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Compassioned Boldness August 6, 2017

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Romans 9:1-5

Proper 13

August 6, 2017

 

Focus:  God gave everything in His love for us.

Function:  That the hearers share Christ’s bold compassion with their neighbors.

Structure:  Parallels.

 

Compassioned Boldness

 

Just how far are you willing to go?  How much are you willing to sacrifice for those people you hold dear?  The loved ones, those closest to you.  Your spouse, your children, your best friend, your parents.  How much would you give of yourself to ensure their wellbeing?

What if we change the person, to say, the person sitting a few pews either behind you or in front of you?  How much would give up of yourself for that person?  Would it be difficult to say that you’d give up just as much?

What if we change the person again, but this time, to the person who lives three doors down from you, whether that’s apartments in a hallway, homes on a block, or for you farmers, about a mile, how much would you be willing to give of yourself to care for that person?  For your neighbor?

And if you’ll allow, let me push this one more time.  How much would you be willing to lay down of yourself for the person you despise the most?  The person who has caused you the most harm, or the most embarrassment?  The person who has literally stolen from you, belittled you?  What would you be willing to give that person?

In America, we have a logical worldview on this subject.  What I mean by that is the way we look at others, the way we treat others, makes sense.  We understand.  We understand if you love a good friend who loves you.  We understand if you are angry with the person who’s been gossiping about you.  We understand if you want revenge when someone has done great harm to you.

But the problem is, this logical, American way of thinking isn’t Christian.  This isn’t what Jesus taught.  It isn’t how He instructed His disciples to live.

Instead we get a fascinating text today from the letter Paul wrote to the church in Rome.  “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

Many of you still remember The Titanic movie, but even more of you still remember the story.  This giant vessel crashing into an iceberg and plunging into the depths of the ocean.  The people flooded to the lifeboats, but there weren’t enough.  So what happened?  Well, in that time in our culture, men sacrificed themselves.  The women and children got the first seats.  The men offered their lives to save others.

That’s an extreme example from our history.  But it pales in comparison.  Paul just said that he would willingly trade places.  That if he could, he’d give up not just his life, but his everlasting life if it meant his Jewish brethren would come to know Christ, and receive everlasting life.

Now, you and I, and Paul, we know this isn’t how it works.  It’s not a seat on a boat, it’s not something Paul could trade, or even sacrifice.  But it’s a powerful statement and illustration.  The Apostle Paul was a Jew.  Born a Jew, raised a Jew.  Studied under the best teachers they had.  He was one of them, and he was in a position to be one of their leaders, if he wasn’t already.

And then it all changed.  On the Road to Damascus, when Christ appears to Paul and strikes him blind, and directs him to go on into the city where he will receive further instructions.  Paul, before losing his sight, saw the resurrected Christ.  Or, at the very least, heard His voice.  And upon reaching Damascus, the Lord sends Ananias, who heals Paul and baptizes him.  And Paul is saved.

Now, this didn’t sit well with his old Jewish friends, teachers, and well, any of them.  And Paul began to suffer at their hands.  His own list in 2 Corinthians 11 is astounding:

“with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”

 

Beaten, and not just with fists.  The lashings, the stonings, the imprisonments and torture that Paul endured at their hands.  And yet, instead of wanting revenge, instead of wanting to see them get what was coming to them, which would have been a very natural reaction, what did Paul want for them?  He wanted nothing more than to see them know Christ and be forgiven for all the pain and all the wretchedness that they had caused.

There was no grudge to be found.  In fact, just the opposite, compassion.  Paul would give up his spot for them if it worked that way.  Praise be to God that it doesn’t work that way.

Because God’s plan is infinitely better.  God’s plan was that His own Son Jesus Christ would step down into this world, taking on flesh, becoming a man, born of the virgin Mary.  That this Jesus, this Son of God would then at the hands of God’s own people endure beatings, and lashings, and even a death by crucifixion.  And that as He hung there upon the cross, rather than free Himself or call down His Father’s wrath, Jesus called out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

Even in His dying breaths, Jesus was accomplishing what He came to do.  To forgive all people.  To forgive every man of every time and every place.  To forgive every sin committed past, present, and future.  That Christ did not hold a grudge against the wickedness of mankind, but gave His life in our place.  Spilled His blood so that we would not have to.

This is the gospel!  That you and me, in spite of our sins, in spite of our brokenness, in spite of our open and obstinate rebellion against God: you are forgiven, you are saved!  The compassion that Jesus had for His people led Him to be so bold that He would even willingly die for us.

The compassion that the Apostle Paul had for the people around him, even those we would consider his enemies, enabled him to be so bold that he would continue to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting in His name.  Paul didn’t cower, he didn’t step back and wait for God’s wrath.  He went to the people who needed forgiveness, who needed love, who needed a Savior, and He gave them the good news.

We are forever grateful that this good news has been proclaimed to us.  And to 2 billion other people alive today who have heard the good news and believed in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  And it’s not just those living, but the countless men and women that heard and shared this same gospel proclamation in the generations from Paul to us.

And so it is that this same good news overflows in us.  We share the love of Christ with our neighbor.  We look upon them, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, with compassion.  And it is this compassion for them, as it did for Paul, that leads us to be bold.  To proclaim the truth, to proclaim forgiveness and life in the name of Christ.  To our spouses and children.  To our best friends and parents.  To the people in the pews around us or the neighbors down the way.  To the very people who have done us harm.  We give of ourselves, we sacrifice of ourselves to give these people the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  To hear of the forgiveness of their sins and our sins.  To hear of the gift of life that is for all people.

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A Triumphant Promise July 16, 2017

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Isaiah 55:10-13

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

July 16, 2017

 

Focus:  God’s Word always accomplishes His purpose.

Function:  That the hearers come to the feast.

Structure:  This is true in this way…and in this way…and also in this way, with thanks to Dr. James Voelz.

 

A Triumphant Promise

 

For many of us, faith comes easily when things go well.  When our family is healthy, our economy strong, our jobs secure, these things can be a boon to our faith.  We see God’s hand at work, we see His blessings in our lives and we rejoice.

But along this way of thinking, faith becomes difficult when the work of God is no longer obvious.  When we can’t see His plan of salvation unfolding in our lives or in the lives of those we love, our faith can be challenged.

This was almost always the case for the people of Israel.  While we won’t focus on their wilderness wanderings, you can find a good dozen examples of this challenge there without much effort, today we are focusing later on in their history.  The prophet Isaiah is called to proclaim the Word of the Lord unto His people in the eighth century BC.  He is their prophet, the bearer of God’s Word.

The people no longer saw the work of the Lord in their midst.  And because they couldn’t actively see Him working, many had given up hope, even stopped believing in God altogether.  And paired with their unbelief was a vast display of wickedness, of disobeying the commands of God.

Isaiah’s writings that we have today are written both prior to the exile of the Israelites, and also during their exile.  That on account of their wickedness and their unbelief, God used the Assyrian army to put an end to this faithless nation.  They were captured; their homes were destroyed; men, women, and children led off in slavery and servitude into a foreign and hostile land.  Chapters 40-55 are written to these people to give them back their hope; to call them to look to the Lord, to look to Yahweh for their comfort and their deliverance.

Isaiah in our text today gives us this good news:  “so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

The Word of God does not return empty.  It does its job; it fulfills its purpose.  This Word to the Israelites in captivity was this:

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price… Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. – Isaiah 55 verses 1 and 3

 

The exiled Israelites hear an invitation, an invitation to a feast where money is no object.  Whoever is thirsty, whoever is hungry, let him come, let him be gathered to the Lord’s Table.  They are invited to come, to trust in God, and to enjoy His gifts.

And in this same invitation, God gives His Word to them of a brand new covenant.  They had made a covenant with God before, which they broke, which explains their exile.  And yet, here God is in the midst of their time in exile reaching out with His Word offering a new covenant, offering a covenant without end, offering them life.

Part of this promise of life and of a new covenant was the promise of a Messiah, mentioned any number of times in the writings of Isaiah, the promise of a Savior, of one who would deliver His people from their enemies.  Which brings us forward in time again to the time of the 1st century, to a land now controlled by Rome.

Those who carried on in the traditions of their fathers from long ago, those people were still called Israelites.  Despite their struggles to believe, there was restoration to those who put their hope in God.  There was comfort again.

But as we have moved forward many generations, once again that hope is scarcely found.  These people have lost sight of the work of God in their midst, of His saving hand so graciously upon them.  And as they struggled against the tyranny of a Caesar and his men, many set aside the promise of a Messiah.

At least, that is, until One came.  And when the true Messiah came, Jesus Christ, the Son of God Himself, taking on flesh to deliver His people, the people saw their hope restored.  The promises of God were grasped again, and they began to long for God’s kingdom to come.

