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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.

Living Water March 19, 2017

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John 4:5-26

Third Sunday in Lent

March 19, 2017

 

Focus:  God saves the world in and through His Son Jesus Christ.

Function:  That the hearers see themselves in God’s family, worship Him, and tell others!

Structure:  Before and After.

 

Living Water

 

The reading we had today from the Gospel according to John is a familiar event in Jesus’ ministry.  You know it, your children know it if they go to Sunday School, and it’s part of our regular rotation of Scripture readings in the lectionary.  And as I preached on this text here a few years ago, we focused on all the details of this event.  Why Jesus bridged the gap of Jews and Samaritans, the woman’s adultery, of having had numerous husbands, and now living with a man she isn’t married to.

So, I don’t want to just redo that sermon this morning, but rather, instead look at what Christ is calling the Samaritan woman to do.  A before and after picture of not just this woman’s life, but also of our lives.  Before the gospel, and then with the gospel.

But before we can do that, we do need to review one piece.  We need to understand specifically one key thing Christ speaks, because it refers to the whole account.  And that’s verse 14: “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  What is Jesus talking about here?  What is that water?  Not only baptism, but baptism by the Spirit.

That’s the key.  Christ comes promising to us tremendous gifts, gifts of forgiveness, of life, of being part of His family.  And all of these gifts come to us according to His promise.  In baptism, the Spirit grants the gift of faith.  And we go from being enemies of God, to being children of God.  That’s the before and after picture that we’re looking at today.

And it takes three forms in this account alone.  The first before and after that we see with the Samaritan woman is without a doubt about who her family is.  Look at how she speaks in the first several verses.  She’s focused on her nationality.  She’s focused on her ancestors, men like Jacob, and the history of the family well.

But Christ calls her to see beyond her definition of family, of an earthly lineage.  He calls her to think of herself now as a part of an enduring lineage.  Part of God’s family.  After hearing the woman’s testimony, her neighbors, her community comes to Jesus and asks Him to stay with them, to teach them.  And He does.  And after a couple of days spent in their town, the people proclaim faith.

“It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” (v. 42)

We do this, too.  It’s part of our sinfulness to divide ourselves by the same things she was.  We divide ourselves by nationality, by socio-economic status, by race, by differing levels of morality.  I wish I could say you have to go into the cafeteria of a school to see this, but you don’t.  You can see it in your office, in your neighborhood, just about anywhere.

But Christ calls us into one family.  All of those who are in Christ, who have been baptized by the Spirit into the family of God.  The wealthy and poorest in Stewartville alike.  Americans and Africans alike.  We could make the point that we all descend from Adam and Eve, but that’s not what Jesus is getting at.  It’s not about past lineage.  It’s about a future, everlasting family.  Those little kids we help feed with Feed My Starving Children, through the proclamation of the gospel in their communities, we get to spend forever with them.  As the family of God.

The second before and after picture the text presents to us is one of location.  She is very wrapped up in the idea of space.  And for good reason.  God instructed His people to live this way.  Worship happened in the temple.  If you want to worship God or offer sacrifices, you had to go there.

She’s tied not just to that well in Sychar, but to that mountain.  We know from sources apart from Scripture what mountain this is, and what she’s talking about when saying her fathers worshipped on that mountain.  The Jewish historian Josephus records that the Samaritans had built their own temple on Mount Gerizim around 400 BC.  And more recent archaeology of that site, has unearthed a ruin that is 66 feet wide by 66 feet long, with an adjoining courtyard.  It may not have been the Biblical temple, but they had a temple that they were using for worship.

And it’s her concern now that her temple wasn’t good enough.  That the Jews were saying you had to go to theirs, to Jerusalem.  Christ overturns that, too.  It’s neither here on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem.  From verse 23-24 He says,

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

 

Jesus is the temple of God, and He is in our midst.  It is through Him and through Him alone that we have access to our Father.  That’s the phrase “worship in spirit and truth.”  That’s our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, as we confess that faith, and rely not on ourselves or our own works, but on His promises, and the gifts that He gives to us.

We don’t have as clear a before picture on this one.  Catholics pilgrimage to Rome, Muslims pilgrimage to Mecca.  But we don’t have a centralized place of worship. We are more prone to fall into sin in the complete opposite direction.  We error by thinking we can worship God in nature, or in some other place that we enjoy rather than the place that God has promised.  He has promised to work in His church, through the Word being proclaimed, the sacraments administered, and forgiveness preached.  And while we certainly hope that occurs in Jerusalem, we know it occurs in various places all around the world.

The final before and after picture of this text is about who this woman is and what she’s done.  The disciples looked down on her, wondered what Jesus would have been doing even talking to her.  She even thought that of herself.  Her life was a life full of failures, disappointments, rejection.  It was a life full of sin.

And yet, Christ forgives her.  And more than that, He invites her into the work of the kingdom.  She goes back into her community, to the people she knows, and she starts talking about Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah they’d been waiting for.  And the word spreads, and the Samaritans are brought to faith through the Spirit and the Word of God.

This is the way we normally talk about the woman at the well.  And it’s valid.  While our sins may not be adultery like hers was, we are all sinners.  And if we’re honest, most of us, maybe all of us are even adulterers, too.  But in this meeting with her, Jesus isn’t Law heavy.  He doesn’t use it to crush her.  He pretty much goes straight to the gospel, because this woman was already in a place of shame.  She already knew her guilt, and she was looking for a Savior.

Like you and I, she knew of the depths of her sin, she knew her guilt.  She didn’t know what her Savior would do for her.  She didn’t know about the cross, of Christ’s love for her in which He pours out even His own blood for her, shed for the forgiveness of her sins.  She didn’t know about the resurrection, that three days later He would leave an empty tomb behind and that people would start proclaiming a risen Lord who grants life to all people in His name.  But she knew she needed a Savior.

And that’s how our text today ended.  The statement from Jesus is so profound, it speaks for itself.

25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

 

 

Through One Man March 5, 2017

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Romans 5:12-19

First Sunday in Lent

March 5, 2017

 

Focus:  God’s sacrifice of Christ overcomes the trespass of Adam.

Function:  That the hearers reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Structure:  Law and Gospel.

 

Through One Man

 

There’s an old saying, that one person can ruin something for everyone.  It turns out there’s a technical term for that, a spoilsport.  But it’s a concept we understand, and we’ve likely all seen.  Let me give you a couple of examples.

For a couple years growing up, I played football.  Practices in the St. Louis summer heat were no fun to begin with.  But then, to make matters worse, a costly mistake by one my teammates in a game would make practice more excruciating.  Say the running back fumbles the ball, and the coach would make the team do extra laps.  Or maybe one of our linebackers missed a key tackle, and the whole team suddenly is doing up-downs, and oh, I hated up-downs.  For those of you who don’t know what an up-down is, all the players would line up in rows, and when the coach blew the whistle, we’d begin chopping our feet.  On his next whistle, you bite the dust, you fall flat on your face.  He’d blow the whistle again, and you pop back up, right back to chopping your feet.  One rep.  And we’d do dozens, every practice.

 

But while some of these things are really minor, and some are quite important, take the worst example you can come up with, and multiply it by a bajillion.  And then square it.

