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A Certain Thing March 27, 2016

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Luke 24:13-35

Easter

March 27, 2016

 

Focus:  God raised His Son from the dead.

Function:  That the hearers are certain of the resurrection of Christ and the Last Day.

Structure: Here is a prevailing view…here is the claim of the gospel.

 

A Certain Thing

 

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Why do you say that?  That’s just some made up story your parents taught you so you’d be a good person.  It never really happened, people don’t just come back from the dead.  And really, Jesus probably never existed, or if he did, was just another teacher and he never said those things.  He certainly didn’t do miracles, and He didn’t mean to start a religion, the disciples just made it all up.  And that’s the problem with you Christians, you go around believing in some dusty old book.  It’s not relevant, it has no bearing on my life.  A bunch of women-hating men just made up some stories and wrote them down.  And none of their stories even line up, there so full of errors and contradictions.

The attacks on your faith come from all around you.  You can’t hide from them.  Satan is working desperately, diligently through the world around us to tear down your faith.  Whether it’s from the media, peer pressure, public schools, or even Christian universities and some pulpits, the attack comes from just about every direction.  How do you know?  How can you be sure?  What makes your truth better than mine?  They attack the Word of God and cast doubt on our faith.

This leads you to a very difficult choice.  Next Sunday we will begin two new Bible studies here at St. John’s.  Pastor Fritsch will begin a class on the book of the Bible everybody wants to talk about, but we never do: Revelation.  And to go with it, we might even do a preaching series.  But then to make your decision difficult for you, I’ll be leading the other class on this topic of whether or not we can trust the Word of God.  Is it true?  How reliable is it?  Can we really be sure who wrote it, and that we even have what they wrote?  When was it actually written? What about all the mistakes?  And didn’t the authors just borrow from other myths?  We’ve got a couple of great topics, and I certainly invite you to join us for either class.

And while we may never be able to use arguments or logic to persuade someone to believe, these things are gifts of God, and they are important.  We have a need to witness to the faith that we have, to trust in God in the midst of all these doubts and attacks on our faith.  And these things are nothing new.  People have been trying to cast doubt on God and on His Word for six thousand years.  It’s the devil’s old trick, to sow a seed of doubt.

We see this in all three of our readings this morning.  Jesus, Peter, and Paul are all talking about certainty, they’re all arguing that witnesses are important.  That what we’ve seen, heard, and shared with others matters.  And while eye witnesses may no longer be around to tell us about the life of Christ and His resurrection, they left it in writing.  Our witness, through the work of the Holy Spirit, is the Word of God.

But before we dig into our texts, I want to give you a snippet of the sorts of things we get to look at over the next two months in Bible class.  One of the helpful tools, one of the things that can strengthen our faith and grant us reassurance, is that history validates God’s Word.

Non-Christians, most of whom are hostile to the faith, actually support the Scriptures with their writings.  Looking at the works of 1st and 2nd century pagans, they acknowledge many of the things the disciples recorded for us in the Bible.  I posted an article on our website this week that pulls in from these different sources, but here’s the summary paragraph of what it says you can find out about Jesus from non-Biblical sources:

Jesus was born and lived in Palestine. He was born, supposedly, to a virgin and had an earthly father who was a carpenter. He was a teacher who taught that by repentance and belief, all followers would become brothers and sisters. He led the Jews away from their beliefs. He was a wise man who claimed to be God and the Messiah. He had unusual magical powers and performed miraculous deeds. He healed the lame. He accurately predicted the future. He was persecuted by the Jews for what he said, betrayed by Judah Iskarioto. He was beaten with rods, forced to drink vinegar and wear a crown of thorns and crucified on the eve of the Passover. His crucifixion occurred under the direction of Pontius Pilate, during the time of Tiberius. On the day of his crucifixion, the sky grew dark and there was an earthquake. Afterward, he was buried in a tomb and the tomb was later found to be empty. He appeared to his disciples resurrected from the grave and showed them his wounds. These disciples then told others that Jesus was resurrected and ascended into heaven. Jesus’ disciples and followers upheld a high moral code. One of them was named Matthai. The disciples were also persecuted for their faith but were martyred without changing their claims. They met regularly to worship Jesus, even after his death.

 

Romans, Jews, Greeks talked about these things in their writings.  They acknowledge the existence of Jesus, and that’s exciting for us as Christians.  It’s fun.  Witnesses, things that testify to Christ and to His resurrection.

And that’s what Jesus was doing.  The Road to Emmaus.  Two Jews, followers of Christ, one named Cleopas, are just walking on the road, when Christ comes up to walk alongside them.  And He notices their emotions, how in the dumps they seem to be.  And He listens as they explain themselves.

Are you the only one in all of Jerusalem who doesn’t know what happened this week?  A mighty prophet was condemned to death.  We hoped He would redeem us, we hoped He’d be our king.  But instead our leaders killed Him.  But now, now the women are telling us the tomb is empty.  That His body’s gone.  It just doesn’t make any sense.

