The Name of Jesus 2

Luke 2: 21

(The Name of Jesus – Jan. 1, 2016)

On the eighth day when it was time to circumcise him, he was given the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.”

“Jesus Means Salvation”

“What are you going to name him?” New parents poured over baby name books, searched into family history, and avoided negative connotations (I married a teacher and there were certain names we just could never have used). Eventually the new parents are certain of the answer to the question in the hospital: “What’s his name?” Mom is shedding tears of joy as she wipes the sweat of pain away. Proud Papa holds the little guy and says “His name is …” Mary and Joseph needed no such searching. They were instructed from the throne of heaven on what their baby should be called: “You will give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” [Matthew 1: 21; Luke 1:31]

“On the eighth day when it was time to circumcise him …” God does all things well. There is an order to his plan and it goes His way. The Laws of Israel had many requirements, but one purpose: point the people to Jesus! Circumcision on the eighth day was no exception. From the time that the Lord established circumcision for Abraham’s descendants it remained a physical reminder for God’s people. They were set apart for a special plan until a special child would be born and brought to that very Temple. It is fitting that the fulfillment of that plan completes every expectation to the fullest. (Later upon his own Baptism Jesus would remind John that it was necessary to fulfill ALL righteousness [Matthew 3:15]).

Jesus’ name means salvation. He will save his people from their sins. Thousands upon thousands of baby boys were circumcised from the time of Abraham to the time of Joseph. Only a few are mentioned to us and none of them have the significance of the Boy in the Temple with Mary and Joseph that day. Generations of sinners had been brought to temple, were given a name (some “Ishua”), and sent on their way with one less piece of flesh; but they all returned to Mom and Dad just as sinful as the day they were born. Not one of those circumcisions earned a place in heaven or purchased any of God’s forgiveness.

Today we remember what we learned a week ago: this is God’s Son. This is the Word of God who became flesh. He was given the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.” That small phrase speaks volumes! It was not Joseph’s right to name the Boy. God the Father named his earthen Son before he arrived in the Temple. This is Immanuel: God-With-Us. This is the Son begotten of the Father before all worlds began. He was born to save sinners. He was born under law to redeem those under law [Galatians 4:4]. He was born with human body to be given as the atoning sacrifice for sin. Eight days after his birth, the Son of God gives his first drop of blood! Jesus’ name means salvation!

His name means our salvation. As in the days of Israel’s prophecies, generations of children continue to be born. Together with them, we are born nameless, guilty recipients of Adam’s disobedience. As with all mankind we are born into this world with a deep-seated need: rescue from sin; rescue from death; rescue hell’s fierce powers! We know those enemies well. We battle their lingering attacks every moment of each day. Guilt before God flavors our sense of namelessness. Satan loves to place us into pits of despair believing that are too sinful to have value before a righteous God. We certainly do not deserve to be named by him, but to be labeled citizens of hell.

Instead, this is how our Father speaks to us. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the sons of God, and that is what we are! [1 John 3:1] God has placed his Name upon us … as certain as he had Aaron place the blessing of his Name on his people Israel [Numbers 6: 22-27 is the Old Testament lesson for today and reminds us of that special blessing we receive to this day!]. Many of us were brought to the house of God for our new name: recall your Baptism when God placed his Spirit into your hearts to call him Abba Father. Far more significant than our own names, is the label God gave us at the Font: You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus [Galatians 3:26].

Paul reminded the Philippians of the importance of Christ’s humble entrance to earth in order to receive that Name, Jesus: “being found in appearance as a man he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross [Philippians 2: 8]It is that act of selfless love for us which moves Paul to concludeTherefore God … gave him the name that is above every name … that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow! [Philippians 2:9-10] The Son of God whose flesh was broken on his eighth day, was willing to have it completely broken for you on Calvary. And then, in a promise made the night before his death, he gives you his broken body in The Supper where his Name means everything to us!

As new parents welcome a new child, they wonder what this life will bring. They wonder what will become of their child. Mary and Joseph had plenty of instruction on the distinct purpose of their Son. That very day the Lord provided Simeon and Anna as voice pieces, not only to Mary and Joseph, but to the rest of the world. Simeon rejoiced to know that this was the glory of God to his people Israel and is the Light of Salvation to all nations of people. He specifically reminded Mary of the “sword that would pierce her soul” [Luke 2:35] referring to the cruel death she would see him suffer.

We now begin our week to week review of the many events of Jesus. From Epiphany to Lent; from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, from the cross to grave, from the grave to the sky, the boy Jesus will live the life of God’ servant. He will grow to manhood with the focus of his Name in full view: Jesus’ Name means Salvation for you and me and for the world of sinners he came to rescue! He will carry that salvation out in his holy innocence. He will carry out the meaning of that name on Golgotha. He stands in glory now to receive rightful honor and glory above every name!

How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear

It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds, and drives away all fear

Dear name! The Rock on which I build, My shield and hiding place,

My never-failing treasury filled, With boundless stores of grace! (CW 358: 1, 3) Amen.  

Lessons from Joseph, a Man of God

Matthew 1: 18 – 25 (Advent 4, 2016)

“Lessons from Joseph, a Man of God”

Today is the last Sunday before we celebrate Christmas. As we finish our Advent preparation we view Matthew’s record of “how the birth of Christ came about.” He tells it from the perspective of Joseph who “took Mary home to be his wife.” Have you contemplated the unselfish thing that Joseph did?   They were engaged to married. Joseph, being a righteous man, restrained from premarital relations with Mary – that is what “before they came together” means. As far as he knew, she had kept herself pure, as well. They were both waiting for marriage, (a God-pleasing purity that has dwindled in our society.)

Today we learn lessons from Joseph. Matthew reveals two Christian qualities that are worth noting: 1.) thinking of others before yourself and 2.) obeying the word of the Lord. Most notably today we see that God’s Son covers the multitude of all of our sins. His Son, Jesus, was not just an example, but is the very reason we have salvation from sin. His Son, Jesus, the great Immanuel, is the also the very reason we, too, can live as righteous men before God.  

Joseph Thinks of Others Before Himself

            “Because he was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Joseph’s plan was thought through before the Lord’s explanation of what had happened. Joseph found out that she was pregnant and realized that it was not his baby. His only reasonable conclusion was that there was another man. Rather than thinking of himself first, he considered her reputation above his own. As far as he knew she was unfaithful to him. Still he was ready to forgive her and consider her wellbeing above his own. He was not thinking about himself, but of the woman he loved. He was not concerned about what others thought of him, but what they thought of her. In the face of all that might have happened, Joseph was willing to do everything in his power to protect her from public disgrace, even if it meant losing her.

God’s men think of others before they think of themselves. God’s men take the reputation of others seriously before they concern themselves with their own interest. The Bible says we are not to “think of ourselves more highly than we ought (Romans 12:3) and to not do anything out of selfish ambition … looking to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4). God’s men take responsibility for their actions. God’s men face all circumstances with discernment and a patient prayer life. God’s men put the needs and concerns if others first. God’s men especially consider the wellbeing of their wife and family before their own.

How dreadfully far we fall from that! How desperately difficult it is to put the needs of others first. Knowing that he was a sinful man, we can appreciate the selfish thoughts that Joseph had to fight through first, before he began to think about her. Who was he? When did they commit adultery? Why did she do this to ME? In the same way, we fight through the multitude of “ME FIRST” messages that swim happily around our hearts each day: What do I get out of this? What is in it for me? Do you know how much this affected ME? Do you realize how much you hurt me? Unselfishness is purely not in our nature!

Joseph Obeyed the Word of the Lord

The Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Do not be afraid.” How powerfully the voice of God quiets our guilt and our deepest fears! When the Lord explains things our conscience is placed at ease. When we see how even the most dreadful circumstances are going to be used for his purposes, our hearts can be stilled with his peace. The Lord’s message calmed Joseph as well.