12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—

 

This is no mere spoilsport.  We’re talking about death.  This is what we saw as Pastor Fritsch read the reading from Genesis.  The fall of mankind into sin, and the punishment for it, well, the epitome of the punishment, is that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

One man’s sin, ruins it for everyone.  Adam’s sin, the sin of not caring for and protecting his wife, plunged all of creation into darkness and despair.  This is the doctrine of original sin.  It’s not that you sin by stealing and thus you’re guilty and deserving of Hell.  Sure, that’s a sin, and deserving of Hell before a holy God, but you are a sinner.  You are sinful to the core.  And you have been, I have been, from the moment we were conceived.  That’s the words of King David we read this past Wednesday from Psalm 51:5 “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

Sin isn’t just an act that we commit.  It’s a brokenness, a rejection of God that we inherit from our parents, that they inherited from their parents, for generations going all the way back to Adam.

12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—

 

It’s important to note the way Paul speaks of death here.  He doesn’t talk about it like it’s just some thing.  He says in verse seventeen, “because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man.”  Death reigned.  Things don’t reign.  Paul is ascribing to death, and to sin, power and authority over creation.  And we are conceived dead, already under the reign of sin and death.

But this is not how it ends.  We are not left in the dredges of sin and death.  But rather we hear the words of Paul:

17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

 

The free gift of righteousness.  We talk about this all the time, that in His death and resurrection, Christ’s sacrifice forgives all your sins.  Not just your action sins, but even the very original sin, that brokenness, that rejection of God.  It’s forgiven.  And even now as we speak, you are being made alive.

It is a thing of grace, that God would give us what we don’t deserve, that He would give us what we couldn’t possibly earn.  And He gives it freely.  He takes the righteousness of Christ, Christ’s perfection, and He makes it yours.  By filling you with Christ.  You are justified.

But again, look at Paul’s language.  “Those who receive…the free gift…reign in life.”  The free gift of Christ does more than forgive sins.  Oh, it definitely does that.  But it eradicates the power and authority, it eliminates the stranglehold that sin and death had over creation.  In Christ, you reign in life.

That’s a wonderful phrase.  You reign in life, through Christ.  He redeems His creation from sin, death, and the devil.  And while all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ by the Father, Christ then entrusts these things to you.  You reign in life.

You take the power of Christ, the forgiveness of your sins, and you live.  There is no fear of death.  There is no fear of sin.  In Christ, the victory over these evils is yours.  And so you can go about your vocations and live freely, without fear, without worry, knowing that any evil that happens is already defeated.  Being bullied, losing your job, even death itself, these things have no hold over you any more.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.

 

So while football coaches may believe that more up-downs makes for a better team, the free gift of the One Man Jesus Christ overcomes the one man Adam’s sin.  It overcomes my sin, and it overcomes your sin.  By the free gift of Christ, “the many will be made righteous.” (v. 19)

 

 

 

Children’s message:

  • Can of Mountain Dew
    • Pour can into clear cup. It’s free!  This liquid is free, it’s no longer Mountain Dew, right?
    • Wrong, Pastor! The liquid is the Mountain Dew, not the can.
  • So it is with our sins. Sin isn’t something we can remove from ourselves.  It is us, through and through.
  • Mountain Dew
    • Have a kid picked out to be Jesus already. Drink the Dew in the cup.  Add a little water, swish it around, have them drink that, too.  Refill the cup with water.
    • You can’t remove sin from yourself.
    • But Jesus can. He has.  He does.  On the cross, He takes your sins upon Himself and makes you clean.  You have forgiveness, you have life in Him.

 

A Guide to Loving Your Enemies February 19, 2017

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Matthew 5:38-48

Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

February 19, 2017

 

Focus:  God saves even His own enemies.

Function:  That the hearers love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

A Guide to Loving Your Enemies

 

As we gathered together here in this place last week, to hear of God’s love for us, and to receive the forgiveness of all our sins, I was privileged to share with you from the Sermon on the Mount. More specifically, to look at what Jesus is doing with this middle section of the sermon.

Do you remember which use of the Law we talked about?  2nd use/mirror use.  Jesus said that if we just had more righteousness than the Pharisees, we could enter the kingdom of heaven.  But then, He takes the Law as we know it, and He cranks it up, He raises the bar to levels beyond our capability.

Jesus uses the Law to show us our sin.  Jesus uses the Law to crush us, to destroy us, to bring about confession, repentance of our sins.  But it’s not just that.  That would be twisted and deranged.  Christ doesn’t kill us and leave us.  He kills us, and then He makes us alive again, in Him.

This is the beauty of both law and gospel.  That they work together.  The law kills, the gospel makes alive.  Without the mirror in their faces, the people didn’t know their sin, they didn’t know their need for a Savior.  But once they did, He didn’t scoff at them, but He died for them.

But today, as we continue to look at the Sermon on the Mount, I want to focus in more on the first and the third uses of the Law.  Which again, are what? Curb and guide.

So our gospel reading today started with an all familiar Old Testament teaching.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’

If your neighbor kills your ox, you take one of his.  If an enemy lops off your hand, you lop off one of his.  If someone kills your wife, you don’t kill their wife, you simply kill them, a life for a life.

And so just like what we saw with murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths last week, the next words out of Jesus’ mouth radically change our thinking, our concept of what the law even means.

39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

 

The curb use of the law is rather simple with this one.  It’s so civilization, continues.  If we were always dealing out justice in this way, exacting revenge as described earlier, there would be no end.  There would be nothing left.

The guide use of the law is also rather simple.  It’s do what Jesus said.  If they take out your eye, offer the other, too.  If they bust your tooth, offer an extra.  If they slap one cheek, turn the other to them in case they want another shot.  If they sue you for your clothes, give them more.

Jesus actually takes a law that they understood as a law of revenge and violence, and turns it into a law of reckless generosity.  That we would give of ourselves fully.  The Greek words behind the clothing illustrate that.  Your tunic would be like the long johns you’ve been wearing all winter, and your cloak would be the outer layer.  What was left?

This is one of the places of great of benefit to those of you who are single.  You can be recklessly generous without having to worry about also then caring for and providing for a spouse or children.  I’m quite certain that’s part of Paul’s conversation, and Christ’s as well later in Matthew, as they lift up the gift of celibacy as a true spiritual gift within the church.

But as we saw last week, we see again here.  The mirror use of the Law smacks us in the face.  It shows us that we haven’t done these things.  We haven’t been recklessly generous with the time, treasure, and talents that God has entrusted to us.  We haven’t been willing to give to those who would first see us harmed.  And again, if this were all the Law was, we’d be damned.

One of the things Christ pointed to was that part about going the extra mile.  It wasn’t uncommon then for a Roman soldier to simply, forcibly, ask someone to carry their load for them.  They even did it to Christ.  Forcing Him to carry the burden of their cross up to the top of the mount where they would then hang Him on it.

Bearing their sins, not only up the mountain, but bearing them on His shoulders straight to the judgment throne of God.  Where your sins and my sins are what caused His death.  He literally went the extra distance for us.  And on His account, all of our sins are gone, wiped clean, forgiven, and His righteousness then fills us.  The love of Christ is ours now and forevermore.

And then Jesus, in much the same way, does the same thing with our next piece.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

Now, if you remember our Old Testament reading from earlier, what’s wrong with that statement?  It’s not what the Bible says.  Somewhere along the way, the phrase was added to.  The hate for one’s enemy isn’t even in Leviticus, which we all know has a bad reputation to those outside the church.  If we’re honest, even to most in the church.

