Anointed for Words

Isaiah 61: 1-3, 10, 11 (Advent 3 - 2014)

“Anointed for Words”

Israel needed some good news. They were about to be routed and hauled away into decades of a growing Persian Empire as refugees and slaves. Their homeland and worship space would lie in ruins. Their families would be ripped apart. Their religious customs would diminish into foreign policies. They needed some good news. Isaiah spoke of a time when a preserved group of faithful people would return to Jerusalem. They would reconstruct a faint replica of Solomon’s Temple. They would plant farms and build cities once again. They would do that for one main reason: Messiah was to arrive in the Homeland. Jesus speaks through Isaiah about himself. He is the Messiah, the Anointed One, whom God would send into the world for salvation. But he will also be a Preacher, a man anointed with power from the Spirit to speak words of good news. He was anointed for words … words of freedom & release; comfort and gladness, beauty and strength.

Words of Freedom and Release

He was sent to “bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners.”

The refugees, God called them “The Remnant”, that returned came back to a land of ruins. But they were free! They were no longer in the bondage of Persian kings. They were home. They had the freedom to build a worship space and speak the LORD’s Name openly without persecution. The land was their land. They were free to build homes and farms, shops and fishing villages, begin commerce, speak and travel among like minded people. They no longer had to look over their shoulder or give homage to foreigners. God wanted it that way. This Land was to be the setting for his Son to arrive as the Anointed One.

The Messiah’s words of freedom and release speak to us as well. We are all born as captives to the tyrants Devil and Sin. Jesus told his fellow Jewish people: “everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34) Since the day we were born, we are slaves in the dark dungeon of unbelief. The king of that empire is the Devil himself and he desires that we bow to his control and pay homage to his empire. Each day we look over our shoulder and know that our own selfish desires want to chain us back up again into the devil’s prison of lies.

Jesus says, “If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed” (John 8: 36). Jesus, the Preacher, has been anointed for words of freedom and release. He has spoken words that bind up our broken hearts of repentance. He has healed our wounded hearts by announcing our freedom from Satan’s lire. He has given us freedom from our slavery to sin by ushering us into the home of his Kingdom of righteousness and faith in his blood. As Paul wrote: “Sin shall not be your master, for you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Christ’s the preacher speaks the word “forgiven” from the cross where he spills his righteous blood, freeing us from the captivity of our guilt for ever.

Words of Comfort and Gladness

Jesus was anointed for good words. He was sent to “proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion.”

The imagery would not be lost on the faithful ones. The Israelite faith was calendar driven. Each week the seventh day marked a day Spiritual Rest (Sabbath). Every seven years completed another cycle of Messianic pictures, prophecies, and celebrations. They all pointed them to Messiah. But the big one came every 49 years (7 x 7): the Year of Jubilee! The 50th year was a year of canceling debts, family reunions, homecomings, and festivals. This celebration dwarfed Passover and the weekly Sabbaths. Their religious calendar was flipping through an organized search for Messiah. Every 49 years the people sensed the end of something deeper that hung over their heads: death! Another generation has gone that will not live to see Messiah. Death was the one enemy that no Sabbath could snuff out. Death was the one debt that no Jubilee could seem to cancel out. Grandpa’s absence from homecoming brought them a step closer to the Anointed who alone could bring lasting comfort and gladness to their grief.

The Temple they rebuilt was not the one their forefathers saw in Solomon’s glory. The only thing that could overcome the sorrow would be Messiah, who brings life, and lasting joy.

            So it is with us generations later. We will flip another calendar and wonder “How long will this temporal life continue?” Who will not join us in the celebrations of 2015? Who is already missing from the table and the church pew this year? When will the LORD call me from this human clockwork? The Messiah has been anointed with words of comfort and gladness. The result of sin is death. Death has a way of putting a wet blanket on Christmas card letters and even our time in worship. We know that Christ did away with our sin through the cross. But with the reality of grief burned so deeply, where is lasting good news of joy for all the people who grieve the loss of life or even face their own?

            The Preacher Jesus has been anointed with those words. They are not empty words. They are words the Spirit has sent out through his Servant. The year of our LORD’s favor has been completed. Death has been stamped on by Messiah. He left a stony grave behind and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. He has returned from this world to a place where death does not exist. His good news shines through the gloom of natural tears and gloom of death. “I was dead but now am alive forever and ever!” (Revelation 1:18). His words comfort the hurting and the lonely and the dying and those who mourn death.  

Words of Beauty and Strength

            Jesus has been anointed for words of good news which bring heavenly gifts: “to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord.”

            The returning people would naturally wonder: “If we rebuild again, what will prevent the same thing from happening again?” They might have been tempted to hesitate. But Isaiah reassured them the coming of Messiah would be the very reason that the LORD had preserved them and brought them home. His words held power to give them a new appearance. He was going to swap them bad for good. He was going to trade in their ash heap of ruins and give them the crown of his beautiful love. He was going to trade in their deadly mourning cries for shouts of joyful gladness. He was going to trade in their clothes of depression and disparity and dress them up in garments of praise. He traded them sin for his righteousness through his sacrifice. And then he was going to plant them solidly in this land as a strong landmark of his splendor!

            As the first Psalm reminds us “Blessed is the man who meditates on the Law of God day and night … he is like a tree planted by streams of water. Whatever he does prospers” (Psalm 1: 2, 3). God’s people today – you included – entertain doubtful thoughts. How will we ever endure the wickedness of this decreasing generation! How shall we stand up under such persecution and pressure from atheism and Biblical ignorance! Our faith and Christianity is under attack on all side. We see the barrage more fully now that the celebration of his birth in back in full swing.

The Preacher’s words have beauty and strength. He has traded our ash heap of doubts with faithful confidence. He has traded our ugly sins for the beauty of his crown of righteousness. Like Noah standing on the Ark, like an oak tree standing near the flood waters, Christ has planted us where he will keep us. In his eyes we are wearing the beautiful clothes of our Baptisms. In his strength we have the force of Angelic armies to withstand the future enemies of his News. Paul encouraged Timothy: “fan into the flame the gift of God which is in you ... for God did not give us a Spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1: 6-7).

Jesus was anointed for words of good news. These words of freedom and release, comfort and gladness, beauty and strength, are words for you! Amen.

The Advent of Christ in the Word

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

“The Advent of Christ in the Word”

Colossians 3: 15-16 & John 20: 30-31

            “No man can see me and live,” the LORD had warned Moses. The full nature and glory of God is too much for sinful mankind. We would all be crushed physically and eternally. Shepherds quake at the sight! But we are allowed to listen to God. We are allowed to learn about the things that teach us his love. We are allowed to interact with God through Christ Jesus and his Word.

            So the quaking shepherds were no longer afraid when they encountered God embodied in a little baby. Their fears had also been stilled by the Message which the Lord of glory had given the angels to speak. So as we encounter God this Advent we are thankful that he arrives in the three places where he promises to not crush us. In the Means of Grace he restores our relationship with him. Christ comes to us in his Word, in Baptism and in His Supper.

            “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” John opened his History of Jesus that way. When God spoke into the darkness and created light, that audible sound was Christ. When God sent words to Moses, that audible sound was Christ. When God sent words to his prophets, that audible sound was Christ. “In the past God spoke to us through his prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son … through whom he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh.

Tonight we focus on the Advent of Christ in the Word and as Word. When Paul wrote to the Colossians he explained “In Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given the fullness in Christ.” (2:9) God chose not to arrive in this world as a mighty judge and wrathful tyrant. He chose to appear as a man of humble beginnings. He hid his glory in the humility of Jesus. Now that Jesus has suffered, died, and rose again he chooses for our sake to be embodied in the pages of his Word. Paul encourages us to “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.” In doing so he is confident that the “Peace of Christ will rule in our hearts.”

In our daily struggle with sin we long for rescue and forgiveness. In our daily battle against the world we have a desperate need for the wisdom of God. In our Advent preparation we repent of all sins, past and present. In our Advent preparation we wrestle with the human fear of one day meeting the fullness of God. Where shall sinners … we … meet him first?

In the Word we meet Christ Jesus! “… as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts toward God.” In Word we encounter the Christ Jesus who paid for our sins on the Cross. In the Word we encounter the LORD who speaks, “Do not be afraid” through the angels. In the Word we encounter the God who teaches and admonishes to that we are prepared to meet him, not only in a stable, but on the Last Day.

John began by saying that Christ is the Word. He concludes by saying that Christ is revealed in the Word. John reminds us that he could have written many more things. But the Spirit of God had instructed and moved him to write all that we need to be saved. “These Words are written that you may believe that Jesus in the Christ and that by believing you may have life in his name.” “No man can see me and live.” But in Christ, encountered in the Word, we may see the God of our Salvation have everlasting life through him. Amen.

You Are Rich in Christ

1 Corinthians 1: 3 – 9 (Advent 1 – 2014)

“You are Rich in Christ”

Have you got all your decorations out? Was there anything missing? Did you throw another string of lights away? Does the living room look the way it did last year, or is something just not quite right? How often don’t we focus on what’s missing, broke, or out of place, only to rob ourselves of enjoying what is there.

Our God tells us this first Sunday in Advent, “You have been enriched in every way.” In other words, we lack nothing. Sure, many things in our lives seem broken, incomplete, or as messy as the ball of lights in the old box. But while we tend to focus on the negative, we miss what is good. We forget that we have it all and more.

Divisive people had made their way into the Christian gatherings in Corinth. There were people who denied the resurrection. There were people who divided the believers over the personalities of Paul and Apollos. There were people who looked down on others who did not have a certain spiritual gifts that they had. There were people who bragged about their Christian life, yet neglected the spiritual well-being of the congregation. The general population of the congregation was confused and frustrated. They were left to wonder: Am I less of a Christian? Does God love me? Is their more to come? What was the point of Christianity, if we are so divided and unloving to one another?

