Wake Us Up, Lord!

Joel 3: 13-16 (Pentecost 9 - 2014)

“Wake Us Up, Lord!”

The Tones of the Alarm are Here

Jesus told us what the signs of the end are. Many will come in my name and deceive many ... You will hear of wars and rumors of war ... There will be famines and earthquakes ... You will be persecuted and put to death ... Many will turn away from the faith and betray each other ... Many false prophets will appear ... Because of increased wickedness the love of most will grow cold ... And the gospel will be preached in the whole world. (Matthew 24: 4-14).

Are we tempted to slumber while the world unravels into wickedness? Yes! Does the Lord promise to wake us up? Yes! The words Joel spoke are mirrored by Jesus and there fulfillment continues to be carried out before our very eyes today.

The Harvest is Ripe

The prophet Joel warned his contemporaries “The harvest is ripe.” It was a message repeated by the forerunner of Jesus, John, who said “the ax is already at the foot of the tree” (Luke 3:9). In other words, these signs have always existed for each generation as reminders of our own mortality and God’s readiness to judge between faith and unbelief.

            Today you and I witness these signs as reminders that the harvest is ripe. The Day of Judgment is coming. It could be today, it might be tomorrow, it may not be in my lifetime, but it is coming. We see the signs. False teaching abounds among those who claim to be followers of our Savior. Wars seem almost impassible, unnecessary evils in matters of necessity. Christians are still being put to death around the globe, and even now in our beloved nation, are persecuted for the truth. Global calamities and natural disaster have become a nightly report on the evening news. The word “news” is almost laughable for nothing is news anymore. The love of most grows coldly into isolated lifestyles, absent customer service, and failed acts of kindnesses even by God’s own children. We have stopped caring, calloused by what Joel so prophetically spoke …

But the ripe harvest for the Lord is not just about the signs of the times which stand for for evil. There is good news in the last days. There is the completion of God’s Elect. God tells us that the time will come when he has gathered his Church here on earth. Christ and his believers will be safe and be brought perfectly into his kingdom. Because of his promise “The Gospel will be preached” you can be certain that the believers will face judgment day with safety and security in his blood and righteousness. As we continue to hear the gospel and receive forgiveness we know the blessing of his Supper to be true: “Keep you in the true faith until life everlasting!”

So Great is Their Wickedness

Even in Joel’s days God’s anger burned against a world of evil. From Joel’s perspective, God’s destruction of Jerusalem will dawn on people who fell into bad theology, wicked behavior, families broken by filth and greed. God’s kingdom work and temple worship was left for dead in Jerusalem. Even the leaders were just going through lazy motions, complacent because, they thought, no one else cared either.

We don’t have to look far for those prevalent signs of the times. Smut permeates the internet and sadly our own living rooms. What used to be cause for shame is now championed as acceptable behavior. Wickedness becomes so prevalent that even the faithful begin to say, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

How true today are Paul’s words “Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is their destruction, their god is their stomach, and the glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.” (Philippians 3: 18-19).

The Valley of Decision

God says that he is ready to judge. He was prepared to send a flood on Noah’s contemporaries. He was prepared to rip down the Temple of Joel’s time so that not one stone was on top of another. He is ready to judge a harvest of souls that are ripe for judgment today. The Valley of Decision does exist. As Paul reminded the people of Athens, God has indeed appointed a Day and raised his Son from death as evidence of eternity (Acts 17:31). That Day, in that valley, God will separate from himself all those who rejected his Son, and gather to himself all those who were brought to faith in his Son. He won’t have to think too hard, or ask for a jury deliberation. He will simply separate the wheat from the weeds and be done with it.

Our prayer is that Lord continues to rouse his people to that fact and lead us believe, teach, confess and defend that truth at this place and everywhere. Our prayer, or confidence, is the Lord of the Church and the Prince of Peace keeps his promise that none of his sheep are missing from his loving arms on the Last Day. In spite of the many negative signs, the one positive rings true. The Gospel is being proclaimed around the globe and the Spirit is calling the Elect to faith. They will not be destroyed.

The Lord will be the Stronghold of his People

The message for God’s blood-bought people is simple. Be ready. Be prepared. Have your lamps of faith lit with oil of Jesus’ words and promises. Joel’s picture is so beautifully profound. Like a captain on a ship in a storm he shouts “Brace yourselves! Batten down the hatches!” We are like people watching the water teaming down into the valley because the levy has broken. What shall our hands of faith hold? What will give us a footing? What will be the stronghold securing us in the Valley of Decision?

Joel’s answer? “The LORD will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold people for the people of Israel.” Like an immovable bolder in a raging river, Christ is our solid foundation. He is a firm foothold. He is the anchor of our faith. His perfect sacrifice is the evidence in the Valley that God has declared us not guilty. He has washed us and made us ready in Baptism. He has bound his love to us in giving us his very body and blood as a constant assurance of his saving love.

It seems more than ever lately I have been a part of a discussion that begins, “I think Judgment Day is getting closer.” The signs are all around us. They are there as reminders to be deeply rooted in Christ and his Word. They are reminders to be deeply concerned about our loved ones and their relationship with Jesus. They are there as reminders to encourage one another and all the more as we see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:25).

They are there also to bring us joy: Our Savior says, “When you see these things begin to take place, stand up and lift your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21: 28). Unlike the enemies of the cross, “our citizenship is in heaven and we await a Savior from there, who will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3: 20-21). That certain promise of Jesus, makes the Day of Judgment one to look forward to. Wake us up Lord, our Refuge and Stronghold, our Lord Jesus Christ, wake us up to defend you truth and to rejoice in your coming Day. Amen.

 

The Word Works

Isaiah 55: 10, 11 (Pentecost 8 – 2014)

“The Word Works”

Rain is an interesting issue. Last week I was hoping and praying for one nice long rain shower. It was hot and dry and the gardens needed watering. If it did not rain, we would be moving the sprinkler and lugging hoses. This past week, I was camping, so we were hoping for nice dry cool weather so that we could go to the beach and go hiking and play games in the park.

Do we approach God’s were that way? When it suits us, a shower of the Gospel feels nice and refreshing. When we are busy about the games of life we would just as soon not have the Word poke its nose into our business. The truth is God continues pour out his word into the World. Our Lutheran confessions make a very simple but important statement: “Through the Word and Sacraments … the Holy Spirit is given, who works faith when and where it pleases God” (Augsburg Confession Article 5). God’s Word always works according to his will. It is truthful. It is reliable. It is always relevant. It has something vital say for every aspect of our life. God’s Work Works.

“It Feeds Souls”

As the snow and the rains replenish the earthso that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater.” Isaiah draws a beautiful illustration. God supplies waters to the earth so that his plants and vegetation grow. In doing so he provides for his creation. He gives food to every creature. He feeds and clothes the people of the earth. He takes care of you. In God’s creation we see the beautiful reality that God loves his people and means to take care of them.

In the same way, God was pleased to shower his Word into the world. He took great care over generations of prophets and apostles in writing down each detail. With every letter on each page another drop of God’s divines blessings pour out. In the same way that God provides physical blessings for our bodies, God’s Word feeds our souls. The Word works.

Humanity knows that. Our first parents after Fall felt the guilty need to run from God’s presence. Rather than receive the truths of a Holy God, they chose to clothe their bodies and hide in the bushes from him. The sinful nature knows that God’s word works. We know by nature that his truth will convict us of our sins. God’s Word hides nothing. God’s Word knows all things. God’s Word works to cause a hunger in us to be fed something wholesome and good to replace the emptiness of our fear and shame.

God’s Word replenishes. God’s Word feeds. God’s Word showers Christ. God’s Word points to the blood of his Cross. God’s Word releases us from sin and shame. God’s Word works through the waters of Holy Baptism and showers faith, righteousness and the pardon from God’s grace. God’s Word is feeds us through bread and wine, giving us the very body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. When God opens his banquet of love through his Words and Sacraments he nourishes our souls.

As the body needs water and food to survive, our souls need the Word. It would be foolish and deadly to refuse to take nourishment. In the same way, neglecting to feed our faith holds spiritually fatal consequences. On the other hand, a constant and healthy dose of Word and Sacrament gives spiritual health and life to our faith. As we drink deeply of the Spirit’s living waters he strengthens us for life. He gives understanding and discernment. He gives power in the face of temptation. He keeps us on a path that leads to eternal life in Christ Jesus.  