But, nonetheless, it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter if the Pharisees had added it, or the Sanhedrin, or the Sadducees, or some other group.  Jesus is about to obliterate it anyway.

44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

 

The curb use of the law with this one, again, it’s pretty straight forward.  Don’t kill your enemy.  Don’t wage war. Don’t commit genocide.

And that brings us again to the guide use of the Law here.  Again, it’s simply stated, although, hard to do.  Love your enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you.  I’m going to put this out there, and just let you dwell on it this week.  Can you love your enemy by killing him in war?  If you want to discuss it further with me privately later, we definitely can, but just chew on it for now.

Here is where we are thankful for men and women like the Gayed family.  For the work being done through POBLO, not only here in Rochester, but in much of the world.  As people overcome their fears to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those who need to hear it.

Go, even if it’s just once, go volunteer once, just so you can see it done.  Let them lead you by example.  We are quick to think of Islam as our enemy, even an enemy that would see us dead.  And in some ways, that’s very true.  John could share stories with you that would break your heart.  But then, he would also share stories with you that would encourage you, that would convince you that it’s all worth it.

Because even our enemies, whether they could simply care less about us, or they truly disdain us, even our enemies are creations of God.  And it is for them that Christ came and died upon the cross, just as much as it was for all of us.

And I know I fail at this one.  I know I let anger become the first response, rather than say, compassion or sorrow, when someone opposes Christ and His truths.  But I’m ever so thankful for the forgiveness of my sins that comes through gospel of Jesus.

8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8-10)

 

While we were enemies of God, He sent His Son to die for us, for them.  Jesus died to forgive the sins of all people.  And those verses are an excellent reminder to me to be humble, to not consider myself better than others, because I too, was once an enemy of God deserving nothing but His wrath.

But instead, He chose to spare me.  He chose to spare you.  Through the faithful work of our families, our churches, our communities, that Word of forgiveness, of life, of love, that Word has been shared with you, has taken root in you, has changed you, transformed you from an enemy of God, into a child of God.

And as Paul taught the young pastor Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:4, that’s the outcome God would like to see for all of His creation.

Although we’re not even half way through the Sermon yet, the last verse of our text today reads:

48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 

Some see that as a challenge.  Some see it as a challenge to be met.  I have to do this, and they strive for perfection their entire life long.  Perfection becomes their God, the desire of their heart.  Others hear that challenge as overwhelming, as something they could never achieve, and then despair becomes their God, as they give up all hope.

But for you and for me, and truly for all people, the verse isn’t a challenge for us at all.  It is the full killing weight of the Law.  You’ve failed.  But Christ has made you alive.  He has fulfilled that Law.  He has been perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.  He has then taken His perfection, and given it to you.  That’s the beauty of Christ’s imputed righteousness.  It’s 100% free to you.

 

 

 

Exceeding the Righteousness of the Pharisees February 12, 2017

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Matthew 5:21-37

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

February 12th, 2017

 

Focus:  God imputes His righteousness to us through His Son Jesus Christ.

Function:  That the hearers look to Christ for their righteousness, not to themselves.

Structure:  Walking through the Scriptures.

 

Exceeding the Righteousness of the Pharisees

 

Today’s gospel reading, isolated from its context, wouldn’t be gospel at all.  These words kill.  Alone, they don’t even kill and make alive.  These words simply kill.

So we need the context.  We need the assigned gospel reading from last weekend for these words flowing from the lips of Christ to make any sense whatsoever.  So, feel free to open up your Bibles to Matthew chapter 5.  This is the section following the eight fold blessing of the Beatitudes, and it’s immediately following those analogies about being the salt and light of the earth, the city on a hill that can’t be hidden.  But we start today with verse seventeen:

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

Christ’s reference to the Law and the Prophets is the phrase they used to describe the Old Testament.  Those are the two sections the Jewish people broke it down into. He didn’t come to remove the law of God from creation.  Christ came not to do away with the Law, but to follow it perfectly for us.  Not even the smallest mark.  Not the smallest letter, not the slightest ink from a pen would be removed from the Law until it’s fulfilled.

The Law of God is His will for His people.  We are to keep it, to follow it.  And this, this is where the Pharisees come in.  They loved the law.  They harped on it all the time.  Do the law. You gotta keep the law if you want God’s love.  Do, do, do, and do some more.  Unless it’s the Sabbath, then you do by doing nothing.

But here’s the kicker, and it’s the kicker of this whole sermon.  How much righteousness did the Pharisees actually have?  None.  The law they kept was a law of their own making, they cared not for God or His people.  It was selfish, self-serving, self-promoting, and the people listening to Jesus knew it.  And so now Jesus tells them that their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees if they ever want to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Sounds easy, right?  If the Pharisees have no righteousness, it should be easy to get just a smidge, just an ounce.  That’s all it would take to get into heaven.  But that’s what the rest of our gospel reading today is about.  How are you doing?  How much righteousness do you have?  None.

That’s a hard truth for us to hear, especially if we’ve never heard it before.  We aren’t righteous.  That’s one of the uses of the Law.  Curb, mirror, and guide.  That’s the 2nd use, the mirror use of the Law.  It shows us our sin.  And that’s what Christ is up to in the text.

He’s going to take the Law as they knew it, the Law as the Pharisees knew it and taught it.  He’s going to take that Law and ramp it up.  Crank the nastiness factor of the Law to the top notch.  Take the killing, destructive force of the Law, and blow it up to epic proportions.  To prove to you that you can’t keep it.  On your own, you’re dead in your trespasses. And we’ll circle back to that, but first, let’s look at what He does.

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’

 

That’s what we know as the fifth commandment.  It’s a direct citation from Exodus 20:13, and also from Deuteronomy.  You shall not kill, or murder.  Well, okay Jesus, that’s easy enough.  I’ve never killed anyone.  Except, then Jesus elaborates on what that Law means.

22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

 

Go ahead and put your hands up on this one.  C’mon, everybody put a hand up.  Now, if you’ve ever been angry at anyone, put your hand down.  If you’ve cursed someone or wished bad against them, put your hand down.  If you’ve ever insulted someone put your hand down.  How are we doing?  How many of us made it?  How many of us before the righteousness of God, the perfection of God, how many of us can stand?

That’s the thrust of what Jesus is doing, and He’s going to do it again and again and again before He’s done.  He’s hammering it home.  This point will be made known to all people.  Now, He does follow each of these things with a little life application that shows you just how serious He is about it.  Just how important these things are.

23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

 

So for this one, just as an example, if you know you’re not reconciled to your brother, and that’s not just your flesh and blood brother, but your brothers and sisters in Christ, you could even say your neighbor.  If you’re not reconciled with someone, put your offering down, and leave.  Get up out of the service, and go be reconciled.  And then, when you are, come back, and offer your offering before the Lord.  Would the church ever receive another dime?

And here, it’s the same with the next one.  Jesus cites the sixth commandment from Exodus 20:14.  But He ramps it up.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

 

Don’t worry, you don’t have to raise your hands this time, well, as long as it’s not still up already.  Adultery is the physical act of having sex with someone who is not your spouse.  Your “one flesh” for life.  Oh, well, that’s not so bad.  Most of us can do that.  Except, no, we can’t.  The NASB translation renders lustful intent as simply the word “desire.”  Any time you’ve made an object of someone.  Any time you’ve dabbled in pornography, whether that’s visual or even in the form of written words.  Whenever you’ve so much as crushed on someone else.  That moment they are seen in your eyes or your heart or your mind as anything but a child of God, a creation of the King, in that very moment, you’re goose is cooked.  You’ve committed adultery in your heart.

