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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.

Clear the path December 4, 2016

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Matthew 3:1-12

Second Sunday in Advent

December 4th, 2016

 

Focus:  God sends His people to clear a path that others may see Jesus.

Function:  That the hearers clear the path for the gospel.

Structure:  .

 

Clear the Path

 

All summer long, and even this fall, if you wanted to get to Rochester, you had to be patient.  Construction crews had the roads all torn up to the point where Rochester’s official mascot might as well’ve been the orange traffic cone.  And if that was part of your work commute, I’m sorry.  But over those months, they built new roads, new bridges, reinforced old ones.  The trip to get to Rochester is now easier and safer than ever before.  The hard work of those crews paved the way for you to get into their city.

The Winterfest parade here in town doesn’t quite live up to the Fourth of July.  So even though that was just yesterday, think of any parade you’ve been at before.  The roads get blocked off, chairs are lining the streets.  People are preparing to see the procession.  And of course, when the parade begins, where are the children?  Up front.  Right, they’re right up front.  There’s no point to them sitting in the back, they can’t see anything.  They’ll get bored, antsy, frustrated, and distracted.  And they become a distraction.  So they go to the front, where they can see and hear everything.

And even though Pastor Fritsch and I don’t throw out candy during the service, the same thing really applies to church.  Kids behave better, pay attention better, hear God’s Word better, up front, where they can see.  There aren’t a bunch of heads blocking the way.

You’re all good at this, making things visible.  Next weekend we have the Wee Care Christmas programs.  And this place will be packed.  And you help.  You actively help to arrange chairs and risers and other things.  But even as we remodeled this space for worshipping God, you kept people’s ability to see in mind.

Even though it proved unfeasible to rip out these pillars, you saw fit to ramp up our tech, to put in a great camera system that broadcasts the service onto those side screens.  So when those green chairs and folding chairs are filled with relatives next weekend, they can see the kids singing and it makes hearing the good news of the gospel all the easier for them, because the way has been made clear.

In many ways, this was John the Baptist’s task, his calling.  As God’s prophet, he had a very specific call to fulfill. “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.”  Those words were waiting for John, for over six hundred years.  This was how God saw fit to prepare the way, to put up construction cones, to clear a path.

John didn’t get any dynamite to work with, aside a potent proclamation.  “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  I’ve always thought it was pretty cool that the sermon John preached to the people is the same exact sermon that Jesus begins His ministry with.  In Matthew 4:17, it’s word for word.  The same exact message.  “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

This is the proclamation which God gave to John to clear the path.  To obliterate the obstacles in people’s lives so that they could see the Christ.  John was sent to take away any roadblocks that would stop people, physically, mentally, emotionally, whatever it may have been.  Prepare the people for the coming of Jesus.

And his message does exactly that.  Repent, turn away from your sins.  It’s the law.  And John, as a prophet, comes equipped with the full force of the law, able to point people to what sins are burdening them that they aren’t even aware of.  Or in the case of the Pharisees and other leaders, challenging their pride.  Cast these things off, repent.  Turn away from your sins and turn to God.

And the message also included the timing.  The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.  It’s here.  The inbreaking of God into our midst, the inbreaking of God into the brokenness of our lives and our government is here.  You don’t have to wait anymore.  The Christ has come.  Life will never be the same.

John spoke on behalf of the Lord and the people listened.  “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

John did his job, with the Spirit’s help no doubt.  But people from all over the world were coming to John, hearing his message, confessing their sins, and being baptized.  John was clearing a path for people to be ready to see and hear Jesus.  That when He comes, they’d be’d dying to hear the good news of the gospel.  Of salvation by grace alone.  And to be baptized into His kingdom which knows no end.

In some ways, this is what we do.  You haven’t been called by God to be prophets.  You haven’t been called by God to baptize.  But you are called by God to prepare the way, just as it was said in John and Jesus’ preaching.

That’s the point of Advent, that we prepare for His coming.  That we repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  And so we do.  We gather together, as His people, His children the church.  We enjoy some fellowship over freshly cooked meals.  Then we gather here, in this holy space, set apart for the preaching of the Word.  For the preaching of both law and gospel.  That you’re sinners, in need of repenting, confessing your sins before the Lord.  And so you do, you already have.  And then He speaks to you His good news. He speaks to you His forgiveness.