“It Does God’s Work”

The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow” (Hebrews 4: 12) “The Word will not return to God empty, but will accomplish the purpose for which he sent it.” You are God’s people. In Christ you desire what God desires. In the many facets of life the Word of God serves a purpose and works in serving each purpose.

That concept plays out in many specific ways. When posed with things that are not working or not going so well, human beings naturally look for a solution. God’s people know that in every challenge, in every malady of life, there is one tool and one common solution which is never broken. It has crossed generations and has been tested by time. God’s Word works and God Word does God’s Work:

  • Do you want to crush through the heartened heart of sinner who refuses to repent? The Word works.

  • Do you want to comfort a troubled conscience with the forgiveness of sins? The Word works.

  • Do you want to worship and songs to lift up souls? The Word does that!

  • Do you want to reach lost souls and lead them to the house of God? The Word works.

  • Do you want to move God’s people to give cheerful offerings? The Word works.

  • Do you want motivate people for serving? The Word works.

  • Do you want to assist Christian homes toward love and Christ-like living? The Word works.

  • Do you want to raise children through loving discipline and guidance? The Word works.

  • Do you want to repair troubling relationships broken by sin? The Work works.

We are both the sowers and the eaters of God’s Word. The two go hand in hand. Those who are nourished from the Word also cast the seeds of that Word out. We see that best our Savior Jesus. As he went and preached, he also took personal time to study and pray. As he faced Satan in the wilderness, he took up the full armor of the Word. As he faced his fiercest battles in the hours leading to his cross he gained strength from his Father’s Words and his Father’s purposes. On that cross he provided power of that Word to proclaim forgive for a world of sinners and for you!

The Word of God never returns to him, or us, empty, but always accomplishes the purposes for which he sent it. That is a promise of God. That is our confidence. The Word works. Amen.

 

The Victory in the Battle against Sin

Romans 7: 15 – 25 (Pentecost 7 - 2014)

“The Victory in the Battle Against Sin”

            Paul gets to the heart of every Christian by searching his own heart. In God-fearing examination of his own personal life Paul reveals a question every child of God has honestly asked “Why do I do the dumb things that I do?” Every one living by faith in Jesus is aware of this struggle. We know better, but end up falling into temptation any way. Guilt and repentance are related to faith. People who love Jesus care about what he says. People who care about what Jesus says are naturally troubled when they Fall into sin. The battle against sin is a daily experience for us. Paul explains that there is a victory. The battle is real. The victory is real. The battle is mine. The victory belongs to Christ who lives in me.

The Battle is Mine

I agree that the law is good … It is a battle, isn’t it? In this section of the letter Paul is explaining the spiritual nature and purpose of the Law. When he says, “LAW” he does not only mean the Ten Commandments. He is explaining the Biblical truth that we are sinful human beings. Looking at the perfection of God’s truth is like looking in the mirror. It reveals who exactly we are. It reveals every desire and action of our true selves. Paul owns his own guilt. It is personal for him. His battles with temptation belong only to him.

But Paul speaks of another a “law/ principal” a general truth at work in the members of his body. He does not mention it specifically. He presents the warring conflict of two principles. There is a source in the heart of every believer that desires what God desires. There is a Spirit living in Christians that hates what God hates. But the Christian message is not ignorance of Sin. In fact, Sin’s damaging control of us becomes all the more evident. The more clearly we understand and love God’s truths the more clearly we understand how wretchedly sinful we are at the core.

Sin seizes the opportunity afforded by the Law … It is a struggle, isn’t it? In introduction to this section Paul had written: “Is the law sin? Certainly not … but sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire.” It is not the law’s fault that we are sinners. We would be sinners even if we did not know the law. The law is divinely given for spiritual purposes to sinners. It is not only a mirror. It is God’s line drawn in the sand. But sinners that we are, we love to do what we are told not to do. We hate to do what we are expected to do. That is the very nature of Sin living in us. Draw the line and we can’t wait to cross it.

It is Sin living in me … It is a struggle, isn’t it? Paul personifies Sin as an angry slave master. He doesn’t speak of Sin as only an action of disobedience. He speaks of Sin as an active desire in our hearts. Sin living is us actively desires the opposite of what Christ desires in us. The more keenly we are aware of what Christ desires, the more keenly we understand how incredibly sinful we are. Paul explains that we are prisoners of a war that is unending.

Paul opens up the windows of his heart and head and says, “Look at what a wretched man I am!” He is not only thinking of his life without Christ and faith. He is not only wrestling over his days of killing Christians. He is speaking of his daily battles with Sin now. The struggle is even greater for him now. Without Christ sinning was easy. There was no guilt. There was no awareness of whom he was disobeying or persecuting. Now he knew that his Sin offends his Savior.

“The sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with one another so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5: 17). The opportunities for Sin catch us off guard every day. The invitations to be angry and short-tempered slip right into our hearts and minds. The invitations to be greedy and selfish are on every table, in every magazine, and every where that others are waiting in line. The invitations to lust and greed are woven into every TV commercial, magazine cover, friendly gesture, and even a well-intended pleasant appearance. The invitations to do the good that we should do are also invitations to be lazy and self-consumed by our own wants. When the phone rings our first thought is “What now?” or “Who’s that?” rather than looking for an opportunity to do the good that our love for our neighbor desires.

It is a struggle, isn’t it? With Paul we cry out as prisoners of war in this battle of laws. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

The Victory is Christ’s

Who will Rescue Me? … There is victory in this struggle. Notice that Paul’s answer isn’t in leaving the battle. His answer isn’t in becoming better in the struggle. His answer is not within himself. “Nothing good lives in me.” His answer is not in avoiding the law that makes him aware of sin. His answer is not in having hope for a better life or a better future. His answer is not in some hope that this struggle will go away. In fact, he had told the Corinthians about his triple prayer to have certain struggles removed from his life. The answer to his prayers in midst of struggle was so simple, but so powerful: Christ lives in me too!

In the very next chapter he beautifully explains that the Spirit and Christ live in us. Christ lives in us and puts to death the sinful nature (8: 10). Christ died for sin once and for all. His death to sin is our death to sin. In Baptism we are clothed with Christ’s perfection. In Baptism Christ drowns the sinful nature in us to death each day. In Baptism we are connected to his Resurrection. In Baptism and through the Word our new self is made alive each day. The cross where our sins were paid for is the cross where our victory over temptation is given. The victory in the battle against sin is Christ living in me through the Word. “Sin shall not be your master, for you are not under law, but under grace!” (Romans 6:14).

So here is the deal … The Gospel has the power to help us flee temptation. The Gospel gives us strength to say no to sin (Titus 2:12). The forgiveness we have in Christ empowers us cling to Christ in the face of Satan’s fiercest arrows (Ephesians 6: 16). The Words and Promises of Christ are the battle clothes and weapons we have and need for victory in our daily battle against sin.

Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Our Servant and Master, Jesus, beckons us “Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and burden is light” (Matthew 11: 28 – 30). In the great resurrection chapter Paul’s joyful conclusion to the work of Christ is the loud exclamation: The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul continues this victorious truth in the very next part of this letter: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that is was weakened by the sinful nature. God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.”

Close with Hymn 419: 1, 5 (CW)

Amen!

 

People Need THE Shepherd

Matthew 9: 35-38 (Pentecost 4 – 2014)

People Need THE Shepherd

Jesus folds himself in to the fold. He is preaching, healing, asking, helping, and teaching, all with the Words of the Gospel at center stage. He is interested winning souls for heaven. His mind is on the work and things of his Father. He is eager for the cross. He is a true Shepherd in every sense; a spiritual herald, trumpeting the lost the sheep away from danger and to the safety of his loving Word. In his compassion, he notices something and points it out: “They are being harassed, like sheep without a shepherd.”

The Wolf Is Harassing Them

Matthew calls them “The Crowds.” They are the villagers: working in the markets and fields, casting nets in the sea, raising families, going to synagogue. Even in worship theywere not being fed or led. They were being plugged into messages that distracted and divided them. The spiritual shepherds leading in the synagogues were belly servers with terrible theology. The Devil, the hungry wolf, loves to fill those voids. Sheep without shepherds are low-hanging fruit for him. The crowds were lost in many fogs, lacking true leadership and dangerously on a road to spiritual destruction.

The crowds today are harassed as well. As we go about market places and village life, raising families and seeking God, many souls are being led astray. The worldly lies of the wolf are folded into daily routines. The souls of the world are being distracted and divided. Even in houses designed for God, sheep are being attacked and led away. Even we are constantly saturated with the smug hatred of God and are prey for the hungry eyes of the wolf, the Devil.

