Walk in the Light of Christ

John 12: 35-36 (Confirmation Sunday, 2015)

“Walk in the Light of Christ”

We heard today that the Lord spoke his Words of power and created all that there is. On Day One he used his voice to call into being one thing: Light. Paul wrote: “God who said: ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthian 4: 6). The concept of Light is a big deal to God. It calls attention to his creative power, His Son, and the work of his Spirit through the Word.

Now While You Have It

“You are going to have the light just little while longer.” Jesus made a big about Light, too. He called himself the “Light of the World.” On that night before he died, Jesus was finishing his three year instruction of his disciples. He was preparing them for the Lord’s Supper. He was preparing them for a life of ministry. He was preparing them to defend his truths. He was preparing them for eternal life Heaven. John and the other writers spill a bunch of ink over things He said on Maundy Thursday. Jesus was saying: Let this sink in while I am still with you. Embrace this moment of face to face instruction. Embrace and walk in this Light while I am still here, so that walking in this Light is part of you after I leave you.

Jesus was embarking on events that led to darkness. Wicked men were to carry out his sacrificial death. He faced the darkness of hell, abandoned by his Father on the cross. He faced the darkness of death in a cave of stone. Even after his Resurrection, he would only be with them only another 40 days. We just celebrated his Ascension. We know that he has not abandoned us, but is with us to the very end of the age. But he promises his Light through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. That is where his Light shines into our hearts and shows us the path that leads to eternity with Him.

Your walk through the catechism with pastor is drawing to a close. But your walk with Jesus has just begun. He is your Light. His “Word is a lamp to your feet and a light for your path.” (Psalm 119: 105). Walk in that Light! Put your new confirmation Bibles and devotional materials to good use. Keep your catechisms in a place where you can continue to uses them. Take a walk daily through the Word. Surround yourselves with people who are walking in His Light and are walking with Jesus. Rejoice with those who say, let us go to the house of the Lord (Psalm 122: 1)! Loving parents, concerned classmates, encouraging church members, and people you have yet to meet will encourage you to remain in Christ’s light. Embrace this thorough instruction as the source of Light for further insight into the Spirit’s wisdom for your life. Walk in the Light of Christ, by walking with Jesus and his Word. Embrace others who will help you continue this walk in Christ.

Later When Darkness Comes

Jesus warned: “ … before the darkness overtakes you.” There was to be darkness for the disciples that night. It did not take long for Judas to run into the night, willingly, not only to forsake his Savior, but to betray him and reject his Light. Peter, who confessed what you will shortly confess - I would rather die than fall way from you – let the darkness of persecution rob him of his convictions. Instead of walking with Jesus, he denied that he even knew him. Eventually, they would all let the darkness blind them to Jesus and fall away that night. The darkness would overtake them, that very night! The presence of soldiers, mobs, enemies, and those who serve the Prince of Darkness (the devil) were in full force the hours before Christ was crucified. It does not take much darkness to cloud the judgment of God’s children of light. There is darkness and you will encounter it. Jesus knew that for his disciples and he knows that about you.

There is darkness and you will encounter it! You have been warned of your spiritual foes. The darkness takes shape in the devil’s temptations and his deceiving lies. He loves to cover your eyes from the Light of God’s Word. The darkness takes the shape of seeming friends who draw on your want to be wanted. They are interested only in leading you away from light to join their sad company of darkness. The darkness lies deeply inside your own sinful self. Often the ideas for sinning are your very own ideas … ideas for abandoning the Light of Jesus for living in the darkness. “The man who walks in darkness does not know where he is going.”

There is Light and you will continue to encounter it. In the Light of God’s Word is our Savior who gave his life for you. In the Light of Christ is forgiveness for every sin. In the Light of Christ is power in the face of darkness, temptation and evil. In the Light of Christ is comfort for days of loneliness. In the Light of Christ is the reminder of your baptisms. In that Light there is Christ’s body and blood together with the bread and wine to shine the Light of God’s grace in your hearts. Jesus Christ is the Light of the World. His light scatters the darkness of sin and brings in the Light of grace.

Walk in the Light while you have the light ... Put your trust in the light while you have it.” When I was young, my classmates often received some glow-in-the-dark gifts from our teachers at Christmas-time. One in particular was an image of Jesus. You know how glow-in-the-dark things work. They get exposed to bright light, and when the darkness comes they continue to glow … for a little while. They are not the source of the light, so they need the light again and again in order to keep working. You are a glow-in-the-dark child of Christ. He is your source of light. He will cause you to shine when the darkness comes. Return to that source often so that “your light shines before men, and they praise your Father in heaven for it.” (Matthew 5:16).

Into Eternity

Finally: “Put your trust in the light … so that you may be sons of light …” On Maundy Thursday night Jesus was preparing them for the Lord’s Supper. He gave them the Supper to fill their hearts with Light. His heart is to spend eternity with them and all his children ... with you! “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine … until that Day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” On that Jesus was also interested in their eternity with him. He is interested in your eternity, too!

You trust in Jesus. He paid the ransom price for your sins. He proved himself to be your Savior and the Son of God when he rose from the dead. From your mother’s arms he has blessed you on your way. He will now shine his Light on the pathways that lead to a daily walk with his Word. He will shine the Light that leads to your eternal life. You are sons of Light. As sons you stand to inherit a place in his Father’s kingdom. You will now continue that walk with many trips to the Lord’s Table to drink of the fruit of the vine and partake in his body and blood. Those trips to the Lord’s Supper will be reminders of the joyful union we will share with Jesus, the Light of the World in a place where there will be no more darkness.

Even though we are weeks in to the Easter Season, an Epiphany hymn comes to mind for our closing thought; because Jesus, your pastor, your families and friends are most interested today in your eternity… that you may walk forever:

                    In the Heav’nly country bright

                    Need they no created light;

                    You its Light, its Joy, its Crown,

                    You its Sun which goes not down.

                    There forever may we sing: Alleluias to our King! (CW 83: 5). Amen.

Jesus Sinners Does Receive

1 John 1: 7 -  2: 2 (Easter 3 2015)

“Jesus Sinners Does Receive”

 

Shortly after the miraculous feeding of thousands, Jesus spent a day teaching in the temple courts. He drew a clear connection between what they saw and the purpose of his coming. The Bread of Life discourse, as we have come to know it, brought the ensuing dramatics of the kind of persecution Jesus would face the rest of his days on earth. Crowds of people left in hatred. They no longer heard what their itching ears wanted to hear. They detested this claim of the carpenter to be the only way to have peace with God. Modern day ministry planners would have called it a dreadful mistake. You fool, Jesus. You went and offended them. You should not have been so exclusive in your truths. You should have avoided conflict and offence. They would all still love you and be gripped by your voice. As the crowds leave he turns to the faithful few and says: “You will not leave too, will you?” To which Peter says “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life” (John 6: 66-69).

All people are sinners. To whom shall we go? To whom can we go? Sinners have only one place to go for help. Sinners have Jesus as the one to whom we can always go for peace. The sinful heart may be tempted to look for consolation in many other places. The world offers faint replicas. But peace of conscience will not be found anywhere else. And no one else will receive us so lovingly, so truthfully, so generously as our Lord Jesus. And certainly no one else has actually done something about our guilt.

He Died for All Sinners

Here is the truth: If we claim to have fellowship with Jesus, but live in darkness, we are hypocrites. If we claim to portray the light of Christ, but treat our fellowship with him and each other with contempt, we are fakes. If we claim to be without sin we are liars and we call God a liar. Jesus said that “everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Claiming to be without sin is a lie … a lie the devil would love for us to embrace so that we would not run to Jesus. Who of us does not contemplate the thought: “I am such a liar. I am a fraud.” Who of us would blush to have all our sin exposed before God and others? Who of us has not attempted to run to someone or something else for comfort only to find more lies and more guilt?

God is not interested in fakes. He is not interested in finger pointers. He is not interested in rationalizations for why we did what we did. He is interested in the truth. David reminds us that “he desires truth in the inner parts” (Psalm 51: 6). He desires the honesty of the wayward son who came to grips with truth in the slop of the pigs. He desires the broken and contrite heart of Paul who said “what a wretched man I am, who will save me from this body of death?” (Romans 7: 24). We have sinned before God in many ways and continue to do so each day of our earthly lives.

