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A Wedding Feast October 15, 2017

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Matthew 22:1-14

Proper 23

October 15, 2017

 

Focus:  God calls the people of this world His own.

Function:  That the hearers share the invitation to the wedding feast.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

A Wedding Feast

 

            Children’s message – reread the parable and explain it’s meaning

 

            I want to dive right into this parable and explore it in depth today.  Let’s read a verse at a time, and then take the time to unpack the various nuances of this masterful analogy.

 

1And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 

            Once again, Jesus is using a parable, a fictional story that relates enough to the lives of the people that they can understand both the story, but also the deeper meaning that Jesus is intending for them to learn.

 

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 

            This is a common phrase for Matthew in his gospel account.  The Kingdom of heaven.  The kingdom of God.  Being part of His family, His community.  His people.  This is what that looks like.  This illustration helps you understand what salvation in Christ looks like.

            The wedding feast is a reference to Paradise.  This is the everlasting feast of God.  That all those who believe in Christ get to spend forever in the new creation with Him.  It’s also picture of Father and Son, of God the Father and God the Son.  The king throwing a feast for His Son Jesus.

 

and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 

            These servants have a both/and meaning.  There’s a past tense and a present tense meaning to who these people are.  In the past tense of this parable, these are all the people of old whom the Lord sent to share the covenant, to share the message of God and a coming Messiah.  These are the people of Israel, and namely then the prophets, the priests, perhaps even the kings.

            Those invited in the past tense are all the people of the land of Israel.  The covenant was made with them.  They were to be God’s chosen people, His holy nation.  Through their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, these were the children of God.

            And so they’re invited.  They’re invited into the covenant of God, into the Kingdom of God.  They’re invited into the family that never ends.  Paradise, the new creation, is promised to them.  But, hard of hearts, the chosen people reject the message.  They reject God.  They reject salvation.

            For now, we’ll stay in the past, and visit the present meaning at the end, all at the same time.

 

Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ 

            Despite their rejection, God continued to send the prophets, God continued to send His good news, and His invitation, even His salvation to the people of Israel.  God made the sacrifice.  He made the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, of the Old Covenant, so that the people of Israel would have a way to forgiveness.  The sacrifices did grant forgiveness.  There was an invitation.

 

But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 

            And yet, most of the people ignored the invitation.  They were too busy, they had work that was more important that God.  They had other things to do.  Idolatry.  Whether in the form of a stone or wood idol, or in the form of family, or friends, or jobs, or hobbies, or anything.  Idolatry.  They rejected God.

 

while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 

            And worse yet, many didn’t stop at simply rejecting God.  They proceeded to obliterate all the good gifts God gave.  Those prophets sent to bring God’s Word to His people, many met gruesome fates, beaten and even killed for bringing the message of a Messiah.

 

The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 

Assyria.  Babylon.  Persia.  The Lord used foreign armies, faithless armies, to bring destruction upon the land.  To wipe out the people of the promise who had rejected the promise.  Israel fell first in 722 BC at the hands of Assyria.  For the Judahites, it was to Babylon in 587 BC.  Assyria fell to Babylon, Babylon fell to Persia.

 

Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 

            Here we see the shift.  There are moments scattered throughout the Old Testament, moments where people not of the nation of Israel get a chance at being part of the promise.  At being a child of God.  Rahab, Ruth, Naaman, Cyrus, Nebuchadnezzar. 

 

Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 

            And it wasn’t just the Old Testament.  This becomes a key theme in the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  The floodgates are opened.  The Jews rejected the Gospel, and so Jesus sends the disciples to witness the coming of the Kingdom of heaven to the Gentiles.  To everyone.

 

10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

            And that’s when it began.  The kingdom of heaven starts filling up with Gentiles.  With people not of the promise by birth.  It’s a delightful gift, and one that we today cherish, as Gentile people.

 

 

11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 

            There was a usurper.  Someone snuck into the party.  Whether he got in initially by claiming to be good enough, or if he got in by sneaking in of his own will, we don’t hear.  But the foundation is the same.  In either case, this man is attempting salvation on his own.  Like the Pharisees.  To borrow from another parable, they hop the fence to get into the sheep pen where they can then wreak havoc and slaughter sheep. 

            And so it is here.  The Pharisees hear of the promise of God and think they can earn it.  And then, once they have tried to party by their own rules, they begin misleading others.  Tricking and conniving them into thinking they were worthy of getting into the party.

            It could also go back farther in time and simply be Satan himself.

 

12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.

            God the Father asks a simple question.  “Without My gift, my free gift to you, how did you get in here?”  In the Old Testament, this is circumcision.  In the New Testament, it’s baptism.  As the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Galatian peoples, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  Jesus is the wedding garment.  And in your baptism, which you didn’t deserve, God put His Son’s righteousness on you.  You are clothed in the righteousness of Christ.  That’s the wedding garment.  That’s the free gift of the Father for you.

 

13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 

            But for the one who rejects the Lord, they are cast out.  For the one who thinks they can earn their salvation, they are rejected.  The place of weeping and gnashing of teeth in the Scriptures is none other than the place that was prepared for the devil and his angels.  It is hell.  But it was not made for you. 

 

14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

You have an invitation in the form of God’s Holy Word.  You are given the free gift of salvation in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  You are clothed in Christ Himself.  His righteousness, unearned by you, becomes your righteousness. 

The Son for whom we celebrate and feast is also the One we feast upon.  So, God the Father throws an eternal party for Jesus, His righteous Son, and Jesus isn’t only the honored Son, He’s also the meal.  It is His body and blood shed for you upon the cross, given to you freely in the Sacrament of the Altar, it is this gift that gives you forgiveness.  It is this gift that is just a taste of the everlasting wedding feast to come.  When you, the Church, are the bride, and Christ is our groom.

To give you a few more present tense notes on this parable:  you are the servants from v. 3-10.  You are the servants, the people of God, who have the invitations in hand to go and distribute to anyone and everyone you come across.  Sure, they don’t deserve it.  We as servants don’t deserve the master’s feast.  But it’s a gift, and it’s one we give to others.

And yet, even with this delightful free gift, this life that never ends, this message beyond compare, you will be rejected, maybe even beaten or killed over it.  Simply by sharing the invitation with another, you will invite ridicule and scorn and violence upon yourself.  Those who reject God sometimes just turn away, but sometimes they respond in bloodshed.

For these people, one truth remains.  The Judgment day will come.  And this destruction will be permanent.  As all those who reject the Lord, who reject the heavenly feast, will find themselves sharing the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth with the devil.