  • The wolf has entered sheep pens through false teachers, throwing helpless sheep into confusion about the very heart of salvation and the things of Christ.

  • The wolf wiggles his way into legislators and politics that are a constant attack on God’s Word and on those who would actively seek to defend his teachings.

  • The wolf has led far too many souls into the fog of addiction of all kinds, crime and violence.

  • The wolf bombards our homes through the guise of TV and personal devices. Adults and children are distracted and divided within the walls of the same living room; eyes and ears fixed junk food for their souls.

  • The wolf loves his low-hanging fruit; sheep that are not well fed, and not well led.

Jesus the Good Shepherd brought his counter attack. With his “good news of the kingdom” he brought clarity of his Word. He introduced the healthy food and still waters of his sacrifice for sin on the cross. He brought his might in battle over the power of the wolf. He cut down the dangerous bad theology of the false shepherds. He explained prophecy. He brought repentance and forgiveness of sins. He proclaimed victory for the prisoners of darkness. He fed the good food of his blood and righteousness. He united and banded together a people that are his very own flock. He led with compassion and integrity. He gave his life for the sheep only to take it back up again. He means not to lose them, or you!

What do you see in our Shepherd in the lesson for today? Diligence to his task; Eagerness for his work; Faithfulness to his mission and message; Vigilance in the face of trouble; Compassion for his sheep! Resolve for his cross which saves us! In that cross the “Righteous dies for the unrighteous” to win souls for heaven; and finally, Leadership, with solutions and resources for the Ripe Harvest Fields.

The Lord of the Harvest is Calling Them

Jesus switches logically to another visual: “The harvest work is plenty; the workers are few.” Those who harvest wheat fields, or anything for that matter, know that when the fruit is ripe it must be picked. If it is not picked it will fall to the ground and go to waste. Jesus is saying that the harvest for souls is always ripe. It was plenty at the time of Jesus’ ministry. There were crowds of lost souls just in the cities of Galilee. In the very next lesson Matthew tells us how he commissioned his trained workers and sent them with marching orders and promises for the sake of winning souls for heaven. The Lord of the Harvest means to do something about ripe fields. He is calling souls for his sheep pen.

            The harvest is plenty these days, too. Around the world our mission workers are noticing wonderful fields and harvests. Across the nation our home missionaries can hardly keep up with the crops of souls. Right here in our own back yard, the harvest is plenty and the workers are few. Many of you have heard me speak of our contact lists. Through teaching and preaching the good news of the kingdom the Lord of the Harvest is producing ripe fruits. We have our own low-hanging fruit from which to pick: new names weekly added to guest registers; new families enrolled in Christian Education ministries; website contacts; requests for a visit from the pastor; the guest books from community outreach events; and the long standing relationship we have with a fast growing village. The Lord of the Harvest is producing fruit through the seed of the good news of the kingdom!

  • What can you do? Our Shepherd’s request is very simple, costs no money, and asks for but a bit of your daily time: Pray! Pray for shepherds who will feed the true message of Christ crucified. Pray for workers who will lead like the Good Shepherd leads. Ask the Lord of the Harvest to bless their labors with the harvesting of souls for heaven.

  • Take out your hymnals and read through the prayers of the ministry and missions sections. They are wonderful prayers.

  • Seek a list of missionaries and begin a daily routine of praying for them and their families by name.

  • What can you do? Be prepared for the thought that God’s people are his answers to our prayers. I am not talking about deputizing each of you for evangelism calls. I am glad to work at that labor with those who have those interests and gifts. But there is your life. Your callings in life matter to the kingdom of God.

  • Rejoice that the blood of Christ, God’s Son, purifies you from all unrighteousness. Know that his forgiveness and his good news make the things you do by faith a pleasant light to others.

  • Living and serving and laboring in your own settings matters. Our current study of Christian Vocation during the Sunday study time has proven meaningful in many ways.

The good news that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, drives mission work. The cross of Jesus proclaims the fact that every soul is precious to him; a sheep he came to rescue and ripe fruit for harvest.

Allow me to close with one of those mission hymn prayers:

Lord of the living harvest That ripens o’er the plain,

Where angels soon shall gather their sheaves of golden grain,

Accept our hands to labor, Our hearts to trust and love,

And be with us to hasten Your kingdom from above.

As Lab’rers in the vineyard, Lord, give us work to do,

Content to bear the burden of weary days for you,

To ask no other wages When you will call us home

Than to have shared the labor That makes your kingdom come. (CW 559: 1,2). Amen.

 

Jesus Eats with Sinners

Matthew 9: 9 – 13 (Pentecost Three)

“Jesus Eats With Sinners”

Did you ever get criticized because of the people with whom you associated? That happened to our Savior in the lesson for today. He hung out with a dirty rotten scoundrel tax collector named Levi. Levi later become known as Matthew and wrote about his association with Jesus. Matthew was a sinner. He had been living in the sins of greed and theft. The Pharisees were sinners, too. They labeled Matthew as a special kind of “sinner”. Setting themselves above everyone else, the Pharisees lived in denial of their own spiritual hunger. Matthew was hungry. He was hungry for the forgiveness only Jesus could feed to him. Today we rejoice in the comforting truth: Jesus Eats with Sinners.

Jesus Came For Sinners

Matthew was a tax collector. Rome had a long established system for gathering taxes. The taxation process utilized a certain commercial class of people in its various provinces. Rome was a very clever empire, allowing nationalism and religious freedoms, as long as the people peaceably parted with tax money to Caesar. Matthew was most likely a “grass roots” agent of a higher system that developed profits - mostly by over taxing and then feeding the “profits” into crude form of stocks - for the whole brotherhood of tax gatherers. Matthew apparently held a post in Galilee where he would have been encouraged by “higher ups” to get what he could for Rome, himself, and the company. At the same time he would have willingly put himself in a class of “heathens” or “sinners.” Matthew was willing to be a hated man in order to be a man of wealth.

Jesus desired to spend quality time with Matthew. He eventually called him to be one of his followers. Through this relationship with Matthew, Jesus was welcomed in to the world of “sinners”, the society of people who were classified by the Israelite religious community as the dregs of society. Of course, the self righteous snobbery of Pharisees was just as spiritually starved as the cheating frauds of the tax collecting society. Their rejection of Christ was more evidence that they were in denial of their own spiritual depravity. They all hated the fact that Jesus typically and purposefully associated with the outcasts.

You and I were outcasts. We were born in spiritual starvation. We naturally fit into the tax collector society. Starved for self-gratification the human nature is willing to seek its own good, even if it means lowering a moral standard to get there. We at times fit in with the Pharisee who, in an attempt to feel better about ourselves, are quick categorize others as something less, a deeper society of “sinners” that we are. Our deepest illness is diagnosed by the greatest doctor souls, Jesus. He calls us sinners, starved for what he has come to feed us.

Sin is a world-wide, culture-wide hunger. Sin brings jealousy, hate, selfishness, and wrongful pride. Sin is driven by more sin. Sin wants me to be bettered at someone else’s expense. Sin likes to even deny its existence. That is one of the greatest lies the devil throws. “You’re not so bad. What do you need this Jesus guy for anyway?” My flesh has a Pharisaical way believing that I’m not really that hungry.

Sin is also a terminal disease. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). “Through one man sin entered the world and death through sin.” (Romans 5:12)  In Adam we have all become one. “There is no difference for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3: 23) We are all dying of the same hunger: sin.

Our Savior, the Doctor who came, not for the righteous, but the unrighteous, has rightly diagnosed us as starve-craved sinners. Our Savior’s dinner at Matthew’s house is an outward show of his grace for the world. Jesus is willing to dine with sinners. That is why he came: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick … For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” His dinner with Matthew foreshadows his willingness to be counted among the sinners in his death on the cross. As he died between two criminals he fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy: “he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered among the transgressors. For he bore the sins of many and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53: 12).

Jesus Provides what Sinners Need

Jesus wasn’t saying that the Pharisees were healthy and not needing salvation. He was pointing out that in their self-righteous philosophy they no longer hungered for the food he had come to offer. Jesus was not saying that he only came to save only the dregs of society, either. John reminds us: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

Jesus quoted today’s lesson from Hosea. “Go and learn what this means:I desire mercy not sacrifice.” God wasn’t interested when Israel came with skin deep words of sorrow, while they were inwardly unconcerned about their relationship with a Savior-God. They were replacing the real food of Christ bought forgiveness with the junk food hypocrisy. How often do we deny our natural starvation for Christ, suppressing it with self esteem, or feeding it with spiritual junk food that appeals only to human emotionalism!

