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A Wedding Feast October 15, 2017

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Matthew 22:1-14

Proper 23

October 15, 2017

 

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

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

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

A Wedding Feast

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Magician with a Wand in the Sky June 11, 2017

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Genesis 1:1-2:4

Holy Trinity Sunday

June 11, 2017

 

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

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

Structure:  Illustration and application.

 

Magician with a Wand in the Sky

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pause

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Up, Up, and Away! May 5, 2016

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Acts 1:1-11

Ascension Thursday

May 5, 2016

 

Focus:  God is expanding His kingdom.

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

Structure:  Walkthrough the text.

 

Up, Up, and Away

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Certain Thing March 27, 2016

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Luke 24:13-35

Easter

March 27, 2016

 

Focus:  God raised His Son from the dead.

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

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

 

A Certain Thing

 

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Wonder of a New Covenant March 22, 2015

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Jeremiah 31:31-34

Fifth Sunday in Lent

March 22, 2015

 

Focus:  God gives us the gift of a new covenant.

Function:  That the hearers look forward to the new covenant and the new creation.

Structure:  Two-Fold Prophecy.

 

The Wonder of a New Covenant

 

Last week, we journeyed together through the book of Numbers.  And we saw a cycle.  God blesses His people, and we grumble.  God blesses His people, and we sin.  Despite the awesome deliverance that they had seen and received from the hands of the Egyptians, through plagues, parting the Red Sea, drowning the Egyptian army, all they could think about was how bad the food tasted.  We broke the covenant of God.

In a way, that’s where our text picks up today.  The prophet Jeremiah is telling us of the failed covenant of old, and that instead, God is now promising us a new covenant.  Sure, we’re skipping roughly 500 years of human history, but all that time it’s basically the same cycle:  God blesses His people, and we grumble.

31 Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.

 

At the very mention of the new covenant, I know what my 6th graders are thinking: the Lord’s Supper.  I’m confident!  We’ve talked about it so much recently that they’re probably already regurgitating the words of institution in their minds.  And that’s a beautiful thing!

We’ll be looking at this in much more detail next week during Holy Week, specifically on Maundy Thursday as that’s a very important event from that day.  So for today, for now, it’s good enough to simply make the connection.  “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”  The power of the new covenant is the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross, poured out for the forgiveness of our sins.  In His blood, your sins are gone.  He redeems us from the broken covenant of old and lifts us up as God’s people once again.

33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

 

We can see how this fits with what Christ taught His disciples that night.  God makes the new covenant with the house of Israel, that is with all His people who believe in Him.  Paul, both in Romans 9 and Galatians 6, speaks of us as being the new Israel, not by flesh, but by believing in the promise.  This covenant belongs to us.

The law was then given to the people.  The people who surrounded Jesus in those days had the Scriptures and the scribes, the teachers of the law, and of course, the Pharisees.  If there was a Pharisee in your community, you could safely bet the family farm that everyone knew the law.

It was written on their hearts from childhood, having learned it from their parents and the religious leaders.  Even Christ, as He grew up, had to learn it.

And the idea that no one would have to tell their brother or their neighbor about the Lord anymore is also evident.  Remember as Jesus traveled about the region in His ministry how massive crowds seemed to follow Him wherever He went.  He was well known in that region, by the greatest and the least of the people.

And then that our sins are forgiven and forgotten comes from His blood shed for us upon the cross.  As often as we drink it, in remembrance of Him.

But yet, at the same time, these verses don’t perfectly fit with Christ’s earthly ministry.  Yet again, we have broken the new covenant.  We have gone right back to what God said, “My covenant that they broke, though I was their husband.”  A marriage works by putting your spouse before yourself.  Their needs before your own.  In that way, you take care of them, and they take care of you.  It’s self-sacrificing.  But it also helps us better understand our relationship with God.

God doesn’t have needs to be met, but it’s similar with God.  That we would put Him before ourselves.  That we would learn to trust in Him to care for us.  That He would indeed sacrifice of Himself to care for us, as He did when He put His Son on the cross.  We have often failed to put Him before ourselves.  To trust in Him before earthly things.  We constantly are putting other things first, typically starting with “me, myself, and I.”