Jesus did something about it. He spilled his life blood on the cross. He did it to rescue us from sin. He did it to cleanse us. He did it to purchase our souls for eternity. He did it because he loves us. He did it because he is a God who keeps his word and does not lie. Fellowship with Christ is fellowship with the One whose blood purifies us from all sin. What God’s Son did, he did for all sinners. What God’s Son did for all sinners, he did for you. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world. Jesus sinners does receive. And you are a sinner for whom he came.

He Lives to Plead for Us Each Day.

But there is more. John says, “I write this to you so that you will not sin.” The love of Christ moves us to live new lives. “Christ’s love compels us, for we are convinced that one died for all and therefore all died. And he died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised to life again” (2 Corinthians 5: 14-15). The light of Christ draws us to live as children of light and not the darkness. John knows that children of God are capable of producing fruits of repentance and trust in God. God’s love for us and our love for him give us reason to live the way he would have us live. The power of forgiveness through Jesus is a mighty influence which drives children of God to speak the truth, demonstrate Godly love, and to cherish the age-old truth that those who hear and obey his word are blessed (Luke 11:28).

Of course John anticipates the inevitable: “But if any one does sin…” He knows that it will happen. You know that it will happen. You know where your defenses are weakest. You know the things that will give you trouble this afternoon. You know what Paul means when he says “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out!” (Romans 7: 18). Falling into temptation is a familiar scene for even the strongest believer.

John’s answer is vitally important. “We have One who speaks to the Father on our defense – Jesus Christ the Righteous One.” “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus … He is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8: 1, 34).

Abel’s blood for vengeance pleaded to the skies;

But the blood of Jesus for our pardon cries!                        Jesus sinners does receive!

Because of Jesus, our Heavenly Father treats us like the father treated the wayward son. He runs out to us and wraps his arms around us and welcomes us back to the fold. He is the one person we can truly be honest with. He is the one we can bring the deepest and darkest places of our hearts with humble confidence.

Imagine that! When we bear our souls to him, we are telling him everything he already knew anyway. But the response is so unexpected. The response is so unlike the way the world would treat us. He does not even treat us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103: 10). There is no shaming voice saying “You did what?!” There is no angry judge casting us away from his sight. Disappointed? Yes, but also “full of compassion and gracious; slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). “He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Jesus is there by his Father’s side concurring. He is our defense attorney, pleading for our innocence, the innocence he purchased for us with his life and death. Jesus lives. He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. There he points his Father to his redeeming work as evidence of our pardon. He said “It is Finished!” and he meant it. His resurrection proves it. He lives to bless me with his love; He lives to plead for me above! He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but for the sins of the world.

Jesus sinners does receive! Jesus receives you. Amen.

Easter Knowledge Is Power to Speak

Acts 3: 12 -20 (Easter 2 - 2015)

“Easter Knowledge is Power to Speak”

Peter was one of those “shoot from the hip” sort of guys. Sometimes that characteristic got him into trouble. But it was that very characteristic the Holy Spirit and Christ chose to be the leading spokesperson of Christianity. In the face of people who had been convinced they finally got rid of Jesus, Peter led a full force proclamation of his Name. Peter told those were responsible for the death of the Son of God that they committed a murder of ignorance. Then he had the audacity - and the privilege - to tell them that in that same Son of God is the solution to their guilt. The Resurrection is a powerful knowledge that moves God’s people to speak the truth in love.

1. Speaking the Truth to Ignorance

            People, especially representatives from the Jewish courts, questioned Peter about his authority. Peter had called on the Name of Jesus for the healing of a broken man. Peter’s answer goes like this: “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate ... You disowned the Holy and Righteous One of God … you killed the author of life … you acted in ignorance.”

            Peter was speaking from experience. Disowning Jesus was not an easy topic for the master of disowning Jesus. He did it publicly three times during our Savior’s trials. Peter dared to call others to repent of the sin he had trouble with. Now he calls each of us to do the same.

            It is difficult, isn’t it? Jesus calls us to the same thing: “Why do you look at the speck of saw dust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5). But he does call us to do both in his Name!

            Peter did wrestle with his own sin and ignorance. He had been led to remorse and repentance. He had been led to tears. He had come to grips with his past sins. Jesus had placed his guilt to rest on the shores of Galilee. He announced his love and renewed his calling. Jesus gave Peter the confidence to speak clearly to others about their specks of dust by helping him remove his own plank. When he saw the man in need, he did not simply see a physical need, he saw the much deeper spiritual need for Jesus. When he met with the ignorance of those who called him out on it, he saw the same need. Easter gave him power to speak the truth and the Name of Christ in both cases.

            We see a fear for the truth today. Our society attacks that issue, too, by twisting Jesus’ words into “Don’t judge at all.” We call it relativism: I won’t judge you if you won’t judge me. But what about us? Men hesitant to do elder work because they feel uneasy about pointing the sins of others when they have their own closets to deal with. Parents struggling to tell the little ones “No” when they are young. Parents struggle to correct sin when their children and the issues grow bigger. The fear is that the kids will hate them, rather than respect them. As a pastor I wrestle with the same battle in my own heart. How can I dare to stand up here and speak the truth, when, just Like Peter, I can plainly recall the times I have denied my Lord through ignorance and sinfulness!? How do we get up the ner4ve to say what we know to be true and necessary? How do we lose the fear complexes?

            The truth is the truth. Sin is sin. Ignorance is ignorance. Rejection of Christ leads to hell. People need to know the cause of Good Friday if they are going to grasp the Knowledge of Easter morning. Repentance must be preached - ironically - by people who have been called to repentance. We are all sinful. But if believers don’t call unbelievers to repentance, just because we are afraid of our own past, who will be saved?

The truth is the truth! We are also redeemed. We are confessors of a Risen Christ Jesus! We have been washed clean of our guilty stains by the blood of the Lamb. We have been clothed with Easter morning in our Baptisms. We have received the feast of victory through his Holy Supper. Our fears are dashed by the empty tomb of Jesus. Our power to speak comes from his Resurrection!

2. Speaking the Truth for Faith

Peter says, “It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to [this man].” In other words, Jesus name has power to heal – as was shown by the healing of this beggar. That same Name has the power to give spiritual healing. Peter preaches “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus.”

Peter knew the refreshing news of forgiveness meant for him. After the resurrection Jesus had personally sat down with him on the shores of Galilee. Three times Jesus reinstated his love for Peter and Peter’s love for the Lord. Personally Jesus demonstrated that his death and resurrection had secured Peter’s salvation, and the salvation of all people. Now Peter knew it was his vocation in life to proclaim the Name of the Risen Lord Jesus – the good news of forgiveness – to others by preaching the name of Jesus boldly.

Later, after he had been imprisoned and put on trial for this very event, Peter continued to give answer to his actions by proclaiming the Name of Jesus. “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4: 10-12).

Jesus was crucified for our sins. Jesus rose from the dead and destroyed the power of the Devil. He is the one who David praises when he says “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:2-5).

This is the good news, the all important news we have to share as well. Peter was already thinking that Christ was coming back soon for judgment. It is a very common characteristic of the apostle’s preaching and letter writing. Jesus said he was coming back. They felt their only purpose was to tell as many people about him before that happened. The Resurrection of Jesus was the power to their confession and work!

Life’s too short …” So goes the saying. Life is too short to put off saying the things that need to be said. Paul tells the Ephesians, “Speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4: 15) He tells Timothy to “preach the word in season and out of season … correct, rebuke encourage, with gentles and respect” (2 Timothy 2: 1-2). By the same Holy Spirit, in the same confession of truth, with the power of the same name - Jesus – you and I have every reason to tell it like it is. What more important truth could there be, than the Word of God which prepares souls for eternity in heaven! This is the truth that bears the Name of Jesus. His Name carried the power to heal a broken man. His Name holds the power to call us children of God and to know his love. His Name and Words erased the doubts of Thomas.

Life is too short to let other things become more important. Life is too short to let the need of repentance be ignored. Life is too short to let our fears and doubts cause us to soft pedal the truth that saves souls. With the news of the Empty Tomb ringing in our ears, the Risen Christ has given us power to speak the truth. With the news of Easter morning still pounding our hearts with gladness, the Spirit fills us with reason and strength to speak: to rebuke ignorance and sin, to build up the hurting and the broken, to fill the lost with forgiveness and faith in Christ!