Paul’s first goal in the letter was to reassure them, “you have been enriched in everyway.” He reminds them of many of the spiritual blessings they had been given in Christ Jesus: God’s grace, speaking and knowledge, the testimony of Christ, strength to be patient waiting for Christ’s return, blamelessness in Christ, and fellowship with Christ by God’s grace. God had been very generous to all of them equally. God would remain faithful to keep each one of them until Judgment Day.

In the same way, YOU HAVE BEEN RICHLY BLESSED IN CHRIST. “In him you have been enriched in every way.” God is generous to you. God is faithful to you, in Christ Jesus.

1. Since God is Generous

How tempting it is to focus on what we do not have! How appealing to our sinful human nature to let division creep in. How tempting it is to focus on what’s wrong with the congregation and what I don’t like about church, or its doctrines, or the pastor, or the school, or the leaders. We have one little acorn fall on our heads and we think the sky is falling, when it’s just another beautiful day in God’s kingdom.

God has been very generous to you. This past week we had opportunity to thank him for all the blessings of his bountiful hand. We know he feeds and clothes us. We know it is his generous hand that keeps us safe from harm, puts a roof over our heads, heals us from sickness, send his holy angels concerning us. We know it is our God who sent his one and only Son to take away our guilt and fear. Paul says, “If God is for us who can be against us, he who did not spare his own Son , but gave him up for us all, how will he not also along with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8: 31-32).

God, who has taken away our divisive sins, has given us forgiveness and contentment and joy. He has enriched us with the Holy Spirit who has called us to faith in Christ through the Word. God has been gracious to us. He has withheld nothing from his storehouse of love and mercy. “In Christ you have been enriched in every way.”

In the same way he has been generous to Crown of Life. In the same way he gave the Corinthian Christians the ability to speak, learn, teach, share, and grown in the knowledge of Christ, he has given us the testimony of his Son. Every week he pours out the Word of God through Worship, Bible Class, Christian Education, and Christian Fellowship. They are there, like the decorations in the living room that we miss when we focus on the negatives. But they are there, for us to have and hold. We altogether equally enjoy and be a part of.

Like many in the Corinthian fellowship, you might be tempted to think that spiritual growth and maturity is for those other people. I don’t have the gifts others do. I don’t belong at Bible Study. I would look foolish. I don’t fit into the popular clicks. God has not blessed me with the gifts that I see other people having. Paul reminds us not to be concerned about gifts we don’t have but to use the ones we do have. There are gifts that God has graciously given to all people equally. In Christ you have ALL been enriched in every way. God is generous with his spiritual blessings.

2. Since God is Faithful

Paul knew the importance of encouraging these confused and frustrated Christians. In our advent preparation, we like Paul, know that Christ is coming again, not as a poor infant in a lean-to, but as the Resurrected Lord of lords. Paul wanted them, and us, to be ready of Judgment Day. But Paul knew something very valuable: They were ready! They were ready, not because of their own readiness, but because God had made them ready and because God would continue to keep them ready. “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God who has called you into his fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”

Jesus reminds us, even warns us, in the gospel lesson today: “Keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back…” What does true faithfulness mean? I read an e-mail this past week about the guarding of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Perhaps others have seen or read about that unique guard. In snow and ice, rain and wind, all day every day no matter what the condition. A guard takes his half hour dauntless beat. There was even a circumstance where the soldiers were offered dispensation during hurricane conditions. The soldiers insisted that the guard should not be let down.

You are God’s unknown soldier. But he doesn’t need a relief every half hour. Through storm and tempest, through danger and temptation, through sickness and sadness, our God never leaves his post. As the Advent Psalm reminds us so well:

I lift up my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from?

 2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

 3 He will not let your foot slip — he who watches over you will not slumber;

 4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

 5 The LORD watches over you — the LORD is your shade at your right hand;

 6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

 7 The LORD will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life;

 8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

In Christ you have been richly blessed in every way, because God is faithful to you. He keeps his promises. He guards your life. “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the last day.”

This Advent Season, be ready. See the wealth of God’s grace around you. Don’t miss out on the wonder of God’s grace in Christ by busying yourself with the expectations of the world. Don’t let the world rob you of your visit to the manger. There in that Christ Child God has given to you richly. There in Christ we lack nothing. There in Christ God is truly faithful. There in Christ you have been richly blessed. Amen.

Blessings for Every Season

Genesis 8: 21- 22 (Thanksgiving Day 2014)

“Blessings for Every Season”

The flood waters had covered the earth for 150 day. Noah had not heard from God since the day he closed the door on the Ark. Much of what Noah had heard was God’s judgment on the world and instructions on the building and purposes of the Ark. Now it was time to leave the Ark. Can you imagine the initial post-flood appearance of the world that was beginning to rise out of the receding waters!? Trees that had been soaked in mud; Carcasses of animals and remnants of human death; ravines that did not exist before; caves and cliffs and hill tops that were unfamiliar to Noah; and just enough dry place for Noah and his family to begin again. Where would he even begin to place farm?

Blessings from God’s Providence

As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” God’s Point? This will all work again. Because of sin, it will never be the Garden of Eden again. But because of God’s creative power and providence, the earth was going to function as well as it had before. Crops can be planted. Trees will produce fruit. Wild animals can run free. Farm animals can be tended to and used for the good of mankind. The earth remained on its axis and in its God-given orbit. Climates and weather patterns can be traced and even predicted to some degree. Noah and his family could continue their study of God’s earth and learn about science and medicine and the physics of creation. From eight people God would bring nations back into his world. This will all work again!

Thousands of years later we can see his promises kept. Crops still yield harvests. Farms and ranches tend to multitudes of beasts. Scientists, technicians, engineers and doctors are blessed to find new ways of using God’s creation: cures and medicines, machines and devices, food preserves. Ships cross the ocean. Trucks race down highways. Airplanes soar through the air, all carrying people and things to wherever they want them go. Stores are filled with good things for tomorrow, let alone the bread we have for today! From a mud soaked globe with eight people in it until now, God’s providence pours out blessings onto our tables and into our homes!

These blessings are always in the context of Grace in Christ: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.” God’s Point? For a time I had to show my wrath. Now I will reveal my mercy.

God’s purpose in sending the flood was to judge a world of people who had failed to acknowledge him as their Creator. They did not thank him. They did not sing his praises. They did not follow his words and ways. They rejected him and made themselves gods of their own destiny. Well, their destiny was God’s wrath for their unbelief and wickedness. They had become so corrupt that God said “I am grieved that I have made them” (Genesis 6:7). Even then, in his patience he gave them 120 years, and the living sermon of Noah’s building project. But they mocked God and Noah. The flood was evidence of God’s wrath over sin and unbelief.

Blessings From God’s Grace

But Noah found favor in the eyes of God.” (Genesis 6:8). Noah was not sinless. Noah did not deserve to have God pick him as the one to be rescued. Even after the flood we see God explain his inborn nature and sin. We see his sin expressed after he figured out what he could do with a grape vine.

Noah was righteous because God had made and kept him righteous. Noah believed in the grace of God. Noah acknowledged God as his Creator. Noah listened to the instructions of God and put them into practice. God chose Noah purely out of his grace. God in his mercy, not only rescued eight people, but rescued his Church and his Promise to Adam and Eve.

God had promised to send a Savior from the seed of the woman. Eve’s children were to one day give birth to God’s Son and bring salvation to the world. God had to preserve people who came from that genealogy. In saving Noah and his family, God preserved the blood line of Jesus. Because of God’s grace, he kept the world turning, and kept humanity afloat, so that all the other events of his Salvation plan would be carried out. Christ Jesus came for sinners. In the redeeming work and life of Jesus, God revealed his grace. He kept his promise, that, in spite of our inclination to sin always, he would “never curse the ground” like that again. In our stead, he cursed his own Son on the cross.

In doing so he has also preserved the Church for all generations. Imagine if God had not intervened. How long would it have been before Noah and his family lost their faith. Remember the world was so corrupt that it was left to Shem, Hem, and Japheth to remain faithful in teaching their children the grace and providence of the true God. Would that have been easier among the multitudes of wickedness, or in the fresh start and wake of the actions of God? God preserved his Church in the flood!

The time came when Noah was blessed to have all that he needed. From 150 days of seeing, hearing and eating from the same confined environment, Noah and his family were blessed to see the sunlight, crops, homes, beef steaks, the pleasures of work and the pleasures of rest. As I mentioned before, he was prone to blow it and fall into sin. The next chapter tells of his shameful bout with too much wine. Thankfully his sons took care of that situation properly. In spite of the sins of a believer, the Church was working properly.

Peter has a very useful take on this story which ties this all together. He explains that: “God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Peter 3: 20-22).

This will all work again! The creation, the Church, and the plan of salvation were all preserved by God’s grace. God and Christ are in heaven. Our daily bread pours out from his rich providence. His grace pours out blessings from one season to the next. There is no end to the physical blessings God holds in his storehouse for us. “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”

The spiritual blessings are also endless. Christ poured out his life on the cross for our sins. Forgiveness is an endless river of his grace. In Baptism he has given us a clear conscience before God. His resurrection assures us that long after our bodies will join the ground of all flesh, we will be restored to a place that will be the paradise mankind lost. The messages of the Church will be passed from one generation to the next. God will never wipe his believers off the face of the earth until he returns to take us to be with him.