We forgo our relationship with Him by saying it doesn’t matter.  We may not say it out loud, but we often say it with our actions.  That being with Him on a daily basis isn’t an important thing in our lives.  That being with Him and the rest of His family in His house on a regular, weekly basis doesn’t matter.  It’s more important that I sleep in from time to time.  It’s more important that I get all these other things done.

And despite having His law written upon our hearts, we still fight against it.  The angel on your shoulder says “don’t do it,” but we listen to the little devil on the other shoulder telling us how much fun it will be to have a couple drinks too many or encouraging us to get ahead in life by working so much our children don’t even know us anymore.

Despite His law being written in its entirety on paper for us to hold, we ignore it.  We come up with every excuse in the world to not open His Word on a daily basis and actually let it inform our lives, transform our lives.

All too often, we choose not to be His people.  And that is evident by simply looking around us today.  There’s no way we can say that we all know the Lord.  There’s no way we can agree with verse 34 saying that we no longer have to tell our neighbor or our brother about God, because they do need to hear it.

That’s why we know Jeremiah’s prophecy is a two-fold prophecy.  It began to be fulfilled in Christ’s work among us during His life and ministry.  But it will reach its ultimate fulfillment in the awesome return of Jesus Christ.

That day is coming.  We don’t know the day or the hour.  But it’s coming.  When Christ will return for His people and will gather us to Himself.  The day when the tombs will be broken open and the dead will be raised to life.  All of them!  Billions upon billions of people, some to judgment, but many to life.

My old classmates had this discussion this week.  What will the new creation look like?  Will we even need to have the new covenant among us?  We most certainly will.  Because God’s covenant of old and new are simply this:  I will be their God and they will be My people.  And unlike with Adam and Eve, God Himself will uphold those covenants and give us the strength to live in them every day for the rest of forever.

That is the day when we will no longer have to teach our neighbor and our brother, because they will all know the Lord.  That is the day when the law will be fully and perfectly written upon our hearts.  That is the day when we will fully be His people.

But as for the new creation, that leaves questions.  Some of the best of our theologians today talk about restoration.  They look at the original creation and how God had called it very good.  How that is the only example of perfection that we know of.  They take that and they say that that is what we have to look forward to.  A new creation, a perfect Paradise.  A place where we all live together in peace in the presence of our God.  A place where we get to enjoy the rich beauty and the wonders of His creation, still filled with plants and animals, food and water, and even the very tree of life.

The blood of Christ shed upon the cross truly does cleanse us of all our sins. And when God says forgiven and forgotten, you can take that to the bank.  We may not know with full certainly what the new creation, what everlasting life will look like, but we can count on that.  That He will be our God and we will be His people.  Sins gone.  And we get to spend forever with Him in Paradise.

Blood of the New Covenant April 17, 2014

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Matthew 26:20-30

Maundy Thursday

April 17, 2014

Focus: God has made with us a new covenant.

Function: That the hearers confess their need for a Savior.

Structure: This is the historical meaning in the text…these are the meanings for us now.

 

Blood of the New Covenant

 

As you well know, seeing as you’re here, today’s Maundy Thursday.  Today marks an important day in the middle of Holy Week, as Jesus has been in Jerusalem for a few days and the moment at the cross draws near.  But just what exactly is Maundy Thursday?  Outside of Holy Week, you never hear that word.

I could quiz my confirmation class right now, make Karl and Adam come up here and answer that for you, but that would be mean.  So I guess I’ll just tell you.  Maundy is from Latin, from the words mandatum novum, or in English, a new commandment.  It refers to the moments after Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.  It’s supposed to remind us of Jesus’ words in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

But this year, this Maundy Thursday, we won’t focus on that aspect of the day.  Instead, we’re focusing on another new commandment that Christ gave that day.  We’re focusing on the Last Supper.  And in order to truly understand the Last Supper we need to see it for what it really is: a bridge, a link, a transition from one thing to another.

See the Last Supper isn’t just any meal.  It’s the celebration of the Passover.  It’s the celebration of what God has done for His people.  You know the connections, you know the accounts that I’m talking about.  In Genesis, God made a covenant with Abraham, that He would their God and that they would be His people.

But covenants are tricky things.  It’s not like a promise.  If you break a promise, not much happens.  Okay, maybe a little trust is lost, but that’s about it.  But not with covenants.  If you break a covenant, you die.  Bloodshed is required.  And that’s where all of the animal sacrifices came into play.  God allowed for their blood to cover our sins.

