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While We Were Enemies June 18, 2017

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Romans 5:6-15

Second Sunday after Pentecost

June 18, 2017

 

Focus:  God spilled His own blood to save even His enemies.

Function:  That the hearers rejoice in God.

Structure:  Walking through the Scripture.

 

While We Were Enemies

 

That thunderstorm we had right at the beginning of the week was a doozy.  Nearly two inches of rain, the skies colored a dark greenish gray, lots of rumbling thunder.  I know I didn’t want to step out in it, even though it happened at the time that I would normally leave the office!

That storm claimed one of my neighbor’s trees.  Split it in half right down the middle.  And thankfully, even though it fell on his house, the damage was nothing beyond a dent in his gutter.  But just like I didn’t want to go out into the storm while it was still raging, neither did my neighbor.  That tree stayed there for a while until the storm had passed.  Then a couple of neighbors gathered together, cleared the debris, and cut down the rest of the tree.

I bring this up because we know that word “still.”  It didn’t make sense for him to fight while the storm still pounded us.  Just like it doesn’t make any sense to grieve the Twins season being over when they’re still in first place.  Just like it doesn’t make any sense to forgive your neighbor while he’s still actively, intentionally harming you.

This is Paul’s choice of language in our text today.  And he uses it three times.  “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”  Now, we can’t understand this one.  This is part of the hidden will of God.  Why was 1st century Jerusalem the chosen place and time for the appearance of Christ?  Surely, had He come today, how many more people could have had the opportunity to see Him with all of our technological advances?  But it was the right time.  And I’m prone to believe that even if He’d come today, He’d have met the same fate.  Because we were weak.  We didn’t understand the things of God.  We didn’t know God.  And so we killed His Son.

The next verse makes sense in context.  “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—“  Pit those two examples against each other.  The righteous person being the one who has faith in God and is neither afraid nor ashamed to share both the Law and the Gospel with his neighbor.  How many of your neighbors love it when you tell them they’re wrong?  And the so-called good person is the one that the world views as good.  While few people would willingly die for the speaker of truth, there are some who would die for the false heroes of this world.

But that’s just it.  We’re neither.  You and I were, in the next “still,” still sinners.  We weren’t righteous, nor were we good.  And yet, in spite of this, Jesus Christ willingly laid down His life for us.

He poured out His blood, willingly, upon the cross, even asking the Father to forgive those people who nailed Him to it.  And it is now in this blood of Christ that we are justified.  Justification, how are saved?  How are we made right again in the eyes of God?  Paul puts it simply, “we have now been justified by His blood.”

But that’s not the end.  God didn’t sacrifice His Son as some half-baked scheme that gets us partly to heaven.  No, not at all!  God sacrificed His Son as the full plan of our salvation.  That’s the third “still” Paul uses.  “While we were enemies.”  Rebeling against God, slaying His Son, cursing His name.  And in this, He chose to save us, to reconcile us, to restore our relationship to Himself.  In His blood, you not only have the forgiveness of your sins, a marvelous gift indeed, you also have the gift of salvation, of life that knows no end.  Because God didn’t leave His Son in that tomb.  But raised Him to new life, just as He will for you.  That’s a promise that you know He will keep.

In verse 11, Paul states the obvious.  On receipt of this good news, we rejoice.  We rejoice in Christ for all He has done for us.  That while we were still weak, sinners, and enemies of God, He sacrificed everything to show His great love for us.  This means many things.  Rejoicing means we take comfort in knowing that God set us free from sin, death, and the devil.  It means giving thanks to God for all these wondrous gifts that He so richly and overwhelming gives us.  It means trusting in His promises and receiving them regularly as our source of hope in this life.

Another way by which we rejoice is that we share.  For example, let’s say I had twenty tickets to tonight’s Twins game as they clash with the second place Indians.  And, for whatever reason, I hand you all twenty.  You can’t possibly use all twenty tickets, there’s just one of you.  So, what do you do with the other tickets?  Pause.  You spread the gift around.  You invite family, or friends, or anyone off the street who can make the trip to see the game.  You want to share your gift with others.

That’s how God’s love works, too.  He so richly and generously showers us in His love that we love our neighbor.  As new creations in Christ through our baptisms, this is what we do.  We take that gift of forgiveness, and we forgive our spouse when they wrong us.  We forgive our coworker when they fail to complete the task that we were counting on them to do.  We forgive our neighbor when they gossip against us.  And in all of this, we forgive them out of Christ-like love.  Not because they’ve earned it, not because they deserve it, simply because God forgives us, so we forgive one another.