And how serious is it? V. 29-30 make that crystal clear.

29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

 

The pain, the death, the affliction of sin is so bad, you’d be better off without whatever limb is causing you to sin, than to burn in hell for the punishment for your thoughts, words, and deeds.  But that’s just it.  What would be left of you?  We are sinful through and through.  Not just your eyes, or your hands, but your mind, your heart.  All of you, cut off.

And this just continues.  Divorce, oaths, eye for an eye, love your enemy, giving, praying, fasting, treasuring, worrying, judging, asking, how you treat others, bearing fruit, etc.  It just goes on.

You thought you could do these things, well, you can’t.  None of them.  You aren’t good enough.  You aren’t capable.  You can’t keep the Law.  Your righteousness is one and the same as that of the Pharisees, it’s like a puddle of vomit.  And that’s the point.

Again, let’s re-read verse seventeen.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

 

Christ came to fulfill the Law.  Christ came to live the Law that you and I can’t.  And He did.  That’s what this whole sermon is about.  That’s it not about you, but that it’s about Him.  We have these great terms in Lutheran theology, and this one is called 2KR, or two kinds of righteousness.  Everything we’ve talked about, all of Christ’s examples are called horizontal righteousness, it’s how you live out your life, how you love your neighbor.  But the righteousness Christ calls us to have isn’t this.  Even if you could do it, it wouldn’t be enough.  It’s the vertical righteousness, that is, our standing before God, our faith.  This is what Christ calls us to.

And on our own we can’t do it.  And that’s okay, because it’s not ours to do.  Christ lived out the Law for you.  He kept it perfectly, breaking not even a single command in thirty plus years.  He achieved the horizontal righteousness that we failed to achieve.

And then, then He went and achieved the vertical righteousness as well.  He took our broken relationship with God upon His own self.  By the blood of Christ shed upon the cross, your punishment is paid.  Your lack of righteousness forgiven.  And by His resurrection from the dead on the third day, the Son of God, Christ our Lord has done more than give you a second chance.  He’s given you a life that never ends.  A life that can’t be taken from you.  It’s His gift to you.  He’s earned it, and now He’s giving it freely.

A recent analogy I heard explains this really well.  We could take a chalkboard and just fill it with sins.  Your sins, my sins, past, present, even future.  And we tend to think that as Christians, when God forgives our sins, He wipes the board clean, gives us a clean slate to try again.  But that misses the truth entirely.

Christ not only wipes our board clean, He then fills it with Himself.  This is called Christ’s imputed righteousness.  That righteousness He demanded of us before the Pharisees isn’t even ours, it’s His.  He wipes our sins away and then fills us with His own righteousness, bought and paid for by Him.  It’s not up to us.  It’s not our doing.  It’s His.

And so we look back to the very first words from Christ’s mouth as He began this Sermon on the Mount.

5:4 “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

That’s you.  That’s me.  And we are blessed, because God has given us everything in and through His Son Jesus Christ.   Forgiveness, peace, life, righteousness, all yours.  And they’re all gifts.

 

Children’s message based on keeping the Law.  Maybe the 4th commandment of honoring mother and father.  Maybe one of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount examples instead.  We can’t do it.  But Christ can.  And He has.  And He’d done it for us.

A Joyful Harvest January 22, 2017

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Isaiah 9:1-4

Third Sunday After Epiphany

January 22nd, 2017

 

Focus:  God grants salvation to all people in and through His Son Jesus Christ.

Function:  That the hearers rejoice in Christ.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

A Joyful Harvest

 

The first image I want you to consider today is a little hard for us to picture.  It’s difficult because we’re so far removed from it.  But the idea of the spoils of war is more than the loot a pirate steals.  It’s the reward of a battle hard fought, a victory won.

The Bible, especially the Old Testament, is filled with examples of dividing up the spoils of war.  Even the very entrance of the Israelites into the Promised Land, as they then divide the land amongst the tribes.  Or, more connected to prophets and their writings, when Babylon came and conquered Jerusalem, as they laid waste to that holy city, what do you think they did with the temple?

Our present day economists have estimated the value of the temple and its furnishings in today’s dollars to be about $2 billion.  Now, while I don’t want to imagine the bloodshed, and the tears, the pains of war, I think the reward is something we can understand.  Imagine an army of a few thousand men splitting a couple billion dollars’ worth of gold!

That’s not quite how it went down, but it can help us understand what God is talking about in our prophecy from Isaiah.  There’s both the relief that the war is over, that your life is no longer on the line in battle as it’s now a time of peace, and also the excitement of some new prosperity.  Which of you wouldn’t get a little giddy if someone just handed you $10,000?

The other analogy that the prophet speaks is much easier for most of us to picture.  And while I’ve never personally lived it, many of you have.  As you spend month after month, tirelessly pouring your strength into the soil of the earth around you.  Praying, trusting in the Lord’s provisions.  And then they come.  October, November, whenever it may be, as you head out into the fields to reap the harvest.

Many more weeks, a lot more sweat, but in time, you’ve gathered in all the crops from your fields.  What comes to mind with that picture?  You’ve trusted in the Lord for His provisions, and He’s provided.  There’s great comfort in being able to care for your family.  There’s great relief in knowing that your labor was not in vain.

I’ve been intentionally avoiding the word the prophet Isaiah used for these things.  Because I’m hoping to help you better define that word.  It’s joy.  Joy at dividing the spoils.  Joy at the harvest.  Peace, relief, comfort, excitement.  These things help us encapsulate joy.  Because while happiness can be a part of joy, you can have joy without happiness.

I recently heard a friend, a faithful brother, describe joy as comfort.  And as he reads Scripture, whenever he reads “joy,” he reads “comfort,” whenever he reads “rejoice” he reads “be comforted.”  That’s pretty helpful, and takes the focus off of us and our emotions, and puts the focus back where it belongs, on God and on what He has done for us.

As we pour through the text, that’s what it’s all about, what God has done for us.  And so, when we get there, let’s sub in the word “comfort” and see what encouragement that gives us.

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

 

This is written to an exiled people.  They’ve lost a war that they never had a chance to win.  They’ve lost their homes, seen family and friends die.  And worst of all, they’ve betrayed their God, and have no hope, no comfort in His promises.  Gloom is a fitting word for the spot they’re in right now.

And even though this prophecy specifically references the exile, the destruction of Israel by the Assyrian army, it still applies to us.  In fact, in this particular case, this prophecy is more for us than it is for them.  And not just because it mentions being for those beyond the Jordan, for all the nations.

This prophecy is yours because the Israelites rejected it, but God has given it to you.  That’s the beauty of this text.  “There will be no gloom for her who was in anguish.”  Anguish, mourning, crying out over the pains and consequences of our sins.  This prophecy begins with repentance.  There is no more gloom for those who repent.   And repentance, again, is one of the chief gifts God gives to us.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
Again, us.  Darkness is a common metaphor in Scripture for sin.  We, as sinners, as those who rejected God openly from the moment of our conception, we are walkers in darkness.  We love our sin.  We revel in our sin.  We cling to our gossip and slander.  We obsess over images and perfection.  We regularly fail to trust in God above all things, rather trying to control and micromanage every single aspect of our day to day life.