But eventually all of that sin led God’s people into slavery in Egypt.  And it wasn’t pretty.  You can’t make the pyramids without tortured slaves, harsh labor, and death.  God saw the pain of His people and He heard their cries.  And He acted.

Nine plagues later, Pharaoh still wouldn’t let God’s people go.  So God rolled out one last plague, the killing of the firstborn.  And He told Moses what to do.  Have them make a meal and eat it in great haste, for after this plague, they will be driven out of Egypt.  Put no leaven in the bread, as it won’t have time to rise.  Instruct the people to sacrifice a lamb and paint its blood on their doorposts.  When the angel of death comes, he will not touch their home.  They will live.

That’s where the name Passover comes from.  The angel literally passed over their homes and spared them.  And that night, the Egyptians, led by Pharaoh, drove the Israelites out of town.  They were free.  God had heard them and He had saved them.

For nearly 1500 years after that night, the Israelites celebrated the Passover.  The meal that reminded them of God’s redemption, of God’s deliverance.  That may seem hard to believe, but we’ve been celebrating Christmas and Easter for nearly 2000 years now.  So did they, year after year, they remembered.

And that brings us to the Last Supper.  Christ’s disciples certainly didn’t know it.  They assumed it was another Passover just like any other.  They assumed they were celebrating their salvation from Egypt.  And they looked forward to sharing it with Jesus, just as they had done the past three years.

They didn’t know that this night would be different.  They didn’t know that Jesus was about to change everything.  They didn’t know that that night would change their lives, and ours, forever.

But it did.  That night Jesus reinterpreted the Passover meal.  The Last Supper became a bridge from something old to something new.  A bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament.  A bridge between the old covenant and the new covenant.  A bridge between the Passover and the cross.

That night, Jesus reinterpreted the meal and all of its parts in light of Himself.  That night, the Messiah taught the disciples how all things pointed to Him.  The Passover deliverance, the meal, the prophets, the blood, everything was meant to point us to Christ.

The Passover meal begins with a blessing and the first cup of wine, and then a preliminary dish, an appetizer, of mostly herbs.  After that, the host, in this case Jesus, retold the Passover story, retold Israel’s history.  Then they drank the second cup of wine.

The host would then speak a blessing over the unleavened bread.  At that point, they would eat the main course, consisting of the lamb, bread, herbs and finally a word of blessing over the third cup of wine.  The meal would then conclude with some singing of a few psalms of praise, followed by the fourth, and final, cup of wine.

The Passover meal is highly scripted.  If a Jewish family were to invite you to their Seder dinner multiple years in a row, you would begin to notice and catch on.  So imagine the disciples’ faces when Jesus broke from the norm and started teaching about Himself.

Imagine the disciples’ faces when Jesus lifted up the bread and said, “this is my body.”  Imagine the disciples’ faces when Jesus lifted up the cup and said, “this is my blood.”  Imagine the disciples’ faces as Christ took the Passover meal and made it His, as He proclaimed Himself to be the Passover lamb for all people.

That’s the connection, that’s the bridge the Last Supper is building.  Passover, Last Supper, Lord’s Supper.  Christ calls it the “new covenant in My blood.”  As the lambs were sacrificed to save the Israelites, the final lamb, Jesus Christ, is sacrificed to save us.

We are sinners.  We, every one of us, have broken the covenant.  There is no hope of salvation for us now without the shedding of blood.  Without the sacrifice that passes over our sins.  It matters not if it’s lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy or pride.  We need a Savior.

This Maundy Thursday, we wanted to highlight and focus on the Lord’s Supper, on the new covenant, on the forgiveness of sins.  To help us do just that, I baked the bread.  And yes, it’s unleavened.  But today you will see your Pastor break the bread and give it to you, as Christ broke the bread and gave it to His disciples.

Today, you will partake of the Lord’s Supper.  Today you will come into His presence trusting in the words and promises He made in the Last Supper, that this is no mere bread, but His very body.  And this is no mere cup of wine, but His very blood.  Today, you come to His table, trusting in His promise, trusting His words, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Maundy Thursday is not yet over.  Know that the events that are about to happen are part of God’s plan.  Because we have sinned blood must be shed.  But take comfort, for Christ is our Passover lamb!  He is our Savior!  Come, remember, celebrate, and be forgiven!