And even though these people got it wrong, even though they thought a deliverance from enemies meant a rescuing from the hands of an imposing, earthly king, the Word of God being fulfilled, the Word of God accomplishing its purpose, didn’t depend on them.

As the true Messiah, the true and ultimate deliverer of His people, Christ came and willingly died.  From a worldly perspective it made no sense.  But His enemy to be defeated was not of this world.  The enemy to be defeated was sin, death, and the devil.  This could be done by no champion of the sword.  This could only be done by the Son of God Himself, laying down His life to fulfill a promise, to succeed in His purpose.

Before His death, Jesus once again spoke of this new covenant.  He entrusted it to His disciples, that we would take and eat of His body, take and drink of His blood, and that in so doing, we would receive the very forgiveness of our sins.  That in that body and in that blood, that Christ so willingly shed the very next day, all the sins of man, all the triumphs of the devil, would be destroyed.

The feast Isaiah foretold long ago broke into this world in the form of Christ’s body and blood.  Of bread and wine where money is no object.  Where forgiveness and deliverance and restoration all take place at the Lord’s Table.

So now as we proceed to jump forward another twenty centuries or so, we find ourselves in similar shape.  We find ourselves like the Israelites in their exile, or the Jews in their Roman occupation, we find ourselves waiting.  We have the very Word of God, a Word that He has promised does not go unfulfilled.

And yet, we find ourselves struggling.  We have an unease among us.  A despair.  We hear of an entire generation of people, the so-called millennials, who’ve lost sight of God’s Word, and of His promises, and so they’ve abandoned His house. Which has led the current leaders of the church to worry and fret over the church’s future.  Who will takeover?  Will the church still exist?  But these doubts fall short.  It isn’t just the millennials.  It’s not unique to any one generation of people.  Not much has really changed since the pre-exiled Israelites.

We, too, live in a time of challenge.  We watch as the leaders of the nation we live in and would seek to honor, seek themselves to dismantle Christendom.  They mock God and pretend He doesn’t exist.  They seek to mislead His people, to cause them to doubt His Word, and to doubt His salvation.

For generations, predictions of the death of the Christian church have rung out over and over again.  And each time, these predictions fail.  Because they are not God’s.  They are not His Word, and so they indeed go out, and they return empty.  Whether the millennials return to God’s house in droves or not, the Church of God cannot be destroyed.  Whether there is only one or billions of people hearing His Word, the Church of God cannot be destroyed.  Because the Word of God goes out and accomplishes it purpose.

And so we wait.  As generations before us, as generations even before them.  We hear the Word of God, these promises given to us, and we wait.  In the history of His Church, we have seen these promises fulfilled.  We have seen the Word of God go out, and we have seen it accomplish its purpose.  The promise of a grand feast that knows no bounds.  The promise of a covenant, of life everlasting that cannot be silenced or cut off.  We have heard the invitation.

Allow me to extend to you the invitation to join me here in this place next week for that same invitation, to partake of a heavenly meal.  For it is not just the restoration of a small nation of people.  It is the restoration of all people. Of all who put their hope and their trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We wait for the Parousia, that is, the second coming of Christ, when all things are restored to the way they were created to be.  We wait for the completion of the promise in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  His Word, His promises to you, have been proclaimed, and they do not return empty.

The feast Isaiah foretold long ago broken into this world in the form of Christ’s body and blood.  Of bread and wine where money is no object.  Where forgiveness and deliverance and restoration all take place at the Lord’s Table.  The invitation is yours, and I’ll see you there.

 

 

What I Want to Do I Do Not Do July 9, 2017

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Romans 7:14-25a

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

July 9, 2017

 

Focus:  God does it all.

Function:  That the hearers confess their wretchedness unto the Lord.

Structure:  This is the problem…this is the response of the gospel, with thanks to Rev. Dr. Joel Biermann.

 

What I Want to Do I Do Not Do

 

Our epistle reading today has to be one of the clunkiest sections in all of Scripture.  It’s a tongue-twister.  Give it a try yourself, read the text aloud as quickly as you can and see how you do.

When some people read Paul’s writings here, they say this can’t possibly be him.  The person being discussed is a wretched failure of a disciple.  He knows what he should do, but he doesn’t do it.  He knows what he shouldn’t do, and those are the things he does!

Others read this as a good excuse.  “See, even Paul couldn’t do it, so why should I bother?  I might as well just do whatever I want.”  Paul’s failures here are used as an excuse to sluff off, to stop trying.

But while this text most certainly is about Paul, it’s not just Paul, is it?  We develop habits in our lives.  I want to get up at this time, go to sleep at this time.  This is the week where I finally kick that bad habit that’s been nagging me for years.

We set goals for our marriages, for our families.  I will love my spouse always.  Without hesitation, I will forgive them when they fall short, as I pray they will do for me.  You look to milestones in your relationship with your children, confirmations, graduations, grandchildren.  You plot out goals in your career, goals in your friendships, goals in your hobbies.

And all of these goals are meant to push you.  To push you forward, to make you stronger, wiser, more faithful, whatever it may be.  And so you attack.  You work and you work, and you work.  You put in the extra hours, you sacrifice.  The goal is right there before you, and yet, you can’t quite reach it.

In fact, you fall flat on your face miles short of the prize.  The average New Year’s resolution is a bust fifteen minutes after we wake up on January 1st.  Okay, maybe that’s made up, but you know exactly what I mean.

Failure is our common lot.  It’s what we do.  We put solid, good, faithful things in front of ourselves, and we want to do them.  But no matter how hard we fight, no matter how hard we try to achieve them, we don’t.  This isn’t just Paul, is it?  It’s each and every one of us.

So, how is it that the person who wishes to be faithful, who earnestly seeks to serve God and to serve his neighbor ends up in such a train wreck?  Haven’t we been called to be disciples?  In our baptisms, haven’t we been cleansed, our sins washed away, the Old Adam drowned?  Weren’t we made new?

Why is it then that the Old Adam remains?  Why can’t I do the things that God wants me to do?  Martin Luther in his Preface to the New Testament explained it this way:

“Then he [Paul] shows how spirit and flesh struggle with one another in a man.  He uses himself as an example, in order that we may learn how properly to understand the work of slaying sin within us.  He calls both the spirit and the flesh ‘laws’; for just as it is in the nature of the divine law to drive men and make demands of them, so the flesh drives men and makes demands.  It rages against the spirit, and will have its own way.  The spirit, in turn drives men to make demands.  It rages against the spirit, and will have its own way.  The spirit, in turn, drives men and makes demands contrary to the flesh, and will have its own way.  This tension lasts in us as long as we live; though in one person it is greater, in another less, according as the spirit or the flesh, and he fights with himself until he becomes wholly spiritual.” – Luther’s Works (Fortress Press, 1960), 376-377

 

It’s a back and forth.  A battle between the old and the new. The new man, the new creature is here.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit in His Word and the water at your baptism, God made you new. He freed you from your slavery to sin, rescued you from the pits of death and despair.  You are His.

And yet, the old man remains.  He is your nagging shadow, the thorn in your flesh that just simply won’t leave you alone.  Sometimes he gets the upper hand and convinces us that we want our sin.  Other times, daily drowning our old Adam by remembering our baptism is an easy task.

You are simultaneously a fallen sinner, and justified in Christ.  We are both broken, and restored.  Paul was both chief of sinners and the lead apostle of the church to the Gentiles.  This is the reality that you live in each and every day.

This section from Paul rebukes two extremes which I highlighted at the start of the sermon.  The first is the idea on the one end that we can achieve perfection in this life.  Because we have been set free, because the old Adam is drowned, because we are a new creation in our baptism, we can do the works of God.  And if we can do them, then we must be able to reach the point where we can do them without failure.

Despite the fact that Paul already was teaching against it, and the Lutheran reformers taught against it, this idea is still prevalent among Christians today.  The Catholics call it the consecrated life.  The Methodists talk about it as full salvation, entire sanctification, or being perfected in love.  These teachings lead Christians to despair.  “You should be able to be perfect, so why aren’t you?  What’s wrong with you?  Don’t you have faith?”  “Why can’t I do this?”  This idea simply isn’t what the Scriptures teach.

But neither is opposite end, the idea that we, as Christians, are free from the law and can do whatever we want.  You may hear people talk about their “Christian liberty.”  The Reformers called these people “antinomians.”  People without a law.   In this case, you end up with, at best, mediocre discipleship.  There is no striving any more to do what God has laid before you to do.  This too, isn’t what the Scriptures teach.

Again, let’s hear from Luther as he wrote his commentary on Romans:

In this way, then, you should understand chapter 7, where St. Paul portrays himself as still a sinner, while in chapter 8 he says that, because of the incomplete gifts and because of the Spirit, there is nothing damnable in those who are in Christ. Because our flesh has not been killed, we are still sinners, but because we believe in Christ and have the beginnings of the Spirit, God so shows us his favor and mercy, that he neither notices nor judges such sins. Rather he deals with us according to our belief in Christ until sin is killed.

