Christ reminds us that the Arrow hit its target! He is proven glorious in majesty because he lives. His sword wiped out Hell’s armies and brought glory to the Throne of heaven. His victory over death brought us the Victory; over sin, hell, death, devil and all enemies!

A Victory for All

The Lord said of his Son: “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.” In other words, I have bigger plans for you. The Lord was planning to send his Sharpened Weapon into the heart of his creation, destroy his enemies and rescue his children. “He who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD.”

The Father was pleased with his Servant and his work. He said that to us last week upon his Baptism. Jesus was designed to bring glory to heaven’s throne. He was designed to keep the promises that were made to Israel. He was designed to rescue His people from their slavery to sin. That task was completed.

But the Lord knew that the task had even greater results! “It is too small a thing for you to … bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Jesus was pierced for everyone. Our God wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. God had plans that were intended to save the whole world of souls from unbelief. He did not come only for Jacob’s sons. He came for all of Adam’s sons! He came for you! He came for everyone!

What is here for us today? “I have labored to no purpose, I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.” Do you, like me, feel that way often! Most times it is pure frustration out of things not turning out the way I had hoped. Sometimes it is pure jealousy. But it always comes out of forgetfulness; forgetful that the Lord is the one who determines the results of his Word in his kingdom. When we measure things according to our own humanity we always measure incorrectly. I have been slugging it out, working very hard, busting a gut: at home to make family life better, at work to make things go more smoothly, at church in hopes that more people will be hearing the Word and responding to its treasured promises. When things don’t go our way we sulk and say “I have labored for nothing!”

The Lord measures the results of his Word and our labors. His sharpened Arrow works, not mine. His Word will not return to him empty. (Isaiah 55: 11) Our Labor in the Lord is never in vain (1 Corinthians 15: 58). These results are not always seen. They are not always recognized by the world; or us. They are not always the results we had hoped for. But nothing the Lord does is without purpose. His cross has power to bring forgiveness and healing to your homes. His resurrection has power overcome unbelief in our mission work. His Word carries power to increase our trust in his promises and our love for souls!

Also: “It is too small a thing for you … bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Do we think smaller than God? Do we limit the “bigness” of God when we trap his kingdom into our faulty human expectations? We think too small when we expect less of God’s people than what God IN his people can do. The Lord was not satisfied with the rescue of one group. He sharpened his Son to the whole world. He loved the entire globe of humanity. He cast that piercing Arrow to shed holy blood for every sinner; from Adam to the last souls that will walk the dust of this earth.

God, who so loved the world, wants all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. He has planted that truth in your heart. He has planted that truth in his Church. He has supplied us with a burnished Sword, forged in heaven’s divine glory – the Word that pierces unbelief. He has placed on our lips the arrows of his Son’s salvation, arrows that go beyond walls, cultures, languages, and any other kind of barrier. The Lord has poised us to think bigger than we already do. Why? Because HE does! The Lord sharpened his Servant Jesus, and you, for Victory for all. But also for you, for all eternity! Amen.