He demonstrated his willingness to listen, consider, and trust by following through with obedience: Joseph did what the Lord said. Joseph listened to the Word of God. He considered carefully what God’s messenger had to say. He trusted that those words were true, even though he could not rationally understand them. He did it concerned more with the praise of God rather than men (John 12:43). When the Word of God was clear in his heart, Joseph was strengthened in his new God-given task. Joseph was moved by the clear messages of God to follow the Lord’s commands.

God’s men put the study of God’s Word on the top of their priority list. The Word of God is not an afterthought. Family worship attendance is not a sporadic moving target, pushed aside by other things. The Bible is not a paper weight at home. It is certainly not a shallow reference book on par with the dictionary (Hey, where is that one passage about??) The Word of God is the voice of our Shepherd. His voice speaks as we read learn and take to heart that living Word. God’s men model the importance of the Scriptures for their children by studying it for themselves. God’s men concern themselves with is taught in the Sunday School to which they send their children, by attending the Bible Study hour that is offered at the exact same time.

Joseph Believed in Christ Jesus

            It is finally in that Word that we have our guilty conscience calmed. It is in that Word that we not only learn wisdom for difficult circumstances, but also where we learn of the one who shed his blood for all the times we failed as men of God. That is seen clearly in the names Matthew assigns to Joseph’s adopted Son:

Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” This Son of God was born for that eternal purpose. He was born to die. He was born to pay for all sins. He was born to wipe clean the conscience of every sinner. “Salvation is found in none else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

How? Jesus fulfilled the Words of the Lord by becoming Immanuel! “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means God with us.’ ” How else could God save sinful people from a sinful world? He had to become one of us. He had to take our place. He had to be born under the law (Galatians 4:4). He had to be made like us in every way yet without sin (Hebrews 4:14). He had to be true God begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man born of the virgin Mary. He took on humanity, hunger, pain, thirst, breathe, tears, blood. He had to bring divine righteousness, perfect compassion, miracles, victory over death, absolute truth. God with us, IMMANUEL, does all those things.

That is what leads Joseph to willing and joyful obedience. That is what leads us to people of God as well! From the Manger speaks the clear Word of Christ Jesus. He covers the multitude of sins that dot the landscape of our daily walks with God. Paul ties this all together so nicely in his letter to the Philippians:

“[Jesus Christ], who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing taking the very nature of the a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross.” Have you contemplated the unselfish thing that Joseph did? It is only a foggy mirror image of the unselfish sacrifice that God and his Son did for us all! “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.” Amen.

The Advent Joy of the Redeemed

Isaiah 35: 1-11 (Advent 3 – 2016)

“The Advent Joy of the Redeemed”

            The days of December are not always good times for everyone. There are those people whose depression deepens while everyone else’s joy grows strong. The joy that they see in others is a heightened reminder that they find it difficult to find gladness of heart; at least in this life. According to their expectations of what happiness should be, life stinks! But the LORD turns that kind of thinking on its ear. In a few small phrases he reminds us - who believe in Christ - that a great life of joy exists to which we will all go! In the mean time, there are toils to be had, people to be loved, people to be missed, and crosses to bear! Between now and then we look forward to the picture Isaiah paints: “The Joy of the Redeemed.” We know that the LORD will strengthen us here for our journey home. We know the LORD will give us true joy at the end of this life. Through his Holy Spirit, and his attending angels, we will live in eternal peace with Christ and each other!

They Will Be Strengthened Here

Strengthen feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come.”

From where does weakness, fear, despair and disappointment stem? Why do we let ourselves get so frustrated and depressed even during one of the most joyful times of the year? I believe it is because of a temptation, a desire, each one of us experiences through our life time: wanting heaven on earth. Pastors and theologian types call it the bad Theology of Glory. We want everything to go smoothly all the time. We want family problems to magically disappear. We want our physical ailments to disappear. We wish for civil negativity to cease. We hope for Church life to be absolutely perfect: without human strife and without financial challenges. We deeply yearn for things in this life to be absent of the results of sin. When they are not, our attitudes and moods turn ugly. We blame God and the people we love. We choose despair and fear!

Here we get sick. Here we fall into sin. Here we experience hate and persecution. Here we face the evils of Satan. Here we face death and its harsh reality. Here we experience the guilt that Adam and Eve knew the moment they ate from the tree. Here we are despised for hailing a Baby in a manger as our Savior from sin. Pastor and theologian types refer to this as the truthful Theology of the Cross.

Still, here we receive strength from our God. Even here he heals our diseases. Even here he thwarts the plans of evil: the destruction of the Devil’s scheming; the barring of the plans of unbelief around the globe. King Jesus is in charge in the world. Even here he gives comfort to those who face death. Even here he gives comfort to those who grieve over loved ones taken into glory. Even here he points us to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Even here he gives blessings to the preaching of his Word through the Church.

Through the waters of his Holy Word, God replenishes our sin-sickened hearts. Time with his Word and Sacraments; time with each other as his people; time with the LORD in his house is time well spent. His Holy Word announces his healing grace to us. Through his Church, God restores us day by day and gives us strength to live in this fallen world each day.

Be strong, do not fear; your God will come with vengeance, with divine retribution he will come to save you.” The Lord’s redeeming comes with a vengeance on those things that can eternally destroy us. We are redeemed (purchased with the holy blood of Jesus). On the cross Jesus bears God’s vengeance against our sins, and against the devil himself. Divine and punitive damages not only are fulfilled on the cross, but the resurrection of Jesus destroys our final foe: death!  

Isaiah pointed his hearers ahead. They were encouraged to think of the time when the Messiah would arrive and complete his work of restoring peace between God and mankind. That happened when Christ came into the world as a man. He humbled himself before God, to the point of death on the cross. But Isaiah was also encouraging his listeners - and us - to look further ahead to the Day when this world would pass away and God would begin the everlasting time of joy in heaven. Christ, who rose from death, has also ascended to his throne of Glory to remind us the heaven is a very real place.

They Will Live in Safety There

            “A highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness …. but only the redeemed will be there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return.” Isaiah fills this section with picture language to tell us how wonderful heaven will be. In true Hebrew poetry, Isaiah offers us multiple pairs of opposites.

One of these contrast pictures is actually used by Jesus in the Gospel lesson today to encourage John that Jesus is indeed the Messiah who was to come into the world. “The eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer and the mute tongue will shout for joy.” From Isaiah’s perspective he was foretelling the time when Jesus would perform many healing miracles as a true sign that he was the promised Savior from heaven.  

This beautiful imagery also gives us a sense of the joy of the redeemed in heaven. There are no wheel chairs and crutches in heaven. There are no eye glasses and hearing aids in heaven. There are no hospitals beds, funeral homes and cemeteries in heaven. In the Joy of the Redeemed the ailments of this life and death itself will disappear!  

Two other contrasting images help Isaiah to describe the Joy of the Redeemed. The one picture is the thought of a desert land being turned into a land of “bubbling springs”. In heaven there will be no need for irrigating hoses. Paradise will not have dramatic changes in climate. Think of what John tells us in the vision of Revelation7: “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their Shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.” Jesus will be the only source of life we need in the Joy of the Redeemed!

The other overriding contrast is the absence of wickedness and danger. There will be a “highway of holiness.” Heaven and its joys will not be like it is here on earth. “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain.” The evidences of danger, physical and spiritual, will not exist in the future glory of heaven. I personally believe that of all the things I look forward to the most is the absence of sin and evil. Can we begin to image the JOY of no devil, no sinful nature, no temptation, no guilt! What could be more joyful for the redeemed that to be eternally released from the spiritual harms that plague us throughout our earthy journey!

Almost 2 years ago, the Lord in his wisdom took my brother to that JOY during this time of year. As my family and I approach another anniversary of his funeral, I remember again that my brother was one of those people for whom Christmas time was a time of heightened depression and loneliness. Perhaps you are someone like that, or know someone like that. Take a moment this Advent season to pray for those who find joy difficult. If possible reach out to the lonely and depressed and share with them the reality of the eternal joy that will ours and theirs soon! The Lord through Isaiah promises that his Words of eternal joy will comfort the loneliest of the earth, even as we wait for his return. He also promises that heaven is a real place, a place of eternal and lasting joy that can never be taken away from his redeemed people! This gives us strength now. It will bring us joy and safety then!