And so Christ spent their seven mile walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus telling these two men how all of the Old Testament had been talking about exactly this.  How all the prophesies of a Savior were not about some earthly king, but rather a Christ, a Messiah who would come, who would die, and who would rise again.  That in the depravity of our sin, we would be lost forever.  But in this Christ, those sins would be forgiven.  Our relationship with God would be restored.

Jesus spent a leisurely walk that likely lasted a couple of hours probably preaching the greatest gospel sermon ever told, and we can’t even put it on YouTube.  On account of sin, your sin and my sin, nothing but death stares us in the face.  That is our end result.  That is our punishment, our just reward for our deeds.  And yet, in the great mercy of God, rather than pouring out His wrath and judgment upon us, the Father poured it out on His Son Jesus Christ upon the cross.  That as He hung there, bleeding out, suffocating, starving, dying, Christ took upon Himself our death, our punishment.  Just as the Old Testament said He would.

But it doesn’t end there.  Praise the Lord it doesn’t end there.  Because Jesus had made a promise.  A promise that was so much more than the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus had made the promise of a life that never ends.  Even as He hung upon the cross, He looked at the thief by His side and declared, “Truly, I say to you, today, you will be with Me in Paradise.” – Luke 23:43.

There is life in the resurrection!  That as Christ burst open the tomb on Easter morning, the powers of sin, death, the devil, and hell itself were defeated.  They no longer have hold of you.  They no longer lay claim to you.  To your body, to your soul, to your life.  In Christ, in His death, and in His resurrection, you are truly saved.

That’s what He got to tell them for a couple of hours that day.  And then as He entered into their home, He revealed Himself in His covenant.  He broke the bread, and the disguise, the veil, whatever hid His identity from them was removed.  Cleopas and his brother recognized Christ.  And they ate, and they drank.  The Lord’s Supper, the body and blood of Christ, the true hope and power of the resurrection to life everlasting was theirs that day.

Then Luke tells us in our reading from Acts that this is what Peter got to share with Cornelius and his entire household.  That Peter and the other disciples are witnesses, that they witnessed all the miracles Christ did, all the things He taught in His ministry for those last three years.  That they witnessed, they watched with their own eyes, as Christ was nailed to a tree.  But that more than that, that Peter and the other apostles saw, touched, heard, listened to and dined with the risen Christ.  “We are witnesses.”  And then the Spirit granted the gift to baptize an entire family and their servants, to bring them into the kingdom of God.  To give to them Christ’s gift of life.

And then we have the Apostle Paul, as he wrote to the church in Corinth.  He shares the good news, that just as the Old Testament said, Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again.  And then he pointed to the witnesses.  For certainty, Jesus appeared to Peter, to the twelve, to over 500 brothers, most of whom are still alive.  To James, and to me.  In other words, if you doubt it, if you need to know more about the resurrection, we have hundreds of eye witnesses who can tell you all about it.  There is certainty.  We were there, we have seen Him.  He is alive.

For you and me today, we have a wealth of witnesses.  The words of Peter and Paul, the accounts of the 500 plus men who’d seen the risen Lord have been passed on from generation to generation.  They’ve been shared around the world.  The good news has been a legacy in families.  For roughly 2,000 years, the certainty that is our faith, our brothers and sisters have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, they’ve received the forgiveness of their sins through the body and blood of the Lord’s Supper, and they’ve preserved the gospel of Christ in His Word for us.  Baptism, life, and forgiveness are yours this day.  Because of this we can be certain: Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!  ALLELUIA!

 

 

A Forever Exodus March 13, 2016

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Isaiah 43:16-21

Fifth Sunday in Lent

March 13, 2016

Focus:  God pours out His judgment not on us, but on His Son.

Function:  That the hearers praise Yahweh among the nations.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

A Forever Exodus

 

One of the most powerful attacks on our faith, that hits us square between the eyes and challenges our faith, one of the most doubt provoking questions your family and friends have probably already asked you is this:  How can you believe in a God who does evil?  How can you believe in a God who kills people?  How can you believe in a God who does x?

A theme in our book study right now on Already Gone is the need for apologetics, the need to talk about our doubts, to ask and answer the difficult questions of our day.  Too often we don’t, we ignore ‘em, we sweep ‘em under the rug.  And so not only our youth, but everyone of us is discouraged, and our doubts grow as we begin to wonder if anyone in the church actually has answers.

My encouragement to you today is to ask your questions.  That old phrase is right, there’s no such thing as a stupid question.  Ask away.  If it’s bothering you, ask me, ask Pastor Fritsch.  That’s part of what we’re here for.  We may know the answer right away, we might have to get back to you.  But ask.  This is an open invitation.