 

As we cry out together with the Apostle Paul, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” we have an answer: “Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

God looks not on our sin, but on His Son.  This is the gospel, the good news to you and to me.  Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, paid for your sins in full.  Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the tomb rescues you from the old Adam within you that seeks to drag you down into the pit of hell.

God does it all! Forgiveness and life are His gifts to you, each and every day. This text that strikes us as so confusing is actually very simple. The Law of God is good. We’re thoroughly evil.  God is supremely gracious to us.  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, strive to keep the Law, remember your baptism, and cling to the promise that it isn’t up to you.  But no matter how well or poorly you do these things, know that salvation is yours already in Christ alone.

While We Were Enemies June 18, 2017

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Romans 5:6-15

Second Sunday after Pentecost

June 18, 2017

 

Focus:  God spilled His own blood to save even His enemies.

Function:  That the hearers rejoice in God.

Structure:  Walking through the Scripture.

 

While We Were Enemies

 

That thunderstorm we had right at the beginning of the week was a doozy.  Nearly two inches of rain, the skies colored a dark greenish gray, lots of rumbling thunder.  I know I didn’t want to step out in it, even though it happened at the time that I would normally leave the office!

That storm claimed one of my neighbor’s trees.  Split it in half right down the middle.  And thankfully, even though it fell on his house, the damage was nothing beyond a dent in his gutter.  But just like I didn’t want to go out into the storm while it was still raging, neither did my neighbor.  That tree stayed there for a while until the storm had passed.  Then a couple of neighbors gathered together, cleared the debris, and cut down the rest of the tree.

I bring this up because we know that word “still.”  It didn’t make sense for him to fight while the storm still pounded us.  Just like it doesn’t make any sense to grieve the Twins season being over when they’re still in first place.  Just like it doesn’t make any sense to forgive your neighbor while he’s still actively, intentionally harming you.

This is Paul’s choice of language in our text today.  And he uses it three times.  “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”  Now, we can’t understand this one.  This is part of the hidden will of God.  Why was 1st century Jerusalem the chosen place and time for the appearance of Christ?  Surely, had He come today, how many more people could have had the opportunity to see Him with all of our technological advances?  But it was the right time.  And I’m prone to believe that even if He’d come today, He’d have met the same fate.  Because we were weak.  We didn’t understand the things of God.  We didn’t know God.  And so we killed His Son.

The next verse makes sense in context.  “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—“  Pit those two examples against each other.  The righteous person being the one who has faith in God and is neither afraid nor ashamed to share both the Law and the Gospel with his neighbor.  How many of your neighbors love it when you tell them they’re wrong?  And the so-called good person is the one that the world views as good.  While few people would willingly die for the speaker of truth, there are some who would die for the false heroes of this world.

But that’s just it.  We’re neither.  You and I were, in the next “still,” still sinners.  We weren’t righteous, nor were we good.  And yet, in spite of this, Jesus Christ willingly laid down His life for us.

He poured out His blood, willingly, upon the cross, even asking the Father to forgive those people who nailed Him to it.  And it is now in this blood of Christ that we are justified.  Justification, how are saved?  How are we made right again in the eyes of God?  Paul puts it simply, “we have now been justified by His blood.”

But that’s not the end.  God didn’t sacrifice His Son as some half-baked scheme that gets us partly to heaven.  No, not at all!  God sacrificed His Son as the full plan of our salvation.  That’s the third “still” Paul uses.  “While we were enemies.”  Rebeling against God, slaying His Son, cursing His name.  And in this, He chose to save us, to reconcile us, to restore our relationship to Himself.  In His blood, you not only have the forgiveness of your sins, a marvelous gift indeed, you also have the gift of salvation, of life that knows no end.  Because God didn’t leave His Son in that tomb.  But raised Him to new life, just as He will for you.  That’s a promise that you know He will keep.

In verse 11, Paul states the obvious.  On receipt of this good news, we rejoice.  We rejoice in Christ for all He has done for us.  That while we were still weak, sinners, and enemies of God, He sacrificed everything to show His great love for us.  This means many things.  Rejoicing means we take comfort in knowing that God set us free from sin, death, and the devil.  It means giving thanks to God for all these wondrous gifts that He so richly and overwhelming gives us.  It means trusting in His promises and receiving them regularly as our source of hope in this life.

Another way by which we rejoice is that we share.  For example, let’s say I had twenty tickets to tonight’s Twins game as they clash with the second place Indians.  And, for whatever reason, I hand you all twenty.  You can’t possibly use all twenty tickets, there’s just one of you.  So, what do you do with the other tickets?  Pause.  You spread the gift around.  You invite family, or friends, or anyone off the street who can make the trip to see the game.  You want to share your gift with others.

That’s how God’s love works, too.  He so richly and generously showers us in His love that we love our neighbor.  As new creations in Christ through our baptisms, this is what we do.  We take that gift of forgiveness, and we forgive our spouse when they wrong us.  We forgive our coworker when they fail to complete the task that we were counting on them to do.  We forgive our neighbor when they gossip against us.  And in all of this, we forgive them out of Christ-like love.  Not because they’ve earned it, not because they deserve it, simply because God forgives us, so we forgive one another.

This is one of the most profound ways by which we can tell our neighbors about Christ.  And they are in need of Christ just as much as we are.  That’s the twelfth verse of the text today, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”  Each and every one of us is in need of God’s love, forgiveness, and salvation in His Son.

Sometimes we get tangled up by the next two verses.

13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

 

These verses Paul simply uses to show the power of sin.  Even when the people hadn’t known the law, sin still reigned, and the result, the consequence of sin, that is death, still came upon all people.  Death reigned even before Moses presented the people with the law.

Paul then sets up for us the idea that Adam and Jesus are connected.  And we talk this way.  The first Adam, the former Adam, and then there’s the second Adam.  The sin of the first Adam brought sin and death upon all mankind.  Everyone he was supposed to care for.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

 

As I was leading the new member class this past week, we were looking at the Ten Commandments.  And right at the end, the close of the commandments, Luther includes the words God spoke just after the first commandment:

for I Yahweh your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. – Exodus 20:5b-6

 

So often we get caught trying to figure out why God holds grudges for three generations.  But that’s not the point.  The point of those words is that God’s love and mercy far outweigh His wrath.  Just like we see in 1 Timothy 2:4, “[God] desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.”

This is what we see in our closing verse together this morning.  Adam’s trespass, his sin of neglecting his wife before the devil neglects all of creation which was entrusted to his care.  We indeed carry the weight of original sin in this broken world.  But how much more grace in Christ is there?!

The free gift of salvation from Christ given to you by His cross and empty tomb overcomes your sin, your death, your wretchedness.  It doesn’t cancel it out so you have to try to do good.  It conquers it.  Christ’s love and sacrifice for you defeated your enemies.  And this statement is true for all people.  Trust in His promises dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and know that His gifts are yours.  So we rejoice and give thanks.

 

Magician with a Wand in the Sky June 11, 2017

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Genesis 1:1-2:4

Holy Trinity Sunday

June 11, 2017

 

Focus:  God speaks unto us the absolution of our sins in His Son Jesus.

Function:  That the hearers treasure their sins forgiven in the spoken words of Absolution.

Structure:  Illustration and application.

 

Magician with a Wand in the Sky

 

The pain of loss is still fresh.  Several of you may still be quite bitter about the whole ordeal.  On Saturday afternoon, May 20th, the lady Gophers’ softball team tested their mettle against the Alabama Crimson Tide.  And a true pitchers’ duel ensued, with just two hits through the first seven innings of play.

But as the pitchers tired, the bases got a little more crowded, and as they entered the bottom of the ninth in a still scoreless game, Alabama managed to load up the bases with two outs.  Stepping back on the hill with the count at three 3-1, Gophers’ ace Sara Groenewegen delivered a beautiful pitch, right over the plate, just above the knee.

But instead of hearing the umpire holler “strike,” the ump declared the pitch a ball, which walked home the only run of the game and put an immediate end to the Gophers’ season.

That was it.  No protest could be had.  No hope for overturning by replay, the declaration of the ump made it truth, made it history.  Even if no one else agrees, that pitch will forever be a ball.

So what does this have to do with us today?  It’s not the game itself that I want to focus on, it’s the act.  It’s the umpire’s ability to create reality with a mere word.  Because this is what we see in the Scripture today, and this is what the devil calls into question today.

In our Scripture today, from the very beginning of God’s revealed Word to us, we have His account of how He created the world.  I thought about playing around with the lights in here, but let’s face it, it’s summer, and even if I tried turning off the lights, it’d still be light.

It’s Trinity Sunday, we could easily stop and just focus on the verses that speak to God in three persons, as we see the Spirit of God hovering over the waters, as we see God speak in the plural, although that could still just be the “royal” pronoun.  We could look to John 1 or elsewhere in the New Testament where Christ Himself is credited with creating the world.