And yet, we walkers of darkness have seen a great light.  On us, the light of Christ has shown.  That the very Son of God, not just to Israelites, that Christ came to all nations.  He has come to save us.  And that’s the New Testament picture of the spoils of war.  A war between God and the devil. Angels and demons.  With us stuck in the middle, no man’s land if you will.  But it’s in the midst of this war that the soldiers divided the spoils.  That expensive, purple garment that they had used to mock Jesus.  As He hung there on the cross, dying for the very sins that they were committing even in that moment, they sat there casting lots, to see how they would divide the spoils of their victory.

You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
This verse is a great comfort.  Let’s try it again.

You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its comfort; they are comforted before you as with comfort at the harvest, as they are comforted when they divide the spoil.
Comfort, peace, relief, excitement.  We have a treasure, but it’s worth far more than gold.  We have a treasure in our faith, in our God.  We have a treasure in Christ the King of Heaven and Earth!

This is where we stop to think for just a moment about the New Testament harvest.  We could also call it God’s spoils of war, us.  As Christ Himself said, “the fields are white for harvest.” (John 4:35).  God is saving His people.  These New Testament pictures are fulfillment of the prophecy.  These words about Christ, from the very mouth of Christ are the source of our joy and our comfort.

In Christ, in His death and in His resurrection we have all the promises of God.  The promise of peace through the forgiveness of sins is yours in the blood of Christ.  The promise of relief from all our efforts to achieve the perfection of the Law to no avail is yours in Jesus Christ through the perfect life He lived for you.  The promise of comfort that comes in the form of daily bread and provision is yours in the King Jesus who rules over His creation.  And the promise of excitement at not just a glimpse at Paradise, but of a life there that knows no end is yours in Jesus Christ through His resurrection.

And so we read our final verse:

For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

 

While we could make this verse be about Israel, it doesn’t fit.  Again, they rejected the promises, they rejected God.  So, the more fitting referent of this verse, the “him” of the verse is the Immanuel born of the virgin from chapter 7.  It’s the Christ.  The burden of bearing our sins, the agony of the cross, the torment from His enemies, and even the last enemy of death, broken.  That is, defeated.  The day of Midian is the day that Gideon the judge and his 300 water lapping men fought against, and defeated 135,000 Midianite soldiers.  Without casualty.  It wasn’t their work, but God’s.  It is the same here.  Christ has overcome your sin.  Christ has overcome even your death.  And He’s done it for you.  And that brings to us great comfort, great joy.

 

An Incomprehensible Mystery January 8, 2017

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Ephesians 3:1-12

The First Sunday After Epiphany

January 8, 2017

 

Focus:  God grants His grace to even the least of all people.

Function:  That the hearers perceive into the mystery of Christ.

Structure:  .

 

An Incomprehensible Mystery

 

I know that any number of you enjoy those fixer upper shows on HGTV.  It’s been a while since I’ve watched one.  I just can’t stand the thought of paying for cable.  But, I assume, they haven’t changed at all.  Some family with a run-down home calls up the Fixer Uppers and cries out for help.  So the Fixer Uppers come in, kick the family out so they can’t watch the work as it progresses, and then they pick up their sledgehammers.

Sometime later, once the work is all finished, they invite the family back.  And the show always makes a big deal out of the big reveal.  They build up to this moment in the episode where the family finally gets to see what their home looks like.

That’s what today is.  We’re celebrating the big reveal!  Epiphany comes from the Greek word epifanoj, which means, revelation.  What is the big reveal that we’re celebrating today?

Christ to the Gentiles

The arrival of the Magi, whenever that happened, is the traditional end of the season of Christmas.  Twelve days of Christmas ending in Epiphany.  Ending with these men, these Magi, these priests, astrologists, magicians, whatever exactly they were, coming to see the Christ child.  These men from the East, not Jews, not people of God, coming to see the Christ who came to the world.

And He came to a world in shackles.  Paul describes himself as a prisoner, in shackles to Christ, but that’s not the same.  The world is in shackles to sin.  We are prisoners to our depression.  We find ourselves wondering how God the Almighty could even care about me, about a wretch like me.  We despair and wonder what use or what value we could possibly give to God.  We doubt, sometimes if we’re honest, we doubt that God even exists.

And yet, it’s to this world, to these depressed, despairing, doubting people that God incarnates His own Son.  Not just to the Jews, but God reveals His love for His creation, He reveals His love for all people in Jesus Christ.  The big reveal, that salvation, that forgiveness has come for you and for me.  Christ has come for all people.

One of the key words in our text from Ephesians is the word mystery.  And it really is a great word.  It’s not mystery as in Clue or a good detective show, but rather mystery in the greatest of all senses.

Paul talks about the mystery of God’s grace in Christ.  That the all-powerful God who created the universe and everything in it would love us, even though we reject Him.  That He would continue to shower His love down on us, even in the depths of our depression.  We may not be able to fully understand or fully answer the question of why God cares about us, but we know that He does.  That’s the big reveal, the epiphany of the Savior.  Jesus Christ for you and for me.

Paul talks about the mystery of Christ to the Gentiles.  Here they are, not Jews, not the people of God.  Not the people God set apart for His purpose.  Not the people with whom God made a covenant, not the people that God declared His own nation.  Not the people to whom He promised a Savior, and deliverance, and peace.

And yet, to these very people, to these Gentiles, the Christ-child comes.  In the wake of His birth, the Magi come.  They take the news home.  In the wake of Herod’s anger, Joseph and Mary take the Savior of the world down to Egypt.  To the very people who have nothing to give to God, who bring nothing to the table, Jesus comes.

We may never fully understand or grasp why, but we know that God revealed His Son, the Savior of the world to all people.  That Christ came, that He shed His blood upon the cross, not just to forgive the Jews, but to forgive all nations.  And for you and for me, that’s a revelation worth celebration.  Because we’re Gentiles, and yet, God expands His promises to include us.

Paul talks about the mystery of the hidden plan of God.  The so-called greatest minds of the world reject Him, they say He can’t possibly exist.  Miracles can’t happen, your prayers can’t be answered.   The world, you are nothing more than an accident of primordial ooze.  A caring God wouldn’t let these awful things happen to you.

Before we even had an inkling of any of those doubts, God had a plan.  From before He even formed you in the womb, before He even crafted the world with nothing but His Word, He had a plan to save us doubting people.  A plan that involves a baby boy, and some shepherds, and some magicians travelling from far away because they saw an incredible star in the sky.

A plan that involved the endurance of torture and beatings, nails and thorns, and a spear in His side.  A plan that shook the earth, tore down the temple curtain, and cast darkness over all of creation.  A plan that involved doubting women going to cover the scent of a decaying body, but when they got there they saw no decay.

We may never fully understand or grasp why God chose to save the very people who doubted Him and even hated Him, but we rejoice in the revelation of a Savior.  That God sent Jesus Christ to die and rise again to announce not just to sinful men, but the very devil himself, that God triumphs over depths of the grave, over the worst of our sins, and over the fiery serpent.

The early church fathers loved this idea of mystery so much that they used it.  They began to call pastors “stewards of the mysteries.”  That is, it is the job of your pastor to bring to you the mysteries of God.  To bring to you His incomprehensible grace in His Word.  To bring to you His insurmountable love in the form of water. To bring to you the unsearchable riches of His Son in bread and wine.  Pastors were made stewards of the mysteries of God, they were to care for the people of God, by bringing to them His Word and His Sacraments.

