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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.

 

Given that We May Know Him May 28, 2017

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John 17:1-11

Seventh Sunday of Easter

May 28th, 2017

 

Focus:  God gives us His Son that we may know Him.

Function:  That the hearers are one as the Father and Son are one.

Structure:  Walking through the Text.

 

Given that We May Know Him

 

This morning we have a peculiar text.  It doesn’t seem to fit the calendar.  Our gospel reading today from the account according to John is best known as the high priestly prayer.  What do you know about this prayer? Pause for answers

  • Spoken by Jesus
  • Prayed to His Father
  • During Holy Week, moments before the arrest

 

We have a wonderful opportunity to look at how Jesus prayed.  This isn’t about how we are supposed to pray to God.  Jesus already gave us that in the Lord’s Prayer.  No, this is a wonderful opportunity to see what the Holy Trinity was up to the day before the crucifixion.

But that’s just it, isn’t it?  This is Holy Week, Maundy Thursday to be precise.  We would expect this reading before Easter, not after.  Not during our celebration of the resurrection.  Any ideas as to why we’re getting it now?  Pause for answers.

Let’s walkthrough the text and see if it becomes more clear.  Before we begin, though, just the quick note that this prayer lasts from verse 1 until verse 26, but our text only goes through 11.  So you’re not getting the whole high priestly prayer today, but there’s enough here for our benefit, without a doubt.

1When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,

 

Jesus had just finished a section of teaching, teaching about the work of the Holy Spirit, about His own death, about the peace the disciples would have in Christ no matter what the outcome may be.  And so He begins to pray.

We have to stop with this verse and talk about glory, as the words “glory” and “glorify” show up six times in this small section.  When we say something or someone has glory, we mean that they are worthy of honor, respect, praise, adoration, even worship.  And then to glorify something is to lift it up as worthy of having glory.  To point to something or someone and say, “This is worthy of our respect, our praise, our worship.”

And so the hour has come, indeed, the hour has come in which the Son of Man will be lifted up.  “Glorify Your Son.”  That is what happens on the cross.  His suffering, His pain, His bleeding, His sacrifice given for us.  The cross of Christ, Him lifted up, glorifies the Christ.  It is there, in His body and His blood that we know our sins are forgiven.  And so it is there that we know He is worthy of our worship and praise entirely because He is God.

And it is this then, the act of forgiveness of sins, the act of atonement, the act of restoring us to our creator, to God our Father in heaven, this act glorifies the Father.  Because in our newness of life, in being new children of God through the work of Christ, we can see the Father.  We can know the Father.  And in knowing the Father, we adore Him.

since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

 

The Father has given all things into the hands of His Son Jesus.  We see this clearly spelled out in several epistles, but it’s here, too.  The Father entrusts His world, His creation, into the care of His Son.  And Christ is faithful.  In His death and in His resurrection, He does give everlasting life to all who believe in Him.

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

 

Earlier this week, Christian blogger Matt Walsh wrote a challenging piece on this idea.  He was calling out Christians on the lack of respect, the lack of praise and worship that we show to God.  His challenge was essentially this: the Scriptures teach us that we in everlasting life will spend all our time praising God, worshiping Him. So why is it, that now in this life, many, maybe all, Christians, can hardly be bothered to do so?

630 members in this congregation.  How many of them are here today?  How many will I see in the pews all summer?   And an even smaller number are in Bible class each weekend.  And an even smaller number than that devote time to daily devotions at home.  If we can’t get around to spending time with God now, and sometimes even disdain time with God now, you know God forbid this service goes over an hour, maybe we should rethink either how we’re living this life, or our expectations of our everlasting life.

That’s good law.  I would suspect that truly hits all of us.  I know it does me.  We don’t worship God as often as we ought.  We don’t want to do the things He has laid out for us to do.  We would rather rebel, do the things, the sins, we enjoy, rather than enjoy time at His feet as the Word makes Him known to us.

