Innocent though Guilty

Romans 3: 19-26

How can we be declared “NOT GUILTY” in GOD’s court?

We are accountable for our sins before God. He is the only righteous Judge when it comes to perfection and truth. The Almighty God judges correctly that we are sinful (Psalm 51: 4-6).


Now what? In his letter to the Roman Christians Paul shows how this Judge makes us “not guilty” without compromising his truth, justice, and mercy. Luther called this letter “the chief part of the New Testament ... truly the purest gospel. It is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but also that he should occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 35, page 365.)

Read - Romans 3: 19, 20

Who is subject to God’s law?

What can the law not do for us?

What then is the purpose of the law?

Discussion

In God’s courtroom we cannot argue with God, deny our sins, make excuses, or even rationalize what we do in disobedience to his words and commands. Why not?

What are some excuses, or rationalizations our sinful nature make’s anyway?

Looking Further into Scripture

1 John 1: 7-10

What does God’s word encourage us to do when confronted with our sins?

1 John 2: 1-2

What is God’s answer to this, our deepest problem, the guilt of our sin?

Romans 3: 21-24

What is the only source of Righteousness?

How is this Righteousness made known in both the Old and New Testaments?

For whom is God’s righteousness intended? In other words, whom does God justify?

Not everyone benefits from this righteousness. In fact, in verse 22, Paul explains to us why this is true. What is Paul saying in this verse?

Discussion

Sometimes a criminal “gets away with it.” We can think of the circumstances where the defense attorney covers up the evidence, or clouds the issue well enough that there is not enough evidence to convict him.  Still the criminal knows in his heart what is true. How is this different from God’s declaration to us when he says that we are “not guilty” (Consider verse 24)?

Looking Further into Scripture

What do these passage offer to this concept that we truly are “Innocent, though Guilty”?

Romans 5: 6-8

1 Peter 3: 21-22

Psalm 103:12

John 15:3

Picturit from the Lasting Church

Christmas and Easter are major holy days in our celebration of Christ’s work. In the Old Testament, one of the major festivals was the Day of Atonement. It was a wonderful time to be in God’s House, the Temple. On that day the priest went back into the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence was. There on the top of the Ark of the Covenant he sprinkled the blood of a sacrificed animal. Consider Hebrews 9:22.

Romans 3: 25, 26

Paul also now makes the connection from Old to New. How does God make a presentation of blood?

What did God demonstrate by sacrificing his Son for the sins of the world?

God is both “just” and the one who “justifies.” Explain.

Discussion

God did not compromise his truth, his justice or his mercy, and yet declares those who are truly guilty to be innocent.

What symbols in our church remind us of the Day of Atonement and its fulfillment in Christ?

CONFESSION (Luke 18:13)

When we measure ourselves according to the Ten Commandments what is the only conclusion?

Consider the words we speak in the confession of sins on Sunday. How should God answer?

ABSOLUTION (Psalm 103:10)

When God measures us according his Son, what is his assessment of us?

Consider the words the pastor speaks during the Absolution? How does God in fact answer our confession of sin?

What Does Luther Say?

Martin Luther explained the doctrine of justification with an analogy of a father and son. Read this section of his writings and see what point he is making.

A son I born an heir, is not made one, and inherits his father’s goods without any work or merit. Meanwhile, however, the father commands and exhorts his son to be diligent in doing this or that. He promises him a reward or a gift in order that in return for it he may obey more readily and freely: “If you’re good and listen, if you study diligently, I’ll buy you a nice coat “¦” In this way the father helps his son in his weakness, although the inheritance belongs to him on other grounds.

God deals with us in this way. He coaxes us with promises of spiritual and physical things, although eternal life is freely given to those who believe in Christ as children of adoption (Statements taken from Table Talk page 240).

Discussion

Why does the child get his parents’ inheritance?

What is our inheritance as God’s children?

How do we gain this inheritance?

Under what circumstances does God give rewards for our obedience?

Explain how these blessings have nothing to do with our going to heaven.

Explain: Our inheritance is free, but comes at a great cost.

No gifts, no deeds that I have done, can for single sin atone.

To Calvary alone I flee O God be merciful to me

And when, redeemed from sin and hell, with all the ransomed souls I dwell

My joyous song shall ever be: God has been merciful to me! (CW 303: 4,5)

The Heavenly Shepherd for our Every Need

Psalm 23

The Heavenly Shepherd for our Every Need

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Thinking Point: How does the Lord shepherd us, his sheep? 

Psalm 23 is a favorite Psalm of many, for obvious reasons. David was a shepherd and the spirit used his knowledge to paint a comforting picture of our Savior God. Here David is no longer the shepherd but one of the sheep. And he is counting his blessings as he is glad to be one in God’s flock!

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Forget Not All His Benefits

Psalm 103

"Forget not All His Benefits"

“What are the benefits?”-- a typical question of our times. Employees need to know how to plan their lifestyles around the benefits at work. Farmers need to know the difference between seed varieties and other products. I wonder if prospect families who are looking for a new church weigh the benefits of various congregations.


Would we dare ask God what his benefits are? David reminds us to consider his benefits and to respond to them with thankfulness and praise. The study of this Psalm will recount some of those benefits and apply them to our lives of service to him.

Psalm 103: 1-5

What does David urge us to do? How?

List five benefits that David reveals in these verses:

1.                                                                     2.

3.                                                                     4.

5.

Which of the above is the most valuable?

Read Romans 8: 32. How does this verse shed light on David’s opening words to this Psalm?

Discuss

What times in your lives can you specifically recall these benefits from God?

Your friend/ family member has been diagnosed with a rare and debilitating disease. How can the message of forgiveness give her/ him a fresh healthy perspective in the face of physical trial?

Psalm 103: 6-10

Imagine asking to see God and God granting that request. This is just what happened when Moses asked to see God’s glory on Mt. Sinai. God warned Moses that to see his full glory would be impossible. He gave Moses a glimpse and then continued to reveal himself to Moses through words.

Notice that David mentions God’s justice in verse 6. Why is that valuable to the rest of what is being taught in this Psalm?

Read Exodus 34: 5-7. Compare this event to verse 7-8. Why would David quote these verses?