This is one of the most profound ways by which we can tell our neighbors about Christ.  And they are in need of Christ just as much as we are.  That’s the twelfth verse of the text today, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”  Each and every one of us is in need of God’s love, forgiveness, and salvation in His Son.

Sometimes we get tangled up by the next two verses.

13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

 

These verses Paul simply uses to show the power of sin.  Even when the people hadn’t known the law, sin still reigned, and the result, the consequence of sin, that is death, still came upon all people.  Death reigned even before Moses presented the people with the law.

Paul then sets up for us the idea that Adam and Jesus are connected.  And we talk this way.  The first Adam, the former Adam, and then there’s the second Adam.  The sin of the first Adam brought sin and death upon all mankind.  Everyone he was supposed to care for.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

 

As I was leading the new member class this past week, we were looking at the Ten Commandments.  And right at the end, the close of the commandments, Luther includes the words God spoke just after the first commandment:

for I Yahweh your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. – Exodus 20:5b-6

 

So often we get caught trying to figure out why God holds grudges for three generations.  But that’s not the point.  The point of those words is that God’s love and mercy far outweigh His wrath.  Just like we see in 1 Timothy 2:4, “[God] desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.”

This is what we see in our closing verse together this morning.  Adam’s trespass, his sin of neglecting his wife before the devil neglects all of creation which was entrusted to his care.  We indeed carry the weight of original sin in this broken world.  But how much more grace in Christ is there?!

The free gift of salvation from Christ given to you by His cross and empty tomb overcomes your sin, your death, your wretchedness.  It doesn’t cancel it out so you have to try to do good.  It conquers it.  Christ’s love and sacrifice for you defeated your enemies.  And this statement is true for all people.  Trust in His promises dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and know that His gifts are yours.  So we rejoice and give thanks.

 

The Gospel Goes Forth May 7, 2017

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Acts 8:26-40

Fifth Sunday of Easter

May 7, 2017

 

Focus:  God proclaims the risen Savior unto the world.

Function:  That the hearers proclaim Christ to others.

Structure:  .

 

The Gospel Goes Forth

 

You know the abuse of technology has gotten so bad when Millennials turn it into a game.  It’s not uncommon these days when a group of friends go out to eat together for everyone to take their phones out and place them on top of each other in the middle of the table. Take out my phone and place it on the pulpit. It’s called the “phone stacking game.”  Brilliant!

The basic idea of the game is that we’re out together and we ought to be focusing on one another and not whatever is on our screens.  But what makes it a game is this: no matter what, you don’t touch your phone until you leave.  It doesn’t matter if it rings, or vibrates, or buzzes, or beeps, or gets up and dances, or whatever phones do these days to tell you they want your affection, I mean, your attention.  You don’t touch it.

You don’t pick it up to take a snapshot of your food and then share it on Instagram.  You don’t pick it up to shoot a text message to your friend sitting right next to you.  You simply don’t touch it.

The first person who touches their phone buys everyone’s dinner.  That’s the game.  Dinner’s on you if you can’t control the urge.  It’s funny, but if we stop and think about it, how many times would we be stuck with the bill?

I once heard Rev. Dr. Dale Meyer preach on our text from Acts.  He serves as the President of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.  But I want to paraphrase part of his sermon for you.  There’s a person walking down the sidewalk and they are at odds with themselves.  They’re anxious, confused, saddened.  It may be that they are wrestling with some notion of their own failure.  It could be the recent loss or impending loss of a dear friend.  And here the Lord has placed them in your path, and called on you to proclaim to them the good news of Jesus Christ.

Pick up phone, stare at it, and “walk by the person”

And you missed it!  Just like that, an opportunity to love our neighbor lost, because of my fixation on this dumb device.  We can’t even take our eyes off of it long enough to drive somewhere.  It’s in our bedrooms, at our dinner tables, the addicting screens are everywhere.  That dinner out example from before is one you’ve probably seen, right?  You go out to eat and look at the table next to you and everyone’s glued to their phone, even the baby.  You may not even have to leave your own home to see it.

But it’s not just our technology.  It’s also our fast-paced, over-burdened, over-worked, crazily busy lives.  On the off chance we do notice the person passing us by, how likely is it that we “have the time” to stop and strike up a conversation?  I know I’m guilty of this one.

We have to get to work, or we have to get home to get dinner ready, or we have to get to practice, or go this tournament, or we have to do this, or we must do that, and who suffers?  Well, actually everyone.  Our community is devastated by busyness.  Gadgets and calendars are partners in crime on this one.  We let them distract us from loving our neighbor.  Actually, we invite them to distract us from loving our neighbor.  How many have people have I ignored?