And yet, He still glorified His Son, He still lifted up Christ for us, to make this known to you: your sins are forgiven!  Even this one, even your lack of desire for everlasting worship and praise.  I didn’t read Matt’s full article, only his shorter version, but my guess is, he doesn’t get to this, the forgiveness, the reconciliation of God and man.

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.

 

The work the Father gave the Son to do is precisely what we just talked about.  Sure, it includes the miracles, the teaching, the fulfillment of the law.  But all of that leads Jesus to the cross.  To the work of the sacrifice which makes forgiveness ours.

And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

 

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian church, we have that beautiful section about how Jesus gave up the glory of the throne for a body of human flesh.  Of how He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross.  This is God.  Jesus, alongside the Father and the Spirit, created all of this.  And yet, He willingly laid aside His heavenly crown for one made of thorns.

So now, in this prayer, Jesus is praying that that glory be restored to Him.  And while I don’t believe this is the answer to our original question of why we have this text today, it does fit.  “Glorify Me in Your Own presence.”  We think of Christ seated at the right hand of the Father.  And that He is, as we celebrated with the Ascension just this past Thursday.  Jesus reigns over heaven and earth.

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

 

Jesus revealed the Father, Jesus made known the Father to us.  The Father entrusted His creation, His people to Jesus, that Jesus would then point His people back to the Father.  That goes back to the opening of the prayer, “glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You.”  This is the point of the work of Christ, that He makes the Father known to us.

Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.

 

Jesus may be a little ahead of Himself here.  The disciples, the followers that God specifically entrusted to His Son during His earthly ministry often didn’t get it.  They rarely understood His teaching, they often stood in awe and amazement at the miracles He performed.  But even in our inability to fully comprehend God, which simply isn’t possible, they got it.  We get it.  Christ’s authority is the authority of God.  He can heal a blind man, because He has authority over creation and the body.  He can heal the broken sinners of the world because He has authority over sin and death.

For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

 

One of the things that Jesus had just told His disciples prior to this prayer was the saying that you all know full well.  “I am the Way, and the ______(Truth), and the _____(Life).  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  The disciples heard the good news and they believed.  And now, as we do, through Christ and His gifts given to us, we get to know the Father as well.

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

 

Here we remember that Jesus is praying.  He’s not teaching.  But praying.  And specifically praying so that the disciples can overhear Him.  This isn’t a prayer for the chief priest or for Pilate.  This is a prayer for the followers of God.

The very last words Jesus taught before launching into prayer were these:

32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16

 

After the arrest, the disciples do scatter.  After His death, they are overcome by grief, despair, and fear.  Yet they had the opportunity to hear this prayer of Christ, that no matter what may happen, He is God, He has made known to them the Father, and in the Father they then have everlasting life.

This brings peace.  This brings confidence and comfort in any and all troubles.  Even in their persecution that was to come.  Jesus has overcome the world.  For us.  And this means we need not fear the world, or sin, or death, or the devil.  We can live in the peace, confidence, and hope of Christ, because we have forgiveness and the promise of the resurrection.

10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.

 

The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one God.  And so what is the Father’s is the Son’s and what is the Son’s is the Father’s.  And just as the Father gave Jesus work to accomplish that would glorify Him, that would cause us to worship the Father and be reconciled with Him, so also Jesus gives His disciples work to do, work that when we do it, glorifies Him, points others to see Christ and to give praise and worship because of His good and gracious gifts that He gives to us.

This is the sanctified Christian life, that we indeed continue to give God honor, and praise, and worship, but also that we would tell others of Christ’s love, His forgiveness, and the gift of everlasting life, that they too may then give God honor, and praise, and worship.  Doing these things doesn’t save us, Christ does.  Doing these things is simply something we do now that we are one with Christ, through the waters of baptism.

