The Harvest Is Plentiful

Luke 10: 2-3; 16 (Pentecost 7 - 2016)

“The Harvest is Plentiful”

There are those moments for those who garden when they realize a bunch of stuff is going to be ripe at the same time and the picking is going to get crazy. Without some help and some careful planning there are going to be missed opportunities for legit fruits and veggies. The Lord Jesus speaks of his kingdom that way. They opportunities for harvesting souls abound all the time. He has enlisted our help.

The Workers are Few

“Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.” At the time Jesus spoke these words, thousands of souls were low hanging fruit and he knew it. The people of Israelite descent were becoming disgruntled temple worshippers. The teachers in the church had left them thirsting for a clearer message of God’s grace. Thousands were living in a world of godless immorality, violence and civil injustice. Crowds were curiously clinging to the new preacher man, Jesus and his message of authority and truth.

Currently, our own church body is experiencing a similar ripe harvest. Reports around the conventions, ministry schools, local congregation and gatherings we hear and experience news of harvest opportunities. Smaller classes in our schools paired with growing mission fields around the globe have us concurring with our Savior: “The harvest is plenty but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.” Perhaps you or someone you know is a candidate for being an answer to that prayer!

Our local mission field is no different. Our community is growing rapidly and more souls are moving into our neighborhoods. Now is the ripe harvest for reaching souls with the gospel. Now the harvest is ripe for letting the children come to Jesus through our ministries Christian Education. Now is the time to reach out to homes of people who have no church home and especially who have not heard of Christ Jesus or have learned the Bible and his teachings. Now is the time to reach out to the many guest families who have been visiting our worship services and ministry events. “The harvest is plenty but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.” Plenty good reason to be asking that Lord to send another servant of the Gospel into our part of the field!

The Work is Delicately Dangerous

Jesus said “I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” There will be opposition. There will be rejection. There will be strife in the church. There will be persecution for those who are faithful to the teachings of Christ Jesus. Jesus shared other advice that we gain from his marching orders in Matthew’s account of this same lesson: “Be shrewd as vipers and innocent as doves.” Matthew 10: 16

Jesus does not want us to back down from that opposition. He means to send us right into it. There is a delicate balance between vipers and doves. There is a delicate balance between IN the world but not OF the world. Jesus calls us away from the naivety of putting our blinders on. But when we mingle with the crowds of the world we must also remain above reproach. How often we have faltered into the ditch on either side of the middle road. We mustn’t live in created sanctuary of avoidance. Nor must we fall into the sins of those we am trying to bring to repentance and to Jesus. This harvest work is delicately dangerous!

But Jesus blesses it. Jesus sends us. Jesus sends us with his grace and forgiveness in the cross. Jesus forgives us for the times we compromised his truth. Jesus forgives us for the times we blended in with sin. Jesus sends us the gifts his Spirit. Jesus gives us words his Spirit teaches. Jesus sends us with his Name and his authority. “He who listens to you listens to me. He who rejects you rejects me.” (More on this later.)

The Work is Valuable

Jesus gives this advice: “Do not take along a purse or a bag or sandals.” In verse seven, encouraging them to stay with those who welcome, he says: “the worker deserves his wages. Paul picks up on this in his letter to Timothy: “Do not muzzle the ox when treading out the grain.” He clearly explains in his letter to the Galatians: “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor” (Galatians 6: 6).

Jesus wanted his apostles to truth that they would be taken care of. He wasn’t just telling them to “pack light.” He wanted them not to worry about their earthly needs. Those who receive the Gospel will naturally be led to support those who teach the Gospel. The Gospel moves them to do that. There is the lesson for the messengers: Preach the truth. Preach the Gospel. Those who love the truth of the Gospel will take good care of those whose calling it is to teach them that Gospel.

The Work is Urgent

Jesus wanted them to get going: “Do not greet anyone on the road” was not an invitation to be ornery snobs or impolite. He was telling them not to dilly dally around the common small talk greetings in the towns. He was teaching them to be eager for the urgent work. He was encouraging them to get to the point of the message of the Gospel and the reason for their visits.

With the healing of the blind man Jesus made this point “As long as it is day, we must do the work of his who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:4-5). You have been made reflector lights of Christ. You are the light of the world by virtue of your baptism and faith in Christ. There are so many ways to help in His harvest field. Find your place there and set your hand to the plow and don’t look back. The harvest is plenty. The work is urgent.

The Results are the Lord’s

Anyone who spends anytime growing things knows good and the bad of looking for results. Every gardener would love to see perfect rows of lush fruit, equally ripe and ready from plant to plant. It just isn’t that way. The gardener learns to expect disappointment mixed with joy.

It is that way in the kingdom. “He who listens to you listens to me. He who rejects you rejects me.” Jesus anticipates the wolves and the devil. He expects rejection. He expects bad fruit. He expects people to shut the mouths of those who speak his Name and teachings. But he also expects results of faith in the hearts of people. He promises it: “So is the Word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55: 11).

When people reject us because of the word, they are rejecting God and his Word. Do not take it personally. When souls are saved through grace of God and his mighty word, rejoice in it, and be thankful. But remember to give credit where credit is due. Paul reminded the Corinthians “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Christ and him crucified … so that your faith may not rest on man’s wisdom but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2: 2, 5).

His field is ripe because the common malady of the world is sin. Christ crucified is the one thing that resolves that malady. Death looms over all, especially those in unbelief. Christ Jesus Risen again is the one message that shatters those fears. He is the one thing needful. The world is ripe for his Love. The fruit stands ready to be picked. “The harvest is plenty but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.” Jesus has made you ready part of his answer to that prayer. Rejoice! Amen!

Jesus, Send Your Spirit

John 15: 26, 27 (Confirmation/ Pentecost 2016)

“Jesus, Send Your Spirit”

It is truly a good thing when our Confirmation Sunday lands on the same day as a Festival. It is even better when it lands on one of the big three: Pentecost. Do you see the clear and simple connection? Jesus taught his disciples for three years. The night before he dies for them he reminds them that their life of faith has only just begun. He promises to send the Spirit who will enable them to give clear confession and testimony of Him to the world.

Today we hear the clear confession of the Lutheran Faith. Today we review the Bible-based teachings of Christianity at large. Today we pray for young adults. Today we remember the sending of the Holy Spirit upon His Church. Today we ask for an extra portion of the Spirit on our children and upon ourselves. And Jesus, who died, rose and ascended, has promised to send us His Spirit. Our prayer this special day, and always, is “Jesus, Send us Your Spirit!” He makes good on the promise. Jesus has already sent his Spirit on them and us.

On Them and On Us

Jesus promised: “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.” Jesus calls the Spirit “The Counselor.” The word John used is paraclete. We don’t use that phonetic version of it much anymore, but the word drums up all sorts of comforting pictures of what the Spirit is and does. He gives counsel, advice, and wisdom. He is an advocate and a defender of souls and truth. He gives understanding and instruction.

The Spirit has tools for his work: the truth. He works through the means of God’s grace; through the Gospel in Word and Sacraments. When God’s servants (parents, pastors, teachers, counselors, etc.) speak the true Words of Christ the Spirit is being sent to hearts and minds.

The students have been taught what we have been taught. They were given the Spirit of Truth upon their Baptisms when God called them to faith and made them his children. In Baptism he washed away their sins. Ever since then, their parents have seen to it that they continued to hear the Words of the Spirit, at home, on Sunday morning, in school, in catechism instruction. Every where the Word is taught Jesus is sending his Spirit on his children.

That can and ought to be said of all of us here. These students, along with us, do well to pray daily, “Jesus, send us your Spirit.” Paul encouraged Timothy, after he had already trained to be a pastor: “Continue in what you have learned and become convinced of. For you know those from whom you have learned it and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3: 14-15)

Now we continue in what we have learned. Jesus, send your Spirit on us by sending us your Word. The Day of Pentecost and Confirmation is a double reminder to remain faithful to the Words of Jesus. In them we have wisdom that leads to eternal life. May we hear them, learn them and take them to heart! Send your Spirit on us, Jesus, by creating in us hearts that are eager to be in your house, where your Word is preached and explained. Make us eager for your Holy Supper where your body and blood are offered and your death is proclaimed for our salvation! Today, these baptized children of God will we receive that Supper for the first of many times. Both Sacraments will continue to be an outpouring of the Spirit on their hearts.

In the Gospel we have the Spirit. In that Spirit we have a Paraclete for life and for eternity: a counselor, an advisor for life, a support group in grief, and advocate before the Father, a defender from temptation, a Comforter of priceless worth! He goes with them and us as well.

With Them and With Us

            Jesus completes the thought “He [the Spirit, who goes out from the Father] will testify about me.” And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”

            Just a brief doctrine course: In our creeds we confess that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” Jesus is reminding us of the beauty of the Triune God. That teaching we celebrate next Sunday! The idea here is that they are all on the same page: What the Father wants done the Son does. What the Father wants said the Son and the Spirit say exactly the same. What the Spirit does is point back to the will of the Father and the Word of the Son. They are all on the same page and they are all about testifying about the words and work of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God.