Be strong, do not fear; your God will come with vengeance,

with divine retribution he will come to save you.”

Then they will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.

Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away”!

Oh where shall joy be found? Where but on heavenly ground?

Where the angels singing With all his saints unite,

Sweetest praises bringing In heav’nly joy and light.

Oh that we were there! Oh, that we were there! (CW 34: 4) Amen.

Thankful for The God; Who Does What He Says

Genesis 8:22 (Thanksgiving Day - 2016)

“Thankful for The God; Who Does What He Says”

 

As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest,

cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.

These words are incased in the first epic story ever told. But this story was true. It tells of the true God of creation and salvation. It tells us of the origin of life. It tells of a God who means what he says, and does what he says. Today we are thankful for the one true God who does what he says.

Serving King Jesus

Luke 19: 11-26 (Last Judgment 2016)

“Serving King Jesus”

Some parables of Jesus were designed just for the Pharisees of his day. This is one of them. But his lesson is for us, too. There is a Pharisee that lives in each of us. This week is Last Judgment Sunday. That means we take heed many encouragements from the Bible to be spiritually ready when the trumpet blast sounds and the Risen Lord Jesus returns. He desires to find us not only ready, but busily about the business of serving King Jesus in spiritual Kingdom.

Jesus had just been at the home of Zacchaeus, the tax collector. I am certain it was one of those moments in time when Jesus caught flack for sitting with “sinners”; the dregs of society. He knew they were watching. He knew they were paying attention. They were listening to him speak: “Salvation has come to this house today … for the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19: 10). As the Pharisees were still digesting that thought, he told them the parable of the King and the ten minas.

We don’t want this man to be our King,” said the subjects in the story. This was his jab on the Pharisee attitudes of the day. As John said in his first chapter: “He came to his own and his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). Much of the Israelite clans refused to believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah. In their hearts, they enthroned their own, self-given righteousness. They rejected Jesus as King and Savior. They lifted themselves up by putting others, like Zacchaeus, down.

Jesus has been made King, whether they liked it or not. He also makes us responsible to His kingdom. As Jesus told the parable he reminds us that the Servant-King commands us to be his servants. The first two subjects in the story took the duties seriously. They put the resources of the King to work and the results came back with blessings. The King blesses the work his servants do. They served the King and put the resources they had been given to work. They were praised and rewarded by the King.

The third servant in the story lends us a timely lesson. He seemed rational and justified in his own mind. He seemed to be frugal and wise. Yet, he ends up being the one rebuked. “I have kept it in a piece of cloth.” He was afraid to put anything to use and be judged on what might have been lost. And Jesus says, “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant!” King Jesus does not desire that sit we on our hands. He is not pleased if the resources we have from him sit in storehouses and bank accounts unused. His point is made so emphatically that he closes the lesson this way: “those enemies of mine who did not want me to be King over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me.”

There is a Pharisee in each of us. There is that rebellious, in-born enemy of God who refuses Lordship of Jesus. There is that stubborn natural voice in us that says, “I want to be king. I am king. I am the lord of my own life.” Consider those sad moments of your own sinful thoughts. We rationalize our laziness about the resources God had generously placed in front of us. We forget that they are not ours for us, but his gifts for us to put to use now for the sake of his kingdom. How often we have said, “I don’t want Jesus to be king/ I want to be servant of my own goals, my own desires, my own private thoughts.” Like coins in a cloth, we wrap up our relationship with Jesus. We attempt to put him out of our sight so that we can be little kings of our castles, just for a little awhile. Rather than live as servants in His kingdom, we foolishly think that we can run to places where he does not rule.

That Jesus seeks us out with an eager, servant-like, heart. He runs after us like he sought out Zacchaeus. He sought out Adam and Eve in the garden. He heard the cries of his people in Egypt. He was patient with Daniel and his people who wanted desperately to be home. He seeks you day by and calls for an account of repentance. But he does that because he longs to be the servant of the servants. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Jesus is our Servant-King. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life and ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

This is the three-fold truth on which our faith depends

Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. (CW 406)

            So Jesus is coming back. The King will return and judge the living and the dead. His desire, his command, his love, will be to find us serving him with undivided motives and hearts. His desire, his love, his joy will be to say to each of us, “Well done, my good servant!”

How shall I make the best use of what God has given me? How shall I live an undivided life for Him? How do I view the wealth of my King’s storehouse of treasures which he has so graciously asked me use? Christ has poured out his life on the cross for you. He has wiped from his father’s memory all of our sins of laziness, our sins of greed, our sins of jealousy, our sins of habit and choice. His blood has cleansed us from an excuse that might rationalize why we shouldn’t live as willing and thankful servants to our King? Look at the minas in your life through lens of our gracious and forgiving King:

  • Those who have a spouse and children treat them as if today was your      last day with them.
  • Those who are mourning the loss of loved, cling to the lips of      children who whose simple faith speaks volumes about heaven being a real      place where King Jesus rules.
  • Those who have cause to rejoice in unexpected blessings: new      position at work, opportunities for a young adult to enter new stages in      life, or the pleasure of a hobby that brings a joyful smile and needed      break from routine. These are minas ought that should not be wrapped up in      the dish rag of woe, but be used as deposits on spreading the joy of      Christ to others.
  • See yourself richer in Christ than the Pharisee in us perceives us      to be. See the treasures of the Gospel of Jesus as an unlimited storehouse      of good things for the people around you.

Perhaps, a lesson of Last Judgment, and Jesus’ story, is the simple truth for us to use earthly resources to the best of our ability for his glory and for the eternal good of others. The Day will come when earthly resources will fade and will not be taken into glory. For this world in its present form is passing away.”

Michael Jordan was quoted to have said: “Play every game like it was your last.” Fellow servants of our gracious King Jesus, the Day is surely drawing near. Serve your Savior and his kingdom as if today were Judgment Day. Live in love and the joy the life of grace that Christ’s blood has purchased for you. Serve the King who served you best and first. And look forward to the day when he will hold out his hand, usher you into his throne room and say, “Well done, my good servant.” Amen.

What Does This Mean?

1 Corinthians 2: 1-5 (Reformation 2016)

“What Does This Mean?”

                What does this mean? For 5 centuries students and parents in the Lutheran Church have been taught to ask that question. In Martin Luther’s small catechism readers are invited on every page to ask many questions. Page by page passages of the Bible remain the answers to those questions. Page by page these passages lead us to Jesus who gave his life on a cross for our sins.

What does it mean to be Lutheran? Lutheran’s know the Bible is clear. Its clarity leads us to Jesus Christ who was born for us, lived for us, was crucified for our sins, and rose to life give us life in heaven. Luther saw that in his studies, especially of Paul’s letters. Paul had much to say in those letters. But at the center of it all was “Christ and him crucified.” What does Paul mean? “Jesus died” is not the only thing to know. Christ crucified is the thing to know that is key to opening all of the Spirit’s power and wisdom for us.

  

Preach Christ Crucified Clearly

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Christ, and Him crucified.” Paul had even confessed that he did not come with eloquence in words. His gifts or lack of them could not make that message better or more appealing. It wasn’t his clever persuasions that convinced people to run to Jesus. It wasn’t in masterful evangelism skills. In fact, if the Gospel and its work depended on Paul he would have ruined everything. He confessed to Timothy: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15) Paul was keenly aware that he was reaching out to people who knew about his persecution of Christians. They knew about his worst.

Of whom I am the worst. One clear identity Confessional Lutherans have always taken is this “I am a sinner.” I hold on to the natural condition of my human birth. I harbor rotten sinful thoughts. I act on those thoughts with actions that go against God’s holy laws. I speak and do things that give offense to others and the Word. Pastors realize that when they stand and speak they are often speaking to people who have seen them at their worst. We are all together sinners, who rightfully find ourselves clearly to say: “of whom I am the worst.