After the flood, Noah built an altar to God. He did not start with the farm. He started with church. With the means and materials available to him he built evidence of his faith and thankfulness. He designated a place for Word and worship with God. This is why we are in God’s how today. By his grace we are preserved in body and spirit, and that in abundance. So Luther wrote: “All this he does, because he is my God and merciful Father in heaven, and not because I have earned or deserved it. For all this I ought to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true!” (Explanation to the First Article). Amen.

Jesus Is the Shepherd King

Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 23-24 (Christ the King)

“Jesus is our Shepherd-King”

What makes a good king a “good” king? You may remember that the Lord warned Israel against having a king. He knew that earthly kings would tax their pocket books. He warned that earthly kings would take their sons into empirical wars. A scepter in the hands of a wicked king (and there were many), would selfishly seek only his own good. Many looked for their own folly rather than seek the Lord and the good of his people. That pattern was only broken when “good” kings followed the Lord’s commands and sought the needs of the people that they served.

If you want something done right, do it yourself.” The main reason God warned Israel against having a king was that HE was their king and desired to be so. King David, in spite of his many sins was good king. He had a desire to serve God and to be faithful to his commands. He was also a picture, or type, of Christ for Israel. David was both a shepherd and a king. God said, “I myself will Shepherd them!” David portrayed the image that a man who had the heart of a shepherd makes a better king. The perfect completion of that image is Jesus Christ, our Shepherd-King.

He Rescued His Straying Flock

Ezekiel mentions the “flock which had been scattered on a day of clouds and darkness …” In those days, kings and people together had run away from the light of the Temple to the darkness of idols and evil behavior. Those who were supposed to be shepherding ignored the flocks. Those who were supposed to be governing for the good of people were leading them into worldly darkness.

On a day of clouds and darkness …” Every day has the potential of being a dark day for sinners. God lights a lamp for us to see us his way; and we choose to run into the darkness anyway. As Isaiah had said “We all like sheep have gone astray, each one has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). We go astray when God commands us to fear, love and trust in him above all things, and we choose to lean on our own understanding, trust our own instincts, and love our own selfish wants. We go astray when God commands us to take his name seriously while we willfully toss it into the word salad of our filthy language. We go astray when God commands and invites to his Word yet our laziness seeks to avoid it and our discontent chooses to spite it with our own thinking. What shepherd would desire to rescue such rebellious sheep like us! The Lord has every right to leave us in our own darkness and cast us away from his presence for eternity.

Not our Shepherd-King! The Shepherd-King “searches and looks after the sheep.” He seeks to “gather us from the countries … and to have us lie down in good pastures.” The Shepherd puts his life in danger as he rescues the sheep from the mouth of the wolves and lions. The King puts his life in danger as he goes out to the battle field ahead of his armies to protect his people from the foe. In the same way, Jesus our Shepherd-King seeks us out, places his life in danger, and gathers his flock with his willing sacrifice. Christ Jesus chased into our darkness and rescued us from our own self-inflicted guilt. He destroyed the wolf, our wicked foe, by fighting that battle against evil for us. He laid his life on the line for his sheep when he sat in darkness on the cross. He dashed the darkness of death by taking his life back up again! Jesus our Shepherd-King, rather than casting us from his presence gathers us with his redeeming love and keeps us safely in his gracious pastures.

He Reigns With Justice

“I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy.” Jesus had said “I did not come for the righteous but the unrighteous … and it is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick.”

Our Shepherd-King reigns with justice. He will always keep his Word and promises. He will never compromise his judgments. He will always be fair. Jesus does not despise a broken and contrite heart. He will always forgive the sins of those who trust in him for salvation and confess their sins before him.

He will not, however, put up with arrogance of those who put their trust in their own efforts to save themselves. Christ the King always decides and acts with perfect wisdom and absolute fairness. On Judgment Day he will perfectly decide between believer and unbeliever. Many will have the appearance of good on the outside. But God can and does read hearts. Our Shepherd-King will not have his redeeming efforts be mocked by those who wish to be saved by their own deeds. “I will shepherd my flock with justice.”

He Restores us With a Loving Voice

Our Shepherd-King “does not treat us as our sins deserve”! (Psalm 103:10). As Jesus described the difference between the shepherd and the hired hand, “the sheep hear my voice and I know them” (John 10). The Lord promised: “I will tend them in a good pasture … they will feed in rich pastures.” “I the Lord have spoken.” And he speaks with tender voice to his people.

There are many voices out there calling us away from our Shepherd-King. Hired hands who ran away at the face of danger still seek to lead us off the safety of God’s mountain. The darkness calls us back daily. Temptations all too familiar speak appealing words. The wicked foe, the prowling lion, haunts us with guilt and the lure of attainable desires. Those are dangerous voices. They are not the voice of the Shepherd-King.

Our Shepherd-King knows the dangers that plague his flock – the Church. He knows the enemies that surround his city the Church. He defeated them on the cross so that they would have no power over us. When we are lost in darkness he shows us the Lamp for our feet. When we are broken and bruised he heals our wounds. He will strengthen us when we are weak. He will not despise a broken and contrite heart. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us all of our sins.”

The best way for a sheep to recognize his true shepherd is to stay close to him and hear his Voice often. He has provided safety for us in his Kingdom. He wants us to remain familiar with his Voice by feeding on that rich pasture of his Holy Word. Silly sheep like us don’t always know what is good and best for us. The sinfulness in our nature sheepishly shies from that Word because of what it says to our sinful nature.

Our Shepherd-King knows what is best for us. He has never done anything to harm. He feeds us spiritually and physically. He provides us the safety of our home and His. He calls out to us with his Word. The deeper we grown in his Word – his Voice – the more we warm up to his tender care. Yes, he is a mighty King with justice and power. Yes, we are tempted to be guarded in our approach. But when we hear his Voice often we learn that he is a tender Shepherd who does nothing but care for us his sheep with an unconditional love.

What makes a king a “good” king?

  • A Shepherd who cares more for his sheep than his own safety
  • A King who does what is right in the sight of God.

Jesus is perfectly both. He loves us. He has gathered us to his heavenly fold – a kingdom whose ruler is kind and loving. As each day he tends us like a Shepherd: He rescues, he reigns, and he restores us with his loving justice. This last Sunday of the Christian year we give him the Honor that is due him! We look forward to the Day when Christ our Shepherd-King will bring us across the mote of death and into his palace of eternal grace in heaven. Amen.

They Are There

1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18 (Saints Triumphant - 2014)

“They Are There”

A sizable fake grass rug covers up the broken ground. Shag velvet comfortably covers the steel of 8 folding chairs. A pleasant aroma stems from a bouquet of lilies and roses atop a very ornate box. If the weather demands a warm and welcoming tent covers the whole scene. But we know the clumps of dirt came from a hole in the ground. We know the thin layers of beauty are lightly buffering a harsh reality. We know that within the ornate box remains the physical presence of someone we still love and will dearly miss. There, and especially there, we remember that “the wages of sin is death … but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6: 23). “The grass withers and flowers fall … but the Word of our God stands forever!” (Isaiah 39: 8) Only the certain promises of God comfort our aching hearts when a loved one falls asleep in Jesus’ name.

            When Paul was doing his Apostle-to-the-Gentiles thing he highlighted the priceless importance of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In the process groups of prominent Jewish leaders - called the Sadducees and the “Judaizers” - were following up with the troubling false hope that there is no Judgment Day, no heaven and hell, no afterlife, no resurrection, no nothing like that. On top of that, Paul had realized that his high emphases on being ready and looking for the Last Day had set some people on edge. What if this important Judgment Day came and went? What about our loved ones who have already gone before us? Teach us more, Paul! Comfort and instruct our confused minds and hearts.

           

Some Have no Hope

Paul said, “I do not want you to grieve like the rest of me who have no hope.” You certainly have come across that truism: What do people who have no faith in Jesus do when trials and death appear in their lives? It must be fearful to face trouble without Jesus and the certainty of God’s Love. For centuries people have for that very reason sought the same false hope of the Sadducees: “live as good life as you can and then you die.” They rejected life after death. They rejected the resurrection. They rejected Jesus as Lord. And those who put their hope in a message like that had no hope at all, only grief.

           The messages of the Bible are clear. Hell is a real place. It has been “prepared for the devil and all his angels” (Matthew 25:41). That is the existence that waits for those who follow him in unbelief. In an effort to ignore that truth, in their grief, the rest who have no hope make up religions that suit them. They imagine a god who ignores sin. They imagine a god who does not judge between wickedness and righteousness. They imagine a god who has a “better place” than this but not a worse place. Many foolishly imagine no god at all; no judgment day, no afterlife, no real purpose or meaning in this life at all. They have no hope.

The Lord Gave His Word: Jesus Died and Rose

            You know better than that. You are not ignorant of the wages of sin. Our sins deserve death and grief and shame. Our sins have earned us an eternal place in a hell that really does exist. We, too, wrestle with doubts about our loved ones. We live in weakness that brings natural grief and inescapable fears. It is tempting to join in the ignorance of those have no hope at all. Our fascinations with putting of the Day of Judgment for our own desires and pleasures are daily reminders of our deep need for just God who keeps his Word.

            You have the certain promises of God. “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.” They are there. Because of the blood and righteousness of Jesus, they are there. Because of the Resurrection of Jesus from the grave they are there, awaiting their own resurrected bodies. Because Jesus cancels the debt of every sin and wipes away all fear, we have certain hope. All those “who have fallen asleep in Jesus” are experiencing the joys of living in the presence of our Loving Father, and his Son Jesus, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

            Why? Because Jesus said so: “According to the Lord’s own Word.” The Word gives trust to believe in Jesus. Through the Word the Holy Spirit gives faith, knowledge, and spiritual understanding. In our Baptisms the sinful nature is daily put to death and faith is given fresh courage and new life. As we leave the Lord’s Table we hear that the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus strengthens and keeps us in the truth faith until life everlasting. It is the Word that writes our confession in our hearts to say: we acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come (Nicene Creed).