            Who of us does not need a Counselor? We are not born with wisdom. We are born in a darkened understanding. We are blind sinners living in dark work of evil. Who of us is not troubled by many things? Who of us does not bear the burden of guilt? Who of us can claim exemption from God’s condemnation and eternal wrath? Perhaps the most obvious need we see this morning is the need to put away this thought that we have learned all there is to know about God, or at least have remembered enough without striving to be around it all the time. Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to cleanse my heart of sinful thoughts and selfish goals.

Jesus sent the Spirit to testify; about what, or whom? Jesus says, “ … about ME.” The Spirit testifies to Jesus. The Spirit through the Word brings us to Jesus. He brings us to his life-giving words of forgiveness and peace. The Spirit leads us to the cross where his redeeming blood was shed for us. The Spirit brings us through the open door of his grave and shows us that it is empty. The Spirit testifies that Jesus has ascended to the throne of God where he continues to reign over all things for the good his people, the Church, for your children, and for you.

Jesus calls us to testify. John used word that is phonically pronounced “martyr.” How appropriate for his followers. Many of them were killed for the testimony about Jesus. All of them certainly died with the confession of Jesus Christ on their hearts and lips. Today we recall that His Holy Spirit empowered these same people from fear in locked room to the courage of public speaking. The Counselor gave them boldness to proclaim Christ Jesus as Lord and baptized thousands of repentant sinners.

Theses confirmation students were made “martyrs.” No, they were not put to death for their faith. We already have seen that they will know of this kind of persecution in their lifetime. They did feel apprehensive about today. But today the Spirit goes with them. The Spirit lead them to give clear testimony to the things of God’s Word. He will also lead them to confess that they would rather face death than to fall away from it. To that they say “Yes, with the help of God.” And their helper is the Counselor of Truth who goes out from the Father. They and you are testimonies to Christ and to the grace of God that made you his people.

He goes with them. He goes with us. He goes because Jesus, who lives above all dominion and power, says so. He goes because he comes from the Father who loves us so dearly. He goes with us where ever we have his Word and sacraments on our hearts, in our ears, on our minds and on our lips.

Think of it in the simple terms of the nursery rhyme:

Everywhere that Mary went, Mary went, Mary went, the Lamb was sure to go.”

So every where the Bible went, Bible went, Bible went, everywhere the Bible went the Spirit and the Lamb are sure to go, upon and with his children to eternity. And recall the closing promise of our Savior Jesus: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Amen.

Come Soon, Lord Jesus!

Revelation 22: 20-21 (Easter 7 -2016)

“Come Soon, Lord Jesus!”

Is this your daily prayer? “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus, soon, as you have promised.” If so, ask yourself, “Why?” Is it because Jesus has promised it, or because the world has become much too much to bear? Or is it a little of both? How much do we look forward to heaven? What circumstances last led you to that prayer?

As the Ascended Lord closes his Revelation to John, and consequently his written Word to us, he reminds us that he will come back. He promises that every ounce of his now finished book is true. He “testifies to these things.” Now it is done. If a person had set out to read the Bible cover to cover and reached these final verses, what might the reaction be? Is that all? Is this how it all ends? Where is the conclusion? Where is the resolution in such a dissonant chord? Perhaps an unsuspecting soul would be looking for one more book to explain how this all comes to fruition. Where is the happy ending that is promised to those who are faithful? Tell me all about Heaven and Hell. I want to know more … then, coming-to-the-senses, we close the Book and say, “No Lord, I don’t want to know more! Come, Lord Jesus! Come, and soon, as you have promised!

But his testimony is completely clear: God has created the world and everything in it. Mankind and Creation as a whole have fallen completely into sin. The creation groans and begs for its destruction. By grace and promise God has sent his Son to redeem the world from its sinful fall. Heaven now waits for those who trust in his Son. Christ has died! Christ has risen! Christ will come again!

This Christ Jesus says: in this world you will have trouble. This Jesus says, “Blessed are you when men hate you because of me.” This Jesus says, “Whoever wants to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Our Jesus says, “Be faithful even to the point of death and I will give you the crown of life.” We sense that living in the world of sin was no picnic. But for those who bear his name, a new degree of trials and grief characterize our daily lives. A menu of hurts accompanies us each day:

We feel guilty about sin. We are troubled about repeating temptations. We are plagued with a keen sense about our enemy the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion. We find that living under the cross means living with the sufferings of Jesus. We are hated by those who hate God’s Word and God’s Son. We are loved for doing the wrong thing. We are mocked for doing the right thing. We have trouble explaining the truth to those who twist it around to say something it doesn’t say. We lose friends. We avoid certain conversations even at our own family table and among Christian friends.

            To the world, and sometimes to us, the Church of believers seems so broken. There is never enough enthusiasm. There is never enough volunteerism. There is never enough financial support. There is too much disagreement and infighting. There aren’t enough new people. The new people that do come take my piece of the “kingdom pie” away from me – they sit in my pew and volunteer for my pet projects. It seems we never realize true happiness in the kingdom. With a scornful wonder the world sees Her oppressed by schisms rent asunder by heresies oppressed. That is the judgment we too often have placed on ourselves. Come, Lord Jesus, and soon, as you have promised!

            Of course there is the other alternative. There is that welcomed satanic voice that says, “You wouldn’t have all these problems if you were not so intent on reaching out with this Jesus and his supposed truth. You wouldn’t have growing pains, if you kept this little secrete for yourselves. You wouldn’t be mocked for your faith if no one came to hear about your confession. You wouldn’t such obligation to the Word if you stopped learning so much about it. Cuddle up to the cozy calm of ‘nothing-happens-in-our-little-church.’ Nothing bad or dangerous happens if you stay away from the “faithfulness” edge to which the Lord Jesus calls you.

Perhaps, we think, the Lord Jesus will come sooner than we think, so soon we won’t have to feel guilty about our apathy to his calling of us to make disciples of all nations. Perhaps he will come and relieve us from our daily effort to hide our deepest secrets. Amen! Come, Lord Jesus, and soon, as you have promised! Will we then suppose to be like the servant who said, “Here is your talent back, I never lost it … but I never used it either.” Do we remember that he was the servant that the Master rebuked?!

            But there is the more godly thought in the final conversation between Jesus and John on the Island of Patmos. Remember that this book included seven letters to seven churches. Remember that the Lord, who said that he was coming again, said that he once was dead, but is now alive. Remember that his purpose for John was to tell the churches to continue in their faithful work here on earth. He will come back, but he hasn’t yet! Remember that Savior who pictured himself as a radiant King who held the very souls of those seven churches in the palm of his nail-pierced hands. Remember the Easter Shepherd who tells his Father, “I have not lost one those you have given me.” Remember the Lamb who sits on the throne of his Father, who pleads for our good and our spiritual blessing. He has purchased and won us from all sin, from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy precious blood and with his innocent sufferings in death.

That Jesus, who is coming soon, says “Go!” There is work to be done while it is day. There is comfort in knowing that he has overcome the world! There is comfort in knowing that he sits upon and above every dominion and authority! There is courage in knowing that his enemies are his footstool! There is courage in knowing that the gates of hell cannot overcome his communion of saints! There is great joy in knowing that his blood has washed away our stains, and with those sinful stains, he also drowns our fears and apprehensions. He cleanses us of “poor me” attitudes. He creates in us new hearts and new lives that rise to live before him in holiness and righteousness. It is certainly true that the “grace of the Lord Jesus is with God’s people.”

            How shall believers spend their remaining time? Peter begs the question, “What kind of people ought you to be?” His answer - and Paul’s - in all their letters is clear: You ought to live lives worthy of the gospel to which you have been called. That bright communion of saints will not hide Christ and his light of truth under the bowl of selfishness and laziness. It will indeed be glad to shine it for all to see, and for all to hear, and for all to be welcomed by the same Savior whose arms were long enough to save us! It is that communion of saints that is glad to pray: “Come, Lord Jesus, and soon as you have promised!” – not because it lives in fear, but because it lives in the joy and confidence that heaven is our home. Till with the vision glorious Her longings eyes are blest and the great Church victorious shall be the Church at Rest!

Yes, come, Lord Jesus, be our guest!

Come and take us to that rest. And soon as you have promised! Amen.

Love, As Jesus Loved You

1 John 3: 11-16 (Free Text For Easter 5 - 2016)

“Love, As Jesus Loved You”

            On this Sunday in Easter we rewind briefly to the upper room. Jesus said many things that prepared his disciples for the Ascension. As we near that service next week, we take comfort and direction from a Savior who helps us understand his presence with beyond his time with us on this earth. He leads us to see his sacrificial love. He leads us to show willing obedience through our love. John’s books speak volumes about that Maundy Thursday tone: Jesus says, “Love as I have loved you.”  