In our Acts reading today, the Lord specifically sends Philip on a mission.  He sends him to the road connecting Jerusalem to Gaza.  And it’s on this road that Philip meets the Ethiopian eunuch.  We don’t know much of anything about this man.  We don’t know even know his name.  But we know his title, and we know where he was and where he’s going.

This eunuch served as a court official to the Ethiopian queen.  He was in charge of her treasury.  That’s likely part of the reason why he was in Jerusalem in the first place.  Scrolls were rare and valuable, and so the queen is purchasing another piece for her collection.

But as he’s riding home, the eunuch opens the scroll and begins reading it aloud to himself.  And God directs Philip right to him.  As the eunuch reads aloud from the prophet Isaiah, Philip is able to make a conversation of it.  “Do you understand what you are reading?”  Easy enough question.  And the eunuch engages, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”

That’s a profound statement of faith.  The Apostle Paul in his writings to the church in Rome (10:17), says “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  He was reading the Word of God, but couldn’t understand it.  And so God literally placed Philip in his midst to unpack the Word, to reveal to him how the entirety of Scripture points to Jesus Christ.

And beyond that, the entirety of Scripture proclaims Christ.  The Word reveals the Son of Man, the Son of God taking on flesh, becoming One among us, in order that He might fulfill all things and take our place.  Removing our sins, drowning our sinful nature, taking on death for us.

The good news is not simply about Jesus.  The good news is Jesus.  Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection from the tomb put an end to sin, death, and the devil.  This is a glorious promise, a promise that must be heard to be believed.

And so it was, that Philip shared this good news of Jesus Christ with the Ethiopian.  It wasn’t Pentecost.  He’s not preaching and teaching before several thousand.  It’s one-on-one.  He’s engaging one man and his questions.  He’s hearing the concerns of one man, and pointing him to his Savior.

Sharing Christ with others can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. The opportunities are provided for you.  They’re all around you.  In fact, the opportunities are so abundant, you could do nothing else but share the gospel 24/7 and you’d still have opportunities missed!  That’s part of living in a sinfull world that needs Christ.  There is no shortage of broken sinners, us included.

Take the opportunity by being there.  Could be in person, could be on social media.  Could be a good friend, could be a stranger in need.  Engage in a conversation.  Learn how to ask good questions.  For example, instead of asking, “Did you eat dinner?” ask “What was the best part of your meal tonight?”  If you’re talking to someone like me, and you give me a chance to give a one word answer, you’ll get a one word response.  That goes for a lot of us guys.  Instead of asking, “How was your day?” ask “What happened in your day today?” or “What’s on your mind right now?” And, if they give an answer, hear it.  Listen, engage in a real conversation.

When we ask someone how they’re doing, and they respond with anything other than “good,” the moment turns awkward.  But it doesn’t have to.  Empathize. Ask what’s wrong.  Keep the conversation going.

Another part of sharing Christ with others is knowing how to divide and distinguish between law and gospel.  Where is your neighbor at right now?  If they are prideful and boasting of their sin, you don’t give them the gospel.  That will only make them feel enabled to sin deeper.  They need to hear law.  And conversely, if your neighbor is wallowing in despair over their sins, you don’t hit them with the law, which would only further crush them into dust, but you speak to them the sweet, comforting words of the gospel of Jesus Christ, of sins forgiven them.

If you want to learn how to distinguish law and gospel better, read the Word.  Hear it proclaimed in the Lord’s Church.  Come to Bible class.  In fact, this month’s Bible class is focusing precisely on this.  Literally, distinguishing law and gospel is our topic.

But it’s important to know that when we are attempting to point another person to Christ, we will likely be rejected.  Be prepared for it, at any point along the way.  They could reject the conversation.  They could get angry when you try to speak into their specific situation.  But also remember, ultimately, it’s not you they’re rejecting, but Christ.  Maybe that’s the good ol’ phrase, “don’t shoot the messenger.”

Philip delivered the message, personally, one-on-one to the Ethiopian eunuch.  And he then, to the best of our knowledge, returned to Ethiopia, and delightedly told his queen what he’d learned.  Church tradition holds that the Apostle Mark worked with the Christian Church that sprang up in Ethiopia, but it would appear the Word got there before he did.

This is God’s kingdom, and His work.  We simply rejoice that we’re part of it.  I was once naïve enough to think that the goal of every Christian ought to be to Christianize the world.  That’s not going to happen.  And even if it were, it wouldn’t be my work, but the Lord’s.