Jesus Serves as Our Priest

Hebrews 5: 7-9 (Lent 5 2015)

“Jesus Serves as Our Priest”

            The original purpose of the book of Hebrews was to help the fist century Jews to see how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. In particular the letter draws out the things related to the office of the priesthood. There were three major vocations in Israel’s history that pointed directly to Jesus as the Messiah: the prophets, priests and kings. Jesus is our Great High Priest, but not in the limited sense of the Levite priests. He is the Great High Priest because he was clearly all three: a Prophet of God’s Word, a Priest who mediated between God and all people, and King who is the ruler of heaven and earth.

The write to the Hebrews focused on the Old Testament Priesthood as a clear image of Jesus as Savior. The priests offered prayers on behalf of the people. The priests offered sacrifices for atonement of their sins. Jesus lives to serve you as priest. With his willing obedience and prayers he serves you. By his perfectly royal sacrifice he served you and the whole world “becoming the source of salvation for all who obey him.”

Through Obedience and Prayers

Our verses begin with an important phrase: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth.” Literally is says: in the time of his life in the flesh. The writer explains the important fact that Jesus came to this earth in human form. From the time he was conceived by the Spirit in his earthly mother to the day he rose from the dead, he accomplished over 30 years of absolute willing obedience to his Father. His perfect under the law is the foundation he laid for our salvation. Everything he did while on earth was to serve you.

Paul explained to the Galatians: “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a women, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Galatians 4: 4-5) In this book of Hebrews, the writer said in chapters 2 and 4 that Jesus was the perfect high priest because he had become like the children in every way, sharing in our humanity, was tempted in every way, as we are, yet was without sin.”

He came to be one of us. He knew sorrow and pain. He knew physical limitations. He felt human emotion … what makes us cry, and what makes us laugh. He knew the strength of the devil’s lies. He knew the cruelty of unbelievers. He knew the high responsibility of doing everything his Father commanded him to do. All of that was done in the flesh, under God’s expectations. He was responsible for doing what we could not do: willingly and perfectly obey his Father’s law on all accounts.

We have an example in the verses: “He offered prayers and petitions with loud cries of tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because his reverent submission.” Recall in the gospel lesson today (John 12). Jesus was teaching the Greeks that Philip brought to him. As he explained the kind of death he would suffer, he offered up a heartfelt prayer to the glory of his Father. A voice from heaven confirmed for them that his prayers were heard. His willing obedience was pleasing to his Father. Jesus explained that day that “this was for your benefit!”

            Think also of his prayers in Gethsemane. To the point of grief and pain, sweating like drops of blood, his prayer was one of willingness to concede to the Father’s will to crush him on the cross for the sake of all people: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” His tearful prayer is for your benefit, not his. His willing obedience is for you, not for himself. He is the perfect high priest because his willing obedience and his heartfelt prayers continue to reach the ears of his heavenly Father.

Jesus is praying for you every day! Imagine that! Jesus, who hears and answers all prayers, repeats yours to his Father personally. When we confess our sins, Jesus asks his Father for our forgiveness. When we ask Jesus to join us at our tables as a guest, he invites his Father to join us too. When we ask Jesus to help us when are faced with temptation he points his Father to his own perfect obedience as our power to flee from sin. When we ask him about the troubling circumstance that seem to plague our daily lives Jesus “is at the right hand of God and is also (with the Holy Spirit) interceding for us!” (Romans 8: 27, 34). Jesus, who was willingly obedient to the point of crucifixion, prays to his Father every day for every one of your needs. He lives to serve you as a great high priest.

With A Royal Sacrifice

The verses surrounding our lesson for today mention this mysterious character, Melchizedek. His name in Hebrew means the king of righteousness. You may recall that, in time of Abraham the city of Salem (ancient Jerusalem) was ruled by a king named Melchizedeck. Melchizedeck was not only king but he served the people of Salem as a priest of God Most High. This was before Israel’s Temple life included the tribe of Levi as the designated tribe for the priesthood. People were worshipping the true God at the priestly leadership of this faithful king of righteousness.

When kings from the Northern countries attacked Sodom and Gomorra they captured Lot and his family and took them back with them. Abraham found out and took a band of men from his household to go and rescue Lot and his family. The LORD helped Abraham to succeed in battle against the Northern kings. Not only was he able to bring back Lot and his family, but the victory produced a great deal of wealth. When Melchizedeck heard the news, he met Abraham and spoke a blessing from the Lord on Abraham and his family (Genesis 14).

That is the extent of what we know about this King of Salem. He is mentioned briefly by David in Psalm 110 and then the writer to the Hebrews picks up on that a few times in this letter to the Hebrews. Jesus is the Son of the Creator which makes him King of heaven and earth. In both places, the Psalms and the Hebrews, the point is that Melchizedek is a picture of the true Messiah. “In the order of Melchizedeck” refers to the special way that Jesus is our priestly servant. Remember that Jesus was not from the tribe of Levi, from which the priests came. He was from the tribe of Judah which was the royal blood line of King David. Jesus was not only a priest, he was also a king, in the same way that Melchizedeck, who blessed Abraham’s family, was both and priest and a king.

Jesus lives to serve you by his perfectly royal sacrifice. “And once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and he was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedeck.” The Levite priests had to offer sacrifices for sin over and over again. Jesus was perfect. He was from royal blood. He was from divine origins. His sacrifice was perfect and therefore powerful.

Not all the blood of beasts on Israel’s altars slain

Could give the guilty conscience peace or wash away the stain.

But Christ the heav’nly Lamb takes all our sins away,

A sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they. (CW 128: 1,2)

We were slaves to sin and born enemies of God. No better than the generations of Israel, we could not have offered to God anything but our condemning guilt. There was never any sacrifice we could have made to wash away our guilt before God Most High. Like the priests of Levi who had to offer sacrifices over and over, we could never wash the stains of sins away.

Jesus, the Son of God traded places with us. He became our servant so that we would have the full rights of sons, the children of God. The prince of heaven gave his life for us the paupers of hell. It was not a simple plan. He carried out his service with loud cries and tears. He faced the wrath of God for each sin that you have ever committed. He suffered every blow. He experienced every ounce of pain. He endured the mockery and shame. He did it all for you. Jesus lived, and died, and lives again to serve as your Great High Priest. Listen to his loud cries from Golgotha: “It is finished!” Our Priest, our King, our Servant has become the source of eternal salvation.

What is our response? Our willing obedience, our faithfulness to his word, our selfless sacrifices, our shouts of prayers and petitions; they are now offered up in faith. Our acts of kindness, our resistance to temptation, our gifts and abilities to his spiritual kingdom; they are cheerfully given as children who appreciate the One who humbled himself to be our Servant. Go in peace to serve Jesus today and always, knowing that he lives to serve you, with his willing obedience and prayers, and by his one time, perfectly royal sacrifice for sin. He truly is our Melchizedek, our priestly king of righteousness, “the source of our eternal salvation” Amen.

In Good Condition

Romans 5: 1 – 11 (Lent 2 – 2015)

“In Good Condition”

When I was a kid my mother used to listen to the home shopping show on the radio on Saturday mornings. In true Great Lakes form every hopeful seller would close their plug with the phrase “it’s in good condition.” The seller wanted you to know that, although their item was used, there is nothing wrong with it. They just don’t want it, or want the money for it, and think it can be of value to someone else. It is in good condition. I imagined rusted out wagons in the yard, dented up washing machines in dark basements, and driveways full of ‘67 Buicks with no engines.

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

1. Living in a Peaceful Grace.

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

In chapter three Paul listed off verses from the Psalms: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one ... (Romans 3: 10-11).

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

Worse than rusted out wagons and appliances, we appear to be useless and ragged in our sinful state. We display the rustiness of selfish laziness. Our lives often reveal the brokenness of guilt and resentment and grudges. Each one of us is living proof that the results of sin are ultimately an unavoidable physical death. Our natural condition actually deserves the grave yard of eternity in hell.

Paul describes our new condition in Christ – a condition of Grace. By grace, “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

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

In our baptisms, Christ knocks out the spiritual dents and scours off the rust of sin. He purifies and cleanses our hearts with the waters of his forgiveness and grace. He restores us and refurbishes us to mint condition in God’s eyes. In his blood and righteousness, given freely on his cross, Jesus makes us like bran new again. In Him we stand in the condition of peaceful grace with his Father.