 

But the wedding hall, nonetheless, will be full!  It may not seem like it.  There will be days where you join your voice to that of the prophet Elijah, wondering why you’re the only Christian on earth.  But it’s a lie of the devil.  You’re not alone.  You are surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ, and Christ Himself, our heavenly Bridegroom will carry you through.

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Magician with a Wand in the Sky June 11, 2017

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Genesis 1:1-2:4

Holy Trinity Sunday

June 11, 2017

 

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

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

Structure:  Illustration and application.

 

Magician with a Wand in the Sky

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pause

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

This Jesus, Whom You Crucified May 22, 2016

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Acts 2:14a, 22-36
Trinity Sunday
May 22, 2016

Focus: God delivers salvation in and through His Son.
Function: That the hearers confess their faith in the Messiah.
Structure: Recap/Sequel.

This Jesus, Whom You Crucified

As we celebrated Pentecost last weekend, we looked at Acts chapter 2, the events of that day, and the sermon Peter preached to the Jews. I told you then that our text was a two-parter, that we would have to wait until this week to cover the second half of Peter’s sermon. So let’s do a quick review of last week.
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20 the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. 21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

We talked about what Pentecost was and what it wasn’t. Pentecost isn’t about the disciples or the things they did or whether or not they were drunk. It wasn’t about mass conversions of people or something we need to try to reproduce. Pentecost wasn’t even about the miracle of speaking in tongues. Rather, it was all about the sermon Peter preached, the words he shared with the Jews. God shared the gospel message with His Old Testament people. This Jewish remnant was still clinging to the promise of a Messiah, and Peter delivered on that promise.
Then we also took the time to unpack Joel’s prophesy, seeing how it had multiple meanings. A last day referring to Good Friday, to Christ upon the cross, and also the last day we are waiting for, when Christ returns for us. And Joel proclaims that there is a name by which we will be saved.
So as we transition to our text today, to the rest of the sermon, we will see that name. The name of Christ. Because all of Joel’s prophecy, the sun, the moon, your sons and daughters prophesying, according to Peter, all of that points to Jesus in His death and in His resurrection.
You’re those sons and daughters. You’re the ones prophesying of a Savior. That’s what we do in speaking the Creed together. Flip back there. Look at it. “Conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. On the third day He rose again from the dead.” Prophesies, prophesies fulfilled by Christ. You’re proclaiming them. Sure, it’s not speaking in tongues, you don’t have a flame resting on your head. It’s plain, and it’s simple. And it’s true.
This is what Peter preached. The gospel. The good news of who Jesus Christ is and what He’s done for us. The very power of God for salvation to all who believe. It’s nothing fancy, it doesn’t depend on our culture. And while you can think it’s optional if you want, it is real. It’s not optional to reality.
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

This is the meaning of Joel. Jesus died and rose again. Look at how Peter talks, and remember who he’s talking to. These are the Jews, who believe in God the Father. These are the very same Jews who’ve heard of this Jesus, many of them have seen this Jesus. They know the stories, they’ve seen the miracles, they know what happened in Jerusalem during Holy Week. The man they killed during Holy Week.
But now Peter is making a bold claim. That death couldn’t hold Him. That Jesus is alive. That He’s risen from the grave and conquered death. That’s a mighty bold statement to make to the Jews. But Peter backs it up. He goes to their beloved king, King David.
25 For David says concerning him,
“‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope.27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

And Peter catches a key phrase. “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades.” You won’t let death win. David may not have had an exact blueprint as clearly as we do now, but he knew, he trusted in God’s promise of salvation. That there would be a resurrection. So Peter continues:
29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.

We can go just over there and see the tomb of David. He’s still in there. We have proof. So what was David talking about? What was he looking forward to? The promise. David counted on the promise of God that one of David’s descendants would sit on the throne forever. Jesus is that descendant. He was not abandoned to Hades. His flesh didn’t see corruption. Your Holy One will not see decay.
David trusted that a Savior would come to defeat death once and for all. And Peter and the other disciples are eyewitnesses that it’s happened. That “this Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” And so he continues with his sermon:
33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand,35 until I make your enemies your footstool.”’
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Let the word out, let the good news be known, let the world hear of its Savior! And the Jews listening to Peter that day, they believed. Even though our text ends, here’s what happened next:
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Again, there’s way too much here for us to go in depth on it all. But what a day! The Jews were cut to the heart, they repented of their sin, they believed, they were baptized. Three thousand men.
The gift of baptism, that the Spirit is poured out, faith is created, promises and gifts given and received. For you, for your children. For all who are far off. This promise is for everyone. Baptism matters. It actually does stuff.
And so together they became the church. The New Testament church, the church militant. This is the Christian church, 2000 years ago, today, it is the same. The family of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And so we follow their lead, their example.
That in the very midst of a culture of chaos that is seeking to rip apart your faith, what do we do? We devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching, not our own understanding, but to the Word of God. And from that teaching flows forth a fellowship, a people, gathered together in a community, in a family, around Word and sacrament.
Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, every Sunday, every day of the year, it’s all about who God is, and what He’s done in Jesus for you. And then by the grace of God all that He has done is then confessed aloud by you for others to hear too.

Why Aren’t They Burning? May 15, 2016

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Acts 2:1-21

Pentecost

May 15th, 2016

 

Focus:  God gives salvation to all who call upon the name of Jesus.

Function:  That the hearers call upon the name of the Lord.

Structure:  Not this…or this…or this…or this…but this.  (with thanks to Rev. Fisk for the outline via Worldview Everlasting)

 

Why Aren’t They Burning?

 

This morning we face an interesting challenge.  We face the task of figuring out what Pentecost is actually all about.  And it’s indeed a challenge, as so many Christians today focus on it all wrong.

Pentecost was such a great day.  Peter preached and people just rushed to be baptized.  If only we could have more days like this.  If only the church could be better, if only we could just live more lovingly, if only we could just do more good for our neighbors, if only we could just preach like Peter, then we would have more Pentecosts!  People would come to church, they’d believe.

Well, at least that’s what our brothers say who think we earn our own salvation.  They think Pentecost is about us, what great works we can do before the Lord.  How it’s about our preaching, our teaching, our connections, our reason and logic.  Our courage to go out into the midst of the unknown. But in reality, Pentecost isn’t about what the disciples did, not at all really.

Pentecost is a one-time event.  One and done.  God did something completely miraculous and He probably won’t ever work this way again.  And that’s alright.  It was for a purpose.  Here we have God the Father calling out to His children of the old covenant.  He’s calling out to the Jews in miraculous way.