The goal of every Christian then is this: to faithfully proclaim Christ to your neighbor, and to rejoice in the forgiveness of your sins whether you succeed or fail.  Because we do fail, whether it’s by neglecting to even try, or if it’s by messing up in how we approach them.  But we are forgiven even of these things!  Christ’s death on the cross covers all of our sins.  All of them.  He removes them from us by taking them on Himself and taking them to the cross.

So we rejoice, we rejoice in sins forgiven.  We rejoice in the waters of baptism through which God declared us to be His children just as He did with the Ethiopian eunuch.  We rejoice that we have heard the Word of God proclaimed unto us.  We rejoice that God even chooses to work through us that others may hear of His name and what He has done for us all.  We rejoice, for Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

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.

Without the Shedding of Blood April 13, 2017

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Exodus 12:1-14

Maundy Thursday

April 13, 2017

 

Focus:  God sheds His blood for us.

Function:  That the hearers come to the Lord’s Table to receive the forgiveness of their sins.

Structure:  Old Testament/New Testament type and antitype.

 

Without the Shedding of Blood

 

One of the things that a good sermon must do is to rightly apply law and gospel from the text.  It’s the job of your pastor to dig into the Word of God, to dig into the text for that day and see where we’ve failed.  What’s in the text that shows me my sin, how we fail to do what God created us to do?  And once that’s established, your pastor then uses the same text to show you the gospel, to literally preach unto you the forgiveness of your sins.  That ends up being perhaps the most beautiful thing about the liturgy.  Your sins are forgiven again, and again, and again, even in the same service.

I admit, this one was a little tricky.  As I read over the text, it was hard to find the Law here.  It was hard to find the Law in this text that applies to you and to me.  It’s easy to get it wrong.  I could tell you that based off of the Exodus Passover festival, you must do these things.  And since you’ve never slain a lamb and painted its blood on your door, you’ve failed. If I preach that, I’ve failed.

The Law in this text is so easy, we miss it.  The Law in this text is simply this: you ARE a sinner.  Actually, that’s the Law in all three of our readings here today.  There’s nothing here that you must do.  You don’t keep the Passover.  That’s been done for you, and we’ll talk about that in a little bit.  But instead, each of these texts plays out the same.  This is us.  This is simply who we are: sinful human beings, fallen creatures who stand apart from God.

Each of these texts says “this is who we are and this is how God responds on our behalf.”  Let’s walk through these texts and unpack that.

In our Old Testament reading today from Exodus, we see the account of the 10th and final plague.  The plague of the firstborn.  Hundreds of years before this text, God had made a covenant with Abraham, that He would be His God, and that Abraham’s people would be God’s people.

But the Israelites, as Abraham’s people come to be known, failed over and over again in being the people of God.  They kept longing for the gods of their neighbors.  They kept insisting on living life on their terms, not on God’s.  They were sinners.  And it’s not much later that they fall into slavery in Egypt.

And over the next 400 years, living as slaves from one generation to the next, the pattern continued.  Like a dog returns to its vomit, they returned to their idolatry, to their distrust.  And they wasted away in their sins.

But it was at this time that God acted.  He sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh demanding the freedom of God’s people.  And as Pharaoh rejected God, the plagues began.  And that cycle would repeat: Plague, rejection, plague, rejection.  Until we come to our text for today.  The tenth, and final plague that God inflicted on the land of Egypt.

You know it as the plague of the firstborn.  God, in His righteous judgment, as punishment for sin and rebellion, is going to strike down the firstborn son in every household, in every family.

But He also provided a means of grace, a way out.  God institutes the Passover.  Each family was to take a young lamb, without blemish, and slaughter it at twilight on the 14th day of the month.  Now this wasn’t just a cast off lamb.  This is a spotless lamb, from among your best.  This is a call to trust in God and to be His people.

So each family slaughtered their lamb.  And they took the blood of that lamb and used it to paint the doorframe of their home.  And then they ate it.  They roasted the lamb, and made a meal of it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.  It was a meal eaten in haste.  There was no telling when the plague would strike, and as soon as it did, the Israelites would be fleeing from the land of Egypt and from the wrath of Pharaoh.

But in this we see the promise of God. He said,

“The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.”

 

Salvation, salvation in the blood of the lamb!  The Israelites listened, they slaughtered the lambs at twilight, they painted their doorframes, they ate a speedy meal, and then the plague struck.  And the Egyptians, Pharaoh, cast the Israelites out of Egypt.