And yet there are several aspects of this small piece of Scripture that I found under fire and challenged by fellow Christians just this week.  God’s command to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply causes a great deal of distress for American Christians today as it gets in the way of some of things we’d rather be doing.

But it’s not there either that I want to focus today.  I want to turn instead to an issue that strikes at the very heart of your faith.

Three years ago, the Pontiff of Rome, Pope Francis, declared that God is not “a magician with a magic wand,” and that instead God used evolution and the Big Bang to create all that we see and know.

The Pope leads the majority of Christians in this world.  There are roughly 2 billion Christians, and over half of them claim to be Roman Catholic.  But despite this vast responsibility that he faces, he buys the devil’s lie and cannot see the danger that he puts before his people.

There were a couple of accusations there, so let me unpack that.  First, feel free to find an article on his statement of the relationship between the church and the theory of evolution.  The one shared with me was from the British website, the Independent.  And the comments section below reveals the nature of one of the problems.  Most of the discussion is about how it only takes a few centuries for Christians to catch up with what science says is fact and that in a short while we’ll eventually realize that there are no gods in the skies and that religion is just a made up tool of men to manipulate others.

The Pope doesn’t realize he’s selling out God’s Word to please those who would discredit everything he holds dear anyway.

Another clear issue is the worldview that evolution creates and puts forth.  And it’s entirely irreconcilable to Scripture, to our faith.  Evolution argues that life began by accident and that over the span of millions and billions of years, we have been changing, advancing, evolving.  We began imperfect, and we’re moving toward perfection.  And those things that didn’t evolve, died off.  In evolutionary teaching death is a necessity before man comes into existence.

Christianity, the Scriptures, teach the opposite.  That man began perfect in the created image of God, but that on account of our sin, we broke, we destroyed this creation on which we live.  And death is now the result.  There is no death in the Garden of Eden prior to sin.  And the first death is the animal slain to make garments for Adam and Eve.

Evolution makes death good, necessary, and not a punishment for our sin.  Evolution therefore denies the need of a Savior.  Death is merely the natural end result of life, unless of course we can achieve perfection through technology and live forever.

This is awful.  And even most Christians these days buy into it.  We buy into the devil’s lie.  “Did God really say?”  Did God really say He created the earth simply by speaking?

That’s one of the truly impressive and awe-inspiring things about creation.  “Let there be light.”  And there was light.  “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters,” and suddenly, there was an expanse that God named heaven, and we usually call sky.  “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered.”  And we had oceans.  “Let the dry land appear.”  And we had land.

“Let the earth sprout,” and we had plants of all kinds.  “Let there be lights in the expanse” and we had the sun, and the moon, and the stars. “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let the birds fly.”  And it happened, and the waters were filled with life as were the heavens.  “Let the earth bring forth living creatures,” and we had all sorts of beasts brought to life.  “Let us make man in our image.”  And we ourselves have life.

With only His words, God calls creation into existence.  With just His words, God creates the world, the heavens, and the universe around us.  With only His voice, God speaks into existence all living things and fills His creation with them.

Now, let’s see if you get the picture.  Can you make the connection?  Like the umpire speaks truth into existence, speaks moments and actions into the history book, what else does God speak into your lives?  What is at stake here?

Pause

That one little lie of the devil calls into doubt your salvation, your certainty, your faith.  “Did God really say?”  “Did God really say your sins are forgiven?”  By calling into question God’s ability to simply speak things into reality, Satan calls into question God’s ability to declare you righteous.  In our circle, we call this act of God “forensic justification.”  That’s your $100 word of the day.

It means that God pronounces forgiveness to us.  That our faith that clings to the promises of God, to the promises of forgiveness, life and salvation in Christ and in Christ alone, that God looks upon us and sees the righteousness of His Son.  That He looks upon us and declares into reality that you are a forgiven sinner, that you are a child of God, that you are no longer held in bondage to sin, and death, and the devil.  But that in His Word and in His Sacraments, He has declared this truth yours, and you are a new creation.

This is the beauty of the gospel.  It’s not some out there far away thing to be grasped or understood.  It’s a promise spoken directly to you.  But more than that, it’s a promise declared to be true of you.  God speaks, and it is so.

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  And you are His, you are welcomed into His kingdom, clothed in the righteousness of His own Son.

“As a called and ordained servant of the Word and by His authority, I forgive you of all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  And just like that the declaration is true and it is yours.  You are forgiven and sin clings to you no more.

“Take and drink, this cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  This do as often you drink it in remembrance of Me.”  And again, the bread is body; the wine is blood; and your sins are forgiven.

These things are the truths to which our faith clings.  These are the realities by which we live and take comfort and have all hope in this dark time.  The Pope cannot hear these things.  He cannot see this way because he has bought the devil’s lie “Did God really say your works cannot save you?”

But you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you are not bound to the devil and to his lies.  When you see them, when you hear them, call them what they are: deceit and a defeated enemy.  Because that is what they are.  Christ has already triumphed.  Satan and his minions and even death, Christ has already defeated by His cross and empty tomb.

Faith clings to the promises of God.  Have faith dear brothers and sisters, cling to the very words through which God speaks forgiveness as reality for you.

 

Given that We May Know Him May 28, 2017

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John 17:1-11

Seventh Sunday of Easter

May 28th, 2017

 

Focus:  God gives us His Son that we may know Him.

Function:  That the hearers are one as the Father and Son are one.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

Given that We May Know Him

 

This morning we have a peculiar text.  It doesn’t seem to fit the calendar.  Our gospel reading today from the account according to John is best known as the high priestly prayer.  What do you know about this prayer? Pause for answers

  • Spoken by Jesus
  • Prayed to His Father
  • During Holy Week, moments before the arrest

 

We have a wonderful opportunity to look at how Jesus prayed.  This isn’t about how we are supposed to pray to God.  Jesus already gave us that in the Lord’s Prayer.  No, this is a wonderful opportunity to see what the Holy Trinity was up to the day before the crucifixion.

But that’s just it, isn’t it?  This is Holy Week, Maundy Thursday to be precise.  We would expect this reading before Easter, not after.  Not during our celebration of the resurrection.  Any ideas as to why we’re getting it now?  Pause for answers.

Let’s walkthrough the text and see if it becomes more clear.  Before we begin, though, just the quick note that this prayer lasts from verse 1 until verse 26, but our text only goes through 11.  So you’re not getting the whole high priestly prayer today, but there’s enough here for our benefit, without a doubt.

1When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,

 

Jesus had just finished a section of teaching, teaching about the work of the Holy Spirit, about His own death, about the peace the disciples would have in Christ no matter what the outcome may be.  And so He begins to pray.

We have to stop with this verse and talk about glory, as the words “glory” and “glorify” show up six times in this small section.  When we say something or someone has glory, we mean that they are worthy of honor, respect, praise, adoration, even worship.  And then to glorify something is to lift it up as worthy of having glory.  To point to something or someone and say, “This is worthy of our respect, our praise, our worship.”

And so the hour has come, indeed, the hour has come in which the Son of Man will be lifted up.  “Glorify Your Son.”  That is what happens on the cross.  His suffering, His pain, His bleeding, His sacrifice given for us.  The cross of Christ, Him lifted up, glorifies the Christ.  It is there, in His body and His blood that we know our sins are forgiven.  And so it is there that we know He is worthy of our worship and praise entirely because He is God.

And it is this then, the act of forgiveness of sins, the act of atonement, the act of restoring us to our creator, to God our Father in heaven, this act glorifies the Father.  Because in our newness of life, in being new children of God through the work of Christ, we can see the Father.  We can know the Father.  And in knowing the Father, we adore Him.

since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

 

The Father has given all things into the hands of His Son Jesus.  We see this clearly spelled out in several epistles, but it’s here, too.  The Father entrusts His world, His creation, into the care of His Son.  And Christ is faithful.  In His death and in His resurrection, He does give everlasting life to all who believe in Him.

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

 

Earlier this week, Christian blogger Matt Walsh wrote a challenging piece on this idea.  He was calling out Christians on the lack of respect, the lack of praise and worship that we show to God.  His challenge was essentially this: the Scriptures teach us that we in everlasting life will spend all our time praising God, worshiping Him. So why is it, that now in this life, many, maybe all, Christians, can hardly be bothered to do so?

630 members in this congregation.  How many of them are here today?  How many will I see in the pews all summer?   And an even smaller number are in Bible class each weekend.  And an even smaller number than that devote time to daily devotions at home.  If we can’t get around to spending time with God now, and sometimes even disdain time with God now, you know God forbid this service goes over an hour, maybe we should rethink either how we’re living this life, or our expectations of our everlasting life.

