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Witnesses of the Resurrection April 23, 2017

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Acts 5:29-42

Second Sunday of Easter

April 23, 2017

 

Focus:  God forgives the sins of all people.

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

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

Witnesses of the Resurrection

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pause

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

The Resurrection of Our Lord April 16, 2017

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1 Corinthians 15:1-10

Easter

April 16, 2017

 

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

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

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

 

The Resurrection of Our Lord

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pause

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

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

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

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

Living Water March 19, 2017

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John 4:5-26

Third Sunday in Lent

March 19, 2017

 

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

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

Structure:  Before and After.

 

Living Water

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

One Starry Night December 24, 2016

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Luke 2:1-20

Christmas Eve

December 24, 2016

 

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

Function:  That the hearers worship their newborn King.

Structure: Dramatic Monologue.

 

One Starry Night

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

among those with whom he is pleased!”

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

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

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

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

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

which the Lord has made known to us.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Transferred in Blood November 20, 2016

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Colossians 1:13-20

Proper 29

November 20, 2016

 

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

Function:  That the hearers trust in their coming Savior.

Structure:  Following the Lectionary.

 

Transferred in Blood

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Humility and Compassion August 28, 2016

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Luke 14:1-14

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

August 28, 2016

 

Focus:  God humbled Himself, taking on flesh, to die for us.

Function:  That the hearers care for others.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Humility and Compassion

 

Sometimes when you read a text from Scripture, it just doesn’t seem to go together.  And our text from the gospel according to Luke today is just like that.  You can read it through and hear Jesus teach things, but they seem disconnected.  We have a healing on the Sabbath, and then some teaching on being humble, and it closes with some advice about who we should invite into our homes and spend our time with.

So at first we wonder what Luke is doing.  Why did he put these three things right next to each other?  But as we reflect on the text, we can see that Luke didn’t actually put these things together, Jesus did.  They all happened at the same time, one right after the other.

So then we wonder why Jesus is all over the board here, bouncing from one topic to another so quickly.  And this is why it’s truly helpful to read, mark, and inwardly digest the Word of God.  Too many believe that once you’ve read it once, you never need to read it again.  This isn’t some awful movie that you watch once and never want to see again.  It’s more like your favorite film, something like a Sound of Music or a Star Wars, where you want to see it time and time again.  And I know there are probably several people here who could sing that musical soundtrack without any help at all.  And yet, you still enjoy them.

The depth of Scripture is unparalleled.  You can read the same text every day for the rest of your life and you’ll still be learning, still growing in your understanding of how God is saving His people.

And so we look at our text from Luke again today, and a little closer.   Look at each of the three paragraphs, the three sections, and notice how they begin.

In the first paragraph, the very start of this chapter, we see that Jesus has been invited into the home of a Pharisee to eat with him and his other guests.  This, as it turns out, is the same context for the rest of our reading.  He’s not going anywhere.  It’s the same people, the same meal.

Now we’re not given a time, but at some point early in Jesus’ time in the house, He sees a man who has dropsy, which according to Mayo, is intense swelling of the hands, feet, and other limbs.  This man is clearly sick, his life deeply impacted by this illness and the limitations it presents.  And Jesus sees Him, and does what?  What’s His response?

Notice it isn’t immediately healing him.  Which makes you wonder if this sick man was there of his own doing, or if this was all a set up by the Pharisees to trap Jesus into breaking the Sabbath again.  Because instead of just healing him, Jesus begins to question, to teach, those around Him.  “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”

And they respond with silence.  Silence, so as to allow Jesus to continue on, to just do what they knew He would.  Heal the man so we can cast you out.  And so He does, He heals the sick man and sends him away, and then goes right back to teaching, to challenging these Pharisees and lawyers.  “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”

It’s their trap, but Jesus spins it back on them, and traps them with it.  They don’t know how to respond.  In fact, they do know how to respond, but it proves them wrong, and so they keep their mouths shut once again.  We see a lot from Jesus here.  We see His compassion for the sick, but also His compassion for the misguided.  Because He’s teaching them, and He stays around.

You see the text continues.  Jesus remained in the house, and we watched others, He watched the guests take their place at the owner’s table.  And how each wanted the seats of honor, likely the seats right by the host.  Or maybe for you, the seat at the wedding reception table that gets to go get their food first!  But Jesus sees the pride of these people, how they seek after, covet the affections, the attention, the gifts of the guy throwing the party.