Sinners, stuck in their sin, and God comes to them.  He comes to them in the midst of their sins, in the midst of their slavery, in the midst of their suffering.  And He gives them life.  He frees them from their bondage and forgives them of their sins.  God comes to His people where they’re at with His gifts, with His promises.

This event, to the Israelites, this was as a close a thing to Easter as they were going to get.  The Passover feast, or the Festival of Unleavened Bread, is one of the biggest celebrations of their church year.  And, the slain lamb for the forgiveness of sins leads to the rest of Exodus and Leviticus, where you can find the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system through which God gave His people the forgiveness of their sins.

But this event, as significant as it was, this was only the type.  A type is a foreshadowing, an earlier account pointing to some later event.  The antitype is that later thing, that greater thing, the fulfillment of it.  The Passover is merely a type.  It only points to the real deal.

That’s the profoundness of our reading from Hebrews.  We won’t focus on it, except one verse.  In verse 22, we hear the words “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

The Passover lamb, the burnt offerings, the guilt offerings, the sin offerings, the peace offerings, you name it.  All that blood to cover your sins.  The result of a broken covenant, the penalty of death.  Blood must be shed.  But even this is just a type.  It’s a foreshadowing of something greater.  Here’s an example from Leviticus chapter 5:

14 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, 15 “If anyone commits a breach of faith and sins unintentionally in any of the holy things of Yahweh, he shall bring to Yahweh as his compensation, a ram without blemish out of the flock, valued in silver shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering. 16 He shall also make restitution for what he has done amiss in the holy thing and shall add a fifth to it and give it to the priest. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and he shall be forgiven.

 

Here’s my question for you: how could you ever know it was enough?  How could you ever know for certain, that your sins were removed from you?  How could you know that you didn’t unintentionally do it again the very next second?  How could you be sure of your salvation?  And how would we not run out of rams?

We are sinners, in need of a Savior.  And that brings us to the gospel.  Jesus and His disciples have been in Jerusalem now for a few days already, and it’s time for the Passover celebration.  It’s time for the regular, annual rejoicing and remembering of God’s gift in the blood of the lamb.

Scholars debate whether this was Christ’s 3rd or 4th Passover spent with His disciples.  But that number doesn’t matter.  As they recline around the table, and celebrate together, it’s familiar.  There are traditions, routines, common food from one year to the next, just like you will be doing at your family gatherings this weekend.

But then Jesus changes it.  Rather than just talking about the Exodus, He changes the script.  Jesus changes the Passover meal and its very meaning.  He takes the bread, blesses it, and then hands it to His disciples saying, “Take, eat; this is My body.”  And then He takes the cup, gives thanks, and passes it around saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

pause

“Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.”  This is the antitype.  Christ shows the disciples that the Passover itself pointed to something greater, it pointed to Him.  And while they didn’t understand it yet, the next couple of days would be devastating and wonderful at the same time.

And this is why you’ve gathered here today.  This is why we celebrate Maundy Thursday, the night Christ is arrested.  The night that His path to the cross is set in stone.  The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world is going to the altar to be slain.  To shed His blood for you, for me, for all people of all time and of all places.

Remember the guilt offering?  How could you ever know it was enough?  Where could your assurance be?  That’s not the case now.  Christ is the final sacrifice, the final blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.

That’s why, spacially, the church is designed this way.  It’s not just for aesthetics.  The cross hangs on the wall above the altar as a reminder to us that Christ’s death is the fulfillment of all sacrifices.  Type (pointing to the altar), antitype (pointing to the cross).  It is finished.

That’s the Law and Gospel, not just of these texts, but indeed, of all Scripture.  You are a sinner.  I am a sinner.  And apart from God, we’re dead.  Bound, slaves to sin.  Dead and without hope.  And, yeah, if the assurance of salvation rests here, the doubts will only consume me.

Simply put, we are sinners.  This is who we are.  But this (pointing to the cross), this is how God responds.  God doesn’t leave you in you there, dead in your sins.  He doesn’t leave you trying to work your way back to Him.  Trying to find, and climb, the stairway to heaven.  He came down to you.

So today, as you come before this altar, as you come together here in this place, to partake of the body and blood of Christ, your sins are forgiven.  They already have been in confession and absolution.  They already are forgiven in the words I’ve proclaimed to you now.  And you will be forgiven again in just a few moments.  And the beauty in all of this is that none of it depends on you.  None of this depends on me.  If someone asks you, “How do you know you’re saved?  Where’s your assurance?” you need only point them to Christ.  God has promised it.  In my baptism, in the spoken words of absolution, in the body and blood of the Lord at His Table, forgiveness and life are mine, they’re yours.