To you, the big reveal, the gift of God’s grace in His Son Jesus Christ.  To you the big reveal of the gift of forgiveness of all your sins that leads to a life that never ends.  To you the gift of the unsearchable, incomprehensible, insurmountable riches in the blood of a Savior.

That’s the revelation worth celebration.  The epiphany is this: you are a child of God, despite your depression in the midst of the battle of this life, despite your despairing over the things of this world, despite your very doubts of God’s love and existence.  You are His.  It’s a mystery.  But that’s okay.  We don’t have to understand it, the gift of Christ is ours anyway.

A Bare Arm, Beautiful Feet, and Lots of Singing December 25, 2016

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Isaiah 52:7-10

Christmas

December 25, 2016

 

Focus:  God has laid bare His arm.

Function:  That the hearers break forth together into singing.

Structure:  OT…NT…Church parallels.

 

A Bare Arm, Beautiful Feet, and Lots of Singing

 

I’m not sure what your Christmas traditions are like.  But when I was growing up, us kids would always be overjoyed at the thought of opening our presents.  Maybe you’re still that way.  Maybe you still find it difficult to sleep on Christmas Eve under all the anticipation.  So we’d get up ridiculously early.  We’d run into Mom and Pops room and jump onto their bed just begging for them to get up.

Once they finally did, we’d rip through wrapping paper, excited over whatever our gifts were that year.  And then we’d eat a quick breakfast and head off to church, to celebrate our Savior’s birth, the true gift of Christmas.  Maybe your memories or your current traditions are similar.  Maybe they’re a little different.

But whatever you’re traditions are, Christmas Day is one usually marked with great celebration, great joy, great happiness.  But to keep with the text this morning, we have to momentarily set all of that aside, and sit in sackcloth and ashes, grieve over the depth of our sin.  Because, in honesty, without grief of sin, there’d be no Christmas celebration.

I’m not asking you to think of, and recount, specific sins blow by blow.  That’s already done.  That was done this morning in the words of Confession and Absolution.  But instead, just the overarching fact that we are by nature creatures of wrath.  We are by nature under the curse of sin which brings about nothing but death.

That’s what sin is, that’s what sin does.  That’s what original sin is, not some new way to break God’s commands, but that we are from the moment of conception, broken, separated from God our Lord and Creator.

And so it is, in the context of our text from the prophet Isaiah this morning, that we find God’s holy nation, set apart to be His people, the Israelites, we find them stuck in their sin.  To the point where the prophet Isaiah is sent to warn them of their upcoming destruction at the hands of their foreign neighbor, Assyria.

That is an exile that comes.  It comes in 722 BC, when the nation of Israel is destroyed, dragged off into exile in a foreign land, where they continue to serve false gods.  Their sin leads to their death.  Just as ours does to us.  And it is to this exiled people that the prophet speaks in our text.

For thus says Yahweh: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” For thus says the Lord Yahweh: “My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing. Now therefore what have I here,” declares Yahweh, “seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail,” declares Yahweh, “and continually all the day my name is despised. Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.” –Isaiah 52:3-6

 

Right there, in the midst of their exile, the Lord plops down this great word.  “You shall be redeemed without money.”  That’s how you buy something back.  It’s pawn shop language to us today.  You need money, so you pawn an item.  In order to get it back, you have to redeem it, that is, pay for it.

But not here.  Not now.  How is our redemption going to be paid?  Blood.  You’re right, but we’re not quite there yet.  First God proclaims a familiar word for us: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news.”  The more we know of their culture, the more absurd this proclamation sounds.  I’m 99% sure no one back then had a foot fetish.  There were no foot models.

We’re talking about open-toed shoes on rocky and dirty terrain.  These people aren’t living in comfortable, tiled or carpet floored homes.  They’re living on dirt.  And so their feet are constantly dirty, constantly bloodied, constantly sore.  Often infected.  This is what made washing feet in the New Testament such a big act of humble service to your neighbor.  And it’s why Peter at first refused to allow Jesus to do it.

And yet God declares the feet of those who bring this good news beautiful.  Why?  Because they bring good news.  The direct reference here is to the prophets, to men like Isaiah, who came to an exiled, beaten down, worn out people, many, if not all of whom had lost hope in life.  And they come with great, good news.

News of a Savior.  News of salvation.  News that as verse nine says, brings comfort.  God comforts His people.  He has redeemed Jerusalem.  He has redeemed His people.  By baring His arm.

It’s a military term.  To bare one’s arm is to reveal one’s weapon.  You can remember back perhaps to the judge Ehud, the sneaky lefty secretly hiding his weapon, and only baring it just in time to slay the wicked King Eglon, who was oppressing God’s people.

And indeed, the baring of the Lord’s arm brings bloodshed.  But not the enemies’.  Not even our own, although we deserved it, just like Israel, stuck in our sins.  Instead the blood bared by the arm of the Lord is His own.  It is the Savior’s blood, it is the baby boy’s blood.  It is Jesus’ blood.

And instead of baring His arm to reveal a piece of steel, Jesus bares His arm to reveal a hole.  Right here (point to just beneath the wrist).  Our redemption, paid for not in money, gold or silver, but in the very blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Savior.

That’s what comes next in Isaiah’s writings.  The rest of chapter 52 and all of chapter 53 are known as one of the Suffering Servant songs of Isaiah.  They are without a doubt, beautiful good news.  They are a prophecy of Jesus Christ, foretelling His suffering at the cross, His death that redeems us from our sins, and His resurrection.  This is perhaps the most explicit prophecy of Christ that the people had ever heard.

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. –Isaiah 53:5-6

 

Go ahead, go home and read the rest.  Good stuff.  Good news.  And this good news made the prophet’s feet beautiful.  He came bearing the good news of a Savior.

On the day of Jesus’ birth, who has beautiful feet? Who got to tell the world about the Christ-child’s birth? The angels and the shepherds.  Right, the angels, but that was their job.  Literally, angel means messenger.  That’s one of the very foremost reasons God created them.  But then it was the shepherds.  A grungy and despised class, looked down upon often as petty thieves.  And it is to these men that God entrusts the opportunity to go and tell everyone the good news.

Who has beautiful feet today?  Today, who gets to tell the world about their Savior?  All of us.  We bring good news to those around us.  Despite our sin, despite being enemies of God, He loves us so greatly that He chose to redeem us in the blood of His Son, to forgive our sins, and to entrust us with the care of His creation.  And He does so, by giving us beautiful feet.  By giving us the proclamation of the gospel, of good news to all people.

And it is such great, good news, that it seems to always be accompanied by singing.  Don’t tell my wife I said this, but it seems like our life is meant to look like a musical, where we’ll just burst into random, and joyful song at any moment.

The prophets, the watchmen as they were called in verse eight, lift up their voices, singing together for joy at the good news of a Savior.  The Israelites, the wasteplaces of Jerusalem, breaking out into joyous song because they’ve been comforted by God.  The angels, bringing forth good news to the shepherds that night burst into song.

We too, burst into joyous song.  We sang 23 hymns here yesterday, and we’re adding another 6 to that here this morning.  It’s a good thing.  Singing praise to our God and Savior is a way of giving thanks.  And so we rejoice, all day, everyday.

As you go forth today, rejoicing in the bare arm of the Lord, rejoicing in the beautiful feet of the prophets and the shepherds, as they all reveal to us the good news of a Savior, of Jesus Christ who has redeemed us from sin, death, and the devil, as you go out, read Isaiah 52 and 53, and sing a couple of your favorite Christmas hymns.  For today, and everyday, we rejoice in this baby boy, this Jesus, born unto us.