If God is fair and just, why doesn’t he treat us as our sins deserve?

Consider Jonah 4: 1-8. How did Jonah falsely apply these verses? How did God set him straight?

Psalm 103: 11-13

How “high are the heavens from the earth” and how far is the east from the west?

What is the point?

Notice the small word “for.” Verses 11-13 are the answer to the question Why can we say that God is slow to anger and compassionate? How does God not treat us as our sins deserve?

Discuss

Agree/ Disagree. God’s forgives our sins, but he does not remove the consequences of our sinful actions.

Consider the following situations. What words from this Psalm might be of help to them? What counsel would this Psalm have for them?

Sally told a lie about another person. Now she sees how petty it was and how much damage it has done. She thinks God will never forgive her.

Jack worries about his future. He thinks he will never be able to provide for his family.

A church member visits with pastor after worship. She has become troubled by sins committed years ago.

A friend of yours is troubled because he is having a difficult time forgiving a repentant person.

Psalm 103: 19-21

The King has returned. David reminds us that there is no question regarding who controls all things. The Lord has an everlasting throne in the heavenly realms. It is over all and it is firmly established.

What characteristics of God does verse 19 bring to memory?

What concepts of Jesus’ work and ministry come to mind?

What work of the Holy Spirit is emphasized?

David is left to one conclusion for all: “Praise the LORD.”

What do we learn about the praise of angels in these verses?

What do we learn about how to praise our LORD?

Further Scripture Study

  • Isaiah 43: 1-3
  • Romans 5: 1-3
  • Romans 6:14
  • Galatians 3: 13
  • 2 Corinthians 5: 14-21

What Does Luther Say?

You say that the sins which we commit every day offend God, and therefore we are not saints. To this I reply: Mother love is stronger than the filth and scabbiness on a child, and so the love of God toward us is stronger than the dirt that clings to us. Accordingly, although we are sinners, we do not lose our filial relationship on account of our filthiness, nor do we fall from grace on account of our sin. (Table Talk, Page 70).

Luther had a phrase that goes “same time sinner; same time justified.” Explain what that means.

Discuss Luther’s comparison of mother and child to God’s love for us.

What verses from Psalm 103 especially fit Luther’s description here?

On Christ’s Ascension I Now Build The Hope of My Ascension

Since Christ returned to claim his throne

Great gifts for me obtaining,

My heart shall rest in him alone,

No other rest remaining,

For where my treasure went before,

There all my thoughts shall ever soar

To still there deepest yearning. (CW 173: 2)

Psalm 103

"Forget not All His Benefits"

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“What are the benefits?”… a typical question of our times. Employees need to know how to plan their lifestyles around the benefits at work. Farmers need to know the difference between seed varieties and other products. I wonder if prospect families who are looking for a new church weigh the benefits of various congregations.

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Believers Take the Third Commandment Seriously

Deuteronomy 5: 12-15 (June 11/ 14, 2009 - Pentecost 2)

 

"Believers Take the Third Commandment Seriously

Do you remember the father who told Jesus: "I do believe, now help me overcome my unbelief" (Mark 9:24)? Jesus promised to heal his son from demon possession. In faith he trusted the Word of Jesus. Yet, according to his humanity, his trust for that particular promise was floundering. Are their moments of your week when the promises of Jesus seem intangible? How seriously do we take God at his Word? Today, according to the Third Commandment, we are considering the importance of God's Word. Luther explained it this way: We should fear and love God that we do not despise preaching and his word, but regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it. God's children take God's Word seriously. Believers take the Third Commandment seriously. Believers do that in part 1.) because God said so, and primarily because they know that 2.) God's word teaches them Christ.

1. Because God Said So

When God gave the Ten Commandments he prefaced them by saying, "I am the Lord YOUR God who brought you up out of Egypt." (5:6) He loves his people. He loves us. He showed that love to Israel by rescuing them from Egypt and keeping his promises to them. In the land promised to them he kept his primary promise to send his Son, Jesus, into the world. In doing so, he rescued us from our slavery to sin. 

The Lord OUR God loves us. The Lord gives us commands because he loves us. He says, "Remember that I am the Lord YOUR God." (5:15). God knows that we need to hear and obey his laws. He wrote the knowledge of those laws on our very hearts (Romans 2:15). Our conscience also bears witness (Romans 2:15) to the fact that we know when we have disobeyed our loving God. Guilt is a very powerful thing, fueled by a powerful law, enforced by a perfect God. 

His written commands also reveal our true nature - sin. Before we draw our first breath, before we say our first naughty word, before we actually sin against him, we are sinful enemies of God. We do not love him. We do not wish to hear what he says. We do not want to do what he tells us. "Through the law we become conscious of sin" (Romans 3:20).

The Third Commandment reveals our natural hostility to the Word. We show that sin in our bad priorities. We show that sin when worship takes a back seat. We show that sin when we fail to set time aside for his Word. We show that sin when regret those teachings which offend others. We show that sin when we are offended by teachings which contradict our personal opinions. Sin is our natural desire to ignore or change what God says. Finally, every sin that we do is a defilement of God's Word. When we sin we are telling God that we don't want to hear and follow his Word. Our sinful nature is revealed. I want to do what I want to do!

Still the Lord says: this is what you must do. Believers take God's Word seriously. Believers take the Third Commandment seriously. Believers know that God's commands are important simply because God speaks them. Children of God heed the words of our Savior, "If you love me, you will do what I command" (John 14: 15), and "If anyone loves me he will obey my teaching" (John 14: 23). We know it is the truth because he said so.

Children of God also cherish the truth that "We love him because he first loved us." (1 John 4: 19). God demonstrated that love to us. God teaches us that love. God reveals that love to us. God knows that our time spend with his Word is time being reminded of that specific love. It is a love he has for us. It is a love he shows to us by teaching us all about his Son, Christ Jesus.

 

2. Because The Sabbath Teaches us Christ

"God's Word is a lamp to my feet and light for my path" (Psalm 119:105). God's Word is intended to shed light for us on everything God wants us to know. The Sabbath Day was designed to teach Christ to Israelites Christ. It was a vital piece of the Ceremonial Law that introduced true salvation to God's people before Christ's coming.