Jesus loves sinners. His was nailed to the cursed tree of the cross to prove it. He was nailed to that tree to take away the sins of the whole world. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification!” (Romans 4:25). Justification gives you a clearly new identity. “If anyone is in Christ is they a new creation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) We are sinners, whom Jesus has saved. Justified, means not guilty before God. Every sin is washed from his sight in Christ. That is what Paul meant when he “resolved to know nothing … except Christ and him crucified.” And, yes, very Lutheran:

 

He has redeemed me a lost and condemned creature; purchased and 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.

Express Faith in Christ Fearlessly

“I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling” What does this mean? Why so much fear and trembling? Christ and his Church have enemies. The stronger the “old evil foe” perceives the Church’s presence to be, the harder he works at destroying it. History has shown that. It is one of the great paradoxes of the Church: preach the Gospel clearly and you will soon make enemies and friends. The world perceives Grace in Christ as an enemy. The child of God sees his grace and the only rest for a troubled conscience. Unbelief wants happiness by its own way. Faith expresses: “What God ordains is always good!”

                Where the Lord plants his churches, the devil sows his chapels. Paul had his enemies. The reformers had enemies. By faith in Christ you have enemies. The one that troubles us most is the evil within our own sinful hearts. But the one who had enemies more is the very Son of God our Savior. He overpowered the devil and all his angels. He over powered the enemies of the early church. He overpowered the enemies of the Reformation. He overpowers your foes day by day. “He made public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross!” (Colossians 2:15)

What does this mean? In your God-given roles in family home life, express faith in Christ with gentleness and great patience. Teach and learn about Jesus in your homes. In your vocations learn that living according to the ways of Christ will overcome the world’s ways. Use your freedom in Christ to love and support the Word and the work of the Church. The Church will always have enemies. God gives courage where there is timidity by thwarting the plans of those who hate his Son. Trembling Paul encouraged the younger Timothy: “He has not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1: 7).This, too, is very Lutheran as we sing:

 

“Lord keep us steadfast in your word curb those by deceit and sword

Would seek to over throw your Son and to destroy all he has done!

 

And, as we pray: Let your holy angels be with me, that the wicked foe have no power over me!

Know the Spirit’s Power Clearly

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Sprit’s power.” The sword yielding power of Spirit is the Word of God. “The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any two edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit; joints and marrow. It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) What does this mean?

It means that Paul the man did not win souls for Christ. The message Paul preached was the power the Spirit used to change hearts from unbelief to faith in Christ. “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10: 17) Paul wanted his listeners to know that their faith was the result of the Spirit working through the Gospel.

The Spirit uses the mouths of faithful teachers and preachers to teach Christ clearly that the work of the ministry does not rest on the wisdom and cunning of men. Human beings are just not clever or wise enough to come up with something that is the Gospel of Jesus; nor can we come up with something different that would be better; or can we make the message of Christ better. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us it is the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

That is why Lutheran’s have pulpits, Baptism fonts and tables for the Lord’s Supper. Paul taught the life of the Church is fed though the Word of Christ: the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Paul in the Scriptures taught the “all of you have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”(Romans 6: 3) Paul taught “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11: 24). The clear message of Christ is clearly a demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power. This, too, is very Lutheran. Paul taught it. Luther took it seriously:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, nor come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith.

When fire fighters go to a fire, they not only go to put out the flames, the go to save lives. The very water that destroys the flames is the water that helps save lives. The fire dreads the water as it seeks to consume all in its path. In a similar way, the clear proclamation of Christ crucified is the one thing needful. The message that destroys the flaming arrows of the evil one is the same message that saves lives for eternity in heaven.

 

What does this mean?

                “I resolve to know nothing while I was with you except Christ and him crucified, so that your faith might not rest and man’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” Preach Christ Crucified Clearly! Express your Faith in Christ Clearly! Know the Spirit’s Power clearly, now and for eternity. Amen!

Christian Stewardship Makes Eternal Friendships

Luke 16: 1 – 13 (Pentecost 18 - 2016)

“Christian Stewardship Makes Eternal Friendships”

I received a rather saddening note from a dear friend early this week. My friend had apparently been very betrayed by many people. It seemed the let down was quite unexpected. What was his concluding remark? “… save six for pall bearers.” I know the person well enough that there is a tinge of humor in a hurting soul. I wonder how often all of feel like huddling up at least our family, our closest friendships and hunker down. As we huddle for the remainder of our days, we are satisfied that no one else will hurt us and no one else will be hurt by me. There will be a few left to bury us.

That very thinking goes against some very basic commands the Lord gives his people: “Go and make disciples of all nations!” “Let us not forsake the coming together as some are in the habit of doing.” “Hunkering Down” goes against the grain of our Savior’s command that we work together with others in the interest of his Gospel ministry. In another parable Jesus rebuked the guy that buried his talent in the ground.

In today’s parable Jesus tells of a Christian shrewdness that will be rewarded. He tells the parable of a man who knew he was about to be fired from his job. His plan was to cheat his boss in order to make friends for when he is jobless. It seems like a pretty un-Christian thing to do. Yet, in the end, his plan was rewarded by the very master that he schemed to cheat. Then Jesus explains “I tell you use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

This is what I like to call Cheating the False god of Materialism. It could also be more broadly called cheating the false god of anxiety, depression, pride, selfishness and a number of other things.Shrewd Christianity takes a different view of earthly time and blessings than the world does. Christians see earthly blessings as they are: blessings from God. They are reasons for thanksgiving. They are tools for providence. They are tools for God-pleasing pleasure. They are tools for generosity and charity. They are also tools for the spread of the Gospel. In their proper place, everything we are and have is a blessing from God. How we divide up our time, energy, resources, abilities is a God-given right. He has given us time and blessings as a way to bring honor to our true Master, Jesus Christ.

            The “god” or master of Materialism is real. He can sometime be a real slave driver. Keeping up with the “Joneses”; keeping up with the busy parent vehicles; keeping up with the neighbor’s way of life, keeping up with the world, without losing our sanity and perspective; this is frustrating slavery. We have all been there, or are even daily tempted to trade it all for laziness or despair. That despair often results in sinful solutions, needles worry and guilt, and a fear about things that will pass away.

Jesus took away that burden. He avoided the things of the world to focus on his work of sharing the Gospel and to focus on his primary work of being the Gospel. He unloads your burden by taking upon himself and marching it through the lost crowds to the cross. On his way he cared about those crowds. He taught those crowds. He used what was around him to make friends for eternity. Remember, the Son of man who had no place to rest his head did a mighty amount of caring for the eternal wellbeing of others.

Jesus offers us the way to cheat the gods of this world. His answer is to make eternal friends with earthly resources. Now that does not mean “buy your friends.” What it simply means is this: Our devotion to the spread of the Gospel contributes to the making of eternal friendships. Take some of that energy we “waste” on the earthly way of doing things and channel it to the kingdom of God. When we are spreading the Gospel of Jesus, we are like that guy in the parable. His thinking process is this, “Hey, I’m not going to be here very long. I better start thinking about my life after here.”

Shrewd Christians are on alert for the eternal consequence of their actions. That kind of thinking is foreign to the lost souls and in some cases fellow believers around you.

  • They may not understand why you would spend four hours at a church event.
  • They may not understand why you would get out of bed on your day off to spend it with God’s family.
  • They may not understand understand why a congregation would send some of its offerings away to missions in other lands or the support of our church body, or Christian Schools of learning.
  • They may not understand why you would take much of your energy, gifts, time, and everything else that you have and invest it in the furtherance of God’s good news in Christ.
  • They may not understand why you would spend the last few moments of your day talking to God and reading his book.

You however, know the grace of God in Christ Jesus: that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). God invested in you the blood of his Son, and “along with Him graciously gives us all things” (Romans 8: 32). You know that God created you, redeemed you, keeps you in faith, provides for your daily bread, and keeps you from all harm, and will one day deliver you from this earthly life and bring you to the place where all God’s people have eternal dwellings. Look what Christ has spent on you: 30 plus years in humble humanity; 3 plus years in laboring public ministry; and the eternal supply of his salvation. Peter reminds us: “know that you were ransomed from futile ways … not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or stain.” (1 Peter 1: 18-19).