11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

 

It is this verse that puts this prayer in our readings for the Easter season rather than Holy Week.  We were about to see Christ crucified, Peter’s denial, the disciples scattering in fear.  But Christ’s prayer here is that we would be one, just as He is with the Father.  And so we end the season of Easter this week reminded that we are to be one, as we prepare for Pentecost next weekend, where we see the birth of the church, united in Christ alone.  The reading from Acts this morning shows this.  It shows the one accord of the Apostles as they remained in Jerusalem, awaiting the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This wasn’t even the half of it.  I encourage you as you eat lunch today, open up to John 17, finish reading Jesus’ high priestly prayer.  And you will see there that He most certainly meant this prayer to include you among the disciples, that the Father would be made known to you as He was to them, and that as they know the love of God in Christ, through the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, you would also know that love.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

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.

A Guide to Loving Your Enemies February 19, 2017

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Matthew 5:38-48

Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

February 19, 2017

 

Focus:  God saves even His own enemies.

Function:  That the hearers love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

A Guide to Loving Your Enemies

 

As we gathered together here in this place last week, to hear of God’s love for us, and to receive the forgiveness of all our sins, I was privileged to share with you from the Sermon on the Mount. More specifically, to look at what Jesus is doing with this middle section of the sermon.

Do you remember which use of the Law we talked about?  2nd use/mirror use.  Jesus said that if we just had more righteousness than the Pharisees, we could enter the kingdom of heaven.  But then, He takes the Law as we know it, and He cranks it up, He raises the bar to levels beyond our capability.

Jesus uses the Law to show us our sin.  Jesus uses the Law to crush us, to destroy us, to bring about confession, repentance of our sins.  But it’s not just that.  That would be twisted and deranged.  Christ doesn’t kill us and leave us.  He kills us, and then He makes us alive again, in Him.

This is the beauty of both law and gospel.  That they work together.  The law kills, the gospel makes alive.  Without the mirror in their faces, the people didn’t know their sin, they didn’t know their need for a Savior.  But once they did, He didn’t scoff at them, but He died for them.

But today, as we continue to look at the Sermon on the Mount, I want to focus in more on the first and the third uses of the Law.  Which again, are what? Curb and guide.

So our gospel reading today started with an all familiar Old Testament teaching.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’

If your neighbor kills your ox, you take one of his.  If an enemy lops off your hand, you lop off one of his.  If someone kills your wife, you don’t kill their wife, you simply kill them, a life for a life.

And so just like what we saw with murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths last week, the next words out of Jesus’ mouth radically change our thinking, our concept of what the law even means.

39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

 

The curb use of the law is rather simple with this one.  It’s so civilization, continues.  If we were always dealing out justice in this way, exacting revenge as described earlier, there would be no end.  There would be nothing left.

The guide use of the law is also rather simple.  It’s do what Jesus said.  If they take out your eye, offer the other, too.  If they bust your tooth, offer an extra.  If they slap one cheek, turn the other to them in case they want another shot.  If they sue you for your clothes, give them more.

Jesus actually takes a law that they understood as a law of revenge and violence, and turns it into a law of reckless generosity.  That we would give of ourselves fully.  The Greek words behind the clothing illustrate that.  Your tunic would be like the long johns you’ve been wearing all winter, and your cloak would be the outer layer.  What was left?

This is one of the places of great of benefit to those of you who are single.  You can be recklessly generous without having to worry about also then caring for and providing for a spouse or children.  I’m quite certain that’s part of Paul’s conversation, and Christ’s as well later in Matthew, as they lift up the gift of celibacy as a true spiritual gift within the church.

But as we saw last week, we see again here.  The mirror use of the Law smacks us in the face.  It shows us that we haven’t done these things.  We haven’t been recklessly generous with the time, treasure, and talents that God has entrusted to us.  We haven’t been willing to give to those who would first see us harmed.  And again, if this were all the Law was, we’d be damned.