Hatred Comes From Sin

            Turn on the morning news, and the weather report is quickly overshadowed by the list of shootings from the shadows of last night. For a moment in time Adam and Eve did not have to watch for a weather report, nor did murder enter into their minds. But their descent from grace to sin brought a new contrast: LOVE and HATE. If Adam and Eve had a news paper to read, one morning headline would have read: “Jealous Son Kills Brother at Church after the Offering.” If looks could kill … If thoughts could kill … John borrowed from the Sermon on the Mount: “whoever hates his brother is a murdered.”

            There is hatred in this world. We see it all around us. We see its harmful, and even fatal, results in society, in wars, in our daily struggle of vocations, and even in our own family life. But we don’t have to turn on the news to realize the presence of hate. We have known hatred in our own hearts. We know what jealousy feels like. We know how easily a temper springs up. We know how easily our own frustrations turn hatred into words we now regret. Too many cases hateful thoughts turned into actions that were meant to harm.

            Paul said, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature” (Romans 7:18). Hatred comes from sin. And because we are steeped in sin, hatred comes naturally to us all. John, taking the lead of his Savior’s teaching, equates hatred with murder: “and you know that know murderer has eternal life.” Hatred is a reality in a world that has turned against a God of love.

Love Comes From God

            But there is also love in the world. After the Fall into Sin, divine love was not a natural thing. It had to be revealed, reintroduced, to mankind. It had to be presented in a message from God. That message is Christ Jesus. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” Love and Hate meet at the cross according to God’s Divine plan. The contrast of Love of Hate at the cross is at the very core of what is happening on Good Friday. God hates sin and all who do wrong (Psalm 5:5) , yet God so loved the world (John 3:16). God’s wrath burns righteously over our sin, yet God’s genuine love for us prevents him from carrying it out on us. God planned a way to be just and to be the one who justifies (Romans 3: 26). He had to allow his wrath to punish sin. He had to allow his love to save the sinner. So in one swoop of love and hatred he sacrificed his One and Only Son for the sins of the entire world. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Love Prevails Among God’s Children

            At the beginning of this chapter John poured out a familiar and wonderful truth: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are.”

            Page through John’s letter and you will see the contrast between love and hate resolved. His letter is a very easy read and well worth a few moments of your reading time. You will see that love prevails where God prevails. Love prevails where God’s children are present. Love prevails among those who are of God because “love comes from God” (1 John 4: 7). Love prevails when Christ lives in us and through us. God’s Love prevails over our burdened consciences, because God and his love for us in Christ is greater than our hearts.

            So John draws the conclusion: “And we also ought to lay down our lives for one another.” Hatred comes from sin. Loves comes from God. That contrast is resolved on the cross at Calvary. There God’s love prevails. There Christ’s love for us is introduced to mankind. There God’s love appeased his own anger over our sins. There God moves us to see that he has lavished his love on us and made us children of love.

            “We love him because he first loved us” (1 John 4: 19). Seeing the contrast between love and hatred resolved, the Bible does not hesitate to set God’s children in motion. “Everyone who loves has been born of God” (1 John 4: 7). Peter wrote: “Above all love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

            Because God has made us he children he has made us his message of Christ’s love to the world.Think of hatred like bad graffiti. There is no way to prevent it from happening. But once it is there it cannot be ignored. There only are only two ways to get rid of it: scrub it out completely or cover it over completely.

            God has done both with our sin and our hatred. God has scrubbed out sin from our hearts with the power scrubber of his Holy Word. God’s love has covered our multitude of sins, not with egg shell paint, but with the precious blood and righteousness of His Son, whom he poured out generously on the cross. God’s love always prevails over hate.

Love Shows Itself in Words and Actions

            John writes a few verses later: “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3: 18). Jesus shows us his love with the actions and truth of his sufferings and death. The sacrifice Jesus made on the cross is God’s love in action. As we continue to review the history of Christ’s love for us, we are too growing in our reflection of that love to each other. As Christ put God’s love into action, so the children of God’s love put love into action.

            Paul wrote: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger … and every form of malice … be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4: 31-32) … “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness and humility … forgave as the Lord forgave you … and over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossian 3: 12-14).

            Love as you have been loved. Guard your thoughts of rage with new thoughts of love and forgiveness. Guard your tongues with words that build up, encourage and offer helpful wisdom. Use all that God has given you toward the promotion of Christ’s name and to the benefit of the people in your life. Lace your homes with words and actions that bring unity and peace.

Remember that song:

We are one in the Spirit; We are one in the Lord

And we pray that all unity may one day be restored

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love

Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us!

Amen.

He Is Not Here; He Is with Us

Luke 24: 4-8 (The Resurrection of Our Lord – 2016)

“He Not Here; He is With Us!”

       

On Good Friday, we listened to the crucifixion, death, and burial of our Savior Jesus. Recall the very end of that lesson? A very small band of his believers, 2 exactly, carefully took his dead body and placed it in a nearby tomb. Because of Passover, things were done quickly and quietly. With as much dignity as two men would dare to do, with the danger they themselves could be have been in, they wrapped him up carefully with some myrrh and aloes. The plan was to allow the gals from his company of friends to complete the process early Sunday.

The enemies of Jesus; what were they doing? Interestingly enough they were preparing for a possible scandalous stealing of the body. If you think about it the enemies of Jesus took his words about rising from the dead more seriously than his own followers. They contrived a plan to secure a guard so that there would be no foul play or conniving on the part of the friends of Jesus.

Pilate himself said: “Go and make the tomb as secure as you know how.” Pilate who had long since washed his hands of the whole thing got two more visits about this Jesus and wanted it over with. “Yes, Joseph, you may take the body. Whatever! Just get it over with. What now, another knock at the door? Yes, you foolish priest, you may have all the Roman soldiers you want. Make it as secure as you know how. I am done with this whole Jesus of Nazareth thing!”

   What were the ladies expecting to see? A big heavy stone? A dead body in a cemetery? Were they wondering what kind of job the men did late Friday night? What were they going to have to undo, before they even got started? They were certainly not expecting to see the smoldering coals of a Roman Soldier camp. They were certainly not expecting messengers from heaven dressed in gleaming white glory. They certainly were not expecting to not find the body! But the question of the angel is our question today: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! Remember how he told you while he was still with you in Galilee?”  

The Living Is Not Among Dead

            Why do you look for the living among the dead? Why were the others hiding behind locked doors? Were the ladies expecting a dead body? Were they looking to comfort themselves by taking care earthly tasks? Why were they talking about a stone they could not move? Why did they go to the tomb that morning?

            Why do we look for the living among the dead? Why do we wake early and stay up late? Why do we consume ourselves with the dead treasures of this world hoping for temporary happiness? Why do we reach for comfort in our own deathly nature? Why do we stumble over earthy stones while blinding ourselves from the power of an empty tomb? Why do I look for this dead world to bring meaning and life when it has always failed to supply what I truly need! We all are sinfully drawn to look for the living among the dead.

            Christ’s death was necessary. His burial was absolutely vital for our true life. Our sin-stained hearts and minds and lives are so dead, that we cannot escape this rut of seeking true life in dead places and things! His cross cleansed us from all that sinfulness. His resurrection secures it: “If Christ is not raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith ... if Christ is not raised your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15: 14, 17). “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead!”(vs. 20) And the Living you will not find among the dead!

            Why do I look for the living among the dead? What did I expect to happen as I stood and listened to the pastor speak the words of committal? What was I hoping and thinking as the last prayer was prayed and the casket was to be lowered into the ground? Was this my last chance to say: “Perhaps he is not really dead. He is going to wake up! This cannot be real!” How real death is at the grave! What do I expect when I go down to the cemetery to brush the snow off my brother’s grave marker? What am I looking for when I spruce up a small section of grass with evidence of earthly life? Am I looking for the living among the dead?

            “He is not here; Christ has risen!” Because Christ has risen, we know that our loved ones who died in faith are among the living, not the dead. Because Christ has risen, we go to their graves with the sure and certain hope of their resurrection and ours on the Last Day. Because Christ risen, we do not search for him among the dead, we proclaim his Resurrection there with full and fresh confidence that “we will be with them and the Lord forever!” (1 Thessalonians 4: 17).

He Lives With Those He Made Alive

The angel purposely mentions Galilee. That is where he spent the majority of his time with his followers. That is where he taught them. That is where he presented himself to be the Son of Man and Son of God. That is where he lived and loved among them and Friend, Shepherd, Healer, and Savior. That is where he repeatedly reminded them: “The son of man must suffer many things and be rejected … and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”

Shortly after offering the Lord’s Supper to them for the first time, Jesus warned them of the fact that they would desert him that night: “strike the Shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.” And then he inserts this promise: “After I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” (Matthew 26: 32).