That’s good law.  I would suspect that truly hits all of us.  I know it does me.  We don’t worship God as often as we ought.  We don’t want to do the things He has laid out for us to do.  We would rather rebel, do the things, the sins, we enjoy, rather than enjoy time at His feet as the Word makes Him known to us.

And yet, He still glorified His Son, He still lifted up Christ for us, to make this known to you: your sins are forgiven!  Even this one, even your lack of desire for everlasting worship and praise.  I didn’t read Matt’s full article, only his shorter version, but my guess is, he doesn’t get to this, the forgiveness, the reconciliation of God and man.

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.

 

The work the Father gave the Son to do is precisely what we just talked about.  Sure, it includes the miracles, the teaching, the fulfillment of the law.  But all of that leads Jesus to the cross.  To the work of the sacrifice which makes forgiveness ours.

And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

 

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian church, we have that beautiful section about how Jesus gave up the glory of the throne for a body of human flesh.  Of how He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross.  This is God.  Jesus, alongside the Father and the Spirit, created all of this.  And yet, He willingly laid aside His heavenly crown for one made of thorns.

So now, in this prayer, Jesus is praying that that glory be restored to Him.  And while I don’t believe this is the answer to our original question of why we have this text today, it does fit.  “Glorify Me in Your Own presence.”  We think of Christ seated at the right hand of the Father.  And that He is, as we celebrated with the Ascension just this past Thursday.  Jesus reigns over heaven and earth.

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

 

Jesus revealed the Father, Jesus made known the Father to us.  The Father entrusted His creation, His people to Jesus, that Jesus would then point His people back to the Father.  That goes back to the opening of the prayer, “glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You.”  This is the point of the work of Christ, that He makes the Father known to us.

Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.

 

Jesus may be a little ahead of Himself here.  The disciples, the followers that God specifically entrusted to His Son during His earthly ministry often didn’t get it.  They rarely understood His teaching, they often stood in awe and amazement at the miracles He performed.  But even in our inability to fully comprehend God, which simply isn’t possible, they got it.  We get it.  Christ’s authority is the authority of God.  He can heal a blind man, because He has authority over creation and the body.  He can heal the broken sinners of the world because He has authority over sin and death.

For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

 

One of the things that Jesus had just told His disciples prior to this prayer was the saying that you all know full well.  “I am the Way, and the ______(Truth), and the _____(Life).  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  The disciples heard the good news and they believed.  And now, as we do, through Christ and His gifts given to us, we get to know the Father as well.

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

 

Here we remember that Jesus is praying.  He’s not teaching.  But praying.  And specifically praying so that the disciples can overhear Him.  This isn’t a prayer for the chief priest or for Pilate.  This is a prayer for the followers of God.

The very last words Jesus taught before launching into prayer were these:

32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16

 

After the arrest, the disciples do scatter.  After His death, they are overcome by grief, despair, and fear.  Yet they had the opportunity to hear this prayer of Christ, that no matter what may happen, He is God, He has made known to them the Father, and in the Father they then have everlasting life.

This brings peace.  This brings confidence and comfort in any and all troubles.  Even in their persecution that was to come.  Jesus has overcome the world.  For us.  And this means we need not fear the world, or sin, or death, or the devil.  We can live in the peace, confidence, and hope of Christ, because we have forgiveness and the promise of the resurrection.

10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.

 

The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one God.  And so what is the Father’s is the Son’s and what is the Son’s is the Father’s.  And just as the Father gave Jesus work to accomplish that would glorify Him, that would cause us to worship the Father and be reconciled with Him, so also Jesus gives His disciples work to do, work that when we do it, glorifies Him, points others to see Christ and to give praise and worship because of His good and gracious gifts that He gives to us.

This is the sanctified Christian life, that we indeed continue to give God honor, and praise, and worship, but also that we would tell others of Christ’s love, His forgiveness, and the gift of everlasting life, that they too may then give God honor, and praise, and worship.  Doing these things doesn’t save us, Christ does.  Doing these things is simply something we do now that we are one with Christ, through the waters of baptism.

11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

 

It is this verse that puts this prayer in our readings for the Easter season rather than Holy Week.  We were about to see Christ crucified, Peter’s denial, the disciples scattering in fear.  But Christ’s prayer here is that we would be one, just as He is with the Father.  And so we end the season of Easter this week reminded that we are to be one, as we prepare for Pentecost next weekend, where we see the birth of the church, united in Christ alone.  The reading from Acts this morning shows this.  It shows the one accord of the Apostles as they remained in Jerusalem, awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This wasn’t even the half of it.  I encourage you as you eat lunch today, open up to John 17, finish reading Jesus’ high priestly prayer.  And you will see there that He most certainly meant this prayer to include you among the disciples, that the Father would be made known to you as He was to them, and that as they know the love of God in Christ, through the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, you would also know that love.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

The Gospel Goes Forth May 7, 2017

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Acts 8:26-40

Fifth Sunday of Easter

May 7, 2017

 

Focus:  God proclaims the risen Savior unto the world.

Function:  That the hearers proclaim Christ to others.

Structure:  .

 

The Gospel Goes Forth

 

You know the abuse of technology has gotten so bad when Millennials turn it into a game.  It’s not uncommon these days when a group of friends go out to eat together for everyone to take their phones out and place them on top of each other in the middle of the table. Take out my phone and place it on the pulpit. It’s called the “phone stacking game.”  Brilliant!

The basic idea of the game is that we’re out together and we ought to be focusing on one another and not whatever is on our screens.  But what makes it a game is this: no matter what, you don’t touch your phone until you leave.  It doesn’t matter if it rings, or vibrates, or buzzes, or beeps, or gets up and dances, or whatever phones do these days to tell you they want your affection, I mean, your attention.  You don’t touch it.

You don’t pick it up to take a snapshot of your food and then share it on Instagram.  You don’t pick it up to shoot a text message to your friend sitting right next to you.  You simply don’t touch it.

The first person who touches their phone buys everyone’s dinner.  That’s the game.  Dinner’s on you if you can’t control the urge.  It’s funny, but if we stop and think about it, how many times would we be stuck with the bill?

I once heard Rev. Dr. Dale Meyer preach on our text from Acts.  He serves as the President of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.  But I want to paraphrase part of his sermon for you.  There’s a person walking down the sidewalk and they are at odds with themselves.  They’re anxious, confused, saddened.  It may be that they are wrestling with some notion of their own failure.  It could be the recent loss or impending loss of a dear friend.  And here the Lord has placed them in your path, and called on you to proclaim to them the good news of Jesus Christ.

Pick up phone, stare at it, and “walk by the person”

And you missed it!  Just like that, an opportunity to love our neighbor lost, because of my fixation on this dumb device.  We can’t even take our eyes off of it long enough to drive somewhere.  It’s in our bedrooms, at our dinner tables, the addicting screens are everywhere.  That dinner out example from before is one you’ve probably seen, right?  You go out to eat and look at the table next to you and everyone’s glued to their phone, even the baby.  You may not even have to leave your own home to see it.

But it’s not just our technology.  It’s also our fast-paced, over-burdened, over-worked, crazily busy lives.  On the off chance we do notice the person passing us by, how likely is it that we “have the time” to stop and strike up a conversation?  I know I’m guilty of this one.

We have to get to work, or we have to get home to get dinner ready, or we have to get to practice, or go this tournament, or we have to do this, or we must do that, and who suffers?  Well, actually everyone.  Our community is devastated by busyness.  Gadgets and calendars are partners in crime on this one.  We let them distract us from loving our neighbor.  Actually, we invite them to distract us from loving our neighbor.  How many have people have I ignored?

In our Acts reading today, the Lord specifically sends Philip on a mission.  He sends him to the road connecting Jerusalem to Gaza.  And it’s on this road that Philip meets the Ethiopian eunuch.  We don’t know much of anything about this man.  We don’t know even know his name.  But we know his title, and we know where he was and where he’s going.

This eunuch served as a court official to the Ethiopian queen.  He was in charge of her treasury.  That’s likely part of the reason why he was in Jerusalem in the first place.  Scrolls were rare and valuable, and so the queen is purchasing another piece for her collection.

But as he’s riding home, the eunuch opens the scroll and begins reading it aloud to himself.  And God directs Philip right to him.  As the eunuch reads aloud from the prophet Isaiah, Philip is able to make a conversation of it.  “Do you understand what you are reading?”  Easy enough question.  And the eunuch engages, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”

That’s a profound statement of faith.  The Apostle Paul in his writings to the church in Rome (10:17), says “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  He was reading the Word of God, but couldn’t understand it.  And so God literally placed Philip in his midst to unpack the Word, to reveal to him how the entirety of Scripture points to Jesus Christ.

And beyond that, the entirety of Scripture proclaims Christ.  The Word reveals the Son of Man, the Son of God taking on flesh, becoming One among us, in order that He might fulfill all things and take our place.  Removing our sins, drowning our sinful nature, taking on death for us.

