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God Changed a Name: Hosea’s Kids (Revisited!) December 23, 2018

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Hosea 1-2

 Advent Midweek 4

December 21, 2011

December 23, 2018 – Continuing the second go at this sermon series (Abraham, Jacob, Pashhur, Hosea, and Peter). Considering there are people who come to this sermon blog solely for the original linked version of this sermon, I have updated the text there to match what you see in this post today.  And, while I will someday preach on Peter’s name change, it isn’t an Advent theme, because Christ is right there beside him.  So this series concludes here.  God bless you, and merry Christmas!

 

Focus: God remains faithful to His covenant.

Function: That the hearers find the gospel in the Old Testament.

Structure: Textual.

 

God Changed a Name: Hosea’s Kids

 

Over the course of Advent together, we’ve been studying the name changes in Scripture, the times that God took someone’s name and changed it reveal a little bit more about who He is, and what He’s done for us.

But before we dig into Hosea’s life, and the names of his children, it’s helpful to recap our history up to this point.  A few weeks ago, we saw God make His covenant with Abram, that He would make him into a mighty nation, with offspring too numerous to count.  Kings would even come from Abram and Sarai’s descendants.  He promised that He would give him vast lands, which came to be known as the Promised Land.  Yahweh would be their God, and they would be His people.  And so God even changes their names to Abraham and Sarah as an ongoing reminder of these promises, and that God is faithful and will keep His promises.

We saw the covenant renewed with Isaac, Abraham’s son.  And we see it renewed again in Isaac’s son, Jacob.  But in Jacob, it truly starts to come to fruition.  The command to multiply, the blessing of becoming a nation, all come about in Jacob’s sons, the tribes of Israel.  Read through Exodus, and you’ll see the people inherit the Promised Land.  Read Samuel and Kings and you’ll see all the kings that come from Abraham’s descendants.  Read through any and all of the Old Testament and you’ll see God being their God, leading them, fighting for them, strengthening them, and providing for them every step of the way.

This is the covenant of old.  And it’s all about the things God was going to do for them.  So what was expected from the people?  They were to be circumcised; they were to be blameless; they were to act and live as God’s people.

But on that same read through of those Old Testament books, you can’t not notice how the people behaved.  You can’t help but see them as they grumble, doubt, and commit all kinds of atrocious sins against Yahweh, indeed even turning away from Him and worshipping false gods that they made with their own hands.  They were anything but blameless.  They did not live as God’s people.  This is the story of Magor-missaviv, the priest who brought about his own death because he sinner.  The Old Testament is a collection of sinners.

And we are sinners also.  God still expects us to be blameless, He still expects us to live as His people.  By failing, by sinning and turning away from Him, pleasing ourselves and not our God, we lump ourselves together with the rest of God’s people.  We bind ourselves to the same fate of Israel.

But this then is where the prophets come in.  They were God’s messengers to call people back to Him, to call them to turn away from their sin and their wickedness and to walk again as children of God.  Isaiah to Israel, Jeremiah to Jerusalem, Jonah to Nineveh.  The prophets all came to bring God’s people back.  Some of the prophets, like Jonah, fought their calling.  Others required signs from God.  Some even became signs from God.  Hosea was one of the latter; he became a living sign of God.

Yahweh held nothing back from Hosea; He was honest with Him from the beginning.  He told Hosea to go out and to take for himself a wife who was a fornicator, a prostitute.  And on top of that, he is to have children with this woman.

Why?  Why should he do such a thing?  Among the Israelites, the punishment for prostitution was death.  And yet, here, God is calling Hosea to not only this woman, but to marry her, to love her, to raise a family with her, even despite her ongoing adultery.

Why was God asking Hosea to do this? Because that is what the people are doing.  By forsaking God, turning away from Him to follow their own desires, God’s chosen people were just like prostitutes.  They had stopped living life for the blessing that it is, stopped respecting and appreciating the relationship they had with the God who had created them and made them into the nation that they had become. And instead, they were living for their own desires.  They whored themselves out for the pleasure and wealth of the world.

God let Hosea know what He was doing.  Hosea was to be the walking image of God.  Hosea represents God, and his wife and children from prostitution represent Israel.  It’s the ultimate in visual aids.  Whenever people would see Hosea, they would see the prostitute and they would question what this prophet of God and this prostitute were doing together.  And when Hosea succeeded as a prophet, they’d realize that they were the prostitute who was being unfaithful to God.

So Hosea does as he was instructed and marries a woman named Gomer, who was well-known for being unfaithful.  And as time passed, they began having children, whose names were prophecies in and of themselves.

Their first child, a son, was named Jezreel.  The name means “God sows.”  And here, it references God sowing destruction and ruin among the people.  It prophesies about the end of the nation of Israel, the exile into Assyria and Babylon that was to come.

Their second child, a daughter, was then named Lo-Ruhamah, which in Hebrew means “one who has not experienced compassion or love.”  I mean, imagine naming your child that!  But her name spelled the true doom of the people.  Through her name, God proclaimed to Israel that they would not know His mercy.  He even spoke with an absolute voice, “I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all.”  And at the same time, God proclaimed that He would love and save Judah.  We’ll come back for this point a little later.

Gomer bore a third child, another son, whom they named Lo-Ammi, which means “not My people.”  And here is a good place to correct the English.  If you look at our text, to verse nine, you’ll see the explanation saying “for you are not My people, and I am not your God.”  The word for God is not there in the Hebrew text.  Literally it just reads: “for you are not My people and I will not be for you.”  This is an important distinction, because it brings out God’s covenant faithfulness.  God hasn’t stopped being their God.  He hasn’t given up the covenant.  But, rather as they have stopped being His people, He has stopped blessing them.  He will not be for them, He will not act upon them favorably, generously, when they have turned away from Him.

God hasn’t broken the covenant, but His people have, we have.  The punishment for breaking a covenant is death.  This isn’t just a promise that you failed to keep your friend.  You failed God’s covenant, a pact made in blood, that’s the end for you.  That’s part of what makes the image of a prostitute so fitting here.  The punishment for prostitution is also death.  The people around Hosea would have wondered why he didn’t stone Gomer for her wickedness.  Not only did he let her live, but he married her, had a family with her, and went after her when she ran off with other men.  Hosea was faithful to Gomer just as God is always faithful to us despite our running off in wickedness after all our various idols.

That notion that God hasn’t abandoned the covenant, that God hasn’t stopped being their God, is revealed throughout this text.  We get the first glimpse in verse six, when God promises to save Judah.  That He will not leave them in their exile, but will indeed restore them.

We see it again in verse ten, as the number of the children of Israel will be as the sand of the sea, without measure or number.  Despite their wickedness, the people of Israel continue to grow and multiply just as God had promised them in the covenant.

At the end of chapter two and as part of His covenant faithfulness, God performs the great reversal.  He changes the names of the children:

“In that day I will respond,” declares the LORD– “I will respond to the skies, and they will respond to the earth; 22 and the earth will respond to the grain, the new wine and the olive oil, and they will respond to Jezreel. 23 I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one. ‘ I will say to those called ‘Not my people, ‘ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God. ‘”

 

God reverses the names of each of Hosea’s children.  Jezreel, God sows, goes from being seeds of destruction to the sowing a people.  The people of God will be planted, rooted, established as God’s people in the land that He has given them.  Lo-Ruhamah, the one who has not experienced love or compassion, becomes simply Ruhamah, because God will show love to her.  And Lo-Ammi, not My people, becomes Ammi, as God will claim them as His people.  “’You are My people,’ and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”

Beyond that, in chapter three, we see this living sign of the prophet, this parallel of God and man, all the more clearly.  After Gomer has run off from him yet again, Hosea goes after her and redeems her, brings her back to himself, takes her again as his wife despite all of her unfaithfulness.  This is the same way God is with His people, both Israel and us.  Despite our unfaithfulness to His covenant, He continues to keep it.  He continues to bring us back to Himself.  And in reversing each child’s name, Yahweh continues to show His faithfulness to His covenant.

This Advent season, we have dwelled upon God’s old covenant and the faithfulness that He regularly showed to His people.  In this time of preparation, we joined with those people of God in waiting for the coming King, the Messiah promised to us long ago.

And God proved Himself faithful.  This is why we will gather right here again tomorrow, celebrating Christmas, the birth of the Messiah, the Son of David foretold a few millennia before.  God kept each and every one of those promises.

This Savior is the fulfillment of God’s covenant with His people.  This is the Messiah Jeremiah spoke of, who would bring with Him a new covenant.  This Messiah brings about God’s grace and forgiveness.

While we do not live as God’s people, through the waters of baptism and the work of His Spirit, He still makes us His people.  We don’t deserve God’s mercy, and yet He gives us mercy.  We don’t deserve His grace and forgiveness, but He still richly gives us His grace, His good gifts, forgiving all our sins through Word and Sacrament.  We break the covenant, but God keeps the covenant.  We sin and run away, but God redeems us and brings us back.  We aren’t faithful, but God is faithful.  We are forever His people, loved by Him.

 

 

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God Changed a Name: Pashhur (Revisited!) December 19, 2018

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Jeremiah 19:14-20:6

 Advent Midweek 3

December 14, 2011

 

December 19, 2018 – Continuing the second go at this sermon series (Abraham, Jacob, Pashhur, Hosea, and Peter). I lengthened the end of this sermon, trying to draw out more Law and Gospel on the back half.  The original can still be found here: https://sandhandrews.wordpress.com/2011/12/14/god-changed-a-name-pashhur/

 

Focus: God restores His people.

Function: That the hearers fear Yahweh and so honor His Word and promises.

Structure: Monologue.

 

God Changed a Name: Pashhur

 

People of God: I am here to offer you a warning.  Wait, why do you look as though you do not recognize me?  How can you pretend that you don’t know who I am?  *Pause  Oh, how far have I fallen.  I am Pashhur, or at least I was Pashhur once.  You must hear my tale; you must mark my words.  These are desperate times.

I was once a great leader of my people.  I, Pashhur son of Immer, held the office of priest in God’s temple.  No, more than that, I was the lead overseer of the temple.  The people respected me.  When I spoke, they listened to my every word.  I had status.  I had wealth.  I had power.  Now, now I would give all of that up for a scrap of dignity.  I have lost everything I once held dear.