Can you fast forward briefly with me to the culmination of this promise? Peter and the others are fishing on Galilee. The large catch of fish occurs and all the light bulbs go back on again. “It is the LORD!” Peter, dripping wet from swimming to shore, heart rate through the roof, sighs of overwhelming joy, arrives on a shore he had been many times before and sees with his own eyes: Jesus is alive. He is not in a tomb near Jerusalem. His body was not carted away by some hapless soldiers. The visits in the private room were real! The promise to be with them in Galilee was real! Jesus lives where he promises to live: “with you always to the very end of the age.”(Matthew 28:20)

            Where is our Galilee? In the Gospel in Word and Sacraments! The angels purposely told the ladies to “Remember what he SAID!” Remember what he said. The Resurrection points us to the one place Jesus has promised to be found: The Gospel in Word and Sacraments. In your baptism, Jesus is present. You can’t see him, but you remember and believe what he says about baptism. In his words he is presented as the one who destroyed death by destroying sin. He is the one who destroyed death by exiting his own grave with Almighty power. You can’t see him with you always, but you remember and believe what he says about being with always. In the Lord’s Supper he says: “This is my body; this is my blood!” You cannot fully grasp this mysterious promise, but you remember and believe what he said about. Our Jesus does not live among the dead. He lives and breathes in the living breathing Words of Everlasting life.

Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen. Remember what he said while he was with you.” Remember what he said through John to his Church in the last book of the bible: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!” (Revelation 1: 17-18) Our true and final Galilee is the New Jerusalem. He went ahead of you there. He will meet you there! He will be with us always in glory! Amen.

The Goal of Your Faith

1 Peter 1: 3-9 (Easter Sunrise Message)

“The Goal of your Faith”

People who have learned even just a little bit about soccer know that when a team scores it was the end result of many important things that took place for several minutes leading up to the goal. Very rarely is there a goal scored because a player caught a lucky break away to the net unattended. From the defending of their own goal to a series of carefully made passes, some of which go all the way back to their own goalie, the end goal is always the same for each step of the game. Every player plays with the goal in my mind; with every stop, kick, dribble or pass; the goal of each play is the goal.

Peter was encouraging a very troubled early Christian Church with the news of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. That news reminded them that the goal of trusting Jesus was the very real truth that they were on the path the leads to eternal life in heaven. In the beginning of his letter, Peter lays out several of the key elements of God’s directing in getting his people to the goal of their faith: eternal life with Jesus. I would like to walk you through these key thoughts that lead you to the goal of your resurrection faith.

The Goal/ Focus of your Faith is Jesus Christ the Resurrected Son of God.

Peter encouraged the believers to praise the Father in heaven for giving us his Son. From eternity God had known of his plan to rescue us from our sinfulness and from death. After Adam and Eve disobeyed he documented that plan in his promise to give them salvation through one of their own descendants. This offspring of theirs would crush the head of the serpent and give them life eternal, a life after this life that the Tree of Life in Eden could not offer.

God sent that Son, “born of woman, born under law, to redeem those under law that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Galatians 4: 4-5). The goal of your faith, the object of your trust, is Jesus Christ. He took our place under the law. He was pierced for our iniquities. He endured the punishment of Good Friday, which we all deserved. He was placed in a grave yard, dead as dead can be. In God’s great mercy, God made our hope “a living hope” by raising his Son Jesus from death before that body saw decay. Praise to God the Father that the Goal of our faith is Jesus Christ, the resurrected Son of God.

The Goal of your Faith is an Imperishable Inheritance.

            Because of the Resurrection, the goal of our faith is an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. It is kept secure for all of us. It will never rust or be stolen away. It will never become boring or wearisome. It will never become too much of a good thing and become spoiled for us. And it already belongs to you. It is your inheritance because Christ has become our brother and has made us sons and daughters of our King.

            In the meantime, while God is securing your inheritance, he is also guarding and shielding you. In the game of soccer, there comes a time for strong defense. The other team is on attack or has a free kick. That is when teams build walls. God has built his own wall of protection around you. Not only is he protecting your inheritance, he is shielding you and your faith from all harm and danger in this life with his almighty power.

The Goal of your Faith is Trusting that Trials Serve God’s Purposes

            That puts a great deal of perspective on this life, doesn’t it? Peter says so and so does our Living God. Whatever you may experience in life; good; bad; blessings; curses; victories or hardship; those things are all in the plans of the mind and heart of our Loving God.

As I was first learning about the game of soccer through my children, I saw something in a professional game for the first time that made no sense to me. A player had purposely kicked the ball right at his own goalie forcing him to make the next play. As my knowledge of the game grew, I learned that this was quite common place for a team to get the defenders moving out of their sets and to rotate the fields around in order to regroup for the whole purpose of the game: the end goal.

It really smarts a whole lot the first few times we experience the crosses of our life. In fact it always smarts. I wonder about our initial reaction to those trials: “What? That doesn’t make sense, Lord? Why give your people setbacks? You are supposed to be helping us out down here. You are supposed be scoring goals for us, now kicking us all the way back on our heels!”

Peter explains that God uses these trials the way fire is used to make gold better. Gold, even though it is one of the most enduring medals of God’s creation, will indeed perish. But fire purifies it and makes it more valuable. God uses your trials to refine your trust. He validates your faith in view of the world. He draws you closer to Him, on whom your faith depends. He refocuses your trust on the true goal: life in heaven with Jesus.

The Goal of your Faith is Living by Faith not by Sight

            What comes next is a faith that is extraordinary. What is born of God and the Spirit in your heart is a faith that lives “blindly”. Thomas will demand to see. Jesus will remind him “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20: 29). “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11: 1) Jesus has long since ascended into heaven. He is with us always to the very end of the age. But we can’t see him with our eyes. We trust in him by faith through the promises of his every Word.

            Because of that we are bound to his Words, given to confession, and led to praise him in a way that baffles the world around us. We have a joy and certainty in every stage of life. The goal of our faith speaks volumes of praise, even and especially when we are on our heels back peddling through the trials of the cross.

The Goal of your Faith is the Salvation of your Souls

            It belongs to you. It is your inheritance: promised and secured by God the Father, won by Christ Jesus through the sacrifice he made and the power he shows over death. It is the goal of trusting in Jesus now and for eternity. Salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb who was slain. He was dead but now is living. He is securing the goal of our faith: the salvation of our souls. He is the Son of the Living God! Your sins are taken away! You stand to inherit the kingdom of Everlasting Life! Hear now the comfort of Easter in the words of or God in 1 Peter 1: 3-9.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has gi9ven us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade; kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may prove genuine and result in praise glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Amen!

A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth

Luke 4: 1 – 13 (First Sunday in Lent - 2016)

TEMPTATION OF CHRIST

“The Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth!”

During this quiet, contemplative time of Lent we are reminded to bring nothing before the throne of God but contrite and broken hearts. We need to know that the helpless have a Helper. We need to know the Lamb has begun his war with hell in a victorious first battle. There, led by the Spirit, fasting and praying, anointed to face the cross, we see the willing obedience of Christ. We need the comforting sight of a faithful Savior who will not give up in the face of his highest enemy. We need to know that the one “who was tempted is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2: 18).

1. To Endure our Humanity for Us.

The first temptation Luke records is one of the most common battles. It is simple. The devil wants Jesus to consider his physical needs more important than our spiritual needs. Jesus’ mission means the saving of our souls – the saving of all souls. The temptation to reach for bread is more deadly than it appears. For the temporary pleasure of a full stomach just to show the devil who is boss and all of humanity would be lost!

In our humanity this is low hanging fruit for the devil, fruit he grabs with us all the time. Given the choice between my physical needs and my spiritual needs, our sinful nature is drawn to be satisfied. It is sad, even embarrassing, to realize the time and energy we spend in meeting the needs of our bodies as compared to meeting the needs of our souls. One is tangible. The other is immeasurable. Do I spend one more hour in sleep or one hour hearing the Word? Our nature does not naturally want to spend time with God’s truths. It knows that God’s Word puts the body to death and raises the soul to life. We eat right, exercise, vacation, and work hard to provide for family. We sense the need to be good stewards of our body. Bread we have, indeed. We look forward to our favorite show, our favorite book, our favorite video game. We set aside time for the fishing hole, the golf course, and perhaps embrace a few “hidden faults” (Psalm 19: 12). Check your daily schedule. Add up the things that meet the needs of body vs. the things that feed the soul. The devil has beaten us at this little game: Which is most important: your stomach or your soul?

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

 

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

The next temptation shows us how logical the devil can be. He grasps the fact that Christ is focused on his Father’s will. So he cuts right to the heart. He goes back to the original battle in heaven: Why should your Father have all the glory? Your Father and I hammered this out a long time ago. Come on over to the dark side. Look at the glory you could have! Look at the world that is mine. Look at the attention that is on me. You can have your own glory if you just rebel against this Father of yours who sent you down here to die. You can be lord on earth of these souls without having to die for them, if you just come to be on my side.