In the first giving of the law in Exodus God pointed out the connection of the Sabbath to Creation. God's Word had powerfully designed the world in its perfection and beauty. For six days he masterfully formed every part of his world. And on the seventh day he took a Sabbath (REST). God took time for God. He set apart a whole day and made it a holy day. In doing so he was teaching his people something very important. As I have set aside time for me, you also ought to set aside time for the Lord. The Lord designed his world and his people for his own purpose and to his own glory.

In our Epistle lesson for today Paul makes the connection between Creation and Jesus: "We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." (2 Corinthians 4: 5-6). The same Father who created light and everything else, is the Father who sent the Light of the world into the darkness of sin. That Light is Jesus.

The Sabbath taught Christ through rest. The Sabbath taught Salvation through the reflection on the words and promises of God. On the Sabbath every physical labor stopped. Even the animals were kept at bay. When the people dropped everything on the seventh day they were led to focus on one thing: "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with an outstretched hand."

The highlight of that remembrance was the Passover. The same outstretch arm that killed the firstborn of sons of Egypt, is the stretched out arm that parted the Red Sea. The same LORD God that sent Moses and Aaron to proclaim freedom is the same LORD that sent the Angel to Passover the houses whose doors were covered in blood. With every Sabbath Day, with Every Passover meal, with every festival, with every offering and sacrifice from the traveling tabernacle to the Temple of Solomon, God was reinforcing the truth "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." The Sabbath taught them Christ. The Sabbath taught them that God is a God who loves and saves his people. The Sabbath taught them that the forgiveness of sins came as a gift through the blood of his Son, Jesus.

The Sabbath was made for us and Jesus is Lord of it. That is the point of the Gospel lesson today. Jesus gives us the Sabbath for our benefit. He does not mean for the rule to become a burden we do for the sake of doing it. He tells us plainly: "blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it" (Luke 11: 28). In the Sabbath he gives us himself. In it he gives us rest. This is the Jesus who says "Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest -- for your souls." (Matthew 11: 25, 30).

This is not just rest from a long week of work. This is not just a day to put up our feet. This is real spiritual rest. God's Word speaks to us. It reveals the saving activity of Jesus. It speaks the result of his grace. The Word shows the fulfillment of the Passover blood by pointing us to the blood on the cross. In the Word God feeds us, not with the boiled lamb, but with "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29). As the Old Testament believers learned of Christ through the Sabbath, we learn of Jesus' saving love each time we hear and learn his Scriptures.

That is why believers take the Third Commandment seriously. We respect and love God in such way that we do not despise preaching and his word, but regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it. God promises to bless those who hear these words and put them into practice (Matthew 7:24). In doing so he brings peace to our souls through the message of forgiveness. In doing so he strengthens our trust in his promises by sending his Spirit into our believing hearts. In doing so he sheds light on our daily lives as his Word rebukes, corrects and trains us in righteousness, equipping us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). In doing so he points our eyes of faith heavenward where we await his return to take us to glory.

 

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 world endure we keep its teachings pure

Throughout all generations! (CW 293). Amen.

Preparation for the Passion

Mark 8: 27-35 (Pentecost 17, September 24/27, 2009)

“Preparation for the Passion”

The time was drawing closer for Jesus to leave The Galilee area again and go down to Passover. Much work had been accomplished among the people of the northern towns. “The 12” had even tasted the ministry of expressing the truths of Jesus after he sent them out among the villages north of the sea. It was time now for preparation. Jesus took his followers further north into the quiet but godless area called Caesarea in Philippi. They arrived at a peaceful area in the northern mountains and Jesus began teaching them, again, about the cross that he must face and the crosses that they will endure. He prepared them for the Passion. He revealed the passion he had for his mission to face the cross on our behalf. He explained the passion he still has for us in taking up our crosses to follow him. Both crosses are capped off with the promise of resurrection and eternity with the Father. The cross is the only way!

1.Christ’s Passion for His Cross

The Son of Man MUST suffer many things.” This is the only way. This is the way the Father designed from eternity. This is the way the prophets described and foretold. This is the only way God’s wrath could be satisfied for all mankind. This was the only way the Father and the Spirit would draw sinners to grace and heaven. He must suffer prisons and beatings. He must suffer mockery and shame. He must suffer open wounds on his body. He must suffer death like a murderous criminal. His dead body must be placed in a tomb where sinners are normally laid to rest.

Peter says, “No, Lord” in a rebuking tone. Peter does not want it to happen this way. Peter’s misguided compassion for his friend is really the devil’s idea to turn our Savior away from his path. How many of us with Peter don’t turn our heads on Good Friday and feel bad for our friend, only to have Jesus regroup our thinking with his words: “Do not weep for me, but for yourselves.”

Our passions, like Peter, are for something else. Our passions by nature are for the devil’s ideas. Our passions are misguided and evil desires for self gratification. We don’t naturally desire the cross; his nor ours. We naturally despise what God says must happen. We naturally rebuke him for what he thinks and does. We are not likely ones to embrace and make our own the way God would have things. We enjoy the easy way out of things. Our passions are for things that God forbids. Our desires are for things that God detests. Because of our devilish ways he has every right to have passion for our eternal punishment in hell.

But that is not the way the true God is. His grace desires us to be his children. His grace passionately seeks out what anyone else would throw away. His passion is to remove our sin as far as the east is from the west. The only way for it to be removed from us is for the Father to place it on his willing Son. No man can redeem his brother, and no one can save themselves. It MUST happen this way, so in his passion for you he rids Satan from the discussion by rebuking Peter’s satanic words.

2.Christ’s Passion for Your Cross

And those who want to follow Him must rid from their lives the same way of thought. Self MUST go away. Haughty pride must be shattered. A passion for earthly life must cease. A passion for the way the world thinks must be deleted from our memory. A passion for me and what I think must become a thing of my past. That self denial will be accompanied by the cross for every Christian soldier. With the cross will follow the reality that those who still live like the world, think like the world, talk like the world, will brutally be against us for following him to Golgotha.