And this brings us to another thing Pentecost isn’t about.  It’s not about that (points to pictures of people with burning flames on their heads).  This isn’t the burning bush.  We don’t have a random Jew saying “Hey, look, those guys are on fire, but they’re not burning up.  Let’s go see why.”  That also was a one-time event when God called Moses.  If the disciple literally were on fire, the Jews would have noticed, they’d have said something.

See, again, it has nothing to do with the disciples.  And while Jesus promised that the disciples would be baptized by the Holy Spirit and with fire, that’s a one-time deal, and it’s not what Pentecost is about.

The Jews don’t come up astounded at the disciples being on fire, because they weren’t.  They’re astounded by what they’re hearing.  And it’s more than the miracle.  It’s more than the fact that all these foreigners are hearing the disciples preach in different tongues. It’s like me going before a group of people from every nation under heaven and preaching this sermon and they can all understand.

That’s another one-time miracle of God.  And yet we have entire denominations built on it.  Who insist that if you can’t speak in tongues, you’re not a Christian.  Hogwash.  That’s just absurd, and it’s completely contrary to Scripture.  The apostle Paul realized that when he told Corinth, “in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue,” (14:19).  Tongues had a purpose, and they were a spiritual gift, but even in Paul’s day, not everyone had them.

But it’s not the preaching style of Peter and the eleven that matters either.  Tongues isn’t what Pentecost is about.

Nor is this day about mass conversion, and something we need to figure out how to do again.  This isn’t a Billy Graham revival.  These aren’t hordes of atheists.  These aren’t your coworkers at the annual meeting.  This isn’t the Muslims coming to POBLO for aid.  This is a special, one-time event.

Pentecost is a one-time event in the history of the church.  If you were here last year for Pentecost, you might even remember me preaching about how this is essentially the day the church is born.  On this day, God works through His disciples to convert the remnant of God’s people, the Jews.  To call them out of the old covenant and its ways, and to call them into the new covenant in the blood of Jesus Christ, who He is, and what He’s done for them.

The whole point of all of this, what Pentecost actually is, is the what of Peter’s preaching.  It’s the words he actually shares with the Jews, as he proclaims to them the cross of Christ and His resurrection along with a baptism by water that puts an end to the covenant that God made with Abraham and with Moses.

And this sermon of Peter is so long that we will spend the next two weeks covering it.  Okay, it’s not really that long, but we do have two weeks to unpack all the Peter said to the Jews that day.  And it comes from a man the crowd thought was drunk.  When we think about it, we can understand why.  These guys are proclaiming that some guy named Jesus died fifty days ago, but three days later rose from the dead and has just recently ascended into the skies.  It sounds like something crazy a drunk might dream up.

But Peter connects to the Jews right away, quoting to them from the Old Testament prophet Joel.  And it’s something we’ll see him unpack in full next week, but for now, let’s look at the text he quotes ourselves.

We’ve spent so much time recently on the apocalyptic writings of John in the book of Revelation.  This piece from Joel is also apocalyptic, it’s considered to be end of the world stuff. But, as many good prophecies are, this “last days” language doesn’t just mean the Last Day, the end of the world.

The last days of Joel’s prophecy are first fulfilled on Good Friday, as the needs of sinners, the need of a hopeless people, is met upon the cross.  Sins forgiven.  Nailed to the cross; no more.  Christ has set you free.  On this first last day, God judges the world through Jesus on the cross.

This is the blood moon reference.  Not that the moon turns into blood, although I suppose on the last day it could, but in apocalyptic Scripture, this is a phrase used to mark a major historical transition.  Here, the blood moon marks a transition from the old covenant to the new.  The old covenant has ended, been put to death.  There’s a seismic shift on the cross.

There’s still more blood and more death to come in this prophecy.  Because on the second last day, the one we normally think of, God will judge the world apart from Christ according to their works.  For those who are in Christ, this is a day full of hope, of salvation, of life, of joy.  But for those who think they’ve earned it, from those who think they are gods themselves to those who simply think they can do enough good to make it heaven, that they can be their own Savior, it will be a day of great sorrow.  A day of death, a day of everlasting damnation.

This is the true meaning of Pentecost, the true importance of that day.  It’s what Peter preached, the death and resurrection of Christ, a baptism by water that saves in Christ.  And it’s ironic, because those congregations who are all about speaking in tongues don’t preach Christ resurrected and a baptism in which God comes to you to forgive your sins.  They’ve missed the whole point.

The covenant made on Mount Sinai has ended.  Jesus has done this.  “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  Peter names the name, he proclaims the goods, but for that, you’ll have to come back again next week.

 

 

Up, Up, and Away! May 5, 2016

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Acts 1:1-11

Ascension Thursday

May 5, 2016

 

Focus:  God is expanding His kingdom.

Function:  That the hearers serve their neighbors in love while awaiting Christ’s Second Coming.

Structure:  Walkthrough the text.

 

Up, Up, and Away

 

For the last month or so now, we’ve really dug into the Scripture texts during the sermon.  It’s fun, it’s a good way to pour through God’s Word.  And as summer approaches, it’s just nice to have this chance for extra Bible study, to continue to drum up your interest in God’s Word.  It’s not an all the time preaching style, but it’s helpful.

So we continue that way tonight, as we celebrate the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven.  If you’d like to follow along either in the Bible or in your bulletin, we’ll be walking straight through our reading from Acts chapter one.

  1. In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach

 

What other book of the New Testament was written to Theophilus?  The book of Luke, the gospel according to Luke.  For our purposes, it really doesn’t matter who Theophilus is.  Many simply think it’s the patron of Luke’s writing, the man perhaps funding Luke to do this research and compose these works.  Others, however, have simply thought it was a play on words in Greek, as the name means “lover of God.”  So Luke might be writing this to all people who love God.  I lean toward it being an actual person, but really it’s just something neat to think about.

Either way, this is a sequel.  Officially titled, “Acts of the Apostles,” this is Luke 2.  Or 2 Luke, or whatever you want to call it.  It’s a continuation.  Luke is about the ministry of Christ for the church.  Acts is about the Holy Spirit at work through the church.  And they fit right together.  It’s like when you watch your favorite TV show, it ends on cliffhanger, and then the next week’s episode starts by recapping last week.

Luke ends with the ascension.  Acts begins with the ascension.  Unfortunately, our English publishers like to put John in between.  Luke and Acts, take them together.

  1. until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.

 

So again, Luke was about all Christ did, and that included the instructions for what the disciples were to keep doing after Christ left them.  And so that’s where we’re picking up, going back to those instructions.