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

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

 

3. To Defend His Mighty Word for Us.

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

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

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

            Look at the devil run. Look at the devil flee from His marked defeat. Look at the devil not give up, but wait for “an opportune time” to strike again. Look at our humanity and its helpless, sinful state! Look at the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Look at the Lamb who goes uncomplaining forth! Look at the perfect endurance of the suffering and death scorning the shame of the cross that we might not lose heart!

Because he himself was tempted is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2: 18). As we journey to the cross, we see reason to stop trying to rescue ourselves. We see that we need and have a Champion, a Valiant One, a Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep, only to take back up again. This Lamb endures humanity for us. This Lamb does the will of his Father for us. This lamb defends the truth for us. That Word is now your sword in the battle against temptation. It is your armor against our foe the devil. It is your salvation. In this Word we see our Jesus, This Lamb who says for youWilling all this I suffer!” Amen.

 

The Big Reveal

Luke 9: 28-36 (Transfiguration – February 7, 2016)

“The Big Reveal”

I praise in weakness from afar – How cold my warmest thought!

But when I see you as you are, I’ll praise you as I ought.     (CW 358: 6)

 

My wife and I have been back on the DYI network kick. Have you seen those shows where they spend oodles of time and bucks on a renovation and at the end take the family through? The pull back the covers, show the contrast of before and after and eyes are really opened.

The Transfiguration of Christ is a big reveal. We are reminded, no, compelled to ask, “What is really going on here?” In the garden Satan’s twist on that was this: God is holding back. God is keeping something from you. God has something to hide. When Adam and Eve became selfishly curious they met with God in a new light. They met with the holiness and glory of God from the perspective of their disobedience, from their sinful state. The nature of fallen mankind can no longer live to see everything about God. No man can see God and live (Exodus 33:20).

So God went into hiding. He cast them from the Tree of Life. He encased them in garments that would cover their shame. He also covered a realm of his nature from humanity – his glory. He was to reveal himself in a special way: his Word. He promised that the solution to their sinful mess was going to be in the flesh: the seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head. To some degree, for our sake, God went into hiding.

He hid behind a rainbow after the flood. He stood almost silent for Israel’s slavery. He hid in pillars of fire. He hid in a mountaintop of smoke. He hid in a secrete room with a curtain over it. He hid for four hundred years after Malachi died. He seems to hide in clouds when we face trials, disease, temptation, persecution, and pure evil. Where is God when people suffer?!?!

          After the baptizing ministry of John came the Word of God made flesh. God went into hiding. His divinity, his truth, his perfect holiness, and his almighty power - all were hidden in a feed box, inside a baby boy. In Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form (Colossians 2: 9). It is true. Christ is filled with the glory and power of God almighty, God eternal, God of pure holiness. Since the children have flesh and blood he too shared in our humanity!! (Hebrews 2:14).

But when he came to his own his own did not recognize him (John 1:11). When the world sees Jesus of Nazareth, He had no beauty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him (Isaiah 53: 2). When the people of Jerusalem saw Jesus, they saw the carpenter’s son, they saw a great teacher, they saw a man crying and getting hungry, they saw a threat to their temporal way of life or their positions of authority, or their man-made teachings. When the world saw Jesus they saw someone to kill.

Water is turned into wine. Blind people start seeing. A dinner for one feeds thousands. People who never took a step in their life are dancing in the temple courts praising the name of Jesus as Lord. What is really going on here? He asks, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” The God who went into hiding generations ago – could this be him?

The Transfiguration the Big Reveal. It drives sinful Peter to insane comments about tent building. It drives that same Peter and his companions to the dust of the earth in humble fear. The hidden God chose to reveal what is really going on. The holy God who flashed briefly past Moses and covered his face with a veil; the God who swooped Elijah up into heaven in a whirlwind, the God who caused heaven and earth into being, was hiding in flesh on this mountaintop. The holy God was veiled in the flesh of Nazareth’s unwanted son.

What does he not want us to see? Why is God holding back? What is this little “Big Reveal” game on Transfiguration? It is God’s perfect love!! God knows what he warns Moses: “No one can see me and live.” God’s holiness and our sinfulness are like oil and water. And worse, our sinfulness is contagious. It is passed down and handed out and permeates this fallen world, and permeates our very souls. God knows that our sinful, dreadful state is no condition in which to come face to face with his divine glory. Our sinfulness cannot hide from the One who knows everything we have hidden from everyone else. We cannot hide our greed and lust. From him we cannot hide our ugly humanity. If faced with the fullness of his glory, we would surely perish.

God cannot change. He must hide. We cannot change. God must change us. God must make reconciliation. God chooses to hide his fullness until the day he transforms us for heaven. He hides behind Christ. He hides behind the flesh and bones of the carpenter’s son. He hides behind the flesh and bones of the seemingly defeated teacher on a cross, dripping with blood and filled with compassion. He hides behind a tomb where Christ’s lifeless body is our substitute.

God goes into hiding. He hides among his Holy Scriptures. He hides the fullness of his glory under the timeless truths of every page. That is the “where” and “what” God wants us sinful human beings to see and know. That is all that we can safely know about God on this side of heaven. Away with the questions that God chooses not to answer. Be safe and comforted knowing the stuff of God he wants you to deeply love and understand by faith is in the Bible. We have the words of the prophets made more certain as a light shining in a dark place (2 Peter 1:19). What the Bible does not answer you need not know, you cannot know.

There God hides his glory. There God reveals his love. There God changes us. God transforms sinful human beings into blood bought holy children. The world sees water splashed on a baby. God sees his Spirit change the heart. The world sees tragedy on a cross. God sees the forgiveness of sins he has won for you. The world sees foolish ritual and mysterious ceremony. The believer trusts that the body and blood of Christ are revealing God’s enduring grace. God reveals the cross as the hiding place for his wrath against us. There God takes sin seriously. There God demands that we take him seriously. There God says, “This is My Son, whom I love.” There God makes us fit for heaven in a peaceful reconciliation with him. Then in glory we shall see him face to face, and not be condemned!

 

I praise in weakness from afar – How cold my warmest thought!

But when I see you as you are, I’ll praise you as I ought. (CW 358: 6)

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Go with the Word of Christ

Isaiah 6: 1-8 (Epiphany 4 - 2016)

“Go with The Word of Christ”

            Isaiah’s message from the LORD begins: “Ah sinful nation people loaded with guilt, a brood of evil doers, children given to corruption” (1:4). Isaiah does not mention his Call into the ministry until the sixth chapter. There was first to be a description of the context into which his preaching would surface. Things were bad. Isaiah’s job was to bring a message of judgment from the LORD. Isaiah’s ministry was to call people out from corruption and to lead them back to the holiness of God Almighty.

            Last week the members of our congregation set out to add pastoral staff to our ministry. The Lord continues to send servants into a world filled with need for his Word. We live in a world “loaded with guilt, a brood of evil doers, children given to corruption.” He asks, “Who will go for me? Who will speak for God? Who rescue people from corruption? Who will love lost souls? Who will bring the peace of my Son, Christ, to sinners loaded with guilt?” Who will go with the Word of Christ?”

The Word of Confession

                The Lord gave Isaiah a glorious vision. The centerpiece of that vision was the LORD himself. His robe and its train filled the heavenly throne room. Above the LORD flew seraphs with purposeful wings. They were singing the original version of the great Trinity Sunday hymn “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty” (CW 195). Their version of the song shook the temple as the LORD’s throne room was filled with smoke. Isaiah realized that he was in the presence of the glory of the LORD.

            What was his reaction? His only appropriate response was confession of his sin. “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” Isaiah knew that he was in the presence of the Holy God who had called him to point out the sins of others. He was dreadfully sinful too. What right, what business, what dare did he have to do such a thing! Standing before the glory of the sovereign LORD he knew his unclean lips. He knew his unclean heart. He knew that he deserved nothing but banishment and ruin from the holy God. He did not deserve a Call to ministry. He deserved a conviction and sentencing to hell.

            And so do pastors and teachers and leaders in the church! Moments like this have already happened for all of us. Most of us have already stood before God promising to be faithful to our confession, and endure all things even death, rather than fall away. How often have we fallen! How often do pastors climb out of the sacristy to lead worship, as though for the first time: “Who am I to do this?” After years of knowing his hearers personally, he begins the shepherding process all over again. There is angst and appropriate humility for every pastor to say: “Woe to me I am ruined! I am an unclean man and the LORD has called me to lead unclean people to his holiness.” What right, what business do I have leading sinners! I am one too!

            We all wrestle with that struggle. Who of us, pastor or parishioner, does not quake like the temple at the thought of God’s presence. We know the past which loves to haunt us. We know the world which loves to taunt us. We know the Lion that loves to deceive us. We know how dreadfully ruined we are because of our guilt before Holy God. Yet we stand in God’s house today, sinners in the presence of Holy God and “our eyes have seen the King.”

            Who will go for the Lord? Sinners will … but not just any sinners; sinners who have been lead to confession; sinners who know their place; who say with David, “Against you only have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4). Sinners who confess together: “Lord, have mercy!” And he does! Our confession also breathes forgiveness: washed in Christ and redeemed by his blood for service.