He will Come Back and Get us

Heaven is a real place, too. The believers, loved ones who died in faith before us, are there. Jesus will take us to be with him as well. “According to the Lord’s own Word, we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord … will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” Jesus himself said: “In my Father’s house are many rooms … I am going there to prepare a place for you. I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am” (John 14: 1-4).

And we won’t miss it. No one will miss it. “For the Lord himself will come down with a loud command, with a voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” And we won’t miss it. “Lo [Christ Jesus] is coming with the clouds and every eye will see him even those who pierced him” (Revelation 1: 7). “And we will be with the Lord forever”! We will join Jesus and all those who already joined him. Heaven is a real place to which the saints of God go. “With Lord” means absent from sin and death. “With Lord” means absent from sickness and pain. “With the Lord” means complete fellowship with Jesus and the Holy Christian Church, forever!

Encourage One Another

Paul’s conclusion makes perfect sense: “Therefore encourage each other with these words.” Paul was telling his friends in Christ to spread the good news. Read this letter to the church. Read this letter to the ones who missed last Sunday. Take the news of the Resurrection of Jesus to the villages and homes surround Thessalonica. Keep people from grieving in ignorance and lacking in hope. Fellow believers, encourage each other with the Words and Promises of God

It is the Word of God that covers our grief. More than fake grass and sweet smelling roses; more than tired catch phrases which ignore the truths of God: “the grass withers and flowers fall, but the Word our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 39: 8). That Word tells us: “Christ Jesus, who died, more than that has been raised to life and is sitting at the right hand of God” (Romans 8: 34). Those we love, who fell asleep in him are there too. By now you have subconsciously missed a few phrases and your thoughts soared to loved ones in Christ whom you dearly miss. They are there, too.

Apostles, martyrs, prophets, there around my Savior stand,

And soon my friends in Christ below will join the glorious band (CW 215: 4) Amen!

The Story of Our Gracious King

Matthew 18: 21 – 35 (Pentecost 17 – October 5, 2014)

“The Story of our Gracious King”

Permit some Bible History that leads the Genesis reading for today: the sag of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph was labeled “Daddy’s Favorite” by 6 older half-brothers. His mother died while giving birth to his little brother. He was coddled by his father. His smug explanations about dreams and people bowing down to him brought fueled the fires of resentment. His brothers threw him in a pit, sold him into slavery, lied to his father about what happened, leading their father to believe that his favorite son was dead.

God blessed Joseph with a job in a wealthy home. However, he was mistreated and betrayed by his boss’s wife and thrown into prison. God blessed Joseph with wisdom and good friendships while in prison. God raised him from prison to second in command in powerful Egypt. In a time of a massive famine which he predicted, Joseph was also put into unique situation of rationing food to people of surrounding lands, including his older brothers. In a plot to get to see his father again, he entrapped his brothers into a false theft charge and sent them home. God used decades of ups and downs to bring his people, Israel, Jacob’s descendants to Goshen. Peering further into the future these events are directly tied to slavery in Egypt, freedom and exile, the time of Moses, the writing of more Gospel promises, and the events that lead to the return to the Promised Land and ultimately the coming of the Messiah, Jesus the Savior.

While in Goshen, Jacob, the patriarch, died. The brothers still felt the pain of guilt and fear over the decades of hurt they caused. They were not certain that Joseph had completely let go of grudges and resentment. They thought that Jacob was the only thing keeping Joseph from carrying out revenge. That story fits so nicely with the parable Jesus told. His parable is the answer to Peter’s question. Peter’s question came after a string of concepts that Jesus taught regarding sin and forgiveness. Peter’s question is “How many times do I have to do this Lord?” “How often do I have to forgive my brother?” Can you sense the right of Joseph to ask, “How long to I have to put up with all this hurt and ill will in my life Lord?” Enough!

Peter’s question could have been Joseph’s concern. Peter’s question is our question. His selfish insinuation is our selfish insinuation. How long do I have to do this? How much do I have to put up with? At what point does forgiveness get worn out? He will never change. There she goes again. Here we go again. When will I ever be excused from putting up with the sins of others? Why do we always have to forgive the repenting sinners? They are just going to do it again. Don’t I have enough maladies in my life besides the ones that my sin and the sins of others cause against me? Life seems to be one big selfish game of “Gottcha”.

How many of you cringed at the unthinkable way in which the servant in the story acted? Who of us wasn’t appalled at the injustice of it all? As you heard or relearned the story of Joseph and his brothers did it conger up more feelings of injustice and revenge? Jesus means for us to live in the parable as he speaks it. He wants us to see that the injustice was carried out in the back drop of a generous, gracious King he forgave an insurmountable debt.

  1. 1.Remember How Your King Forgives You

See the story about the King. Jesus answer to Peter’s question is “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Jesus was not giving Peter a number. He was emphasizing the infinite nature of forgiveness. The servant had such a huge debt that he would never be able to repay the King. He pled for mercy and time … but all the time in the world would never be enough. The King had all the mercy in the world and cancelled the entire debt. The servant was free to go and owed not a dime to the king.

Go to the King to learn of forgiveness. Our King is not an earthly king. He sits on heaven’s throne in a room of grace. But that was not his only throne. He gladly took the throne of a stable bed. He gladly took the homelessness of a Prophet. He gladly took on the debt that his Father demanded of us. He gladly lived in the prison of Hell that you and I deserved. He was crowned with head piercing thorns and robed in a garment of mockery. He was perched on a cross of wood, kept there with love and nails. He was placed dead in the tomb prepared for sinful mankind. Jesus paid the debt we could never have paid. He cancelled our debt of sin before our gracious King. Our King lets us go free!

        That King sits enthroned in glory now. That King holds the power of death and life, and the keys to Hell and Heaven. That King has given those keys to his believers as he said “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them they are not forgiven” (John 20: 23). That King announces his forgiveness to you freely each day. When in doubt he comes to you in the divine proclamation of this service and says “I forgive you all of your sins.” It is that king who lives and reigns, One God now and forever, the King of Love and Grace.

        When we leave the House of God, we are like the servant who went home from the King, having all our debts canceled. We leave with the repeated news of Christ. We leave with the striking remembrances of what was canceled on the cross. We leave with the words of our Baptism ringing out “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” We leave with the rich texts and melodies of our hymnals where Christ is proclaimed again and again. We leave with the taste Holy Supper still on our tongues where the words “given and shed for you” were meant for us. Yes, today we leave with all spiritual debts canceled in full. We leave the throne room of King with all spiritual debt paid in full and erased from his books. He leaves us with no debt except for a debt of gratitude and love which will be carried out among our brothers and sisters in Christ.

  1. 2. Forgive Like Our King Forgives Us

Too soon, perhaps a few steps into the church parking lot, the choking of our fellow man begins as a thought in our hearts. We have filed mental tallies of all the stuff people do. Like a record book of debts our fellow servants owe us stir up. And when we have had enough, when the camel’s back is broken, we can’t wait to choke each other in the spiritual neck when it is to our own advantage. Someone else’s sin is going to make us look good. Someone else is going to get from me what they gave to me the last time I blew it. The shoe is on the other foot now! Finally, I get to hold all the cards and I am going to love it! Pay up! That was sin number 78 and now there is no more forgiveness left for you! Yes, when we see the unjust servant we know that Jesus meant us. How quickly we kick dust on the King’s mercy to us, by harboring our brother’s sins against them!

Our Savior’s final word on this is so vital: “from the heart.” Peter wrote in one of his letters: “in obeying the truth you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” Peter had learned that phrase directly from his Savior. Peter had seen that love carried out in his own Life as Jesus restored him with forgiveness and love on the shores of Galilee. Joseph had learned to carry out that kind of forgiving love. Rather than carry a grudge he saw the events of his roller coaster life as events used by God “for the saving of many lives” including his own and his family. In view of God’s saving activity he was willing forgive.

Learn forgiveness from our gracious King. Go to the Cross of Jesus. There our insurmountable debt is paid in full. There our King loves us deeply from the heart. There we learn to reflect his love and forgiveness to each other. There we learn that heaven is open to all believers in Christ. Go from the Gracious King forgiven and free to live the life of gratitude in your hearts God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Showing Love to Sinners

Matthew 18: 15 – 20 (Pentecost 16 – September, 2014)

“Showing Love to Sinners”

I’m not my brother’s keeper. Since the first murder human beings have used that phrase to excuse the responsibility for dealing with sin, my own or my brother’s. Still Jesus says: “If your brother sins against you …” Our Savior speaks these words in the expectation that it will happen even among his children. He could have said “when your brother sins against you.” Jesus teaches us on how to handle the sins of each other in a loving truthful manner. These guides are not meant to be a snappy check list. Rather, our Savior is laying out careful guidelines for dealing with the sins of each other in a Christ-like way.

1. Loving Sinners in Person.

Jesus says, “go and show him his fault just between the two of you.” We keep much to ourselves. Our own sins freeze us from saying anything about those we have noticed in the bonds of close friendships. It takes a true friend to expose sin in a loving way. Exposing sin to the sinner does not mean shouting it from the roof tops. It must begin in a private conversation. It may take several meaningful talks. It will always require a humble attitude that always takes the plank out of our own eyes so that we can see clearly to remove the speck from our brother’s (Matthew 7:5). Clarify. Ask questions. Offer to help as a fellow sinner.

It is hard to do. But it is the right thing to do. Our sinful nature will find many sinful ways to deal with sins that are noticed in others: blab, vent, gossip, let things fester, harbor. Many times we are afraid because our own sins have us feeling unworthy to speak with others about their sins. It is even more difficult when the sin we have noticed showed up in the life of someone close to us, or someone we highly respect. But it is the right thing to do: speak with the one who needs our love the most – the one who is trapped in sin.