Listen to the constant emphasis our Savior carries: “I am the way the truth and the life, No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14: 6)  We are the ungodly for whom the divine gave his life. We are the unrighteous for whom the righteous died. HIS blood, HIS righteousness, HIS resurrection, His humility, HIS exaltation are the spiritual food required to satisfy our eternal hunger. He is the only cure for our terminal disease. He provides health and spiritual nourishment. He “forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases … redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.” (Psalm 103: 3-4) “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23).

Jesus eats with sinners. He invites the world of sinners to feed on him by hearing and believing his Word. He instructs and commands his people to teach and baptize all nations. He invites sinners who have been instructed to dine at his holy table and receive his body and blood together with the bread and the wine as feast of his forgiveness. We trust in that promise each time we ask his blessing on our physical bread saying: “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest!” His answer to that prayer each time is resounding “Yes, I am with you always to the very end of the age.” Jesus eats with you.

Does this lesson have something to say about our associations? The bridge that Jesus built through Matthew brought the message of the cross into a whole network of people who needed the forgiveness of sins through Jesus. In the hospitality of one meal, Jesus made it clear that he had come for all people. In the building of one friendship he introduced the Gospel to many more.

Jesus died for everyone. Jesus paid for the sins of the whole world. Jesus lived what he preached. Look around you. There are people hurting and hungering for the love of Christ. A troubled teen in the neighborhood, the introvert in your workplace, the nursing home resident you pass by in the hallway to see your loved one; the prisoners, the homeless, the helpless, those lost in spiritual darkness – like Matthew was before Jesus did something about it. Do you notice? Do you notice the Gospel lesson today giving you the permission, the compassion, the freedom to get criticized for reaching out to those that others would not?

Here is hope for all who grieve! Jesus sinners does receive!

Remember this: Jesus Eats with Sinners. Jesus is willing to associate with you every day. Jesus was willing to eat with us in this life, so that we will one day join him in his heavenly banquet of love. Amen.

        

 

God Is Everything You Need Him to Be

2 Corinthians 13: 14 (Holy Trinity Sunday)

“God is Everything You Need Him to Be”

Our armed forces have the very recognizable recruitment call: “Be all that You Can Be.” Willing and anxious cadets hear the call and know that the armed forces will bring out their best. At the same time the experience will enable them to exceed what they are doing now while serving God and country. We realize that our best is never enough, especially when it comes to spiritual expectations. Sinful human beings are a far cry short of God’s demands in the law. And in the daily struggles of earthly tasks, we do well to admit that there is much to be desired.     

Paul turns the tables in his closing blessing to the Corinthians. In this same letter Paul had said, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). God has the power to make his grace completely surround you in every circumstance. Paul closes that letter with the apostolic blessing, a blessing that announces the completeness of our Triune God. He is able to give us all that we need, because he is everything we need him to be. “The grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” is as much a description of who God is as it is an explanation of what he does, for us. God is everything you need him to be.

A Gracious Jesus who Saves

What do we need from God? What kind of God do we need? That question is simply answered. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to “aim for perfection.” Perfection is a noble goal. Perfection is what God expects from his people, because God is nothing less than perfect. “Be holy because I the Lord your God am holy,” says our God. This is where we pinch ourselves and find out that not only are we human, but we are imperfect. Not only are we imperfect, we are naturally evil. We have failed to love God above all things. We have failed to show complete love toward others. We have been drawn too many times to please our sinful flesh in many selfish ways. Aim for perfection, Paul says? We are far from that goal, our side of Christ.

Grace means undeserved love. Grace in Christ Jesus is what we needed. A perfect Son of God under the law is what we needed. A sinless sacrifice is what we needed. We need a Savior from sin. We need a Savior who could love the unlovable. “Christ died for sin, once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18). We need a Savior who is willing to redeem those who did not deserve the right to be redeemed. That indeed we do have in the Grace of the Lord Jesus. “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5: 6). Jesus is that gracious Savior from sin, and every time we hear this blessing we are reminded of his undying, undeserved love. We are reminded that Jesus paid the price on the cross to remove our sins and remove our guilt before God forever!

A Loving Father that Gives

That Kind of Love was begotten of the Father from eternity. We heard about creation today. “In the beginning God …” God always was; God will always be. In time he created us. In time he preserves us. He gives us food and drink, house and home, all that we need for body and life. He protects us from every evil thing. He sends his holy angels to protect us. It is no wonder that he pictures himself as a Father. No earthly father is perfect, but every father wants what is best for his children (Luke 11: 13). And God our Heavenly is perfect and when his will is accomplished, “all things work together for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

Our Creator, our Father, loves us. He shows that he is everything we need him to be. There is good reason why he went into such detail describing his creative work. The opening pages of the Bible get right to the point: God made me and every creature. God loves and cares for what he has made. What is more he shows that love by sending us his Son and his Holy Spirit that we may share in all the good things that he is. “Every good and perfect gift comes from above, come down from the Father of heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). Our father generously opens his hands and satisfies the desires of everything living thing; and you are worth more to him than many sparrows.

A Holy Spirit that Unites

What do we need from God? What kind of God do we need? That is also answered by Paul’s encouragement, “be of one mind; live in peace.” The congregation in Corinthian was all too familiar with disunity, division, and disagreement. It had been divided over worship issues, discipline matters, personality conflicts, ministry practices, and personal issues regarding home life. Paul’s letters to Corinth were more out of necessity than they were personal greetings.

We can relate. “Be of one mind? Live in peace?” Some days, even congregational life seems far from it. The devil works hard at dividing us and driving us to complaint and gossip. We need something, someone, outside of us to bind us into unity. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of Peace” (Ephesians 4: 3).

This is where the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit fills a great need. Through Word and Sacrament he strengthens our relationship with Christ. Through the message of the Gospel he unites us to Christ and to each other. He binds us together by binding us to Christ. Like a band of iron around a wooden barrel, the Holy Spirit wraps his power around his church. He continues to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify the whole Christian church on earth and keep it with Jesus Christ. What would otherwise spin out of control by the force of sinful nature is bound together in “one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4: 5-6). The Holy Spirit is the binding Spirit we need him to be, to keep the unity and peace in God’s kingdom.

Our Triune God is everything we need him to be: A Savior from Sin, a Father of constant, generous love, and a Binding Spirit of unity. In this very letter Paul had summarized that point so well with these words: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). The blessed Trinity, Father Son and Holy Spirit is that complete God for you. Amen.

 

The Holy Spirit Brings Conviction

John 16: 8-11 (Pentecost – 2014)

“The Holy Spirit Brings Conviction”

            The Day of Pentecost was a turning point for the Church on earth. The Old Testament promises were fulfilled in Christ. The messages of God would no longer be conveyed through prophets and priests. The words and works of God would be proclaimed by witnesses of the Christ. That turning point is marked by the arrival of the Holy Spirit, that gift which Jesus had promised. Men who had locked themselves behinds doors in fear, now stood out in the public square for all to see and hear. Jesus had instructed them in all that they needed to know to be his messengers. Now they also had the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They were empowered and motivated to proclaim Christ crucified and risen again. The Holy Spirit had given them conviction!

“He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment”

Conviction of Sin

“Because men do not believe in me.”

That is exactly what happened on Pentecost. Peter preached his first sermon … and it was a whopper. He explained Joel’s prophecy and his meaning for the Day. He pointed his message at all who were there that day. He spoke to the hearts of those who were responsible for putting Jesus to death. He used the Scriptures masterfully to point out that Jesus was the Son of God. He announced the resurrection with boldness as one who witnessed the Living Lord Jesus.

Luke tells us that the “people were cut to the heart” (Acts 2: 37). The clear teaching of God’s Word led them to see that they were responsible for the crucifixion of the Son of God. They in ignorance pushed for death because they did not believe in him as the Son of God. The penalty for blaspheme was death. They killed the Son of God. Peter told them so. The Holy Spirit, through Peter’s message, convicted them of true guilt. When they believed, they were convicted of their sins. They cried out “what should we do?”