And so He counters them, again, teaching.  He tells them the parable of the wedding feast.  If you seat yourself in a seat of honor, what will happen if someone else arrives that the master of the banquet wants to give that honor?  He will ask you to move, and you will walk away embarrassed, ashamed, to the lowest place as most of the other seats are already filled.  But if you humble yourself, shed that ego, think less of yourself, and sit at the lowest place, what will happen?  Maybe nothing, you just end up sitting there, enjoy the party, meet some new people.  Or maybe, the master of the banquet singles you out, and raises you up, asking you to sit near him.  Rather than being embarrassed, you’ll be built up, encouraged, your relationship with the master grows all the more.

So He’s spoken to the religious leaders, and then to the guests at large at this party, and then the third paragraph here we come back to see Him address the man who invited Him, presumably, the owner of the house.

And again, He teaches.  He teaches this man who to invite.  He tells him not to invite friends, family, or wealthy neighbors.  Why?  Because they’ll pay him back.  They’ll return the favor.  Instead, he’s encouraged to invite those who can’t invite him back, those who can’t return the favor.  The poor, crippled, lame, and blind.   These people can’t give him anything because they don’t have anything.  He’s encouraging him to spend his time with the least of these.

And so as we dig deeper into this context, we do start to see how these three teachings all fit together.  It’s not three unconnected events.  It’s not even just three teachable moments for the Christ.  It is a series on compassion and humility in a place where compassion and humility were gravely absent.

We see a man in need of compassion, and the leaders refuse to give it to him.  They remain in their ego-filled high place, while this man with dropsy is looked down upon.  Christ comes along, has compassion upon him, heals his sickness, and sends him off back into his life.

We see this same message of humility then shared with the guests.  That rather than thinking too highly of themselves, they should be as servants, taking the lowest place, that they might receive honor and be lifted up.

And then to the host himself, Christ again speaks of compassion and humility.  The host’s home is filled with egos.  It’s filled with people seeking to glorify themselves and who look down on others.  So Jesus encourages this man to have compassion on the ones they look down on.  To care for the sick.  To befriend the lame.  To feed the poor.  This may not glorify you in the eyes of the world, certainly not the Pharisees, but it brings glory to God in heaven.  And maybe, just maybe, that repayment at the resurrection has something to do with seeing the least of these at the heavenly feast.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  This is Christ.  Let’s recall your catechetical instruction.   We talk about Christ as having two states.  What are they?  The state of humiliation and the state of exaltation.  And which came first?  As we plow through the creed, “came down from heaven…incarnate….made man…crucified also for us…suffered and was buried.”  These things, that Christ took on flesh, came into this world to conquer sin, death, and the devil.  Not a champion rider on a horse bringing destruction, but as a humble servant willing to lay down His life for His friends.

And that’s precisely what He did.  He laid down His life for all of us.  Christ died upon that cross that we might live.  He died that we wouldn’t have to die.  God died for you.  That’s humble.  And in the most embarrassing of ways, asphyxiated to death in front of the world to see.

But then out of this humility the Father in heaven exalted His Son: “rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.  And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”  Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.  Christ was exalted, all the way to the right hand of the Father in heaven.

And so Christ comes to teach, to share what compassion and humility look like.  Many times I hear that sermons need to always spell out the application.  What does this text look like in my life?  Why should it matter to me?  I admit, I don’t often do that.  And I know it.  It’s intentional that I leave it out.  I want you to be able to hear the Word of God and to be able to figure out how it applies on your own.  That’s part of maturity in our faith.

With that said, it’s still good for me to give you the applications from time to time, as a guide, as an example, to help you in your ability to see how the Spirit works through His Word today.  And this text is quite simple.  It’s the same message Christ was teaching to the people then.

Have compassion on others.  Don’t look down upon them because they’re not like you.  For example, don’t look down upon an entirely different generation because they don’t seem to have life figured out like you do.  Have compassion, get to know them, walk alongside them, teach them.  But also be humble and realize there’s much they can teach you as well.

It’s also a good reminder for us to care for the least of these.  This isn’t just helping with charity events like Channel One or Feed My Starving Children.  Those are good things, helpful things.  But in your daily life, finding ways to invite others into your home who are hungry, or lonely, or grieving.