How much more do we need to develop that skill in the face of our electronic social networks! Zinging off emails at every whim is not what our Savior had in mind. Texting leaves much to be desired. Posting vengeance on face books and twitters is fuel to the fire. “GO and Show … between the two of you.” Imagine what can be accomplished among human beings if we recaptured the art of one on one conversation – face to face - where voice inflection can be traced and body language speaks more volumes than five pages of e-mail and where confidential things can be kept that way.

Jesus makes a promise. “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” A soul has been won from unbelief to faith. Leading others to see their sins has a loving goal - the goal of gaining them as an eternal friend in Christ. Those friendships are worth gaining. They will stand the test of time. They will hold more firmly the next battle with temptation. The true victory is that sinful actions are forgiven and forgotten. They will never be mentioned again, by you or your friend, to each other or anyone else. What a blessed joy it is to point a troubled conscience to the cross of our Savior and freely give them a gracious God who forgives all sins! What better message to the devil when believers forgive and forget sin under the Cross of Christ!

2. Loving Sinners with Help

Jesus reminds us that it won’t always end that way. “If he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ ” Jesus teaches a Biblical guide from the time of Moses. (Deuteronomy 17:6). When hearts reject truth and when un-repentance settles in, the troubling matters of sin among God’s children should not be judged only by “your word against mine.” In matters of unchecked sin, there is room in Christ’s advice to bring others to the table.

There should be great consideration for who these witnesses will be. You are seeking good. You are hoping to keep the matter as quiet as possible, even though they now are going to know second hand things. You are earning trust. Choose friends whom you both trust. Trust them to share your concern for a soul. Trust them to keep their mouths shut. Trust them to be good listeners. Trust them to not be biased. Trust that they have a clear understanding of the Bible as friends who genuinely want to lead someone to repentance and faith in Jesus. Many souls have been regained through the Christian work of two or three friendships. If the matter is settled, rejoice! The friendship is gained, forgiveness in Christ is clearly announced, and once again the joy of fellowship in Christ is deepened through the blood of Jesus.

3. The Church Shows Love

            Our Savior knows that not every matter will be that easy. “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church; and if he refuses to listen even to the Church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Jesus is talking about someone who has become one-sided in his thinking. He has hardened his heart about sin. He sees things only his way. He has stopped hearing the Truth of God’s Word through your love. The heels are dug in. Repentance and forgiveness seem impossible.

            “Tell it to the church.” Jesus is referring to the kingdom of believers. The Holy Christian Church is that collective group of people who profess Christ Jesus as Savior. The Holy Spirit builds and strengthens that Church through the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. In the early days of Christianity, the believers sought each other daily for guidance and encouragement. They recognized Peter and the other apostles as leaders in spiritual matters. Eventually, the preachers and evangelists in the mission stations represented the congregations in matters of doctrine and practice. Today, visible churches have continued that understanding. Dealing with false teachers and public offense is something we do together at the direction of pastors and the spiritual leaders. That is one of the many blessings having a fellowship of believers. Know that the Church shows love when we deal with sin and when it comes to the truth of salvation.

            Church discipline is delicate. It is often misread, or even abused, by well-meaning people. Exposing sin to an unrepentant sinner is difficult, but necessary. It requires love for souls. It requires a good understanding the Scriptures, especially in the area of carefully dividing between the Law and the Gospel. It requires a united body of believers in Christ working together foe the truth (2 John).

            Sadly, situations do present themselves when the Church, at the leadership of the pastor, makes a public recognition of unbelief in an unrepentant person. Jesus uses the words “pagan” or “tax collector”, words which at the time would be associated with people who were publicly labeled as unbelievers. Paul offered this advice to pastor Titus: “avoid foolish controversies and arguments about the law, they are … useless. Warn a divisive man once … warn him a second time. After that have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:9-11).

            Society will criticize and cry “Foul” saying that we should not judge. Better to face the wrongful accusations of the world, than to let sin and foolish controversy dangerously affect the flock of sheep. Better to face ridicule for exposing sin, than to ignore it or pretend that it is not important. Better to suffer for doing good than to fail to show Christ-like love to souls by exposing their sin and unbelief (1 Peter 3: 13-17). A Christian congregation that ignores sin will also lose the clarity of Christ’s sacrificial love for sin, in short, lose the Gospel.

4. Jesus Loves Sinners

Jesus attaches this cover phrase: "… whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. … if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven." The struggle to point out sin will be followed by the new struggle to forgive those who hurt us. But the Spirit will produce a newly found joys along the way!

Our Savior promises to grace us with his presence. He has commissioned us to be concerned for fellow sinners. He staked his life on us. He validated his promise by overcoming the deadly grave in our place. By his grace we are brothers and sisters in Jesus. He blesses faithfulness to truth. He is pleased to help those who demonstrate his mercy to one another. He loves to walk with us and assist us with the loving words to say.

Mercy … mercy is God’s active compassion for people in need. He looked down on his fallen world and saw people in eternal trouble. We reflect His mercy to each other. Don’t ignore sin. It will fester and destroy. Don’t be surprised when showing mercy causes things to get messy and difficult. Christ came to our filth to restore us to his holiness. This business of dealing with sin is messy for us too. It is not always easy. We love him who first loved us. We forgive as we have been forgiven. He will indeed bless us as we call each other away from sin and lead each other to the cross where love covers a multitude of sins (James 5:20; 1 Peter 4:8). Amen.

Take Up Your Cross and Follow Jesus

Matthew 16:21-26 (Pentecost 15—2014)

“Take Up Your Cross and Follow Jesus”

1) Because He has done it selflessly

2) By valuing your soul

            It might be peeling yourself out of bed when the alarm clock goes off in the morning. It might be sitting in the office at work for the first hour trying to get your mind in gear. It might be that 2:30 lull when your energy is completely drained. It might be the weighed down tired feeling you get after eating a meal. There’s always a part of every one’s day they wish they could avoid.

            In this morning’s story Jesus teaches us about a part of our daily lives as Christians we probably wish we didn’t have to endure but do. He teaches us about taking up our crosses, our pains, our heartbreak, our suffering, and expects us to keep following him. We are reminded to carry our crosses because he has done it selflessly. And you find the strength to do it by valuing your soul. Once again let’s learn from the words and life of Jesus.

            Where the story picks up this morning, Peter was on cloud nine. He was having a phenomenal day. He had just found out that Jesus, who had been by his side for over a year now, was the very Son of God. He probably imagined he was set for life. Medical care definitely wouldn’t be an issue. He had seen a man paralyzed from birth brought to his feet when Jesus simply told him, “Get up! Take your mat and go home.” He had seen his mother-in-law who was bed-ridden and ill for weeks, instantly healed with the touch of his hand. Groceries wouldn’t have to be an issue either. He had watched a starving crowd of over five thousand fed with what seemed like an appetizer—just five loaves of bread and two small fish. Not to mention, his homeland—the nation of Israel—could be restored to independence from the oppressive reign of the Roman government, if Jesus took the throne. Could life get any better for him?

            But his vision of a bright future with Jesus by his side slowly began to dim. His stomach sank as Jesus began to describe to him and the other disciples what would have to happen to him. He’d have to go to the capital city Jerusalem, to be arrested, to suffer many things, to be killed, and raised again. “What????” He probably thought. “This is coming from the mouth of someone who left the throne room of heaven to come down to earth. From someone who has the power to bring relief to the suffering and make food multiply. Why would he let this happen? Also, what am I going to do when He’s gone? What’s my future going to look like?”

            Peter couldn’t hold it in anymore. He pulled Jesus away from the other disciples and had a one-on-one, “Never Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (v 22). Jesus was more than just disappointed in what Peter said. It’s as if Peter was speaking on behalf of his enemy, Satan. He cut him off, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.” He said that because there’s no way Satan would want him to walk through his mission that ended on a cross and an empty tomb. He also knew what was going through Peter’s mind—his own selfish plan for his life with Jesus at his side. So he said, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (v 23). The things of men are wealth and security, good health and happiness.

            Jesus also knew the other disciples, his other followers, were probably having similar thoughts. So he turned to all of them and taught them two requirements of anyone who wants to be a follower of him. He said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself.” He meant a follower must drop his wants, hopes, needs, and dreams and focus on what God wants. He meant a follower must be selfless, not selfish. He taught them another requirement, a follower of Jesus must “take up his cross” (v 24). If a person senses or experiences opposition, he or she must be willing to keep following and, along the way, must never turn away when sorrow, grief, hardships, and pains enter their life. Following Jesus is total commitment to him and total trust in him.

            You and I can’t see Jesus to tag along behind; we follow him by faith. That means taking up our crosses and following him through our entire lives. Even when the crosses get heavy and we feel like we’re about to buckle under their weight. He wants us to place our commitment in and trust entirely in him. But when society is labeling some parts of our faith as unloving or outdated are you ever tempted to drop your cross and turn away from Jesus? When the bank account is dropping low, maybe even to double digits, does panic and worry set in and weigh you down? When family members are hospitalized and you are consumed grief and sorrow do you question if Jesus really cares about you? Do you ever lose trust in him as you your own cross seems to be overbearing when your life is far from comfortable? Do you ever consider giving up and turning away?