One of the things Christ pointed to was that part about going the extra mile.  It wasn’t uncommon then for a Roman soldier to simply, forcibly, ask someone to carry their load for them.  They even did it to Christ.  Forcing Him to carry the burden of their cross up to the top of the mount where they would then hang Him on it.

Bearing their sins, not only up the mountain, but bearing them on His shoulders straight to the judgment throne of God.  Where your sins and my sins are what caused His death.  He literally went the extra distance for us.  And on His account, all of our sins are gone, wiped clean, forgiven, and His righteousness then fills us.  The love of Christ is ours now and forevermore.

And then Jesus, in much the same way, does the same thing with our next piece.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

Now, if you remember our Old Testament reading from earlier, what’s wrong with that statement?  It’s not what the Bible says.  Somewhere along the way, the phrase was added to.  The hate for one’s enemy isn’t even in Leviticus, which we all know has a bad reputation to those outside the church.  If we’re honest, even to most in the church.

But, nonetheless, it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter if the Pharisees had added it, or the Sanhedrin, or the Sadducees, or some other group.  Jesus is about to obliterate it anyway.

44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

 

The curb use of the law with this one, again, it’s pretty straight forward.  Don’t kill your enemy.  Don’t wage war. Don’t commit genocide.

And that brings us again to the guide use of the Law here.  Again, it’s simply stated, although, hard to do.  Love your enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you.  I’m going to put this out there, and just let you dwell on it this week.  Can you love your enemy by killing him in war?  If you want to discuss it further with me privately later, we definitely can, but just chew on it for now.

Here is where we are thankful for men and women like the Gayed family.  For the work being done through POBLO, not only here in Rochester, but in much of the world.  As people overcome their fears to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those who need to hear it.

Go, even if it’s just once, go volunteer once, just so you can see it done.  Let them lead you by example.  We are quick to think of Islam as our enemy, even an enemy that would see us dead.  And in some ways, that’s very true.  John could share stories with you that would break your heart.  But then, he would also share stories with you that would encourage you, that would convince you that it’s all worth it.

Because even our enemies, whether they could simply care less about us, or they truly disdain us, even our enemies are creations of God.  And it is for them that Christ came and died upon the cross, just as much as it was for all of us.

And I know I fail at this one.  I know I let anger become the first response, rather than say, compassion or sorrow, when someone opposes Christ and His truths.  But I’m ever so thankful for the forgiveness of my sins that comes through gospel of Jesus.

8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8-10)

 

While we were enemies of God, He sent His Son to die for us, for them.  Jesus died to forgive the sins of all people.  And those verses are an excellent reminder to me to be humble, to not consider myself better than others, because I too, was once an enemy of God deserving nothing but His wrath.

But instead, He chose to spare me.  He chose to spare you.  Through the faithful work of our families, our churches, our communities, that Word of forgiveness, of life, of love, that Word has been shared with you, has taken root in you, has changed you, transformed you from an enemy of God, into a child of God.

And as Paul taught the young pastor Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:4, that’s the outcome God would like to see for all of His creation.

Although we’re not even half way through the Sermon yet, the last verse of our text today reads:

48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 

Some see that as a challenge.  Some see it as a challenge to be met.  I have to do this, and they strive for perfection their entire life long.  Perfection becomes their God, the desire of their heart.  Others hear that challenge as overwhelming, as something they could never achieve, and then despair becomes their God, as they give up all hope.

But for you and for me, and truly for all people, the verse isn’t a challenge for us at all.  It is the full killing weight of the Law.  You’ve failed.  But Christ has made you alive.  He has fulfilled that Law.  He has been perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.  He has then taken His perfection, and given it to you.  That’s the beauty of Christ’s imputed righteousness.  It’s 100% free to you.

 

 

 

Exceeding the Righteousness of the Pharisees February 12, 2017

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Matthew 5:21-37

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

February 12th, 2017

 

Focus:  God imputes His righteousness to us through His Son Jesus Christ.

Function:  That the hearers look to Christ for their righteousness, not to themselves.