A great example of this is major holidays, times like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter.   Go around your neighborhood and invite your neighbors to celebrate those days at your table.  Most will turn you down, having a place to go already.  But you may find someone who doesn’t, a widow marking her first Christmas alone.  A young couple a thousand miles away from home and the only family they know.  A man who looks so rich but is actually poor because of all the debt he has taken on trying to be something he’s not.  And you don’t have to wait for the holidays.  Invite someone over this weekend.

That’s just a couple of an endless number of examples you could come up with about compassion and humility.  But we also remember that it’s not by our compassion or our humility that we earn our salvation.  Christ has already done that for us.

Faithful in Persecution August 14, 2016

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Hebrews 11.17-31 and 12.1-3

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

August 14th, 2016

 

Focus:  God promises us life and salvation in the blood of His Son Jesus Christ.

Function:  That the hearers put their trust in Christ alone.

Structure:  Walking through the text, continuation from previous week.

 

Faithful in Persecution

 

In our text this week, we rumble forward, we continue our Scripture reading from the Book of Hebrews last weekend.  And the theme is the same, we pick up right where we left off.

We continue to talk about what faith is.  Faith is not an empty hope.  It’s not hoping in your dreams to come true.  It’s not thinking that if I just believe it enough, it will happen.  These things are false idols, they’re fakes.  They’re not faith.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  That is, faith is trust in the promises of God giving His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, and to rise again to new life on that third morning.  Faith is grasping these promises, given through the Word of God and through His sacraments, you are forgiven, you are healed, you have life.  That’s faith.  Trusting in God’s promises given to us.

And we saw this.  The author of Hebrews spelled out this faith in the life of five of our brothers and sister in Christ.  Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah.  Each and every one of these people looked forward to the promise of a Messiah, of a Savior who would come for them granting victory over the grave.  They put their faith, their trust, in Christ alone.  As we do today.

And so the author continues this morning with more examples of what this looks like.  We return to Abraham.  To the man who was promised that even in his old age, he would bear a son, and that this son, Isaac, would grant Abraham many descendants, to become a nation that can’t be counted.  And then a command comes from God to Abraham that he would sacrifice this son, this Isaac as an offering to God.

This was a test, clearly to us in hindsight.  This isn’t the way God works.  In fact, child sacrifice was deemed to be a horrid and detestable practice that a pagan group did in honor of a false god they called Molech.  And yet, this test fell on Abraham.  And Abraham believed.   The author of the Hebrews tells us that Abraham believed that even if he sacrificed Isaac, God would raise him from the dead and still keep His promise.

What faith!  We hear of Isaac passing that blessing and promise on to his boys, Jacob and Esau.  And then Jacob to his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh.  And we see Joseph, second in command of all of Egypt, already talking about the exodus, the promise of a land of their own, that they can call home.

We see Moses, disowning his upbringing, casting aside all the treasures and wealth of Egypt, all the power that came with his position, his status in Pharaoh’s household.  All so that he could walk alongside his own people, God’s people, and endure the same mistreatment.  Our writer penned this verse beautifully, “choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt.”

We are reminded that trusting in God, Moses challenged Pharaoh himself, that the Israelites would go on to celebrate the Passover, that they would cross the Red Sea.  And then he leaps forward, he talks about the trust of an army.  That the army of Joshua, God’s people, obeyed His command, however strange it sounded.  March around the city of Jericho seven times, and then sound the trumpets, and the city will be yours.  And they listened, they trusted, and indeed the Battle of Jericho was a victory.

And the last person he mentions in our text today is Rahab.  A prostitute.  An outsider even among her own people.  And rather than fearing the possible punishment for harboring the spies from Israel, Rahab chose to fear the Lord.  She protected the spies, saving their lives, and in turn, they spared hers.  She married, and became part of the genealogy of the Messiah.

And then we skip some verses.  And I want to pick those right up.  We won’t fully unpack them, but here’s the rest of Hebrews 11:

32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

 

Essentially, you get the point.  I don’t need to continue to list off people of faith for you.  There just wouldn’t be enough time.  And the people he mentions are of questionable faith even at that.  They had their failures, those moments where they didn’t trust in God above all else.  But just like we said last week of Sarah, the promises of God don’t depend on us.  He fulfills them.  And that’s why we can trust His promises.  They’re His work, not ours.