Christ desires this for you. He passionately prays that we take up our cross. It is the only way. The world will hate you because of me and when they do you will be blessed. Blessed are the Stephen’s who die with their eyes fixed on heaven. Blessed are the Pakistani Christians who teach Jesus to their children underneath the paths of automatic weapons. Blessed are the 5 year olds who get laughed at for going to “Jesus schools”. Blessed are you when they persecute you because of my name. Blessed are you when you sacrifice earthly well-being to spare your eternal life in heaven with Jesus. Blessed are you when the way the cross is more precious to you than anything this world has to offer.

Both of these crosses - his and ours - demand preparation. So Jesus gathered “The 12” and took them to the hills for teaching and prayer. He asked them about the crowds. He asked what was being thought and said about him. All worldly assumptions and conclusions were wrong. The Father and the Spirit led Peter to confess the one pure truth: “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God.”

The Spirit testified and Jesus knew: “This is who you are! This is what you do!” You are the Anointed One from the Heavenly Father. You are designed from eternity to take on human form. You are designed from eternity to preach the truth. You are designed from eternity to live according to the law in our place. You are the Son of God who became the brother of all humanity. You are the sacrificial Lamb born to suffer many things and die innocently at the hands of wicked men. You are the Son of the Living God, with power to rise from death and return to glory in heaven. This is who you are! This is what you do! You are the Christ the Son of the Living God.

Jesus agrees. He reminds Peter - and us - that this confession of Jesus is the only confession on which the church lives and breathes; rises or falls. It is a confession that does not come naturally, but is a gift from God’s Spirit through the Word. This is the truth, by God’s grace, which you believe and confess. This is who you are and what you do! The name Christian characterizes you before a world that will hate you for it. But it must be this way!

Jesus and his closest companions stand in the hills of pagan history and pagan people. In those hills is a cave believed by pagan superstition to be the very gateway to hell. It is in those very hills, among those very pagans, where Jesus assures Peter that the gates of Hades will not overcome Christ and his Church! In passionate love for sinners like us, he prepares to suffer the cross on our behalf. In that same vein he says to you, where I go you also will go. What can a man give in exchange for his soul?

This same Jesus says, whoever confesses me before the world him will I confess before my Father in heaven. Be not afraid. See the passion Christ has for his Cross, so that you too will bear it faithfully until the day he returns to take you safely where he has gone -- the streets of life and heavenly peace!

God Says I Am Who I Am

Exodus 3: 13-15 (Lenten Three)

God says, “I AM WHO I AM”

Moses had fled for his life from Egypt. After being raised under the house of Pharaoh he had become a man without a country. He was the Egyptian prince in “slave’s clothing.” He looked like a Jew. He learned like an Egyptian. Realizing he belonged no where he vented his frustration by killing an Egyptian for mistreating one of the Israelites in slavery. Fleeing for his life - and feeling like he belonged no where - he ran.

In the mean time he was granted a new life. He met a wife. He was given a livelihood in the house of his father-in-law, Jethro. He had all but forgotten who he was or from where he had come. Then one day God revealed himself to Moses. God revealed his plan to Moses. God revealed how Moses was a part of that plan.

He came to Moses in a miraculous way. A voice spoke from a bush. Moses was led to the mystery of this bush. It was on fire, but the leaves and the branches were not being consumed by the flames.

Then God spoke. He spoke about holy ground. He spoke about eternal plans. He spoke about familiar promises. He spoke about a hurting, crying people in Egypt. He spoke about his love and his desire to reach down to these people. He spoke about his plan to have Moses be his spokesmen and the leader of these helpless people. He was calling Moses to approach the new Pharaoh in Egypt and demand the release of these slaves. God had plans for these people - HIS people. They were going to a land of freedom. They were going to a land of plenty. They were going to visibly establish the Temple and its Ceremonial worship that would teach Christ to Jerusalem and the world. They would be the people through whom the Savior would come.

Moses was hesitant. Moses had questions. Moses even had excuses. Moses was humbled. Moses asked the one question that brings the most important answers of the Scripture: Who Are You God? Who should I say sent me? Am I to say “I spoke with a bush and” Am I to say, “One day I was out in the hot sun and this fiery voice said” When I confront the King of Egypt whom shall I say sent me. When I go to convince a people that I am their new leader, whom shall I say said so?

God’s answer seems so simplistic. It almost seems smug. It almost seems just as vague and mysterious as burning bushes and holy ground. But it makes perfect sense.

“I AM WHOM I AM” “I AM has sent me to you”

1. His Name is Revealing

God’s Name is revealing. Sometimes when famous people are introduced we hear the phrase, “Now this person needs no introduction!” Just the mention of their name brings to mind who they are, what they do, and why they are so famous. There is no need for a list of credentials. There is no need for a synopsis of their portfolio. Just the name reveals everything. They need no introduction.

“I” - God is a person. He thinks. He knows. He feels. He has an identity. He is not a myth. He is not an idea in man’s imagination. He is not a magical force or mysterious energy behind the nature of all things, as many people perceive God. God is an “I.” He speaks. He plans. He has characteristics. He has recognition. When he speaks with Job he needs no introduction. God owes nothing to Job. He owes him no explanation. He needs no advice on how to run Job’s life or the world. The same was true with Moses. Moses needed no long explanation of God. Pharaoh did not deserve an explanation from Moses or God. God owes no body anything.

I AM WHO I AM.” God always was. God’s name reveals that he is eternal. He is the Alpha and Omega. He was before Abraham. He is the living God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He does not change like shifting shadows. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. The Scriptures, including this simple text, are filled with the eternal character of God. Wisdom comes with experience. The veteran athlete can say to the rookie, “I was playing this game when you were in diapers.” The experienced pastor can say to the student, “I have been learning and teaching these truths since before you were born.” The tenured employee carries wisdom above and beyond the intern. But God can say to us all: “I have always been here. I have seen it all. I have made it all. I was there at the creation. I watched it fall into sin. I have seen the same faulty attempts of man to explain, me, redefine me, find me, and even deny me.” But-- “I AM WHO I AM.” I need no explanation. I know and see all things. I need no introduction.

            Who of us can begin to fathom how wide and how deep and how long? Who of us dares to ask for explanations? Who of us dares to claim to know much about the God whose thoughts are above our thoughts as high as the heavens are above the earth? Go outside. Stand and look up. Tell me: where does the sky stop? Where does God end? Where does God begin? What are his boundaries? What - if anything- is impossible for him? “Who am I?” says Moses. “Whom am I in the presence of such a God?”