            Our King is pleased that Christ is preached at Crown of Life. He is pleased that zealousness for his Gospel has inspired his people to support another pastor. He is pleased that more work in his kingdom will continue. He is pleased first with His Son. His Son is Jesus is the Christ who came to cleanse his people from their sins. His Son is the atoning sacrifice, not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world” (1 John2:2). That message fits our feet for ministry. The Word of Christ gives us clear confessions to speak.

The Word of Forgiveness

                One of the seraphs flew down to Isaiah. He had a live coal in his hand which was drawn from the holy altar with tongs. The seraph placed the coal on his mouth and announced: “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Atonement for sin! Absolute and free forgiveness! Your guilt is taken away! That is what inspires Isaiahto answer the LORD’s request: “Who will go for me?” In the peace of the LORD’s forgiveness Isaiah speaks: “Here am I! Send me!” From the Holy Trinity Sunday hymn we move to Mission Sunday and sing “Hark the voice of Jesus calling ‘who will go and work today?’ Who will answer gladly saying ‘Here am I send me send me!’” (CW 573:1).

            Sinners of confession are also believers with atonement. Isaiah spoke faithfully to the hearts of sinners who had strayed. But his message was also filled with Christ. An entire chapter in Isaiah is devoted to the sacrificial Lamb who was pierced for our transgressions and then raised to life. Isaiah had the privilege to point his hearers to that Lamb for their atonement. The one who heard and rejoiced that his guilt was taken away was moved to lead others to the altar of atonement … and to the LORD of Holy Grace.

            A pastor enjoys the privilege of announcing the grace of God to his people. He does well to apply it first to his own heart. He reads of God’s grace in his personal devotion life. He receives that grace from the words of faith by coworkers, brothers in the ministry, and fellow believers in the congregation. As the angel announced Atonement to Isaiah, those who proclaim the Gospel must be first be fed by Christ and his message.

            Like seraphs carrying coals from the LORD’s altar, pastors carry the grace of God in trembling hands to troubled hearts. They carry that atonement when it is their humble joy to say: “As a called servant of Christ and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” They carry that atonement when simple water is applied at the Font and they speak the name of that same Triune God. They carry that atonement when bread and wine is brought from the altar and announced that, not coal, but the very body and blood of Christ has touched the lips of his people … “given for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” Preaching, teaching, counseling, leading, mission work … all arenas of a pastor’s ministry have Christ at the center stage!

            There are worlds of people for us to meet: new parishioners; new leaders; new followers; sick and dying; shut-ins; evangelism prospects, straying souls; sinners. We continue meeting people that are thirsting for direction, thirsting for guidance, thirsting for answers, thirsting for the truth, thirsting for someone who cares about their lives and their souls; “people loaded with guilt … and children given to corruption.” They are thirsting for Jesus and his all atoning love and sacrifice.

            They need what we all need. They need to see the glory of God hidden in his love and grace through your words and actions. They are souls who need to know Jesus. They need to hear and learn of Jesus through your message and through your life. Remember: Evangelical means that we are people who speak and live the gospel of Christ – crucified and risen again so that our faith will not rest on man’s wisdom but on God’s power! (1 Corinthians 2).

            Here we stand … flesh and blood … together in the presence of God’s glory. His glory causes our troubled hearts to confess “Woe to me, I am ruined! Who am I that I should deserve this?!” His grace in Christ Jesus takes all our sins away. His grace in Christ Jesus invites us. He grace in Christ Jesus asks “Who will go for the Lord?” His grace in Christ Jesus causes believers with confidence say “Here Am I! Send Me!” God bless this glorious day! God bless the ministry at Crown of Life Lutheran and everywhere – Go in the peace of Christ Jesus. Go with the Word of Christ! Amen.

When Jesus Is Our Guest

John 2: 1 – 11 (Epiphany 2 - 2016)

“When Jesus is our Guest”

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let these gifts to us be blessed.” Each time we say that prayer we invite Jesus to be the guest of honor at our meal. We acknowledge that everything we have is because of his blessing. From the food, the family, the fellowship and to our faith; all are the results of his gracious presence, not only at our tables but in our entire lives.

In our lesson today, Jesus was invited to a wedding celebration. What greater guest could this wedding have! He saved the day by preserving the wine supply, not to mention that he is very presence must have been a true joy to experience. There is much more than food and celebration in the Gospel lesson today. We see the Son of God mingling with a common human experience. The giver of good gifts: “revealed his glory and the disciples put their [trust] in him.”

1. We Receive the Best Gifts.

We don’t know much about who the wedding couple was, or what connection Jesus had to the family. We know that his mother and close friends were welcomed there. Jewish wedding celebrations often went on for days. This gave family and friends ample time for travel and accommodations to greet the new couple and their guests. The “master of the banquet,” likely the father of the bride, was responsible for seeing to the details of the celebration. A problem occurred. The wine ran dry. This was not just an embarrassment to the family. It was loss of a staple meal element. Wine and water were as basic to them as our “coffee, tea or milk.”

Mary called it to the attention of her Son. She was respectfully reminded of her place. Jesus then instructs the servants to fill ceremony jars (large vases) with water. The water, now changed to wine, is brought to the master. He says: “you have saved the best till now.” Jesus did not just change water to wine. He turned water into the finest wine. It was really good! What a great wedding present! The wedding celebration continued as planned. The embarrassment of the bridal party was prevented. Life was good.

How often do we find ourselves lacking! How helpless we are spiritually, running out of spiritual drink! Because of our many sins and our guilt we dry up spiritually! Oh, the spiritual predicaments we get ourselves into! Our sinful lives lead us to empty jars of clay. We feel the wait of regrets. They embarrass us. We try to deceive ourselves and others. We try to get by without spiritual strength. We water down the truth. We seek to convince those around us that everything is OK. Deep down we know that we are hurting. We know that we are battling, and sometimes losing to temptations that haunt us day by day. Where to turn?

David cries out in the Psalms “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon my; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord – and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32: 4-5).

Jesus rescues us from the embarrassment of our sin and guilt. He knows how to give good gifts. He gives the best. He gives himself. The Lord of glory revealed himself as the provider of all things. He comes to us in Jesus his Son. He gives his life on the cross. He pays the wedding bill to forgive the guilt of our sins. He opens up the Scriptures to us. They richly supply us with the spiritual drink of the Holy Spirit. He washes us clean in Baptism and leads us to repentance and trust. He leads us to springs of living water (Psalm 23). He gives us his body and blood in the bread and wine of his Holy Supper. In that Supper, he calls out to us and says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed are those who take refuge in him” (Psalm 34: 8). He gives us life, and health and peace. What great gifts our Guest, Jesus, gives to us!

            He also supplies us with all that we need for our existence in this life. He teaches us to be content with and thankful for the showering of blessings: food, drink, shelter, friendship, love, peace, family, protection, and list countless daily bread blessings! What a blessing it is to have him as our ever-present guest as he leads us to faith in our daily lives. The Guest at Cana’s wedding gives us a banquet of blessings. They are always a free gift of his grace. They are given without our asking. They are given in generous portions.

2. Our Heart Have Peace.

            This was the first publicly recorded miracle in his ministry. The disciples “put their [trust] in him.” Every miracle that Jesus performed is a clear reminder for us, and for those who witnessed them, that Jesus is the Son of God. As he changed water to wine, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, calmed the storm, raised the dead, and so on, we are assured that he is the one who was to come. He is also is the one who promises, “I will be with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28: 20) He says, “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). His divine work in our humanity instills in our hearts faith to believe in him and trust in his help.

            When I look at Gospel lessons like today, I am reminded that it was Jesus who wanted to come to earth and be one of us and one with us. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us of this universal comfort: He came to “share in our humanity” (Hebrews 2:14). Going to a wedding was something he was willing to do. Jesus wants to be the Guest of his people. He desires to be our Guest.

He wants to be a part of your daily lives. He wants to be at your weddings, and remain in your marriages. He wants to be present with us in our lives of faith. He wants to be the guest at our meal tables, in our private conversations, in our daily prayer life. He wants to be with us when we are sick, sad, hungry, tired, and thirsty. He wants to celebrate with our celebrations, to be a part of our joy, to be the source of our comfort. He wants to be our strength when tempted to sin. He wants to heal us spiritually when we fall. He cares about the concerns of our vocational lives. He attends us when we visit the sick and dying. He sits next to us at the grave of our loved ones. He wants to guide our conversations with other people. He loves to be the center of our ministry as a congregation, our constant, invited Guest and Host. He with us … you … always!

Being present with us, leads us to stronger faith. It reminds us where the focus of our faith and life is – On Him. It is through his Word and Sacraments, the very gifts he has given to us, his “Bride,” that he is present with us. As he led the disciples to trust him, he leads us to trust him. Like the disciples we are glad to walk with him as followers. We are glad to trust his wisdom, and obey his commands, for that is how we show our love to him – our “Groom.”