The good news is not simply about Jesus.  The good news is Jesus.  Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection from the tomb put an end to sin, death, and the devil.  This is a glorious promise, a promise that must be heard to be believed.

And so it was, that Philip shared this good news of Jesus Christ with the Ethiopian.  It wasn’t Pentecost.  He’s not preaching and teaching before several thousand.  It’s one-on-one.  He’s engaging one man and his questions.  He’s hearing the concerns of one man, and pointing him to his Savior.

Sharing Christ with others can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. The opportunities are provided for you.  They’re all around you.  In fact, the opportunities are so abundant, you could do nothing else but share the gospel 24/7 and you’d still have opportunities missed!  That’s part of living in a sinfull world that needs Christ.  There is no shortage of broken sinners, us included.

Take the opportunity by being there.  Could be in person, could be on social media.  Could be a good friend, could be a stranger in need.  Engage in a conversation.  Learn how to ask good questions.  For example, instead of asking, “Did you eat dinner?” ask “What was the best part of your meal tonight?”  If you’re talking to someone like me, and you give me a chance to give a one word answer, you’ll get a one word response.  That goes for a lot of us guys.  Instead of asking, “How was your day?” ask “What happened in your day today?” or “What’s on your mind right now?” And, if they give an answer, hear it.  Listen, engage in a real conversation.

When we ask someone how they’re doing, and they respond with anything other than “good,” the moment turns awkward.  But it doesn’t have to.  Empathize. Ask what’s wrong.  Keep the conversation going.

Another part of sharing Christ with others is knowing how to divide and distinguish between law and gospel.  Where is your neighbor at right now?  If they are prideful and boasting of their sin, you don’t give them the gospel.  That will only make them feel enabled to sin deeper.  They need to hear law.  And conversely, if your neighbor is wallowing in despair over their sins, you don’t hit them with the law, which would only further crush them into dust, but you speak to them the sweet, comforting words of the gospel of Jesus Christ, of sins forgiven them.

If you want to learn how to distinguish law and gospel better, read the Word.  Hear it proclaimed in the Lord’s Church.  Come to Bible class.  In fact, this month’s Bible class is focusing precisely on this.  Literally, distinguishing law and gospel is our topic.

But it’s important to know that when we are attempting to point another person to Christ, we will likely be rejected.  Be prepared for it, at any point along the way.  They could reject the conversation.  They could get angry when you try to speak into their specific situation.  But also remember, ultimately, it’s not you they’re rejecting, but Christ.  Maybe that’s the good ol’ phrase, “don’t shoot the messenger.”

Philip delivered the message, personally, one-on-one to the Ethiopian eunuch.  And he then, to the best of our knowledge, returned to Ethiopia, and delightedly told his queen what he’d learned.  Church tradition holds that the Apostle Mark worked with the Christian Church that sprang up in Ethiopia, but it would appear the Word got there before he did.

This is God’s kingdom, and His work.  We simply rejoice that we’re part of it.  I was once naïve enough to think that the goal of every Christian ought to be to Christianize the world.  That’s not going to happen.  And even if it were, it wouldn’t be my work, but the Lord’s.

The goal of every Christian then is this: to faithfully proclaim Christ to your neighbor, and to rejoice in the forgiveness of your sins whether you succeed or fail.  Because we do fail, whether it’s by neglecting to even try, or if it’s by messing up in how we approach them.  But we are forgiven even of these things!  Christ’s death on the cross covers all of our sins.  All of them.  He removes them from us by taking them on Himself and taking them to the cross.

So we rejoice, we rejoice in sins forgiven.  We rejoice in the waters of baptism through which God declared us to be His children just as He did with the Ethiopian eunuch.  We rejoice that we have heard the Word of God proclaimed unto us.  We rejoice that God even chooses to work through us that others may hear of His name and what He has done for us all.  We rejoice, for Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

Witnesses of the Resurrection April 23, 2017

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Acts 5:29-42

Second Sunday of Easter

April 23, 2017

 

Focus:  God forgives the sins of all people.

Function:  That the hearers obey God by witnessing His resurrection.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

Witnesses of the Resurrection

 

Throughout the Easter season, we will be randomly jumping around through the book of Acts.  So, before we start that today, just a quick refresher on what the book of Acts is.  It’s written by Luke and serves as a sequel book to the Gospel according to Luke.  If we were to say his first book was all about the life and work of Jesus Christ, then this second book would be about the work of the Holy Spirit in building up the bride of Christ, His Church.

Acts begins with the account of the Ascension.  Forty days after His resurrection, Christ was taken up into heaven.  It then covers the day of Pentecost, another ten days later.  And that was a great day indeed in our church’s history.  Three thousand people heard the good news of Christ crucified and their sins forgiven.  And they joined the church and Peter baptized them!  But, that’s our text next weekend.

After Pentecost we see Peter and John heal a crippled beggar in the name of Jesus Christ.  This outraged many of the leaders, and the Sanhedrin had them arrested and brought to trial.  And it’s before this council that Peter can proclaim

11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

 

Peter and John’s proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ left the members of the Sanhedrin baffled.  Luke records a little of their confusion, but ultimately doesn’t tell us whether they believed in what they heard.

After giving them a sound beating and a warning to stop preaching about Jesus, they sent Peter and John away.  But they didn’t listen.  They didn’t stop proclaiming Christ.  And so we come to Acts 5.  But to get the full context, we need to start a few verses earlier.

12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.

Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported,23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to.25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” 26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

 

That’s the context of our reading today.  Peter and John performing miracles in the name of Christ.  Preaching and teaching and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins in Christ alone.  And once again, arrested.  But this time, rather than being released, God sends an angel to set them free and to encourage them to go and preach some more.

And so when the chief priests and the officers finally find them, that’s precisely what they’re doing.  And those last words of the high priest are incredible.  If only he had realized it himself.  “You intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”  Yes!  Exactly!  Because it’s this Man’s blood that forgives you of your sins, even the sin of crucifying Him.

Our text today began with Peter’s response.  And it’s a verse you know well.  “We must obey God rather than men.”  As we talk about our government, the laws that they pass, the things they tell us to do or not do, this verse is a helpful guide.  God has given our government the authority they have, and we are to honor them.  But, if their directives go against the will of God, we must obey God.

It’s sort of like the Venn Diagram, those two overlapping circles you learned about in your school days.  In the one circle we have the things of God, in the other, the things of man, and so long as the things of men overlap the things of God, they’re okay.  But they certainly don’t always.  In fact, we could argue they usually don’t.

Even Christians fall for this trap, though.  How much were the two presidential candidates this past fall painted as saviors?  The promise of Trump’s campaign to Christians was that he would protect their religious freedom and stave off persecution of the church.  Go home and Google Barronelle Stutzman, and you’ll quickly find out that’s not true.  The President can’t save anyone.  It’s not his job.

Another source of men that we often obey rather than God is our peers.  You may have thought peer pressure ended when you graduated from high school.  But peer pressure is alive and well among us adults, perhaps even more powerful than it was when we were growing up.  Think about it for just a moment.  One of the things that God has given you to do is to be a witness of the resurrection, to tell others of the forgiveness of Christ given for them on the cross.  What stops you?

What stops you?  Do you not tell them because you don’t like them?  That’s not usually the case, is it?  It’s usually because we like them that we don’t tell them.  We fear losing a friend, or making the relationship more awkward.  We fear the reprimand of our boss if we actually said “I forgive you” when they’ve done something wrong.  Or we fear the persecution of strangers if our faith becomes known.

And so we don’t.  We don’t witness.  But, we are forgiven.  Even for this.  Even of all those times when we could have shared Christ with another, we’re forgiven.  The very message that we’ve been given to carry and proclaim is the message that’s been proclaimed to us.  And its efficacy, its ability to work, doesn’t depend on you.

Let me say that again a different way.  Your forgiveness isn’t dependent on what you do.  Christ doesn’t withhold forgiveness from you because you failed to tell someone else about Him.  That’s not how any of this works!

In the body and blood of Christ, broken on the cross, your sins are forgiven!  Done, gone.  It’s finished.  In His resurrection from the tomb, your death is conquered.  It has no power over you.  The grave is defeated.  Sin and death are removed.  Even yours. Even mine!

We’re forgiven and alive in Christ.  The very message we are to deliver to others is the very message that delivers us: Christ, and Him crucified and risen again.  This is the message of the Apostles.  Even when speaking to the authorities, this is what they preach: the forgiveness of sins.

pause

Often times the word “evangelism” causes us to pause.  That’s Pastor’s job, not mine.  I don’t have time for that.  I wouldn’t know what to say.  All of these things are false.  A brother pastor, Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller, wrote up a really nice piece on what evangelism actually is.  And listen to just one paragraph from his article:

The Word of God, being the means of the Holy Spirit in creating faith in the heart of sinful man, is effective. It is a false and dangerous tendency to treat the Word of God as mere information that only has benefit when accepted and acted upon (as is the case with American Evangelicalism). The Gospel is the authoritative declaration of sins forgiven (Absolution). In fact, the central act of Evangelism is not asking the unbeliever to come to Jesus, but rather, in the name of Jesus, forgiving their sins. Evangelism is the Church speaking the Absolution to the World.