There’s not much of a point to a worship service without the means of grace.  If you come here, and the forgiveness of sins isn’t here, we’re doing something wrong.  Through confession and absolution, through baptism, and through the Lord’s Supper, your confession of sins is heard and your sins are absolved, they’re removed from you.  They’re forgiven.  And there’s nothing better than that in the whole world.  That Christ died on the cross in our place.  That’s why you pay for this building.  That’s why you call and pay your pastors, which you do generously!  Without forgiveness, there’s nothing here.

Parents probably have the easiest task of clearing a path.  And I don’t say this to belittle parenting.  Not at all.  It’s a challenge, and a blessing.  I say the path is easier for parents because our children, when God gifts them to us, are blank slates.  Yes, sinners, by all accounts.  But they have no worldview.  They don’t know what to think, how to live, who to trust.  As parents, we get to build their worldview.

And so Advent is a parental reminder, clear the path for your children to see Jesus.  What’s this look like?  Well, this is where gets tougher.  We actually have to look at what we’re teaching our kids, at what we’re telling them matters, and we might have to change things.  We might have to clear a path through some self-erected obstacled.

I shared an interview from the Issues, Etc. radio program this week on Facebook, with Pastor Hans Fiene.  In that interview, he breaks down how we’ve made sports an idol.  I encourage you to go and listen to it.  If you don’t Facebook or can’t find me, that’s okay, just Google “Issues Etc.” and it will be one of the first archived shows on their site.

It’s worth your time, even if you don’t have kids, or never will.  Because the point can be expanded.  With sports and children, the problem now is more than just that teams and leagues and coaches insist on Sunday morning practices, games, and tournaments.  The problem is deeper than Wednesday night commitments that keep our kids out of Confirmation.  The problem is that those things get chosen over hearing the Word of God, over receiving His gifts of life and forgiveness in a place that He has set apart for you.

Children don’t fall for the old “do as I say, not as I do.”  They learn from this that it’s okay to do something else.  God can take the backseat, He’ll be okay with it.  And “just this once” has an awful bad habit of becoming regular routine.  And like I was saying, it’s not just sports.  What in your life takes your eyes off the cross?  What hinders you from devotions at home, from being in His Word?  What prevents you from coming to His altar and drinking His blood, shed for you?  Whatever these things might be, clear the path.  Don’t take on the commitment that strips you from this community.  Say no to the traveling league. Say no to the camping trip.  Say no to the promotion that gives you bad hours.

That’s the challenge of clearing the path for parents.  Sometimes we have idols that have to be torn down, cleared, so that our kids can see Christ.

But the challenge is still for all of us to clear the path for our neighbor.  And this one’s tougher.  This one’s tougher because your neighbor already has a worldview.  They already have commitments. They already have mentors and role models.  They already have an entire framework for how they’ve come to be them that doesn’t understand that they were created by God intentionally.

It’s hard to overcome the worldviews of our culture.  But in this way, we’re like John.  We’re tasked with giving the Word a hearing.  With building a relationship with our neighbor through which we can tell them of God, of His creation, of our sins, and of forgiveness in the cross of Christ.

In that too, we have idols.  Idols of comfort, of tolerance, of freedom, things that we must again clear to share the Word.  We don’t want to risk losing our friends, but what kind of friend are we if we don’t care if they’re forgiven?

Now don’t hear what I’m not saying.  You’re not responsible for their worldview.  You’re not responsible for whether or not they actually hear the Word of God.  John the Baptist wasn’t called to hammer home the Word over and over again until the people finally listened.  He was simply called to share it.

He acknowledged his limitations.  He didn’t even see himself as worthy to untie and carry the filthy, bloodied sandals of Jesus.  And he’s right.  And neither are we.  We can’t save ourselves, so we certainly can’t save others. That job belongs to God alone.

And He has done it.  The same Spirit who created life in you from the dirt has brought you to the font to be baptized, to create a new life in you.  The same Lord who knew you before you even existed, willingly laid down His life on the cross to claim your sins as His own.  The same God who could make the rocks proclaim Christ, chooses to work through us, as His children, as His family.  The same God who watched as we corrupted the creation He entrusted to us, continues to entrust it to us.