Let me illustrate from the parable. Where the shrewd manager was lowering their bills to make friends, your Savior says to you, “Take out your insurmountable debt to me and make it zero. I have paid it in full with my righteous sacrifice on mount Calvary.”

Knowing that, you start thinking like the guy who says, “I’m not going to be here forever. I best start making friends for the eternal place.” We begin to grow in perspective of priority. We begin to be more alert as to how what I have can help more people know Jesus and his eternal blessings. The lost souls around you may not get it … at first. But if he, or she, is brought to faith through God’s message of Jesus, then your witness of the Gospel, your support of the Gospel, your efforts and resources just made you another friend in eternity who will say, “Thank You!” and Jesus will commend your shrewd Christian behavior.

            I suspect that my troubled friend will cheer up soon. I have prayed for him and reached out to him. I know he has prayed for me and others. Together we have become friends in Christ through the Word. Use what Christ has given to make more eternal friendships. The voice of our dear Savior Jesus lifts us up to see his cross and an open heaven. The Ascended Lord has showered us with resources and open doors to support the business of his kingdom. I trust that Christ is rebuilding all of us each through that Word to be shrewd managers, shrewd Christian stewards of all that he has given for us, to his glory, in thanksgiving to Jesus, and for the saving of many friendships that will last for eternity.

The world seeks after wealth and all that money offers.

Yet never is content though gold should fill its coffers.

I have a higher good, content with it I’ll be.

My Jesus is my wealth! What is the world to me! (477:4) Amen.

The Word Is the Only Tool You Need

2 Timothy 3: 16-17

(Christian Education/ Sarah Enstad Install)

“The Word is the Only Tool You Need”

Begin a school year and teachers look for all the stuff: lesson plans, books, projects, bulletin board cut outs …” Christian teachers make certain of the one thing needful: the Words of Jesus! As one of my former professors said often, “A Christian going to class without his Bible is like a soldier going to war without his rifle.” It is hunting season and all the big outfitters are blasting their invitations to get all the gear. Paul reminds us that we are “fully equipped” (completely outfitted) for everything when we carry the one tool necessary for all things: the God-breathed Words of Christ and salvation.

Today we highlight the fact that a Christian Education is important; But why? And who does this task? Paul had made it clear in the verses right before and after that world stands ready to educate your kids. The world stands ready and willing to saturate them all kinds of ant-Christian rhetoric and pure evil “lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy … lovers of pleasure rather lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness but denying its power ….” (3: 2-7ff). Paul said the time would come when they would not want sound teachings but traded it for things their sinful ears liked to hear. And they will love to share it with your families.

Paul was encouraging the younger Pastor Timothy to continue in the teachings he had learned from Paul and going all the way back to when he was a toddler learning from his mom and grandmother. It is easy for the world to teach your kids what they want them to know. His ears and heart needed a continual flooding of the Word of Christ and his congregation did too.

Teaching Christ and his Word takes work. A little splash here and there is not enough. We need to be constantly saturate with the way God speaks. “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus : preach the word in season and out of season, with great patience and gentle instruction!” (4:1-2).

Paul writes: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” God’s Word equips with the task fits all tool that teaches Christ:

  • When our sin makes us lazy or indifferent, God’s Word rebukes and corrects us. Through his truth we become conscious of our sin. Like us, our children need rebuke and correction. They are sinners with us.
  • When false teachings trouble the souls of the Church, the Word rebukes and corrects them “with great patience and gentle instruction” (2 Timothy 4: 2). When the Word rebukes and corrects those who would harm the children of God, we protect them from that harm.
  • When we feel the pain of guilt, God’s Word announces “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
  • When others confess the pain of guilt to us, we have the good news of God’s Word, which alone will lift them up: “He is the atoning sacrifice not only for our sins but for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 1-2).
  • When we are weak in faith and need strength for the tasks in our walk of faith, God’s Word thoroughly equips us for every good work. We are: “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” (Eph. 2:10).
  • When we ache over the crosses we carry, the Word speaks volumes of comfort, and provides the needed strength of Christ Jesus, who lifts us up beneath those crosses.
  • When we are confused over troubling circumstances and need his guiding hand: “God’s Word is Lamp to our feet and a Light for our path” (Psalm 119: 105). The Word is the one and only useful tool for the life we live under God and the cross.
  • When the canopy of death looms dark over our heads, the Word speaks to us of an open tomb where the “Resurrection and the Life” “once was dead but is bow alive” and sits at the right hand of God welcoming his believers home.

Aside to Sarah Enstad: You also have been fully equipped. Your training your whole life through and the years of experience has already been a blessing to our ministry and our kids. God be with you, and continue to fill your ears and heart. Let the peace and word of Christ dwell richly in you.

For my last birthday my children bought me one of those “Leatherman” tool things. It has really been a handy thing to have. I have to be honest and say that I have not used every function nor to I fully grasp its usefulness. It will take time. It will require some learning and experience. Some the tools will come be better understood when the need for them arises. God’s Word is like that. We are glad it is there. We know that it is useful. We know there places in that we have only begun learn about. Where shall we begin let this one thing needful function?

From infancy you have know the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for Salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” From Infancy ... Timothy learned the Word of God from Lois and Eunice. Before he could mutter the word “mom” they spoke and sang of Jesus to him. By the power of that Word and God’s Grace the Spirit made him an eternal child of heaven.

That is why we train parents in the Word. That is why we have Sunday schools. That is why we do Christian Education. That is why we install teachers. That is why we train called workers. That is why we build buildings that have worship spaces with pulpits and baptism fonts. That is why we build classrooms with crosses and pictures of our Savior. We fill those rooms with the audible sounds of the way God speaks. We want those rooms to be filled with ears which definitely need to hear what the Spirit says the churches (Revelation letters).

Continue in what you have learned. What part of your day, what element of your life does not need the Word’s of Jesus governing over it! The one who puts away your sin and guilt on Calvary is the one who clears the path for his voice pardon and grace. The Word of Christ is all the tool you need. By all means take all of its usefulness and learn handle it with care and power. By all means breath the God breathed Word of Jesus.

Consider Hymn 509: 1, 4, 5 as a close. Amen.

Jesus Teaches Us the Cost of Following Him

Luke 14: 25-35 (Pentecost 16 - 2016)

“Jesus Teaches us the Cost of Following Him”

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus …” They were drawn to his teaching abilities. They noticed his authoritative hold on their attention (Matthew 7: 28-29). His understanding of the Scriptures and the applications to their lives were unmatched. Mostly they were waiting for the next miracle to happen.As the crowds continued to follow, Jesus explained what it truly means to be one of his followers. The two pictures in the lesson are simply illustrating the fact that wise people evaluate what they are getting into before they commit to something.

  • A builder doesn’t build unless he knows he can finish what he started (verses 28-30). He needs the right tools, the proper funding, the manpower, the ability to finish what he started; otherwise he will look like a fool with an unfinished basement.
  • A king doesn’t go to war unless he knows he can win (verses 31-33). He needs the right manpower, the proper strategy, and the advantage of an upper hand. He will otherwise lose a great deal for nothing, or be forced into a peace treaty.

Jesus was asking the crowds, “Do you know what you are getting into?” Many of these crowds would eventually abandon him. Even his closest friends would follow him to the point of Gethsemane, only to realize they were associated with a man marked for death. Strike the Shepherd and the sheep would be scattered (Matthew 26:31). He was entirely focused on his Cross as he led these crowds to understand the cost of following a wanted man. He wants you to learn that cost.

Following Jesus means Loving Him More than Anyone Else

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – he cannot be my disciple.” The word “hate” may seem so too harsh. Jesus did not mean that, did he? This is the Son of God who demands with fourth commandment convictions that our homes be filled with love and respect. What does he mean in saying that we must hate our immediate family as initiation into his kingdom?!Remember that it was only a short time ago that he explained that his sword of truth creates division (Luke 12: 49-53 – the Gospel Lesson two weeks ago). Remember this is a God who “loves righteousness and hates wickedness” (Psalm 45: 7). The cost of following Christ includes the reality that not all folks agree with what you believe about him, including people you know very well.