Curse you Jeremiah!  Curse the day you stepped foot into my temple. *Pause  If only I had listened…if only…

Most of you probably do not know the day of which I speak, so let me tell you the story of this young man.  I had heard of his rabble before.  I had heard whisperings amongst the people.  He spoke to the people in Topheth and told them that they would be killed with the sword.  He broke a clay pot and told them that like that pot could not be fixed, neither could they.  He spoke to others too.  He was spreading these rumors that a powerful nation would come and lay our holy city under siege.  That they would bind up our towns and starve us out.  That they would tear down the very temple of God!  How dare he utter such blasphemy!  No one could destroy God’s temple!  *Pause  Or at least, that’s what I used to think.

I will never forget that awful day.  That cursed day when Jeremiah walked into the temple.  He was an absolute nut, completely mad.  He raved like a lunatic.  He started shouting these prophecies, these wretched blasphemies.  He claimed to be a messenger of God.  He claimed that our temple would crumble.  I was the overseer of that temple.  How could I allow him to get away with speaking such blasphemy?

I did what any sane man would have done.  I swore at him.  I beat him.  I punched him and whipped him.  He must know that his false words must come to an end.  I left him out in the stocks overnight.  That was supposed to give him the chance to think about what he’d said and done.  But did he?  No!

Instead of repenting of his treachery, the scum came out preaching at me.  He spoke to me the final words I would ever hear him say.  He prophesied about my demise; He claimed that Yahweh changed my name.  “No longer will you be called Pashhur,” he told me, “but Magor-Missaviv.”

Maybe you don’t understand the ramifications of this.  To you, names mean nothing.  But to us Hebrews, names matter.  You could even say we are superstitious when it comes to the meaning of our name.  A name matters.  Your name has an impact on your life and who you will become.  My name was good enough.  Pashhur is “one who tears the linen in pieces.”  Sure, it may not sound like the greatest name, but it sufficed.  People who worked with linen things were honorable folk.  But Magor-Missaviv?!  Could Jeremiah have cursed me anymore that day?!

Magor-Missaviv means terror from every side.  At first, I shrugged off this concern, this prophecy.  I ignored the words of this man for some time.  After all, he was nothing more than a babbling fool, a false prophet.  Sure, Babylon was strong, but no way could they take the temple, the holy city.  We were a proud people.  *Pause  And that arrogance ended up being part of our downfall.

As time passed, I remember hearing of the growing power of the king of Babylon.  He was claiming land after land and inching his way closer to us.  That’s when I started to remember the words Jeremiah had spoken that day.  That’s when I started to fear the name he called me that awful day.

And, there was nothing I could do.  Nothing.  I mean, if God had truly decided to turn against us, what could I do, just one pathetic little man.  My fear grew…and then they came.

The army of Babylon marched upon our city.  King Nebuchadnezzar marched on us.  No allies came to our aid during that time.  The Babylonians scared our farmers and drove them inside the city walls.  And then, when they had us pinned down, trapped like prey, they sat.  They just waited us out.  In our pride, we wouldn’t go down so easily.

We starved.  We exhausted our food supply.  Sickness and death dwindled away at our population.  We committed shameful atrocities against our own people in order to survive.  It was as Jeremiah had told me.  I was cursed.  I had to sit and watch as my loved ones died horrible deaths.  *Pause  Why didn’t I listen?!

The curse didn’t end either.  Those of us unfortunate enough to survive were dragged off; taken away from our homes and our land, taken to that God-forsaken land of Babylon.  We were less than slaves to them.  They worked us day and night.  If we died in labor, what did they care?  We weren’t slaves, slaves have value.  We were vermin.  We are vermin.  And I am still cursed.

I work alongside what few are left of my brothers here in Babylon.  I have lost all for whom I cared.  All of my loved ones, those close to me, dead.  Either killed by starvation, or mercifully by the sword so that it would be painless.  Our number grows smaller by the day.

But, there are rumors among us.  Some of us who listened more closely to the prophet’s words, to Jeremiah’s words, they heard him tell of freedom, of redemption.  I wish I had listened then.  Maybe these things could have been avoided.

I am still angry, still bitter.  That temple was my life.  Everything I had, everything I’d built, all wiped away.  But here in this captivity, it’s impossible to not hear the prophet’s words.  The people talk about them all the time, while they work, while they eat.  It’s as if they draw strength from these words.  Where I have nothing left, they have… *Pause  …they have hope.

Let me share with you the things I hear them discussing.  Jeremiah foretold of a day when our mourning would turn to joy; a day when our people would return home and rebuild; a day when our children would no longer know this suffering.

I don’t see it.  There are even now being born to us new children.  And this is all they’ve ever known.  This may be all they ever know.  This suffering, this waste of a people separated from their God.

And they even say that he spoke of a new covenant.  A new agreement between God and men in which Yahweh Himself will put His law upon our hearts; a day when He will be our God and we shall live as His people.  That it will be an age when all mankind will know Yahweh as their God.  No one will have to teach another about Him, for they will all know Him.  He foretold of forgiveness.  That somehow all of our sins and iniquities would be forgiven.  I know of no such sacrifice.  And if these things are true, I’ll be out of a job. *Pause  I’m already out of a job.

But the people, the people are starting to believe.  They are starting to hope for this new covenant, a new day, and a God who forgives.

Whatever that may entail, I am certain that I will not taste it.  Everything else the prophet said from God has come true.  And he foretold my end that blasted day.  I will not escape this grave.  I will die.  I will be buried among these foreigners who care nothing of my existence.  I will die in this shame and dishonor.

But this, this is why I have come to you this day.  I fear I must warn you before it’s too late.  You must know what Jeremiah said.  You must know that his words, words that were truly given to him by God, these words came true.  That is the mark of a prophet.  If the things he says on God’s behalf, if those things happen, this is the mark of a true prophet.

I know Yahweh is a righteous God who wants nothing of sin.  That much I know.  In His holiness, He has surely struck us down for sinful and prideful living.  He is, without a doubt, a jealous God who pours out wrath on those who turn away to worship false deities.  And there is much danger in ignoring His Word.

So I say to you: fear the Lord.  But more than that: believe in Him.  If these words of the prophet Jeremiah continue to hold true, there is hope yet.  The God I knew, was not who God really was.  I knew a God of wrath that even our sacrifices failed to appease.  But this Jeremiah, and other prophets too, speak of a God of love and forgiveness.  I do not know if I will ever know this God or if I will die here where I stand.

But you, you must listen to me now!  If you remember anything that I have said to you this day, remember this.  There have long been whisperings, rumblings, of an heir.  An heir, a son of David.  These speak of One who will come in glory and triumph.  They speak of a coming King, a Messiah if you will.  When He comes, He will free us.  He will end our sufferings.  He will reign over His people.

This Messiah must be tied somehow with this new covenant, with this loving God who forgives the sins of His people.  I know of no forgiveness apart from the shedding of blood.  But, the prophets say He is coming.  I say look for Him!  And blessed are you if you see Him or believe in Him.  For apart from that hope, there is nothing.

Now I must go, before the taskmasters beat me for my sloth and for speaking to you outsiders.  But it is with this, I will leave you.  I have lived the nothing, you must live in the hope of this Messiah and His new covenant!

 

God Changed a Name: Jacob (Revisited!) December 12, 2018

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Genesis 32:22-32

 Advent Midweek 2

December 7, 2011

 

December 12, 2018 – Continuing the second go at this sermon series (Abraham, Jacob, Pashhur, Hosea, and Peter). There are only a handful of changes to this sermon, but the original can still be found here: https://sandhandrews.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/god-changed-a-name-jacob/

 

Focus: God blesses His people through His covenant.

Function: That the hearers find the gospel in the Old Testament.

Structure: Working the text.

 

God Changed a Name: Jacob

 

Last week we looked at the life of Abraham and his wife Sarah.  We saw Yahweh establish a covenant with Abraham, that He would make him into a great nation, with numerous offspring, and that He would give him the entire land of Canaan.  He then changed Abram’s name to Abraham, and Sarai to Sarah, to remind them of the covenant, and how that would keep the promises of God constantly in their minds.

Sure, the promises of God were great.  But what’s a promise if it isn’t kept?  It was tempting to avoid making a gospel punch at the end of the sermon last Wednesday; but I couldn’t.  All things in the Old Testament, the old covenant tie into the coming Messiah.  And we’re going to see that each and every time we gather together as God’s people in this place.  We’ll get there, trust me.  We’re preparing for the Messiah; we’re making straight the path for the coming Christ; it is Advent after all.

So today, we take the next step.  We begin to trace the covenant beyond just Abraham.  While many Christians know the more important people and stories of the Old Testament, it often seems like we fail to truly connect the dots.  We don’t really piece together the masterpiece that God’s Word truly is.  So while name changes are a fun thing to look at, well, at least they are for me, that’s not truly what this Advent sermon series is about.  See, the name changes help us paint the bigger picture.  The changes that God makes help us draw the picture of the gospel throughout the history of creation.  That’s why I’m happy to say: it’s back to the drawing board.

When Yahweh promised Abraham the land and all the offspring, He did it through Abraham’s son Isaac.  As time went on, Isaac grew up, became a man, and had children of his own in Esau and Jacob.  Grandpa Abraham died when his two grandsons were just fifteen years old.  A few years later, a harsh famine hit the land.  To survive it, Isaac packed up the family and moved them to Gerar, in the land of the Philistines.  He even began to think about permanently relocating them down to Egypt, to a rich and fertile land.  But just when he seemed to have forgotten, Yahweh appeared to him to remind him of the covenant.

And Yahweh appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. 3Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. 4I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, 5because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” Gn 26:2-5

 

Again, we have absolute gospel in the Old Testament.  God promises to bless His people in all His fullness.  There is even a Messianic promise in there: “in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”  The word for offspring in Hebrew there is singular.  It refers to a one heir, a specific descendant who will come some fifteen hundred years later.  Yahweh is referencing the Christ.  But again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  We’re working at the bigger picture.

The Messianic line traces all the way back to Abraham.  Any time someone had multiple children along the way, the family tree splits.  We know that, when there’s two kids you draw separate lines to each of them, and they start their own trees.  Well in the case of the Messiah, this happens generation after generation when you trace it back.  Isaac’s first two sons, twin boys, were Esau and Jacob.  Esau was born first, with Jacob grasping his heel as he came out.  That’s where Jacob’s name comes from.  It means “he grasps the heel.”  It also carries a connotation of cheating or deception.