That question of God killing people is a worthwhile question to ask. It’s one we absolutely have to consider and discuss.  And we have a lot recently.  We took an entire Bible class on it a few months ago.  I cover it every year in confirmation.  We’ve preached on it.  It’s a good question.  It gets us talking about how the whole Scripture fits together.  How it connects to life.  How it’s all a part of God’s plan.  We get to talk about the holiness of God, the depths of our sin and death and the impending judgment, we get to talk about the temple curtain, which is so unknown among Christians today, despite how vastly important it is to our faith.

Asking questions is a good thing.  It helps us grow.  And this question fits right in today, as the prophet Isaiah starts our Old Testament reading by reminding the people of some of the judgments of God, of some of the death they witnessed.  He reminds them of the Exodus, of Pharaoh’s army wiped out, drowned, snuffed out like a wick in the Red Sea.

God worked through miracles to judge Egypt.  But that’s only after He worked through Egypt to judge a faithless and sin-filled Israel with generations of slavery under the thumb of a cruel ruler.  Many times in history, God worked through the things of this world to bring His final judgment upon sinners.

But there was a key turning point in the course of the history of creation.  About 4,000 years in, something happens that takes us from being Jews or Israelites, and instead makes us followers of the Way, or Christians as we’ve now come to be called.  And here, 700 years before it ever happened, Isaiah prophesied about it.

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.”

This was a problem for them.  And sometimes it still is.  We look back to the good old days.  We look back to the glory of the past and we long for it.  It was no different for the people of Isaiah’s day, nor in the New Testament age.  John the Baptist said this to the crowds who gathered around him.  Jesus said it to the Jews.  Paul to the Romans.

Just because you were born of Abraham doesn’t mean you have a relationship with God.  Stop boasting in your history.  Don’t look back to your Exodus from Egypt and think that’s good enough for you.  That somehow that’s your salvation.  It’s not.  Don’t count on that.

In fact, they had abandoned God.  And this led to Israel being destroyed as a nation.  And not much later Judah, too.  They abandoned God and paid the price for their sins.  The Jews did it, the Pharisees did it, the Romans did it.  And we still do it today.

Too often we focus on the past.  We dwell on the sin our brother committed against us.  The time our friend wronged us.  The time our spouse deceived us.  The time our boss abused us.  We said we forgave it, but we hold on, we dwell on our grudge.  And sometimes we take it even further.

The world might say that revenge is a dish best served cold.  But in eyes of God, revenge isn’t yours to be had.  You have no right to revenge.  It’s a sin, it’s hate, it’s a grudge, it’s murder.  It doesn’t fit.  And yet we’ve all done it.  We’ve all held that grudge, we’ve all gotten revenge.  We’ve taken our eyes off of the new thing for the former things and find ourselves deserving God’s judgment.

But that’s the joy of Isaiah’s prophecy: “Behold, I am doing a new thing;”

Don’t focus on the past, don’t focus on the old Exodus.  There’s a new one coming.  And in the beauty that is prophecy, there were several new exoduses coming.  First, the exodus closest to Isaiah’s life would happen about 200 years later, when God raised up a new king in Persia, who would grant the captive people of God the ability to go home. To depart from Babylon, back into the wilderness to their homeland.  And there, God would indeed provide life-giving water in the midst of the wilderness.  He would provide for their daily needs.  A new thing, and a good thing indeed!

But it was topped by the next exodus.  The exodus of the Christ from Jerusalem.  Egypt and Babylon were temporary.  There was a greater problem overshadowing us all.  The problem of sin, of our rebellion against God that leaves us lacking in His presence.  It leaves us damned in the judgment.

But rather than pouring out His judgment upon us, God did a new thing.  He has rendered judgment.  The judgment of God, the punishment we earned for our sin, rebellion, and revenge is poured out.  But the full and total power of His wrath fell not on us, but on His own Son.  The wrath of God, and punishment of death for sin was given to Jesus Christ as He walked up the hill to Golgotha.

But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.

God did a new thing and provided another exodus for us, this time in the death and the resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.  He raised Jesus from the dead and in doing so has given us an everlasting promise involving a life-giving water.  That in our baptisms we would be buried with Christ, that we would be united with Him both in His death and also in His resurrection.

As wonderful as that exodus is, it is not the last.  On the Last Day, there will be one final exodus, the consummation of the exodus theme of Scripture as we depart from sin, death, and the devil.  When Christ returns for His people, He will bring us before the very judgment throne of God.  But He has already claimed our punishment.  The judgment of God has already been hammered into the Christ without holding back.  And on that day, we will receive the very life-giving water Christ promised the woman at the well.  The fullness of life with God in Paradise each and every day for the rest of forever.

And that’s how Isaiah chooses to wrap up this short prophecy, the idea that God will “give drink to My chosen people, the people whom I formed for Myself that they might declare My praise.”  We were created for Him, by Him, to be in a relationship with Him.  And in the life-giving waters of baptism that we rejoice in this day, we sing praise to the Lord in the presence of all the nations.  We live each and every of our lives now on this earth glorifying God by telling of His good deeds to the world around us.  By sharing the good news of the exodus from sin, death, and the devil and the life-giving waters of a holy Paradise.