Structure:  Walking through the Scriptures.

 

Exceeding the Righteousness of the Pharisees

 

Today’s gospel reading, isolated from its context, wouldn’t be gospel at all.  These words kill.  Alone, they don’t even kill and make alive.  These words simply kill.

So we need the context.  We need the assigned gospel reading from last weekend for these words flowing from the lips of Christ to make any sense whatsoever.  So, feel free to open up your Bibles to Matthew chapter 5.  This is the section following the eight fold blessing of the Beatitudes, and it’s immediately following those analogies about being the salt and light of the earth, the city on a hill that can’t be hidden.  But we start today with verse seventeen:

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

Christ’s reference to the Law and the Prophets is the phrase they used to describe the Old Testament.  Those are the two sections the Jewish people broke it down into. He didn’t come to remove the law of God from creation.  Christ came not to do away with the Law, but to follow it perfectly for us.  Not even the smallest mark.  Not the smallest letter, not the slightest ink from a pen would be removed from the Law until it’s fulfilled.

The Law of God is His will for His people.  We are to keep it, to follow it.  And this, this is where the Pharisees come in.  They loved the law.  They harped on it all the time.  Do the law. You gotta keep the law if you want God’s love.  Do, do, do, and do some more.  Unless it’s the Sabbath, then you do by doing nothing.

But here’s the kicker, and it’s the kicker of this whole sermon.  How much righteousness did the Pharisees actually have?  None.  The law they kept was a law of their own making, they cared not for God or His people.  It was selfish, self-serving, self-promoting, and the people listening to Jesus knew it.  And so now Jesus tells them that their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees if they ever want to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Sounds easy, right?  If the Pharisees have no righteousness, it should be easy to get just a smidge, just an ounce.  That’s all it would take to get into heaven.  But that’s what the rest of our gospel reading today is about.  How are you doing?  How much righteousness do you have?  None.

That’s a hard truth for us to hear, especially if we’ve never heard it before.  We aren’t righteous.  That’s one of the uses of the Law.  Curb, mirror, and guide.  That’s the 2nd use, the mirror use of the Law.  It shows us our sin.  And that’s what Christ is up to in the text.

He’s going to take the Law as they knew it, the Law as the Pharisees knew it and taught it.  He’s going to take that Law and ramp it up.  Crank the nastiness factor of the Law to the top notch.  Take the killing, destructive force of the Law, and blow it up to epic proportions.  To prove to you that you can’t keep it.  On your own, you’re dead in your trespasses. And we’ll circle back to that, but first, let’s look at what He does.

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’

 

That’s what we know as the fifth commandment.  It’s a direct citation from Exodus 20:13, and also from Deuteronomy.  You shall not kill, or murder.  Well, okay Jesus, that’s easy enough.  I’ve never killed anyone.  Except, then Jesus elaborates on what that Law means.

22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

 

Go ahead and put your hands up on this one.  C’mon, everybody put a hand up.  Now, if you’ve ever been angry at anyone, put your hand down.  If you’ve cursed someone or wished bad against them, put your hand down.  If you’ve ever insulted someone put your hand down.  How are we doing?  How many of us made it?  How many of us before the righteousness of God, the perfection of God, how many of us can stand?

That’s the thrust of what Jesus is doing, and He’s going to do it again and again and again before He’s done.  He’s hammering it home.  This point will be made known to all people.  Now, He does follow each of these things with a little life application that shows you just how serious He is about it.  Just how important these things are.

23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

 

So for this one, just as an example, if you know you’re not reconciled to your brother, and that’s not just your flesh and blood brother, but your brothers and sisters in Christ, you could even say your neighbor.  If you’re not reconciled with someone, put your offering down, and leave.  Get up out of the service, and go be reconciled.  And then, when you are, come back, and offer your offering before the Lord.  Would the church ever receive another dime?