I’m not sure we should skip the rest of this reading.  You can argue all you want right now about persecution of Christians in America.  Some say it’s happening, pointing to the way our culture looks down on us, or to the people who are being sued and losing their livelihoods.  Others argue that true persecution is only that which leads to martyrdom, that is, torture and death on account of the name of Christ.

Whichever way you want to define persecution of Christians, if this nation continues its current course, you, your children, and your grandchildren will be persecuted.  This is why we pointed out last week that Abel was killed for his faith.  This is why the author points to stonings, imprisonment, flogging.  Real persecution, however you define it, is something Christ promised the church.  From 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

There’s a new book out there, you can find it on Amazon, called It’s Dangerous to Believe.  At one point the author of the book, Mary Eberstadt, says Christians “are the only remaining minority that can be mocked and denigrated — broadly, unilaterally, and with impunity. Not to mention fired, fined, or otherwise punished for their beliefs.”

The book is a collection of stories, accounts of people losing things on account of their faith.  Chi Alpha, a Christian student college organization, was charged with religious discrimination and removed from California campuses because they would refused to open up the leadership roles of their organization to non-Christians.  That’s just one of countless examples.  You know of others.  Our culture is changing.

But don’t mishear me.  I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, one Christian from the Middle-East doesn’t want to hear Christians from America praying for God to stop persecution of Middle-Eastern Christians.  Her name’s been changed for safety reasons, but I’ll let her speak for herself.  She said,

The persecution is getting worse and worse and worse. But on the other hand actually, what has encouraged me, encouraged my faith, encouraged my church, encouraged everybody Christian in [the region] is that is the Church is increasing. A lot of Muslim people now, they are so confused about what is going on now. A lot of them are asking, ‘Who is this God whose name is Allah, who orders people to slaughter?’ They are confused and they are asking and wondering now days about ISIS and about what is going on. We are not afraid or worried that the persecution will increase. We are just feeling that this is God’s time. God is working perfectly now in the Middle East. Even with all these crazy stuff happening, God is really working now. So, I want to encourage you that, of course, you need to pray for your brothers and sisters in the Middle East who are suffering for being Christians and for their faith, but I am asking you to pray a different prayer. Don’t pray for the persecution to be stopped. … But pray for the Christians there, for their boldness, their encouragement, for their faith and that they can all be witnesses for God’s work and for God.

 

Wow.  She nails it.  As Americans, learning of our brothers and sisters in Christ dying for their faith in Christ, our first thought is to pray to God to put an end to the persecution.  But she’s asking us not to.  She’s asking instead that God would work through that persecution to continue to change the hearts, the minds, the souls, of those doing the persecuting.

What faith!  And yet, what this young woman is commending is exactly how the early church grew.  The eleven disciples who died martyrs for Christ.  Paul, too, and Stephen, among many others.  And yet the church was growing.  People were trusting in God.

Persecution does that, because it removes the unfaithful.  The American church is filled with people who are self-seeking, and who are, by false teaching, leading many people away from Christ.  Persecution helps stop that.  If you knew, for example, that the government was going to tax Christians double, and they posted an IRS agent at the front door of every church, would you still come?  Even more than that, if you knew that walking through those doors, could well mean your death at the hands of a masked assailant, would you still come?

Persecuted nations have a lot less denominations than we do.  For good reason.  Their faith, their trust in God is a matter of life and death.  They take it seriously.  Some Americans do too, but we’ve grown comfortable, and are starting to assimilate into our culture.  Increasing persecution will change that.

As persecution begins to increase, I look forward to hosting one of these brothers or sisters for a Bible class here.  I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get someone, but I’ll try.  To be able to listen to them describe life in persecution, how they continue to trust in God day by day.

That’s the last part of our text.  Looking at the surrounding cloud of witnesses.  All the people of the Old Testament he’s been talking about.  All the people of the New Testament era.  All the people of the early church and the churches throughout the ages.  There are a couple billion Christians living now, but there are even more who have gone before us.