In this stage of culture, the firstborn son inherited everything.  All the wealth, the land, the livestock, the servants, everything that was his father’s goes to him.  In Isaac’s case, that also meant the covenant blessing of becoming a great nation, and eventually the lineage of the Messiah.  That was Esau’s birthright.  A birthright he sold for a bowl of red stew.  Perhaps you remember that part of his life.  He came in from hunting one day claiming that if he didn’t eat something right then, he’d die of starvation.  It just so happened that his brother Jacob had some red stew hot and ready.  Starving to death, Esau bartered away his birthright for that stew.  He gave up the privilege of bearing the Christ.  And then later, when Isaac was on his deathbed, Rebekah helped Jacob trick Isaac into thinking he was Esau.  And so Jacob stole the father’s blessing as well.

Jacob, he who grasps the heel, the cheater, the deceiver, the one who snuck his way into the Messianic line.  But then again, who in that lineage was perfect anyway?  There’s even a prostitute in that family tree.  It’s a great blessing and wonder that God worked through sinners to bring about salvation in Christ.

So the covenant, the promises, the blessing continued on in Jacob.  And as time passed, Jacob moved in with Laban, a relative of his, married both of Laban’s daughters, and worked for him for fourteen years.  Yahweh prospered Jacob there among the people.  Eventually, Jacob decided it was time to return back to his homeland, and it’s on his way that we pick up our first lesson.

It’s the crazy and befuddling tale of Jacob wrestling with God.  Most people never get past the idea that God couldn’t win a fight with a man.  But let’s put that detail aside and look at the point of the appearance of Yahweh.  Did God have a hidden motive?  Well if He did, it’s still hidden.  But Yahweh did appear to Jacob; He came to meet the heir of the covenant face to face.  After God departs, Jacob realizes this and names the place Peniel, or “face of God,” because He saw God face to face there and lived.

And in terms of the reminders we mentioned last week, God definitely handed Jacob a couple of them.  First, He leaves him a physical ailment, a limp.  And as though that weren’t enough of a reminder, God changes his name.  No longer is he to be Jacob, a deceiver, but now Israel, one who strives or struggles with God.  Yahweh tells him that specifically, and even adds that it’s because he’s striven with God and men and he’s prevailed.

There’s an interesting connection here that’s lost in English.  The Hebrew verb that makes up the root of Israel, that means “to strive,” is Sarah.  It’s the name of Jacob’s grandmother.  Did God rename Sarah that because of His foreknowledge that He would one day wrestle with her grandson, and change his name to Israel?  Just something to think about.

God appears to Jacob again in our second reading.  Again Yahweh blesses Jacob and tells him of the name change to Israel.  But it’s more than that.  God comes specifically to Jacob at this time to remind him of the covenant that He has with him.  God is God.  Nations will come from Jacob.  Kings will be among his descendants.  And the promised land of his fathers would be his also.  The covenant, the promises, the blessing already being fulfilled in him are laid out again for him to see, to know, and to remember.

When Yahweh changed Jacob’s name to Israel, it’s perhaps the most important name change in the Bible.  I say that because Israel becomes more than just a name.  Israel had twelve sons, each of whom had more children of their own.  Indeed, each of them became tribes of their own.  And together they were known as the sons of Israel.  Over time, that phrase was shortened, and they became the nation of Israel.  Jacob’s offspring became a nation as promised.

We know of the nation of Israel as God’s chosen people.  We know them as the ones whom Moses led out of slavery in Egypt.  We know them as the ones who inherited the Promised Land.  But this is their past.  They are Israel because Jacob was Israel.  The play on that name is that while it was Jacob Israel who strived with God, it is now God who strives with Israel the nation.  They are the ones who grumbled about the lack of water and food.  They are the ones who then complained that they had to eat the same thing every day.  They are the ones who erected the golden calf to worship instead of Yahweh.  We could go on and on about the sins and complaints of that nation that God struggled against.

But even through all of that, Israel was still the chosen people of God.  He could have ended His relationship with them at any time because of their failures and their falling away.  But instead, Yahweh chose to remain faithful to His covenant.  He continued to hold on to the promises that He made to them and their fathers before them.

And over the next few weeks, we’ll continue to unfold our history.  We’ll continue to paint the picture of the covenant, of God’s faithfulness.  We’ll see kings come from Israel.  And on Christmas Eve, we’ll see the grand masterpiece, we’ll see our King.

This is why we gather today.  This is why the New Testament refers to us as Israel, that is, as God’s holy nation and royal priesthood.  Because in Christ, that is who we are.  Forgiven.  Redeemed.  Made holy before the holy God of heaven and earth Himself.  And He is forever faithful.  Amen.

God Changed a Name: Abraham (Revisited!) December 5, 2018

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Genesis 17:1-16

 Advent

November 30, 2011

 

Revisited: December 5, 2018 – Taking a second look at this old sermon series (Abraham, Jacob, Pashhur, Hosea, and Peter), as it was enjoyed at a different congregation.  The sermon below is updated.  The original can be found here: https://sandhandrews.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/god-changed-a-name-abraham/

 

Focus: God blesses His people through His covenant.

Function: That the hearers find the gospel in the Old Testament.

Structure: Working the text.

 

God Changed a Name: Abraham

 

As most of you have already noticed, the church is decorated for Christmas.  And as we talked about this past weekend, we’ve begun a new church year.  The first season of the church year is Advent, the season in which we prepare for the coming Messiah.  And that’s why we’re here in worship today.  As we prepare for the coming of the Christ, we’ll be looking at the Old Testament Scriptures, just as the people would have done two thousand years ago as they waited for their Messiah.  But a little more specifically, we’ll be looking at some of the names of those people.

What makes a name?  Names are important in our culture, our world.  Everyone has a name; it’s the way others identify who you are.  Knowing someone’s name shows in some way that you have a relationship with them.  Your own name becomes a mark of identification for official documents and the government.  But how many of you actually know what your name means?  Don’t be afraid: raise your hand if you know.

My name, Steve, comes from the Greek name Stephanos, which means “crown.”  If you’re willing to do the research, you can find out what your name means.  In fact, if I were really curious, I could find out what all of my name means: Steven Paul Andrews Junior.  But I haven’t.  It’s not really important to us.  It’s just a neat, little factoid to know about yourself.  But names used to mean a whole lot more.  In Biblical days, you usually had just a first name, like Adam and Eve.  And in the case of Hebrew, names spelled out a whole sentence or phrase of meaning.

I figured it wouldn’t be a good use of my time for me to sit in the office this week and count how many names are in the Bible.  You probably wouldn’t like to know that that’s how I was spending our church’s resources.  But I would guess there are thousands of different names in Scripture, each with its own meaning.  That’s why it’s important for us to note the number of times names changed.  The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar renamed Daniel and his men.  Naomi renames herself Mara.  Moses renamed Joshua.  You can track the changes in the meaning in a good study Bible or on the internet.  But out of the less than twenty name changes, only eight of them come from God.  Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, a priest named Passhur, Hosea’s three children, and lastly Peter in the New Testament.  When God changed a name, He had good reason for doing it.

One mistake that we often make today is looking at the Old Testament as law and the New Testament as gospel.  There is plenty of gospel in the Old Testament.  Sometimes it’s pretty straightforward, and other times we have to dig a little.  But it’s really interesting that each time God changes a name, it tells us a little about who God is and what He’s done for us.  That is, it shows us the gospel.  We’ll look at some of these name changes and their meanings in these weeks of Advent.  And we’ll start today by looking at Abraham and his wife Sarah.

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.

 

So we start with Abraham’s original name.  Abram breaks down into two words, ab and ram.  Ab means “father.”  And ram in this usage means “exalted.”  So Abram meant “exalted father.”  But we’ll get back to that.  Yahweh appears to Abram when he’s already 99 years old and tells him to be righteous.

2 Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

This isn’t the first time Abram had dealt with Yahweh.  Yahweh first called him when he was 75 years old.  He called him to leave behind everything that he knew, and to go to another land which He would show him.  He promised him a bountiful land and that he would become a great nation.  He promised him a son through his wife Sarai.  But here, Yahweh proceeds with these promises.  He makes them into a covenant, an unbreakable vow punishable by death.

3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.

 

Whether Abram fell down out of fear that he would not be able to keep up his end of the covenant, or just out of respect we don’t know.  But it’s interesting how God turns this.  “As for Me, this is My covenant with you.”  So regardless of what Abram does, Yahweh is going to do His side of the deal.  Yahweh will make Abram the father of many nations.

5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.

And here we get the name change.  Abram goes from “exalted father,” to something harder for us to figure out.  We know what God meant, as God even explains the new name “for I have made you a father of many nations.”  But it’s still tricky.  Ab, father, is still in the name.  But the new ending, raham, is not a Hebrew word that we know today.  Maybe it was then, so Abraham knew it.  But if not, we can see a lot of interesting pieces in the name.  The b and the r make up the word in Hebrew for a covenant.  They also make a verb that means to cut a covenant.  The other interesting piece is that the Hebrew explanation from God, father of many nations, pronounced ab hamon goyim, has most of the name.  Ab hamon.  The syllables that begin and end of Abraham’s new name are the first two syllables of the explanation.  Father of a multitude comes from those syllables.  And the very ending, am, is also a word that means “a people” or “nations.”  So we see, as God explained, the name to mean “father of many nations” and also perhaps with a little reminder of the covenant.  Abraham certainly saw the meaning.

So why go as far as to change Abram’s name?  It was to serve as a constant reminder to Abraham of who he is, and also of what Yahweh has promised to him.  It’s like God using water in baptism.  Water is such a common element we see it all the time.  Luther and others told us that whenever we see water, we should think of our baptism.  Whether it’s washing your hands or watching the rain.  It’s that constant reminder in our life of who God is and what He’s done for us.  Every time you take a shower, remember that God has washed you clean!  So this name change is a constant reminder for Abraham of the covenant.  Every time someone addresses him, he will remember God’s promise.

6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 8 The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

 

Here Yahweh spells out what the covenant is.  Abraham will become the father of many nations, his offspring too numerous to be counted.  That’s saying something for a man who had his first child at his old age of 90.  And he’s 100 by the time Isaac is born!  God promises the covenant will be for all of Abraham’s descendants.  This is also where the idea of the Promised Land comes from: the land that Moses leads the people of Israel to.  God gives them the land.

9 Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner–those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

 

I’ve heard people try to attach hygiene to circumcision.  Sometimes we do this with things that don’t make sense in the Old Testament.  The command to not eat unclean animals is explained away because they didn’t have the proper preservation and cooking techniques then to eat something like a pig.  They would have gotten sick from it.  Okay, maybe.  But proper hygiene isn’t why males had to be circumcised.  Yahweh identifies circumcision as a sign for the people.