So we are called to put on our hard hats and clear some paths in our own life, in our family, and with our neighbors.  But even in hearing that, those words of Advent preparation, we still rejoice.  We rejoice in the work of John the Baptist, clearing the path for so many to see Jesus’ ministry on this earth.  We rejoice in the work of all those since Jesus’ ministry who have continued to clear paths that we too have seen our risen King.  And most of all, we rejoice in our Lord and Savior, who loves us so much that He willing surrendered His own life, to save us from the unquenchable fire.

Transferred in Blood November 20, 2016

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Colossians 1:13-20

Proper 29

November 20, 2016

 

Focus:  God transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.

Function:  That the hearers trust in their coming Savior.

Structure:  Following the Lectionary.

 

Transferred in Blood

 

There is no Law today.  Really, in our epistle reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae, we see no law at all.  Nothing we’ve done wrong.  Nothing we must do.  Nothing.  It’s gospel from start to finish.  It talks about where we were apart from Christ, and shows us who we are in Christ, specifically, in the peacemaking blood of Christ.

So I want to do something a little different than we normally do.  I want to base this sermon on all three texts.  Let’s let the law come from Malachi, the response of God to that law from Luke, and then what that means for us from Colossians.

The whole letter of the prophet Malachi is essentially one very large accusation of God against the people of God.  And, being God, that accusation is justified, it’s true.  The Lord says, “Your words have been hard against Me.”  That is, we speak against God.  We speak harsh words of our King.  We speak blasphemy against our Maker.  We speak against His name each and every time we break His commands that He gave to us.  We speak against His name with every thought.

And yet our response, the response of the people is “How have we spoken against you?”  Well, there’s the ways I just gave, but we’ll let God speak for Himself:

You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?  And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’

 

We are one and the same.  We wonder, we doubt serving God.  “What’s the point?” we ask of ourselves.  Why should I bother going to church?  Why is it that the more I read God’s Word, the more things seem to go wrong in my life? Shouldn’t they be better?  If I’m following God, why does it seem like I do nothing but mourn and grieve all the time?

We doubt.  We doubt ourselves to be His disciples.  We doubt that we’re really His children.  We doubt His promises that He’s made to us.  We doubt that He will actually bother to keep them.

And then we look around.  We see how the wicked prosper.  They cheat, they steal, and yet they win at life.  They have better homes, better jobs.  Bids for the highest offices of our land.  It doesn’t make sense, but it sure looks like God blesses the wicked for their wickedness.  And just like the teacher’s pet in school, they get away with whatever they want.

I don’t expect that you’ve had all of those thoughts.  But I would expect that all of you have at least had some of those thoughts.  That’s part of our brokenness, part of our sinful nature: that we doubt.  We doubt God.  We doubt His Word.  We doubt His promises to us.

And other parts of Malachi show that for those who transgress, who sin against God, the punishment will be swift and harsh.  God said in 3:5 –

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment.  I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me.”

 

But Malachi continues writing and says that for those who feared Yahweh, Yahweh heard them, “and a book of remembrance was written before Him of those who feared Yahweh and esteemed His name.”

And of them God said, “They shall be mine…in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them…Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.”

When does this come?  When will we see the distinction?  That’s actually the next two verses, which were the first two verses that we read last weekend.

For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.  The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says Yahweh of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.  But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.  You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

 

The Day is coming.  And while ultimately that prophecy points to Judgment Day, it also points us to our reading from Luke today.  To Jesus, walking, bearing the cross upon His shoulders as He walks the streets to Golgotha, the place they called “The Skull.”

To the women following Him who were in tears, Jesus had pity on them.  “Do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”  A judgment was coming.  And Jesus knew it completely.  The judgment that the Jews and Romans handed Him that day did not compare to the judgment that God would bring upon them all in just a few decades time.

Christ continued to walk, and as He reached the place, they nailed His hands and feet to the cross, and raised it up for the world to see, and laugh, and mock this King of the Jews.  And yet, even in the midst of the beatings, the torture, the mockery, the crucifixion, Jesus hangs there and cries out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Forgiving the very people who took His life.  A distinction between those who serve God and those who don’t.

A distinction we see in the two men crucified with Christ.  One who continues the taunt, but the other, who pleads that Jesus His Lord would forgive him and remember him when He comes into His eternal kingdom.  And to this man, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

In the context in which Paul was writing to the Colossian church, there was heresy flying around.  People were teaching that Jesus was just one of any number of divine beings that we could worship.  And even those who worshipped Christ, struggled as they were told they must worship Caesar as god, or at the very least, semi-divine.  Some kind of demigod.