2. His Name is Comforting

But there is more. The Hebrew verb for “I AM” carries a great wealth of information and comfort for God’s people. The Israelites saw that the name for LORD, Yahwey, was this form of the verb “to be.” They were so afraid to speak such a Holy Name out loud that they intimately wove two words together and said “Adonai.” In this simple answer to Moses, God was not being smug. He was revealing himself as the God of the covenant.

  • The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob appeared to Moses.
  • The LORD who created the world. The LORD of heaven and earth.
  • The LORD who rebuked Satan in the garden.
  • The LORD who confronted Adam and Eve with their sin.
  • The LORD who had Abraham count the stars.
  • The Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent
  • The LORD who in loved planned for our salvation.
  • The living God.

Who is going to call Moses? Who is going to rescue Israel from slavery? Who is going to reach down to earth to rescue mankind from sin and hell and guilt? Who will rescue me from my shame? Who will change my status and reputation for eternity?

Only the one true eternal God could do anything about my sin. Only the true, eternal, loving God would do all those gracious things. He is the LORD whose plan is centered on himself, his sacrifice, his Son, his truth, his redeeming grace. He is the one who could call down legions of angels, but did not. He is the one who could rip Pilate from his crown, and did not. He is the one who went the cross. He is the one who conquered death. He is the one that could not be contained by an earthly grave. He is the Living God

I the Lord do not change so that you are not destroyed. I do not change like shifting shadows. Every good and perfect gift comes from me. “I AM WHO I AM.” I am the Good Shepherd. I am the Light. I am the Vine. I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. I Am, says God. This God needs no introduction. This God owes no explanation. This God is your God and your Savior.

The LORD is my light and my salvation of who shall I be afraid! Amen.

A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth

Luke 4: 1 – 13 (First Sunday in Lent)

TEMPTATION OF CHRIST

“The Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth!”

For centuries, the Christian church has recognized the Temptation of Christ as valuable first lesson of Lent. In this quiet, contemplative time we are seriously reminded to bring nothing before the throne of God but contrite and broken hearts. We need to know that the helpless have a Helper. We need to know the Lamb has begun his war with hell in a victorious first battle. There, led by the Spirit, fasting and praying, anointed to face the cross, we see his willing obedience. We need the comforting sight of a faithful Savior who will not give up in the face of his highest enemies. We need to know that the one who was tempted is able to help those who are being tempted.

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1. To Endure our Humanity for Us.

The first temptation Luke records is one of the most common battles. It is simple. The devil wants Jesus to consider his physical needs more important than his spiritual needs. Heighten that by the fact that Jesus’ mission means the saving of our souls – the saving of all souls – the temptation is really a scary thought. For the temporary pleasure of a full stomach, all of humanity would be lost!

In our humanity this is sadly an easy victory the devil enjoys with us all the time. Given the choice between my physical needs and my spiritual needs, our sinful nature is drawn to be satisfied. It is sad, even embarrassing, to realize the time and energy we spend in meeting the needs of our bodies as compared to meeting the needs of our souls. One is tangible. The other is immeasurable. Do I spend one more hour in sleep or one hour hearing the Word? That is the obvious one. We have grown up enough to recognize that little trick. But how often during the week do the needs for our souls get pushed aside for the desires of our human bodies? Our nature does not naturally want to spend time with God’s truths. It knows that God’s word puts the body to death and raises the soul to life. We eat right, we exercise, we vacation, and we work hard to provide for family. We are great stewards of our body. Bread we have, indeed. We look forward to our favorite show, our favorite book, our favorite video game. We set aside time for the fishing hole, the golf course, and even a few secrete sins when no one knows where we are. Check your day planners and palm pilots. Add up the things that meet the needs of body vs. the things that feed the soul. Yes, the devil has had fun with this little game. Which is most important: your stomach or your soul?

Then the voice of the Son of God replies on our behalf: “It is written: Man does not live on bread alone [but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.]” Notice the devil has lost THAT battle. He moves on to the next. He does that because our Savior, who shares our humanity - on an empty stomach mind you - tells the devil that he is wrong. He – in our place – defeats the satanic attack on the well being of our souls. He endures our humanity with suffering. He endures our humanity with willingness. His endures our humanity with perfection and active obedience to his Father’s will. He rescues us from our sin-sick humanity by sharing in it with us as the perfect Son of God made man.

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2. To Do the Will of His Father for Us.

The next temptation shows us how logical the devil can be. He grasps the fact that Christ is focused on his Father’s will. So he cuts right to the heart. He goes back to the eternal question and battle: Why should your Father have all the glory? Your Father and I hammered this out along time ago. Come on over to the dark side. Look the glory you could have! Look at the world that is mine. Look at the attention that is on me. You can have your own glory if you just rebel against this Father of yours who sent you down here to die. You can be lord on earth of these souls with out having to die for them, if you just come to be on my side.

Now that sounds familiar. Why put up with being the good little Christian and face the ridicule of the world. If you can’t beat the world join the world. What benefit is there, really, in doing the will of this Father in heaven. Does he really care about you the way I care about you? What devilish trick! Billy Joel’s phrase rings out for all to hear: I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The world is too much fun and gives so much praise to me. The world and the devil are dying to love me. Why spend my days in this world being a ninny for Jesus – a meek persecuted soul - for the sake of a Father who demands so much of me?

Then the voice of sound doctrine rings out from the Savior. He speaks the first commandment: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” Not only does he speak the first commandment. He also keeps it for us – perfectly. “My food is to do the will of will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4: 34). Christ is not interested in earthly glory. He is interested in the cross. He is about his Father business. He is about his Father’s holy Will. He is interested in saving you from hell. He stays the course and defeats the devil’s tricks. He would rather you spend eternity with him in heaven, than to have the praise of the one who was cast from heaven forever.

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3. To Defend His Mighty Word for Us.

           Again, the devil is forced to shift gears. Well if Jesus is so interested in the Word of God, perhaps I can do things with the word of God to get him twisted around. Doesn’t the word of God promise protection in danger? Doesn’t your heavenly Father promise to wrap his angels around you every time you are in trouble? Why not make him prove his promises?