  1. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

 

Sometimes we get the idea that faith is just separate from reality.  Like we can compartmentalize it.  It’s spiritual, we can’t really know, so you just gotta have faith.  I can’t answer your questions, but just believe in Jesus.  The New Testament doesn’t really talk that way.  Here we have concrete proof to the disciples.  Christ rose from the dead, appeared to them, did miracles before them, and continued to teach them.  This matters.  And it’s the same way the disciples will turn around and share the gospel.  They will give proofs of the resurrection as they witness to others about Christ.

And while we can’t say we are eyewitnesses of the risen Christ, well, we actually kind of can in the Lord’s Supper, but that’s not as convincing to a non-believer.  We do still have evidence, and some pretty good ones at that.  We can prove Jesus lived.  We can prove that the things the New Testament records are actually what He said.  We can’t prove correct, that’s where faith will come in, but there’s a lot of good, and helpful, stuff available.  That’s what Sunday Bible class downstairs has talked about, and if you ever want to know more, just ask.

Jesus appears to them over 40 days and continues to teach.

  1. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.

 

We can only imagine what the disciples might have been thinking when Jesus started to say this.  But, why is this odd?  Why would Jesus have to tell the disciples not to leave Jerusalem?  Well, they had just crucified Jesus.  They had just killed the Christ.  The disciples are now locking themselves away in a house hiding for fear that the Jews will kill them, too.  We can only imagine that they were thinking, plotting how they might escape, where they might go next.  Where on earth might be safe for them.

But Jesus tells them to stay.  Remain here.  Remain in Jerusalem in the very midst of the people who seek to take your life.  This is another spot where we misinterpret our New Testament.  Much of American Christianity today is about happiness and comfort.  We think of God’s blessings to us as material things, that if we just are faithful enough, if we just give enough, God will pour out material blessings on us.  And bad things won’t happen to you.

We live in a culture that’s about being comfortable, enjoying life.  And I’ve had to warn the confirmation students about this.  If you’re comfortable in life, if there’s nothing causing you trouble in any way, you’re probably not doing what God has called you to do.  Because the New Testament promises that “all who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:12).

That’s what Jesus is calling the disciples to do, to give up their concern about themselves and this worldly life, to forsake this life for the sake of the kingdom.  Remain in Jerusalem, remain here until the Father gives you the gift you’ve been promised.

  1. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

 

This is the gift, the Holy Spirit being poured out from heaven onto these disciples.  It’s the day we call Pentecost, it’s the day the Church on earth is truly born.  And we’ll talk more about that in a week and a half when we celebrate Pentecost.

  1. So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

 

As pastors, we teach.  And Jesus’ patience with His disciples is truly incredible.  I run out of patience every week in confirmation.  But not here.  I need to learn from this.  For three years, Jesus has been teaching the disciples about the kingdom of God, and they still don’t get it.  They just don’t.  They still think He’s the conquering king, that He’s going to overthrow Rome and give power back to the Jews.  This after Good Friday and Easter.  They still don’t understand.

  1. He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

 

And so the resurrected Lord continues to teach.  This is still the same Christ who said even He doesn’t know the day or the hour, but only the Father in heaven.  The Second Coming of Christ is coming, but that’s not for you to worry over.  I have something for you to do.

  1. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

 

Again, Pentecost here.  You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.  And they do, and then they witness.  They go out, they leave the locked house and they share the good news of Christ with the world around them.

And while not everything Jesus says to His disciples applies directly to us, this one doesn’t, this is one we can still learn from.  Jesus isn’t commanding you to go to Jerusalem and Samaria.  That was their task, but we could still see it as formula in a sense.  Think about it.  Jerusalem is their immediate location.  That’s where they are.  For you, discipleship starts with your immediate location, your immediate family, it starts at home.  Train up your children in the way they should go.  As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household.

What’s next?  Judea?  What’s Judea in relation to Jerusalem?  Jerusalem is the capital, Judea is the surrounding country.  Those closest to you.  Look at your vocations, think of your neighbors, your friends, your subdivision.  And after Judea, Samaria.  What’s Samaria?  It’s the capital city of the old rivaling nation.  This is why Jews hate Samaritans.  It’s a further distance traveled for certain, so your whole community perhaps.  Your enemies, maybe?  And then to the ends of the earth.  The good news is for all people.

  1. After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

 

There really isn’t much about the ascension.  It just happens.  Jesus is teaching, and then He just lifts up to heaven.  He’s going up, up, and away.  He’s gone, He’s left, and you can see the reaction:

  1. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.

 

 

You can imagine that.  You’re just talking with someone, having a good conversation, and they just start floating off to heaven.  Strange stuff.  They were staring.  Jaws might have been hanging open.

And who are the men dressed in white here?  We have a couple of angels that appear and speak to the disciples.

  1. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

 

He’s gone, but He’s coming back.  It’s almost like the angels just came down to tell the disciples to snap out of it.  It’s reassurance, certainly, comfort.  Don’t worry.  He’s with you.  He’s promised.  That’s great stuff.

The whole of the ascension is great stuff.  Jesus doesn’t float off to nowhere.  Don’t get the image of Jesus drifting around in space on an inflatable pool toy.  That’s not what this is.  He’s made promises to us.  First, that He would return to His Father in heaven.  This is His reign.  This is the 1,000 years of Revelation stuff as Christ reigns as King over His kingdom, over the whole earth.  He’s doing that as He’s sitting in His throne at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  In the midst of political chaos, that’s comforting.  He’s King, He’s in charge.  Everything is going to be alright.

Then He also promised that if He left, He would send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to us.  This is the same Spirit who comes on the disciples at Pentecost.  This is the pouring out of the same Spirit in the waters of baptism that proclaims you to be a forgiven child of God, heir of the everlasting Kingdom of Christ.  Christ left so He could send the Spirit who would then work faith in you.

And then He also promised that He was preparing a place for us.  We talked about that a couple weekends ago.  A new heaven, a new earth.  Our final home, whatever it may look like.  Jesus ascended to prepare that home for you.  And it is finished.  And you’re going to love it.  Because you’ll be in Paradise with God forever.

This is a great text.  There’s teaching here, Jesus gave His disciples things to do.  But there’s also sweet gospel, as the ascension of Christ into heaven fulfills God’s plan.  Christ is King of creation as originally intended.  He is caring for us.  He sent His Spirit into our midst to create and sustain faith in us.  And as the angels promised, He’s coming again to reclaim what is His.  And that includes the children of God.  That includes us.  And so we await the Second Coming of Christ.  Praying indeed, “Amen, Come Lord Jesus.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Thing of Science Fiction: A New Heaven and Earth? April 24, 2016

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Revelation 21:1-7

Fifth Sunday after Easter

April 24th, 2016

 

Focus:  God is making all things new.