 

Read the book of Acts, and this is what you’ll see.  When Peter and the others are preaching on Pentecost, the people are crushed in the guilt of their sins.  And how does Peter respond?  Does he chastise them further for crucifying Christ?  Not at all!  He forgives them.  And 3,000 are baptized.  That’s what we pastors call, a good day.  Forgiveness proclaimed to a broken sinner.  That’s a good day, regardless of numbers.

When, in Acts 7, Stephen is being stoned to death, his very last words mirror the last words of Christ.  “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  Even in his dying breath, he’s praying for their forgiveness.

This you can do.  You can announce the forgiveness of sins to a despairing neighbor or coworker.  You can tell them that their failure is not their end.  That their life doesn’t depend on them, but it’s been won for them in Christ.  You can tell this to your beloved spouse or children, as you live together, loving one another as Christ loved His church.

But really, again, the beauty is, it’s not your work.  The Word of God is efficacious, it does stuff.  The Word of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit doesn’t depend on you.  This is why the Apostles could readily die for their faith.  It didn’t depend on them.  The church wouldn’t fail the next day because Peter was crucified.  The church is the work of the Holy Spirit.  The forgiveness of sins is the work of Jesus Christ done to you and for you; not by you.

This is how you live.  You are the despairing neighbor.  You are the crushed and accused.  You are the spouse or the child in need of the love of another.  And you have it.  It’s yours.  It’s been given to you by Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Forgiveness and life are yours.  He bought them with His own blood, and He gives them to you.

This led to the wise words of Rabban Gamaliel in verses 38-39, where he said,

So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”

 

Don’t misunderstand that.  Gamaliel isn’t taking the side of Peter and John.  He taught Saul everything he knew about Judaism, and Saul became the greatest persecutor of the church, well, until Christ forgave him.

“If it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.”  The church is the work of God.  We didn’t die on the cross.  Christ did.  He gives to us the forgiveness of sins.  We didn’t rise from the tomb by our own power.  But on the Last Day, we will rise from our graves by the power of Christ Himself.  These things aren’t our doing, but they’ve been done for us.

And so Peter responded that we must obey God rather than men.  The focus of Peter is on obeying God.  And obeying according to this text is to witness to the resurrection.  And that’s a both/and.  We witness the resurrection not just by telling our neighbors, but because Christ rose.  To witness something is to see it.  And while we may not be witnesses directly, by the power of God, our sins are forgiven, and the gift of life is ours.  And it is in Christ and it is in the work of the Spirit alone that we can be witnesses of this truly awesome thing: Christ is Risen!  He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

The Resurrection of Our Lord April 16, 2017

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1 Corinthians 15:1-10

Easter

April 16, 2017

 

Focus: The resurrection of Jesus Christ is an indispensable component of the gospel and an essential basis of our salvation.

Function: The hearer values the impact of Christ’s resurrection upon his/her salvation.

Structure:  An Outline from the Rev. Dr. David Peter.

 

The Resurrection of Our Lord

 

Christ is Risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  That’s an exciting proclamation.  It’s a fun way to greet one another, it’s a fun way to celebrate Easter together.  But does it matter?  Does it truly matter if Christ has been raised from the dead?  Does it matter if the tomb where Joseph laid His body is empty?

This is the very question the Corinthian Christians were wrestling with.  They had come to a point where they were doubting the resurrection.  That’s not normal.  People who die, well, they stay dead.  And so, they couldn’t understand how Christ rose from the dead, and so they had started to believe that maybe He didn’t.

And through history, they aren’t alone in that belief.  Although Muslims won’t bother claiming to be Christian or to worship the same god as us, they believe Jesus was a man.  But not God, and certainly not resurrected from the grave.  Many people who count solely on their mind and reasoning, like the Corinthians had fallen into, many of these people deny the resurrection.  If science can’t explain it, it must not exist.

And then there are yet others today who deny the resurrection while still trying to claim to be Christians.  Some of the churches that are more liberal in their theology have begun teaching that it doesn’t matter if Christ rose from the dead.  Even more than that, many say He didn’t rise physically, but only spiritually.  Whatever that’s supposed to mean…  We’ll see shortly what the Apostle Paul says about those ideas.

There are also any number of more subtle ways that we ourselves deny the resurrection.  Sometimes we talk about a heavenly life for our spirit or our soul, but without a physical body.  Sometimes we deny the resurrection by our practice, by how we treat someone’s body after they’ve died, or by how we treat people in their bodily needs here in our own community right now.

But Paul rejects all of this.  He goes so far as to say, “16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”  Those are strong words, but Paul backs them up.  He proceeds to tell the people of Corinth precisely why the resurrection matters, and more than just mattering, why it is essential to our faith.

Those are his words.  Paul calls the resurrection of Christ “of first importance.”  To him, it’s indispensable.  When Paul starts this response by talking about the gospel, to him, the resurrection is part of the gospel.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is that He died for our sins, was buried, and rose again to give us life.  And each of these things, then, is essential to our faith.

And he’s not making them up.  “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures…He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”  David spoke of these things.  Isaiah prophesied it.  Jesus Himself talked about it numerous times.  The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the way that God the Father purposed salvation for His people from before He even created this world.

God knew it.  He knew that we would have weaknesses.  He knew we would choose to reject Him.  He knew that we would love our sin instead of loving Him.  And so He orchestrated a plan, a plan He announced to Adam and Eve even in the Garden of Eden.  A plan by which God would redeem sinful men and restore all of creation to Himself.  And that plan was the death and resurrection of the Messiah, or, the Christ.

We learn from elsewhere in Paul’s writings, and indeed from all of Scripture, that the punishment of sin is death.  We die because we sin.  And yet, in His great love for us, a love we can never fully understand this side of Paradise, in His great love for us, God gave us His only Son.

The death of Jesus Christ on Good Friday is the once and for all time sacrifice.  It covers, it forgives every sin.  Original sin, actual sin, sins of omission.  The sinner you are, the sins you do, the sins you commit by failing to act when you should.  Yours, mine, your neighbors, the random person on the other side of the world you’ve never met.  The centurion at the foot of the cross, the child yet unknown to their parents.  Every sin ever.  All of them forgiven in the blood of Jesus Christ, the blood He so willingly gave to save us.  You’re forgiven!

But this isn’t everything.  Because it is the resurrection of Christ that proclaims that victory yours.  We like to say that Christ conquered sin, death, and the devil.  And it’s true, it is so gloriously true.  In His resurrection, rising from the dead, Jesus announces victory over death itself.  The sin, the guilt, the shame, the punishment, all of it, forgiven and defeated by Christ our Savior.

This is the beauty of the gospel that Paul is proclaiming to the Corinthians.  He even takes the time and plays along, he plays their game.  What if Christ wasn’t raised from the dead?  And the answers are devastating.  Our preaching is in vain.  Our faith is in vain. We misrepresent God Himself.  We make Him to be a liar. Our faith is futile.  We’re still in our sins.  Those who have already died before us have truly and fully perished.  Indeed, “if in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (v. 19)

But it’s not true.  This is truth, that Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!  And if you don’t believe, here’s proof.  The risen Christ appeared.  Not a ghost, not a hallucination.  The real, physical body of Christ, scars and all.  You can ask Peter or the others of the Twelve.  You can ask the more than 500 guys Jesus appeared to after His resurrection.  You can ask James or any of the Apostles.  You can even ask Paul.

Eyewitness testimony.  When you’re looking for proof, even in our justice system today, eyewitness testimony is about as good as it gets.  If you doubt the resurrection, go, talk to one of these brothers, it was only a couple decades ago, most of them are still alive.

pause

Paul saved himself for last in that list.  And as is his usual style, he had nothing good to say about himself.  “Least of the apostles,” “one untimely born,” “chief of sinners.”  Paul is quite clear that he isn’t worthy.  That phrase, untimely born, is another way of saying he shouldn’t have been born.  That’s how bad he was, that the world would’ve been better off without him.  And he’s right.  He persecuted the church of Christ.  He arrested many, sentenced others to death, maybe even cast the stones himself.

But then he gives us reason to rejoice.  It isn’t about us.  In spite of all his wretchedness, all the evil things he’d done, God gave Him His grace.  God loved him, God forgave him, God saved him.  God even worked through him for the good of His kingdom.  Even Paul!

This, then, is us, too.  We aren’t worthy, despite what you might hear otherwise.  We don’t deserve God’s favor, or His love, or His forgiveness.  We deserve death.  But it is purely by God’s grace that death isn’t our end.  It is purely by His grace that God overlooks our unworthiness.  Indeed, by His grace, He forgives us and gives us new life.