And here, it’s the same with the next one.  Jesus cites the sixth commandment from Exodus 20:14.  But He ramps it up.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

 

Don’t worry, you don’t have to raise your hands this time, well, as long as it’s not still up already.  Adultery is the physical act of having sex with someone who is not your spouse.  Your “one flesh” for life.  Oh, well, that’s not so bad.  Most of us can do that.  Except, no, we can’t.  The NASB translation renders lustful intent as simply the word “desire.”  Any time you’ve made an object of someone.  Any time you’ve dabbled in pornography, whether that’s visual or even in the form of written words.  Whenever you’ve so much as crushed on someone else.  That moment they are seen in your eyes or your heart or your mind as anything but a child of God, a creation of the King, in that very moment, you’re goose is cooked.  You’ve committed adultery in your heart.

And how serious is it? V. 29-30 make that crystal clear.

29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

 

The pain, the death, the affliction of sin is so bad, you’d be better off without whatever limb is causing you to sin, than to burn in hell for the punishment for your thoughts, words, and deeds.  But that’s just it.  What would be left of you?  We are sinful through and through.  Not just your eyes, or your hands, but your mind, your heart.  All of you, cut off.

And this just continues.  Divorce, oaths, eye for an eye, love your enemy, giving, praying, fasting, treasuring, worrying, judging, asking, how you treat others, bearing fruit, etc.  It just goes on.

You thought you could do these things, well, you can’t.  None of them.  You aren’t good enough.  You aren’t capable.  You can’t keep the Law.  Your righteousness is one and the same as that of the Pharisees, it’s like a puddle of vomit.  And that’s the point.

Again, let’s re-read verse seventeen.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

 

Christ came to fulfill the Law.  Christ came to live the Law that you and I can’t.  And He did.  That’s what this whole sermon is about.  That’s it not about you, but that it’s about Him.  We have these great terms in Lutheran theology, and this one is called 2KR, or two kinds of righteousness.  Everything we’ve talked about, all of Christ’s examples are called horizontal righteousness, it’s how you live out your life, how you love your neighbor.  But the righteousness Christ calls us to have isn’t this.  Even if you could do it, it wouldn’t be enough.  It’s the vertical righteousness, that is, our standing before God, our faith.  This is what Christ calls us to.

And on our own we can’t do it.  And that’s okay, because it’s not ours to do.  Christ lived out the Law for you.  He kept it perfectly, breaking not even a single command in thirty plus years.  He achieved the horizontal righteousness that we failed to achieve.

And then, then He went and achieved the vertical righteousness as well.  He took our broken relationship with God upon His own self.  By the blood of Christ shed upon the cross, your punishment is paid.  Your lack of righteousness forgiven.  And by His resurrection from the dead on the third day, the Son of God, Christ our Lord has done more than give you a second chance.  He’s given you a life that never ends.  A life that can’t be taken from you.  It’s His gift to you.  He’s earned it, and now He’s giving it freely.

A recent analogy I heard explains this really well.  We could take a chalkboard and just fill it with sins.  Your sins, my sins, past, present, even future.  And we tend to think that as Christians, when God forgives our sins, He wipes the board clean, gives us a clean slate to try again.  But that misses the truth entirely.

Christ not only wipes our board clean, He then fills it with Himself.  This is called Christ’s imputed righteousness.  That righteousness He demanded of us before the Pharisees isn’t even ours, it’s His.  He wipes our sins away and then fills us with His own righteousness, bought and paid for by Him.  It’s not up to us.  It’s not our doing.  It’s His.

And so we look back to the very first words from Christ’s mouth as He began this Sermon on the Mount.

5:4 “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

That’s you.  That’s me.  And we are blessed, because God has given us everything in and through His Son Jesus Christ.   Forgiveness, peace, life, righteousness, all yours.  And they’re all gifts.

 

Children’s message based on keeping the Law.  Maybe the 4th commandment of honoring mother and father.  Maybe one of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount examples instead.  We can’t do it.  But Christ can.  And He has.  And He’d done it for us.