            Jesus had many opportunities to give up and turn away from his cross. When he was arrested he could have simply broken the cuffs off. When he suffered at the hands of Roman soldiers as they were humiliating him, and whipping his back, he could have thought, “That’s enough.” When he buckled under the weight of the cross as he was carrying it, he could have just walked through the crowd and got out of Jerusalem. When he was stretched up on the cross, as if on a torture rack, he could have just dropped down. But he didn’t, he suffered the pains of his cross. He did it selflessly with you in mind, to forgive you of any doubt in him and to make you right with God. He did it for us, so as you follow him, he can assure you he’s there to help along the way. Have you heard what he’s promised? He says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). He promises he’ll never turn away, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). And he also promises his followers he’ll be there with you until the end, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

            Jesus is not only there by our side until the end of the age but he also gives us specific encouragement for our lives in this world.

There’s no feeling like being on top of things. Having college loans paid off, no mortgage, a steady flow of cash into the retirement funds. Seeing your kids grow up and have successful careers. There are times you simply feel like you’re on top of the world. Who wouldn’t want that? It’s a good goal, but Jesus reminds us to value our souls, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (v 26).

            A human’s soul is the most important part of his being. The soul is what makes us living and breathing. The soul is what returns to heaven when you reach the end. The soul needs just as much attention, if not more, than your success in this world. The soul needs to be strengthened and nurtured so you have the strength to take up your crosses and follow Jesus. Do you see its value? Do you see why it needs attention?

            Think about it this way. If you’re not a morning person, like me, you probably wouldn’t even think of trying to power through the morning without a cup of coffee first thing. If you play sports, you wouldn’t think of preparing for the season without jogging or making an entry to the gym a couple times a week. If you have a presentation to give at work, or a lesson to teach at school, you’d take the time to do your prep work. These are all valuable steps. When it comes to our soul, Jesus is telling us to value it as well, and give it the proper attention it needs.

            It happens by letting it be fed and strengthened with the Word of God. When you come to church on Sunday morning or Thursday evening your soul is being fed in various ways: in the liturgy, the readings, the hymns, as you listen to the sermon. Twice a month here we offer Holy Communion. I can’t stress enough the importance of receiving this. It’s Jesus own body sacrificed and blood shed selflessly for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith in his promises. The minister, as I’ve usually observed, sends you off with a blessing to strengthen you as you bear your crosses during the following weeks: “May this strengthen and preserve you in the true faith until life everlasting.

            It’s more than just in church that Jesus wants us to value our souls and give them the attention they desire. There are many ways to do that. It could be sitting on the edge of your chair paying attention to everything your teachers tell you in the classroom during your religion lesson. It could be taking the extra five minutes when as you eat your breakfast to feed your soul as well as your body. It could as simple as having a devotion around the dinner table. All these are valuable steps for strengthening your soul so you can take up your crosses.

            Like the parts of the day we wish we could skip: waking up, the afternoon energy drain, or post meal sluggishness, the Christian cross is not easy to endure. But Jesus motives us to take up our crosses and follow him, because he has done it for us—selflessly. And he tells us to value our soul—let it be fed and strengthened so we can make it through life following Jesus until he takes up our crosses in heaven. “Now to him who is able to 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 all generations, for ever and ever!” (Ephesians 3:20,21). Amen.

The Church Believes in Jesus Christ

Matthew 16: 13-20 (Pentecost 14 – 2014)

“The Church Believes in Jesus Christ”

To this day Caesarea Philippi is a lovely landscape for meditation and instruction. Its rolling hills and mixture of rock formations and wooded areas almost help you forget that it is within miles of dangerous military borders. Then, and now, some of the rock formations are sadly also landmarks for superstition and idol beliefs. Ancient images of stone reveal how lost people are without Christ and his true words of love.

Nevertheless, Christ chose this place for one of the last classroom settings for his ministry students. In view of these superstitious rocks Jesus spoke of himself as the Rock, the foundation of his Church. Here he validated Peter’s confession “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” Jesus was teaching how important it is to know who he is and why he came to this globe.

Believers Know Who He Is

The Crowds Did Not Know Then … When Jesus inquired about the crowds, he was not seeking fan clubs or validation. He wanted his students to realize that the crowds had missed the point. “Some say ‘John the Baptist’ or one of the Prophets’.” These were confused, ignorant ramblings of people who had rejected him as the Son of God. It seems absurd to think that Jesus was the reincarnation of some of the most recent Bible figures, especially John the Baptist. Remember the crowds lived in very strange religious surroundings. Roman mythology, pagan pantheism, and Jewish self-made rules for living … these things permeated the culture.

Those who rejected Jesus as the Son of God had no clue. They were not connected to the Vine through his teachings. Some were living in mixed-up explanations of the Old Testament significance (the close of the Old Testament spoke of Elijah returning – figuratively, of course). They let their own imaginations run wild. Jesus referred to them as “sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).

The Crowds Do Not Know Now …Who do the crowds say that I am?” Jesus begs the question of every age? What do people make of Jesus today? Many deny it his Deity. Many rip his Words apart or make a mangle mess of them to say what they want to hear? But the issue is still the same: If you get Jesus wrong, you get everything wrong. The world is still influenced by the devil’s tricks and distractions. He still leads people around by their curious noses into all sorts of superstition and man-made theology.

Peter and his Companions Knew … You are the Christ the Son of the Living God!” Jesus explained: “This was not revealed to you by a man, but by my Father in heaven.” The Father gives truth and knowledge. The Father gives his Spirit and faith. The Father reveals a truth that no man could have invented or discovered: Christ Jesus is the Son of God. He is true God and true man. He is from eternity but born in time. He is God’s only begotten Son, born in time under law to redeem those under law (Galatians 4: 5). Peter confessed what he believed. Jesus is the rock solid foundation of the Church. “What about you? Who do you say that I am?”

By the Same Father and Spirit we Know … From our very conception we are steeped in idolatrous religion. The lesson speaks to our natural sins against the first command of God. If left to our own searching and religious superstition we would make a god out of all sorts of things: stone, creatures, self indulgence, pride and power. Even in our continued state we are often drawn to manipulate the true God into something else. We would rather have him be a creation of our own selfish inhibitions or humanly sinful inventions. No … we could not by our own thinking and choosing believe in Jesus Christ our Lord nor come to him …

But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith (Luther’s Third Article). By the Father’s gifts of revelation and faith, our confession is in “the Christ the Son of the Living God.” That is the one sure Foundation of his true Church. Believers know that Jesus came in the flesh to rescue us from the darkness of superstitious lies and bring us into the true knowledge that he has bled and died for us. He has lived, died and rose to life for our justification before his Father in heaven. He has opened our hearts and eyes to see clearly that the LORD is our God and there is no other who saves (Isaiah 45:21). By God’s grace we share Peter’s confession: “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God!”

Believers Confess What He Does

Jesus gets right to the “So what?”

On this Rock I WILL BUILD My CHURCH … Jesus builds his Church on his own Name. Jesus builds his Church on his Crucifixion for the sins of the world. Jesus builds his Church on the facts of his Resurrection from the grave. Jesus builds his Church by sending out His Spirit. That Counselor of Truth convicts the world in regard to sin. He convinces the world of his forgiving love in regard to grace. The Church is not built by a man, but on the One Man Christ Jesus, the Son of the Living God, the one mediator between man and God, who gave his life as a ransom (2 Timothy 2: 5-6).

The Ministry of the Keys Proclaims It … Jesus handed the Keys of the Kingdom to his believers. “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” After his Resurrection he reinforced that truth with these same pupils: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them they are not forgiven” (John 20: 22-23). Jesus gave his believers the power to call sinners to repent. He gave them the power to announce his forgiveness to those who heed that call. He gives the power to close the door of grace on those who reject His Name and reject Him as the Son of God and reject his teachings. When believers do this work, they are confessing the one who is the Foundation of the Church. They are proclaiming Christ Jesus as the Son of the Living God, whose work in this world forgives sins.

The Gates of Hell will Not Overcome It … Believers past and present lament over the sadness of those who still live in denial. Our hearts ache to see and hear such absurd reactions to the question “Who do they say that I am?” We feel sorry for them. In righteous anger we pray for the ruin of the teachings that go against the Bible and lead people astray. But rejoice with promise of our Rock, Jesus. “The gates of Hades will not overcome it.” His Father promised it too. In the second Psalm he poses the thought “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain … I have installed my king in Zion … My SON!” (Psalm 2: 1, 6, 7).

            Jesus called his disciples to learn and train on the rock of the northern hills. He calls us to learn from him in his house of Word and Sacrament. I pray that he brings us safely here often and that his Spirit leads others away from fleeting idols to himself as the Rock of their faith.

Here stands the font before our eyes, Telling how God did receive us

Th’ altar recalls Christ’s sacrifice And what the sacrament gives us

Here sound the Scriptures to proclaim Christ yesterday, today, the same,

And evermore, our Redeemer! (CW 529: 4) Amen.

 

Happy for Crumbs from the Master's Table

Matthew 15: 21-28 (Pentecost 13 – 2014)

“Happy for Crumbs from the Master’s Table”

The city of Tyre was a good 30 mile hike through the Galilean hills to the north west of Jesus’ hometown of Capernaum. The city of Sidon was another 20 miles north along the Mediterranean coastline. From there Jesus will take his seminary students to another mountain to teach 4,000 plus, and then east to Caesarea Philippi for training and prayer. Jesus was going out of his way to do mission work, do more preaching, and continue preparing for big stuff. This trip was the last little push before the final trek down to Jerusalem. He will be speaking openly to his trainees about what would happen there. He was going to suffer and die at the hands of evil men and then come back from the grave.

Entering the story of this trip is the Canaanite woman. Her daughter was plagued by one of the devil’s minions. She approaches Jesus with a clear confession of who he is: “Lord, Son of David.” She comes with pleads for help that seem like annoying shrills to His companions. Her story sets the tone for this Sunday and sets in motion one of the lessons Jesus meant to drop on his students often. Jesus came for sinners. Jesus reaches out to the lost. Jesus came for everybody, even those outside of Israel! Today he traveled a long way to prove it.