This is the basis on which we stand.  The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are our forgiveness and salvation.  It is precisely these actions of Christ that enable us to stand before a holy God on the Last Day, and to hear Him declare us innocent.  It is precisely these actions of Christ that shout loudly over the earth that Jesus is victorious over sin, death, and the devil.  This is the gospel.  Christ died on the cross to declare your sins forgiven and He rose from the tomb conquering itself death itself to declare you alive forevermore.  Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  This is most certainly true.

Without the Shedding of Blood April 13, 2017

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Exodus 12:1-14

Maundy Thursday

April 13, 2017

 

Focus:  God sheds His blood for us.

Function:  That the hearers come to the Lord’s Table to receive the forgiveness of their sins.

Structure:  Old Testament/New Testament type and antitype.

 

Without the Shedding of Blood

 

One of the things that a good sermon must do is to rightly apply law and gospel from the text.  It’s the job of your pastor to dig into the Word of God, to dig into the text for that day and see where we’ve failed.  What’s in the text that shows me my sin, how we fail to do what God created us to do?  And once that’s established, your pastor then uses the same text to show you the gospel, to literally preach unto you the forgiveness of your sins.  That ends up being perhaps the most beautiful thing about the liturgy.  Your sins are forgiven again, and again, and again, even in the same service.

I admit, this one was a little tricky.  As I read over the text, it was hard to find the Law here.  It was hard to find the Law in this text that applies to you and to me.  It’s easy to get it wrong.  I could tell you that based off of the Exodus Passover festival, you must do these things.  And since you’ve never slain a lamb and painted its blood on your door, you’ve failed. If I preach that, I’ve failed.

The Law in this text is so easy, we miss it.  The Law in this text is simply this: you ARE a sinner.  Actually, that’s the Law in all three of our readings here today.  There’s nothing here that you must do.  You don’t keep the Passover.  That’s been done for you, and we’ll talk about that in a little bit.  But instead, each of these texts plays out the same.  This is us.  This is simply who we are: sinful human beings, fallen creatures who stand apart from God.

Each of these texts says “this is who we are and this is how God responds on our behalf.”  Let’s walk through these texts and unpack that.

In our Old Testament reading today from Exodus, we see the account of the 10th and final plague.  The plague of the firstborn.  Hundreds of years before this text, God had made a covenant with Abraham, that He would be His God, and that Abraham’s people would be God’s people.

But the Israelites, as Abraham’s people come to be known, failed over and over again in being the people of God.  They kept longing for the gods of their neighbors.  They kept insisting on living life on their terms, not on God’s.  They were sinners.  And it’s not much later that they fall into slavery in Egypt.

And over the next 400 years, living as slaves from one generation to the next, the pattern continued.  Like a dog returns to its vomit, they returned to their idolatry, to their distrust.  And they wasted away in their sins.

But it was at this time that God acted.  He sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh demanding the freedom of God’s people.  And as Pharaoh rejected God, the plagues began.  And that cycle would repeat: Plague, rejection, plague, rejection.  Until we come to our text for today.  The tenth, and final plague that God inflicted on the land of Egypt.

You know it as the plague of the firstborn.  God, in His righteous judgment, as punishment for sin and rebellion, is going to strike down the firstborn son in every household, in every family.

But He also provided a means of grace, a way out.  God institutes the Passover.  Each family was to take a young lamb, without blemish, and slaughter it at twilight on the 14th day of the month.  Now this wasn’t just a cast off lamb.  This is a spotless lamb, from among your best.  This is a call to trust in God and to be His people.

So each family slaughtered their lamb.  And they took the blood of that lamb and used it to paint the doorframe of their home.  And then they ate it.  They roasted the lamb, and made a meal of it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.  It was a meal eaten in haste.  There was no telling when the plague would strike, and as soon as it did, the Israelites would be fleeing from the land of Egypt and from the wrath of Pharaoh.

But in this we see the promise of God. He said,

“The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.”

 

Salvation, salvation in the blood of the lamb!  The Israelites listened, they slaughtered the lambs at twilight, they painted their doorframes, they ate a speedy meal, and then the plague struck.  And the Egyptians, Pharaoh, cast the Israelites out of Egypt.

Sinners, stuck in their sin, and God comes to them.  He comes to them in the midst of their sins, in the midst of their slavery, in the midst of their suffering.  And He gives them life.  He frees them from their bondage and forgives them of their sins.  God comes to His people where they’re at with His gifts, with His promises.

This event, to the Israelites, this was as a close a thing to Easter as they were going to get.  The Passover feast, or the Festival of Unleavened Bread, is one of the biggest celebrations of their church year.  And, the slain lamb for the forgiveness of sins leads to the rest of Exodus and Leviticus, where you can find the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system through which God gave His people the forgiveness of their sins.

But this event, as significant as it was, this was only the type.  A type is a foreshadowing, an earlier account pointing to some later event.  The antitype is that later thing, that greater thing, the fulfillment of it.  The Passover is merely a type.  It only points to the real deal.

That’s the profoundness of our reading from Hebrews.  We won’t focus on it, except one verse.  In verse 22, we hear the words “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

The Passover lamb, the burnt offerings, the guilt offerings, the sin offerings, the peace offerings, you name it.  All that blood to cover your sins.  The result of a broken covenant, the penalty of death.  Blood must be shed.  But even this is just a type.  It’s a foreshadowing of something greater.  Here’s an example from Leviticus chapter 5:

14 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, 15 “If anyone commits a breach of faith and sins unintentionally in any of the holy things of Yahweh, he shall bring to Yahweh as his compensation, a ram without blemish out of the flock, valued in silver shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering. 16 He shall also make restitution for what he has done amiss in the holy thing and shall add a fifth to it and give it to the priest. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and he shall be forgiven.

 

Here’s my question for you: how could you ever know it was enough?  How could you ever know for certain, that your sins were removed from you?  How could you know that you didn’t unintentionally do it again the very next second?  How could you be sure of your salvation?  And how would we not run out of rams?

We are sinners, in need of a Savior.  And that brings us to the gospel.  Jesus and His disciples have been in Jerusalem now for a few days already, and it’s time for the Passover celebration.  It’s time for the regular, annual rejoicing and remembering of God’s gift in the blood of the lamb.

Scholars debate whether this was Christ’s 3rd or 4th Passover spent with His disciples.  But that number doesn’t matter.  As they recline around the table, and celebrate together, it’s familiar.  There are traditions, routines, common food from one year to the next, just like you will be doing at your family gatherings this weekend.

But then Jesus changes it.  Rather than just talking about the Exodus, He changes the script.  Jesus changes the Passover meal and its very meaning.  He takes the bread, blesses it, and then hands it to His disciples saying, “Take, eat; this is My body.”  And then He takes the cup, gives thanks, and passes it around saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

pause

“Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.”  This is the antitype.  Christ shows the disciples that the Passover itself pointed to something greater, it pointed to Him.  And while they didn’t understand it yet, the next couple of days would be devastating and wonderful at the same time.

And this is why you’ve gathered here today.  This is why we celebrate Maundy Thursday, the night Christ is arrested.  The night that His path to the cross is set in stone.  The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world is going to the altar to be slain.  To shed His blood for you, for me, for all people of all time and of all places.

Remember the guilt offering?  How could you ever know it was enough?  Where could your assurance be?  That’s not the case now.  Christ is the final sacrifice, the final blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.

That’s why, spacially, the church is designed this way.  It’s not just for aesthetics.  The cross hangs on the wall above the altar as a reminder to us that Christ’s death is the fulfillment of all sacrifices.  Type (pointing to the altar), antitype (pointing to the cross).  It is finished.

That’s the Law and Gospel, not just of these texts, but indeed, of all Scripture.  You are a sinner.  I am a sinner.  And apart from God, we’re dead.  Bound, slaves to sin.  Dead and without hope.  And, yeah, if the assurance of salvation rests here, the doubts will only consume me.

Simply put, we are sinners.  This is who we are.  But this (pointing to the cross), this is how God responds.  God doesn’t leave you in you there, dead in your sins.  He doesn’t leave you trying to work your way back to Him.  Trying to find, and climb, the stairway to heaven.  He came down to you.

So today, as you come before this altar, as you come together here in this place, to partake of the body and blood of Christ, your sins are forgiven.  They already have been in confession and absolution.  They already are forgiven in the words I’ve proclaimed to you now.  And you will be forgiven again in just a few moments.  And the beauty in all of this is that none of it depends on you.  None of this depends on me.  If someone asks you, “How do you know you’re saved?  Where’s your assurance?” you need only point them to Christ.  God has promised it.  In my baptism, in the spoken words of absolution, in the body and blood of the Lord at His Table, forgiveness and life are mine, they’re yours.