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

2. Worn but with Hopeful Character.

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

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

When the boys were little, Rachel and I found a nice little wooden table and chairs at a craft show. The boys spent hours at that table: coloring, building, pounding things, writing more on the table than on the paper. The first few marks seemed disappointing. As time went on we all embraced the marks as “adding characterJ” to the table. Those marks were evidence of the memories of life being formed around that table.

Paul says that when we suffer we are given the blessing of perseverance. Our first few bouts with the cross and the trials of life and persecution are very disappointing. They still mark and mar us as the people we are today. Most scars heal, but all of them remain as evidence of life in the condition of God’s peaceful grace. When we are given the blessing of perseverance we are given character. When our character is built up by God’s grace and the Holy Spirit, God reveals the hope that we knew we already had. Every cross, every struggle, every bout with suffering for Jesus is designed by the Spirit build a living hopeful character in us that embraces who we are by God’s grace. Yes they hurt. But yes they are designed for our spiritual remodeling!

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

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

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

Versions of the shopping show have escalated into the online world. That tells me that people are still buying and selling used stuff. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. How many people have purchased “unwanted” items over the centuries! Christ purchased you in that undesirable condition. What condition are you in these days? Used? Yes, but good condition! By God’s grace, yes! God in Christ declares us not guilty. He made us at peace with his Father. He gives us access to that Father. In him we have peace. In him we have reason to rejoice, even in sufferings. In him we have the right to be called the sons of God by grace, a peaceful condition of grace in which we now stand!” Amen.

Love Is Shown Sacrifice

Genesis 22: 1-18 (Lent One – 2015)

“Love is Shown Sacrifice”

            “Do you love me more than these?” Jesus asked of Peter on the shores of Galilee; after the resurrection, after the night Peter denied his Lord. Jesus personally meets with Peter to forgive, restore and reinstate him as his Gospel servant. Jesus repeated the question 2 more times. Love is not just words. Love is not just emotions caught up in the circumstances. Love is obedience. Love is action. Love is shown in sacrifice.

            It is typical to begin the Sundays of Lent with the Temptation of Christ. The Son of God was being tested in his commitment to the sacrificial plan of grace: Will you love my plan more than your own? Will you pray for my will in the garden? Will you love the souls of the world more than your own life? Will you give your life for them? The first test of the Spirit was: will you win in the battle of wills against Satan?

            Abraham was granted such a test in the Old Testament Lesson for today. Hundreds of Bible Stories tell of God testing the faithfulness of his people. One seems to be remembered because of the ultimate test of sacrifice: “Do you love me more than anything? Would you slay your boy to prove it?!

  1. 1.What Abraham Was Willing to Do

Abram was already 75 years old when God called him away on this journey. The first 75 years of his life were spent in a blended society of the descendants of Shem. His father Terah, a wealthy business man after the flood, was one of the first clans to fall from God into the practice idolatry. Meanwhile his close cousins were passing the torch of the true God on to their children. By this time Abram was married, but had no children of his own.

The Lord called Abram away from that to begin a 25 year journey of trust which hinged on one very important issue. God promised that Abraham’s wife, Sarah, would have a baby of her own. From that baby would come a great nation that would inherit the land of Canaan. Someday, in that land, that great nation would give birth to the Savior promised to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. At the age of 75 Abraham was just beginning his life with the Lord. He spent years of traveling from one place to another. He made sinful mistakes that suited his own interests. He went to war. He became wealthy. He had a son through another woman. He had to eventually cast that son and his mother out of his household.

God finally blessed Sarah and Abram with the promised son. 25 years of waiting was over. Isaac was link to all the other promises the LORD had made to them. Then the monumental test of love arrives! He was about 100. Isaac was growing and speaking. Abraham was living high! 100 years of the ultimate dream fulfilled: my son! Then God begs the question: “Do you love me more than the boy?” In a loving … yes loving … interaction, our Lord tested Abraham’s faith, his love, his trust, his obedience, his relationship with Almighty God. God demands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a demonstration of that love. Love is shown in sacrifice.

            We should fear, love and trust in God above all things (Luther’s Small Catechism – 1st Com.). Do you notice that God tests us exactly where we need to be tested? How do we feel when our favorite things are damaged, lost, or taken away? In loving discipline he checks us on the things that have the most potential to take his place in our hearts. What cannot be replaced? If your house were on fire what would you attempt to rescue? When all else is gone, could you part with what you risked life and limb to spare? As a father I know that the people I love, especially my wife and children are the only things that could not be replaced. Know that our Savior says: “anyone who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). Know that it is God’s love for us that tests us where we need testing most!

2. What the LORD Provided for Us

Abraham packs up for the trip to Moriah. He brings some servants along for part of the trip. As Abraham and Isaac part ways with the servants he explains “WE will worship and then WE will come back.” The evidence of Abraham’s faith was beginning to show in impeccable ways. The fact that he left for the journey is amazing as it is. But now he is cutting wood. He is holding a knife. Now he is speaking of this as worship. Now he is talking about Isaac coming back with him!

Remember that we are the ones who were given the clue that this is a test. God did not have some parenthetical whisper to Abraham saying “This is only a test, no worries.” We also get a great clue from Hebrews what is going on his Abraham’s heart and mind: “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from the dead” (Hebrews 11: 19). Abraham trusted in the resurrection! Abraham trusted that God’s other promises hinged on Isaac’s life, not his death. Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice revealed his trust in all the Lord’s other promises.

Isaac had a question going up the mountain: “Where is the lamb from the burnt offering?” (Notice the boy had been taught about the nature and purpose of such trips!) What would a father say? What kind of word search would we have to go through? Was Abraham thinking about how he was going bring it up himself? When he would actually have to physically force him on the altar?

Abraham reveals his faith again: “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son?” The LORD will provide. Abraham learned that many times. God always comes through! Abraham wasn’t skirting the issue or looking to deceive the boy. He knew there was a process and purpose to this whole event and was intent on carrying out the Lord’s plan, rather than his own.

When the time comes for Abraham to actually begin the act, knife in hand, God intervenes. “Abraham, do not lay a hand on the boy. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham displayed fear, love and trust in God above all things. Sacrifice shows love. God intervened further. He kept the promise that Abraham made to Isaac. He trapped a ram in the thicket nearby, and the ram was sacrificed “instead of his son!”

Make no mistake! The ram in the thicket teaches Christ! God does not ask of us what he himself was not willing to do for us. Our Heavenly Father’s love is a love that he acted upon in his only begotten Son, Christ Jesus. The fabric of this entire story is Jesus. The phrases “your son”; “my son”; “only son”; permeate the story. “God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life” (John3:16). God’s Son showed his willingness to his Father’s will in our place. He went to the wilderness of temptation for us. He went to the garden of his betrayal for us. He went to the cross of his sacrificial death for us. His obedience to the Father reveals his love for you. Sacrifice shows love.

Who of us could read such a story and not be effected by it. Parents are left thinking, “Would I have done what Abraham did?” Rather than beat yourself up over that, rejoice in what God did for Abraham and all of us. The LORD provided that sacrifice of love. Our Heavenly Father willingly gave up his one and only Son. On that cross, the Father turned his face away from his dying Son. As the ram was sacrificed in place of Isaac, God placed his Son on the Altar of the Cross in your place and mine.

We rejoice in the outcome of this story. But we also rejoice in the outcome of the Passion Story too. Each week we watch Jesus walk further away from the wilderness and closer to his own grave. But we also walk closer each Sunday to the truth of Abraham’s faith: “God can [and does] raise the dead!” What a breath of fresh air when God intervened! What a breath of fresh on Easter when we will see God’s back from the dead! His resurrection solidifies the truth: “Love is Shown in Sacrifice!” Amen.

This Teacher Has Power

Mark 1: 21-28 (Epiphany 4 – 2015)

“This Teacher Has Power”

Jesus had made a new home in the fishing village of Capernaum. To this day a sign at the edge of town says: “The Hometown of Jesus of Nazareth.” In that town he called Matthew from cheating people out of tax dollars to be a steward of the Gospel. In that town he called Peter from fishing boats to fishing for the souls of men. Walking distance from Peter’s home, Jesus spent Sabbath in his new church, the synagogue of Capernaum. Jesus of Nazareth quickly became Christ the Prophet of Galilee. His sermons brought out truths so fresh and clear that they were labeled as “New.” Reports of his teachings permeated the surrounding villages.