We are just as responsible. When we sin against God, we are the cause of his execution. When we seek our own interests we demonstrate weakness in faith. When we turn our trust away from God toward other priorities, natural unbelieving tendencies are rising up in us. Sin is the result of unbelief. Unbelief is a part of our born condition. Our Old Adam must be cut to the heart with conviction. The Holy Spirit has the power and the tools to cut us to the heart with conviction of sin because of unbelief.

 

Conviction of Righteousness

“Because I am going to the Father.”

Jesus has earned it for himself … and for all of us. In his lengthy prayer later that evening he said “Now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had before the world began.” It is time, Father, for things to be the way they were!Jesus completed the work his Father sent him to do.Peter’s Pentecost Day sermon touched on all the big stuff: Old Testament prophecy from Joel; the Work of the Holy Spirit, the crucifixion of Jesus; and he capped it all off with the Resurrection and the Ascension: “God has raised this Jesus to life … Exalted at the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Acts 2: 32-33). Jesus knew it was soon time return to the glory he left behind. Righteousness for mankind was made complete!

His completed work brought perfect righteousness to the world of sin. Jesus took away our guilt on the cross. There he traded it for his perfect life of innocence for our sin. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in his we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5: 21). Now he is at the position of power and authority. Our Savior sees it has his personal mission and gift to make certain the Spirit lives and breathes in your hearts. In your hearts, he ramps up the faith he placed there. He convinces you that Christ has justified you before God. His blood and righteousness are your glorious dress.

In your hearts, the Spirit also increases fruits of righteousness. Because the Spirit lives and breathes in you, you are the workmanship of God. In you he produces the things that please him: “love, joy peace, patience kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5: 22). “Sin shall not be your master, for you under not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6: 14).

Conviction of Judgment

“Because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”

Jesus himself said during Holy Week: “Now is the time for judgment on this world; the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all me to myself.” (John 12: 31-32). Jesus ties all three convictions together. Since the Fall of Adam, unbelief and sin resulted; the devil seemed to have a foothold on the world; and a Judgment Day was inevitable. Even the Bible gives the devil a bit of “dominion” in this world (Romans 8: 20; Ephesians 6:12). But his control is only over the unbelievers. Rejecting Christ in unbelief is really the final sin against God, one that cannot be removed.

Since Christ’s death, the devil suffered a big loss and was forced into his own darkness. He has been condemned with our sins. The book of Jude describes the devil and his fellow rebellious angels as being bound up in chains until the Day of Judgment (verse 6). A chained dog can only harm those who are foolish enough to play around in his reach. Christ and the Holy Spirit have chained the devil and all his angels liked ferocious wolves. Paul told the city of Athens that the Resurrection of Jesus proves it. God has set a day. In the mean time the Spirit brings Pentecostal conviction.  

There is warning in this Pentecost Conviction: Flee from the chained dogs! Stay away! Curb sin by putting unbelief to death! Judgment Day will come!

There is comfort in this Pentecost Conviction: You are safe with Christ and his Spirit. Your sin and unbelief has been conquered by his cross and empty tomb! Judgment Day will come, and for us it will be a day to lift up our heads with joy to see our redemption drawing near (Luke 21:28). In that Holy Spirit-given conviction we sing:

Holy Spirit, Pow’r divine,

Dwell within this heart of mine

Cast down ev’ry idol throne;

Reign supreme and reign alone! (CW 183: 4)

In Jesus Christ, Amen.

 

Jesus Is Praying for You

John 17: 9 (Easter 7 – 2014)

“Jesus is Praying for You”

“I pray for them. I am not praying for the world;

but for those you have given me, for they are yours.”

I am praying for you …” We have all said it; all heard it. Children of God mean it. It seems like the most obvious thing to say when a friend in Christ is hurting. As human beings, we all know how easy it is to forget, or to struggle for the words. Sometimes we tremble at the thought that we had promised to care enough. Each time we tremble at the thought of our limitations to solve anyone’s problems, including our own.

Jesus, our Great High Priest, says it, means it, and does it with divine perfection. Jesus is praying for you! How cool is that! Paul said “we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes with groans that words cannot express” and “Christ Jesus who died and rose to life is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8: 26, 34). Jesus is praying for you. He told his disciples that on the night of his betrayal. He leaves you in the world and, remains, with you against the world. You belong to HIM.

Because You Are in the World

The Wise and Foolish Builders                                                              

At the close of his “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus teaches the brief parable of the wise man who built his house on the rock and the foolish man who built his house on the sand. His main point is “blessed is the man who hears the words of mine and puts them into practice” (Matthew 7:24). But did you catch the subtheme? The winds came and blew and beat against both houses! Jesus does not promise to take us away from the world and its problems. He means to leave us where we are for now. “They are in the world!” You are not immune to the troubles of life in a sinful, wicked world. This world feels the dreadful results of Adam’s fall. Jesus knows this and cares about this and prays for you in all circumstances. Those who house is built on the rock will stand up against the winds and waves of evil.

 

Things Jesus Prays for You

            When you are sick … Jesus knows why, and knows what he will bring of it. He may choose to allow suffering to linger. He may whisk it away. Either way He still cares about your pain and speaks to your Father about it.

            When you are persecuted … Jesus does not pray for your enemies but wages war on them! “I do not pray for the world!” is big stuff. Jesus is on our side. He defeats the plans and purposes of our foes. He says blessed are you when you are persecuted; your reward is in heaven (Matthew 5:11).

            When you fall into sin … Jesus leads you to repentance. He listens to your confession. He points to his cross and demands that your Father forgive! As he did for those who crucified him, your High Priest pleads daily for your forgiveness.

            When death lurks around corners in your life … Jesus prays, with compassion that was shown at the tomb of Lazarus. He asks his Father to give you courage, strength of heart, and certain joy in the face of death. He reveals his Resurrected body as proof that death cannot defeat his people and that heaven is a place of life.

Because You Belong to Him

“I pray for them. I am not praying for the world; but for those you have given me, for they are yours.”

When Adam and Eve disobeyed the results were damaging. The very first thing that was damaged was the relationship between them and their Creator. That broken relationship brought evil and deadly consequences. It also created an ongoing divide between those who believe in the one true God and those who persist in their rejection of Christ and God. Born in sin, we do not naturally belong to God spiritually. We are born in hostility to our Creator.

God intervened. We now belong to God for two reasons. I like to use the illustration of Geppetto the toy maker from the story of Pinocchio. He made the puppet. Because the puppet was his creation the toy belonged to him. But he loved the thought of having him as a son. The magic of fairy tales used his love and joy to make the puppet come alive. Now Pinocchio was not only a created possession, he also belonged to Geppetto as son through the gift of his father’s love.

  

The High Priest’s Sacrifice Has Restored and does Repair

            In a similar, but divine way, we belong to God our Father. He is definitely our Creator. We are his possession because he made us. But the Father-Child relationship has been restored and repaired as well. In love our High Priest made atonement for our sins at the cross. In Baptism God has cleansed us. Through Baptism the Holy Spirit has planted faith in Jesus. Through the message of Isaiah the LORD speaks “fear not I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43: 1).

            Jesus has called us out of the darkness of the world in order to make us his lights in the world. He has marked us as sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. He says, “I pray for those you have given me, for they are yours.” Jesus knows that his Father cares for us. He has spared no expense to make us his children. Jesus knows, that just as he accepted his Sacrifice for our sins, the Father will receive his words of prayer on our behalf.

            Jesus is praying for you.

The Omniscience/ Omnipresence/ Omnipotence of Christ!

Remember, also in the “Sermon on the Mount” when teaching us to pray? Jesus said “Go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen.” (Matthew 6:6). Jesus knows all things. He knows what you need and what you will ask. Jesus is everywhere. You have his undivided full attention. Jesus is almighty. He has the power to do anything that is in line with his Father’s gracious will for your lives. As you also go to him with confidence, and many questions, know that Jesus personally carries those thoughts to the throne of his Father’s grace. Jesus is praying for you! Amen.

 

Jesus Makes Two Ascension Promises

John 14: 1 – 4 (Ascension - 2014)

“Jesus Makes Two Ascension Promises”

Promises, promises! Everyone makes promises. Many promises are broken. Only our saving God can make promises that are truly reliable. Jesus makes two Ascension Promises in the Gospel lesson tonight.