So, like Abraham’s name was a constant reminder for him, or water for our baptisms, it’s a regular reminder.  Every time a man used the restroom he’d remember; every time a husband and wife slept together, they’d remember the covenant; every time a mother took care of her young son, every time a new boy was born and the circumcision was done, they’d remember.  Circumcision was a sign of the covenant, and not just for the individual man, but for the whole community.  So while circumcision does mark the people’s pledge to the covenant, it will also constantly be a reminder to them of God keeping His Word.

15 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

 

And Yahweh goes ahead and gives Abraham’s wife the same blessing of a reminder.  We focus on the reminder aspect for her, because scholars today debate the change in meaning.  Yahweh changes her name from Sarai, meaning “my princess” to Sarah, but that’s the tough name.  Some see it as still meaning “princess,” but others say a “lady,” or “gentlewoman,” and others still try to connect it to an Arabic word that would make her name mean “mother of multitudes.”  Yahweh, Abraham, and Sarah all would know the significance, and which interpretation is correct.  But regardless of which way it went, it served the purpose of being a reminder for her of her role in the covenant.  When she hears God’s promise, she laughs, mockingly.   And yet, when she’s 86, she gives birth to her first child, Isaac.  And together, they name him “he laughs.”

The mentioning of kings is interesting as well.  It showed up for both Abraham and Sarah.  But it’s a blessing and a curse.  If you’ve read much of the Old Testament you may remember that kings were a bad thing.  It was a very dark day in Israel’s history when they replaced Yahweh with Saul, their first king, which we have in the book of Samuel.

Thankfully, it’s also a blessing because the coming Messiah will be referred to as a king.  A descendant of King David will be the King of Kings, our Savior!  That’s what we celebrate together as we gather for Advent: that God made a promise, that He would send a deliverer from sin, death, and the devil.  And He has!  In His Son Jesus Christ, the Babe of Christmas morn, God has fulfilled all of His promises to us!

So we see in our text today law and gospel.  God gives them things to do in order to be part of the covenant.  But it’s also gospel, because God says that the covenant is His, and He’ll take care of everything.  It doesn’t depend on us.  We see law with circumcision, and yet at that same time, it’s a blessed reminder of the covenant, which is God’s faithfulness to us, thus a gospel message.  And all the while, Yahweh gives Abraham and Sarah new ways to look at life and to live out the covenant.  He promises to make them great, with vastly abundant offspring.  And we know He kept that promise, just as He kept the promises of the whole covenant.  And we also know, the King comes indeed.

 

 

Death by Offering November 18, 2018

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Hebrews 10:11-25

Twenty Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 28

November 18, 2018

 

Focus:  God gave His own Son as the perfect, final sacrifice for sin.

Function:  That the hearers see the value of the whole of Scripture to point us to Christ.

Structure:  Unpacking the text.

 

Death by Offering

 

There are some books in the Bible that we like more than others.  That’s just part of being human, we have favorites.  We could go round and round today talking about your favorite books in God’s Word.  What are your go-to’s?  But if we have favorites, it also means we have books that we don’t care as much for.

One of these is Leviticus.  It’s the king of abandoned Bible books.  Over the course of two millennia in the New Testament Church of Christ, it’s become worthless to us.  It’s dry, repetitive, Law heavy.  We don’t need it, and we don’t read it.

We talk about it this way in our own LCMS circles, even though we proclaim gladly that the “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16).  And yet, apparently not Leviticus.  In our three year lectionary series, where we have our assigned readings for use in the worship services of the church, Leviticus makes the list twice.  A 27 chapter Old Testament book.  We read from it twice in the course of three years.  And those two times are the same text, from chapter 19 about loving our neighbor.

Today, I want to show you why we’re wrong about the value of Leviticus.  And if you’re using our Faith @ Home Corner, Leviticus is the daily Bible reading starting in just a week’s time.  But before we can get to Leviticus, we need a little from Exodus.

In the latter part of the book of Exodus, we get an exquisitely detailed picture of the Tabernacle.  It’s a tent inside a courtyard, that symbolizes God’s presence with His people.  He is going to be in the midst of His people.  He’s not a far away God.  He’s right here among us.

And so the Tabernacle had a tent in the middle of a courtyard.  It measured 45 feet by 15 feet, and was divided into two rooms.  The innermost room is known as the Holy of Holies, or the Most Holy Place.  Only one thing was in that room.  The ark of the covenant, which is clearly from God’s own description, His throne, His mercy seat.

That inner room then is the place of God’s holy dwelling with His people.  The only one who ever entered this room was the high priest, and he only once a year.  And there’s a curtain drawn between the two rooms.  It separates, it contains, God’s holiness.  In a way, for us sinners, this curtain is a shield, protecting us from a perfect and righteous God, protecting us from the guilt of our sin and the punishment of death.  We cannot come before a righteous God and live.

That second room in the tent, then, the place the priests could enter in to offer some sacrifices before the Lord, was called the Holy Place.  It had the lampstand, the incense altar, and the Table of the Bread of the Presence, which held both bread and wine.

Outside this tent then was the courtyard.  It measured in at 150 feet by 75 feet.  And there was a basin, filled with water, for washing.  Totally brilliant side note for us this morning, the sacraments are already here, already foreshadowed in God’s dwelling with His people in the Old Testament.

Anyway, at the entrance of the courtyard stood an altar.  It was square, 7.5’ on all sides.  Ours here is 8’ wide, 2.5’ deep as a point of comparison.  It stood 4.5’ tall.  They built it out of acacia wood, and added horns to each of its four corners.  They then covered the entire altar in bronze.  It was hollowed out on the inside.  And they lowered down into it a bronze grate, attaching it to the altar.  Not unlike your grill at home, this grate served the function of burning offerings to the Lord.

That’s an important backdrop for Leviticus, because this altar serves as the focal point of the entire system of sacrifices for generations, hundreds of years of the history of God’s people.  And that’s how the book of Leviticus begins.  Each of the first five chapters teaches us about a different type of offering the Israelites had to make.

It begins with a burnt offering.  You would offer up a bull, a male goat or sheep, a turtledove or a pigeon, in hopes of creating a pleasing aroma and having God’s favor.  You would kill the animal yourself, and then the priests would take the blood and throw against the sides of the altar.  They’d then arrange the parts of the beast on the altar before setting the fire.

Chapter two gives instructions for the grain offering.  Here you would give flour, unleavened breads, and roasted grains mixed with olive oil and frankincense.  Some would be burned on the altar as a pleasing aroma, again seeking God’s favor.  The rest was food for the priests.

Chapter three gives instructions for the peace offerings.  Here again we’d offer up our bulls, sheep, and goats in hopes of gaining the Lord’s favor.  We would kill the animal, and then the priests would cut into parts, splashing the blood against the walls of the altar, and then burning the fat, the kidneys, and the liver.  The rest served as meat for the priests and their families to eat.

Chapters four and five brings us to the sin offering.  There are several distinctions here, but they were all done for the sake of forgiveness.  To have our sins cleansed, removed from us, there had to be sacrifice.  If the priest himself sinned unintentionally, his guilt was on the whole congregation, and he would offer up a young bull on everyone’s behalf.  The blood was taken into the tent itself, sprinkled seven times, with some placed on the altar of incense.  The rest was poured out at the foot of the altar in the court.  The fat, the kidneys, and the liver would be burned.  And the rest of the bull, he had to carry outside the whole camp that held millions of people, to burn on a clean pile of wood.  The same was done if the whole congregation sinned unintentionally together.

For a leader of the people, it was a male goat.  The blood being placed on the horns of the court’s altar, and then poured out at the base.  The animal was burned.

If anyone else in the congregation sinned unintentionally, they would offer up a female goat or sheep.  Killed, the blood placed on the horns of the altar and then poured out, and the animal burned.

The last type of offering is seen in chapters five and six, the guilt offering.  Here, if we sinned against the holy things of God, like His Tabernacle, the courtyard, the tools for the altar, even the priests, we were guilty.  If we sinned by breaking one of the Ten Commandments, we bore our guilt.  If we sinned against our neighbor by lying, deceiving, or robbing, we were guilty.

In all of these cases, we would bring before the priest a ram to be the guilt offering.  We also had to pay for whatever we had ruined or destroyed or stolen.  But we’d offer the ram, and the priest would sacrifice it for us before the Lord.

These sin and guilt offerings truly accomplished the forgiveness of a sin.  Now imagine for just a moment how deep your sin runs.  How frequently you sin.  As we talked about this in connection to the Lord’s Supper, one of our 7th graders rightly asked, “Before the last sacrifice was even over, wouldn’t I already need to offer up another one?”  And she was profoundly right.

This is the first verse of our epistle text.  “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”  This was the job of a priest.  All.  The.  Time.  We read in Jeremiah 33:18, “And there will always be Levitical priests to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings and sacrifices to me.”  And in Malachi 1:11, the priests are heard complaining to God, “What a weariness this is.”

We sin much.  So much so that we would be offering up sacrifices day and night until we had nothing left, neither time to work, nor any property with which to care for our families and our neighbors.  This is how deep our sin runs.  Whether it’s as simple as a lie or speeding, or as complex as adultery or murder.  It doesn’t matter.  The blood of our sin flows constantly.

This is the context necessary for the rest of our Hebrews text:

12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

 

This is just how deep our sin runs.  Point to the cross.  These “boring” Levitical texts teach us just how dear and precious is the love of God for us that He would send His one and only Son Jesus Christ to bear on His own shoulders every sin of every person who ever walked this earth.

Christ’s sacrifice, His death on the cross did what our own sacrifices couldn’t do.  Sure, that ram was good to forgive that one lie.  But how many lies have you told?  And that’s just lies.  Multiply it out.  There’s almost an endless list of different ways we can sin against God and our neighbor.  Jesus’ death takes care of all our sins.  Every.  Last.  One.  Of.  Them.

I love the beauty of church architecture, that the cross hangs over, above the altar.  Christ’s sacrifice trumps our sacrifices.  We are forgiven not by the blood of bulls, but by the very blood of God Himself.  Our sins are forgiven.  “And where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”  We don’t have to keep the Levitical sacrificial system anymore!  But we do still see its value to teach us about Christ.

Then the author Hebrews gets even more profound on us:

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

 

We can enter the Tabernacle!  Those spaces reserved only for the priests.  The space reserved for only the high priest.  We can now enter in.  We can come into the presence of God, the dwelling place of the Most High, because He opened the curtain for us.  That curtain that separated us from God’s holy presence was torn in two from top to bottom, from God to man, on Good Friday, as Christ died on the cross.