Will you hold firmly to the Word in your homes while some live as enemies of the Cross of Christ? Are you able to patiently bear the thought that not everyone you know agrees with everything that Jesus stands for? Do you have what it takes to stand up for the convictions of the Bible when people who are close to you stand in your way? Our personal lives become the very places where the conflict is most often felt: I would give more attention to my children if they weren’t so selfish and began to understand what a rotten day I have had. I would give my spouse more affection if he wasn’t such a slob; I would do what she asks if she wasn’t such a nag. I would enjoy family functions more if there wasn’t so much religious tension.

The Lord brought Abraham to Mt. Moriah to test his love and faith. Abraham was asked to measure his relationship with the Lord against his love for his only son.Would you have drawn the knife on Isaac if God commanded you to do so?Jesus pleads with first commandment convictions: Do you love me more than father, mother, spouse, and child? Remember that he does not ask anything of you that he himself was not willing to do. His gracious convictions “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32)! That enduring, sacrificial love promises to bear you up when personal lives grow difficult. We are following Him. He is leading, walking with, and supporting us with every step.

Following Jesus means Loving Him More than Yourself

If anyone comes after me and does not hate ... yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” I hate myself! We have all thought it. You may have even said it out loud. This condition makes a bit more sense to us. People who have come to know God’s law so entirely well, people who have become so clearly aware our sinfulness before holy God – we have rightfully come to hate ourselves in a true and proper sense. We can all relate to the situations which lead us, with Paul, to say “I hate what I do!” (Romans 7: 15) - for nothing good lives in my sinful nature.

Be careful. Remember how easily Lot’s wife turned her head back to Sodom, almost as if to say, “But Lord, there were certain things in that town that I will miss!” In a similar way, there is much that we love about ourselves which following Jesus would force us to give up. We secretly hang on to the “yeah buts!”

  • Yeah but, Lord, there are certain areas of my life where I like to sin and I do not desire to leave it all completely.
  • Yeah but, Lord, I do not think you intended for me to agree with everything that you have to say.
  • Yeah but, Lord, I don’t know that I should have to be all that excited about the rotten stuff you have allowed to happen in my life. Don’t you want me to determine some of my own happiness?
  • Yeah but, Lord, I like myself too much to think that you come first in all things. There are certain things that force me to look back.

We needlessly hang on to favorite temptations; to personal opinions that oppose the Lord’s wisdom; to opposing thoughts about the ways he has chosen to direct our lives. Jesus says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom” (Luke 9: 62).

In Baptism Jesus crucifies our sinfulness to HIS cross. In Baptism Jesus buries our old selfish thoughts and ways. In Baptism he raises us up with power of his resurrection. In light of that peace he has given to us with our heavenly Father, Jesus promises, “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Jesus teaches you to deny yourself. Yet he is the one who loves you more than you love yourself. The price he paid on a cross for you shows that well.

Following Jesus Means Carrying Your Cross

                Even then there is the cross to bear. He says “Blessed are you when men persecute you because of me.” Trouble accompanies those who claim Christ as Lord. When Jesus demands that you pick up YOUR cross he does not mean what HE did on Calvary. That was part of HIS suffering for our salvation. YOUR cross is entirely another thing. The believer in Christ who takes confession and practice of his Word seriously meets with a set of troubles unique to all believers. Jesus says “anyone who does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot – literally: IS NOT ABLE – does not have the power tobe my disciple.” What about …

  • Bear the ridicule of those who hate you because of your Christianity?
  • Handle all the lousy stuff that Hell throws at the children of God when they stand up for the truths of Jesus?
  • Handle all the lousy stuff that society throws in the face of the Christian home?
  • Bear with the messy church tensions that get stirred up when sin rears its head among the family of believers?
  • Carry the burden of knowing what is right in the face of so many who will hate you if you do it?
  • Carry the self-inflicted guilt of knowing when you are willfully standing on the sidelines, most of the time because you just don’t want the bother of getting involved, or losing whatever comfort zone you have nestled up to? Do you hope to rescue yourself from the cross by standing still like a face in the crowds?

We do NOT have what it takes to follow Jesus. But Jesus has it and gives it!

                “If salt loses is saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” Jesus explains that salt that is no longer salty can’t be made salty. It is good for nothing, not even the manure pile. The only way to be revived is at the foot of HIS cross. There is serenity in this lesson. Do you see how focused Jesus is on HIS Cross? Do you see how capable he is to carry his own load and the load of others? Do you see that he has the power to carry the entire burden of sin, the enemies of truth, the threats of Hell, the darkness of death and take it up to Calvary, to that wooden post where he endures every ounce your guilt along with the guilt of the whole world. The one who removes your sins in His death, holds the power over all death, and has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, is the one who is able to carry you through this life as well.

He says: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest for your souls. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11: 28-30). He says, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill only the body; rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10: 28). He says, “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). You do not have what it takes. But HE does. He has the power to lift you up under your cross so that his strength sustains you through the very life he has called you to live. He will raise you up as on eagles wings and give you joyful patience as you wait for his eternal blessings to be fulfilled in heaven. Until then we sing: (Close with CW Hymn 419: 1, 5) Amen.

Jesus Exalts Humility

Luke 14: 7 – 14 (Pentecost 15 - 2016)

“Jesus Exalts Humility”

            God chose the foolishness of the cross to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1: 18) and the weak things of the world to shame the strong (27). The very heart of the Gospel, Jesus’ willing sacrifice on a cross, is foolishness to the worldly view of self promotion. It seems like a most necessary evil in our interactions with other human beings. If you don’t promote yourself no one else will and some one is sure to step on you to promote their own ambitions and recognitions. A strong lesson in humility is always a breath of fresh air in the Scriptures.

Humility Defines Christ and his People

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humility Exalts Others Around You

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

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

            Think about that from the perspective our congregation of believers. We are currently enjoying a healthy prospect list for outreach to the souls in our neighborhood. Our visitor list is growing each week. Who are our welcomed guests? Whom do we hope will fill the rest of these pews? Our neighborhoods are growing. Our opportunities to reach out to all sorts of cultures and classes of people are growing more obvious. They are all souls for whom Jesus gave his life. In view of his generosity, we continue to position ourselves to welcome them all to feast of the Gospel in Word and sacrament. As Paul said “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the Word of God for profit, On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like people sent from God.”

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

            Jesus is exalts humility. Jesus defines humility to the point of death on a cross. He continues to teach our hearts true humility. Let his Name be exalted. Use us, Lord Jesus to help the helpless with motives that are pure and generous thoughts stemming from your love. Strengthen in our hearts a genuine love for all people, because of Christ Jesus who died and rose again for us all! In his Name we ask it, Amen.

Jesus Is the Door to Heaven

Luke 13: 22 – 30 (Pentecost 14, 2016)

“Jesus is the Door to Heaven”

The ever popular “All-Roads-Lead-to-Heaven” theology is finds healthy soil in our world today. Social climates beg for no absolute authority on religion. Powers and authorities around the world aim to thwart the efforts of Christianity. Since Adam and Eve disobeyed God humanity has repeated the self esteem movements. The sinful nature does not like to tell anyone that they are wrong about anything. We rationalize sin, avoid discipline, stroke the esteem of others, and attempt to spare kids from any kind of failure. Nobody is ever wrong and therefore no body is ever right either.

How dare Jesus claim to be the only way to eternal peace! How dare he claim a monopoly on the truth! How dare he say “I am THE Narrow Door!” Yet, His prophecy has come true: “many will try and enter and will not be able to.” Many have tried going through the wrong gates. On Judgment Day that one door will be locked to them. On Judgment Day believers in Christ will be welcomed into an open heaven.

1. Many Look for Other Doors

There are only two religions: Christianity and Unbelief; Faith in Jesus and Work Righteousness. Anyone refusing to be saved by faith in Jesus must attempt to save themselves – something impossible to do, but many try. Notice, Jesus is not talking about church denominations. He is not speaking here about joining the right visible church. He is not distinguishing between confessional Lutherans and everyone else claiming to be Christian. He is teaching us the doctrine of the Holy Invisible Christian Church. Paul quotes the Old Testament Scriptures in his letter to the Romans when he writes: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).