           Flesh that out a bit. He did it to Eve. Did God really say...? Let’s take a close look at that thing you call the Bible. God makes some interesting promises in there. Have you received all those promises? Are you sure? I tell you what: you go ahead and believe that God says this and I will believe that God means that. Why don’t we both agree to disagree? Why don’t we just say that the Bible means whatever you want it to mean? Why don’t we make God prove this angelic promise and pray for grandma to get better and see if she does. Why stop there? How about all the thorns in your side right now – depression, pain, fear, family struggles, hurt … where are all those angels now? Didn’t God promise to guard you in all your ways? What are you doing with that hurt on your mind? Is God really the God he promised to be? Really? How devilish! How quick we are to fall for that one!

           Not our Savior. He has come to defend the truth. He has come to be a better theologian than the devil. His theology is about enduring under the cross, not looking for the simple way out. His theology says let God be God and do not test his love with foolish, self-centered doubts. His theology says to the devil “Enough!” His theology says to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9). He defends the truth. He upholds the truth. He defeats lies with the truth. He obeys the truth. He is the truth written in the blood that atones for the sins of the world, the blood that washes you clean!

           Look at the devil run. Look at the devil flee from His marked defeat. Look at the devil not give up, but wait for “an opportune time” to strike again. Look at our humanity and its helpless, sinful state!  Look at the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Look at the Lamb who goes uncomplaining forth! Look at the perfect endurance of the suffering and death scorning the shame of the cross that we might not lose heart! Because he himself was tempted is able to help those who are being tempted. As we journey to the cross, we see reason to stop trying to rescue ourselves. We see that we need and have a Champion, a Valiant One, a Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep, only to take back up again. This Lamb endures humanity for us. This Lamb does the will of his Father for us. This lamb defends the truth for us. This Lamb for you says “Willing all this I suffer!” Amen.

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Standing in Grace

Romans 5: 1 - 11

“Standing in Grace”

Peruse through the classifieds on Saturday morning and you will see a repeated phrase: “good condition.” The seller wants you to know that, although their item is used, there is nothing wrong with it. They just don’t want it, or want the money for it, and think it can be of value to someone else. It is in good condition.

What condition are you in? If God took out an ad in the paper for his people, what would it read like? Used, but in good condition. Is that how we might feel about ourselves? The Bible speaks clearly about our two conditions. One is a natural condition. The other is a condition that God has gifted to his people. On the one hand we are naturally in the condition of sin. But in Christ, because of Christ, we are under the condition of Grace. We stand in Grace. It is a state of being for those who are in Christ Jesus. It characterizes God’s people. Because Christ gives us peace with God we stand in Grace. Because God gives us peace with God he also gives us joy in all things.

1. Christ Gives us Peace with God.

“Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God, through whom we have gained access by faith into the grace in which we now stand.”

In chapter three Paul listed off verse from the Psalms saying:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;

there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God.

All have turned away, they have together become worthless;

there is no one who does good, not even one.

Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.

The poison of vipers is on their lips.

Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.

Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways,

and the way of peace they do not know.

There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3: 10-18).

That doesn’t sound like peace with God. That is Paul’s objective, Biblical description of our born condition. Not one of us could argue that divine point either. None of us could prove Paul wrong and say, “I don’t naturally fit that description.” The fall into sin brought consequences. We see and hear and feel those consequences every day: evil, hatred, misery, death, fear, sickness, jealousy, pride and all kinds of pain and suffering. Sin is not just something that happens. Sin is a condition, a state of being we all naturally have, a condition that divides us from God (Isaiah 59:2).

So Paul comfort us with a new condition - a condition of Grace. By grace, “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 demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

Grace means that Christ was willing to die for his enemies. Grace goes against all human society and says that God loved the un-loveable. He did not die for the good guy, the guy that everyone one describes in a eulogy. He died for the people that Paul describes in chapter three - the ungodly. Grace means that no matter how evil we were, we are now made righteous in Christ. Grace means that the ugliest; most rotten things we have ever done are forgiven and wiped from God’s memory. Grace means that God has established divine peace with us in the blood of Christ.

Paul says that having that kind of peace gives us true joy as well.

2. Christ Gives us Joy in All Things.

“We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God -- we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

Bad things happen. That is an understatement for all of us. But it is true. Sufferings are a real part of anyone’s life in this world. Peter says, that these happen “so that your faith - of greater worth than gold which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and result in praise glory and honor when Christ Jesus is revealed” (1 Peter 1: 7).

Paul says that when we suffer we are given the blessing of perseverance. When we are given the blessing of perseverance we are given character. When our character is built up by God’s grace and the Holy Spirit, God reveals the hope that we knew we already had.

We know what our hope is. It is the certainty that because Christ lives we also will live. We know and are confident that Christ Jesus will take us to heaven for eternity. Paul says that our hope is reason to rejoice and give glory to God. We know that, but it becomes more evident when things aren’t going so well in the world. Our relationship with God is made stronger through suffering. Our hope for heaven becomes more important to us when we face the struggles of this temporary life. Knowing that we are going to heaven lets us laugh at the days to come” (Proverbs 31:25).

Paul makes an argument from the greater to the lesser: “Since we have been justified by his blood, how much more will be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been justified through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:9 - 11).

In other words, if God was willing to love us when we were his ungodly enemies, he is certainly willing to help us now that he has gone out of his way to make us his children. If his grace moved him to take away our sin by dying for us, how much more won’t he go out of his way to be there for us in our days of trouble! How much more confidence for us that he will be there for us on Judgment Day!

Today, tomorrow, in the car, in worship, on the soccer field, at school, facing temptation, facing death - wherever we go - WE STAND IN GRACE. Used? Yes. Good Condition? By God’s grace, yes! God in Christ declares us not guilty. He made us at peace with his Father. He gives us access to that Father. In him we have peace. In him we have reason to rejoice, even in sufferings. In him we have the right to be called the sons of God by grace, a grace in which we now stand!” Amen.

Like Him We Rise

Romans 6: 1 - 10 (Hartford Joint Service - April 2006)

“Like Him We Rise!”