The Devil took notice. Where God plants his Church, the Devil builds his chapel. Demons the dungeons of Hell had claimed the heart and mind of troubled man in that town. They use his tongue to speak. “Even demons believe that God exists … and shudder!”(James2:19). They realized they were in the presence of the One who created their prison. The stage was set for the ministry of Jesus the Prophet from Galilee. From the very first Sabbath it will be known: This Teacher Has Power!

He Teaches the Truth

“The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” Later, after the demons were gone, they said, “What is this? A new teaching?” The clear teachings of Christ in the synagogue had gone so dormant and foreign that when Jesus spoke the truth they thought it was something new. The onus of that was certainly on the people who were responsible for explaining the activities of Sabbath. Yet it was the responsibility of every home to have passed on the wonderful truths that pointed to the Messiah. When Jesus came on the scene the things that pointed to Him as Savior were dulled and even lost on most people.

Oh to stand on the stones of Capernaum’s synagogue and listen to the Master of Sermons! How he must have opened their hearts and minds to see the meaning of their day to day routine come back to life! He knew the Ceremonies by heart and what they meant for his hearers. He enlightened them on the commands of God and their daily applications. He lifted the Sacrifices out of dead routine and made the message of blood sacrifice come alive. He convicted their stony hearts of sins they had long stopped caring about. He clarified the prophecies that revealed their redemption and the peace of knowing a relationship with the God they had learned to fear. This was not a new teaching. Jesus made the Bible relevant. Oh to hear the Teacher teach with power!

The Kellogg’s company once came up with a very clever pitch: “Corn Flakes; Taste them again for the first time.” The people in Galilee did not receive a new teaching. They were dished up a timeless forgotten taste of the Truth. Check your daily Bible reading routine. Check out your Catechisms again for the “first time.” Partner with the Bereans “who were of more character … and received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). The truth is so unique that it stands out, demanding to be recognized as new. When the Truth is taught clearly and accurately it will be noticed as unique.

We see this today. After funerals, weddings, from visitors on Sundays, I have heard the comments. So many people these days are too used to hearing little or no theology at church. They are so in tune with the fluff of non-confession that when they hear the Law and the Gospel, the confessional truths of Lutheranism, and sermons based on the texts of the Scriptures they are caught off guard. “You really hit it. You caught my attention, my heart, my life.” The Truth is uniquely powerful!

His Words Drive out Evil

Even the demons acknowledge the Judge: “I know who you are … they said of Jesus … the Holy One of God.” Let’s talk about the demons and their encounter with Jesus. Demon possession was a bit more common in Jesus’ day than in ours. Remember, “where God plants his Church, the devil builds his chapel.” The height of God’s plan of salvation was being fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus. The devil and his minions wanted front and center rows on that battle ground!

In this case, demons had overcome the mind and body of a man who inserted himself into Jesus’ synagogue sermon that day. “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” Notice the self-imposed fears and disapproval of His presence? The vocabulary suggests to say “Why are you interfering … this is our territory?” Jesus did not have to say anything. His mere presence caused them trouble. They could no longer stand it. They draw the fight out into the public.

Jesus needs only to speak a word: “Phimo!” “Be muzzled like an ox!” “Be silenced in my presence!” Jesus wasn’t having any of it. “Come out of him!” With violence and an audible shriek the demons leave at Christ’s commanding voice. The same Teacher who was enlightening the worshippers with Truth, now commanded his prisoners of darkness back to the dungeon where they belonged!

Let’s talk … about our demons. I do not dare to down play the presence of evil spirits and demon possession in our day. Certainly it is a real and dangerous reality. It especially takes place among those who are foolish enough to play around with the Devil’s venues. Oija boards, séances, witchcraft type things are things Luther warns against in his teachings on the Second Commandment.

But let us talk closer to home. You know the demons you deal with every day. You know the devil who loves to construct a little chapel in your head and heart each day. You know the personal demons that call you back to dark places you know you ought not to go! What are your personal demons? Toying with temporary fixes to tension, greed, lust and personal idolatries; Giving into the voices from within which lead to self-promotion and its cousin self-pity; Toeing the lines between Christian freedom and socially accepted sinfulness; Listening to those who would lead us away from the truth back to accepted lies of society; exchanging the Truth for the non-confession demon that did not trouble our conscience!? The demons are everywhere and closer to home than we care to let on to others. As they gripped the heart, head and mouth of that man, they can easily control our words and actions too!

There is authority in Christ to command their leaving. The Teacher will have words with those demons. Jesus says “Phimo!” “Be Quite! Come out of him!” The Teacher’s words have power to kill and destroy those principalities that would harm us. The Teacher’s words have power to cast our demons from our hearts back to the dungeon where they belong. The Teacher’s words have the power of his Holiness to forgive us for sins and heal us with his love. The Teacher points demons and men to his blood-filled cross.

This Teacher, the Jesus, has Power. His truth convicts our hearts of sin. His truth convinces our hearts of pardoning grace and redeeming love. His truth teaches us to say no to ungodliness and yes to the godly things he loves in our lives (Titus 3: 12). His power sends the devil packing and back the prison prepared for all evil (Matthew 25: 41). Armed with his teachings the Teacher moves us to sing with confidence:

Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us.

We tremble not we fear no ill; they shall not overpower us.

This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none.

He’s judged; the deed is done! One little word can fell him. (CW 200:3)

Wake Up! The LORD Is Calling You

1 Samuel 3: 1 – 10 (Epiphany 2 – 2015)

“Wake Up! The LORD is Calling You”

Please allow me to clue you in on two things.First, it is important that our lesson mentions the burning lamp of God. In the Temple there was a lamp stand of candles that required special oil which was to burn all night … every night. It was a duty of the priest to make certain that the lamp was kept from burning out before the morning arrived. The lamp was a symbol of God’s presence … a reminder that the LORD “who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121: 4). Repeatedly God’s Word is pictured as a Lamp, or Light, which points us to Christ.

We are also told that, “in those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.” Eli was an aging man. He had become set in his ways and complacent. He let the discipline of his household falter. The “shepherd” of God’s flock was going through the motions and falling asleep. His sons were making a mockery of the temple. They cheated people during the sacrifices, they had affairs with the woman of the temple, and they neglected any admonition from Eli. Eli had given up caring. God had stopped speaking to Him.

In the mean time the LORD was raising up Samuel as his new spokesman. Already as a very young boy – you may recall that his mother promised him to the LORD at a very early age as a “thank you” to answering her aching request for a child. Samuel was watching and praying and serving. It was time for the LORD to speak through Samuel and wake everyone up, spiritually.

1. He Calls You By Name.

The LORD called several times that night, “Samuel.” Samuel was new to this. Sadly, Eli was so out of touch with the LORD’s voice that it took three times for him to realize what was happening. The LORD, not Eli, was calling for Samuel. Eli had grown calloused to that call. For Samuel it was so new and fresh. The LORD is calling … me? The LORD knows who I am, personally?

Yes, the LORD knows us each by name. That ought to be a frightful, humbling thought! The LORD knows where I go. He knows when I get up and when I fall asleep. He knows my thoughts, every one of them. He sees me when I try to hide my sins from everyone else. He knows the truth behind my false fronts. He knows how easily I slip into spiritual slumber and apathy. He knows how easily your pastor can be drawn into ruts, going through the motions. He knows your neglect for his warning signs and the admonition from his Word. He knows our greedy little minds and our filthy hearts and our dreadful attitudes toward his Kingdom.

In spite of that knowledge, the LORD has the grace to call us out of spiritual slumber. He wakes us up from unbelief and sin. He calls us to repentance. He calls us to His side and wraps us up in the blood of Jesus. By name he grants us forgiveness for the sake of Christ’s death. By name he allows us into his holy presence to see his tender heart. By grace, and by name, He invites to listen to his saving voice. By name calls us to be his sons and daughters at the foot of a bloody cross and in the glory of an empty tomb.