And while I wish this led into song, we’ll pray first, with some more singing in just a little bit.

 

 

 

One Starry Night December 24, 2016

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Luke 2:1-20

Christmas Eve

December 24, 2016

 

Focus:  God took on flesh, born of a virgin, to deliver mankind.

Function:  That the hearers worship their newborn King.

Structure: Dramatic Monologue.

 

One Starry Night

 

Welcome.  Thank you, thank you for taking the time to listen to me.  Thank you for hearing me out. I know you all don’t care for me.  I know you look down upon me because I’m not clean, I’m, I’m not well-kept.  I know being around me makes you uncomfortable.  You don’t like shepherds, I get it.  I really do.  But something happened last night that you simply must know.  So I thank you, I thank you for giving me this chance.

Last night, it was, it was just like any other night.  Samuel, Marcus, and I, we, we were just doing what we do.  Keeping the sheep.  Taking turns resting, waking, guarding the sheep, guiding the sheep, making sure the pastures were cared for.

As you well know, it was a peaceful evening.  It may have been crowded in town for the census.  But the fields were as quiet as ever, not even a cloud in the sky.  No storms in sight.  We had a perfect view of the stars dazzling in the night sky.  One of them was even more magnificent than anything any of us had ever seen.  But as I was laying there with one of the injured lambs in my arms, trying to sing it to sleep, the night sky lit up.  It was so bright, so alarming, it was like suddenly, out of nowhere, night had passed away, and it was day.

And I really, I don’t know how to tell you what the three of us saw next.  You already think me a fool.  But I must try.  It was the most terrifying thing any of us had ever seen.  It had the appearance of a man.  In some ways, he looked like you and like me.  But he wasn’t.  He had wings.  Large wings.  Six of them.  He used two to keep himself hovering just above us in the heavens, while he used the other four to partially cover himself.  It was almost like he was shielding us.  Like he knew we were afraid.  And, and for good reason, the very sight of him caused my bones to tremble.  Just as quickly as light lit up the sky, this man, this angel descended from heaven upon us.  Not one of us could even mutter a word.

But this angel wasted no time.  He had a message to deliver to us.  And he did.  I will never forget those words.  They’re seared into my very thoughts.

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

 

These words melted our hearts.  Just as quickly as we had been seized with fear, as soon as the angel spoke, the fear, it, it just melted away.  There was a sense of overwhelming calm.  We were at peace again.

And oh those words!  Why did the good Lord of heaven and earth choose to speak such words to us?  I mean, just look at me.  I’m worthless.  I’m, I’m an outcast.  Not even the least of you would consider hiring me to serve in your home.  And it’s not just that.  I don’t deserve any of this.  I’m wicked.  I haven’t kept the commands of God.  I haven’t been to the temple any time in recent memory.  I’m not offering sacrifices like I should be.  I’ve hated my brother, I’ve held grudges against all of you for how you’ve treated me.  I’m a sinner, a poor, miserable sinner.

And yet, this angel, this angel came to us.  And he gave us the greatest news we’ve ever heard.  It’s been so long.  Not one of us has even seen a prophet, but the priests and the scribes tell us about them.  They tell us about the promises of God.  How He loves His people.  How He plans to send a Savior to us.

And He did it.  We’ve heard nothing for generations.  Until last night.  The Savior of the world.  Our Messiah.  He’s here.  Just as Samuel said long ago, the Christ would come from David’s house.  Just as Micah said long ago, the Lord of Lords would come from Bethlehem.

The Christ, the one who will save us from sin and death and from this wretched fallen world.  He’s here!  I, I couldn’t believe the news.  As awestruck as we were when this angel had first appeared, even more so now.  Could it be?!  Could it be?!

But before we could even rise to our feet, there was another flash of light, blinding us.  When we looked back up, we no longer saw just one angel.  The heavens were filled with them.  Even if we’d had all night, we never could’ve counted them, it was like an army.  But instead of instruments of war, instead of killing us like we might have first believed, they began singing.

It was the most melodious sound.  The most beautiful song my ears have ever heard.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace

among those with whom he is pleased!”

Peace.  We definitely had peace last night.  It was as though there were no more troubles in all the world.  As though we needn’t worry about anything anymore.  And, and maybe that’s true.  If the Christ really is here, maybe indeed all is well with my soul.

Before, before we could even process everything we had just seen and heard, just as quickly as they’d arrived, they disappeared.  It was night again.  Still a beautiful night, with that bright star almost as though it was pointing the way to Bethlehem.  Almost like it was inviting us, inviting the world to come and see.

I quickly turned to Samuel and Marcus.  And I didn’t have to say anything.  You could see it on their faces.  This wasn’t a dream, I wasn’t just having some crazy dream.  I hadn’t fallen asleep on the job, I promise!  This had been real.  These angels had brought to each of us last night great peace, great joy.  We were so excited.

It was Marcus who broke the silence.  One of us would’ve eventually.  But it was Marcus who suggested it.

“Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened,

which the Lord has made known to us.”

That was one of those moments that you just knew to be right.  He didn’t have to ask.  We were going.  I gently laid the little lamb down by its mother, and we ran.  It wasn’t far, but we were so excited.  We were just so filled with wonder and amazement that we couldn’t wait.

It seemed like an eternity.  I know it wasn’t, I know it wasn’t far.  But this great gift was finally here.  The trip took forever.  But we arrived.  We arrived in your crowded city last night.  We arrived in the quiet, still of night.

And like I said about that star, it was like we were beckoned.  We didn’t need directions, we simply knew, somehow, we just knew where to go.  With haste, we found the home of Joseph’s relatives.  We found the baby and his parents just inside.

The home was crowded with all the extra guests, the animals were all inside to keep warm.  But right there, right in the manger in the floor where the cow would eat, right there on a fresh bed of hay, it was Him.  It is Him.  There’s no doubt about it.  This little boy is the Savior!  He’s the one, He’s the one we’ve been waiting for all these years!

The craziness, the madness of our sprint was over.  We made our way into the home, we greeted the parents.  Joseph’s love for his young bride is unquestionable.  He had the difficult task of moving her here to town while she was pregnant, and he cared for her every step of the way.  And even since they arrived a few weeks ago, he’s done for her whatever she and the baby needed.

And Mary, well, she’d just given birth.  She had that mother’s glow about her.  You’ve been there, you know the look I’m talking about.  But this joy on her face was like nothing we’d seen before.  It’s obvious that she and Joseph know who this child is.

But we asked any way.  We listened to them as they shared their story.  We listened as they spoke of being visited by angels, too, both of them.  And that the angel had told them that this baby would be the Son of God.  And he told them what to name this boy.  That He would be the Christ and that they should name Him Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins.

I’m just, I’m so excited.  Even now, even here.  I didn’t sleep at all today!  I just can’t.  Jesus is born.  Our King, our Savior has come for us.  Even me, the least of all people, He’s even come to save me.  Thank you for hearing me out.  Thank you for listening.  But there’s no need for me to speak anymore.  Go and see for yourself.  The Christ has come for you, too.

 

 

 

Trust in Your King December 18, 2016

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Isaiah 7:10-14

Circuit Meeting

December 8, 2016

 

Focus:  God sent a Savior for His people.