The Master Pushes Persistent Prayer

Jesus seems to get out of character. In complete silence he seems to ignore the pleas for help. She keeps pestering to the point that she is a nuisance to the disciples. Yes, the easily bothered friends of Jesus begged him again to keep them from being pestered by so many people. These were the men who went to lunch when Jesus met with the Samaritan gal. These were the men who began to push away moms and dads who were bringing their little ones to see Jesus. His silence was intentional. He meant to push everyone’s buttons a little longer. He even speaks to her through them: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (anxious for her next step … and their observations.)

The woman pushed back. She knelt in humble persistence: “Lord, help me!” He presses more buttons with a seemingly harsh comment. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” He was essentially saying what most people thought: The children of Israel saw themselves as the “chosen few” and looked down on others. The Gentiles who longed for a God of grace felt that they were left out. Jesus was testing to see if this gal, and his students, had overcome the stereo types. He pushed her persistence. She complied: “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

To this Jesus remarks about her great faith. The only other time he made such a comment was toward another Gentile (the Roman Centurion requesting help for his servant in Luke 9:7). It is interesting to note that Jesus applauded and rewarded the trust of many individuals, but two of them that are called “great” were Gentiles. He often remarked to his own students on their “little” faith. This woman was pushed to persistence in prayer. The disciples witnessed her “pass the test.” Her confession of Christ as the Son of David was ratified by her willingness to have “just a crumb” of her Masters goodness! She was confident that anything Jesus offered would be great … greater than anything she dared to imagine. Her girl was hurting and so was she.

Does Jesus push you? Does He seem to walk on ignoring? Does He remain silent in His answer to your requests for mercy? Do the crosses He asks … no, means … you to bear linger a bit longer than you would desire? Please remember that the Master is always teaching. He is fully conscious of your crosses. He is fully conscious of how far He can push your envelope of faith. He may be even intentionally expanding the limits of your trust in His mercy ... as we speak!

Do you see, even in His silence, how Jesus loves you! Do you see, even when He pushes back, how Jesus draws you closer to Him! Do you notice His patience, His enduring faithfulness! Jesus woos you into a persistent prayer life and toward a faith that grows to greater heights! He loves you so much that He is willing to push you to a place that your trust in His firm promises can be called great faith! Great, not because you are great, but because He has grounded you on Him: the Lord, the Son of David, who has mercy to give!  

The Master Gives Gracious Gifts

She was happy even to have crumbs from the Master. He was willing, all the while, to give her the whole dinner from His Table of Grace. “Woman you have great faith! Your request is granted!” And her daughter was healed that very hour. He granted her wish, not because of her faith, but because of his mercy. Her faith was great because that was His gift was great and He knew she knew it! In His great mercy Jesus rescued Her daughter from the Devil’s grip! But He also gave to her what He had done for Israel: the Salvation of her soul from death and the gifts of his Father’s eternal generosity … Heaven’s banquet!

The One who had come for the Lost Sheep of Israel, has come for sinners. He traveled mountains of miles to find them, teach them, tend to their needs, and love them … one by one this day … or by to crowds the next day. In the next lesson Matthew records another miraculous teaching and feeding of thousands. After one more seminary class with the students in the northeast, and his Transfiguration, Jesus begins the final trip south to face the cross.

Jesus, who calls us each by name, had this mother and daughter in his heart as he went along. He did not need to go with the woman to check and see. He did not need to prove anything to the disciples who at first saw the woman as a pestering distraction. He did not forget her name. He held it on his heart as He moved closer to the cross, knowing that the cross will pay for the sins his new friend and her little girl. She asked for crumbs. She would have been happy for crumbs! But she got a feast of gracious gifts from the Master Jesus. She was fed Grace!

And so have you! In these lessons, when we see our Savior reach the lives of people outside of Israel, we are reminded that Jesus is relevant. The Gospel of forgiveness in Christ is objective and universal. The woman confessed Him to be the Son of David, her Lord and Master. He had come from heaven to be Man for all people.

Remember how her confession of His identity is used in His own language: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost … ” (Luke 19: 10). “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20: 28).

In our own humanity we know our place. With her we fall to our knees and ask for His mercy. Many times in the past, and going to the future, Jesus leads us to ask Him for help in specific times of need and trouble. In daily confession of our own sins, we know we should be happy with just a few crumbs of his grace. But our Master opens up the storerooms of heaven and gives gracious gifts.

He may not always choose to take away every part of human grief. Some maladies in life are meant to help us grow in our bonds of trust with him. But he does promise grace and every blessing for those who have been trained b y him to trust in him for all things and above all things. Martin Luther commented about the First Commandment that the words “god” and “good” are so similar in most religions and cultures that it is no coincidence that even pagans known that that they need someone or something else to give them what is good.

Jesus drove the demon away from a little girl. He drives far from you the Devil’s attacks. Jesus dealt with the prayer of a Canaanite woman in humble grief and well spent confession. He certainly pleads to the Father on your behalf through the result of His own sacrifice. He went to the cross for the sins of the Canaanite people. He certainly canceled debt of your sins on the cross. He crushed the power of the Devil who once held death over our heads. He smashed the power of the Grave by his Resurrection to life.

But the Masters Table of gracious gifts is endlessly bountiful. He opens up His hands and satisfies the desire of every living thing. He feeds and clothes you. Like dogs we deserve to beg for crumbs. By grace He pulls out a chair and sits us down to feast. He pours into our cups the waters of Baptism. He serves up His feast of Body and Blood in the Bread and Wine. He pours out His grace and forgiveness through His Living Word. His Spirit convinces us to be absolutely certain that these are just a taste of the heavenly banquet he will spread for us in glory with him!

Happy for crumbs from the Master’s table? In love Jesus pushes us to persistent prayer. In mercy Jesus gives us gracious gifts. By His grace Jesus opens the Kingdom of Heaven … for you! Amen.

 

What Are We Doing Here?

1 Kings 19: 9-18 (Pentecost 12)

“What Are We Doing Here?”

The prophets of Baal had been defeated. The glorious showering of fire on Elijah’s mud-soaked altar proved once and for all that The Lord of Israel was the only true God. The silence and absence of Baal humiliated the wicked unbelief of heathen people. The Israelite men and women who had fallen into those promiscuous trappings of Baal were embarrassed and proven wrong.  What more could Elijah have possibly wanted?

News of Mount Carmel spread quickly back to the ears of Ahab and Jezebel, the wicked king and queen of Judah. They prospered under the evil times formed by idolatry. They wallowed in evil. They cared nothing for Elijah’s God or message. The news about Mount Carmel stirred up only more hatred in them for God’s messenger, Elijah. Jezebel publicly thirsted for his blood: “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” She was speaking about the prophets of Baal that Elijah had killed with the sword in the KishonValley. She declared publicly a vow to return the favor.

1. The Lord Has Placed Value on Your Life.

So Elijah ran away in fear. “I have had enough, Lord! Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Elijah measured up his life. He put his own human slant on the value of his ministry and life. He took account of the fact that many were still lost. He felt like a failure. Even after the triumph of Mount Carmel, the enemies of God pursued. After all the confidence and boldness, after all the slaughter of false prophets, Jezebel was still unmoved in her wicked heart. She was cold hearted enough to make vows in the name of gods that did not exist to kill the prophet of the one true God. Elijah was furious; sad; depressed; confused; afraid; and even suicidal. “I have had enough, Lord!” He went away to a broom tree to wallow in his own self pity. The Lord asked: “Why are you here, Elijah?”

We have all gone to that same broom tree many times. We have said it; thought it; wished it … those self-inflicting wounds: I have had enough Lord. I am at the breaking point, Lord. I deserve more. I have the right to give up. The pressure is killing me. I am worthless. My life has no value. Parenting remains a vicious cycle of not getting through. Feelings for family members, even among spouses, diminish to a dead calm. The strength to stir our bodies and minds in the morning becomes a chore. Everyone is against me. What have I done to deserve this? What good am I? I have had enough Lord! What value is there of my existence when I all I see and know is dead end roads!? When we measure our lives by our sinful selfishness, we measure wrong. Notice the sinful and selfish assessment when the focus is on me alone. Notice how wrong, and how disappointed, we are when we measure the value of our lives from human and worldly perspectives. And what broom tree do you run to?

God has placed a different value to your life. He values your life by things you and I cannot see or measure. His thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). God has the big picture in view. God sees the eternal good which will rise up from our troubling circumstances. God knows the plans he has for us and that they were designed in heaven according to his gracious purposes. He also knows all the abilities you have, because he is the one who has given them to you. He knows where your limits lie. He knows when your life has made an impression on others. He knows how the crosses you bear will strengthen your faith and character. He knows how they will end and bear fruit for the kingdom.

More importantly God values your life according to his grace. He values your life so much that he gave his Son’s life to redeem it from sin. Your life is valuable to God in terms of the priceless blood which his Son poured out to atone for sin. That is a priceless value on your life. He says you are more valuable than many sparrows. He counts the hairs on your head. He knows when you get up and when you fall asleep. He formed you in your mother’s womb. He values your very life. He was the one who gave it at creation, purchased it on the cross and made it holy in Baptism. He says to you and all “Fear not, I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death is the measure of the value God has placed over you. In carrying that value for you he makes your life valuable to others.

2. The Lord Has Measured Has Kingdom.

God’s message for Elijah was not a shallow pep rally, empty of promises and providence. In the next section of this lesson, the Lord provided food and drink for Elijah. He strengthened him physically for a further journey. The Lord knew that there was more work to do and that his kingdom was not as dead as Elijah thought. In a very vibrant illustration the Lord reminds Elijah that the kingdom of faith is not about the pomp and circumstance of Mount Carmel. It is not about the flash of earthquakes and firestorms. It is a gentle whisper, not measured by mankind. In fact, the LORD knew the very count of his people at the time Elijah thought he was the only one left: 7,000.