That is the author’s encouragement to us.  You are not alone in this.  We are witnesses of God, we have seen His promises fulfilled.  And so he tells to cast off our burdens and the sins that cling to us so tightly, and to run the race that is before us, that is, to live the life that God has given us.  In all forms.  He’s talking about vocation.  Of loving your family, your neighbors.  Of sharing the good news of Christ with them.

That as we run this race, whether persecuted or not, whatever we endure along the way, that our eyes would constantly be fixed on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.  For Christ loved us so richly, that He was willing to go even to death for us.  That He endured the cross and the shame for us.   And that this Christ is now seated at the right hand of God the Father in Heaven.  Living our lives, running our race, trusting in God, looking to Christ alone to fulfill His promises to us.  You are forgiven and you have life in His name.
 

The Key to the Scriptures June 12, 2016

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Galatians 2:15-21, 3:10-14

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

June 12th, 2016

 

Focus:  God saves us only in the blood of His Son.

Function:  That the hearers stop seeking to justify themselves.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

The Key to the Scriptures

 

This is it.  Our text today is the hermeneutical key to all of Scripture.  This text is the key to unlocking and understanding all of God’s Word.  So, if you don’t understand what we’re talking about today, the Bible is a locked book to you.  It’s sealed shut.  You won’t be able to understand it.  If you’re still there when we’re done today, come see me, let’s unlock the Scriptures together.

And I’m not saying this as some kind of modern evangelical spin on being able to figure out the secret code of Scripture.  If we could just find all the right numbers and clues, we can tell the future.  We can know when the world will end.  That’s not what I’m saying.

Instead, what we have in this text, and in other writings from the Apostle Paul, what we have here is the very heart of the Word of God.  Whatever you read in Scripture, whether it’s Genesis, Leviticus, Kings, Psalms, or Revelation, you simply won’t get it if you don’t get this.

And I see it all the time.  People arguing against Christians in public or on social media, calling them hypocrites, because they’ll use the Bible to say abortion is a sin, but they’ll eat shellfish.  Or they’ll use the Bible to say that divorce is a sin, but they don’t stone anyone.  These critics of Christians don’t have the key to understanding Scripture.  And it’s right here, it’s at your fingertips this very morning.

The Apostle Paul tells us where salvation comes from.  And it’s a matter of understanding law and gospel.  We’re going to see a lot of Lutheran language today.  And it’s really because this key to understanding Scripture divides even Christians.  How are we saved?  Is it by keeping the law?  Or by believing in the gospel?

So when we come to key terms, I’ll unpack them for you.  And we’ll start with law and gospel.  The Law is anything that God has commanded of us.  Like, the book of Leviticus, or the Ten Commandments.  And it comes in different forms.  Ceremonial and civil laws were the things common in the Old Testament that the people of God, as a theocracy, as His old covenant people, the things they had to do to be a part of that covenant.  Then there’s the moral law.  The law God has placed on our hearts in the form of a conscience, rooted in the Ten Commandments, which Jesus summarized as love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.

That’s the law.  The gospel, the Greek word was euangellion, which simply means “good news.”  The gospel is the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and raised from the dead.  It’s that His death was a sacrifice given for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  It’s that His resurrection proclaimed victory over sin, death, and the devil once and for all.

Both law and gospel matter.  They’re important for us.  But they’re not the same.  We are saved by one, and that’s where Paul’s going.  But before we rip through chapter 2, let’s review chapter one so you can understand the letter’s context.

Paul begins the meat of his letter by calling out the Christians in Galatia for having abandoned the gospel for another gospel.  That is, they’ve rejected the good news of Jesus Christ as their Savior, for something else entirely.  And then Paul goes on to explain that that something else isn’t a gospel at all, and that they should cling to the one true gospel no matter what.  Even if Paul came back and tried to teach them something else.  You already have the pure gospel, believe it.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

 

For the rest of chapter one and the beginning of chapter two, Paul then goes on to list out his credentials.  This is why you should listen to me.  This is why you should even care about what I have to say.  This is how I can call you out on your sin right now and I can call you to repentance, that is, to turn away from your sins and believe.

Most of you are quite familiar with Paul’s beginnings as a Pharisee, as a quickly-rising-the-corporate-ladder Jew who was persecuting the church of Christ.  Even to the point of killing Christians.  And then he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, and was a given a direct revelation of the gospel, of salvation, of good news to all people.  And he changed.  He repented.  He believed.