It is right into the midst of this tension, that Paul places this letter.  He begins by saying that “[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

This is that gospel I was talking about.  This is the good news, the greatest news of all time.  That you, enslaved in this realm of darkness, stuck in your sins, lost in your transgressions, God has delivered you.  Think of that image.  Think of the dusty and battered box laying around in a dark, dank warehouse.  But the UPS guy picks it up and delivers it.  He takes the box out of the dark, delivers it to its destination, to the place where it belongs.

And it’s the same with the next word.  That He transferred us.  Think of the employee stuck in a job where they’re just spinning.  They can’t do the job right, the boss doesn’t like them.  Things are nothing short of awful.  Work is like death.  And then they’re transferred.  They’re given new life in a new position.

Those aren’t quite the words of Scripture, but they’re still neat illustrations to think through a little.  But Paul is going to spend the next paragraph eradicating this idea that Christ has competition in the delivery business.  So many terms, so many wonderful phrases that we could pick apart for days.  “Image of the invisible God” “Firstborn of all creation.” “By Him all things were created…[even] thrones or dominions or rulers” “in Him all things hold together.”  “He is the head of the body, the church.”  “the beginning,” “pre-eminent.”  “in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”

But then we get the good news.  I mean, that’s all good stuff. It’s who God is and that’s wonderful.  But without this last verse today, it means nothing to us.  “[A]nd through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

That book of remembrance, the Book of Life, our names are in there in the blood of the Lamb.  That distinction between those who fear Yahweh and those who don’t all points to Christ.  He has made peace, He has reconciled, He has delivered, He has transferred us out of the domain of darkness and into His kingdom that knows no end, through His blood.

Jesus has redeemed us.  He has paid the price for our sins, He has paid our debt in full, with His own precious blood.  He laid down His life that we might have a life.  And that redemption, that deliverance, that promise, that forgiveness is extended to everyone.  It’s not that in the water of baptism we re-crucify Christ so that now your sins are washed away, too.  It’s not that in the Lord’s Supper we re-crucify Christ so that your sins are now forgiven along with everyone else’s.

It’s already done.   Your sins, even the ones you don’t know about.  Even the one that is the disease that plagues you and brings death breathing down your neck.  Forgiven.  Gone.  Drowned. Done.  In the blood of Jesus Christ.  Shed on the cross for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  Imparted to you through His means of grace: baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Confession and Absolution.  You are forgiven, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The forgiveness is yours.  The promise is yours.  Life is yours in this God-man, the image of the invisible God.

 

 

Blessings Bring Joy November 6, 2016

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Matthew 5:1-12

All Saints’ Day

November 6, 2016

 

Focus:  God blesses us through His Son.

Function:  That the hearers rejoice in the blessings of God.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Blessings Bring Joy

 

You have a wonderful opportunity this week to spend a long, fall day with a good friend.  It might be with your spouse out doing some hiking in the woods.  It could with be an old friend out on the lake for a little more fishing.  Or with a close girl friend out doing some shopping.  Whatever it is that you’re imagining, you’ve spent the better part of the day together.  It’s been fun.  And right as you turn to them to discuss when you can do this again, they let out a loud sneeze.  And almost as if it’s a reflex you respond….bless you.

Do we even know what that means? I’ve heard that it was believed in the past that when you sneeze your heart skips a beat, and so we bless someone who just sneezed with ongoing life, that their heart returns to a normal rhythm.  I have no idea if that’s true or not.  But even if it is, who’s the one who’s actually doing the blessing?

We have other times we talk about the word “bless” or “blessing.”  Maybe we think of the way we might close a letter, “blessings.”  Sometimes we even use it to replace the word “good.”  “That’s such a blessing” is the same as saying “That’s a good thing.”  Some use it as another way to say the word “prayer.”  “It’s time to say the blessing.”   And then there’s that thing about giving someone your consent.  “You have my blessing,” like the man who grants permission for someone to become his future son-in-law.

But for as common a word as it is, I’m not sure we often think about what it actually means.  But we need to, because that’s vital to what Jesus preached in the most famous sermon ever recorded.