His death, His sacrifice covers our sins and our guilts.  We can now come into His presence.  Because our great High Priest, Jesus, has offered His blood once and for all.  And in His name, we are sprinkled.  We are washed clean in the waters of holy baptism.  Sins forgiven, cleansed, atoned.

And so we hold fast to our faith, to our confession, because “He who promised is faithful.”  We may not be, but He is.  God keeps His Word.  God keeps His promises.  And He has promised you life in the very blood of His own Son.  This is why we gather.  We gather to hear His Word and His promises.  We gather to hear His forgiveness, and to receive that forgiveness by His own blood shed for us.

As our text ends, it’s an excellent reminder.  We are a community.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ.  He is ours, and we are His.  And here in this place, where He has promised to dwell with sinful men, we receive the very blood that gives us new life.  Don’t give up that hope.  Don’t give up that certainty.  God is here, in this very place, for you.

And so we gather.  We gather regularly.  We gather frequently with one another receiving God’s precious promises fulfilled for us.  We gather often to encourage one another and build one another up that we may serve in our daily vocations.  And we have confidence to care for a broken world, because we know that our brokenness has been forgiven and we have been made new in the blood of the Lamb of God.

 

 

 

The Rich Young Idolater October 14, 2018

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Mark 10:17-22

Proper 23

October 14th, 2018

 

Focus:  God loves us and forgives us, even of our greatest idols.

Function:  That the hearers repent of their idols and trust in Christ alone.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

The Rich Young Idolater

 

Our gospel reading from Mark today is one that’s very familiar to us as the Church.  It’s the story of the rich young ruler, the man who had great wealth, and wanted to know how to be saved.  Because we’re so familiar with it, today’s sermon will be more of a Bible study, as we walk through this text verse by verse and really look at it.  So, let’s dig in!

17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

 

Jesus has recently been in the region of Judea, just on the east side of the Jordan River.  He’s been doing some difficult teaching, as He’s answered the Pharisees questions about divorce, and then later said one of His famous quotes: “Let the children come to Me.”

And now He’s preparing to leave that place, to move on to the next town and continue to preach and teach in another place.  And in the next section, Mark tells us what that place is.  They’re on the journey to Jerusalem.  It’s about to be time for the triumphal entry, for Jesus to ride in to Jerusalem on a colt.  For an excruciatingly difficult week.

It’s sandwiched in between these events, that we see this young man come before Jesus.  He gets on his knees.  He comes to the feet of Christ.  And then he asks Him a question.  “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Before we get to Jesus’ answer, we can unpack that.  Good Teacher is true.  Jesus is that.  More than that, but He is a good teacher.  But what about the question itself?  “What must I do?”  What’s the answer to that?  Brothers and sisters in Christ, what can you do you’re your own salvation?  Nothing!  Let’s see Jesus’ response:

18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 

 

Jesus begins with the introduction.  He responds to this young man calling Him a “good teacher.”  Why?  Why would you call Me good?  There’s two goals of this sentence.  First, who is good?  God alone.  So in order for Jesus to be good, He must be…God.  Jesus is seeking a confession of faith from the man.  And this is gold!  If we can’t earn our salvation by our works as we’ve already said, how then are we saved?  By faith in Christ.  Jesus is aiming for that response.

The second part of this sentence is for us to realize that we aren’t good.  God alone is good.  That means, we aren’t.  We’re not good enough.  We can’t earn our salvation.  It must be a gift.  And so Jesus continues His answer to help the young man see this.

19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 

 

What must I do to be saved?  Keep the Law.  If it were up to us, that’s how we’d have to do it.  We would have to keep the Law perfectly.  No slip ups, no kinda sorta’s.  Perfectly.  I won’t read into the order of the commands Jesus is quoting here.  I mean, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, and then back to 4.  I’m not sure if there’s any reason He puts honoring parents at the back of the list for this man.  I don’t know.

But what is clear, is what He doesn’t include.  The first table of the Law is missing.  Commandments one through three, which teach us how to love God.  They’re not here.  He’s going with the second table, the obvious ones, the one’s we can see.  The one’s we can judge.  This man would know if he’d ever killed someone.  Cheated on his wife, stolen, lied in court.  He’d know these.

The point here is this: you can’t even keep the commands to love your neighbor, who’s right here in front of your face.  How do you think you can love God, the Lord of the universe?  If you can’t keep the easy ones, how are you going to keep the hard ones?  Jesus is inviting the man to realize that he can’t save himself, that even his question is wrong.

But in the man’s response, we see he doesn’t get it.

20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 

 

*Facepalm*

            The young man thinks he’s done it!  He actually believes in his heart that he has kept the Law.  This is easy for us to look at from the outside.  To render our judgment, both because we know of original sin, that all men sin and fall short of the glory of God.  But also, because we know the young man can’t do it.  We know he hasn’t done it.  In a couple of verses, we’re going to see him walk away from God.

We could read into that introduction, too.  That perhaps he just showed us his lack of faith.  Jesus said not to call Him good unless you think He’s God.  So it’s possible that the young man changes his introduction to match.  To declare that he doesn’t see Jesus as God, but only as a teacher.  I can’t say that part with certainty.  But it’s an interesting possibility, and the context tells us it’s probably true.

Either way, the statement is a hard one.  This man thinks he’s kept the Law, and that he’s capable of earning salvation.  So we see Jesus respond:

21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 

 

Jesus could’ve responded to the young man in lots of different ways.  Clearly, this guy wasn’t there for the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus took all of these laws and showed us just how deep they actually are.  Just how impossible it is to actually keep them.  He could’ve preached that again, but He doesn’t.

He could’ve gotten angry at the man’s lack of faith.  But He doesn’t.  He could’ve gotten angry at the man’s idolatry, but He doesn’t.

Instead, He loves him.  Remember, when this man shows up, Jesus was just about to begin His journey to Jerusalem, where He would willingly give His life for all people.  This man included.  He loves him.  Dearly.  This man is His creation, His creature, and Jesus is going to give His life for him.

So instead, we see Him respond with precision.  Like the surgeon in Operation, whether you’re thinking of actual doctors, or that difficult, beeping children’s game.  Jesus strikes true.  Straight at the heart of the man.  He names his idol, and He seeks to kill it.

On the surface, it sounds like a ridiculous command.  Take everything you own, and go and sell it all.  Then take the money, and give it all to the poor.  At that point, as you hit rock bottom, as you’ve got nothing left, come with Me.  Trust in Me.  Follow Me.  You’ll have Me.

This is the call.  He’s made it before.  The disciples were asked to do something similar.  Although, for most of them, they left the homes of their parents, the work they were being trained to do so they could care for themselves and their own families in the years to come.  But the twelve did it.

22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

The young man couldn’t.  He couldn’t give it up.  Jesus went straight for the kill.  No messing around with different laws.  Jesus went straight to the first commandment.  You shall have no other gods before Me.  And for this man, his wealth was his god.

He trusted in it.  He trusted in it for his daily bread.  He trusted in it for a roof over his head.  He trusted in it for the safety he could buy with it.  He trusted in it for the friends he could acquire with it.  He trusted in the money when the Savior of the world was right there in front of him.

Jesus knew his idol.  He knew the one thing that was truly preventing this man from being saved.  He lacked faith.  He didn’t trust in God above all things.  And so Jesus answers the question truly.  Give it up.  Repent.  Stop trusting in the created things and trust in the Creator.

This is us.  For some of us, perhaps all of us, money is an idol.  Even if it isn’t all the time, we have those moments.  We trust in our bank account, rather than God, for daily bread, for the needs of this life.  We panic at the sight of stock market changes, and what that means for our retirement, rather than trusting in God.

We idolize family, as we turn to them for love and belonging instead of the Lord.  We idolize our careers, as we put so much effort into building something, anything, even though as soon as we leave this place, it’ll crumble.  We idolize our government, looking to them for safety, guidance, even our identity at this point.

We idolize success, striving each day to be as busy as we can be, doing this activity, this task, this job, all so we can move up.  All so our kids can move up.  We already have more wealth than 98% of people who are alive today.  What are we striving for?  What are teaching our children?

This is what our Bible study has been about the past five weeks.  And we’re just getting started.  We’ve talked about the purpose of life, loving our enemies, where our identity comes from, our value.  We’ve looked at self-esteem.  In these next few weeks, we’ll see what God’s Word has to say on another few dozen topics.  We’ll talk government and politics.  We’ll talk family, marriage, children, and education.  We’ll talk about contentment, individualism, flags, and death.  Please join us, bring more topics.  Bring questions.  Bring your family.  Bring your friends.  Let’s study God’s Word.

Jesus knows this is us.  He knows our biggest idols.  He knows them all.  Most of the time, He even created them.  They were meant to be gifts, but we chose to worship the creation rather than the creator.

But even with this grand insult of the Almighty God, His love for us runs so deep, that He kept His promise.   He hopped on that colt, and He road it into Jerusalem, knowing exactly what He was up against.  He did it for you.  The whole week, the teaching, the table tossing, the betrayal, the Lord’s Supper, the garden and arrest, the trials, the mockery, and the crucifixion.  He willingly gave His life for us.  He shed His blood to cleanse us of our idols.  To forgive us, to restore us.  We are free to trust in Him.

You are His creation.  You are dearly loved.  And this, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is what true love really looks like.  It’s the willingness to speak the hard words.  It’s the willingness to call your family, your friend to repent of their wrongdoing, to turn away from their sin.  To turn away from idols, and to put our trust in Christ alone.  Because He does love us.  He does provide for us.  He does protect us.  And He shows us what true love looks like by laying down His own life for ours.  He is your hope. He is your salvation.  And it’s all a free gift.

Your Sons and Daughters Shall Prophesy September 30, 2018

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Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

Proper 21 – The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 30, 2018

Focus:  God has given us the words to speak: the good news of Jesus Christ.

Function:  That the hearers share the gospel in their vocations.

Structure:  This is the problem…this is the response of the Gospel…these are the implications.

 

Your Sons and Daughters Shall Prophesy

 

Over the last few weeks now, our Scripture readings through the lectionary have been focusing on the leaders of the Church.  Two weekends ago, we saw James giving us the warning that not all should become teachers, because those who do will face a stricter judgment.  And last weekend, Pastor Otto preached on God telling the prophet Jeremiah to no longer pray for the people of Judah.

This weekend, we have Moses, the writer of the first five books of Scripture.  The book of Genesis ended with God’s people of Israel having a pretty nice deal on the table with Egypt.  Joseph was famous, ruling over everything except the throne of Pharaoh.  And so his family took comfort in the land of Goshen.