I am Jesus’ little lamb, ever glad at heart I am,

For my shepherd gently guides me; knows my needs and well provides me;

Loves me every day the same, even calls me by my name. (CW 432: 1)

2. He Speaks Through His Word.

Lord, give us the heart and ears of Samuel! “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” God doesn’t come to us in dreams and visions, like in the days of the priests. Peter tells us that “we have the words of the prophets made more certain, and we would do well to pay attention to it as to a light shining in a dark place.” (2 Peter 1: 19) God speaks to us through his Word. We need no other visions or prophecies. We need no miraculous sign. We would certainly weight in vain for God to come and blow in our ears in the middle of a dreamy night! To give us all the answers … to wake us up from our spiritual sleepiness … the Word is all we have. The Word is all we need!

I recently saw a story of a sheep that was nicknamed Shrek. Shrek had wandered from his shepherd and hid out in caves for 6 years. Because his missed out on the shearing process, his wool grew to weigh over 60 lbs. The typical sheep carries around 10 lbs. of wool and then is shorn. Shrek was carrying around 60 pounds of weight needlessly because he had avoided his shepherd’s tender care.

Christ our Shepherd longs to tend to us through his Word. He longs to lift our weight of guilt through the shearing process of hearing and learning from his Gospel. He loves to shear us of the weight of sin with the careful tools of his Grace in the active receiving of the preaching of his Word and the messages of the Sacraments. Our sinful nature wants to run and hide in caves. Our trust in Christ hears the voice our Shepherd. He calls us because He loves to tend to our needs and keep us safe through His Word.

God’s Word is all sufficient, It makes divinely sure,

And trusting in its wisdom, My faith shall rest secure. (CW 403: 1)

3. He Has a Timely Message.

            And God had an important message for Samuel. It was a message He had lovingly given to others but had been ignored. God’s people were growing more quickly into a spiritual sleep. Eli’s sons were happy in their sinful ignorance and defiance. Eli grew tired of being the watchman. God’s people grew tired of Eli and therefore grew tired of God. God was not going to stand for their spiritual blindness and wickedness any longer. His patience had run out. It was shortly after this that the arc of the covenant was captured by the Philistine army. Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were killed in battle. Eli himself fell over dead at the news. Samuel was called to be prophet and the messenger of important news. The essence of Samuel’s important message was clearly summed up by the naming of Eli’s grandson, Ichobod, which means: “The glory of the Lord has departed from Israel.” (1 Samuel 4:21). Even the widow of Phinehas had recognized the damage of Israel’s spiritual apathy. God no longer held his blessing on this wicked generation.

Epiphany calls us to wake up, too. Our Savior begins his ministry in Epiphany. He echoes John the Baptist in preaching a message of repentance and forgiveness. Matthew tells us “Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near’ ” (Matthew 4: 17). He calls his disciples, by name, to do the same. He calls you to repentance and faith to do the same. He has an important message to share. We dare not - we cannot - speak it while we are sleeping in sin and unbelief.

            Samuel had very little good news for Eli. But his message and preaching did much spiritual good to the kingdom of God. We learn that many looked up to Samuel for his truth and leadership. After the Lord carried out his judgments, Samuel led Israel through a time of spiritual restoration. Idolatrous alters were torn down and true worship of the true God was generated throughout the people of God.

            God’s message does the same for us. In baptism God continues to beat down our sinful flesh. In the Gospel of Christ he continues to send the Spirit into our hearts to raise up our faith in Christ. That message never becomes irrelevant and it must not ever become a routine for any of us. Let it not be said among us that the Lamp of God has grown dim or gone out. Let it never be said of our days that the word of the Lord was rare. It is a valuable message. It is our most priceless commodity.

            Like Samuel, the LORD has entrusted to us a message that is not always so popular. It condemns behaviors that the world has come to condone. It speaks absolute truths to a world that loves to select its own menu of beliefs. It speaks Light in the face of this dark age. Lord give us the confidence of Samuel to speak it. As Paul asked for the Colossian Christians “pray that I proclaim it boldly as I should.” (Colossians 4: 4).

            Praise the one who breaks the darkness. Praise our God who does not fall asleep on us. Praise God who does not let us fall asleep spiritually. “He has called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 1:9). In that light he wakes us up to sing by faith in Christ:

By your blood our souls were bought, By your life salvation wrought

By your light our feet are taught, Lord to follow thee (CW 436: 3). Amen.

Simeon Saw the Light

Luke 2: 29 – 32 (First Sunday after Christmas – 2014)

“Simeon Saw the Light”

We have embraced Simeon’s song. It is a lasting part of the post-Christmas story. It is the song of thanksgiving we sing after receiving the Lord’s Supper. Perhaps there is another draw to Simeon. We love to hear about the kind grandfather soul, who, like the other kind grandmother soul, Anna, was the wise example to others. We desire to be like them. We desire to be thought of as “long-time, faithful church-goer”. But we also learn from this kindly man that church is not about my appearance but what is learned while at the temple of God. Simeon saw the light at the temple. He enjoyed the light in Israel, but also revealed that light to others.

1. He Enjoyed that Light in the Temple.

This is what we know about Simeon: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required,” is was then that Simeon held the child in his own arms and sang his lasting song of thankfulness.

Until then Simeon learned about Jesus through the ceremonies of the temple. Like all other faithful Israelites, he learned the Gospel through bloody sacrifices, tedious rituals, the sights and sounds of ashes and smoke amid the instructive prayers of the priests. Unlike other Israelites, God had given Simeon other information about these prophecies; when and how they would come to light. He had been uniquely promised that he would get to see the actual Christ before he died.

The glory of Israel was not what Israel did. The glory of Israel was what God had done in Israel’s history. God, by his grace, chose the descendents of Abraham to be the nation of the Savior. God showed them his love. God instructed them. God continued his covenant through their family blood-line. God shed his Light on one nation for many generations. Simeon was paying attention!

Now the Savior was born! There was no need for the ceremonies of the temple. The light of reality had dawned on Simeon’s fellow worshippers. The time “had fully come for God to send his son born of a women, born under law to redeem those under law.” (Galatians 4: 4). “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:17). Simeon knew that God had kept his promise. He knew now that the glory of God revealed to Israel, through Israel, would be a great light for all to see.

Isaiah had foretold: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” (Isaiah 9:2). Generations before him, David encouraged temple worship saying “I rejoiced when they said to me let us go to the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1). Kings like David and Josiah, prophets and priests helped to lead and guide the people from darkness to the lights shining in the temple. Generations later we still know the need for God’s house. Only one generation of people were blessed to have Christ physically there. But he is still with us now. As we reviewed the means of Grace this past Advent, we know that the Light of Christ is still shining as brightly as the day that Simeon held the Christ-child in his arms.

One of my teachers once used to say “It is difficult to chew old cabbage.” He was speaking about reviewing Hebrew vocabulary lists. But can the same be true in our sin-darkened hearts? After a long string of three weeks filled with worship services, concerts, practices, chapels and devotions, the devil has an easy time whispering “enough church already! Take a breather. Yet it is in that state of mind when we need his Light the most. Joseph and Mary and Christ went back to church 8 days after the excitement in the manger. Simeon and Anna attended Temple on schedule without complaint. As Simeon held in his very arms the Savior, we hold the Christ-child in our hearts this morning, through the hearing and believing of his true promises. Simeon saw the Light. That Light shines in his house every time the Word read and explained and received by his people.

2. He Reflected that Light to the People.

Simeon knew he was only a servant of the Master. The Sovereign Lord had this all under control. The bigger picture, much bigger than this humble servant, was the fact that God had provided salvation for the world. “My eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of ALL people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory to your people Israel.”

The small baby which could be held in the arms of one man and seen by the eyes of one man was the salvation that would be revealed to all people. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has perceived what God has prepared for those who love him – but God has revealed it to us through his Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

All mankind needed the boy the Simeon held in his arms! The great things that God had done for Simeon had been done for all of mankind. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that cam by Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:23-24). And God has revealed this marvelous truth to the world through his mighty Word.

Simeon now realized his responsibility to teach others that Word. Simeon spoke to Mary as well. He said to her “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34-35).

Jesus, the Son of God would reveal thoughts and hearts of the people he met. He would rise up to be a preacher and teacher. He would know the jealous hearts of the Pharisees. He would know the shameful life of the Samaritan woman at the well. He knows our hearts and minds. He reveals our dreadful paths to us. He reveals the light of truth on our laziness toward his Word and worship. He points us to the fact that we have all fallen short of the glory of God.