Our Savior knew what was about to happen. His words are offered to the disciples the night before he died, in the upper room. He knew about the suffering and death. He knew about the resurrection. But he was even looking beyond those highlights to his Ascension and what that meant for those disciples. They were used to having him around. They were accustomed to asking him questions, having all the answers, teaching and healing, and being the leader. After the Ascension, their connection with him would be much different. They would not be with him physically. They would have the power of his Word, the Counsel of the Holy Spirit, and the fellowship of believers. They would be the teachers and preachers. They would be the leaders. But Jesus assured them that his physical leaving, his Ascension into heaven, would not mean that he was deserting them. His Ascension makes two certain promises. He was leaving to prepare a place for them. He was also going to come back and get them. Upon his Ascension he assured them, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28: 20)

1. He is Preparing a Place For You.

On the night he was betrayed he told them: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, Trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” What does it mean that Jesus is preparing a place for us? Does heaven need remodeling? Is my room not built yet? In a spiritual sense that is true. Who of us belongs in heaven naturally? The Psalms ask us “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:3 - 4)? We are not naturally fit for heaven. We do not naturally have pure and decent hearts. It is not that heaven is not ready; In his Father’s house are many rooms. They are already there. But it is my ungodliness, my sinful condition, and my selfish heart that has no place there. You and I are not natural roommates with God. Our sins have separate us from God (Isaiah 59: 2). Even as we speak, another preparation is being attempted. The devil is working hard to prepare a place for us with him in hell, and our flesh is constantly longing to see it.

Christ is talking about a heavenly preparation for us. It begins at the cross. There he pleads to the Father on our behalf “Father, forgive them.” There he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 2:2) In heaven now he is the “one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” (Timothy 2:4). In heaven he points his father to Calvary. He is why we sing “I am but a stranger here, heaven is my home.” We have one in heaven who speaks the Father on our behalf, Christ Jesus, the RighteousOne (1 John 2:1). The ascension of Jesus reminds us and assures us that “our citizenship is in heaven and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ who will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21).

Jesus in Heaven continues to serve as our Prophet, Priest and King. As Prophet he makes absol;ute certain that his Word is proclaimed and given to the world of sinners who need to hear it. He makes absolute certain that his message of forgiveness comforts our troubled hearts. As priest he is taking our prayers to the throne of his Father. He is pleading for our forgiveness each day. He is pointing his Father to the one time sacrifice he made on the cross for us. As king he is governing the world of trouble, using all events to his wonderful plans of good for his people. He is watching over you and making his throne in your hearts through the Holy Spirit.

The Resurrection that we continue to celebrate solidifies the work that Christ has done. He is indeed the Son of God. He has indeed cleansed our hearts of sin. He does in fact hold the keys of heaven and has opened up the gates to eternal life. The Ascension makes promises. The fact that he went there is proof of his promise that heaven is a real place that we too will one day enjoy for all eternity … for you!

2. He is Coming Back for You.

His second promise is just as valid. He not only went to prepare us for that place. Jesus also says, “And if I go … I will come back and take you to be with me.” So now we wait. The psalms call us watchmen waiting for the morning. Ascension is a reminder that God’s clock is not like our clock. The Bible says Christ is coming soon. “Soon” is the “get ready” of ascension.  And we get ready by devoting ourselves to the Scriptures, to the Sacraments, to the fellowship of believers, to prayer (Acts 2: 42) and to the mission of the Gospel throughout the world. Like watchmen on the walls, we stay alert and ready, calling others to repent and believe the good news. We speak the Word in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2). We encourage each other with words and actions of Christ-like love. We live by the truth, showing ourselves to be his disciples.

The angels told the disciples to stop staring at the sky. They were to leave the mountain. There is work to do! Their watching would not bring him back any sooner. A watched pot does not boil. He will come back, the same way you saw him leave – when HE is ready. In the mean time, busy yourselves with the important things he has given his people do you. Live out your lives to give him glory. You are serving the King of heaven, not the men of earth. You are waiting for a Spiritual home, not muddling for a spot in the ground. In Christ, the Ascended Lord, you are the recipient of God’s generous grace, no longer a slave to sin.   

McArthur told the allies, “I shall return.” He did return and the war was won. Jesus has already won the war, and tells us “I shall return.” “Look he is coming on the clouds and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him” (Revelation 1:7). And when he comes, he will take us to be with him. Is that not one of the greatest descriptions of eternal life in heaven! We will be with Jesus. Imagine the hope that gave to these men who had the privilege of being with him for three years. Now they had the promise of being with him for eternity. And so do you. Take double courage in our resurrected and ascended Lord. He is going there to prepare a place for you. He will come back to take you to be with. And so we will be with the Lord forever, therefore encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:17-18).

On Christ’s ascension I now build the hope of my ascension.

This hope alone has always stilled all doubt and apprehension;

For where the head is, there as well I know the members are to dwell

When Christ shall come and call them.

Since Christ returned to claim his throne, Great gifts for me obtaining,

My heart shall rest in him alone, No other rest remaining,

For where my treasure went before,

There all my thoughts shall ever soar

To still my deepest yearning.  (CW 173: 1-2). Amen.

 

Jesus Is the Way, the Truth, and the Life

John 14: 5-6

A Meditation for Confirmation Sunday (May 18, 2014)

& The Gospel Lesson for Easter 5

“Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life”

In Christ Jesus; fellow believers, parents and grandparents, friends and family, members of Crown of Life, and especially the students of our 2014 Confirmation Class.

           

The Gospel lesson today is a reprise back to the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday. We here a small portion of his final instructions. We hear a catechism question from Thomas. The answer the Jesus gives ties the events and meaning of Holy Week to our continued Easter celebration. His answer is fitting for Confirmation Sunday as well. Today we remember and confess that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Thomas

Questions and comments from Thomas sort of “bookend” the events of Holy Week. Thomas sat and listened to Jesus for three years. Thomas sat with his fellow students, perhaps for the last few days and weeks in the same room. Thomas was eager to ask questions in order to learn the truth. Thomas faced doubts and uncertainty when his sinful weaknesses caused him to question the Easter Message. Those questions were already there upon the night of his first communion and in the weeks after the Lord’s resurrection. Like all of us, having the Lord Jesus, his Word and Supper, front and center, did not mean that his faith was honed to perfection. His heart and head needed constant reminder and instructions. Upon seeing the certainty of Christ’s resurrection Thomas confessed his faith with certainty “My God and My Lord.”

As with Thomas, so it is with you, confirmation class. You have learned the truths of Jesus all your life. For the past three years you have learned those truths through catechism instruction. As we sat together in the same room twice a week, you learned what Thomas learned. As with Thomas you had questions and comments. You were eager to learn, most daysJ. As with Thomas you have questions that indicate that you have not learned everything. As with Thomas, there will be days that will be filled with doubts. You will demand proof. You will be afraid about things going on in your life. You will need Christian companions to help reel you back in to Jesus: alive; truthful; forgiving and faith-giving.

Maundy Thursday

Jesus was doing final instructions and prayer on the night he was betrayed. Jesus was teaching his servant love for his friends. Jesus introduced his Holy Supper. Thomas and his friends received the First Communion as their first communion. Maundy Thursday was Jesus’ way of telling his disciples: “You are ready now for grown up things.”

The last few weeks you have been receiving final instructions. You have been reviewing Bible passages and notes. You have been learning about a Savior who serves so that you in turn will become people who serve each other. Today you will give clear confession of your Savior. Today you will receive you first communion. His Words and his Supper will now continue to point you to Him as the Way to forgiveness and the only Way to be granted the certainty of life with him in heaven. Knowing deeper truths in Christ, you are now ready for more grown of things: like faithfulness to the Word, bearing under new kinds of crosses, and receiving the Lord’s Supper as often as it is offered.

Good Friday; Easter & Ascension

Because of our sin we are born believing the lies of the devil. There is no truth we could invent or contrive that would rescue us from sin. The crucifixion of Jesus, the Name of Jesus, the redeeming work of Jesus is the only Truth that rescues us from sin. The result of sin is death. If Christ is not raised, there is no real Life. The resurrection is proof that Jesus crushed the power of death and gives eternal life to all who believe. Like Thomas, we naturally wonder, what is the Way? The Ascended Lord Jesus teaches us that he knows the Way. He is the Way. He has gone there to prepare a place for you. And when he comes back he will take you there. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Jesus told Thomas after the Resurrection:

Because you have seen me, you have believed;

blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20: 29).

Today we have clear evidence of that truth and promise. Jesus was certain then, and makes certain now, that his Words will bring faith to one generation after another. Confirmation is a great and encouraging Sunday to be reminded of that promise. To that end, we pray for these young people and for all the saints, that Christ keeps his promise to send his Holy Spirit and keep his Church faithful until that day he brings us the place of his Father of many rooms, a place where one of those rooms belongs to each of us because He is the Way the Truth and the Life! Amen.