But as we transition into Exodus, generations have passed.  And the new Pharaoh hasn’t a clue who Joseph was, or what he’d done for his land and his people.  Rather, in fear of the great numbers of Israelites, he chooses to enslave them before they think of overthrowing his throne.

After about 430 years in Egypt, the people cry out.  They finally remember the Lord and His promises to them.  And they ask for His help, His deliverance.  So, God raises up Moses to be His spokesman, His prophet among them.  He performs miracles through him in the eyes of the people.  Turning a staff into a snake.  Healing leprosy.

And as Pharaoh rejects the command to let Israel go, to let God’s people go, the Ten Plagues begin.  All the water in the land becomes blood.  Frogs, gnats, flies, so thick upon the land you felt like you were swimming in them.  The death of livestock, boils, and hail.  Locusts and thick darkness.  And then the Passover and the Plague of the firstborn son.  There wasn’t a house in Egypt where someone wasn’t dead.

And as the Israelites are finally kicked out by Pharaoh, we see the grumbling begin.  Despite everything they witnessed, all that God has done for them, they doubt Him.  They doubt His salvation, His love, and His provision.  Weren’t there graves in Egypt?  Didn’t we have meat in our firepots in Egypt?  Wasn’t there plenty of water to drink in Egypt?  Why’d you bring us out here in the wilderness to die?

Our Old Testament reading today is one of these grumblings.  A strong craving.  For meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic.  Apparently all free.  Or at least, so they say now.  And they look upon the gift, manna, the bread that God gave them every day as sustenance.  The bread that tasted like dessert as they ate it.  They look upon that bread with disgust.  God’s gift wasn’t good enough.  The certainty of it being there every day wasn’t good enough.  The wonder of it being freely given.  The regularity you could trust.

Instead, they wanted a buffet, a smorgasbord to feast on.  They had grown tired of God’s gift.  They had grown bored with true comfort.  We do this as well.  We grow tired of His Word, wanting something more entertaining.  We grow bored with hearing the same good news, gospel message each and every week, so we stop coming until we feel we need it.  We grow tired of His gifts, of something like marriage.  I’m convinced that this buffet mentality is behind the epidemic of adultery and pornography.  Why settle for the same thing every day for the rest of our lives?

And so the Israelites all came out of their tents and cried out against God and against Moses.  The text doesn’t say here.  It doesn’t say if Moses is fearful for his life.  There were other times he thought the Israelites might choose to overwhelm him in their anger.  But it doesn’t say that here.  It just tells us Moses response to their complaint this time.  And it’s essentially this: “[God,] if you will treat me like this, kill me at once.”  He’s overwhelmed by their lack of faith in God.  He’s stressed by the burden of trying to care for them all.  So He asks God to end it.  And, I guarantee you, he’s not the only leader of the Church to ever make that request.

And yet God’s response isn’t death.  He could’ve.  “Okay Moses, here’s what you asked for!”  And Moses would’ve been no more.  But instead, God responds with mercy and grace.  He hears the root of Moses’ complaint, that the burden was too much.  And so God raises up seventy men, from among the elders of Israel.  And He pours out His Spirit upon them, and they begin to prophesy.  That is, they begin to speak the words of God to His people.  It’s only temporary, to show God’s favor is still in Moses, that he is still the rightful leader of this people.

When Moses’ assistant, Joshua, hears the report of two others prophesying back in the camp, Eldad and Medad, he tells Moses to put an end to it.  Moses is the prophet, not these other two.  But Moses’ response is simple and great: “Are you jealous for my sake?  Would that all Yahweh’s people were prophets.”  Imagine how wonderful it would be if you were all full of God’s Word.

Now, I see why the worship committee paired this text with our gospel reading.  We see the disciples make the same call as Joshua.  There were those casting out demons in Jesus’ name.  They wanted Jesus to stop them.  But as true a connection as this is, it’s not where I want to look today.

Instead, I take you to Peter’s sermon on Pentecost.  As he preaches to the Jews, he quotes the prophet Joel and says,

17 And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. – Acts 2:17-18

 

You see, God has raised you up.  You are His sons and daughters who prophesy.  Put simply, that means we speak His words to others.  And what words would that be?  What has He given you to say?

Rather than responding to us as we deserve, with death and damnation for our sins, God responds with mercy and grace.  He responds by sending His Son, Jesus Christ to be our forgiveness.  Like the manna, the gift is regular.  It’s daily.  It’s always here and you can be certain.  In His Word, we are forgiven of our boredom.  In His gifts, daily of baptism, we are washed clean of our lusts.

That’s the interesting thing, isn’t it?  I’ve been working with our 7th graders these last couple of weeks to prepare them for receiving the Lord’s Supper for the first time in their lives.  That’s a big deal.  It truly is.  But one of things that I’ve stressed above all else is this one little part of Christ’s gift and command.  “This cup is the new covenant in My blood.  Do this, as _____ (often) as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

The Lord isn’t in the business of withholding His gifts.  There’s no one in heaven keeping tabs on how much you’re drinking.  The early Church took the Lord’s Supper together daily.  They treasured the gift.  And they heeded Christ’s command.  This forgiveness is here.  Shed for you.  In Christ, your sins are forgiven.  One of the students asked, “Pastor, what if for some reason I’m at church for both services.  If I come up at 8am for the Lord’s Supper, can I come up again at 10:45am?”  YES!  Most definitely. Do this as often as you drink it.  I know I’ve sinned in the time between services, and rejoice greatly that Christ’s forgiveness is more abundant than my sin.

These are the words that you’ve been given to speak.  The Church doesn’t need to be the center of our culture.  I don’t want the Church to be so full of events that you can’t live in your families and in your communities.  That’s not what this building is meant for.  You’ve been given a Word to speak, and people to speak it to.  There’s no need to be jealous for the sake of your pastors.  I’ve heard it said before that evangelism is only the job of the pastor.  You’re not taking special work away from us.  It’s my job to love you.  It’s your job to love your neighbor.

It’s like I shared with the kids in the children’s message.  The church is the bucket, God’s gifts are the water, and you are the sponge.  We come here, we gather here, to hear God’s good news for us in Christ, and to receive His abundant gifts.  And then we go out from this place, we scatter, sloshing His gifts around as we go.  Dripping, soaking, sharing the good news of Christ and Him crucified.  Sharing the good news that our sins are forgiven.

This is the teaching of vocation, one of the true gems of Lutheran theology.  As you go home today, and you’re talking to your next-door neighbor in the driveway, you have the opportunity in that relationship to share the Gospel.  As you go home and hear your brother gloating and bragging about his sin, you have the opportunity to share the Law, to show him his sin and his need for a Savior, and then to point him to Christ, where that sin is forgiven.

You are husbands and wives.  Fathers and mothers.  Sons and daughters.  Nieces, nephews, and cousins.  You are students, teachers, employees, employers.  You are teammates, coworkers.  You are friends.  You are neighbors.  All of these are good things.  All of these are vocations in which you serve your neighbor, loving them as Christ loves them.

And most of all, you are children of God.  You are His.  Forgiven of all sin in the blood of His Son.  Richly blessed in the abundance of His gifts.  And entrusted, as His prophets, with His most precious Word of life in Christ alone.

The Gift of Greater Strictness September 16, 2018

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James 3:1-12

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 16, 2018

 

Focus:  God blesses us with His gifts.

Function:  That the hearers rejoice in the gifts and responsibilities God has given them.

Structure:  This is the problem…this is the response of the gospel…these are the implications.

 

The Gift of Greater Strictness

 

This is a difficult text and a difficult book.  Teachers being judged to a greater strictness?  Does that mean there’s different rewards waiting for us in heaven?  Or that we have to give an account on the Last Day and will be judged according to our works?  It would just be easier to side with early Luther and say, “Someday I will use James to fire my stove.”  He came around.  He grew to like James, eventually.

But antilegomena or not, James’ letter made the canon of Scripture.  And as a part of God’s Word, we do respect it as such.  And we should include in our studies, our personal devotion, and even in our church readings.

And there are certainly several things here we can look at.  All three uses of the law are in this text.  The bits being placed into the mouths of horses is an illustration of the curb, that their behavior, their movement can be controlled, curtailed.  The horse kept in line.  James’ discussion of the tongue is an excellent example of a mirror, breaking down how we fall short.  And the idea of a pilot guiding his ship could also be used to illustrate the law as a guide.

But where I’m going this morning is to view all of this as a gift from God.  These things are gifts to us as His people.  The law is His good and perfect will for us.  And so even the very idea that we have a life to live to His will is a gift.

And despite labeling our tongues as a great evil, they too are a gift.  God has given us the ability to speak, to taste food, and if you’re around my daughters lately, to make all kinds of silly sounds and faces.

But even though they’re gifts from God, we can abuse them.  How many harsh things have rolled off the tip of your tongue?  And that’s not just swearing and cursing.  Insults, lies, deception, mockery, hatred, disgust.  We often discuss whether or not people have a filter.  But even the best of us slips up.  We’ve all said things we instantly regretted.     We have harmed neighbors, destroyed friendships.  The tongue can indeed be wicked.

And to James’ point here, there are times where pastors, leaders in God’s kingdom where our tongues have lit the church on fire.  I know mine has.  Times when we forget someone’s name and offend them by it.  Other moments where a pastor slips in our speech and break someone’s confidentiality, revealing just a little too much, just a little too soon.  Or maybe there have even been times where they’ve taught something incorrectly, and it started a chain reaction of pain in the community.

And then there are also times when pastors preach the truth and it fails to itch the ears of their hearers.  Perhaps all pastors who have preached the Word of God in truth, have seen people leave the pews, and leave their church community altogether.  And then it’s their tongues that start causing fires that have to be put out.

And so as teachers of God’s Word, we get this incredible warning from James.  “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

It’s almost as though James were trying his best Uncle Ben impersonation, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  Alright, so it’s probably the other way around.  But there is much wisdom in what Spider-man’s uncle said.  In fact, it fits in quite well with what God teaches in Scripture.

In Matthew, the parable of the tenants, we hear the master respond “‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”  That’s a great stewardship text.  A great way to talk about using the blessings God gives us to be a blessing to others.

And then we can look to Adam and Eve and the fall into sin.  Even though Eve takes the first bite, it’s Adam that God seeks.  It’s Adam that God first blames.  It’s Adam that the Scriptures continue to blame to this day.  He was given responsibility, stewardship, over God’s creation, over his wife.  And when He failed, God held him accountable for it.

Or we can to look to Christ’s words as He says in Matthew 18:

“but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

 

Those words have meaning for all of us, for all disciples, whether we have children or not.  The Scriptures bear this out, the more responsibility we are given, the more accountability there is that comes with it.