Our gospel text today is from the book of Matthew.  It’s the beginning of what we call the Sermon on the Mount.  And it’s the longest, single discourse we have recorded from Jesus, lasting from chapter five through chapter seven.  But unlike a typical Lutheran sermon that starts with the Law and ends with the Gospel, here Jesus does the opposite.  He begins with the greatness of the gospel message and then proceeds to share with us what we would call law as He tells us how to live as the people of God.

The gospel according to Matthew really does pick up with Advent themes, the coming Messiah, the coming of God’s kingdom.  And, more specifically, it identifies who that king is.  It’s Jesus.  He’s the King of the kingdom.  It’s His.  Not Herod’s as we see in the second chapter.  Not Satan’s as we see in the fourth chapter.  Christ is King.  And that’s going to go a long way in the sermon He preached.

As we begin chapter five, we see Jesus going up on a mountain to be alone with His disciples.  That’s the setting for the Sermon on the Mount.  Indeed, that’s where the name comes from.  And as He sits there with His disciples, He begins to teach them.

And what follows are nine blessings that we’ve come to call the Beatitudes.  But nobody sneezed, and nobody was asking Jesus’ consent for anything.  These blessings aren’t just words.  They’re oozing with gospel.  There’s a whole sermon in each one, but we’ll do as Jesus did today and keep it brief.

The first four blessings go together.  They’re a common theme. They’re not things that we have to do, but they’re who we are.  In Matthew chapter four, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He’s going around preaching to the people, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17

Some people mistakenly read the Beatitudes as law.  Blessed are the poor in spirit means we have to make ourselves poor in spirit.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, well we have to strive for perfection.  If that’s how you read the Beatitudes, then the Sermon on the Mount is nothing but Law, and in the end, there’s no hope here.  Because no matter how hard I try, I can’t do it.  No matter how much I might want to be perfect, I can’t do it.  No matter how much I want to be comforted, I can’t make myself mourn.

These things are simply who we are.  We remember who Jesus is talking to.  The disciples and the crowds who’ve come out to hear Him.  They’re the ones who’ve repented; they heard the message that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and they listened, they believed.  And so verses 3-6 aren’t something they do, these verses simply describe who they are.  Who we are.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  We aren’t talking about the impoverished, the starving.  This isn’t about being money poor.  Think of it instead like the Apostle Paul, bemoaning himself as the chief of sinners.  We are downtrodden, we have nothing, we bring nothing before God.  We are empty, we are poor.  And yet, this is the good news, Christ the King fills us. He gives us His kingdom.  We didn’t earn it, He just gives it.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  This is something we all do.  We beat our chests over sin and death.  We mourn the tragedy that has befallen creation, every time we see it.  As we mark All Saints’ Day this weekend, we think of this specifically.  We’ve lost, we grieve over our loved ones who faced death.  And yet the Scriptures promise that we will be comforted, more than that, they promise a place where there will be no more tears.  This place is for all the saints, those past and present.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”  Meek, it means quiet, submissive.  If you call someone meek, you’re basically calling them a pushover.  They let the boss walk all over them, they let the bully have his way.  They won’t stand up for themselves.  They aren’t the powerful, and yet they get the earth.  They inherit the earth.  Christ the King gives it to them.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”  This isn’t about the rumblings of your tummy.  It’s about a longing, about a hope that we would be made right with God.  That we would be saved.  And Christ the King responds, they’ll have it.  In faith, we receive the free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.

For the people of faith, for us who repent of our sins, these verses aren’t law.  They’re sweet, sweet gospel.  That in the cross of Jesus Christ, and in His resurrection, and in His Word, and in His Sacrament, we receive all of these things.  They aren’t mere words, they’re not even just promises.  These blessings are everlasting gifts.

And even at that, these gifts are so profound, they’re so abundant and overflowing that even though we’ve yet to receive them, we’ve yet to touch them in their fullness, they still cause us to rejoice.  The Beatitudes are us, they are our faith.  That in Christ, the kingdom is yours, in Christ, comfort is yours, in Christ, the earth is yours, in Christ, salvation is yours.  Good, great, blessed gospel!

There is a shift here.  The first four blessings were simply about who we are as the people of God.  The next few will be about what we do.  “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

These three call us into the life of Christ.  To live in this manner.  You might even argue that these things are letting the rest of the sermon play out.  That we hear the rest of chapters 5-7 and we take them to heart.  Even these aren’t our doing, we only live them out as gifts that Christ has given us.  Read them today when you go home.  Finish the sermon of Christ and digest His teaching.  That’s part of what it means to be a disciple.  We have the gift of learning from the King of creation Himself.  And that’s a gift to treasure.