This is his relationship with you: “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself, as a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25- 27).

FAITHand TRUST are different but related. I am certain that the followers of Jesus had already been brought to faith in Jesus as Savior. This early miracle strengthened their daily trust Him for specific circumstances of life. This was the beginning of many teachable moments in their lives that increase their trust in him. I am certain there was a sigh of relief from the banquet master. He held a new found peace of mind and heart knowing that this particular problem was solved by Jesus.

So it is with us. The Holy Spirit has brought you to faith in Jesus. You have a saving faith that knows that heaven and salvation are yours because of Him. I am certain there have been numerous sighs of relief through your lives as the Lord Jesus has resolved troubling events in your lives. As he remains our daily guest and grants us the best of his gifts, he is also increasing our peace of mind and heart. He his leading us to a firmer trust in him for the stuff of our lives. With each stretch of road, rough or smooth, you are led to a more confident prayer life, faith life, and trust … a trust in Jesus that he is your constant Guest and he does give your troubled heart peace in every situation.

When Jesus is our Guest, we receive the best gifts, and day by day, until the Heavenly Wedding Feast, we are blessed with hearts of peace that rest in his solid promises. “Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guests, and let your gifts to us be blessed.” Amen.

Baptismal Security Is Yours

Titus 3: 4-7 (Baptism of Our Lord Sunday – 2015)

“Baptismal Security is Yours”

Life is full of uncertainties. A New Year anticipates them. Family planning, national security and economy; church and congregation ministry; end of life issues; beginning of life issues; these all present the human reality that our lives are full of uncertainty. One thing is certain, and that is your life in eternity. No matter what is happening in your heart and life right now, no matter what the uncertain issues existing in your world, your relationship with God and eternity with Christ is a certain secure. Salvation is secure. That certainty is found in the Grace of our loving Heavenly Father who planned that salvation from eternity. That security is found in the Baptized Jesus who fulfills all righteousness in your behalf. That security is found in the Holy Spirit who has washed you spiritually in your Baptism.

            Upon his Baptism Jesus is anointed as the Son of God and the promised Savior. Upon his Baptism we see the Trinity on a public stage. The Father’s gracious prominence booms from his heavenly voice. The Son’s perfect obedience stands in the Jordan for the public to witness. The Holy Spirit in the form of the dove gives ratification of his Baptism. In the entire event we see the certainty of our eternal life. We see that same Trinity at work in Paul’s words to Pastor Titus.

  1. 1.Because of The Grace of God

“When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us,

not because of righteous things that we have done, but because of his mercy.”

The appearance of God normally is frightening to human beings. We see that is so many stories of the Bible account. We only have to rewind to the night the shepherds saw the glory of God through the angels and became terrified. We have not done righteous things. Our sins are cause for terror before a righteousness God. Paul told Titus in the verse before: “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.” We do not deserve to stand in his appearing. We are born without fear of God and faith and God and are condemned to eternal death (CW p. 12).

But this appearance of God is quite different. In the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ Baptism we hear of no terrified crowds. At the very least we see the humble confession of John: “I need to be baptized by you and do you come to me?” This appearance of God is with the presence our Savior. His wrath is hidden in mercy. His wrath in cloaked in the presence of Jesus’ humanity. His glory is revealed in his Words safely to us. God is present in the humanity of Jesus. God is present in the Baptisms of the crowds that day. God greeted sinners with grace and mercy and they were welcomed into this place with no need to fear him. “He saved them and us, not because of righteous things that we have done, but because of his mercy and kindness and grace!”

  1. 2.Through The Washing of the Holy Spirit

“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,

whom he poured out on us generously.”

           

Christ’s Baptism is the foundation of our Baptism. Paul reminds Pastor Titus, and us, that our Baptism is a generous outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Many in the crowds were already baptized by John. Many more would be. Baptism does two things: it washes us spiritually and gives us new life – “rebirth and renewal.”

Baptism is a deep spiritual cleansing. Peter tells us: “Baptism now saves you, not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God” (1 Peter 3:21-22). Baptism removed the guilty stains in our hearts. Baptism unites us with Christ’s death and resurrection. Baptism reconciles our relationship with our Holy God, by washing away our sins by the power of the Holy Spirit. Baptism saves us!

The Holy Spirit brings us to faith through Baptism. The rebirth and renewal in Baptism is the gift of the Holy Spirit to live in obedience to God.Paul had already mentioned this to Pastor Titus in the chapter before: “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11). Baptized children of God have the power of the Holy Spirit to resist the devil. We have the strength of faith to seek and do what pleases our Heavenly Father, something we had no power to do when we were born into this world.

That is true because we are motive in Baptism which gives us the righteousness of Christ.

  1. 3.By The Righteousness of Jesus

“Through Jesus Christ our Savior … we have been justified by his grace,

we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

Paul had said that this was a generous outpouring. The Holy Spirit did not just drip a teensy weensy bit of Jesus upon us. He showered us with the fullness of Christ Jesus (Colossians 2:10). When Jesus came to John, John acknowledged his unworthiness. Jesus answers with the reason he came to the Jordan that day: “To fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).

We could not have done what Jesus was asked to do. If our heavenly Father came from heaven and demanded any one of us to “fulfill all righteousness” we must confess with John, “I need you and do you come to me?” Our confession mimic’s John’s confession: I need you! I need you because every day I find myself in need of forgiveness. Every day I know of my personal inclinations, temptations, and evil commitments.

Jesus says: “Let it be so now to fulfill all righteousness.” His mother and father took him to temple. He was presented as the perfect Lamb, the young Israelite baby in whom there was no guile or sin. He was named Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). He showed integrity at the teaching of the Word as a 12 year old boy.

Jesus grew in wisdom and stature before God and men.” (Luke 2: 52). “He was tempted in every, just as we are yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He never felt shame. He never needed to speak an apology to his Father, or to anyone. He was without sin. He lived a full life to the age of 30 and beyond. Not once did he have a moment of regret over any kind of sinful thought, word, or action. His Baptism was one more stamp of his Father’s approval of the absolutely perfect things Jesus did, which we could not.

When he went to the cross he went holy and blameless. He offered the perfect sacrifice for our sins. In our Baptisms we receive the righteousness of the Anointed Christ, “having been justified by his grace we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” That hope is safe and secure.

Some things are not very certain for you and me in the New Year. Some things lead us to pray and plan and think. All things lead us to lean on the LORD rather than on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). But one thing is for certain. Christ’s Baptism assures you that your Baptism makes you an heir to eternal life in heaven. Because Jesus has fulfilled all righteousness, “you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27). For life now and into your eternal inheritance you have Baptismal security forever! Amen.

Behold! the Dwelling of God Is with Mankind

John 1: 1-3, 14 (Christmas Day - 2015)

“Behold! the Dwelling of God is With Mankind”

This past Sunday I was privileged to attend an MSO production of Handel’s Messiah at the Basilica of St. Josaphat in Milwaukee. The excellence in the music was astounding. The message of Christ was clear and comforting. The architecture of the Basilica was breath taking. Above the Altar is the Latin phrase “Ecce, Tabernaculum Dei Cum Huminibus.” It is from Revelation “Behold! The dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them” (Revelation 21:3). This is the message of Christmas Day! God chooses to dwell with us. The Almighty, intangible God lives in human form with his creation.

How do you teach God? This was the task the Holy Spirit assigned to John as he presented his account of the Gospel to the world. John, with the constant hand of the Holy Spirit, set out to teach God by revealing the humanity of God’s Son. In God’s Son we see the glory of God: hidden in the humanity of Jesus, Mary’s son, and also revealed in the grace and truth as God’s eternal Son.

  1. 1.Hidden in His Humanity

You know the common reaction when humanity meets a holy God head on. In the Christmas story we see it. Just the glory of his holy angels caused shepherds to tremble with fear. Creator and creation is not a natural blending. Can you imagine the horror in the hearts of these human souls! They were on the lookout for a wolf or two. They were counting heads to make certain none were lost. But hardly did they expect a visit from heaven itself – the glory of the Lord! They were terrified! They began counting sins, if only in their own hearts.

Like oil and water, our sinful humanity cannot be in the company of God’s glory. Angels turn their heads from our filthy sin: lies, hatred, lustful whims, selfishness; the new ways we collectively think up to sin against God’s holiness. Divinity and humanity is not a good mix. Our sinful nature waits in terror of the thought that God is out there, aware of each desire, monitoring every move of our humanity. What sin! What terror! The thought that someone knows everything scares us. When God and sin meet, the shepherds we quake in fear! Humanity and divinity do not mix well.

But there is one exception: “In Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). What is conceived in Mary is from the Holy Spirit, the Most High for nothing impossible with God! (Luke 1). Rather than coming in the fullness of his glory and power, God chose to save the world by hiding in the meekness of a baby. He comes in humility. He comes in humanity. As he chose to give Moses just a glimpse of his glory, in love he hides his glory in strips of cloth lying in a manger!