Function:  That the hearers trust in the Word of Christ given for them.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

A Thing of Science Fiction: A New Heaven and Earth?

 

This is one of my favorite texts in all of Scripture.  And I’m so excited to have the opportunity to share it with you, to preach on this section of Revelation.  It holds glorious words of promise, what Christ has done for you, but also what Christ is still doing for you.  And, it lets me show my inner nerd self, and talk about science fiction, but, for real.  Like, actually happening.

But before we get there, let’s just take a step back and look at where we are.  During the season of Easter, we’re plowing through the book of Revelation.  For six consecutive weeks, this is the epistle focus of the lectionary system.  We started three weekends ago with Revelation chapter one.  Then we hit chapter 5, and last week chapter 7.  But now today, we jump all the way to Revelation chapter 21.  We lose the rest of 21 next week with confirmation, but Pastor Fritsch will wrap up the book two weekends from now with chapter 22.

But that means we skipped a lot.  From chapter 7 to 21.  That’s hopping over two-thirds of the letter.  We just flew by the censors and the trumpets.  We bypassed dragons and demons battling with angels.  We miss out on the epic warfare, that ends much faster than the devil thought it would.  We miss the end of the world.  Literally.  That’s chapter 20.  We’ve skipped past all of the images of what’s going on in the world, in your life, right now.

But that’s not the point of Revelation, to be an A to Z timeline of what happens in history.  Rather, we see the ongoing reality of man intertwined with the kingdom of God, the people who put their hope in the Second Coming of Christ.  That is, God’s victory for us.

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.

 

Wow!  What a verse!  The former things, the things of this world that we know and sadly that we still cling to, are no more.  Done, passed away.  People often ask if this is symbolism, it’s just prophecy right?  God isn’t actually going to destroy heaven and earth is He?  Why does heaven have to go?  Chapter 20 hints at this really happening.  Verse 11, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.”

As we sit before the judgment throne of God, even heaven and earth scatter.  Even they aren’t perfect, they can’t come into His kingdom.  Under the judgment of God, heaven and earth are seen for what they are: broken under us.  Just like we are corrupted by the sin of Adam and Eve, all of the earth is, all of creation is.  Broken.  They were stewards, it was entrusted to them, and they broke it.  We break it.  The heaven and earth of Genesis 1:1 are no longer suitable for the resurrected children of God.

It’s not just Revelation that tells of the new heaven and new earth.  Jesus said it.  Peter said it.  Isaiah in his 65th chapter says, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.  The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.”  This is where we get the imagery of the wolf and the lamb lying down together.  The lion eating straw for a meal.

This is where we can have all kinds of science fictiony fun.  We can explore, we can think, we can imagine.  We’ll probably be wrong, but it’s fun nonetheless.  What happens to the old, and where does the new come from?  Some have argued for terraforming, the recreating of a planet that it might be habitable for new life.  From H.G. Wells and Isaac Asimov, to Star Wars, Firefly, Titan A.E. and Doctor Who, terraforming isn’t a new concept, completely changing the surface and the atmosphere of a planet.  It’s also not just science fiction, as many are studying if we can do just that to the surface of the moon, or even Mars.

If God will cleanse the earth in this sense, or if He’ll completely wipe it out and build a new one, I don’t have the answer, but it’s an incredible promise when you think about what it takes.  But then again, He created the universe in six days.  He can handle it.

The sea has a unique place in this, but we’re going to talk about that in a couple minutes.

In who Jesus is and what He’s done, the end of the world, the judgment, already happened.  The new creation is already.  We won’t see it until the last day, but it’s already real.  John sees the cosmos, including the heavens, angels and demons, and declares they’re passing away.

The concept of time is another fun thing of science fiction.  Time travel, whether forward or back.  Can we manipulate it, can we change it?  Or is history set in stone?  But regardless of all those theories, the simple reality is that God created time.  It is not master over Him, but He is master over it.  This is how Christ telling the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise,” fits.  No matter how literal we take it.  This is how God can look upon us and see Christ, because we’re already judged, judged righteous on account of Christ.  You may not have died, but you’ve already died.  It’s already the last day.  Mind-blowing stuff.  Fun stuff.

2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

 

When asked about going to heaven, I usually redirect, change the language.  Not heaven, Paradise.  A new creation, a new heaven and a new earth.  And Christ promised He was going to prepare a place for us.  This is it.  And whether this new Jerusalem is symbolic or not, we get a new creation to live on.  The only perfect thing we know of is the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve lived pre-sin.  They worked the ground, they cared for the animals.  Everything was bliss.  Paradise isn’t about getting your own cloud or your own planet.

A new heaven and a new earth.  A new Jerusalem.  The best analogy John’s gives for us here is the bride.  God is the foundation, the whole of His creation will be restored to splendor, and the imagery of the bride adorned for her groom on her wedding day is what he gives us.  I don’t really need to lay that image out.  You know it, you see the picture in your mind, your own wedding, your child’s wedding, another you’ve been to recently.  Much effort, care, and time has been put in to make it perfect.  To be presented to the groom as spotless.  That’s this new Jerusalem for us.  Spotless, uncorrupted by sin.  Perfect.  Paradise.

3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

 

Here God declares His intentions.  Jesus declares His intentions.  God will dwell in the new creation with His people, just like in the Garden.  King among us.  God incarnate with us.  Sharing our lives, sharing our joys.  There truly will be no more pain, no more suffering.  This is the reason why verse 1 said there would be no sea.  When we think of oceans, dread falls on many of us.  Drowning, storms, floods, destruction, devastation.  Noah and the ark.  Water eroding the land.  No more.  Will there be water? Probably.  But it will be a life-giving water, not life-taking.

This is the same thing we see in the chopped off verse.  See our text today ends at verse 7.  The text for next Sunday begins at verse 9.  Let’s spend a moment on verse 8.

8But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

 

You can kind of see why the lectionary didn’t want to end on this verse today.  But it fits.  These things will be destroyed.  In Christ. Christ has overcome it.  And all who believe in Him, will enter into this Paradise where there is no more pain, suffering, or death.  There is no more sin.  And so all of those who seek not to cling to God, but to their own lives on this earth now, will lose it.  Hell, everlasting separation from God, the source of all good things, is the second death.  It is very much real.

5He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

 

All of your suffering, gone.  Jesus Christ has declared it.  In who He is and what He’s done, the end of the world has already come, the judgment has already happened.  And in this Son of God, crucified for you on the cross and raised from the dead on Easter morning for you, you are His.  Sins forgiven.  Robe washed white.  An heir of Paradise.