Because of that truth, many in Israel would rise up against him. They would despise him. They would reject him as Lord. They would even kill him. Mary’s heart would be pierced by the sight of her Son’s crucifixion. But that crucifixion is the glory of Israel. That crucifixion is the salvation which God has prepared in the sight of all people. The crucified Lord Jesus is the Light that lightens the Gentiles.

Simeon enjoyed the light as child of Israel. He knew that the light that was revealed to him was a light that was for all to see. The shepherds were brought to that light and were moved to reveal that light to others. The wise men were Gentiles who were brought to that light and brought it with them back to distant lands. That Light of forgiveness, through the Manger and the Cross, always makes a trip to Temple fresh and new. Through the Supper as often as it is given we receive his forgives. The Light is revealed to us when Christ gives his very body and blood. His Light shines!

But the Light is not just for us. It is a Light to be revealed to the family down the street, to the sick and dying, to the trouble unbeliever walking in darkness, to the nations at every corner of God’s world. Simeon saw the Light. We have thankfully seen it too. Simeon revealed the Light that brought him peace. We will share that peace, too.

We are really not told whether Simeon was an old man at this time. I believe we have the perception that he was. We are also not told that he died shortly after that, as if God was just waiting to keep his promise and then call him home. We do know that he was thankful to be dismissed from the Temple in peace. That is how we leave worship, too – in peace. We leave the communion rail with the peace and joy of receiving in his true body and blood the pledge of his forgiveness. We leave worship with the blessing in which the Lord looks on us with favor and gives us peace.

Simeon saw and enjoyed and revealed the Light of Christ. “We, too, have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, whom came from the Father full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

For my eyes have seen your Salvation which you have prepared for every people. A Light to lighten the gentiles and the glory of your people Israel! Amen.

The Light of the Manger Is Shining

Luke 2: 15-20 (Christmas Eve 2014)

“The Light of the Manger is Shining”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Tonight we have done the same. The Lord’s message calls us to the manger bed of Christ. From our darkness of sin, from dungeon of hell, and from grim death, angels call us to the Light of Jesus. Tonight, in the view of candle light, we are reminded of the Light that shined in darkness, Jesus who came to scatter the dark night of sin and unbelief. The once fearful shepherds, steeped in their guilty hearts, were given a light for the path to the Savior. So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. And there they saw the Light of Christ.

In Our Hearts

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” What does a mother contemplate while holding her first child? She thinks of what he will be like, what he will do with his life. She considers her deep seated fears: Am I fit to be a mother? Will I be able to take care of him along his way?

Mary had already been told that her child will be unique. She was told by Gabriel, by Elizabeth, and will yet be reminded by Simeon eight days later: This child is destined to cause the rising and falling of many … and a sword will pierce your own soul too, Mary. (Luke 2: 34-35). She treasured up all these things. She pondered these things in her heart. Her heart was stilled with the very reason her son was brought to this world: the rescue of God’s people for all eternity, and her own sins forgiven as well. That saving would come at the very piercing reality of his death on the cross, a death she herself would witness. But that first night of his earthly life, she took pause to ponder it all – his whole life before him!

That is to be our daily pattern as well. Peter tells us “In your hearts, set Christ apart as Lord.” (1 Peter 3:15). When we begin each day with a verse from his Word, as we continue our day in prayers, as we close our each day with another stay with his voice, we ponder the Christ child in our hearts. As God fills us with the news of sins forgiven, as he portrays another aspect of his life on this earth, he lights up our hearts with treasures beyond measure. Where sin and darkness naturally live and still want to, the Word of Christ dwells richly to scatter it back into the far corners. Ponder that Light. Live in that Light.

From Our Lips

When [the shepherds] had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them … which were just as they had been told.

The shepherds were the first New Testament missionaries. Their mission was simple: Tell everyone we see. Their news was clear: speak everything they had seen and heard; all the news about Christ Jesus. And all of it was true! There was no doubt or fear in their mission work. What God had told them about Jesus was validated. From their lips was confident joy for all the people, just as the angels had said!

So they spoke to people. In a town like Bethlehem it was likely they may have told people they knew. As shepherds it was likely they ran into people they had never met before. We the arrival of so many in town for the census, they certainly spoke to people from all over the place.

So we too, leave this place and run into people who don’t know it. In some cases they are the people we know, people whom we see every day. How long is it before you will mingle with people who don’t care about the Christ Child, or even know his importance? In many cases it is people we have never met before. Our lips speak the light that saves us and the hope that fills us. From our lips come the news of Christ who came to be born in a stable, to die on a cross, and to live victoriously over sin and grave! His words to us are just as certain and true as they were on the outskirts of Bethlehem that first night of Christmas.

Tonight the Light of the manger shines. As with Mary, the Light of Christ shines in our hearts, giving us the treasures of the gospel peace of Christ. Like the shepherds, we are the candles, the flashlights of peace. We spread the word concerning this child. It shines from our lips as we proclaim the certain truths which are just as God has said they would be.

Ever since I was a kid I remember learning a simple song we learned again and again. The song stays with me and summarizes the thought of this evening:

As each happy Christmas

Dawns on earth again,

Comes the holy Christ Child

To the hearts of men.

Enters with His blessing

Into Ev’ry home,

Guides and guards our foot steps

As we go and come.

All unknown, beside me

He will ever stand,

And will safely lead me

With his own right hand.

And I might add: “and will safely lead me to his heavenly land!” Amen.

Praise God for Telling Us

Romans 16: 25-27 (Advent 4, 2014)

“Praise God for Telling Us”

                The last Sunday before Christmas we pause to hear the visit of Gabriel to Mary. That visit is loaded with good news and powerful explanations of amazing things:

  • An angel appearing by name to a human being to speak directly from the throne of God.
  • She is a peasant girl hoping to soon begin a modest, quiet life with a caring man.
  • Prophets, Samuel & Nathan, speaking of the King descended from David whose reign will never end.
  • The answer to the question “How?” is met with talk of the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary’s womb.

Praise God for telling us things we need to know! To this Mary says: “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.” When it sinks in at Elizabeth’s home she bursts into her song of praise “My souls glorifies the Lord and spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” Paul often burst into songs of praise in his letters. Upon finishing the letter of Christ’s redeeming work to the Roman Christians, he closes with this doxology:

Now to him who is able to establish you by gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him – to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ!”

He Reveals the Mysteries of Christ!

            With Mary and Paul, we marvel at the mystery, too. On Christmas Day we will review the wonder of the Word of God becoming a human being of his own creation. More on that Christmas Day!

            Today, Gabriel invites us to believe that what God says is true. Today Paul reminds us of the power of the gospel to establish our relationship with Christ Jesus. The mystery, although it goes beyond our intellect, is revealed truth. It was spoken to people through prophets. It is explained by angels to Mary and Joseph and shepherds. It was preached by Peter and the apostles. It is written down for every generation to read. These mysteries are gifts from the only wise God. They are handed down from one generation to the next.

            Praise the Holy Spirit for the conception Mary’s in womb with the Christ-child. He is also the One who overpowers blind unbelief in our sin-filled hearts. Marvel at the gift of faith! Marvel that the Holy Spirit enables Mary to believe the impossible. Marvel that the Holy Spirit enables Paul to be transformed from murderer of Christians to preacher of Christ. Praise God that he made you a part of his family through faith in this Christ-child. Praise the Holy Spirit’s command over the Words of God and people’s hearts.

            We believe truths that are impossible to understand: God is Triune; God set all of creation in place in six days; God has no beginning or end; God is Holy; God is perfect love; Jesus is fully God and man in one person. These and many more mysteries of God bring us comfort at the same time they lead marvel in wonder at how they can be true. They reveal Christ and the gospel of our Salvation. They reveal the Only true God who answers the question “How?”

           

Mary asked that question (How will this be!) She received a faithful answer: God is going to do it … and nothing is impossible with God. Her question was not disrespectful. Gabriel’s answer was not cliché. God’s people have honest questions about the immense things he places before them. Hearing about a pregnancy is news enough; for a virgin to hear that news – even weightier! For her to hear that this child was God’s Son – who wouldn’t raise their hand and say “what, when, how?”