Living Water March 19, 2017

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John 4:5-26

Third Sunday in Lent

March 19, 2017

 

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

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

Structure:  Before and After.

 

Living Water

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Through One Man March 5, 2017

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Romans 5:12-19

First Sunday in Lent

March 5, 2017

 

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

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

Structure:  Law and Gospel.

 

Through One Man

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

Children’s message:

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

 

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.

 

 

Discombobulating the Gift with the Giver October 9, 2016

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Luke 17:11-19

Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

October 9th, 2016

 

Focus:  God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.

Function:  That the hearers proclaim Christ as their Savior.

Structure:  Connecting the dots from the Old Testament to the New.

 

Discombobulating the Gift with the Giver

 

Today we want to take a look at our reading from the gospel according to Luke.  On its surface, it looks like any other healing miracle Jesus performed.  Here’s ten men, each of whom is sick, and Christ shows mercy upon them, and heals them.  But there’s a lot more to it, and it has great significance for us in our daily lives.

But first, we have to dig into the context.  Verse eleven says, “On the way to Jerusalem He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.” This doesn’t give us His exact position on a map, but it is helpful.  He’s traveling south, He’s moving from the region of Galilee into the region of Samaria as He makes His way toward Jerusalem.  We’ll get to that.

But on the way, He’s stopped at one of the local villages by a group shouting at Him from a distance.  Ten men, each of them lepers.  And to truly understand their plight, as they cry out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” to truly understand their pain, we open our Old Testaments, specifically, we look to the book of Leviticus, which laid out all of their cultural laws and regulations about how to govern themselves, how to deal with various things like worship, conflict, and disease.

The entirety of chapters thirteen and fourteen cover the skin disease we call leprosy.  There are numerous rules, and you’re welcome to read them, and they get a little gross.  But for a better understanding of our reading at hand, there’s a few verses we want to look at in particular.

Leviticus 13:45-46 – 45 “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ 46 He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.

Leviticus 14:1-3, 8 – The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “This shall be the law of the leprous person for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest, and the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall look. Then, if the case of leprous disease is healed in the leprous person, […] And he who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes and shave off all his hair and bathe himself in water, and he shall be clean. And after that he may come into the camp, but live outside his tent seven days.

 

This is what befell these ten men.  Leprousy, a skin disease which was contagious and potentially deadly.  But it’s more than that.  It’s like being quarantined.  If you’re a leper, you’re removed from society.  You’re declared unclean, and you’re forced to live outside of the camp.  There might even be a small group of lepers living together, waiting to be healed.  But in the meantime, you can’t see your family or friends.  You can’t go to work, can’t care for your relatives.  It’s a tough condition to have.

And so these ten men cry out to the Christ, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  Lord, help us.  And Jesus does, He hears their cry for mercy and He provides mercy.  He looks at the ten men and rather than simply healing them, He skips ahead.  He tells them to go and see the priests.  You were only supposed to do this if you were clean again, if you were already healed.

But nevertheless, they trusted Him, they turned away and started the trip to see the priests.  We don’t know how long it took, we’re not even told how long into the journey it was before it happened.  But somewhere along the way, between Jesus and their priests, Luke records this: “And as they went they were cleansed.”

Do you realize the repercussions?  These men have not just had their sickness removed, they’re clean again.  They get to return to their families, their friends, their communities, their jobs.  Everything they know about life gets to go back to normal.  This is wonderful!  And so they keep going, heading for the priests who will declare them clean and let them go home.

Except one.  One man stops.  And he turns around.  We don’t know much about him, other than that he was a Samaritan, not a Jew, so not necessarily part of the kingdom of God, and yet, he stopped.  Instead of going with the other nine to see the local priests, this man returned to Jesus.

The other nine go back home.  They see the priests, the priests mark them as clean, and they return to the life they had left, to everything they had known before.

This text is often misapplied as saying we don’t give thanks enough.  But that’s not the issue here.  The issue is confusing the gift with the giver of the gift.  The issue is to whom we give thanks, not how often we do it.  God in the flesh came into the lives of these nine men, delivered them, redeemed them, cleansed them, and nothing.  Life was no different now than it had been in the past.

That’s what this text ends up being about.  We confuse the giver of the gifts with the gifts themselves. And it’s not just the unbelieving who sometimes rejoice in the gift of life, the gift of food, the gift of second and third and billionth chances.  The gift of families and jobs.