So the Lord strengthened Elijah and sent him on his way. There was work to be done. God knew the purposes he still had for Elijah, purposes which would serve the kingdom, not Elijah. In fact Elijah was given his marching orders directly. He was to kill more evil people and anoint new leaders for the church – leaders who would be faithful with the messages of God. His sins were forgiven, his heart was cleansed, he was equipped and encouraged to do what God was commanding him to do. The Lord gave Elijah motive and cause for getting away from the broom tree of despair and run to the fruitful vine of Christ where there was much good work to do. The forgiveness of sin and the existence of the kingdom gave renewed purpose to Elijah.

Our reasons for discouragement in kingdom work tend to lead to despair. Are we consumed by the Jezebels of the world who seem to never get it even when they’ve been proven wrong? Have we learned to rejoice with the “silent” seven thousand who quietly and humbly have not bowed down to another god? We tend to be blinded from the positive when we choose to constantly focus on the negative. We bounce between God’s measuring line and the yard stick of the world. The world’s yard stick asks questions like: Does it feel good? Why isn’t the school bigger? Why aren’t more people coming to church Sunday School? Does our unfinished work make us look bad? Does the Gospel really appeal to the masses? Will no one be offended? Is it politically correct? What do the people want? What does this have to do with me? Did it generate visible and tangible success or failure?

            God’s measuring line is strikingly different: What conscious efforts and decisions will bring glory to The God of salvation? What goals lead to strengthening of the faith in the unseen hearts of God’s people? What opportunities teach and honor the truth of God’s Word? What purposeful things are we doing to position the people of God to lead other souls to Christ and heaven and away from Satan and hell?

            God measures his kingdom for us. He has made it simple for us. He has given us one sure way to further his kingdom. He has given us one body and one Spirit, called us to one hope – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one word, one Savior one God and Father of all. (Ephesians 4: 4-6).  The Lord measures his kingdom of faith by peering into the hearts of all. He knows the measure of his kingdom. He sees his word at work and glad to see its progress even when we cannot. He has valued your life with his own, and has made your life valuable to others. Bought by his Christ’s blood, strengthened by his Word, we rejoice in what we cannot see. We live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). When each day is done, we have confidence in knowing that Lord, not us has measured who we are and give us peace, grace and strength for another day in his kingdom.

Do not look too far from your own homes and lives. God did not give Elijah a new and exciting job. He sent him right back to his calling. The Lord has already placed purpose into you very laps: the sacrifices you make for your family; the prayers you offer up for the gospel and its cause, students and teachers who have returned to classrooms and athletic fields, parent who tend infant needs, leaders who have been entrusted with responsibilities; think of the body of Christ as you do the things you do every day.

What are we doing here? If you find yourself in another moment under the broom tree of despair, know that Christ has sanctified you with his blood and sent his holy angels to keep you from all harm. If you are motivated to seek appropriate response to his grace, know that his kingdom has purposes for you. He will cleanse your guilt, remove your fears, and equip you with tools to serve those purposes. Rejoice that the Lord’s value on your life is the priceless sacrifice of his Son. Know that your labor in the Lord’s kingdom grants automatic purpose and that your labor in the risen Jesus is never in vain. Amen.

 

One Wish + One Treasure = Many Blessings

I Kings 3: 5-14 (Pentecost 10 – 2014)

“One Wish + One Treasure = Many Blessings”

God’s Offer to Solomon

Have you imagined what it would be like? Have you thought about what you would ask? Aladdin happens along a pile of lost treasure, dusts off a random lamp, and is approached by a genie who offers three wishes. What if the number of wishes was whittled to one? What of that wish granting was from God himself … a carte blanche, blank check from the infinite storehouse of the Creator of the universe?

God offered such a request to Solomon: “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Whatever?! That is a big offer! What one thing would you ask for? Our Savior on the night he was betrayed said: “I will do whatever you ask in my name … you may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13).  Remember that we ask “In his Name” and that what we ask is according to the will of God. Still, that is big generosity!

Set the Historical Stage

  • Solomon was the second son of Bathsheba, the marriage product of David’s most remembered and public sins.

  • David had set in motion a construction of God’s Temple, an undertaking that was to be completed by Solomon. The immense project would take 20 years to complete (1 Kings 9: 10).

  • The majority of the people were still offering sacrifices at the high places, symbolic of the false religions that occupied the land before them. Since a Temple for the Name of God did not yet exist, Solomon himself compromised and was offering thousands of sacrifices in the wrong places (1 Kings 3: 2-4).

  • Solomon’s step brother was already seeking his throne in devious ways, while Solomon was seeking to foster a time of peace and global stability among the nations. At the same time one of his marriages was for the sake of alliance with the pharaoh of Egypt.

  • According to God’s promises to Abraham and Jacob, God’s people had grown to the description: “as numerous as the sand on the seashore.” (1 Kings 4: 20). Solomon was to lead a group of God’s people “too numerous to count.”

Solomon’s Request

In view of this setting Solomon bowed in humility. He openly recognized the generosity of God. He openly recognized his own limitations and weaknesses. He publicly confessed the desire to follow his father’s advice to “be strong … and observe what the Lord requires ... and walk in his ways” (1 Kings 2: 2). Upon the invitation to make one, carte blanche wish Solomon asks: “give your servant a discerning heart (lit: ‘a heart that listens’) to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.”

In other words, Solomon asked for the Wisdom that only God can give. He asked for an understanding that comes from knowing the Holy Scriptures. “Help me think the way you do, LORD. Help me, LORD, approach the many nuance’s of life the way you would have me approach them. Give me a heart, LORD, that listens to your words!”

Later in his wisdom books Solomon personified Wisdom and equated God’s Wisdom with Christ the Messiah. He was the one who wrote, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7) Knowing and understanding the Lord’s Word is equal with knowing the love Jesus and how he deals with us. Paul put it this way: “I consider everything a loss compared to knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things” (Philippians 3:8).

God’s Response

God was pleased with Solomon’s request. He was pleased that he was not selfish and greedy. He was pleased that Solomon asked for something that would serve God’s people and bring glory to the LORD. Because of that, the LORD not only granted his one wish, but also showered him with many blessings.

Solomon used his wisdom to govern the people. The Holy Spirit used his wisdom to write a Psalm and three books of the Bible. Solomon’s reign was one of great prosperity and peace. He was remembered for his wisdom like no other man on earth. He also enjoyed the completion of the grandiose Temple that brought glory to God. He was blessed with great wealth and grand prestige among the nations. Under his leadership God brought about his many promises to make his people a great and powerful nation. Through Solomon’s reign, God furthered his plan to bring his own Son into the world for the salvation of the world. Through the keeping of one wish God brought many blessings!

Jesus Priceless Treasure

            Place yourself in Solomon’s sandals. What thoughts run across our minds? What desires live in our hearts when a blank check of God’s storehouse is granted? Can we not be accused of greed and selfishness? Does the destruction of our enemies seem most appealing? Would it not be tempting to ask that our problems float away on a magic carpet? Would life not be easier if there were a bundle of unlimited funds in the bank account? Perhaps the power and prestige to influence people and circumstances seems attractive! Lord, we sincerely confess our greedy desires and repent. Lord, grant us the wisdom to ask for your wisdom!

               And he does! He demonstrated selflessness. He demonstrated sacrifice. He demonstrated how he values us at the price of his own blood and righteousness. His cross is the measure of his love for you. His power over death is the demonstration of his Lordship over all things. His redeeming work and his desire for us to be in his kingdom moves him to say “Ask whatever you wish in my Name!” (John 14:13). Through the cross of Jesus we are redeemed from guilt. Through his Name we have the audience of God’s throne of grace. Through Christ we have been graciously given all things (Romans 8: 32). Through him true knowledge is eternal wisdom and power.

So what can we take home? We sing to our Savior: “Jesus, Priceless Treasure, fount of purest measure” (CW 349). We sing regarding his Word of Wisdom: “One thing’s needful Lord, this treasure, teach me highly to regard” (CW 290). We can pray with Solomon for a heart that listens to his Word. We can pray with Paul “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection”! (Philippians 3:10).

Priceless Wisdom = Many Blessings

Paul told Timothy to continue in his thorough study of God’s Word and wisdom, saying “the Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3: 15). The Words of God point us to the priceless treasure of Jesus and our salvation through him. In view of that priceless treasure, we are moved to ask with Solomon: “Lord, help me think the way you think! Help me approach the nuances of life the way your will guides me.” Through his enduring Word he helps us to remember the Word of God as the one thing needful that is “a lamp to my feet and light for my path” (Psalm 119: 105).

                Should we ask the Lord for wisdom in hopes that he will give us other things? No! Rather, we are blessed to see our needs and wants through a new lens. When the Lord gives wisdom to see his most precious gifts, we also see that we have been already been showered with all that we need:

  • Wisdom in Christ sees the Church and the Word of God as a blessing.

  • Wisdom sees Christian Education is a lasting and vital treasure.

  • Wisdom in Christ sees marriage and family as a blessing.

    (His wisdom guides the spouse, father, mother, children, citizen, worker, pastor, teacher, leader, etc.)

  • Wisdom in Christ sees God’s providence for daily needs a blessing.

  • Wisdom in Christ sees peace and prosperity as a blessing.

From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another” (John 1:17). Jesus said “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given as well” (Matthew 6:33). Through the wisdom of Christ’s cross we actually find that we live a very good life. In Christ, God desires to give us one wish desire. Through Christ, our Priceless Treasure, he desires pour out many blessings. Amen.