Function:  That the hearers rely on God alone for all their needs.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Trust in Your King

 

It’s that time of year again.  And as the people crowd around you, you sit before a flaming, frosted delicacy.  Alright, so that’s a fancy way to say it’s your birthday.  And so you sit in front of the cake, close your eyes, make a wish, and attempt to blow out all those candles your family put on the cake.  And if you’re lucky, they didn’t use the trick candles this year.

Whether it’s making a wish before blowing out the candles, or wishing on a shooting star, or tossing a coin into a fountain, or breaking a wishbone, our culture has some traditions that come along with wishing.  But while it may be fun to do, is there really any point?  There’s no genie listening who magically grants your wishes.

But this wasn’t the case for Judah’s king.  Ahaz had the opportunity to ask God for anything he wanted as a sign that God is God, and could be trusted.  “As deep as Sheol,” or in other words, ask me to raise the dead, and I’ll do it.  “As high as heaven,” that is, ask me to send down angels upon you, and I’ll do it.

Our text this morning plops us right down into the midst of the Syro-Ephraimite Crisis in the year 735 BC.  King Rezin of Syria and King Pekah of Israel have decided to join up against Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria.  And Rezin and Pekah have come to Ahaz, the king of Judah, to request his aid in the battle.

Except, it wasn’t really a request.  They threatened to run a sword through his gut and put Tabeel on the throne in his place if he didn’t join with them.  But rather than join them, Ahaz had already reasoned in his own mind to side with Assyria.

It’s at this time that God sends the prophet Isaiah to speak with Ahaz.  As his land lays besieged, Isaiah comes before the king to talk about trust.  That’s really what the problem of Isaiah 7 is, a matter of faith, or the lack thereof in this case.  There’s a really fascinating connection here in chapter 7 and with chapter 36.  Isaiah is sent to meet Ahaz by the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field.  The only other time we see this field is when the king of Assyria sends his army against Ahaz’ son, Hezekiah.  Both kings under siege faced the same test.  Trust in God, not in armies.  One passed, the other failed.

According to the words of Psalm 2, used for the coronation of Judah’s kings, God declares Ahaz His son.  There’s a relationship here between God and the king of His people. A relationship that Ahaz quickly disposes of.  It’s clear from his conversation with Isaiah that Ahaz doesn’t have any faith in God.

And if it weren’t clear enough there, it certainly becomes crystal clear in 2 Kings 16:7, when Ahaz approaches Tiglath-Pileser and says, “I am your servant and your son.  Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria, and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.”  He even emptied the house of Yahweh of silver and gold and gave them to the Assyrian king as a sign of “good faith.”  In a manner of speaking, he disowned his birthright, as son of God, as king over His people.

So it’s no wonder when Isaiah presents Ahaz with the opportunity to put his trust in the Lord for deliverance, that Ahaz balks at the entire idea.  He plays it off, trying to act wise, but it’s all a con.  And God is not easily mocked.

The law is endless with this text.  When the enemy comes knocking, we are called upon to radically trust in Yahweh alone.  So the law is anything that takes our trust off of Christ.

We could focus on the election, or politics, but we’ve done that enough already.  We could focus on government in general, as people put their trust in rulers and armies to give them safety from their enemies.  Even to the point where we consider other Christians our enemies on the battlefield in the name of earthly kings.

But in our current culture, the most pressing thing for us to focus on is our desperate desire to control our own futures.  It’s not just planning, it’s obsessing.  Careers destroy families, as we put our trust in our income, our bank statements, our retirement savings, in just about anything to provide for our daily needs.

We put our trust in the doctors and the nurses, and the latest diet fads, and in essential oils, and all kinds of other things to provide us with basically a fountain of youth.  And then we worry constantly, and we panic at the slightest downturn in the economy or our own personal health.

Not unlike King Ahaz, we find it difficult to trust in God.  And to this failed king’s trust, God gave a sign.  We often hear the following prophecy as beautiful gospel.  But it wasn’t spoken that way.  This promise of Immanuel isn’t gospel at all, but law to the ears of an unrepentant king.

That indeed, a “virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”  Too often we sell this short, too often we unfold this two-fold prophecy and make it to be only about Jesus.

The Hebrew word “almah” can mean virgin, maiden, or young woman.  Or, it can even mean a young married woman who has not yet given birth to children, such as in Joel 2:16 or Proverbs 30:19.  English doesn’t really have a term for that category, but the Hebrew word can mean that.

But if there is no birth in Ahaz’ time, it voids this prophecy.  This prophecy is spoken, this sign is to be given to King Ahaz.  And so a young woman, whose identity commentators and Concordia professors debate to no end, this young woman, marries, has a son, and they name him Immanuel.  And to Ahaz, this boy becomes an ongoing reminder, almost like circumcision to the Jews, a constant, visual reminder to the wicked king that God keeps His Word.

Personally, I think this boy is Ahaz’ son.  Whether Ahaz’ wife had been barren before and God is now opening her womb, or if he had a young wife and they simply hadn’t had kids yet.  That would make the boy Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, who becomes king after his father, and who passed the test at the Washer’s Field, by radically trusting in Yahweh alone.  Hezekiah’s name means “God is my strength,” which is extremely similar to Immanuel meaning “God is with us.”  A constant, present reminder to King Ahaz that God is God, whether he listens or not.

But rather than trusting in God as the true King of Judah, Ahaz thinks himself king, and takes the salvation of his people into his own hands.  And he rejects the sign of God, even as he sees it play out.  The kings he dreads, Rezin and Pekah, destroyed, their lands laid waste.  Assyria following through and sucking Ahaz’ kingdom dry.  Even as these things happen, the house of David, Ahaz, rejects the sign of Immanuel, of God with us.

When does the house of David finally repent of rejecting this sign?  Joseph.  It’s not until our gospel text from Matthew that the house of David finally receives the sign of Immanuel.  And as two-fold prophecy usually does, the latter fulfillment is far greater than the first.  Whatever that young woman was before, and the son she bore, the virgin Mary truly bears the Immanuel, God with us.

For many, these words are still law.  They still, as good Advent themes, and in anticipation of John the Baptist’s preaching, call us to repentance, to hear God’s Word and to repent of our sins.  For those who ignore the sign, these words are words of warning, they’re a message of impending doom.

But for those who hear and heed these words, this prophecy is good news.  This prophecy is of a baby boy, born of a virgin, God in the flesh, Immanuel, come down to earth to deliver His people.  And that’s precisely what the Christ-child does.

He lived among His people, among His creation.  He lived out the perfect life demanded of us, the perfect life we failed to live.  He then willingly sacrificed Himself, bled out on the cross, taking our sins upon Himself to give us life.  To give us forgiveness.  To save us.

To those who hear and heed this good news, Jesus is Immanuel, God in the flesh, a true King that will not bend or sway to the temptations and trials of the world.  A true king in whom we can place our trust and know that He will not fail us like an earthly king or a 401(k).

To bring in the Immanuel theme of Matthew’s writings, Jesus speaks this very promise to us.  In Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.”  And again in Matthew 28:20, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Immanuel is a call to trust in God above all things.  But more than, it’s indeed a promise that He will keep.  That He will be with us always.

And indeed He is.  As we gather here together, two or three or a hundred, Christ is among us.  In Word, in Confession and Absolution, and in Sacrament.  The good news is yours, forgiveness is yours dear brothers.  Taste and see that the Lord is good.