And lastly, I think verses 11-12 actually describe verse 10.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

This gets back to being disciples of Christ, to simply being.  This isn’t about doing, it’s just who we are.  When our identity is fixed in Christ, we will do these things.  We will see persecution for the sake of the gospel.  We will be reviled, and have all kinds of evil done to us and spoken against us.  And Jesus looks at that and says: “Blessed are those…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Do you see how that’s come full circle?  The Beatitudes introduction of the sermon begins and ends at the same place, that in Christ, you have all these things.  These words, these promises, these gifts are yours.  They’re yours right now.  And while you may not have experienced them in their fullness, while you may not have tasted them in their completeness, they are just as sweet.

We bring nothing to the table.  We are poor and meek.  We mourn our sin, we long for righteousness, we endure the attacks of Satan and his kingdom as they let out the final battle cries of a dying world.  And Jesus blesses us and all the saints before us with everything He has to give.  He gives us His own life in place of our own.

These blessings abound within us, they well up within us causing us to burst in joy.  And I don’t mean be happy all the time, but rather, joy is treasuring our salvation from God.  One of the analogies for joy the Bible uses is that of a woman in labor.  That despite all the pain, it all changes when she holds her child for the first time.  Pain and agony turn to joy.  She treasures the gift of life God has given her.  She rejoices and gives thanks to the Lord for her child.  This is joy.  We treasure the gift of life and salvation that Christ has blessed us with, and we give thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pray, Pray, and Pray Some More October 16, 2016

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Luke 18:1-8

Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

October 16, 2016

 

Focus:  God answers our cries for justice by the sacrifice of His Son.

Function:  That the hearers pray for justice in the cross of Christ.

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

 

Pray, Pray, and Pray Some More

 

Had Jesus preached this parable today, it would have sounded a little more like this:

“In a certain store, there was a woman who neither feared God nor men.  And there was a child in that store, her child, who kept crying and screaming, ‘Mommy, I want it and I want it now!’  For a while, she refused, but afterward she thought to herself, ‘Though I don’t fear God and I certainly don’t need a man, yet because this child keeps bothering me, I will give him what he wants, so that my stress level doesn’t cause me to go nuclear.’  Hear what the unrighteous woman says.”

Whether you want to call it the Parable of the Persistent Widow, or the Parable of the Unjust Judge, that opening illustration is the common interpretation of the parable.  Jesus’ instructions to His disciples then, and to us now, is as simple as this: pray, pray, and pray some more.  Ask God for whatever you want, and if at first you don’t receive it, just keep asking.

But this runs into so many problems.  Just think about it, if this is how prayer works, right away, what’s the first thing you’re going to ask God for?  Almost without a doubt, our first prayers will be selfish.  They’ll be about us.  More specifically, they’ll be about stuff.  “God, I’d really love a bigger house, can you handle that?”  “Where’s that Ferrari you promised me?”  “Can I have a good looking spouse?”  “God, can you get my children to behave better?”  “I’d really like that new job”  “Can I have that promotion now?” And you haven’t gotten it yet, just keep praying, and eventually you will.

And some of these things can actually be worthwhile things to want, like the couple who prays for years for a child, the husband and wife praying for a better marriage, or prayer for a better relationship with your boss.  So, I hate to make to make it sound so trivial and childish, but I have to, because it causes a bigger problem.

The biggest issue with this interpretation of the parable is what happens when you don’t get your way.  When all that praying for more wealth doesn’t happen, first for a few days, then days become weeks, and weeks become months.  How long can you hold on to this promise of Jesus?  Maybe if you’re faith is strong enough, you can even last for years.  But how long does it take before you eventually lose hope?  Over time, your faith widdles away until it dies.

When we misunderstand the promises of Jesus, when we think He promised us something He never did, the death of our faith is a great concern.  Faith is trust in God and His promises.  If we can’t trust them anymore, we literally don’t have faith in Him anymore.

And had the parable ended at the end of verse six, with Jesus saying, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says,” had it ended there, we could easily, understandably get the wrong promise from it.