The writer to the Hebrews put it this way: “Since the children have flesh and blood he too shared in their humanity” (Hebrews 2:14). You, who grow weary and tossed about by the storms of life, know that you have a Savior who fell asleep on a boat and still had the power to calm the storm on the sea. You whose hearts face the same temptations every day, know that you have a Savior who was tempted in every way, yet is without sin. You, who have hands and feet that are scarred with guilt, know that you have a Savior who has hands and feet pierced by nails. You, who know tears of grief, know that you have a Savior who sheds tears outside the tomb of a friend. You, who feel the fear and sting of death, know your Savior’s lifeless body broke that prison with the power and glory that was hidden in Christ since the first Christmas Day!

In his humanity – in his humility – Jesus revealed God’s love; fulfilled God’s love for you. God has revealed his glory in the saving humanity of his Son. But he has also revealed it to us by his grace in his faith giving truth.

  1. 2.Revealed in His Grace and Truth

Thomas, after the resurrection, needed physical evidence. But Jesus redirected him to understand a basic concept of Christian faith. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Jesus had in mind what he spoke of in his prayer on the Thursday beforeas he mentions “those who will believe in me through their message” (John17:20).

It was the sight of the angels that brought fear to the shepherds. But it was the message of the angels that moved their feet to Bethlehem. It was the message of the angels that gave them peace with God. It was the message of the angels that ignited their faith. It was the message of the angels that the shepherds spread abroad concerning what they had been told. It is the message of grace and truth that reveals the true God to us today. “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

That is why we don’t stand outside and wait for the sky to fill with angelic glory. That is why we cringe with a rightful skepticism when we hear about people “seeing God” or “finding Jesus” somewhere else. That is why we don’t put so much weight on emotional tactics and worldly gimmicks intending to teach us about God.

When we want to learn more about God, and when we want to teach others about God, we use the source from which he promises to be taught: the Word of Grace and Truth. God reveals himself to us in his Gospel. In the Word he enlightens our faith with divine truths that squelch our human sin and humanism. In his Law he rebukes those things which are spiritually harmful to our souls. In his Law he condemns sin in sinful man. In the Gospel he quiets our burdened conscience with his peace. In the Gospel he removes fear with the confidence of his kept promises. The manger bed is the precursor to the wood of the cross. Christ Jesus is revealed in the grace and truth of our redemption from guilt.

In the spectacular array of the Basilica of St. Josaphat the architecture that teaches Christ was sadly hidden. The crucifix itself was off to the side away from the chancel, almost symbolic of those who have elevated idolatrous imagery above our Savior’s purpose in coming. But George Frediric Handel presented Christ Jesus to us. The message of Christ was encased in the music of the Messiah that has survived centuries. Christ was revealed in Bible texts that still speak of Christ: his incarnation, his cradle, his sufferings, his death, his resurrection. The hidden Christ was revealed. Above the instruments and choir was the message of Christmas: “Ecce, Tabernaculum Dei Cum Huminibus.” “Behold! The dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them!” (Revelation 21:3). And they gave him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins!

God is the expert teacher on Christmas Day. He points us to a Book. He brings us to simple water in a font and gives us the right to be called the children of God. He brings us to a table of bread and wine and says this is me for you. And in that Book and through those Sacraments he reveals a baby boy, a dying body on a cross, and a grave with no one inside it.

He came down to earth from heaven

Who is God and Lord of all

And his shelter was a stable,

And his cradle was a stall;

With the poor and mean and lowly

Lived on earth a Savior holy. (CW 50:2) Amen!

Big Man from a Small Town

Micah 5: 2- 5 (Advent 4)

“Big Man from a Small Town”

The following are notes from New Unger’s Bible Dictionary on Bethlehem (“house of bread”). Even in the age of the www. I still enjoy holding a book in my handJ

“A town in Palestine, near which Jacob buried Rachel, then known as Ephrath (Genesis 35:19) It is also called Bethlehem Ephratha (Micah 5:2), Bethlehem in Judah (I Samuel 17:12), Bethlehem of Judea (Matt. 2:1), and the City of David (Luke 2:4). The old name Ephrath, or Ephrathah, lingered long after Israel occupied Palestine (Ruth1:2; 4:11, etc.)The city overlooks the main highway to Hebron and Egypt. The site of the city on a commanding limestone ridge of the Judean highland has never been disputed.

After the conquest of Bethlehem fell to Judah (Judges 17:7); Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel after Jephthah; Elimelech, the husband of Naomi and father –in-law of Ruth, was a Bethlehemite, as was Boaz.

David was born in Bethlehem, and here he was anointed as future king by Samuel (1 Samuel 16:1); here was the well from which David’s three heroes brought him water (2 Samuel 23: 15 – 16), thought to be the same three wells still existing in the N side of the village; it was the birthplace of the Messiah (Matt 2:1), and its male children were slain by order of Herod (2: 16) This Bethlehem is about five miles south of Jerusalem, and elevated 2,460 feet above sea level. In Bethlehem stands the Basilica of the Nativity, marking the traditional site of the birth of Christ.

These are big things for such a sleepy little town hidden away from the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem. There is so much history in this one piece of ground. The city itself goes all the way back to the time of Genesis. But Micah mentions for us one truly great thing that would happen in Bethlehem. A Baby Boy would be born. He would be a Ruler, the Son of a virgin, and a Shepherd that would bring peace to his sheep.

           

1. An Ancient Ruler

Out of Bethlehem would come for God a ruler over Israel, who origins are from of old, from ancient times. Christmas time is a perfect time for us to reflect the eternity of God. The story is the hub of the Old and New Testaments. Prophecy and Fulfillment come together. The Son of God who has always existed becomes the Son of Man. The Son of God is from ancient times. It is at Christmas when we contemplate Daniel’s prophecy about the “Ancient of Days” whose kingdom is an “everlasting dominion” (Daniel 7: 13-14). It is at Christmas time when we contemplate the first words of John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God.”

Big things would happen in a very old small town. We know about the start of Bethlehem, the bread basket of Judah. We have learned the history of Bethlehem. We know the story of Ruth. We know King David’s roots are there. Though it was small town, it was an important town. But as old and historic as that small town was, it would never match the ancient history of the eternal Son of God. He is the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega. The ruler that would be born in Bethlehem had come from eternity. He had always been around. He was at creation. He was in the garden. He was at Abraham’s tent with promises of salvation. He was speaking through the prophets to Israel. Now he would be the Ruler of Israel.

But his kingdom would have no end: “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7). Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. He fights for his kingdom of faith. He battled against the dark enemies of our sin, the devils of hell and death itself. He provided every spiritual blessing and physical need for his people. His righteousness rules wisely. His justice was carried out by himself on a cross. His power was exerted in his own resurrection. He has returned to the throne that was his from Ancient times. The Ancient of Days, who became a baby in Bethlehem, is Ruler of heaven and earth. He is your King and lives in your heart through faith.

2. A Son of a Virgin Mother

How would God send his eternal offspring into time and place? “When she who is in labor gives birth.” says Micah. “When the time had fully come God sent his Son born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5).

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the Town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there with Mary, who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her first born, a son. She wrapped him cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2: 4 – 7).

What big thing happened in Bethlehem? A Virgin gave birth to a Son! Who is that Son?

I believe in Jesus, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. 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 and with his innocent sufferings and death. (Luther’s Small Catechism; Article 2).

But there is more: This Great Child would also be a Shepherd.

3. A Shepherd for His Sheep

He will stand and shepherd his flock … and he will be their peace.” How fitting that the Good Shepherd would be born in a city of shepherds. How fitting that the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, was born in a city where thousands of lambs were raised for sacrifice in Jerusalem. We learned that Bethlehem was a “house of bread”; a bread basket. With the exception of the nationwide famine during the time of Naomi and Ruth, Bethlehem has historically been a land of plenty, where shepherds could easily provide safe pasture for their flocks.

We recall our own famines; famines of faith. Like a famine on the land destroys everything, our sin kills and destroys. Our sinful words can eat away at relationships. Our hatred and jealousy can eat away at our peace and joy. Too often our thoughts and deeds demonstrate greed and lust. They leave our hearts looking like a ghost town.

But our Shepherd leads us to springs of water and prepares a banquet before our enemies. He destroys sin like a Shepherd kills the wolf and the lion. He gives up his life for the Sheep. Listen to what Micah prophesied: “He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.”

Peace truly is the message of Bethlehem. Peace in the glad tidings of the angels. Peace between God and mankind. Peace in knowing that sin is atoned for and we are God’s people and the sheep of pasture in the hands of our crucified and risen Shepherd.

Because of this great man, this baby boy in this small town of Bethlehem, we have peace with God! And among all the history and heritage, the greatest of all: the birth a baby, an ancient ruler, a son of our own humanity, a shepherd of peace. He is our Peace now and always “and they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.” Amen.