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A Joyful Harvest January 22, 2017

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Isaiah 9:1-4

Third Sunday After Epiphany

January 22nd, 2017

 

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

Function:  That the hearers rejoice in Christ.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

A Joyful Harvest

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so we read our final verse:

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

 

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

 

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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.”