A Joyful Harvest January 22, 2017

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Isaiah 9:1-4

Third Sunday After Epiphany

January 22nd, 2017

 

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

Function:  That the hearers rejoice in Christ.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

A Joyful Harvest

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so we read our final verse:

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

 

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

 

A Bare Arm, Beautiful Feet, and Lots of Singing December 25, 2016

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Isaiah 52:7-10

Christmas

December 25, 2016

 

Focus:  God has laid bare His arm.

Function:  That the hearers break forth together into singing.

Structure:  OT…NT…Church parallels.

 

A Bare Arm, Beautiful Feet, and Lots of Singing

 

I’m not sure what your Christmas traditions are like.  But when I was growing up, us kids would always be overjoyed at the thought of opening our presents.  Maybe you’re still that way.  Maybe you still find it difficult to sleep on Christmas Eve under all the anticipation.  So we’d get up ridiculously early.  We’d run into Mom and Pops room and jump onto their bed just begging for them to get up.

Once they finally did, we’d rip through wrapping paper, excited over whatever our gifts were that year.  And then we’d eat a quick breakfast and head off to church, to celebrate our Savior’s birth, the true gift of Christmas.  Maybe your memories or your current traditions are similar.  Maybe they’re a little different.

But whatever you’re traditions are, Christmas Day is one usually marked with great celebration, great joy, great happiness.  But to keep with the text this morning, we have to momentarily set all of that aside, and sit in sackcloth and ashes, grieve over the depth of our sin.  Because, in honesty, without grief of sin, there’d be no Christmas celebration.

I’m not asking you to think of, and recount, specific sins blow by blow.  That’s already done.  That was done this morning in the words of Confession and Absolution.  But instead, just the overarching fact that we are by nature creatures of wrath.  We are by nature under the curse of sin which brings about nothing but death.

That’s what sin is, that’s what sin does.  That’s what original sin is, not some new way to break God’s commands, but that we are from the moment of conception, broken, separated from God our Lord and Creator.

And so it is, in the context of our text from the prophet Isaiah this morning, that we find God’s holy nation, set apart to be His people, the Israelites, we find them stuck in their sin.  To the point where the prophet Isaiah is sent to warn them of their upcoming destruction at the hands of their foreign neighbor, Assyria.

That is an exile that comes.  It comes in 722 BC, when the nation of Israel is destroyed, dragged off into exile in a foreign land, where they continue to serve false gods.  Their sin leads to their death.  Just as ours does to us.  And it is to this exiled people that the prophet speaks in our text.

For thus says Yahweh: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” For thus says the Lord Yahweh: “My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing. Now therefore what have I here,” declares Yahweh, “seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail,” declares Yahweh, “and continually all the day my name is despised. Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.” –Isaiah 52:3-6

 

Right there, in the midst of their exile, the Lord plops down this great word.  “You shall be redeemed without money.”  That’s how you buy something back.  It’s pawn shop language to us today.  You need money, so you pawn an item.  In order to get it back, you have to redeem it, that is, pay for it.

But not here.  Not now.  How is our redemption going to be paid?  Blood.  You’re right, but we’re not quite there yet.  First God proclaims a familiar word for us: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news.”  The more we know of their culture, the more absurd this proclamation sounds.  I’m 99% sure no one back then had a foot fetish.  There were no foot models.

We’re talking about open-toed shoes on rocky and dirty terrain.  These people aren’t living in comfortable, tiled or carpet floored homes.  They’re living on dirt.  And so their feet are constantly dirty, constantly bloodied, constantly sore.  Often infected.  This is what made washing feet in the New Testament such a big act of humble service to your neighbor.  And it’s why Peter at first refused to allow Jesus to do it.

And yet God declares the feet of those who bring this good news beautiful.  Why?  Because they bring good news.  The direct reference here is to the prophets, to men like Isaiah, who came to an exiled, beaten down, worn out people, many, if not all of whom had lost hope in life.  And they come with great, good news.