It’s about us, too, confusing gift and giver.  Sometimes we make the gift itself god.  We give thanks to our earthly things, be they jobs, homes, transportation, family, even stuff.  We look to these things to save us.  Just look at this election.  How many, even Christians, are convinced that the government will save them?  Even in the church, that either Hillary or Donald is somehow capable of preserving the life we love, of saving of world?

We enjoy liberty in this nation, and then begin to think that liberty is the goal of life.  We enjoy our rights and our freedoms and think that these must be preserved, even expanded, at all costs.  We get so caught up in being comfortable and happy and liked that we won’t tell someone else of who God is for fear that we might lose everything.

But we compare this to the one man, to this Samaritan, who rather than going to the priests has a profound insight.  You see, we learn in Scripture that Jesus is our Prophet, Priest, and King.  This man sees it.  He returns to show his Priest, that is Christ, that he is healed.  And he rejoices, he worships at the feet of his Redeemer, of his Savior.  And Jesus says something to him that is extraordinary. “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”  Or in some translations, “Your faith has saved you.”

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus says this a few other times.  But it’s a mark of contrast.  The woman who anointed Christ’s feet in the midst of the Pharisees in chapter 7.  The blind beggar who also cried out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” in the midst of a rebuking crowd in Luke chapter 18.  These few have faith.  They have seen the Christ and acknowledge Him for who He is: their Lord and Savior.

And for all of them this connection is even deeper.  Because as we remember from the beginning of our text, Jesus is headed where? Jerusalem.  And what’s He going there to do?  To die on the cross.  Why is He going to do that? For the forgiveness of our sins.  Who’s sins are forgiven on that cross? Everyone.

Christ died on the cross, shedding His blood as a one-time sacrifice, good once and for all.  Every sinner everywhere of all time.  Every sin ever committed, every sin yet to be committed.  Covered, by the blood of the Lamb.  You see those other nine lepers were still healed.  But they rejected the giver of that gift.  We are all forgiven, but many reject the giver of the gift.

And we’re not immune to this, even as Christ’s people.  This is why the cry of the lepers, the cry of the blind beggar, sounds out from our lips, “Lord, have mercy on us.”  Whether that’s in the Kyrie or the Agnus Dei, we join these men crying out for the mercy of God.  And more specifically, we join the few men and women declaring that Christ is our Lord and Savior.  He is the giver of all good gifts.  And it is in Him alone that we look for our life and salvation.

Repenting in the Present Critical Time February 27, 2016

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Luke 13:1-9

Third Sunday in Lent

February 27, 2016

 

Focus:  God releases us from our pain and suffering through the same in His Son.

Function:  That the hearers examine the present/critical time.

Structure:  Juggling the context.

 

Repenting in the Present Critical Time

 

Admittedly, in some ways, I preached on this text last week.  So, you know, just go home and listen to that sermon on our website again to refresh your memory and we’ll call it good.  So we continue our service with the Prayers of the Day.  Fake walking away

No, really, we did.  In preaching on the later parts of Luke chapter 13, I had pointed to the beginning of Luke chapter 13 because of the difficulty of this subject, the difficulty of Christ’s words, “Repent or perish.”  We covered the topic of repentance, that it’s not a work that we do to earn our salvation, we can’t do that.  Rather, repentance is the gift of God, that He works faith in our hearts, and then forgives us of our sins.

And since repentance is a major theme of Lent, I want to continue our journey backwards today.  To look at, and fully understand, the beginning of chapter 13, we need to look at the end of chapter 12.  Go ahead and grab the Bible’s in front of you and open up to Luke chapter 12.  Hopefully you’re seeing how this works.  Luke’s writing is one letter, one coherent work.  And context is king.

54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?

57 “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled on the way, or your adversary may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59 I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

 

Now you don’t give me enough time on Sunday morning in a single service to cover this entire letter.  Nor could you.  So just take note that this is continuing a conversation, that “He also said to the crowds.”  Same place.  Same group.  He’s continuing His teaching.

And so verses 54-56.  You can look at the sky, you can see it change colors and you know what that means the weather will be hours from now, days from now.  You can judge the wind and the sky.  And yet, you’re not paying attention.  You’re not able to judge, to interpret the present time.  That is, My ministry right here in your midst.  You can’t even tell what’s going on.  What it means that the Christ has come.  What all the miracles and teaching points to.  You’re missing it.