And while the words of men are corrupt, while our desires are self-serving, while our ideas are nothing but the misleadings of our own hearts, this Word is true.  Write it down John.  These Words are true.  And He goes and roots it not in us or our works, but in Himself.  These words are true because:

6He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.

 

Jesus quotes the Father.  The Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.  Nothing exists apart from Him.  This new creation, the new heaven, the new earth, the new Jerusalem, the place where God dwells with us, is rooted in Christ.  In His Word.  In what He has done for us, in words that sound like His final cry from the cross, “It is done.”  He has declared it.  These Words are trustworthy and true.

7He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

 

This is the beauty of all of this.  The beauty of the cross and the empty tomb.  The beauty of life and creation.  The beauty of a new heaven and a new earth.  You are conquerors.  Not of your own doing, but of His.  He has done it.  In the life-giving water of baptism, He has declared you an heir of Paradise.  In faith, in Christ’s work done for you, this Paradise is your promised home.  You live here.  And He is not some distant God.  But even better, He is your Father.  He has called you by name, adopted you as His child into His kingdom, His Paradise.  Amen.

 

 

Tribulation and a Future April 17, 2016

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Revelation 7:1-17

Fourth Sunday of Easter

April 17, 2016

 

Focus:  God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

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

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Tribulation and a Future

 

For the past two weeks we’ve opened up our Bibles and turned to Revelation.  We’re doing so again today.  So go ahead and open your Bible to Revelation 7.  Chapters 4-7 form one vision, one prophetic piece, and should really be considered as a whole, so do forgive me as we break this down.  While Pastor Fritsch covered chapters 4 and 5 last week, there’s simply no way to talk about all of chapter 6 and 7 in a 10 or 15 minute sermon.

We’ve got good stuff throughout these chapters, no doubt.  We have the seven seals to be opened.  The seals are a parallel.  One of three.  John records three visions, back to back to back, that all mean the same thing.  They’re the same, they reinforce each other.  The seals are the first, followed by the trumpets and then the censors.  And from the broken seals we see the four horsemen of the apocalypse, which in pop culture have been described in comic books and songs, but to no avail.  These are altogether different.

We also have the martyrs crying out from under the throne, the sky falling to the earth, the sealing of the 144,000 saints, the multitude of the people of God dressed in robes of white, and last of all, the lamb.  Each of these things is a Bible study in itself.  And a good one.  And since we can’t do that justice here this morning, we’ve thrown a link up on our website to Pastor Fritsch’s Bible class from last weekend, half of which he spent talking about chapter six, the seals and the horsemen.  So please do check it out if you weren’t able to be there last week.

I want to give you a framework for looking at chapter seven.  So take my preaching and compare your notes.  See how this unfolds and comes together.  Let’s read the first view verses:

1After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. 2Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: 3“Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”

 

Peer pressure has long been a thing, probably goes back to the Garden of Eden.  Parents ever since have trying to figure out ways to say no.  To say no to the daughter who insists that she “needs” the newest iPhone 7 when it comes out this year.  To the son who “needs” the NX when it launches around Thanksgiving.  Be happy if you have no clue what I’m talking about!  ‘But, we won’t be cool if we don’t have them.  We won’t be happy, we won’t have any friends, nobody will want to spend time with us.’  So they say.

And the parents respond, “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”  Well, jump off something, right?  That phrase has been around a long time.  Maybe you heard it, maybe you used it.  I guess my mom used to just tell us to go play in traffic instead.  But you get the picture.  You can do without.  You’ll live, you’ll be fine, you don’t need it.

But it’s not just a problem for our kids.  Look at the world of political correctness, the fight over tolerance, the legal squabbles in our culture.  How much do we desire to fit in?  What do we say, or maybe, what don’t we say, so we can fit in?

The idea of being a part of the crowd appeals to us.  We want to fit in.  We want to be liked.  But this is the tribulation.  The world around us is not in line with the will of God, but the will of Satan.  It should tell you something when a porn website has blocked all IP addresses from the state of North Carolina over their recent legislative bill.

We must resist.  Don’t jump off the bridge.  This is the temptation, guilty by association.  One small step at a time, trying to make yourself part of the popular crowd.

And as Pastor Fritsch warned in Bible class, the challenge isn’t only external.  It comes from within.  The sinful self, the old Adam in our flesh wrestles against the will of God.  The struggle that it is to even come to His gathering on Sunday morning, to receive Word and sacrament, to receive forgiveness.  The struggle that we face to not give in to our own desires, which are only evil.  To water down our faith to make it more appealing, which ironically does just the opposite.

We are filthy, we are caked in the mud and the gore of our own selves and our own flesh.  As I opened my fortune cookie at New Hunan this week, it told me, “You have been focusing too much on yourself lately…”  That’s some fortune when you think about it.  That little piece of paper called me a sinner.  It reminded me of the garbage my surrounding culture tries to sell me candy, but also of my own turning inward, focusing only myself, and yet all the while doing nothing but falling and failing.

Let’s read the rest of our text:

4Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.
5From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed,
from the tribe of Reuben 12,000,
from the tribe of Gad 12,000,
6from the tribe of Asher 12,000,
from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000,
from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000,
7from the tribe of Simeon 12,000,
from the tribe of Levi 12,000,
from the tribe of Issachar 12,000,
8from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000,
from the tribe of Joseph 12,000,
from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.

9After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.10And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” 11All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying:
“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”
13Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes–who are they, and where did they come from?”
14I answered, “Sir, you know.”
15And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore,
“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
16Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat.
17For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

 

Don’t skip over that list.  I know, we’re tempted to skip over long genealogies and groups of numbers, but don’t do it.  You’re missing out.  This is gospel.  This is good news right here.  This is the celebration of the church of Christ, His people, His family, His church.  Twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Remember the symbolic nature of Revelation.  This is beautiful stuff.  Pastor Fritsch broke down many of these numbers for you last week.  10, as a number of completion.  And it’s involved again today.  The 144,000 people that will be saved breaks down to this: the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve apostles, and 103.  In other words, the church of the Old Testament and the Church of the New Testament, the people of faith before Christ, and the people of faith after Christ.  Twelve and twelve, times completion, times completion, times completion.  The number who will be in Paradise isn’t 144,000, it’s a full and complete number you can’t count to.  Try it today.  Try to count to 144,000 without making a mistake, or harder yet, without getting distracted or losing your place.

Even better, this is talking about you and me.  This is us. That in the waters of holy baptism, God graciously calls you into His family.  He takes your filth-stained, blood-stained, garbage-smelling clothing and washes it in the blood of His own Son.  Christ’s blood, shed for all men upon the cross.  And when that robe comes out of the blood of Jesus, it’s not dirty any more.  It’s a radiant white that even Tide can’t beat.