His Mystery Answers our How Questions

And Gabriel did not shrug her off. His answer is filled with theological phrases and divine explanation. But it is the truth and it is filled comforting laymen’s terms for Mary and us: nothing is impossible with God. This is not trite cliché or angelic flippancy.

            So ask away in sheer marvel at the mysteries of Christ:

            How will I make it through the grief; how will I bounce back from tragedy; how will I ever raise children alone, how will I get through surgery; how will I tell loved ones bad news? Ask away …

            How will I pay the bills next week? How will I get the kids through high school and college? How will we survive another financial set-back? Ask away …

How will our marriages and homes survive troubling stress? How will the kids endure obvious conflicts? How will we fix what seems to be such brokenness among our homes? Ask away …

How will believers and congregations overcome the challenges of reaching out to a changing world, cancel multitudes of debts, training another generation of believers, and remain faithful to the truth in a culture that no longer respects God and his words? Ask away …

            How will I make it through exams and prepare for college? How will I resolve conflict with my classmates? How will I grow in my ability to please God and the adults who care for me with so much pressure to fall into the habits of the world?

            How will I face the end of my life? How will I deal with the guilt that plagues me? How will my family deal with things that I am no longer able to help with? Ask away …

            Mary’s question - and ours – is not always asked in disrespect for our God. They are prayers seeking his understanding and explanation for the crosses he asks us to bear. Gabriel’s answer – from God himself – is promising. God will accomplish what he desires is best for you. God will accomplish what he knows is best for his Church. God will keep his promises to bless you and not bring you harm. For NOTHING is impossible with God!

            Look into the manger and marvel at the mystery that is Christ. Your God has been encased in a human being. Your God has become one of us in the womb of Mary. Your God has given up his Son on the cross. Through him all things were made. For him all things occur. By him all sins are removed. By him every prayer his heard and answered according to his purpose and wisdom! Because of his gift of faith planted in our hearts, we believe that he graciously gives us all good things! God does not promise to answer your question your way, but always according to his will. And his will is always accomplished.

            With Mary’s humility we pray: May it be to me as YOU have said.

            With Paul’s enthusiasm we praise him for: the proclamation of the gospel of Christ Jesus!

In a similar doxology in his letter to the Ephesians “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout out all generations, forever and ever! (3:20 )” Amen!

The Advent of Christ in Baptism

Meditation Two: The Advent of Christ in the Means of Grace

“The Advent of Christ in Baptism”

Romans 6: 3-4

Spoken from the Baptismal Font

            As we stand at the Font we recall the importance of what happens here. But we also recall the value of what happens every day in our hearts, because of what happened here at the Font for each of us.

           

Baptism means that the sinful nature in us should be drown by daily sorrow and repentance and that all its evil deeds and desires be put to death. It also means that a new person should daily arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever (Small Catechism – Fourthly).

            Daily. Every morning we wake up with a nature which is ready for evil deeds and desires. Every morning a death must happen; a drowning in the waters of our Baptism. Thoughts ready for selfish and lazy ideas. Thoughts ready for envy and revenge. Thoughts ready for words and deeds that will cause disaster for me and for others. A natural self awakes in us each morning that needs its ugly head held under water long enough for its own suffocation.

Daily. Every morning another person in us must survive the morning drowning. Every morning Christ lives inside me by the miraculous doings of the Spirit of life. Every morning a sacrificial attitude lives and longs for spiritual oxygen. Thoughts of love and kindness; Desires for pardon from others and for pardoning others; Desires for praise and thanksgiving; A love for God’s words and God’s ways floating on top of the waters of Baptism eager for what is noble and righteous before God. The same water that drowns the Old Self is the Water that gives buoyancy to the New Man.

Paul explains that we are connected to Christ in Baptism. In Baptism Christ comes to us. In Baptism the crucifixion of Christ to sin is our death to sin. In Baptism Christ’s burial is a funeral service for our Old Adam. In Baptism, Christ’s Easter morning burst from the tomb is the resurrection on Christ living in us and for us through the Holy Spirit.

We were reminded tonight in the Gospel lesson that He was baptized. He did not need his Baptism the way we needed ours. We needed him to be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness”(Matthew 3: 15). His Baptism completes the picture of our Salvation. His Baptism anoints him with power to be the Son of God. By the Spirit of God he preaches repentance and the forgiveness of sins. By his Baptism he lives out the pure life in words and deeds that we had failed to do. By his Baptism he sanctifies our Baptism. By his Baptism he has the power to god to the cross, cancel our sins, bury that sinful self of ours in the grave and rise from the grave pure and holy.

Paul’s words to Titus reminds us tonight that because of the mercy of God the gracious water of life is a “… washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by his grace, we become heirs of having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3: 6, 7).

As we stand at the Font, notice the intentional symbolism. The cross in the chancel is mirrored by the cross shape atop the Font in the same stone. The Pascal Candle, lit tonight, is adorned by symbols of Christ and his resurrection from the dead. In Baptism all are united. His death, burial and resurrection are united. Baptism is the channel through which God the Holy Spirit gives us all three. Christ comes to us, a meaningful, daily Advent, in our Baptism.

With the sign of the cross, with a verse from Scripture, with a prayer and a remembrance of your stay at the Font, wake up each morning ready to drown what needs to died. Wake up each morning with Christ alive and well powerful to survive the drowning and live in your heart bringing to life the noble things of God. Amen.

The Advent of Christ in the Lord's Supper

Meditation Three: The Advent of Christ in the Means of Grace

“The Advent of Christ in the Lord’s Supper”

Matthew 26: 29

I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day

when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

            An audible voice speaks from eternity into the darkness: “Let there be light …. and there was light.” That was Christ. The Spirit who hovered over witnessing the creation of the world moved holy men to write every page of the Bible and wove Christ into purposeful breathe of every word. A still small voice utters sound in a stable in Bethlehem: the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. The boy grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor before God and men (Luke 2: 52). He was baptized by John in the Jordan, validating our baptism. There he was anointed by the Spirit to expound the Words that testify about Him. He revealed himself to be fully God and fully man in one individual. Knowing all things, but choosing to learn and ask questions. Almighty God in all things yet choosing weakness, hunger, thirst, suffering, and death. Present everywhere but willing to confine himself, in many cases, to one individual at a time. Upon his Ascension he says “I am with you always to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28: 20). But he sits at the right hand of God in the throne room of heaven.

            As if it were icing on the cake of the mystery that is Christ Jesus, he introduces his disciples to another miracle of his presence. The night before he gave his life on the cross, he gave the Supper in which he promises to be present. He is really there. “Take and eat, this is my body … Take and drink, this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew account).

            Christ comes to us in the bread and the wine. He is really there. In, with, and under the bread and the wine is his very body and blood. Space and time do not contain him. But he chooses to be with us where he promises to be. The Word of God made flesh is with us. He is the Word and is in the Word. He is baptized and he comes to us in our baptism. The flesh and blood he sacrificed on the cross for us was sacrificed only once for all. But it is offered and given as often as you drink it in remembrance of me, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11: 26).

            Jesus ties his Supper together with our reunion with Him in heaven. He only needed to celebrate this Supper with them once, because they would have participation with him each time they did this. “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Every trip to the Supper Christ comes to you in a very special way. He underlines and puts in bold print the Absolution on your heart. As we eat and drink we are given foretaste of fellowship with him in heaven. It is a repeated reminder of the banquet with Christ that will never come to an end.

            In a recent Bible Study a brother in Christ suggested the challenge of seeing how long after going to communion we become conscious of committing a sin. Of course the reality is that none of will last very long. We are all steeped in sinful thought so much that it does not last. Advent is designed to make us reflect, repent, prepare to meet Jesus on the last day. Lord’s Supper is designed to forgive our sins and promise eternal life.

            On the same night Jesus said: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” Jesus kept that promise after his resurrection. He spent a significant amount of time, with intentional words of instruction, hope and promise to his students. But then he visibly ascended to Heaven promising to return for the Day he will bring us to be with him forever. We have meditated on the three places he promises to be: The Word, Baptism, and now the Lord’s Supper. These are the means by which the Holy Spirit chooses to channel us the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Embrace them. Digest them. Meditate daily on their eternal significance. “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine … until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s Kingdom.” Immanuel! God in Christ is with us! Amen.