 

Easter Faith

I Peter 1: 3-9 (Easter Two – 2014)

“Easter Faith”

            Peter’s fellow believers were living in difficult times. The infant stages of Christianity met with violent persecution, political confusion and unrest, and in many areas the believers in the Mediterranean world were facing economic struggles, earthly disasters, and worldly temptations. I guess you might say they lived in very similar times to us. Peter wrote to reassure them that God had not forsaken them. In spite of all their struggles, the Resurrection of Jesus assured them of eternal security. They had Easter Faith in a Living Lord Jesus.

The Bible tells us “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). How true that is in the wake our celebration of Easter! The Resurrection of Jesus solidifies that we believe in a message that was handed down to us from eye witnesses. We believe in something unseen but true. We wait in hope for something that we are certain will happen. Our trust is in something that is rock solid. Our Easter Faith is a Living Hope which gives us a Golden Joy. That was the message Peter wrote to the early Christians who were the first to spread the news of Christ’s Resurrection.

           

Living Hope

We have a living hope because we have a Living God. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our heavenly Father is the only true and living God. He is the Father of his eternal Son. The prophets of Baal prayed in vain to gods that did not exist. False religions spanning history and the globe promote hope in myths, genealogies, idols and self-made righteousness. They all lead to hopelessness and eternal death for those who trust in them. By God’s grace our Hope is Living because our Easter Faith believes in the only Living God. The Resurrection proves him to be the only true God and the only God who saves (Isaiah 43:11).

We have a living hope because in Christ God has provided Salvation that is certain.In his great mercy he has given us living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead … who through faith are being shielded by God’s power until the salvation that is ready to be revealed.” God had mercy on us sinners. A crucified Jesus was necessary for the punishment and payment for our sins. But a dead Jesus would be worthless to us. A crucified Jesus was the demonstration of God’s mercy on us. A Resurrected Jesus was demonstration of his power and grace. His Resurrection shows that the Father accepted his payment for our sins. His Resurrection shows that eternal salvation is valid and certain. Our living hope is certain because the Salvation Christ won “is kept in heaven for you.”

We have a living hope because we trust in an imperishable Inheritance. Peter says that the Resurrection gives us “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” Jesus tells us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). He was encouraging us to remain focused on our most valuable possession: our heavenly inheritance. He is keeping it safe for us in heaven. More secure than a precious jewel locked in a safe deposit box, we have Living Hope because nothing can destroy the inheritance that awaits us in heaven.

When we get there, nothing will diminish its beauty or value. No one will be able to thieve it away from us. It will never become null and void. Sin and temptation will be gone. Devil and world will be swept away. Death and things that caused it have been swallowed up in Christ’s Easter victory!

Because of our Living Hope Peter explains that we have reason to rejoice. We greatly rejoice now, and even in the face of adversity. Because of our Easter Faith we also have Golden Joy.

Golden Joy

            Peter was reminding the believers that, no matter what, their Joy could not be diminished. In fact, the Joy that is ours in Christ is improved through trials and grief. As gold is refined by fire, the faith of a Christian and the confession of the Church are burnished through its sufferings.

            “Though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” Peter uses the purification of gold to illustrate a meaningful truth. Through grief and trials faith is strengthened. Through grief and trials God burnishes his relationship with his children, one by one, using those trials to polish our joy. Yes our Joy!

            When Paul spoke about his thorn in his flesh, he learned that the Lord was using it to keep him from conceit and pride. He knew the Lord was focusing him on his grace and his ability to sustain him through ministry. Paul’s conclusion was “Therefore, I delight, in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecution, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12: 10). We have a Golden Joy because God uses our struggles to burnish our trust in him and our understanding of his all-sufficient grace in our lives.

God does the same with his entire Church as a whole. Our ability to rejoice in sufferings is matter of confession; now and upon the Last Day. God proves our faith genuine, “that it may result in praise glory and honor when Christ Jesus is revealed.” When God burnishes the joy of his believers and the confession of his Church others will see the fruits of our Resurrected Christ and God will be praised.

  • Three men spoke God’s praise from a burning furnace of persecution. They expressed Golden Joy.

  • Paul and Silas sang hymns in a prison cell. They expressed Golden Joy.

  • Many children of God lying on a hospital beds have expressed Golden Joy when giving thanks and speaking worshipful words through pain and illness and life-ending disease.

  • Many Christian Congregations and their Pastors have expressed Golden Joy when false doctrine forced them to burnish their faith and understanding by delving more deeply into the Word of God.

  • God has polished your ability to rejoice in many personal sufferings of your own life.

Paul wrote: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing the future glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18); and “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Our Golden Joy is also in view of our eternal life in heaven. “You are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy for you are receiving the goal of your faith; the salvation of your souls.”

Our Easter Faith is a confident faith. It sees the eternal light at the end of the earthly tunnel. Just knowing that our eternity is safely kept for us in heaven is reason enough to express our inexpressible joy now. Even, and especially, in times of trials, our Joy is burnished into a Godly golden confession of our Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus Christ. With Easter Faith, Living Hope, and Golden Joy we pray:  

O make your Church, dear Savior, a lamp of burnished gold

To bear before the nations Your true light as of old.

Oh, teach your wand’ring pilgrims By this their path to trace

Till, clouds and darkness ended, They see you face to face. Amen. (CW 279:3)

 

The Garden of Peace

John 19:38-42 (Midweek 6)

“The Garden of Peace”

I am a “radio-on-in-car” guy. Especially when I am driving around alone or on long trips, the music is a welcomed guest. I have one personal rule: I never have the radio on when driving in a cemetery. I just have this personal sense that cemeteries as a rule demand silence and serenity. A cemetery is the garden we enter tonight.

Gardens tend to evoke pleasant thoughts. We associate parks, large estates, arboretums, nurseries, and even simple flower beds with beauty, relaxation, serenity, and peace. Tonight we go to a Garden that is a clear reminder of what resulted in the first Garden. Tonight we go to a Garden that is the setting for graves, in particular the grave where the lifeless body of our Savior was placed. It was true then and it is true now, cemeteries are reminders of death as the wage of sin. It was true then and is true now, that the blow of that reality is softened by the fact that cemeteries become gardens. They are tended to by many people. Flowers and monuments, trees and ponds, chapels and caretakers assist visitors in having some sense of serenity for what is normally a difficult journey.

Consider what happened in the very first garden, the Garden of Eden. You would think that gardens would be abhorred by us as hideous symbols of violence, suffering, death, and pending doom. Adam and Eve had fallen into sin there, and since then all of us have been placed under God’s curse of damnation. Not long from now gardeners will finally get a chance to cultivate and plant, knowing full well that the garden will require labor and sweat. Sin brought thorns to all aspects of life.

The horrors that sprouted in that garden reached full pollination on the cross. Not just a man, but the very Son of God was placed under the curse of damnation. The powers of hell grinned, and demons danced with delight. Pinned to a tree, Jesus hung fully exposed to God’s burning, accusing stare. All love had deserted him. He cried out under his heavenly Father’s holy hatred toward all sin. So intensely was God’s anger focused on the cross that the world went dark around it. So heavy was God’s justice on him, the earth beneath him shook. Although Jesus was totally innocent, the full responsibility for all people’s sins weighed on him. The wrath of God over sin ripped his soul and body apart and he died. So appalled were his closest friends at what it all had come to that they had even deserted him, not knowing or even caring in what ditch his body might be flung by the Roman soldiers after the crucifixion.

But now we enter another garden, one near Golgotha, this one the result of what happened at Golgotha. It was a garden estate for the rich. There the lifeless body of Jesus would be planted. What a total contrast to the violence of the cross! Joseph of Arimathea, who was not one of the Twelve but sort of an unexpected friend, goes personally to Governor Pontius Pilate to retrieve the body. He is earnest with no sign of embarrassment or reluctance. Nicodemus, another unlikely friend, was the Pharisee who privately was brought faith in the night. He was the first man to hear the words of John 3:16.

We read in John chapter 19:

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (verses 38-42)

Seventy-five pounds of spices matched that of a king’s burial! Gently, quietly, they removed Christ’s body from the cross and lovingly wrapped it—almost as if they were now treating all those wounds, soothing those tortured limbs. Preserving that precious body was their aim. They rescued it from being tossed into a ditch for the mass burials of peasants and criminals. Instead, they gently laid his body in a newly carved, never-before-used tomb—the first and only occupant in this Garden of Peace.