Your sins are removed.  Purchased from you, not with gold or silver, but with the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Christ has reached out His bloodied, hole-filled hand, to welcome you into the kingdom.  You are His.

And before we forget it, just as we do nothing to earn the kingdom, we do nothing to stay in it.  This is God’s work for us.  That in His Son our robes are continuously clean, no matter how much we muck them up.  That in faith, all of our sins, past, present, and future, are absolved, forgiven.  He has called you by name, you are His.  And He isn’t letting go.

And as though that weren’t good enough, God calls you not only by name, but He calls you into this vision of John.  You see, we are the 144,000.  We are the great multitude from all nations that cannot be counted as we gather around the throne praising God.  Worshipping Him day and night in His temple, where there is no hunger, nor thirst.  No pain nor famine.  But instead there are springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Jesus, our Lord, our Savior continues to provide for us even in Paradise.  The gift of life that never ends, the gift of joy completed, of joy that knows no bounds.  The gift of the absence, the destruction of pain and death and suffering.

And there’s a beautiful image here, too.  Of God wiping away our tears.  You can picture a husband doing that for his wife just after some tragedy.  You can see mother sitting there with her child, wiping away the tears caused by another child at school.  It’s an image of comfort, of peace, of relationship, love, and care.  Intimacy, that closeness of being a family.  That’s here.  That’s God with us.

This is your future.  Not your home, or your 401(k).  Not your spouse, or your children.  Not your fancy gadgets, or your money.  Nothing you can bring at all.  You are part of God’s family, you are part of the crowd, the multitude of God’s people.  Don’t let these earthly things, these perishing things, take away from the reality of who you are in Christ.  A son of God.  A daughter of the King.  An heir of Paradise.

The tribulation, the struggles of wanting to fit in in this current age are only temporary. They are passing away as we speak.  They last only a little while.  But life with the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, where He indeed will wipe away every tear, that life in the Lamb lasts forever.  Just as we pray, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.  Amen.”

A Certain Thing March 27, 2016

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Luke 24:13-35

Easter

March 27, 2016

 

Focus:  God raised His Son from the dead.

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

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

 

A Certain Thing

 

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Power of Christ December 20, 2015

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Isaiah 40:10-11

Advent 4

December 20, 2015

 

Focus:  God reveals His mighty power in the form of a Savior.

Function:  That the hearers find comfort and joy in the power of Christ.

Structure:  Pre-written Sermon Series, “Comfort and Joy” by Tim Klinkenberg, Drew Gerdes, and Michael Hoy via Creative Communications.

 

Power of Christ

 

The best ride in all of Southern California is not found in the Magic Kingdom of Disneyland, but at the airport in Santa Ana. Noise abatement procedures over Newport Beach make takeoffs thrilling. The pilot stops the plane at the edge of the runway and turns the engines up to 100%. The plane is filled up with power. It shakes and rattles as the engines are roaring to be released. Finally, when it feels like the plane is going shake apart, the pilot takes his foot off the brake and the plane is catapulted down the runway. The plane is like a rocket ship taking off for the moon. The raw power of the engines and the power of the airplane are on display for everybody.

In our text today Isaiah leads us to see the power of the Messiah. He writes, “Behold, the Lord God comes with might and His arm rules for Him; behold His reward is with Him. He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young (Isaiah 40:10-11).”

Human understanding of power and God’s understanding of power are two different things. When humanity thinks of power, we may think of those jet engines and incredible outputs. We may think of power as political cunning, or strength of personality, or military power, or other types of attitudes or behaviors that put people under the will of another.

If that is the case, then the power of Christ is something to fear. Coming to the manger, we bring sin and its results. Our brokenness and weakness are on display. If God chose to use His power to destroy us, it would be appropriate. He could look at us with the power of an angry king who’s been ignored by His subjects. He could count up the intentional and willful acts of sedition, the multiple legal infractions, the treasonous gatherings and all the evasion of responsibility. If God chose to use His power to destroy us, He would have reason to do that and His drawing near would be terrifying.

Isaiah leads us to a different power. Power that is masked in human weakness and love for people is what Isaiah is writing about. Babies aren’t powerful, yet the birth of this Boy in Bethlehem was heralded by angels. Itinerant preachers aren’t powerful, but at His baptism this Man was acclaimed as the Son of God. People at their weakest moment are not filled with power, but this Man, when physically destroyed, brought redemption from the cross for all mankind.  God cloaks His power in weakness and makes the weak strong.

The good news of Christmas is that the power of God is for us. Jesus comes humbly and gently, but with power. He forgives our sins through the power of the cross. He puts that grace on us through the power of our baptism. He feeds us and our family of faith in the powerful meal of Communion. Hidden away in a Man, in some water, some wine and some bread. God’s power, made clear through humble means, sustains us in our faith and life.

Part of the joy of Christmas is the deception and the hiding of gifts. Children dig through closets, trunks, and garages to find hiding places. Parents go to extreme measures to ensure that the gifts remain a surprise. So parents’ll put a small gift in a large box. They’ll put a square gift in a round box. They wrap an expensive gift with plain paper. The amount of deception to keep the surprise can be phenomenal, but so is the joy.

When the gift is revealed and the surprise is over, the joy is real.

God wraps up the power of redemption in the baby Jesus. He is wrapped up in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Yet, He is without a doubt the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. The simple outward wrapping belies the power of the gift that goes with us into the new year. God delivers His power in humility. He wraps power up in gentleness.

Many of us grew up with the image of the Good Shepherd. We hear the words “The Lord is my shepherd…” and something deep in the soul finds peace. We love the visual; we love the closeness and the intimacy of these words. Isaiah wrote, “He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.”

Some of us will unwrap difficult things in the coming year. Some of our families will deal with loss and illness. Others will deal with anxieties over money and the economy. Still others will deal with hurts that are so unique to them that only someone who knows them better than they know themselves can comfort them. Through these moments our Good Shepherd tends to us as a shepherd, gathers us in His arms and carries us in His bosom. He is the voice of comfort and the voice of peace. His power is for us in His gentleness.

Many of us will unwrap joyful celebrations in the new year. For some it will be significant anniversaries. For others there’ll be graduations, baptisms, confirmations, vacations, holidays with family and on and on. We smile to even think about the joy of these gatherings. We look at those milestones and give thanks to our Good Shepherd who tended, gathered, and carried us. He shepherds us with power wrapped in grace.