And so it’s not surprising, that just about any time we start to talk about heaven, or Paradise, in a Bible study, there’s a question that almost always comes up: “Will there be different rewards for us in heaven?”

It’s a great question, and it’s a fun one for us to grapple with.  And I’m always glad to see people acknowledge, “We’ll let God be God.  And we will simply trust in Him.”  Because the more we prod into this difficult question, the more we realize that if the Bible laid out all the different kinds of rewards God might give, our sinfulness would run rampant.  We would be trying to work to achieve these things, rather than trusting in God and His good gifts.  We only have to look to the disciples to see that.  To James and John asking to sit at Christ’s left and His right hand in Paradise.  It’s not ours to say or to achieve.  We are simply called to be faithful in what God has given us, in the responsibilities He lays on our shoulders.

Because even though there are mornings when I wake up and I’m struggling, struggling with the monotony of another day, struggling with the devil’s lie of a lack of success, of a numbers game, struggling with all the busyness of another agenda, on those mornings, God’s gift to me is a curb.  His gift to me is to use His law to remind me of my responsibilities, of my vocations, that I might get up out of bed and go do them.

And even though there are times when I’m wondering how best to serve you all as God’s people, to call out your sin, to proclaim the gospel, how to walk with you through grief, how to navigate the struggles of damaged relationships, God’s gift to me is a guide.  He gives me His law to help show me the way that I might walk in it, and be a light to the community He placed me in.

And then in those times when verses like these leave me drowning in my own sin and guilt, knowing my failings, knowing the hurt I’ve caused, the things my tongue has set ablaze, that from this mouth have come both blessings and curses, and from this body both fruit and rottenness, God’s gift to me is indeed a mirror.  He gives me His law to show me my faults that I might confess them, and give them over to Him for forgiveness.

For in all three uses of this law of God, it is a gift.  Because each of them points us to these words: “if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”  They point us to Christ, who indeed was able to tame the tongue, to live a life without stumbling, and He did so for us.

We are His body, the church, and He gave Himself up for us.  When I sin and when I fall short, my sins are forgiven in Christ and in His gift of grace to me.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, your sins, the times you have set the church and the world on fire with your tongue, the times you have cursed His people, your sins are forgiven and washed clean in our Savior.

So when James says to us: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness,” we can hear that, too, as a gift.  For us as teachers, we have been given a great gift.  We get to bear fruit for the hungry, we get to be fresh water for those who thirst for life.  We get to share the good news of Christ and Him crucified as part of our daily life.  And get paid to do it!  Yes, it’s a responsibility, but it’s also a tremendous gift.  One Pastor Otto and I are both thankful for.

And for you, there is good news that there are still teachers.  This is a gift of God to you.  That there are still men that the Spirit raises up to declare the Law in all its sharpness and authority.  And, to proclaim the gospel, in all its sweetness.  That you may know, without a doubt, that this God Man Jesus Christ laid down His life for you.  That upon the cross, your sins are forgiven.  That through the resurrection, the devil’s lies are defeated, and the life of Christ is forever yours.  And with our tongues, we rejoice in these things!

The Armor of God September 2, 2018

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Ephesians 6:10-20

Proper 17 – The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 2, 2018

 

Focus:  God saves us from the enemy through His Son Jesus.

Function:  That the hearers put on the whole armor of God, that is, Jesus Christ.

Structure:  Walking through the text…twice!

 

The Armor of God

 

Hell is real.  I’m sure you’ve heard otherwise. “A loving God wouldn’t send people to Hell.”  “Hell is just a myth to scare children into behaving.”  “Hell is just a metaphor.”  Similar things are said about the devil these days.

But don’t be mistaken.  Don’t be fooled.  The devil is very real.  Hell is very real.  In the Greek language of the New Testament, the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t say “deliver us from evil.”  It says, “Deliver us from the evil one.”  We specifically pray against Satan every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.

And Hell is a very real place.  Created not for us, but for the devil and his army of angels who’ve sided with him.  It is a fiery furnace meant to be their everlasting home, a place of ongoing anguish as they remain forever separated from God.  It is not His will that we go there.  But it is the devil’s aim to bring us down with him.

I will say this as a matter of fact because that is what it is: you and I are caught up in a millennia old war between the Creator and the deceiver.  We do ourselves great harm by pretending this war doesn’t exist.  By slinking away into the comforts of our wealth, it is easy to pretend that we have peace.  It is easy to imagine that we are safe if we just cling to the works of our hands, the wonders of our medicine, the abundance of our technology, and the hecticness of our daily lives.

Who needs to think about war when there’s so much else to distract us from it?  But it is very real, and by ignoring it, we slowly slip into the snares of the evil one.  It is with great pride that he weaves his sticky web of lies.  It is with an eerie grin that he tells you that you can have it all.  It’s with a crafty lie of success that he drags you into a life that is so chaotic that we can’t even find time to stop and just breathe, let alone be in God’s Word.

The devil doesn’t have to use direct assaults.  He doesn’t have to send a legion of demons into our midst.  We’ve already bought his lies; we already enjoy his deceptions.  But turn on the news.  The comfort disappears.  It’s one crime, one murder, one death, one tragedy after another.  If we so much as look up from our own belly button, we see death and destruction all around us.  We live in a dying world.  We are dying.

The works of our hands don’t spare us.  We live in an age with more technological advances than ever before.  And yet, depression and loneliness and suicide are rising to rates never seen before.  When we have so many new and useful tools to make our lives easier, for some reason, we are running around like crazy, busier than we’ve ever been.

We have wonderful activities, sports, and hobbies for ourselves, our families, and our children.  And yet, these things become so numerous, so all-encompassing, that we lose ourselves.  We lose sight of our priorities.

The devil enjoys taking you out of the pew.  He enjoys distracting you from God’s Word.  He revels in keeping you so busy to the point where we think being busy is a good thing.  We’ve bought the deception.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are at war!  The Scriptures don’t hide this, although the devil would like it hidden.  Cover to cover, the ways of Satan and his minions are made known.  The very pains of war are made clear.

This is Biblical language.  And that brings us to our text today.  This is the language of Paul.  We are at war.  Every day is a battle in a raging war.  Every.  Single.  Day.  When you go to bed.  While you sleep.  When you pull yourself up in the morning.  As you go about your vocations.  Constantly, we are at war.

What does Paul encourage us to do in order to prepare for these daily battles?  Put on the whole armor of God.  Why?  So that we might be able to: stand against the schemes of the devil.  But let me ask you this: can you?  Can you stand against the schemes of the devil?  No. You are not as strong as him.  Read about what happened to the sons of Sceva in Acts 19 some time.  We aren’t as powerful.

Can you stand firm in the evil day?  No.  Can you extinguish the flaming darts of the evil one?  No.  So what in the world is Paul doing in this passage?  What’s he getting at?  What is this armor of God that he keeps telling us to put on?

Maybe you’re catching on at this point.  Who can stand firm?  Who can stand against the devil and his schemes?  Who can extinguish the flaming darts of the evil one?  Jesus!  About two months ago, we read as Paul encouraged us to put on … Christ.

Maybe you’ve heard it before, maybe not.  But in telling us to put on the whole armor of God, Paul is telling us to put on Jesus Christ.  This is one of those times that I really wish we had Bibles in the pews. Lend me your ears, and I’ll show you this through God’s Word.

In verse fourteen, we are encouraged to “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth.”  Paul is connecting us back to an Old Testament prophecy about Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life.  We hear from Isaiah 11:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of Yahweh shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of Yahweh.
And his delight shall be in the fear of Yahweh. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Yahweh as the waters cover the sea.

 

Jesus is that shoot of Jesse.  He is the one with faithfulness and righteousness as His belt.  And even though we don’t know or use the word “loins” much in our language today, the New Testament did.  In Luke 12:35, Jesus says “Let your loins stay girded and keep your lamps burning.”  And in 1 Peter 1:13, “Girding up the loins of your mind, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  We don’t use this language, so sadly those verses aren’t even translated that way anymore.  But Jesus is the belt of truth that we are always to be wearing or girding.

Verse fourteen also mentions the breastplate of righteousness.  For this, we again turn to the prophet Isaiah, the 59th chapter:

15 Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. Yahweh saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. 16 He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. 17 He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. 18 According to their deeds, so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render repayment. 19 So they shall fear the name of Yahweh from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the Lord drives. 20 “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares Yahweh.

 

As Israel and Judah looked about for a king to deliver them from their enemies, Yahweh had different plans.  He promised that He Himself would save them.  A Redeemer in Zion, who would don righteousness as a breastplate.

In verse fifteen we see the shoes of readiness.  This brings us to a prophecy of Jesus in Isaiah 52:7:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

 

You’ve heard that before!  The shoes of readiness of the Gospel of peace.  Jesus’ own good news of salvation.  Paul uses that verse again in Romans 10.  And, we see a similar notion of readiness in other spots.  In Exodus 12, as the Israelites celebrated the Passover in haste, which points forward to Jesus’ death and resurrection, and our Lord’s Supper.  And then there’s also this in 1 Peter 3:

14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

 

Be prepared.  Be ready.  At all times.  With what?  The hope that is in you.  To be able to tell others, what is your hope.  And, what is your hope?  Jesus!

In verse sixteen, we are to take up the shield of faith.  This is the only piece of armor out of the six that doesn’t find root in the prophecies of Isaiah.  According to the Scriptures, who is our shield?  God Himself!   In Genesis 15, Deuteronomy 33, 2 Samuel 22, Psalm 3, 5, 7, 18, 28, 33, 59, 84, 89, 91, 115, 119, 144, and Proverbs 30.  That’s some pretty common usage!  From Psalm 91, we read:

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

 

And, from Psalm 120, we even see and learn about the devil’s flaming arrows:

In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue. What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue? A warrior’s sharp arrows, with glowing coals of the broom tree!

 

I know I’ve said this before, but the devil knows just one trick.  He lies, he deceives.  He tries to convince you that the Word of God cannot be trusted.  And so we take up our shield of faith, we take up the words of Jesus, to extinguish the lies.  As Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” – Matthew 4:4

We’ve already seen the fifth piece of armor, verse seventeen’s helmet of salvation was right beside the breastplate of righteousness in Isaiah 59.