But the truth is, thankfully, Jesus never would have preached the whiny, selfish child illustration.  It doesn’t fit with what He was actually teaching His disciples.  Because He didn’t stop at verse 6.

The very key to this parable actually comes before Jesus even starts talking.  In verse 1, Luke tells us that the effect Jesus desires from this parable is that His disciples “ought always to pray and not lose heart.”  Pray continuously, never give up hope.  That’s the key.  Without it, we just think about the covetousness of our own broken hearts.

But instead, this never giving up hope shows up in the widow’s asking.  Despite the faithlessness of this judge, despite his unwillingness to even really give her a fair hearing, she keeps going to him.  She knows he has the power to give her justice, to save her from her adversary.  And that becomes the point.  Her prayer isn’t for stuff, it’s for justice, it’s for salvation.

And, as the parable concludes, ultimately, she gets it.  The judge concedes, finally listens, and gives her justice against her adversary.  We do want to be careful examining who’s who in this parable.  God is the judge, so we don’t want to read too much into the unfaithful label of the parable, because we know better.  Even though sometimes it may seem like God doesn’t care, like He’s being unfaithful to us, He is always faithful, He always loves us.

That makes us the widow.  The one crying out.  And as we’ve established, it’s not for stuff, or relationships, or whatever might be on our hearts, as faithful and good as many of those things may be.  Instead, we cry out for justice.  We pray to God to grant us justice against our adversaries.  We ask God to judge between us and sin, death, and the devil.

And as we keep reading the text, we see that’s exactly what God does.  God gives justice to His elect, to those who call out to Him for salvation.  This is the power of the cross.  That Christ’s death on the cross grants justice, peace, deliverance for all of God’s people from our enemies.  And this doesn’t mean earthly peace, earthly justice, or earthly deliverance.  There are any number of wrongdoings in this nation, right here at home.  But those people committing those wrongdoings are no different than us.  Broken sinners, in need of crying out for justice.

God didn’t delay.  Christ shares this parable of justice with His disciples as He’s on His journey to Jerusalem and to the cross.  It’s just a matter of soon.  And that’s the same today.  The last part of the text used to be left off.  We didn’t read the last sentence: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

I don’t know if they thought it was too depressing or negative or what they were doing leaving it out.  But in the 2006 revision of the lectionary when our Synod moved to its new hymnal, we added that sentence to this reading.  It was already there in Scripture, we just used to skip it, and now we don’t.

And I’m glad.  This is another key element of this parable.  Jesus just finished telling the disciples in chapter seventeen that He would return, He would come soon, and here we see it again in our text, “I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily.”  Justice in response to our prayer is coming soon!

But verse eight poses a challenge to the disciples, and a challenge to us.  When Christ returns, will He find faith on earth?  It’s not a trick question.  It’s one of the strangest things about the teaching of evolution, that our lives and our world just keep getting better.  A simple look at history, a simple look around us tells us exactly the opposite.  Everything is in a constant state of decay.  You and I are moving constantly toward our death.  Only a return of Christ can prevent that.

 

Will you persist in your faith?  Will you not be discouraged by the decay of the world?  It’s not just the challenge of the text, it’s also the whole reason for the parable.  This is the response, this is how we persist in faith.  We pray.  God calls us His own children in baptism, forgiving our sins there and in the Lord’s Supper.  The faithful response is one of prayer.  That we cry out to God for justice against our adversary, and trust in Him that He will answer speedily.

So everything around the disciples was coming unhinged.  Within a few decades, the Roman emperor Nero would have nearly perfected persecuting the church.  The disciples were murdered on account of their faith, and the temple in Jerusalem was ripped apart brick by brick.

But the disciples did it.  To the point of death.  They certainly were both saint and sinner, but they persisted, they trusted in the Lord alone for their salvation.  And we are called upon by this final question to do the same.  To press on despite the pressures of our government, to persist despite what our nation calls the decline of the church, to not lose heart even when our culture seems without hope, and to not give up even if it means our death.

This is what the parable of the persistent widow or the unfaithful judge is all about.  Her prayers had nothing to do with the things of this world.  Rather, she called out for justice against her adversary, and she received salvation.  And so we too ought to pray to the Lord for justice in the face of our enemies, trusting in Him alone for our salvation in the face of sin, death, and the devil himself, that when the Lord returns, He will find faith on the earth.