Next stop: Christmas, and we are blessed. In Christ we receive God’s peace, His pardon, His presence, and His power. There for us in the year almost done, waiting for us as a new year dawns, and revealed to us this Christmas in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

 

Born of Water and the Spirit May 31, 2015

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John 3:1-17

Trinity Sunday

May 31, 2015

An Updated Version from June 2-3, 2012

Focus: God gave His only Son and poured out His Spirit that we may believe, and that by believing we may live.

Function: That the hearers, by faith in Him, may see the kingdom of God.

Structure: Questions and answers.

 

Born of Water and the Spirit

 

The Apostle John is one of the few writers in Scripture who comes right out and tells us his purpose.  Near the end of his gospel, he tells us that these things “are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

John’s gospel is unique in many ways when compared to the other three.  We believe that John wrote sometime in the 80’s near the end of his life, some 50 years after Christ, and a couple of decades after our other gospel writers.  Because of this, he had the opportunity to focus a little differently than the others.  He starts his gospel by opposing Gnosticism, a pagan belief that was creeping its way into Christianity by that time.

But in our text today, we notice another difference.  John didn’t worry about the sacraments.  The other gospel writers tend to be quite clear when they talk about baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  But by this point, the sacraments are so ingrained into the life and practice of the church, John doesn’t have to focus on them.  He can make small references that his readers will pick up on.  For example, in his account of Jesus feeding the five thousand, Jesus tells them that He is “the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”

And in our text today, we’re going to talk about being “born of water and the Spirit.”  Baptism is a vital part of our life as Christians.  Here at St. John’s we are blessed with the number of baptisms we see each and every year.  And we will continue to be blessed with a couple more next weekend.

But when baptism becomes so common, we run the risk of forgetting its importance.  If we don’t stay focused, if we don’t really look at it from time to time, it becomes routine and gets lost in the shuffle.  So today, as John alludes to the importance of baptism, we refocus.

Just prior to this, Jesus had turned water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana.  He cleansed the temple that had become a marketplace.  And He enraged the Pharisees by claiming He could rebuild the temple in three days.  And as John put it, “many believed in His name when they saw the signs that He was doing.”  But Jesus knew their hearts, He knew man.

And so we get a transition, to another man, another Pharisee.  We are introduced to Nicodemus, not just a Jew, not just a Pharisee, but one of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin.  But he’s also not like most of the Pharisees.  He’s starting to believe.  He comes to Jesus and calls Him “Rabbi.”  He admits that Jesus has come from God on account of the miracles he’s witnessed.

Rabbi is one of the many functions Christ had in His ministry.  You and I know all about the others.  But Nicodemus wasn’t quite there yet and so Jesus was fine playing along.  If you want to treat Me as a Rabbi, then I’ll be your Rabbi.  Rabbis teach, so, let Me teach you.

When you know what Rabbis do, Jesus no longer seems to be making some random comment.  Instead, what He says is meant to elicit a question, to bring about the thinking and learning process in Nicodemus.  It wasn’t the part about seeing the kingdom of God that caught Nicodemus’ attention.  It was the phrase “born again.”

Not knowing the gospel as we know it, he comes up with a logical thought.  How can an old man be born again?  If you know how birth works, you know it’s not possible to go back into the womb.  So that’s his question.  And it prompts a teaching moment; it allows Jesus to share the gospel.

“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”  It’s one of those moments where John points to a sacrament without actually saying it.

So let’s hash it out; what is baptism?  In this text alone, Jesus provides multiple details.  It’s water.  Water is by far the most common thing on this earth.  Something like 60% of our body, as well as 70% of the earth’s surface, is water.  According to health and diet experts, you should probably be drinking at least 64oz. of water a day.  You swim in it and sometimes it even falls on you from the sky.  Another function of water is that we use it regularly to stay clean, from showering to washing our hands.

All of these things correlate to why water is used in baptism.  It’s so common, there’s no excuse to not have any.  As we use it to clean, we can also see in our baptisms a sense of washing, or regeneration, that in our baptisms, our sins are forgiven, and in Christ we have become white as snow.  Martin Luther spoke of baptism as something we should remember daily and that we should daily drown the Old Adam within us, that sinful self.  Professor Kolb at the seminary always reminded his students that your daily time in the shower, as the water pours over you, is a perfect time to remember your baptism, and what it is that Christ has done for you in that water.

Baptism is also Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is strongly at work in baptism.  If the faith is not already present, the Spirit creates it.  If the faith is already present because the Spirit already created it, then the Spirit works in the baptism to strengthen that faith.  As we read last weekend, Jesus told us that it was both necessary and good that He depart from us; because in parting, He would send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to us.  He has sent the Spirit to us, who has created faith in us and also sustains it.

The third part that Christ includes in this passage in John is the notion that baptism is necessary.  “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”  We see similar statements elsewhere in Scripture.  And this is precisely why we as Lutherans believe baptism is a sacrament.  We define sacraments as things that meet three criteria.  First, that it was commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ.  Second, that the forgiveness of sins, through Him, is offered.  And third, that it is connected to a visible element.  Thus we come to baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

A common question from that: is baptism necessary?  Because Christ commanded it, we say yes.  But truly, it’s the wrong question.  The Ethiopian eunuch got the question right in the book of Acts.  “What prevents me from being baptized?”  If a person doesn’t have faith, the Spirit works through baptism to create it, to begin that new life.  But if they already have faith, baptism should be desired.  If you have faith in Christ, you want the gifts He has to give you, which most definitely includes baptism, faith, forgiveness, and life.

We learn other things about baptism elsewhere in Scripture.  Matthew 28 instructs us to baptize all nations and to do so in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Paul in Romans 6 teaches us that baptism connects us to Christ, that in our baptisms we are buried together with Him.  In baptism, we are bound to Christ’s death on the cross, thus also connected to Him in His resurrection, that we too will be raised and walk in a newness of life.

From passages such as these, we learn that baptism isn’t something we do, but rather something God does to us and for us.  It’s His work, not ours.  He creates and sustains faith through the outpouring of His Spirit.  And He forgives us of our sins through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.  So as we observe Trinity Sunday, we can see the entire Trinity is at work in our baptisms.

As we return for a moment to the text to wrap up, we see that Jesus calls Nicodemus “Israel’s teacher.”  There’s a connection there to Nicodemus calling Him “Rabbi.”  The one responsible for teaching the people needs to know what to teach.  So Jesus gives him another piece.  He tells him that “the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have everlasting life.”  He connects back to Old Testament history with Moses, and forward to Himself on the cross, to the gift of forgiveness that God offers to the world for any who are “born of water and the Spirit.”  And that most definitely includes you and me.  “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”