Everyone who doesn’t call on the true God is looking to save themselves another way. They won’t find an open door on Judgment Day. The Christian Church has noticed those banners for centuries. “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere.” “Who are who to judge me?” “God wouldn’t send nice people to hell just because they don’t believe in Jesus, would he?” Those banners exist all around us:

  • There are the churches without denomination or convictions who simply hope to avoid doctrines and confessions which turn people off.
  • There are flooded stadiums where preachers blather about what the itching ears want to hear.
  • Worship services and sermons that avoid the confession of sin and the announcement of Jesus’ death on the Cross as the foundation of forgiveness.
  • Cults have been formed by false prophets who have re-written the Bible to make say what they want it to say.
  • There are straying souls in Christian congregations who, like Adam, run from God in guilt, afraid to have a relationship with God because of their sin.
  • There are the hypocrites who sit in sanctuaries every Sunday morning just going through the motions to give the outward appearance of righteousness.
  • There is the voice of the atheist who openly mocks the idea of a God, and would attempt to find peace in his own imaginations.
  • Finally, there is our own sinful opinion about law and grace. There is the natural voice in each of us that loves to think that we have added or could add to what Christ has done to save.

Many, says Jesus, will try another way. Wide is the gate that leads to eternal death. Any theology that is not based on Christ is based on the thought that human beings can save themselves. And if anyone insists throughout this life that there way is just as good, or better, than Christ, they will be locked out of heaven forever. They will be cast out where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Believers in Christ go to heaven. Everyone else goes to Hell. The thief on the cross enjoys paradise. The nice man who opens the door for you but does not believe in Jesus goes to hell.

Does that bother you? Does it go against our grain to think that God has to be so absolute, so exclusive – so just? Is there a hesitation inside of us that creeps its way up when the world calls us and our God conceited, arrogant, or unloving? When was the last time you blushed or cringed under the pressure to say with absolute authority “Yes, believing in Jesus is the only way to go to heaven.” Love does not excuse bad theology. No one got to heaven by being permitted to believe that there is another way to heaven outside of Christ. Wide is the way that leads to eternal death. Narrow is the gate to heaven.

Believers See the Narrow Open Door

Of course Jesus’ other prophecy will come true: “People will come from east and west and north and south and take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.” God is slow to anger abounding in love (Psalm 103: 8). “God “takes no pleasure in the death of anyone” (Ezekiel 18:32) “but wants all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:4). “God does love the world so much that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Jesus is the narrow door to eternal life. God is not exclusive. He is exclusively gracious and kind. The blood he spilled was sufficient to pay for the sins of all people. “He is the atoning sacrifice not just for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). The obedience to his Father that Jesus accomplished is the righteousness that His Father gives to us. He died to forgive conceited hearts. His sacrifice means death to our natural egos and life to our saving trust in him. He presents us holy and blameless. He has sent his Holy Spirit into our hearts. He has created in our hearts the clear confession of Jesus as the only Savior and God. He has instilled in us a confidence that knows we will be with him in eternity. He continues to bring the train of his believers through that narrow but open door. That narrow door is the one who came in flesh appearing. It is Jesus who dies and rose again. It the Jesus who sits on heaven’s throne and will come again to judge the living and the dead

Jesus offers no mention of a denomination. He does not speak in terms of visible church. There are no disclaimers regarding hypothetical villages that didn’t get a missionary. There is no mention of how bad or good any one was. There is no mention of age, race, class, generation. The saving of souls is a timeless issue with God. From all corners of the earth Christ will seat his believers at the feast of his kingdom. And they will all enter through one, narrow, open door: Faith in Christ Jesus.

If it were not enough to give his Son as the all atoning sacrifice, God the Father has also given his Church the Holy Spirit and the tools necessary for calling others to the eternal feast. He has generously poured out his truth. “His Word will not return to him empty” (Isaiah 55: 11). It will warn and rebuke. It will comfort and encourage. It will strengthen and heal. “The Word of God is living and active” (Hebrews 4: 12). It plays no favorites. It is as fair and just as the God who gave it. It is eternally relevant. It does not change. Baptism does bring to faith. The Word of God does feed the child of God. The Sacrament of the Altar does give us the forgiveness of sins. God’s Spirit does foster in us the sound confidence in Christ. It is a confidence that looks forward to Judgment Day when he will lead us through that narrow open door to the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Lesson from Hebrews (Hebrews 12: 18-24) today pictures this concept at two separate mountains. The writer describes Mount Sianai as the thunderous mountain of God’s law. That mountain calls us to bow before God in humble awe and fear. But it does not save us and it offers us no peace. Then he directs us to Mount Zion, the mountain representing the grace of God to us in Jesus Christ. There the Lord’s blessings are generously out poured. There God’s people have pardon for their sins. There they have redemption. There they experience true joy. Today we are reminded of the certain confidence that we are being ushered through the narrow door that leads to eternal life. Jesus is that Door and his Holy Spirit is the usher, and the Mountain of Heaven awaits us!

You are the way through you alone Can we the Father find

In you O Christ, has God revealed His heart and will and mind.

You are the way, the truth, the life Grant us that way to know

That truth to keep, that life to win Whose joys eternal flow (CW 356: 1,4) Amen.

Running the Race with Endurance

Hebrews 12: 1-3 (Pentecost 13, 2016)

“Running the Race with Endurance”

            We are well into the 2016 Summer Olympics. All sorts of sports have landed on these events. At the heart of the all are the races. Running; swimming; who is the fastest. Who will endure the long tough races and have strength at the end to finish first? Living the Christian life is often pictured as an endurance race. It is not a sprint. It is not something we get to watch from afar on our TV. It is an endurance marathon on the narrow path of the cross. We have help and strength from God and Christ for our endurance race. We have the encouragement of those who have finished their race well. We have power in the Word to throw off the obstacles in our way. We have Christ who endured the Cross for us and paved the way to the finish line.

Learning from the Endurance of the Cloud of Witnesses

“Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.” The writer was referring to the long line of Old Testament believers. We have called them Heroes of Faith. He had listed examples of them in the previous chapter. “By faith” is the recurring theme of that chapter. The Hall of Faith is worth walking down.

  • By faith Abel brought an offering that was pleasing to God; Abel was willing to be murdered by his thankless brother for doing the right thing.
  • By faith Noah built a huge boat on dry ground in the face of scoffers. But no one was laughing when the flood came.
  • By faith Abraham took his son Isaac to a mountaintop for sacrifice, trusting that God could and would keep his promises.
  • By faith Moses chose to be known as a child of Israel and be treated as a slave rather than being the son of Pharaoh and being treated like a prince of Egypt.
  • By faith Rahab risked her own life to support the mission of the spies. Her life and the lives of her family were later spared by God’s grace.

The writer included a host of names and examples from Bible history. He writes: “through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames; escaped the edge of the sword, whose weakness was turned to strength, and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign enemies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, that they might gain a better resurrection.” (Hebrews 11: 33-35). The great cloud of witnesses looked forward to the same heaven!

You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, too. Along with the Heroes of the Bible we have our own living heroes of faith. As Paul pointed Timothy to his grandmother and mother (2 Timothy 1:5) we are also reminded of our great cloud; friends in Christ who encourage us while together we endure cross!

In case you doubt it, look at the congregation around you; souls who have stood up with you today to boldly say “We believe and defend what this gathering of believers stands for!” It is good to get to know the heroes of the Bible. It is good to remember people you love who have gone before you into heaven. They endured and now stand at the finish line too. It is just as valuable to get to know the company of saints that sit in the pew with you, kneel at communion with you, and pray with and for you. They are running the exact same race that you are. Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love!

Throwing Off the Obstacles in our Way

The writer goes on to say why: “Let is throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”

Sin is like a snare trap; an entangling web of deceit. The more we try to get out the more we get deeper into the mess. A child tells one lie. Then one lie becomes another. Then a web of lies fogs the memory of all truth. Sin piles up a growing trap of obstacles on our course. Sin snowballs. Sin catches us off guard. Sin infects the fellowship of believers. On our race sin becomes a weight on our backs.