For the second paragraph, I just need to let you know that the idea of a journey is an important theme in Luke’s gospel.  Christ’s ministry is depicted as a journey.  And here, He’s depicting us on a journey.  As your journeying from the cradle to the grave, from conception to the death, take note.  Look around you.  See whom you’ve harmed and wronged and fight for reconciliation.  Fight for forgiveness.  Otherwise, when the judge comes, he’ll throw you in prison.  And when the eternal Judge comes, that prison has no escape.

So this is a critical time.  You need to be able to look at the life of Christ, to see His inbreaking of the kingdom of God, that He’s on a journey to restore the world to the One who created it.  That all of His teaching, all of His miracles, are meant to redeem you on your journey.  And that is what we see in our text for today.

The first verse doesn’t mean much to us on the surface.  We’re not part of the culture, it’s not easy to understand.  “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.”  Note the phrase, “present time.”  Same group of people as before, same crowd, same sermon.

So here we go, what on earth does that mean?  I even had to look it up.  What’s in the details.  One of our professors at Fort Wayne, Dr. Just, said the only time the lay people would have been sacrificing in the temple area was at Passover.  So here we are in the midst of the Passover celebration, and Pilate came and slaughtered some of the Jews, mixing their blood with the blood of the Passover lambs.

To paint a modern picture, thinking of the increasing divisiveness and hatred of the church in America, it would be like the FBI coming through those doors as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper and opening fire, killing us, mixing our blood with the blood of Christ in the sacrament.  A Savior should be outraged.

And they were hoping to make Jesus angry, to stir up His emotions, to get Him to lash out at the Romans and Pilate in particular.  You want us to believe you’re the Messiah, okay, prove it.  Here’s the wickedness of Rome, save us!  That false idea of the Messiah being an earthly king was everywhere.

But as was often the case, Jesus didn’t respond the way they wanted.

Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.  4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?

5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

 

His comparison likely offended them.  But it was a call to the greater picture, to the critical, present time that is part of their journey, His journey.  That the kingdom of God is at hand, that the ministry Christ has shattered the reign of Satan, and we need to change our perspective.

The people pointed at martyrs.  Christ pointed to a natural disaster.  And He used the same grammar, the same sentence structure, and had the exact same response.  They’re the same.  In other words, Christ is pointing out the depths of our sin, the brokenness of creation, and that it ultimately leads to death for all mankind.

Pilate’s actions against the Galilean Jews shouldn’t be viewed as a specific judgment of God for specific sins from specific people.  It’s a judgment of all people, for all have sinned.  And so Christ’s call for repentance is for all people, that we would all repent, lest we all perish.  Our Christian response to suffering and death of any form should be “I deserve the same.  I’m no different than they were.”

When they pointed to martyrs and to Rome, they were thinking too small.  Rome wasn’t the enemy.  Sin is.  Death is.  We are.  And Christ hasn’t come to win a little battle in human history.  He’s come to transform our journey from one of death, to one of life.  Christ has come to conquer sin, death, and hell for us.  And so after we think “I deserve the same. I’m no different than they were,” we should follow that thought with, “praise the Lord that Jesus died in my place, that Jesus forgives my sins so that I can live.”

And our final piece of the text, today at least, is another parable.  But it fits right in, it was said at the same time.

6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ 8 “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ”

This is the journey, our journey.  The Father, the judge of the universe, looks down and doesn’t see repentance, He doesn’t see fruit.  And so He threatens to bring about judgment, which wouldn’t end well for us.  But Christ intercedes, He buys us a little more time.  Creation has a little while longer until the last day.  You and I and everyone else have a little more time in this present, critical age.  And that’s good news!  That there’s still time for those who don’t know Christ, for those who’ve rejected Christ, for those who are trapped in their sin, there’s still time for the good news to be shared, to be preached, to be heard.  There’s still time for repentance, and that’s good news.

This isn’t about the sins of Israel, the violence of Rome, or the greed of America.  It’s not about the sins of one man and the punishment he deserves for it.  Christ is inviting us to understand the mercy of God, that through this parable we would see every day as a gift, a gift to us, a gift to our family, a gift to our community.  And in this critical present time, Jesus calls us to repent or perish. Because the day is coming when that time runs out.

He calls us to know that in the midst of our own journey filled with sin, suffering, and death, He has finished His journey.  As the critical time draws to a close, we remember, we rejoice in the sacrifice of Christ, in His body and blood shed for us upon the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.  A gift for everyone.  A gift of comfort and hope.  We are called to the foot of the cross, that in our repentance the suffering Christian meets the suffering Savior, and that’s good news.