News of a Savior.  News of salvation.  News that as verse nine says, brings comfort.  God comforts His people.  He has redeemed Jerusalem.  He has redeemed His people.  By baring His arm.

It’s a military term.  To bare one’s arm is to reveal one’s weapon.  You can remember back perhaps to the judge Ehud, the sneaky lefty secretly hiding his weapon, and only baring it just in time to slay the wicked King Eglon, who was oppressing God’s people.

And indeed, the baring of the Lord’s arm brings bloodshed.  But not the enemies’.  Not even our own, although we deserved it, just like Israel, stuck in our sins.  Instead the blood bared by the arm of the Lord is His own.  It is the Savior’s blood, it is the baby boy’s blood.  It is Jesus’ blood.

And instead of baring His arm to reveal a piece of steel, Jesus bares His arm to reveal a hole.  Right here (point to just beneath the wrist).  Our redemption, paid for not in money, gold or silver, but in the very blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Savior.

That’s what comes next in Isaiah’s writings.  The rest of chapter 52 and all of chapter 53 are known as one of the Suffering Servant songs of Isaiah.  They are without a doubt, beautiful good news.  They are a prophecy of Jesus Christ, foretelling His suffering at the cross, His death that redeems us from our sins, and His resurrection.  This is perhaps the most explicit prophecy of Christ that the people had ever heard.

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. –Isaiah 53:5-6

 

Go ahead, go home and read the rest.  Good stuff.  Good news.  And this good news made the prophet’s feet beautiful.  He came bearing the good news of a Savior.

On the day of Jesus’ birth, who has beautiful feet? Who got to tell the world about the Christ-child’s birth? The angels and the shepherds.  Right, the angels, but that was their job.  Literally, angel means messenger.  That’s one of the very foremost reasons God created them.  But then it was the shepherds.  A grungy and despised class, looked down upon often as petty thieves.  And it is to these men that God entrusts the opportunity to go and tell everyone the good news.

Who has beautiful feet today?  Today, who gets to tell the world about their Savior?  All of us.  We bring good news to those around us.  Despite our sin, despite being enemies of God, He loves us so greatly that He chose to redeem us in the blood of His Son, to forgive our sins, and to entrust us with the care of His creation.  And He does so, by giving us beautiful feet.  By giving us the proclamation of the gospel, of good news to all people.

And it is such great, good news, that it seems to always be accompanied by singing.  Don’t tell my wife I said this, but it seems like our life is meant to look like a musical, where we’ll just burst into random, and joyful song at any moment.

The prophets, the watchmen as they were called in verse eight, lift up their voices, singing together for joy at the good news of a Savior.  The Israelites, the wasteplaces of Jerusalem, breaking out into joyous song because they’ve been comforted by God.  The angels, bringing forth good news to the shepherds that night burst into song.

We too, burst into joyous song.  We sang 23 hymns here yesterday, and we’re adding another 6 to that here this morning.  It’s a good thing.  Singing praise to our God and Savior is a way of giving thanks.  And so we rejoice, all day, everyday.

As you go forth today, rejoicing in the bare arm of the Lord, rejoicing in the beautiful feet of the prophets and the shepherds, as they all reveal to us the good news of a Savior, of Jesus Christ who has redeemed us from sin, death, and the devil, as you go out, read Isaiah 52 and 53, and sing a couple of your favorite Christmas hymns.  For today, and everyday, we rejoice in this baby boy, this Jesus, born unto us.

And while I wish this led into song, we’ll pray first, with some more singing in just a little bit.

 

 

 

One Starry Night December 24, 2016

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Luke 2:1-20

Christmas Eve

December 24, 2016

 

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

Function:  That the hearers worship their newborn King.

Structure: Dramatic Monologue.

 

One Starry Night

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

among those with whom he is pleased!”

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

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

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

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

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

which the Lord has made known to us.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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