Sin shows up in connection with the crosses we bear. Like the first disciples we get trapped into the game of “Who is the Best”. Pride catches us in the trap of being self-appointed martyrs, arguing over who has it the toughest, who has been working the hardest, who is most important to the team, who has the most gifts, who has the worst problems. This little game also turns into bragging rights on sin. Who of us was the biggest slob in college, who crossed the line the furthest with chemical abuse, who of us can us can tell the juiciest gossip. Sin so easily entangles us on our endurance race.

Carried by The Endurance of our Savior

The solution is right before our eyes: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross scorning its shame.” This race is “marked out for us.” Our Savior runs ahead of us to win the race on our behalf; he treads out the path. Like the first one trampling through the snow so that others can follow behind, Jesus goes to the cross: the bear our sins for us! And the cross leads to the “throne of God.” Look up! Look ahead! Look to His cross when wanting to endure your own! There “we have redemption through his blood- the forgiveness of sins!” Colossians 1:14).

Consider Jesus who endured such opposition from sinful, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” How else do we fix our eyes on Jesus, but by dutifully reviewing and learning his path? We follow him through the Gospel writers from his birth to his ascending into heaven.

That path is lined with the actions of sinful men. We know events of his crude cradle. We learned of the wicked king who murdered innocent children hoping that Jesus was one of them. We recall his homecoming trip to Nazareth where a mob of childhood faces hoped to cast him to the rocks below the city’s cliff. Every trip to the Holy City was a chess game with groups of leaders who resented him for various reasons, most them revolving around their own godless addictions to lies and jealousy. The plot for his death was not only done publically by his enemies, but planned out in secret by close friends.

The peak of his endurance began in Gethsemane. A motley crew dragged him from one kangaroo court to another, looking for blood and finding it every step of the way. They struck him, spit at him, broke the skin of his back, broke the skin of his temples, broke the skin of his hands and feet and pierced an innocent man to death. Not only did his enemies carry out their wicked plan, his friends abandoned him, and on top of his all his Father looked away!

He ran that race alone, to hell and back, to the throne on his Father. You, however do not run alone. You run and endure with a cloud of friends in Christ. You run redeemed in Christ. He helps us throw off the tangling web of sin by drowning those sins forever in our baptism. While we run we are being carried in the palm his nail pierced hands, hands pierced for our sins! The One who ran ahead of you, enduring its shame, stands in victory where we will all follow. Earth is a desert drear; Heaven is our home. Christianity is not a sprint to heaven. It is a marathon, an endurance race. In that race we humbly fix our eyes on Jesus so that we will never grow weary or lose heart!

Father, draw us to your Son; we with joy will follow on

Till the work of grace is done, there to live with you! (CW 436: 4) Amen.

The Words of Jeus: The Most Needful Thing

This picture has been placed in many a Christian kitchen and dining room. It has captivated my mind more than once. The reason I believe it fits in here is the simplicity of what is, and isn’t, in the picture. The man needs two kinds of bread. One is more needful than the other. Left with no other distractions he is clear minded and heart focused to give thanks for both.

In the well known story of Jesus’ visit with his Bethany friends Mary and Martha, we learn that simple truth: “Only one thing is needed.” At the feet of Jesus, “Mary had chosen better.” Tending to things Martha was tending to was not sinful. The problem she had was that she allowed her many things to distract her from the one thing needful. There is certainly time for the tending to earthly things. There is a time and place for everything. But when the Word of Christ is being offered, that is not the time to let this work distract us. It was not that she had selected to do something wrong. She had elected to do it when Christ was offering His Word of Truth.

Where does that concept play out in your life? Let’s first talk about the very obvious: Church.

Times of services abound: Thursday evening; two on Sunday; and recently a monthly Wednesday morning time for Word, worship, prayer and sacrament. Times to formally hear and study that word with fellow believers and pastors abound: Sunday morning, Tuesday morning, Wednesday morning and an ongoing invitation for Bible Information Classes, especially in the Fall and Spring. With the addition of our new pastor and the continuation of our Senior Vicar program, the wealth of opportunities to sit at the feet of Christ and his Word will likely be everywhere. We know where and when those opportunities exist.

What does our flesh do? What does our enemy the devil say? That’s when I get to do things I don’t have time to do when I am at work. That’s my day to rest and be with my family. That’s precious time the spouse and I don’t otherwise have. That’s when I have to catch up the house and the yard. Ironically, like Martha, the things we are tempted to do in place of Worship and Bible Study don’t seem so evil. They are god-pleasing, needful activities for people who live in this world. But why is it so easy for the devil and my sinful self to choose to do them THEN; when the Church is offering Worship, Word and Christ Jesus.

Let us also talk briefly about our personal priorities. Our church body has been blessed with decades of wonderful material for the Christian home. Devotion’s books for families, devotions books for small children, devotions books for men, devotions books for women; devotion books for every stage of marriage. Periodicals, on-line bible studies and daily devotions, Bible translations in modern English and in every conceivable language our church body meets; commentaries written for lay people to ready (again, at the coffee table or on the tablets we hold in our hands.) The Lord has flooded us with tools that place us at the feet of Jesus, more than any other day! If that were not enough he has made it possible to never miss our favorite TV show (DVR allows us to let TV wait).

What does the devil and our sinful nature do and say? There is no time. Would you not rather watch your show right now? Isn’t it more efficient to quickly check and reply to some more work emails? Isn’t it at least a sensed responsibility to rifle through social media just a bit longer? Why is it that a cross word puzzle keeps me captivated, but my eyes grow weary the minute I open my spiritual growth materials!?

Reality is this: your sinful nature knows that Word of God and the Sacraments put that nature to death. It does not want to die. It wants to be fed. The Devil knows that the Words of Christ send him running away on his heels. The reality is that the more we choke out spiritual growth, the seemingly not so sinful things will soon be replaced with sinful desires and actions of a stronger sinful flesh. We have all experienced it. We have seen it in ourselves. We have observed it in people close to us. A weaker connection to the Word leads us to a stronger connection with the way the world thinks and acts.

Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” The man in the painting has no other distractions. He is focused on the needed Bread of Life: Christ Jesus and his Word. In the meantime he can see clearly to be thankful for the providence of earthly bread. The Words of Jesus bring us to a clearer understanding of our role in the physical life. Mary chose what is better.

At the feet of Jesus Mary drank in the words of Life. The great news is that we can be sure that both Martha and Mary learned that lesson. They both grew in their understanding of Christ and his Word. We see that in their clear testimony of his purpose at the death of their brother, Lazarus. We are not told of Martha’s reaction. We are not told that she dropped everything to join Mary at the feet of Jesus. The rest of their story tells us that she did take time for the one thing needed: Jesus and his Words. At the wake for her brother she confessed “I know that my brother will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.” She confessed “You are the Christ who was to come.” She knew and believed that Jesus was “The Resurrection and the Life.” (John 11: 24-26). She learned that from the Words of Jesus.

In the Words of Jesus you have life. In the Words of Jesus you have peace from all the distractions that get you worried and upset. In the Words of Jesus you see his nailed pierced hands forgiving you for all of the times you set your hands to sinful priorities. In the Words of Jesus you have his proclamation of unconditional grace and a love that is inseparable from you. In the Words of Jesus you have the quieting notions that lead you to see what is needed most. In the Words of Jesus you hear that all these other things will be added to you who have sought first his kingdom and his righteousness. (Matthew 6:33).

Mary has chosen better and it will not be taken away from her.” Jesus said about the last days: “Heaven and earth will pass away but his words will never pass away” (Matthew 24: 35). Paul wrote about facing sufferings for Christ: “Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8: 39). The LORD of Israel commanded his people “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

Speak of Savior I am listening,

As a servant to his lord.

Let me show respect and honor

To your holy, precious Word,

That each day, my whole life through,

I may serve and follow you.

Let your Word e’er be my pleasure

And my heart’s most precious treasure. (CW 283: 1)

Amen!