But then he gives some of his more recent history, stuff we Christians usually don’t talk as much about, and now really isn’t the time either.  But how after his conversion he met with some of the leaders of the church, some apostles, and they confirmed one another in their teaching of the gospel.  And then after some travels, some fourteen years later, he regathered with the other apostles, and once again, they reaffirmed the gospel they had received from God and were sharing with others.

And then Paul gets into the problem, the crux of the situation, he delves into what the Galatian Christians are messing up.  Where they’re sinning and falling astray.  And it actually starts at the top.  It’s a top-down problem.  It starts with the Apostle Peter.  Peter has betrayed the gospel to the Galatians.  Let me share with you from chapter two, and Cephas is just another name for Peter:

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

 

Under the old covenant, to be part of that covenant, to be a child of God, you had to be circumcised.  The foreskin had to be cut off.  That was an old ceremonial law.  A requirement to be part of the Jewish people.  And so here we are, on the other side of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Here we are after the very same God said salvation is to all people.  “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen.  I must bring them also.  They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd,” (John 10:16).

Here we are seeing Peter deny this.  The same man who had God appear to him in a dream and tell him that Jews and Gentiles alike are saved in Christ, and Peter’s requiring circumcision of the Gentiles.  He’s abandoning them, setting them aside because his Jewish friends showed up.  Peter was teaching that these Gentiles had to do something to earn their salvation.

And that leads to our text this morning.  Verse 16:

Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

 

That’s another of our Lutheran words today.  Justification.  What is it?  In the Scriptures, it’s the same root word as righteousness.  To justify someone is to make them righteous.  To make them good, to make innocent, to make them clean.  How are you justified? That’s the most critical question of all time.  And Paul has answered it.

“A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”  This is it.  This is the hermeneutical key to understanding all of Scripture.  You are justified by faith in Christ.  You are justified not by anything you do, but by Christ’s death and resurrection.  That He willingly laid down His life, shed His blood upon the cross, to make good on your sin.  To take your sin, to drown it in His blood so that you can show your face before the Holy God of heaven and earth, and He will see innocence.  Not because you’re innocent, but because Christ is for you.

We call this Sola Fide, by faith alone.  Because in all the depths of my depravity, there’s no amount of good works to overcome it.  My sin is so deep a pit, my brokenness is so large a chasm, I could spend every waking moment for the rest of my life loving and serving others, and it wouldn’t be enough.  I would still go to hell.  That’s how much of a sinner I am.  We all are.  See sin isn’t just the little lie you say.  That’s downplaying sin.

Sin is an epidemic.  It’s a disease that brings nothing but death and destruction to everything in its wake.  And you’ve got a terminal case.  It’s called original sin.  Killing you from the moment your parents conceived you.

This is why Paul is so irate with Peter.  These Gentiles received the good news.  The good news of Jesus Christ and the free gift of salvation was given to them.  And now, now you’re stripping it from them.

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

 

Peter’s actions are still around us all over today.  Countless Christian denominations teach this.  That we must earn it.  Some teach it straight, that your good works are necessary for salvation.  Others simply require it using different language.  Random acts of kindness, tolerance, love.  These are all potentially good things, depending on what you mean by them, and how much you trust your salvation to them.

Here’s your answer.  They don’t save you.  They can’t save you.  They never could save you.  Only Christ can.  And He does.  It is finished.  And that’s good news.  That’s why we call it gospel.  Because it doesn’t depend on me, on the one who can’t be trusted.  But it hinges on the One who can, on God Himself.

That’s why Maddie came to be baptized at the font this weekend.  It’s not about her.  It’s not about what she’s doing.  She can’t.  She can’t do it.  If it were up to her, she’d be lost forever.  But it’s not.  Because in baptism, God does the work.  God kills the old Adam, the sinful nature.  God proclaims victory over sin, death, and the devil for His child.  And that today is indeed who Maddie is.  A daughter of God.  A daughter who trusts in the promises of her Father.

Now if you want to know more about the law, what its original purpose was, and what role it plays in your life today, be sure to come back next weekend, as we look at the next chapter of Paul’s letter to Galatia.  But for now, trust in the Lord, trust in His promises given to you through Word and Sacrament.  It is enough, and that’s good news!

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.

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.”