One of my family’s favorite Friday things is homemade pizza night. It is actually an all day event for me. Good pizza demands good crust and good crust takes some time, practice, and preparation. My recipe is a simple one out of the bread machine book. The dough takes about an hour and half in the machine and then, after some kneading, rests and rises most of the day. One time in particular I went to check on the dough, expecting this plumb batch of dough to be bursting out of the plastic wrap that was so carefully placed on top of it. Instead I found this flat wrinkled up soggy mess. Could it be? I forgot the obvious - the yeast of all things. Without the yeast, none of the other ingredients ever really become bread. They become many other things, but not pizza bread.

In a similar way the visible church appears to the world. Our church body and its congregations are made up of many parts, all important to each other, all ingredients for a vibrant ministry, all measured out by Christ and his Holy Spirit to his church. But when and where those ingredients lack the one vital ingredient, all the rest become like that batch of dough without yeast. Many important ingredients mixed up into one big mess that really will never serve the intended purpose.

Our theme for this service and the message is “LIKE HIM WE RISE.” At the highlight of Paul’s message are two things: the redeeming work of Christ Jesus and the gracious power of God’s gift of Baptism. I would like us to consider two basic thoughts: 1. In Baptism, Christ’s death puts our sin to death. 2. In Baptism, Christ’s life raises us to life.

1. His Death Puts our Sin to Death

Paul had been making the point that our sin is a constant shadow in the light of God’s grace “where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21).

Paul, then, anticipates the human logic that says, “If God’s grace is highlighted by my sin, why not sin even more.” “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? All too often that is our logic as well. If God’s grace is so unending, why not sin all we want and make God look even better. We may not think of it that way, but our sinful flesh does. Our sinful nature runs from Christ and runs from the word. Apart from Christ and his word, Paul is right when he says that “all have turned away and we have together become worthless (Romans 3: 12). Without the word of Christ dwelling in us richly, the ingredients of the church become divided, sinful hearts. Our lives can easily become ruts in slow motion. We go through the motions, in worship, at work, even at home. Some days it just feels like we are trained robots that the devil wound up and has set in motion for his pleasure.

When the church gets in a rut, the devil loves to plant the seed of selfishness. We all want our own glory. We all like our own piece of the pie. We want the congregation to make decisions that work best for me, without regard for what is best for the whole. We want something better that what we have at home. We hate our jobs and dream of something else instead of pouring ourselves into responsibility. When church life becomes stale we become dissatisfied with the same old truths of the Bible. When the church seems to be shrinking away we are tempted by gimmicks or programs that replace the word of God for getting the church on its feet again. In a strange turn of good intentions we hope that it will be our feebleness that will make God look good.

“Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of you who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

Christ’s death puts our sin to death. In baptism he drowns the old selfish nature. Christ is the yeast that permeates his church. Paul encourages the church by says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalm hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God (Colossians 3: 15 - 16).

The peace of Christ is the fact that his blood pays for all sin. His righteousness is our glorious dress. His gift of baptism clothes us with his truth and love. Christ Jesus and his word is the all important yeast that permeates his church. Like him we rise. His Word builds our faith. His forgiveness strengthens our relationship with him and each other. The sacraments emphasize that that same forgiveness so that through the means of grace: Gospel in Word and Sacrament, Christ’s blood and righteousness wash away selfishness and bring newness of life.

The two wet ingredients in my dough make a good picture: oil and water. These are the first two ingredients, and they want nothing to do with each other. Only when mixed with all the other ingredients permeated by the yeast will both be united to form one batch of dough. We can have many gifted people ready and willing to serve. Only when Christ permeates all of us, are we united into a living, workable fellowship of believers. Sin separates. Christ unites by putting sin to death in our baptism.

2. His Life Raises Us to Life

Paul writes, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” There is no special gimmick or program. Christ promises to unite himself to each of us through baptism. He carries us into the tomb to bury sin forever. He carries us out of the tomb with the new life of faith in Christ. Since he rises from the tomb we too live. God does move his people to do great things. There are many ways we can make note of this new life. I would like to just take note of what is happening today.

Almost a year ago, your pastors met several times to discuss - and even lament over - growing financial difficulties of our Synod. That cloud hangs over us all and affects so many different things. Local budgets are tight. Schools and colleges are struggling. Home and world mission have gone from stop to reverse. We, the pastors of the Hartford circuit, felt strongly that together we could make a positive note in the other direction. Let’s have a special service. Let’s celebrate and emphasize the importance of Easter, Resurrection, Baptism, and our fellowship in Christ. Today is the fruit of that idea and the fruits of your faith in Christ. Today Christ has moved his church to an expression of his life permeating ours. Ladies guilds, fellowship committees, choir members, instrumentalists, pastors, teachers, church leaders, children of God of all ages infected with the peace of Christ and the word of Christ. Today there is no gimmick; just the truth of the resurrection, the truth of baptism, the Lord’s body and blood in the Sacrament. Word and Sacrament have been and always will be the yeast that raises the songs, praises, offerings, and acts of love of Christ’s people. “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 to life again (2 Corinthians 5: 14-15).

Then Paul says, “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly be united with him in his resurrection.” Not only does that mean he gives us faith and life now. It also means that we are going where he has gone. He has promised. “Because I life, you also will live (John 14:19). He has promised: “In my father’s house are many rooms. I am going there to prepare a place for you (John 14: 2). He has promised: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who lives and believes in me will live; even though he dies. (John 11: 25).

This is a sight that gladdens what peace it does impart

Now nothing ever saddens the joy within my heart.

No gloom shall ever shake, no foe shall ever take

The hope which God’s own Son in love for me has won!

He brings me to the portal that leads to bliss untold

Whereon this rhyme immortal is found in script of gold:

“Who there my cross has shared finds here a crown prepared;

Who there with me has died shall here be glorified!” (CW 156: 3, 5).

                Like him we rise. Crucified and buried to sin, Alive in Christ. Alive to let the peace of Christ rule our hearts and the word of Christ dwell richly in us. Alive to produce fruit’s of repentance and of faith. Alive to be one part in a living patch quilt of God’s abiding grace and power. All this because Christ has purchased an won me from all sin from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy precious blood and with his innocent sufferings and death; that I should be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him with everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness; just as he has risen from death and lives and rules eternally. Amen.