Attempt to place yourself in that moment. No more screaming crowds. No more sounds of whips and metal. No more foolish questions from Pilate. No more sobbing from onlookers. No more scoffing and jeering from Rome’s soldiers. No pounding of nails and creaking of wood. No more! Two God-fearing men, working carefully and quietly, whispering instructions to each other, showing deepest respect to Him and others that had already been laid to rest. They purposely did not complete the process. They leave in silence from a place that is now intended to symbolize peaceful rest.

From the moment Jesus said “It is finished” on the cross, there was peace between God and the human race. The punishment for sin was over. We have nothing more to fear from God or from the devil. God is so friendly toward us now that just before Jesus breathed his last, he was able, with complete peace of mind, to commit his body and soul entirely to this God who had just been so harsh with him.

Walk through this garden and see the effects of Christ’s death, how the peace with God that he earned is evident. Jesus’ body was treated so richly and with such dignity. That demonstrates that the disgrace and horror of death is now gone. For us who trust in Jesus, death is no longer a punishment for sin. Our sins have been forgiven.

The pleasant way in which Jesus’ body was buried and its pleasant location show us that there is nothing for us to fear in death. As the Bible says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Ps 116:15). Jesus went ahead of us through the experience of death to render it harmless. It was no coincidence that Jesus’ burial preparations were not completed on that day. He wouldn’t need it. He would live again. It was intentional that Paul includes the burial of Christ in his meaning for Baptism: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death, that Just as Christ was raised from the dead ... we too may live a new life” (Romans 6: 4). Trusting Jesus’ burial and resurrection, we will rise too.

In the spring, people plant gardens, looking forward to the new life that will spring up abundantly more marvelous than the original seed it came from. We look at this Garden of Peace, knowing that what was planted there will spring up on the third day and produce abundant life for all believers. For this reason and with this anticipation, it is okay to make our cemeteries look like beautiful, peaceful gardens, because our bodies are merely planted in the earth to rise again.

Remember the importance of Christ’s burial, as we do in the creeds. Remember the peaceful garden near Golgotha as we anticipate the life that blooms from it. For though our lives here on earth last only a season, there is for us in Christ an eternal springtime in heaven. Amen.

 

The Day Jesus Cried

John 11: 17-37 (Lent Five – 2014)

“The Day Jesus Cried”

Allow me to rewind to the beginning of the chapter. Jesus was teaching near the Jordan River, the place where John had preached to and baptized crowds. John tells us that Jesus was bringing many to faith in that place. Into the foothills from there was the town of Bethany. Bethany is a small village just two miles from the Temple on the east side of the Mount of Olives. Mary and Martha had often opened their Bethany home to Jesus. They and their brother, Lazarus, had become his “family” while he made his festival journeys to the Temple. They were all close to his heart. They knew he was nearby: “So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’” (John 11: 3).

You might think the news of his illness would have made Jesus drop everything, even a thriving ministry at the Jordan, to go visit Lazarus. Martha even hints that she believed he would have healed him before his illness ended in death. Instead, “Jesus remained where he was for two more days” (6). Two days! In that time he continued to teach and wait. Two days later he said that it was time to go back to Judea. The disciples insisted that his plan to return to where people wanted him dead was a dangerous plan. We know that he was intentionally reaching the peak of his mission. His visit to Bethany leads us to Palm Sunday.

Jesus knew that Lazarus was dead. “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going to wake him up.” (The Scriptures many times speak of Christian death as a sleep ... more on that later). The disciples misunderstood and explained that sleeping would be good for him if he was still ill. Jesus explained clearly: “Lazarus is dead, and for your sakes I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe” (9, 14).

Upon his arrival, Martha confesses “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask” (21-22). The conversation that follows is one of the most memorable sections of Scripture. The comfort of the Resurrection is so clearly portrayed. “I am the resurrection and the life … he who believes in me will live even though he dies” Jesus said (25). Jesus speaks it so clearly! Also take note of Martha’s faith and confession. She trusted in Jesus and his Father. Martha believed in the Resurrection on the Last Day. She believed that Lazarus was assured of eternal life. She confessed Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of God who was to come into the world” (27). She trusted in him as the Savior of the world.

It was time to go to the visitation. It was time to walk with Mary and Martha to the grave. It was time to face friends and enemies who came the two miles from Jerusalem. It was time to hear Mary underline her sister’s plea “If you had only been here …” (32). Jesus approached the tomb. You can almost hear the sniffles of Mary. You know the moment. Two people who cared for one another stood together for the first time near the casket of a mutual loved one. Then, the shortest verse in the Bible speaks a mouthful: “Jesus wept.” The tense of the verb is emphatic: He burst into to unavoidable tears.

See the humanity of our Lord Jesus! “He too shared in our humanity so that by his death he might destroy him holds the power of death” (Hebrews 2: 14). In spite of knowing what he had planned to do two days ago, he was overcome with compassionate emotion. Almost dismissing in his mind what he was about to do minutes from now, he was overwhelmed with raw grief. The memories, the friendships, the laughs at the dinner table, the grief of the sisters, the pending agony of his own sufferings, the presence of his enemies, the nearness of his friend’s lifeless body … it all welled up in the heart of the Man, Christ Jesus. Jesus, overcome with the grief that comes with the death of a loved one … Jesus openly shed tears!

You know how the story continues. Jesus demonstrated his power over death. He offers a bit of instruction, including the rolling away of the stone (pause.) Only a few weeks later another stone will be rolled away … the one that closed him into his own tomb! Today he showed a precursor of that power by commanding Lazarus from his deadly tomb to present him alive to his sisters and to the crowds. In spite of four days of death, Jesus brought Lazarus to life. As Jesus draws closer to Holy Week, he draws a line between life and death and shows that he is Lord over both!

So what? Let’s draw five things from this lesson:

See him in charge again! Like the disciples, like Mary and Martha, we tend to view things through the lens of our own selfishness. We think we know what is best. We think we know better them him when it comes to his kingdom and his will in our lives. We like to turn our prayers into little pieces of advice to the throne of heavenly wisdom. As he did then, he still now demonstrates that his plans are best. His way of doing things are better than our own. His glory is served when things get done in his own way in his own time. Lord, have mercy on us when we have fallen into the temptation to suggest our own way of doing things. Lord, remind us that our ways are not your ways (Isaiah 55:8).

See his willingness to suffer and died for us. With this visit to Bethany he is a morning’s walk to the Mount of Olives and the East Gate where he would climb the back of a donkey on Palm Sunday. He is miles away from the people who were waiting for a chance to handcuff him and lead him to Caiaphas. He is miles away from Golgotha where he would shed his innocent blood to rescue us from our own condemnation. He was not in hiding. He was not keeping a low profile. He was setting out to willingly walk the final footsteps to the cross for you. His visit to Bethany was a public display of his resolve to do what he came to do!

See his personal compassion for each one of us. The tears from his eyes came from the genuine ache in his heart for his friends. In his humanity he feels your pain. He hears your cries for mercy. He knows your needs. He genuinely considers your hurt as if it were his own. His friendships in Bethany demonstrate a desire to be your brother and consider you one of those he loves! The day that Jesus cried is a day to remember that he loves you as dearly as he loved his Bethany friends.

See the power of his Word. His message comforted Martha and fueled her convictions of faith in his eternal salvation. At the power of his Word, she laced together phases that practically write the Apostles’ Creed. His voice commands the dead to come alive. His Word speaks forgiveness and peace to your hearts. His Word calms your fears, grows your trust in him, releases your heart from guilt, and leads you to say with conviction, in life and in death: “I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

See his power over death --- two weeks away from his own resurrection! How fitting it is that one of the last of his public appearances is the resurrection of a dead body. This Sunday we are focused on that truth. Christ’s power over death draws a contrast: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Jesus had told the disciples “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.” Because he is “the Resurrection and the Life”; because he is the “first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15: 20); every Christian need not fear death. We have the confidence in Christ to speak of temporal death as but a sleep. The death of a Christian is but a temporary extended nap for our physical bodies until Judgment Day. It is the ushering of our souls into the Eternal Rest in Glory with Jesus who became one of us to set us free. There, in heavenly bliss, the One who shed tears in this world “will wipe away every tear from our eyes, too” (Revelation 7: 17). Remember the day that Jesus cried as a day for believers to rejoice! Amen.