So, lastly, we have the sword of the spirit.  We turn again to Isaiah, this time chapter 49:

Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the Lord, and my recompense with my God.” And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him—for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength—he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

 

The Words of Jesus are the very sword of God.  Paul went ahead and told us this one, but we see it throughout Scripture!  The one we know best is from Hebrews 4:12 – “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

And so we revisit the text of Ephesians 6.  Put on the whole armor of God.  That is, put on Christ!  He is our truth, our righteousness, our ready Gospel of peace, our faith, our salvation.  His very Word is our sword.

Alone, I stand no chance against the devil and his demonic hordes.  But we are not alone!  In Christ, we can stand against the schemes of the devil meant to lure us away from our faith.  In Christ, we can stand firm in the evil and busy day.  In Christ, we can extinguish the flaming darts of lies flinging from the devil’s mouth.  In Christ, we can stand.  We do stand!

And we do so daily, regularly.  Remember, we are at war all the time.  What happens to a soldier in the battle caught without his armor and his weapon?  He’s killed.  We keep putting on the armor of God.  Jesus is the center of everything in our lives, in our jobs, in our homes, in our families.  Everything.  Peter encourages us with these words:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

 

The devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  He is our enemy.  And he fights dirty.  But, in Christ, he cannot stand.  The devil has no might before our Lord.  This is what Moses told the Israelites in Exodus 14, at the Red Sea:

13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of Yahweh, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 Yahweh will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

 

We aren’t the conqueror.  Christ is.  You don’t have to defeat the devil like some hero from a movie.  Christ is the hero.  He is the conqueror.  All we have to do is put on Christ!  And that, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is already done!  It’s the beauty of your baptism.

Christ’s righteousness is your righteousness.  Not earned, but given.  A gift that you wear.  That you put on daily as you take off the old self, and put on the new self.  We put on the whole armor of God.

Put on the whole armor of God.  That is Jesus!  And, like Paul, take up the sword of God’s Word, so that you may proclaim boldly the mystery of the gospel.  We are at war.  And your neighbor is not your enemy.  He simply needs to hear the Word of truth.

This is one of the most beautiful things about these closing words to the Ephesian church, the thing that we don as our armor in the daily war against the devil, is the very same thing we wear as our royal garb as the bride of Christ in Paradise for eternity.  Hear, once more, from the prophet Isaiah (61:10-11):

10 I will greatly rejoice in Yahweh; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord Yahweh will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.

 

Amen!

Whoever Feeds on My Flesh August 19, 2018

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John 6:51-69

Proper 15

August 19, 2018

 

Focus:  God gives us the bread of life.

Function:  That the hearers speak the truth with boldness.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Whoever Feeds on My Flesh

 

I’m guessing you’ve heard it.  In the midst of our cultural war over all things moral and immoral, Americans say it all the time.  “You shouldn’t be so judgmental.”  “Jesus says, ‘Judge not, that you be not judged.’”  “Didn’t you know Jesus hung out with the sinners?”  “Jesus would have approved of what we’re doing.”  “Why don’t you love everyone like Jesus?” “Jesus would’ve baked the cake!”

Have you heard it?  It’s a ludicrous attack on our faith, but it’s not really meant to attack us.  It’s meant to justify, to make whatever it is that they’re doing okay.  If you really loved me, you’d want me to be happy.  You’d want me to do whatever I want to do.  That’s love in 21st century America.  Supposedly.

It’s ludicrous, though.  A selective reading of Scripture, regurgitating catchy phrases they’ve heard others use.  This isn’t the full picture of who Jesus is, or what He’s done.  It doesn’t mesh with the fullness of His teachings.  And it’s ironic, because if you catch these people on any other day, they’d be just as likely to tell you Jesus is a myth; that He never existed anyway.

There are plenty of places you can go in Scripture to respond to these things.  And this is one of them.  Our gospel account today from John 6 is one of them.  Jesus either is who He says He is, or He’s completely insane.  And if He is who He claims to be, you can’t just nitpick His words, only listening to the ones that fit your agenda.  If He’s God, His word is truth, and nothing less.

We’ve been reading through John 6 now for the last three weekends.  Slowly making our way through the section rightly subtitled, “I Am the Bread of Life.”  But to get a bigger picture of who Jesus is talking to, we have to go back a day.  John 6 begins with a story you all know very well.  Jesus feeds the 5,000.

He’s been teaching, talking with people, sharing the good news of forgiveness and God’s mercy.  Calling people to repentance.  Healing the sick.   The kind of things that were all in a day’s work for this Man Jesus.  It’s the week of the Passover/ Jerusalem and its surrounding region are swarming with Jews as they come for the holiest time of the year.

Jesus sees a large crowd coming to Him near the Sea of Galilee, and He instructs His disciples to feed them.  Philip suggests it would take two hundred denarii, that is two hundred days’ worth of wages, to feed a crowd this size.

And yet Jesus doesn’t flinch.  He takes what they have, which is five loaves and two fish from a boy in the crowd.  He has the people sit, He blesses and He breaks the bread.  And the disciples wait tables.  They pass out food, and they pass out food, and they pass out food.  And by the time they’ve finished and gathered the leftovers, they have twelve baskets full.  Quite an important number in Scripture.  Five thousand men, plus women and children, full.  From five loaves and two fish.

It’s an incredible miracle, but one that makes Jesus want to flee.  The people know what He just did.  “If we could have that, our lives would be wonderful.  Come, let’s force Him to be our king!”  So Jesus disappears, up onto the mountain to pray and to rest.

This is also when the disciples cross the sea in the boat, seeking to reach Capernaum.  And during the evening, Jesus walks on water, clear across the sea.  In their fear, He calms them, and He joins them.  Another miraculous event.

But the crowd, realizing Jesus had disappeared, they also head for Capernaum.  And they find Him there, as well as His disciples.  And Jesus begins to explain to them who He truly is.

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35

 

The statement sounds good, right?  The crowd just saw Him do it.  Make Jesus our king, never go hungry or thirst again.  Imagine how wonderful that would sound to most of the world today.  Maybe all of it!

But not the Jews, they’re not so easily had.  “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” – John 6:42.  They recognize Him, and the miracle gives them pause.  Already, there are some who don’t want anything to do with Man Jesus.

And if it weren’t already enough, Jesus says verse 51, the opening of our text: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

“Wait a second…what did He just say?  Did He just say we have to eat His flesh?”

Jesus compares Himself to the bread that came down from heaven.  The crowd knows this reference.  It’s the manna in the wilderness, upon which their forefathers fed and lived for 40 years.  It’s the bread, the stuff of life, that sustained them after the parting of the Red Sea.  Stuff that not only nourished, but tasted like dessert as it did!

And yet Jesus teaches that that bread was only meant to foreshadow His flesh.  That bread was only a glimpse, only a taste.  It wasn’t the real deal.  It was never meant to be.  Take and eat.  “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks My blood has everlasting life, and I will raise Him up on the last day.”

For many today, we see this as the Lord’s Supper, by which we gather together at His table, and we regularly and often eat His body and drink His blood.  We do so, because He said to.  We do so, because in that bread and wine, there is forgiveness.  We do so, because in that sacred meal of His body and blood, there is life in Jesus.

But to the Jews, the crowd, and even His disciples: what?  What is this Man talking about?  Even the twelve disciples admit that “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”  To eat the flesh of a Man?  We can understand where the accusation of cannibalism comes from sometimes.  But Jesus is God.  And we aren’t.

Interestingly, in the text, Jesus even prophesies His own ascension into heaven.  Not sure anyone catches it, there’s hard enough stuff already said they have to deal with first.

And they can’t.  And so we read verse 66: “After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.”  I can’t tell you how often I hear this about the church.  We need to do more to get more people in the church.  If only our services were more attractive.  Entertaining.  If only our preaching were more powerful and uplifting.  Then more people would come!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t get caught up in the numbers. In fact, you’d be better off ignoring numbers all together when it comes to the Church.  King David probably wishes he had after his disastrous census of Israel.  You can’t number the Bride of Christ.

Jesus, the Son of God Himself, the author and perfecter of life, the champion and Savior of mankind.  Surely, when He preaches, the Church grows in numbers!  Actually, no.  It’s the opposite.  As Christ once said: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” – Matthew 10:34.

Jesus preached truth into a dying and broken world.  And the world clung to death.  It’s like the rats that gather in the sewers, or the criminals up to no good.  Turn on the light, and everyone scatters.  Stealthing away into the darkness where the things they love can’t be found.  Jesus speaks truth.  Jesus proclaims truth.

There’s no wide swath of acceptance of any and all things.  Does He love all people?  Yeah!  Does He want all people to be saved?  Yeah!  But the world hates Jesus.  And it hides in darkness thinking it can go on unseen.  But the truth purges darkness.

Jesus preached truth.  It was hard to hear, hard to understand, hard to rationalize with the human mind.  But it was truth.  And despite the “Bread-King” miracle, the people couldn’t stand it.  They left.  Nearly every last one of them.  Gone.

And so Jesus is left standing there with only the twelve disciples.  And He asks, “Do you want to go away as well?”  It’s a question of faith.  And Peter’s response is beautiful.  You know it to a tune: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

We don’t get it.  We don’t understand it all.  I can’t tell you how Christ is present bodily in the Lord’s Supper.  He is.  I know it’s true because He’s promised.  But that’s all I know.  His body is here.  His blood is here.  And we take them.  Take and eat, take and drink.  We take them.  He’s really, physically present in the Lord’s Supper.  That’s all I know, but that’s enough to cling to.  His Word, His promise, His truth.

And that’s Peter’s response.  Look at what we’ve seen.  All the miracles.  The healing, the teaching.  The feeding, the walking on water.  Yeah, the disciples don’t get it.  They don’t understand who Jesus is.  But there’s enough.  They trust, and in the midst of an incredibly difficult and awkward conversation, these twelve men cling to Christ.

We have the good news of a Savior.  Of a Lord who loves us and willingly gave Himself up for us!  And how hard is the task He places before us?  “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  We cling, we trust, we eat.  Jesus saves us, all of us, by His own doing, by His own work.  He freely gives His abundant gifts to us.  And we don’t have to understand it.

I would call your attention today to another of Christ’s teachings:

18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. – John 15:18-21

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, speak the truth with boldness.  You will be rejected.  Jesus was.  And yet, we cling.  You have absolutely nothing to lose if the world rejects you.  Nothing.  To say you’d lose anything is a lie of the devil, to silence you.  The worst they can do is make it so that you see Him face to face a little sooner.  Speak the truth into a broken and dying world.  Call them to repent, to hear the good news.  Call them to the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  You have the words of eternal life in the palm of your hands, and on the tip of your tongue.  Jesus is that Word, and He has richly and fully given Himself to you.  Amen.