A Perfect Marriage

Ephesians 5: 21-31 (Pentecost 14)

A Perfect Marriage

The theme of the sermon today may seem a bit misleading. There is no such thing as a perfect marriage. There was only one earthly marriage that ever existed in a perfect world. Adam and Eve were created sinless. There were created as equals in a perfect world. They were created uniquely different. Adam was formed from the ground. Eve was formed from Adam's body. They were given uniquely different physical appearances. They were given uniquely different psychology. They were given uniquely different, but complementing, roles in their marriage. Adam was created to be the head of the household. Eve was created to be the helper suitable--the supportive companion. They were made for each other--a match made in paradise.

Sin destroyed that perfection. Adam forsook his headship role. Eve failed her supportive role. Together they fell into sin and fell out of a perfect marriage. God's Word holds every human being responsible for that fall into sin. There is no one righteous not even one--there is no one who does good, not even one. (Romans 3: 10-12). There is no such thing as a perfect man or perfect woman. Because of sin there is no such thing as a perfect marriage.

 

1. Christ to His Church

In order to restore the relationship between Adam and Eve, God had to first restore his relationship mankind. In order to do that he had to remove sin. God made Christ, his Son, our spiritual groom. Christ took on the Headship role over his believers. He submitted us to his wisdom. He earned our trust. He compels us to worship and honor him as Lord. He did that by being the Savior of his bride the Church. He loved her and gave himself up for her; he makes her holy; he cleansed her with washing and the water; he presented her as radiant, without stain or wrinkle, or blemish, holy and blameless. Christ sacrificed himself to reconcile us with God. He took away all of our guilt. He took away every stain and wrinkle. He gave us his perfect righteousness. He presented us to God as perfect holy people. He rescued us from disobedience and death. He rinsed us in his blood and Baptism. He showered us with wedding gifts of his grace.

Paul's words resemble his thoughts to Titus "God 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 by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through our Lord Jesus Christ, so that having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life."  (Titus 3: 5-7).

 

2. Christ among Husbands and Wives

Speaking to all Christian people, Paul says "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." Jesus established the perfect foundation for our relationships with anyone else.  Relationships that are laced with the love and truth of Christ Jesus are blessed.Marriage is the ultimate relationship to reflect Christ's love. Even though sin brought imperfection; Christ brought forgiveness to husband and wife.

But the purposes of man and wife did not change. The fact that Adam and Eve were created equally in God's image has not changed. They were created uniquely different. His wisdom designed them for uniquely different roles. Those roles had not changed. Paul clarifies those roles for us today.

For wives, Eve's divine purpose has not changed. She is to mirror the relationship that every believer has with Christ in her relationship to her husband. "As the Church submits to Christ so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything." In the same way that a believer honors Christ, trusts in his wisdom, is willingly subject to his sacrificial love; the Christian wife places all her confidence in her husband. She trusts that he will love her more than himself. She trusts in his wisdom. She believes that honoring his headship will bring her happiness and joy. She isn't inferior or beneath her husband, and she does not feel that way. She is glad to show him the same respect she would show her own Savior.

For husbands, Adam's divine purpose has not changed either. He carries the headship role. As the head of the body his concern is not for himself but for the entire body. Remember, Eve was created from him and for him. She is an intimate part of him. "Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves his himself. After all, no one has ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church." His love for her reflects Christ's love for the church. That kind of divine love is sacrificial. Christ died for the sake of his church. A Christian husband is willing to die for the welfare of his wife.

In a perfect world and a perfect marriage that would all be great. Without sin every wife would perfectly fulfill her role as supportive companion. Without sin a husband would perfectly fulfill his headship role with sacrificial love. He would constantly think of others before himself and earn the trust of his wife and family.

But we don't live in a perfect world. There is no perfect wife. There is no perfect husband. Wives everywhere are naturally tempted to steal the headship role from their husbands. Every husband everywhere is tempted to sinfully give it up in laziness and selfishness.  There is also a devil. The devil knows that Christian marriage is the backbone of a godly society. He knows that marriage is God's living parable of Christ's relationship with the Church. Any chance the devil gets, he is going to press hard against marriage and family. Look at our society today and you can that the devils constant trick is to reverse the roles of man and wife.

Men and women both do selfish things in marriage. Those selfish things destroy trust in marriage. Destroy trust and you destroy the desire to forgive. Once trust is broken down, many other sinful things come crashing behind. Very soon the symptoms get blamed rather than the real problems. Selfishness leads to laziness. Greed leads to getting what we want our own way. The symptoms become easy excuses to quit or to rationalize more selfish actions. It is in our nature to see God's Will as a threat and therefore avoid the real truth.

But there is no reason to quit or to go on living a bad pattern. If the real problem is sin, then we all have the one true solution: Christ's sacrificial love. At the end of chapter four and beginning of chapter five Paul gives us the hub and connection to that point. "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (4:2 -5:2).

There may not be such a thing as a perfect marriage. But we do have a perfect Savior. His love and wisdom is perfect, always. His forgiveness is unending. His sacrifice is complete. Knowing that we are forgiven creates strength in our lives of faith. Seeing his forgiveness for us as individuals motivates us to be forgiving as well. Christ never asked: "What's in it for me?"  He had your eternal wellbeing when in love he died for you. True faith never questions the wisdom of Christ. That is the honor and willingness every husband ought to earn and expect from his wife. That is the Christ-like, unselfish love that every wife ought to trust and expect from her husband. When both spouses are concerned about giving to the marriage, neither spouse will have to worry about receiving.

Our other lessons today give a good place to start. This message is for all of us. Married or unmarried, young or old, you are all a part of a Christian family. You all play a valuable role in the support of that Christian home. With Joshua we all confess: "As for me and my household we will serve the Lord." (Joshua 24: 15). With Peter we all humbly confess: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."  (John 6: 68). Husbands, take your family to the cross daily. There under the cross you will find refreshing joy and forgiveness; deep, unselfish love for your family. There is no sin that Christ cannot heal. As Peter wrote: "Above all love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins." (1 Peter 4:8). Christ's love for us and Christ's love in us is the perfect recipe for a perfect marriage, as we all look forward to that heavenly reception of his grace in heaven.